In the 1980s, then-British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher declared “There is no Alternative” (“TINA”) to global capitalism. Since then, our culture has forged ahead as though this silly statement were true.
But just look around. Racial and ethnic cleansing, unsafe factory labor, war, civil unrest, starvation, deforestation, trophy hunting and poaching, and illegal dumping into previously pristine lands and water bodies are all related, in one way or another, to the march of capitalism. There damn well better be an alternative this man-made system.
And of course, there are alternatives. Many alternatives, in fact. And not just ones that swing in the direction of state control—”thanks, but no thanks, socialism.” No, alternatives that bring people together and promote threading lightly on earth, such as vernacular ways of living.
When I consider the vernacular, quite often I wind up forming ideas about “sticking it to the man.” Not in outright destructive ways—though these have their place—but in ways that show the man that yes, we can create viable alternatives to capitalist mindsets and institutions.
And so, I offer up these convivial ideas for “sticking it to the man.” May they inspire your own creative thinking on showing the man how much we don’t need him.
- Re-imagine the concept of “education. Today, education is a commodity, something to be purchased—as with private schools and all universities—or consumed—as with curricula “taught” at public school factories. Instead, we can educate people of all ages by stoking their innate curiosity. Visit nearby wood patches and streams and rivers and hills. While there, track vertebrates and invertebrates, identifying them by their strides and roaming habits. Identify trees and shrubs and lichen and how these depend on insects and birds and soils to live.
- Re-create common spaces. Virtually all space in towns and cities is privately owned or publicly provisioned. The capitalist system vanishes the commons. That ain’t cool. Find a cul-de-sac or neighborhood street or nearby field or park or playground and host weekly get-togethers to talk with one one another, eat, or dance together. Conjure up plays or play sports together.
- Re-arrange shared time with comrades. How many times have you heard someone say, “I’m just so busy?” Of course, we’re all busy! It’s almost a badge of honor. Yet forgoing time with folks we care about in light of our work-a-day lifestyles is sad. With your friends, arrange times to take off the same days of work. Enjoy lunch together. Skip stones down by the pond together. Go all Thoreau and wonder through some wooded patches together.
- Re-interpret how we use public spaces. Even places considered “public” are often for limited use or limited to privileged users. Why not “tactically urbanize?” Put down “pop-up cafes.” Improve empty on-street car parking with “parklets.” Paint extensions of street corners and set up small plazas. Place play equipment—rock walls, see-saws, swings, basketball hoops—in underused on-street parking spaces. Re-invent the commons.
- Re-invigorate places. It’s true: too much space goes underused and underappreciated. Partner with a construction company, work with schools and religious institutions and businesses to “de-pave” unused surface parking and city blocks. Establish community gardens or community centers or community parks. Re-invigorate community.
- Re-organize lunchtime. Many of us work too much and with few chances to recharge. Take back your time. Set up a lunch-time walk out. Demand more paid time off. Demand shorter work weeks. Secure paid maternity and paternity leave. We all need time to reflect on what truly matters in life.
- Re-connect people with each other and with doing. Our modern “knowledge economy” de-skills us in so many ways. Yet re-skilling is possible! Host free gardening or canning or cooking or wood carving or shoe cobbling or music-making or basket-weaving or knitting or pottery-turning workshops at your house or on common grounds. If that’s not feasible, teach three people you know one useful skill you’ve acquired. Doing useful things together is living together.
- Re-establish shared meals. Eating alone is on the rise. This is not surprising in capitalist societies that champion the individual. Still, it’s a sad fact of modern life. Few actions lend us more gratification than breaking bread with loved ones. At least twice a season, gather in the company of friends and cook and eat seasonal dishes together.
- Re-kindle correspondence. Our capitalist system encourages quick and mindless sharing of thoughts and feelings a la social media. Hand written letters presents a welcome contrast to this alienating system. This season, write letters to three people with whom you have a close relationship or with whom you’d like to enjoy a closer relationship. It will no doubt bring you closer together.
- Re-cycle nature’s abundance. Scarcity is capitalism’s organizing principle. Yet abundance adheres closer to the cycles of nature. Make a pact with close others to establish your own gardens. Complement each other by growing different varietals of herbs, fruits, grains, and vegetables. Share the surplus of your harvests. Creating and celebrating abundance overshadows capitalistic scarcity any day.
These proposed ways to “stick it to the man” are abundant in all communities and in all of us. By living intentionally, we can—and will—restore humanity and our biosphere. Thank you, Ms. Thatcher, but we will create viable alternatives to capitalism. Just you wait and see.