The quiet revolution – Nimue Brown on Paganism and capitalism

By Nimue Brown

Art by Tom Brown, see more work at hopelessmaine.com

If we want change, we have to change the system. To change the system, we have to challenge and change the dominant stories about what is good, wise and in our interests. The stories upholding capitalism are well supported by the media but are totally at odds with all things Pagan.

Capitalism is about profit – you pay less than it is worth and sell for more than it is worth to achieve this, so there are two stages of exploitation.

Capitalism favours the ruthless, the corner-cutters, those willing to demand more and give less. It favours the dishonourable, those willing to take down anyone weaker, exploit those who do not have the power to resist and mislead about the value of what’s for sale.

It puts a price tag on everything and considers irrelevant anything it cannot sell. It is also competitive and competition is wasteful, it creates more than is needed and encourages unnecessary consumption. Sustainable, earth-centred living and capitalism do not go together.

There are a number of myths holding this together. Trickle-down economics is one, which we can see does not work as the gap between the rich and poor keeps increasing. We do not benefit from the super-rich. Supply and demand – the idea that the market naturally responds to what people want – is another. It does not. Our wants are manufactured through advertising and you are sold the desire so that you can be sold the product.

The market is said to be a fair way of getting things done. It is not, it simply enables those with economic power to set the agenda. Work hard, because this is the key virtue, and you can be wealthy, we are told. Again, it is not true, it does not work. Being born rich is still the most reliable way of being a rich person.

The stories underpinning more sustainable and equitable ways of living are very different. For a start, we do not put a price tag on all things. Health, beauty, community, happiness and quality of life are not about what you can buy. All you need are the basics covered, the rest comes from living well.

Chasing after the next must-have object does not make us happy. Running on the consumer-producer treadmill is making us bodily and emotionally ill. Quality of life has everything to do with equality and co-operation, with relationships not based on exploitation.

Hard work is not a virtue. Working hard enough to have what you need is a virtue but sacrificing health, life, family, friendships and the environment for work is no kind of virtue at all.

We need to stop obsessing over work and start talking about quality of life, of balanced, rich and fulfilling lives. Work has a place but it is not the only show in town.

Living sustainably

To live sustainably, we have to take no more than we need. That means we have to seriously question the logic that competition is good for us. It certainly is not good for the planet. Resources need to go to those who need them, not follow the money. We have the resources to feed, shelter and clothe everyone but the distribution is appalling.

We have to question the story that having far more than we need when others are suffering is acceptable. We have to challenge the story that material possession says something good about us and instead adopt the story that the condition of the least well off person is the measure of the rest of us. Excessive wealth when others are in poverty should be considered shameful. To challenge capitalism, we have to ask what life is for. Is our purpose as human beings to be good little workers and consumers? What are we here for? What are we living for? Is it the next new car? A better phone?

We need to resist the story that life is about objects and possessions. We need to understand ourselves and everything else on totally different terms. If we can disconnect value from productivity, human worth from bank balances, humanity from poverty, we are in with a chance of getting some better stories about who we are and how we might choose to live.

Then we have to start living out those stories by being the change, by refusing to co-operate with exploitation, by putting fairness ahead of personal wealth.

If enough of us start moving in this direction, we can have a quiet revolution.