Is Capitalism unsustainable? The jury’s out-ish. Is ego-fodderfication unsustainable? Sadly not/hell yes.

I don’t know how much rethinking economics is actually going on (I have my suspicions, but no hard data). I do have a good idea of how much rethinking politics/academia/civilsocietying is going on, and it’s not much at all/zero. The latest piece of hard data came tonight, at the University of Manchester. The debate/discussion was on the hot topic of “is capitalism unsustainable?” (see here for a 1950s Edward Teller/Dr Strangelove throwback: physics Has All The Answers and Salvation We Need).

Around 110-120 (I counted) mostly white, mostly middle-aged/old people turned out on a Sunday night to…. well, I don’t know why they came: to hear from the great and the good, I suppose. Me, I mostly went for the anthropological lulz, and I got them.

Here are the predictions I made, and the scores I got. After that, I’ll do super brief capsule (bullet-points) of what I scribbled down (It wasn’t, as far as I can tell, filmed or audio recorded).


How’d I do?


There will be no “turn to the person next to you and introduce yourself” at the outset



There will be no “turn to the person next to you to share thoughts” between speeches



There will be no time for “clarification” question after each speech



No one will actually try to define capitalism

CORRECT (they may have had a go in the last 20 minutes)


There will be no mention of “false needs” and the advertising industry

WRONG. Molly Scott-Cato had a portion of her speech on this (though she then drew I think too firm a line between Sigmund Freud and Edward Bernays)


Gramsci won’t get a mention



No distinction will be made between capitalism and industrialism



No one on panel will make distinction between capitalism and democracy



It will be at least an hour before anyone from the audience is able to ask a question

CORRECT (closer to 75 minutes, I think).

Kevin Anderson went first, with the latest update of his “Paris vs Growth? Two degrees, maths and equity” powerpoint.

  • If the top ten percent of global emitters reduced their level to the average European, that would lop 30% of human emissions
  • Human emissions 65ish% percent higher than they were in 1990 (went up 1.5% last year, will go up again this year).
  • The “Climate Glitterati” stick in his craw, and he named names – Mark Carney, Adair Tuner, John Gummer, Nick Stern, Christina Figueres, Mike Bloomberg, Al Gore, Leonard Di Caprio. He also served it out to grey-haired academics who he said were running cover for them.

Robert Pollin, who has a recent article “De-growth vs a Green New Deal” in the NLR went next.

Sound quality was quite a problem, and there was no accompanying powerpoint (a visual prompt might have helped us decipher some of the random syllables?)

  • Mostly advocating a Green New Deal (because the 2008 one gained such traction?)
  • There’s a proposal on the Washington State ballot, which got there in the teeth of some trade union opposition.
  • Vested interests need to be fought and defeated (nowt in speech about the mechanics of how you do that, but I suspect this article and this article might have more on that).
  • Degrowth is a Bad Idea, won’t deliver the emissions reductions we need.

Giorgos Kallis (Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, Institute of Environmental Science & Technology)

Same sound/no powerpoint issues as before

  • At least tried to answer the question by asking two sub-questions is economic growth unsustainable? Does capitalism need growth? (if answer to both questions is yes, then, well, yes).
  • Took issue with Pollin’s tight focus on energy systems.
  • Thought that even if we could contract the economy it “would be a stupid idea”

Molly Scott Cato (Green MEP)

Talked about sustainable finance initiative

  • kind of (as you’d expect) talked around the question, quite “well, what do you mean by capitalism?
  • Actually talked about advertising and the creation of false needs, and vested interests in, for example the “Pheobus” (sic) cartel. (light bulb manufacturers who kept bulbs life short to keep punters having to buy them).
  • Talked about interest (but not ‘fractional reserve banking”) and the discount rate.
  • Also bigged up Extinction Rebellion – hmmmmm

Then the chair (Maeve Cohen of Rethinking Economics) had a whole set of questions and panellists responding to each other (something, surely, that the audience was present and equipped to do??) Fun only for the sniping.

Finally three questions from the aduience got asked – what about a truce in the green growth/degrowth wars and agreement on caps? – why haven’t we got through to the climate deniers and those who vote for them? And ‘how bad will the next recession be’.

Those (good) questions got relatively brief answers and then the panellists basically started talking to each other again. And I left. Life really is too short, what with pretty damn imminent societal breakdown. I’d rather be under one or both of the bloody cats….


  • Professors Kevin Anderson and Professor Robert Pollin lobbing increasingly flashy and bangy skype-grenades at one another.
  • A couple of Polyp cartoons
  • Lowlights
  • The total lack of clarity in terms of defining what the hell “we” (i.e. they) are talking about.
  • Surely someone of them thinks that capitalism isn’t just a set of organisations but, you know, a social relation?
  • The lack of a sense that we have been having this debate, on ecological terms, for just on 50 years.
  • The chair abusing (in my opinion, maybe not others’) the chair’s position to ask multiple questions, which then bounced back and fourth among the panellists
  • The egofodderfication of it all

What the hell do I mean by egofodderfication? Read on if you wanna know.

Egofodder is what I call the audience at any public event (big or small) which has not been structured by the organisers to provoke the highest possible amount of participation, engagement and mingling.

Here’s an old video.

Is egofodderfication unsustainable? “Sadly No”

The social norm is that you turn up to a meeting and are talked at for at least 45 minutes (if you’re lucky). Then the sharp-elbowed might get to ask a question. Then you file out.

And people keep coming back for that. There’s a hardcore of the same old faces (I used to be one of them) who would go to the opening of an envelope, to keep the gnawing sense of despair and powerlessness at bay. And there is, flowing over these stones, a river of people seen once or twice, who never can see a way ‘in’ for themselves, their concerns, and realise that they’d be better off reading a book/watching at TED talk, for all of the actual human interaction they would get at one of these wretched events, where they are talked at by experts.  But there are always enough ‘new people’ scared shitless by the news and the obvious total incompetence of our “leaders” (not just international and national, I’m looking at YOU, GMCA and MCC) in even having the tiniest idea what to do.  So in that sense, organisers of activist meetings, public events, academic seminars etc will never lack for warm bodies to be their ego fodder, coming from the usual suspects and the not-yet-churned through.

Is egofodderfication unsustainable? Hell yes

We (most of us) think that a civil society upsurge, an unprecedented social movement of diverse groups is required. And yet we tolerate the same old broken tools, thinking they will work this time, because we are too scared to piss off “busy” event organisers.  But what it does is wastes the time and potential connection of usual suspects and ALSO offers a granite wall of alienation for ‘newbies’ to scale. Some do, mostly they don’t. Mostly they go away, and are ‘lost’ to ‘activism’ (of whatever stripe).

Since someone on the panel launched a thought experiment, I thought I’d have one here too.

  • What if there was a social norm that every meeting (whether it was activist, local authority, academic, whatevs) started with a call for people to introduce themselves, very briefly, to someone they don’t know (but always have a system where people can hold up their hand or whatever to opt out!)
  • What if there was a social norm that wherever it was possible (i.e. multiple speakers) there would be a chance for people to compare notes between speakers, and ask questions of CLARIFICATION.
  • What if there was a social norm that before the Q and A (which was never more than 45 minutes from the beginning of the event) people had a chance to turn to a friend/stranger and get help making a long question into a short one, or a half question into a whole one, and then the chair could choose from more hands than the stale male hands that inevitably go up.
  • What if speakers were expected to spend a quarter of their time explaining concrete things that could be done, and how people in the room could take concrete steps towards that?
  • What if speakers were expected also to address the question “what have ‘we’ (academics/activists/politicians) been doing wrong/badly in the past?” and explain how they were doing better in the future (i.e. from right fricking now.).
  • What if speakers via skye were asked to record their initial talks, and have a powerpoint alongside, sent to the organisers in advance; and then come in “live” purely for the Q and A (though obvs have been “lurking” to hear the other speakers’ comments).
  • What if there was a social norm that events would be filmed and blogged so people who couldn’t make it could still feel a part of it, rather than apart from it?

Maybe then, the networks of people who care (and if you came out on a dark Sunday night, you care) would grow thicker, people would randomly encounter people and we’d all be better connected, less atomised, less isolated. Who knows, you might even be able to grow some movements with the help of those networks. I know, I know, crazy talk.



About manchesterclimatemonthly

Was print format from 2012 to 13. Now web only. All things climate and resilience in (Greater) Manchester.
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6 Responses to Is Capitalism unsustainable? The jury’s out-ish. Is ego-fodderfication unsustainable? Sadly not/hell yes.

  1. brigittelechner says:

    I take it that representatives of the Steady State Manchester group were neither on the panel nor in the audience, asking questions. It sounds as though it was a rather solipsistic gathering of the already enlightened but as a panel event promising enlightenment is was not likely to be organised like a workshop which allows for an active audience and information sharing. There is a dire need for such workshops though.

    • There were SSM people in the audience. They may have been able to ask questions (I left at about 7.35, there was still 25 minutes – would have felt like 2 hours – to run). It was never set up as a workshop per se, but as a public lecture. But even within the format of a public lecture, there was a LOT more they could have done for active audience and info sharing. They just chose not to (either actively or passively, I don’t know). Yes, there is dire need for decent workshops. The ones I’ve gone to over the last couple of years (not many, it’s true) have been dire.

  2. brigittelechner says:

    Is Climate Monthly in a position to organise a day event comprising a series of workshops and info stalls? Fracking, capitalism, degrowth or democracy are all of a piece and whilst there are incidental meetings on each topic (often in an evening which I find difficult to attend), a day event hosting them all would have more media and citizen attention.

    • If someone comes up with some money, in theory, yes. BUT I do think that a) Manchester Climate Monthly’s star has faded somewhat and b) far more seriously, its editor is such a divisive character (marmite), that it’s not the banner that these things you suggest (which are good!) could successfully be done under.

      I also think that a particular day event might not be the way forward, but a series of (modular) events, where people could come to one session, or another, or so on. It’s also a problem of the mentality of the organisers of events generally – what are they trying to achieve, how, why etc…. Citizen attention, and engagement, is crucial, and at the moment there is precious little of that….. Email me if you want to discuss further!!

  3. Greg Robie says:

    First, thanks for this post and its content. Regarding the critique and expectations: 1. I agree with you. 2. We are ‘wrong’. …& not just because we are males! 😉

    Motivated reasoning explains (for me) our [mostly male] frustration. To the degree the female gender’s brain defines neurological wholeness, the male brain is comparably neurologically challenged. The more challenged one is, the greater the perplexity that is experienced when advocating for facts and/or rational thinking (at least within the current social meme: limited liability law enabled CapitalismFail).

    The irrational nature of motivated reasoning suggests that in times of crisis humanity gets more and more irrational. Like junkies, getting fixes becomes all consuming. Trusted irrationality must be preserved for that society’s ‘privileged’. And those ‘fixes’ are feelings that are informed by a trusted experience of homeostasis (including the eogfodderfication dynamic!). Or, gender defined neurological differences are systemically amplified until a society, so divided, collapses.

    Such is our species’ never-ending story. Occasionally this collapse is effected [mostly] non-violently. But violence tends to be the option of choice. Isn’t the overarching tale this: all ‘civilizations’ collapse?

    English Common Law links wealth with responsibility, and thereby [correctly/rationally] defines freedom as the right to be responsible. Such is now neither common nor law. Orwellian-like, and two centuries (here in the US, perhaps longer in the UK), freedom is now commonly felt to be the right to be irresponsible/irrational. Given our choice to effect liberal democracies as our form of government, Nixon’s silent majority rules … & they rule by functional economic dictum constrained by the motivated reasoning informing the globalized economic meme: GREED-is-go[]d. Such atomizes the society that worships this go[]d; trusts a ‘theology’ regarding the ‘righteousness’ of infinite growth on a finite planet.


    1. The current political trend toward nationalism is a delusion as long as the as the sovereignty to do so is systemically retained within the paradigm of too-big-to-fail banks and their debt-denominated fiat currencies. (And here in the US we have a Constitutional “fix” to this condition – but I am challenged to imagine it being attempted as it requires honor socially supplanting hopium.)

    2. As male outliers with a trusted homeostasis informed by stories that give value to the feeling of honor, we will fail while ‘succeeding’ (in the negative). If this makes sense you may appreciate this: Regardless, thanks for both the post AND your good heart. May you persevere and keep bitterness at bay.

    =) Greg

    sNAILmALEnotHAIL …but pace’n myself

    life is for learning so all my failures must mean that I’m wicked smart


  4. Laura Collier says:

    Agreed sound was an issue, but I did think that Giorgos Kallis said that if there was degrowth then it would not be such a big problem.
    Kevin Anderson is really beating himself up about this but does get a sense of urgency across unlike Molly Scott Cato. However the MEP’s plan about taking the profit potential away from dirty industry sounded promising although I didn’t get exactly how it will work.
    Some of us are sociable enough to talk to strangers without direction.

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