Τhe book by Milan Kundera “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” could actually be dealing with the lightness by which every person today declares his/ her political orientation. And I’m not just talking about the Cypriot society. The phenomenon is global. I’m rightist! I’m leftist! I’m green! I’m red and green! I’m blue with a little pink! You can basically declare whatever you want. And that’s because no one will ask you why. No one will trouble you. What does it mean, for example, I’m a social liberal? What does social liberalism stand for? Is social liberalism consistent with my own socio-economic worldview, with my own attitude to life? What is the goal of this ideology and how does it achieve it? Being a social liberal, what exactly do I expect to happen, what am I waiting for?
The political system is roughly divided into three main orientations: the right, the left and the environmentalists. Among them there are many variations and combinations. This division also exists in Cyprus. So, let’s attempt a quick (psycho-)analysis of 3 conscious citizens who, let’s assume, know what they are stating:
The conscious rightist is a citizen who recognises that the pursuit of an organized society and a socio-economic system must be the collective prosperity. S/he believes that this can be achieved through well-functioning free markets and healthy competition. S/he believes that everyone should strive to maximize their personal profit and believes that government intervention should be kept to a minimum as it is an obstacle to maximizing the production of value. The role of the state must be limited to organizational matters as well as to the protection of vulnerable groups of the population.
The model of capitalism has the greatest productivity potential and can raise the standard of living of the general population. But what we have today is not capitalism. These are not free markets as Adam Smith originally described them. What exists today is unrestrained neoliberalism, unimaginable concentration of wealth, and socialism of the capital where states have come to the point of serving the interests of the powerful and rich in the name of the collective good (we have a very recent example in our country…). In addition, reckless globalization and abuse of our natural resources have brought our unique planet to the brink of destruction (even though billionaires dream of taking us to Mars), while the fact that humans are treated as a productive resource on one hand and as an avid consumer on the other, has created lonely people and alienated societies. Is this the society and economic system that the rightist really wants and supports? Does s/he understand what s/he is advocating? Does it express him/her? Is it really in his/her best interest? And if not, what exactly does s/he expect to change by supporting and voting for the same?
The conscious leftist is a citizen who recognises that the pursuit of an organized society and a socio-economic system must be the collective prosperity. S/he believes that this can be achieved through the common ownership and control of the means of production which will provide the opportunity for a fairer redistribution of wealth and creation of the conditions for the well-being of all the members of society. This role can be assumed by the state or even private initiatives such as cooperatives, employee-owned companies, etc. The extreme form of this system, communism, has been tested and failed for various reasons that will not be discussed in this article. For this reason, most left-wing parties are not purely communist but promote a socialist model, a mixed economy, a welfare state, a socio-economic model, anyway, that is centred on people and not profit.
The leftist, the one who really believes in fairer and more collective societies, is not satisfied with today’s reality. And the question is simple: what exactly does the leftist expect today? What does s/he expect to happen? A revolution, an uprising? Local? Global; If not something so extreme, is s/he waiting for the majority in the European Parliament to change and promote socialist directives? What will this change look like? Who will bring about this change? What exactly does s/he expect to change by supporting and voting for the same?
The conscious environmentalist is a citizen who recognises that the pursuit of an organized society and a socio-economic system must be the sustainable prosperity. The environmentalist may join the entire socio-economic spectrum since we see greens believing that sustainable prosperity and environmental protection can be achieved either through free markets and the massive efforts made to promote green business practices (e.g., the ESG criteria), either through more cooperative and socialist societies that do not necessarily promote economic development (e.g., degrowth movement), or even through anarchist movements (e.g., social ecology).
The environmentalist today is not (cannot be) satisfied only with beach cleaning, tree planting and recycling (of dubious effectiveness). The environmentalist wants to see something changing at the root of the problem, not just act to mitigate the negative consequences. With today’s global data showing that despite the “efforts”, the social and ecological realities are becoming more and more difficult, what exactly is the environmentalist waiting for? Exactly what plan, local or global, does s/he trust to bring us rapidly to the reversal of today’s data? What exactly does s/he expect to change by supporting and voting for the same?
And here lies the citizens’ problem. That they run out of hope waiting for others (see governments, parties, politicians, big corporations) to lead them to where every sane citizen looks forward to: a sustainable collective prosperity! Something that, in theory, is the goal of every political party today. Except that today’s problems, social and environmental, are not created through the political arena (which at best creates irregularities, scandals and bribery) but through the ruthlessness of free markets. Where capital is king and plays the power and profiting game in the absence of the vast majority of the world population, where the common man is not treated as a citizen but as a stark consumer. Where you and I vote daily with our consumer preferences but feel too small to have any impact with our decisions. And so, we continue to vote and strengthen the strong, putting (knowingly) our little stone in the over-accumulation of wealth, in the destruction of the middle class, in our ever-greater dependence on external factors, in the destruction of the environment.
Change will only come from the people for the people. Change will only come when citizens stop placing their hopes on third parties and start taking responsibility for their future within a framework of freedom, cooperation and solidarity. I believe that we have a huge sample of the good-intentioned efforts at the political level to bring about this sustainable collective prosperity. All, in their own way, have failed. It is time for people to organize themselves in the financial arena and become the change they want to see. This is exactly what we want to achieve through the creation of the first collective ownership company that we founded in Limassol (COCO Collective Ownership Company Limassol Limited) and which aims to give the opportunity to all Limassolians to become owners of their local economy and feel that, with their consumer preferences, can actually have an impact and contribution towards the social and environmental sustainability we desire.
P.S.: By birth, before the filters kick-in, we are all blue, red, and green.