Living Authentically Amidst Capitalism

In the midst of a capitalist economy, how do I  live a life that is aligned with my vision for the world and my values for who I want to be? 

This question is constantly swirling around in my mind.

I was socialized in a capitalist society. Most likely, so were you. The capitalist economy that I’ve been surrounded by my whole life is dependant on the exploitation and extraction of value from land, labor and life in general. This exploitation and extraction has created the climate crisis.

Because it’s what I’m surrounded by, I’m complicit in this destructive system, yet I have a vision for a different kind of life-sustaining economy that I want to see and create. How do I navigate this discrepancy? I know that changing the ways that I participate in the economy will not stop the climate crisis… this is a systemic problem, and to expect myself to live outside of capitalism is ridiculous. That said, I have a deep desire to live with as much integrity and alignment as possible with the kind of world and economy that I want to see. 

I don’t always do that though. I want to live in a gift economy and give away all of my work,  but I need money to buy food and pay rent (especially in NYC!). I want to avoid eating animals, but sometimes my body really craves it and if I’m out of the house, I’ll sometimes settle for the quick/easy burger when I need to eat. I want to put all of my money toward the regenerative economy that I dream up, but in a pinch, I’ll occasionally just get that thing that I need off of Amazon. The list goes on… 

When I notice that I’m making a choice that is not in alignment with my values, I feel this pang of frustration. I’ll mentally call myself a hypocrite, a fraud, or just “not a good enough activist”.

Does any of this sound familiar to you? It’s a little scary to share these inconsistencies with you… but I want to be real because this is a journey that we’re all on and hiding from it does none of us any good. It’s quite a challenge to live in and depend on an economy that, by its nature, is oppositional to the world that I want to see. So, as I participate in an economy that I want to see transformed, here’s what I’m learning about all of this:

1. It helps to remember that capitalism is a giant system, and to be gentle with myself when I fall short of my vision to live outside of it. 

As I navigate what it means to live in alignment with my values and vision, I’m doing the crucial and hard work of dismantling the ways that capitalism has been bred into me. I want to be gentle with myself because I’m literally doing the work of reclaiming my mind from the economy that has been the air I breathe for my entire life.

2. Connection matters. So does slowing down. 

Capitalism depends on my disconnection from the world around me to keep functioning. When I’m connected (with others, the world and my own body), I have more opportunities to choose  alternatives to being complicit with the destruction that goes hand-in-hand with extraction and exploitation. When I’m rushing, I default to individualism and expedience (some of capitalism’s favorite values).  But when I slow down and connect, not only do I want less, (because I’m more content with what I already have) but I can catch that pang of frustration inside of me early, and choose to do something different and more aligned with how I want to live. 

3. Every time I make the choice to act in a way that is aligned with my values, my life gets more satisfying (because I’m being a living reflection of the world I want).

 There’s something beautiful to the messiness of all of this. This inquiry of what it means to live amidst capitalism and the climate crisis in ways that are aligned with my vision and values can feel murky and so imperfect. Even if I were to reach some version of lifestyle perfection, it wouldn’t solve these crises of economy and ecology.  When I live according to my values though, it strengthens my resolve and ability to participate in the systems-shifting organizing that is happening everywhere.

This messy, imperfect process of living in alignment with my vision and values is a journey that I’ll navigate for the rest of my life (at least till we #overthrowcapitalism), and I’m grateful to navigate the mess with y’all! 

Here’s to the journey of growing into being living reflections of the world that we want to see,

Jess + the Radical Support Collective team