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Annual Write-Up On What I’m About And What I’m Doing Here
Every year around my birthday I like to write an article outlining my overall perspective and what’s driving my output on this little platform of mine. I do this primarily in the interests of transparency: I believe that all journalists and commentators have biases and agendas, and the best they can do given that reality is be transparent about what those are. As a crowdfunded writer it’s important for me to be clear about where I stand and what I’m trying to do so that people can decide if my project is something they want to contribute to advancing. What follows is my most recent article about who I am, published on December 2, 2021, and an article detailing my strange business model that was first published as My Experiments With Hacking Capitalism on May 24, 2021.
Who I Am
I am an Australian mother of two who just turned 47. I received a BA in journalism in 2003 but had figured out by then that working in news media would just mean regurgitating garbage from Reuters and AP and the spin jobs of think tanks and PR men. So rather than waste my energy on something I knew would be dissatisfying I threw myself into environmental activism, personal growth, a small business, and the unspeakably profound adventure of motherhood.
In 2016 I found myself writing a lot of Facebook posts about the suppression of the Bernie Sanders campaign, which turned into writing opinion articles for a self-publishing news aggregate site called Inquisitr, which turned into this weird crowd-funded independent project which combines elements of journalism, polemics, philosophy, social commentary, poetry, music and art.
That's Caitlin Johnstone the person. "Caitlin Johnstone" as readers know that name is actually two people: myself and my husband Tim Foley. Tim and I married when he moved here from the States in 2016, and ever since we've been engaged in a nonstop conversation like two kids at an endless sleepover about what we reckon is going on in the world and what can be done to save it from disaster. Most of the things you read in this space are the products of that conversation, and we both work on them. It's hard to describe our intimate and complementary collaboration toward that end, but in terms of roles I'm the decision maker and our output follows my overarching vision and perspective, while Tim's unique mind is responsible for many of the jokes and turns of phrase you've enjoyed here over the years. Tim is also the voice you hear doing the audio recordings for the stuff we publish.
It's been a wild ride and we've learned so much along the way. Our early writings look unskillful and sometimes downright cringey looking back on them, but we feel like we've got a pretty good handle on what's going on now, and we're only getting better.
Where I Stand
It seems pretty obvious to me that our species is headed for disaster if our large-scale behavior remains dictated by systems in which people and nations compete with each other for power and profit rather than collaborating with each other for the good of everyone. The pursuit of profit for its own sake is killing our biosphere and the agenda of unipolar domination is driving us ever closer to nuclear war, so I find it no exaggeration to say that our very survival depends on abandoning capitalism and imperialism in favor of collaboration-based models of operation.
This perspective places me far to the left of most people, and I seem to only be moving further in that direction with each passing year. I no longer bother correcting people when they call me a communist rather than a socialist, and I suppose I could someday begin applying that label to myself, though I suspect if humanity does move into the kind of global-scale collaborative models we require for survival the end result will be so different from the current status quo that it won't look quite like anything we've been able to imagine in any of our pet -isms.
But we'll never move into the kind of healthy systems we need for survival as long as we are being successfully manipulated into accepting the status quo by those who benefit from it. A tremendous amount of my work goes into attacking the establishment propaganda machine and highlighting its malignant effects, because from my point of view that's the glue holding the whole extinction stew together.
There's a loose alliance of plutocrats and government agencies roughly centralized around the United States who make the real decisions of consequence behind the theatrical displays of electoral politics and official governmental systems, and those decisions are what's driving us to extinction via environmental collapse or nuclear armageddon. It seems clear to me that these power-hungry individuals are far too deeply unconscious and unwise to take any interest in steering us away from this suicidal trajectory, so things aren't going to get better until ordinary people rise up and use the power of their numbers to force them to. But this will never happen as long as people are being successfully propagandized away from doing so by the mass media and other systems geared toward controlling the dominant narrative about the world.
I use the terms "narrative" and "narrative matrix" a lot because this is fundamentally the foundation upon which our enslavement is built. Humans are storytelling animals; most of our interest and attention goes toward mental stories, narratives, about what's going on with us, with our surroundings, and with our world. So if you can control what stories the humans are telling each other about what's going on, you control the humans.
Power is controlling what happens. Ultimate power is controlling what people think about what happens. In order to take power, ordinary people are going to have to reclaim our minds from those who are manipulating us into consenting to our oppressive, exploitative, ecocidal, omnicidal status quo. This is going to mean helping each other awaken to the many ways in which we are being manipulated by the powerful; once we're conscious of the manipulations they no longer hold their power, because consciousness and dysfunction cannot coexist.
More than this, though, what humanity is going to need to give rise to a healthy world is a completely different relationship with mental narrative altogether. A relationship where mental stories about self, other and world no longer run the show in our experience, where thought simply becomes a useful tool that can be picked up when it's needed and set down when it's not. Humans have been writing for millennia about the capacity we all have within us to make this shift, which is commonly known as spiritual enlightenment.
When I'm at my most direct and to the point, this is what I write about. The fact that humanity as a whole will need a profoundly transformative psychological awakening from its old way of functioning if it is to survive into the distant future. This might sound like an outlandish request from reality, but I really don't think so. Every species eventually hits a point where it either adapts to a changing situation or goes the way of the dinosaur; we are at such a point right now, and a collective awakening appears to be the adaptation we're going to have to make. We absolutely have the potential within us for this, waiting dormant and ready to be fired up when we're ready. And we'll either become ready and make the adaptation that's required of us at this juncture in order to survive, or we will not.
What I'm Trying To Do Here
Everything I write points to the dynamic outlined above in some way, whether it's news commentary, art, or philosophical musings. I use this platform to try and expand consciousness in every direction possible with regard to humanity's current plight as I see it, which one day might mean drawing attention to the dangers of nuclear brinkmanship and the next day trying to breathe some oxygen onto that sacred spark within all of us using artistic expression.
All positive changes in human behavior always arise from an expansion of consciousness; from someone or a group of someones becoming aware of something they previously were not. This is true whether you're talking about someone becoming aware of the psychological dynamics which feed their self-destructive behavior patterns or society as a whole becoming aware of the injustice and toxicity of racial prejudice. So my goal is to push the light of consciousness outward in every way I can in all the areas I see as most crucial for humanity's current situation.
And I try to make a living doing this in the most conscious way I can. My patronage system is set up to be as close to a gift economy as possible, where I put out the best quality daily work I can regardless of whether I received any donations that day and patrons donate without getting anything in return beyond having donated. Anyone is allowed to re-publish my work or use it in any way they like, including making money off of it, with or without attribution, free of charge. I encourage anyone who wants to try making a few bucks selling quotes or art I've made on print-on-demand platforms like Redbubble or CafePress, and if anyone wants to sell my books I can order them at author's cost for you (just get in touch via email or Twitter DM).
This gift economy approach is what I suspect a healthy and awake human society will have in the future, so that's what I try to embody in my livelihood.
Where I'm Headed
I'd like to set the intention for this year to write more about healthy models I imagine we could find ourselves using in the future, just to help put some positive things to shoot for out there in public consciousness. I never really feel like I have control over exactly what I'll write about, but we'll see if the inspiration gods hear me.
Other than that, I simply intend to keep working to help expand awareness in all the best ways I can until humanity becomes so healthy that I am made obsolete and my work is no longer needed or wanted.
Thank you all so much for walking with me on this crazy adventure. I look forward to seeing what the future holds for all of us.
My Experiments With Hacking Capitalism
Easily the most interesting aspect of my weird little operation here is how I make a living doing what I'm doing. I'll put the information out there just in case it's useful to anybody.
Like anyone else who criticizes capitalism within earshot of hardcore capitalism enthusiasts, I get the "and yet you participate in capitalism ha ha" line all the time. They claim that because I have links to Patreon and Paypal at the bottom of my articles I am hypocritical for criticizing capitalism, which is silly for a number of reasons.
It's silly because we live in a capitalist society which requires participation in capitalism to engage in, so it's a lot like telling prisoners who complain the prison system that they are being hypocritical because they live in prison. It's also silly because it implies that the only people who can criticize the status quo are those living in a log cabin in the woods with no electricity eating squirrel meat and yelling their grievances into a hole in the ground.
And, in my case, it's also silly because it's less true of me than it is of most people.
I make my living entirely from the goodwill of other people. I work as hard as most people, but I don't charge money for my labor; I work for free and demand nothing from anyone who enjoys the fruits of my labor. All my work is free to view, free to republish, free to use, free to alter, on no conditions whatsoever; even my books are comprised entirely of stuff that's free to view online. There is no trade, and there is no exchange; you already have the product. I just have a digital tip jar at the bottom of every article that people can toss a few coins into if they want to.
I decided early on in this commentary gig that I wanted to write about the healthiest things I can possibly write about from the healthiest parts of myself, and if I'm going to get paid I want it to be by the healthiest impulses of the healthiest sort of people. In my case that means writing from every angle I can about the ways our society is unhealthy and how it can move toward health, and it means doing so in full dependence on the goodwill of people who care about the same thing.
As near as I can tell the major problems with the world I am leaving to my children ultimately boil down to the fact that money tends to elevate the very worst kinds of people: those who are willing to step on anyone to get ahead, even if it means impoverishing everybody else, or starting wars, or destroying the ecosystem we all depend on for survival. My goal has been to try and "hack" this trend by getting money to reward health instead, thereby allowing me to embody the opposite of the disease and proving that a better way is possible.
Because money is power and money rewards sociopathy, we wind up ruled by greedy sociopaths. This problem is further exacerbated by the fact that wealth has been shown to kill empathy in those who have it, which makes sense if you consider how money functions as a kind of prosthetic goodwill currency. Without a lot of money you depend on the goodwill of your neighbors to get by; you need to always be attuned to what their needs are, how you can help them, and how they're feeling toward you in order to make sure they'll help you fix your car when it breaks down or whatever. If you are wealthy you don't need to think about goodwill at all, so that attunement to other people's needs and feelings will atrophy.
By contrast, in societies that aren't dominated by money, goodwill is the prevailing currency, and sociopaths tend to wind up dead. From Scientific American:
In a 1976 study anthropologist Jane M. Murphy, then at Harvard University, found that an isolated group of Yupik-speaking Inuits near the Bering Strait had a term (kunlangeta) they used to describe “a man who … repeatedly lies and cheats and steals things and … takes sexual advantage of many women—someone who does not pay attention to reprimands and who is always being brought to the elders for punishment.” When Murphy asked an Inuit what the group would typically do with a kunlangeta, he replied, “Somebody would have pushed him off the ice when nobody else was looking.”
In such tribal cultures your worth is measured not by how much money you have, but by the extent to which you improve the quality of life for those around you. If you make life pleasant for the collective you'll receive plenty of goodwill from them, and if you make life unpleasant for them you run out of goodwill and get pushed off the ice. But in our society a kunlangeta's disregard for goodwill and his willingness to do anything for profit could make him a CEO.
My goal here is to get by on goodwill currency instead of kunlangeta currency, while hopefully helping to move us out of our kunlangeta way of life.
This is why I don't have any tiers or rewards on my Patreon page; it's important to what I'm doing here that it be an entirely goodwill relationship on both ends, because in my experience the healthiest relationships all come from a mutual desire to give freely while the unhealthiest are "you give me that I'll give you this" transactional relationships. I put just as much effort into my work whether I get a lot of money on a given day or none at all, and patrons get the same whether they give me two dollars or two hundred. That way we're all operating entirely from intrinsic motivation, driven by the inner rewards of having done something helpful and advancing something we value, rather than the extrinsic motivation model of capitalism that is driving our world toward disaster.
And that's ultimately what I'd like to see for humanity going forward: a world where we're not stepping on each other and our ecosystem in pursuit of profit, but collaborating with each other and with our ecosystem out of intrinsic motivation toward the common good of all beings. My way of life is the best personal testament I can offer that such a world is possible.
And seeing that it is possible is the first step. Mark Fisher writes:
Watching Children of Men, we are inevitably reminded of the phrase attributed to Fredric Jameson and Slavoj Žižek, that it is easier to imagine the end of the world than it is to imagine the end of capitalism. That slogan captures precisely what I mean by ‘capitalist realism’: the widespread sense that not only is capitalism the only viable political and economic system, but also that it is now impossible even to imagine a coherent alternative to it.
I am trying to help us all imagine a coherent alternative to it. I don't know precisely to what extent my path can be traveled by other people, much less by the entirety of our species. But walking this path for myself has given me a lot of hope that I can leave my children a much healthier world.