Easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism

This is part of an ongoing series annotating Kim Stanley Robinson’s Ministry for the Future.

While generally considered an “optimistic” writer, and sometimes even Utopian, in MftF KSR leans heavily into the truism that it is easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism.

The original Fredric Jameson quote is — “[it is] easier for us today to imagine the thoroughgoing deterioration of the earth and of nature than the breakdown of late capitalism,” found in The Seeds of Time (1994).

Jameson repurposed the quote several times in his writing. The current iteration — “it is easier to imagine an end to the world than an end to capitalism” — was popularized by Mark Fisher in his book Capitalist Realism. Fisher also found an antecedent for the quote in Slavoj Zizek.

Ursula Le Guin even jumped on the bandwagon in her acceptance speech for a National Book Foundation’s medal, repurposing the quote as —

“We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable. So did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art, and very often in our art, the art of words.”

In MftF KSR plants many seeds for dreaming about a post-capitalist world, but in an effort to “keep it real” he imagines that such a world is not in the forseeable future.

It’s a captivating quote, but ultimately sophomoric. The end of the world is easy. It’s one thing. A meteor, a disease, zombies, etc. The end of capitalism is everthing. It touches on every single part of our lives and how our lives are structured. No wonder it’s easier to imagine one thing than the other.

Regardless, it highlights just how entrenched we are in the capitalist system, and for some, will prompt imagining what other kinds of lives are possible.

This post is part of a Ministry for the Future annotation project. Some of the ideas/concepts/terms used by Kim Stanley Robinson in MftF I want to incorporate into the the next edition of the Green New Deal book I published with Hillsborough River Press.

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