top nav spacer
You Are Here: Home » Economics » Why DIY Is Great, And Not Enough

Why DIY Is Great, And Not Enough

One of the fruitful ongoing conversations that seems to crop up often, when I plot and scheme with other spiritual activists, is the relationship between building alternatives to the current system, and confronting the system and its institutions head-on.

It’s a really rich topic not only for discussion and theorizing, but also for practice. In this vein, I found this summary of No Local, by Greg Sharzer, pretty thought-provoking, and am interested in reading the book! Sharzer writes:

If you want to create healthy food for yourself or trade crafts, that’s great. Making something yourself, whether it’s a painting, a bicycle or a carrot, is a way to feel you’ve left a mark in a world where everything’s bought and sold. If growing your own vegetables makes you feel better and helps you meet your neighbors, then you should do it. Moreover, participating in a local DIY project can provide the strength and tools for community activism. Inspiration and political imagination are highly personal and subjective things, and no one can predict what inspires a critical understanding of society and how to change it.

But if the goal is stop ecological degradation and runaway growth, then the stakes are higher, and localists need to ask whether small projects will create long–term change. In practice, building those alternatives takes a lot of time and energy; projects can become self–justifying, not the means to build broad movements for social change. That’s why this book argues that hidden beneath localism’s DIY attitude is a deep pessimism: it assumes we can’t make large–scale, collective social change. Those with the correct ideas can carve a niche outside the system, but for most people, the machinery of capitalism will continue to be oiled with the blood of its workers.

Read the whole book summary here, and tell us what you think, BPFers!

Comments (3)

  • John Eden

    There are no private solutions. Ultimately, we must fix the whole ship or we go down with it. Writer Peter Marin said this many years ago, and it has always helped me evaluate suggestions and ideas in the social/economic sphere. If an idea is not somehow helping everyone, at least leading to changes that will help everyone, it’s not much different from hoarding gold bars and machine guns in preparation for some future collapse.

    Thanks for sharing this. I too want to read this book.

  • Richard Modiano

    It seems to me that Sharzer is substantially right, although I don’t agree that pessimism is the sole underlying motive; there are other factors: local initiatives produce immediate tangible results and they empower the people who carry them out. Local initiatives often start out with idea of thinking globally and acting locally, but in practice success at the local level makes people forget or ignore the larger global context. The struggle is not over, it’s just beginning.

    There already are local organizations for democracy and for social justice, for fair trade and for control over corporate power, for labor rights, environmental protection, consumer safety, etc. all over the world. What we need to do is unify those separate parts into one coordinated whole. Instead of Ford workers in Detroit and Ford workers in Shanghai being in different unions (or in no union at all), we need all of them in the same union, under the same contract. Instead of environmental groups focusing just on their own community, we need to unify them into a global environmental group which fights for the same environmental protections everywhere. In every area–consumer rights, workplace safety, product standards, minimum wages, fair labor laws — we must fight to implement global laws and regulations which apply everywhere, rather than the current patchwork of laws and regulations which only apply in this community or that. Just as the corporations are seeking a uniform set of global rules, so too must we.

    That is how we get the beginnings of a supra-national social justice movement– by unifying all the local ones that already exist. And “unify”, doesn’t just mean “give money or moral support to each other”, nor simply, “we share the same goals”. It means unify into one global organization, just like the corporations already have.

    We must build up as much international power as the supra-nationals have, until we are strong enough to do what the local social justice movements have already done at the local level– democratize the government. We need to force the WTO and the UN to become democratic in reality rather than just democratic in name only, by repealing the privileged position of the veto-wielding nations and turning the UN into a true” one person, one vote” democracy.

    How do we get the popular democratic vote, in the UN or the WTO? The same way African-Americans got the vote in the US. How do we get a seat at the WTO table for labor representatives? The same way that unions won a seat at the corporate table in Denmark and Germany. We must re-fight all of the old fights–for labor rights, for democracy, for consumer and environmental protections–but we must fight them at the international level this time, rather than at the mere community level.

    Will any of this be easy to accomplish? No. It will be the biggest fight in all of human history — much larger than the American civil rights movement or the British labor movement or even the Third World anti-colonial movement. The corporations and the privileged nations (including the US) will fight against us every step of the way. But it must be done. The only alternative is to simply allow the global corporate elite to continue to run roughshod over the rest of us and reduce us to a state of serfdom.

  • John Eden

    Thanks for this perspective, Richard. I think you’re right about the need for global unity in the work for economic democracy and environmental protection and all those things. Seems to me this can best be done through the existing global socialist organizations… though there is such resistance to socialism as a concept… and some of those organizations are pretty parochial as well. But, as you said, it will be hard however this is approached. It’s encouraging to me that there is discussion of this on BPF. A wider demographic involved is the key to progress…

Leave a Comment

© 2012 Buddhist Peace Fellowship

Scroll to top