This time of year two divergent discourses about the state of the world and the direction it should take compete with each other at the transplanetary level. The goliath World Economic Forum is as old and as establishment as the World Social Forum is gauche and alternative. The former traces its roots to European business elites powwowing up the Swiss mountains in the 1970s, the latter to the unprecedented solidarity of the world’s social movements in the run up to the 1999 WTO summit in Seattle.
The motor of the world’s economic logic has truly made everything go global. Work, culture, people, money, commodities, crises, terror, climate change, resources, solutions, ideals, life, love, hope. From its birthplace in the British Isle five centuries past, Capitalism has proven to be an enduring means with which humanity produces and reproduces its reason for being. Much to the dismay of Uncle Karl, Capitalism is here to stay for as long as its contradictions are regulated by the institutions which govern the world today. Times like these call for deep soul-searching, when the system is ululating its swan’s song, the rot of its innards exposed for all to see. Where has history taken us? And do we want those who are yet born to tread the same path? When we have produced and consumed all the Earth can offer, where to next?
The dynamism with which the machine has created all the wonders of the modern age all came at a price. As the world has never been more materially abundant, so too has it seen the wretched multiply. Do we really need all that we have? And must we continue to pay such a steep price to acquire them? At what price security? At what price borders? At what price silly comforts? At what price the blemish-free banana?
All that was solid has melted into air. The tangibility of the modern age now rests on the liquidity of the new age. Capital is disperse, the State a lean, mean enforcing machine, and Labor is now scouring the Earth for livelihood. Even the inert is now open for pillage by marauding opportunists. Land for lease, if not for sale. Classes lay horizontal, alliances traversing borders. The money-mongers in this Third World hole now have more in common with the ones in London than with the Filipino hawking his goods down the street.
In Davos meet the alliances of those who own and run the world, in Brazil those who yearn for an alternative. Ensconced in their snowy enclave CEOs, Prime Ministers, financiers, media moguls and global institutions assess the damage they have wrought and seek to find a remedy. The usual band-aid measures may no longer suffice as we hemorrhage, and hemorrhage. In Belém 100,000 converge to once more lay claim to the global public sphere and to manifest the need for a more democratic means with which we govern ourselves and with which we steward the planet to equitably and sustainably partake of its wealth.