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Capitalism vs Space Communism

While I think the space billionaires have gotten their timelines way out of order and I say that we must fix climate & sustainability before even looking to the stars, I do want future generations to get there eventually.

Earth is limited even with perfect care because

Yeah, yeah, even with the stars our destination, spacetime itself is limited. But when you’re in a little room and you’re working on something good, you might need a bigger room.

Some refer to Star Trek–type post-scarcity fiction as fantasies about accumulating capital forever.

I know the ten char string “capitalism” can mean a couple of different things but sometimes I wanna make a distinction between private ownership concentration of resources & means-of-production vs communal, shared stewardship of them. Economics and ecology have the same root: learning about how to take care of the big old household called Earth, and if we learn to share we can make it better.

As you know, market capitalism has a memory leak bug where what seems like resources is actually stealing from the future. That is not an inherent quality of all investment. If I tend to a garden I’m spending effort now to make things better in the future. It’s not the same.

Ideas like these is why I still more often say “sustainable” than “degrowth”. People email me pointing out very specific definitions of “degrowth” formulated such that I can certainly get behind and advocate for them. A detanglement from unregulated market capitalism’s inherent dependence on reckless illusory “growth”. Yes please and yesterday!

But if “degrowth” is a synonym for neglect and decay, then not so much.

To get to post-scarcity we need to improve society’s awareness of what’s truly scarce. That’s what market capitalism doesn’t do; it treats what’s limited as if it were endless and what’s endless as if it were limited.

Follow ups

Foolish Owl wrote in:

I don’t think we have a substantial disagreement here, but I do want to justify my terminology.

I’m not trying to take away your definition from you; you were the original speaker in the thread and you knew what you meant; language is just a map and the real territory is the ideas. If you wanna have a thread where, in that particular thread, “capitalism” as a word applies to communally owned stewardship of shared resources, that’s not something I wanna try to stop or argue against since I’ve taken a life vow to not argue semantics.

All I can do is argue for the idea itself, the idea of communally owned stewardship of shared resources.

Capital is wealth in a form to amplify or accelerate the production of wealth.

Right. It’s means-of-production, like a field or a tree or a machine.

The most relevant reason here why I like that framing is that I’ve long been concerned with overproduction and waste as central problems. […] Long story short, real scarcity hasn’t been our main problem for a long time, but artificial scarcity has.

Here is where I want more nuance. Here are a couple of categories I don’t wanna do without in my mental model of the situation:

We have artificial scarcity like copyright or artificially sterile crop seeds.

We have wasteful resource distribution where some are without the resources they need whereas others have more than they can use and they stockpile it and a lot of stuff ends up destroyed or spoiled or in landfills.

There are some overlapping subcategories of that: mismanagement, skewed incentives, system problems (“bugs”, market failures), and outright greed.

We also do have some real scarcity namely eco system limits. We’ve run up against one of those limits: how much CO2e we can dump into the atmosphere. (The whole delusional “peak oil” BS was such a horrorshow since what ended up being the limit wasn’t what was the ground, it was what could go into the sky and the oceans.)

Mészáros’s formulation fits with John Bellamy Foster’s discussions of capitalism as a metabolic rift.

I realize that this might be a minor point but I just wanna be clear that I do not agree with this view.

I like a view of market capitalism that zooms out a little and don’t just look at “oh, ownership of means-of-production is concentrating and the wealth gaps are increasing” and the consequences of that, I also wanna look at the entire network of processes and incentives that cause that.

Reworking how ownership of means-of-production works is a way to foundationally and radically disperse these concentrations.

In one situation, one flower in the meadow has all the bees. It is overstarved whereas all other flowers are underserved.

In the other situation the flowers in the meadow have a shared access to pollination.

Ecosystems are often described as cycles; capital accumulation is fundamentally opposed to them.

Here I want to disagree in the strongest terms I can.

It’s because of cycles that market capitalism (privately owned means of production and resources distributed by a quid-pro-quo market) is so broken. Market capitalism contains several very strong feedback loops; it focuses in on exploitable loopholes and digs digs digs. That’s what messing up everything.

Life itself isn’t always designed to be a most homeostatic paradise. Sometimes systems are like a plague of locusts sucking the fields dry.

Sustainable management of collectively owned means-of-production also needs cycles.

The only term that makes me think of ending cycles, that’s degrowth. That’s what we want when it comes to capitalism’s vicious exploitation loops, as you agree here:

Second, a lot of the transformative work we need to do to survive will involve literally dismantling things.

Yes, both processes and physical objects.

But I don’t then want humanity to just rot on the vine after that. Managing cycles and increasing awareness of cycles and protocols is what I want.

So anyway, of course sustainability, properly understood, should be the goal.

I do appreciate you saying that explicitly.

I feel talking about degrowth directly counters the assumption that we need to keep accumulating capital.

I understood. And I wanted to disagree with that specifically since further refinement and improvement of means of production is something I don’t oppose; I even advocate for it. With better meta-awareness of protocol and ecosystems (although I think you’ll agree on this: a lot of the time, “producing with awareness for ecosystems” means getting out of the way and letting nature do nature things without micromanaging it to death like diking out peatlands and stuff).

A corollary: growth is talked about constantly, as a goal in all sorts of circumstances, even when it makes no sense.

Right, and I have criticized that many times. But here was an instance of arguing against something good just because it could be defined as “growth” and the justification for it being bad came across as “because all things that could be called ‘growth’ are bad”.

A carrot grows in the garden and that’s not bad. It becomes bad when we deplete the soil with monocrops and it becomes worse when we then try to compensate for that depletion with nitrogen fertilizers.

Third, “sustainable” is a word used extensively in greenwashing campaigns.

Yes. As is green and ecological and recycle and reduce and reuse and plant-based and many other good things.

Greenwashing is one of the biggest challenges we’re facing, actually. It’s so shockingly evil to me that it can happen, and that it can happen to the extent that it does, and that’s why we need to change our economics away from this market system that rewards evil acts.

Fighting over language (rather than even concepts, let alone material reality) is a mug’s game

You’re right. For the most part I do align myself with the degrowth crowd and their slogans as opposed to trying to insist on “sustainable”; but this very discussion is one case where you seemed to have taken the ideas conveyed by “degrowth” very literally.

There is a li’l bit of if-by-whiskey risk here:

“We need degrowth and by degrowth I mean all these bad things!”
“Whoah, hold on, some of those bad things sound pretty bad!”
“No, I only said degrowth and as everyone knows, degrowth only means these specific good things!”

We were talking about some specific ideas and concepts from “fully automated space communism” and other forms of Star Trek–style fiction. That’s what you were criticizing and I was defending.

Fourth, a lot of liberal policies folds “sustainable” technologies into a general campaign for growth. In particular, several administrations have specifically focused on renewable energy sources in addition to burning hydrocarbons.

You are right. I oppose that.

Finally, I’ve increasingly questioned stagism, which I see as rooted in an idea that once we reach some level of production, that we will then have overcome scarcity.

I certainly see some obstacles that we need to solve before doing other things. In the short term, we’re hindered by:

I disagree with the idea that we should build a world such that life can never leave Earth. That’s not what I want. I wanna send out some silver seeds into that starry night. Not now. After global warming is in check.

Not all systems that evolve “in stages” are automatically good; but don’t affirm the consequent either; pretty much all systems evolve in stages. I don’t think we can solve this by going backwards. I don’t wanna Make Anarchoprimitivism Great Again; I wanna increase understanding and awareness about systems, processes and protocols, and making humanity better at thinking and meta-thinking. Let’s take care of this li’l blue marble in a thought-through way♥︎