Advanced Global Capitalism, Climate Change, and an Equitable Ecological Future
By Cynthia Moe-Lobeda. Adapted from her talk given at the Feminist Liberation Theologians’ Network meeting on November 16, 2018.
Resistance to advanced global capitalism (also known as neo-liberalism and as corporate-and-finance-driven capitalism) has generated a vital movement to forge alternative forms of economic life on global, national, and local levels. These alternatives share the three linked aims of being more ecological, equitable, and democratic, and are therefore inherently post-capitalist. (“Democratic” here refers to accountable and distributed power and wealth.) Such efforts — which include overarching principles, public policies, and practices — are known by many as the “new economy.” From my Christian theological perspective, this movement is a magnificent manifestation of the Holy Spirit resurrecting abundant life for all from the tortured Golgotha of today, where so many are crucified by the imperial power of corporate-and-finance-driven capitalism.
I am concerned with building moral agency for transition to more equitable, ecological, and democratic economies. A feminist liberationist theo-ethical framework can provide invaluable tools for building that agency and for moving into the new economy. Here I first and very briefly iterate the central problem in the reigning form of economic life, and then summarize a daunting two-fold obstacle to moral agency that it presents. Finally, I propose elements of a feminist liberationist theo-ethical framework. This work is part of a much fuller project developed elsewhere.
Advanced global capitalism is set up to maximize short term profit and concentrate that profit in the hands of a very few people who are not accountable to those hurt in the process, or to any body politic. The consequences of maximizing short-term profit by unaccountable profiteers are deadly and destructive, almost beyond human imagining. These consequences include: 1) dangerously damaging Earth’s fragile climate, water, and soil systems; 2) undermining democratic processes and trajectories because concentrated wealth translates to concentrated and unaccountable power which is the antithesis of demo kratia; and 3) further impoverishing countless economically marginalized human beings and communities who are, not incidentally, disproportionally people of color.
Obstacle to Moral Agency
While many people hunger for economic alternatives that are more ecological, equitable, and democratic, moving substantively in that direction remains for many only a hunger. This is in part because (arguably) the most powerful constellation of human forces the world has known are lined up to maintain this concentration of wealth and power. These forces include the fossil fuel industry, the speculative finance industry, and significant parts of the advertising industry. A pervasive but unacknowledged societal response in the U.S. is privatized morality and powerlessness in the face of systemic injustice. This includes denial or failure to acknowledge the devastating impacts of advanced global capitalism. When awareness dawns, a sense of powerlessness to effect change on a systemic level may set in.
A Feminist Liberationist Theo-Ethical Framework
What, then, are key components of a feminist theo-ethical framework for forging the new economy? A first component is acknowledging that advanced global capitalism is NOT inevitable. It is a product of human decisions and actions and, therefore, can be undone by human actions and decisions. Second is to realize that advanced global capitalism as we know it cannot continue long into the future. This is not a political or moral opinion, but a statement about physical reality. That distinction is crucial. Earth as a biophysical system cannot continue to sustain economic life as we know it. That is because this form of economy requires and assumes: A) growth at almost any cost to vulnerable humans and to Earth’s life-systems, 2) “freedom” to maximize profit understood as a human right even if the results are environmentally devastating and humanly cruel practices, 3) a societal consumption orgy fueled by a brilliantly creative and strategic advertising industry that convinces people to fill life with junk, and 4) spreading that consumption around the globe in order to ensure markets. Together, these requirements also require maximizing fossil fuel extraction, and that maximization will destroy the climate conditions necessary for human life. While humans have no choice whether economic life will change, humans do have significant power to determine in what direction it will change.
Third is to recognize that we live in a moment of unparalleled potential for radical change toward a new form of economic life. This potential flows in part from the links between the climate catastrophe and various forms of social injustice (racial, economic, and gender-based injustice), and in part from the guts and grit of people’s movement on all these fronts. This potential also stems from the womanist and feminist theory and activism that have given rise to intersectional consciousness and analysis, and have supported effective peoples’ movements.
A fourth component of a feminist liberationist theo-ethical framework is to de-privatize the biblical and theological norm of neighbor-love. As a call from the God revealed in Jesus, neighbor-love pertains not only to interpersonal or private life but also to our lives as parts of social systems. As such, neighbor-love is inherently justice-making, self-respecting, and Earth-inclusive. A feminist liberationist lens evokes and operationalizes these dimensions of neighbor-love.
Yet another component is a moral epistemology that centers sources of knowing from the underside of power and privilege, as well as knowing from the other-than-human. Next is to radially rethink moral anthropology; we humans are not who modernity painted us to be. A seventh key for moving into the new economy is ‘re-membering’ U.S. history to acknowledge that the material wealth of this country was built on the enslavement of human beings taken from Africa, the genocide and cultural devastation of many indigenous peoples and the theft of their lands, the exploitation of generations of workers, the expropriation of the resources of Latin America and other colonized lands, and an on-going fossil fuel orgy that now threatens Earth’s capacity to sustain life.
This framework includes also a reoriented vision of the purpose of economic life. More specifically, the aim of economy will shift from maximizing production and consumption to the tri-fold aim of promoting economic equity, ecological regenerativity, and economic democracy. A final element of a feminist ethical theo-ethical framework is its theory of social change. I suggest a theory of social change that: 1) illumines the actual connections between change at local and global levels, 2) weds two complementary streams of action, resistance and rebuilding; 3) links change on four planes of social organization, namely, individuals/households, institutions of civil society, business/ corporations, and public policy; and 4) holds varied practices of social change to be complementary rather than mutually exclusive.
dangerous species called human—hover on a precipice. What we do or fail to do in the next few
years will determine which parts of humankind survive the climate catastrophe,
and which species have a future of life on planet Earth. For decades, feminist liberationist
theo-ethical work has wielded the power of sisterhood and moral courage to
resist the horrors of systemic evil and build ways of living grounded in
justice and joy. We continue to bring the gifts of that proud legacy to this
testing point in human history.
 For more depth on the material in this paragraph, see Cynthia Moe-Lobeda, Resisting Structural Evil: Love as Ecological-Economic Vocation (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2013).
Back: Introduction: FLTN 2018 (Economics: Global and Local Intertwined) by Mary E. Hunt
Cynthia Moe-Lobeda has lectured or consulted in Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe, Latin America, and North America in theology; ethics; and matters of climate justice and climate racism, moral agency, globalization, economic justice, public church, eco-feminist theology, and faith-based resistance to systemic oppression. Her book, Resisting Structural Evil: Love as Ecological-Economic Vocation (Fortress, 2013), won a Nautilus Award for social justice. She also is author of Healing a Broken World: Globalization and God (Fortress, 2002), Public Church: For the Life of the World (Fortress, 2004), and numerous articles and chapters. She is co-author of Saint Francis and the Foolishness of God (Orbis, 1993, 2015); Say to this Mountain: Mark’s Story of Discipleship (Orbis, 1996); The Bible and Ethics: A New Conversation (Fortress Press, 2018). Moe-Lobeda is Professor of Christian Ethics at Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary, Church Divinity School of the Pacific, and the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley. She holds a Ph.D. from Union Theological Seminary, affiliated with Columbia University.