Towards synchronising plural worldviews for radical social transformation
In search of a point of convergence
There is no way around dialogue if we truly seek to change the world. We must join others who might not share in details our exact understanding of the world, even as they may also strive for a better world that is just and ecologically sustainable. We must enter into a deep conversation with others and be prepared to allow different worldviews to rub off on our own. If we want to change the world, then we need to let go of parts of our own inherited worldviews. Dialogue is two-way, which means that something takes place on both sides of the conversation. There must be mutual self-transformation for all involved in an open-ended process, which means that the destination cannot be known in advance (Cox and Fominaya 2009). We need many such dialogues – even multilogues – involving diverse ideas and voices, to allow the flourishing of pluralities of conversations amongst fragmented social movements working for radical social change. We cannot any longer afford to live under the illusion that we alone possess the only true perspective of the world and that this can just be handed over in readymade form to the others. For a genuine unity-in-difference to take place, it is necessary to establish a mode of conversation between diverse transformative movements from below that can allow for changing ourselves while changing society. Of course, nothing can replace direct negotiation of worldviews here. We should aim at understanding the other(s) fully and not just stop at a superficial tolerance of differences. In the light of the other you have the chance to reach a deeper understanding of yourself. But if we look at worldviews as the totality of our perspective on the world and beliefs as a sub-category of this whole, it would seem that there also needs to be something common that binds us together across our different points of view, either as a product or as a starting point. Otherwise, the risk is that we would end up stabilising distances and hinder a unified force for transformation. Is there a smallest common denominator, one wonders, where our different worldviews overlap – a minimum criteria for transformation around which all differing progressive worldviews can come to agree as the basis for common action while preserving otherwise distinctive ways of looking at and being in the world?
We should not forget that we already have certain beliefs in common. These beliefs are there in our lives by default; we have not (in most cases) consciously deliberated over them. No matter which faith one subscribes to, we are all connected through a shared belief-system which holds the global economy and its power relations together. Those structures could not be sustained for even one day without such a common belief-system. This is a powerful realisation for people who engage in movements for radical social change and just transition beyond capitalism. We often think that our transformative dialogues must start with building bridges between our most deeply held beliefs and values, finding commonalities and synergies between the plural positions that we positively endorse. Of course, this is indispensable. But if this is not combined with a joint effort of getting rid of some shared mistaken beliefs that despite our best intentions are at work behind our back in everyday life, we leave a lot of potential space for convergence outside of consideration. What is more, our diverse perspectives thereby remain polluted. There is no wonder why this happens however, as such beliefs, for the most parts, remain below our radar. But if we could come to recognise them for what they are – that they are not our own – that they in fact serve to dominate and harmfully alienate us from our social essence, then in principle it would be in everyone’s interest to get rid of them. In that way we could set in motion a common movement from all sides at once, one that would belong in equal measure to everyone from the start; a process going all the way from the global level down to the level of the individual self. Identifying this shared but alienating belief-system then, creates potential for maximum inclusiveness to endeavours of alliance building across a diversity of transformative articulations.
The mirror of money
We would like to suggest that this common alienated and alienating belief-system is rooted in money – the bond that currently connects humanity in the global economy. Money, as Marx showed in his critique of capitalism, can exist either as a claim on, or realised form of, value. In both cases, it refers exclusively to a peculiar kind of social relation. Sociologists agree that money is a social relation. But what sets Marx's theory apart is that it captures the way that money (in capitalism) at the same time is the locus point in the circuit-of-value where this social relation disappears before our very eyes (Marx 1996). In our day-to-day exchanges it is no longer visible where the value that money expresses comes from. It is true that the direct exchange between market actors also is a social relation – this is indeed visible and for many social scientists this is where the social reality of money starts. But this is a secondary relationship. What is gone in the money form, and consequently in accounts that take this form for granted is the source of value in the social relations of production. What remains in money is an opaque thing that expresses a quantity as if it belonged to the object itself and was related exclusively to the world of commodities. The result is what Marx called commodity fetishism – that our common products seem endowed with a life of their own. Money ties things together only after having first severed them apart from their social source. As such it is an inherently contradictory mediator of our interwoven economic life; it is the “always already broken” bond (Timofeeva 2020, 82) in which I am tied to you and you to me, as we are both being connected to the rest of humanity but separated from our common sociality/ communal essence and powers, and from nature (Marx 1975). Since we are all directly related to this common mediator, it subjects us to a distortion without which the power relations of the global economy could not be sustained, not even for a moment.
If we look at the dire situation on the planet – with ever worsening ecological crisis, grotesque inequalities, and deep injustices – we must ask how such unsustainability can remain in place at all. What is it that keeps us separated from ourselves and nature? What makes this possible is a particular false belief-system that protects the dominant power relations while denying universal interrelatedness and reciprocity as the basis for life on earth. For how else could such a contradiction – where we undermine the very basis of our own existence and where the purported well-being of the few is bought at the ill-being of many – continue to rule over our common life? These false conceptions are all nurtured by the mediation of money, being the bond between us that dissolves its own social foundation. As such money has an immediate naturalising effect on those relations and functions as an automatic legitimisation for whoever is in possession of its alienating power. Let’s imagine for a moment that the actual social relation behind wealth is laid bare before our eyes in our everyday life, so that the wealth of the rich minority was seen to flow (as it indeed does) from the free labour of others, and that the upper strata of the labour force derive their inflated wages from pay-outs of this free labour in one or another form. How long could such injustice and contradiction be tolerated? Not long! But thanks to money, that exploitative relation remains safely invisible to us. Instead, money enters the scene as its own proof of success and worth, as an immediate legitimisation of unequal access to the means of life. We can appreciate how a social mediator like this, which dissolves its own social foundation, supports a general social consciousness of narcissism and egotism (individual and collective!) throughout society. These are after all psychological traits, which pivot exactly on the sense of the individual as being split-off from everything else and that treats our common reality as an extension of one-self. If we zoom out the functioning of the money based system, we can see how infinite growth on a finite planet is based on the same stark isolation and denial of interconnectedness. The split inherent in money supports a fantasy of a parallel world of constant growth disconnected from the earth system. In other words, there is something fundamentally off with such beliefs of separation and isolation. They are so out of phase with reality that it verges on the psychotic. But they are at the same time all being nurtured by the everyday objects that mediate our common economic life in a way that helps to keep the system of oppressive, exploitative, and environmentally destructive power relations in place.
We can think of money as a mirror that stands between humans and their interconnected needs for each other and nature. This mirror cuts itself loose from its own preconditions and whenever we mediate our life through this object, it reflects the individual money owner alone, whether it is in his capacity as a consumer, buyer, or seller, etc. of commodities on the market to satisfy diverse wants and desires. Among the latter are also genuine human needs for sure. But wants and desires can now be completely artificial, insatiable, extending beyond any natural boundaries and still being provided for by the market. Neither is there any hierarchical order in place that says that some needs should be prioritised, for example, to maintain a healthy interaction to the environment as the absolute condition for life on earth or to eradicate poverty. For now, money decides what and whose needs are worth meeting. Only the amount of money sets the limit for what is legitimate to have, own and enclose from the access of others. In fact, money replaces genuine needs everywhere with the greed of having more and more (Marx 1975). Since money is the universal equivalent and mediator for satisfying our needs of survival (in most cases) in capitalist society, we must first secure this need before we can meet any other. It is not strange therefore that an everyday life of a global economy pierced through by the distorted reflection of money tends to produce a narcissistic denial of, and feelings of separateness from, the objective world of universal interconnectedness. For the reflection goes behind the back of the individual money owner standing before the mirror and redirects our vision into the world of commodities, a reified world of things that now stands before us as the answer to our diverse needs through a series of isolated and impersonal purchases on the market. At that same moment, the world of our (always) interlocking social needs, and the condition for their satisfaction, recedes ever more into the shadowy realm behind the money mirror.
Stepping outside the reflection of money
People who seek to change the world should try to get rid of this reflection of money on their own worldviews. No alternative can come forth as long as we remain inside of it. We have to step out in defiant denial of this distortion and not let any of its illusions contaminate our vision anymore. We must drop any remnant of self-aggrandising, self-serving, possessive, egotistic, competitive, or accumulative behaviour from our transformative projects. If we do not do so, we are bound to repeat and reproduce the same mistakes over and over again, creating hierarchical power structures that block common collective capacities. What is called for therefore is an inward, reflexive moment in which we all start from what currently connects most of us at this historic moment – the alienated mediator of money – and together scrutinise the distortive effects it has on our diverse worldviews. It keeps us separated from ourselves and nature, preventing true collective confluence and alliance building. Such inward reflexivity would not be a retreat from engagement with others for transformative change but a necessary preparation for it. Through this co-exploration from all sides at once, people might come to sense the source from which the social power of money flows, unlocking the required social capacities for transformative articulations around the world. For in following such path of synchronised negation and work on the self, people will simultaneously move closer in their vision. They will carve out a space on neutral ground at the intersection of their plural worldviews, reclaiming the alienated space previously occupied by money. Proceeding from the false notions attached to the mediation of money will give momentum to our endeavour; because we can then collectively afford to renounce it. By recognising this common but false belief-system as something that we can dispense with all-together, we will be able to avoid unnecessary confrontation between parts of our worldviews that do not align easily. What we can hope to uncover in the process will be our inherent common human sociality with each other and our conviviality with the more-than-human mystery (Abram 2017, x) that was always already there from the start – not as anyone’s territory but as the territory of all. From this common ground we can then come to fully appreciate the richness of our differences. We will now also have a unifying element rediscovered as a shared reality and experience.
Rediscovering bondedness beneath it all
Taking this path through our shared false beliefs, we might thus eventually rediscover a core of bondedness in reality itself where our plural worldviews converge. We might come to sense this in our very being, as a common disposition in all of us, a source of strength and faith that can be tapped into to facilitate transformative dialogue between people. This could be the unity-in-difference, the tie, without which we would not be able to bind our efforts together into a transformative force for radical change in the world. The deep bondedness of reality has always been a central feature of progressive, spiritual and ecologically minded movements. But at times this view has seemed hopelessly out of sync with the actual alienated state of the world that we witness every day, characterised by our ever-deepening separation from ourselves and nature. Of course, the latter does not make sense without a belief in the former. But this core belief has tended to remain outside of actual world politics, as a powerless faith and an ought of how things should be. It has remained mostly at the margins, with little influence over how people live their daily life in a world so dominated by other alienating false beliefs, wants and desires. By taking false beliefs as our starting point instead we will probably arrive at the same conclusions; but in addition we will also then be in a better position to explain how we ended up so far from this reality and from what we essentially are. It is perhaps a necessary detour that will make our belief in universal bondedness stronger and the false belief-system that currently dominates us weaker.
Abram, David. 2017. The spell of sensuousness. Vintage Book Editions.
Cox, Laurence, and Cristina Flesher Fominaya. 2009. Movement knowledge: What do we know, How do we create knowledge and What do we do with It? 1: 20.
Marx, Karl. 1975. Economic and philosophic manuscripts of 1844 (Collected works 3). London : Lawrence & Wishart;
———. 1996. Capital: A critique of political economy, volume I(Collected works 35). London : Lawrence & Wishart .
Timofeeva, Oxana. 2020. ‘Spirituality beyond man: Toward a labor theory of the Soul’. Rethinking Marxism 32 (1): 66–87.
Disclaimer: This article was prepared with the support of the Heinrich Böll Stiftung India. The views and analysis contained in the publication are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the Heinrich Böll Stiftung/and the author's affiliated institution.