Friday 31.5. / 6.45 pm / Kulturno informativni centar (KIC) / LECTURE

Christoph Henning: Smash Carpitalism! How cars stop us from going beyond capitalism, and what we can do about it

Climate grief is a topic that is taken very seriously in Dutch humanism. Particularly younger people and activists are struggling with severe depression when faced with the inactivity of our societies in the face of ecological disaster. Though it is an important endeavour to help people overcome their desperation and lead a meaningful life in spite of all the madness around us, from a philosophical perspective both desperation and anger are more than justified and need no correction. Instead, I wish to argue that  ‘extinction rebellion’ and the ‘last generation’ had the right political instinct when they attacked the automobility of late capitalism – since they hit a spot, their blockades have attracted much more hatred than the larger blockades by the farmers, who demonstrated not for reducing, but for extending emissions. The protests had no direct effects, but they have exposed an Achilles heel.

In my talk I wish to argue that cars indeed are material tokens for capitalism, and hence the correctly chosen object for activism: not only because they are directly responsible for a large amount of emissions, for the destruction of natural and public spaces, for much noise and human and animal deaths in traffic. But also because indirectly, they materialize the sometimes intangible moral values of capitalism. They stand for individual freedom, for private property, for a substitute object for male identity as well as for female emancipation, they stand for social advancement and integration as well as for social distinction. They guarantee jobs, incomes, sales markets, and everlasting growth for all kinds of industries, including research and development. Hence, they have become the most important commodity fetish in our modern societies, binding a lot of emotional energies and defining identities of so many people.

Such an omnipresent object that is inscribed in our landscapes, our cities, our dreams, desires, and daily routines (even on the left), is almost impossible to overcome. But we need to let go if we ever wish to go beyond capitalism. Based on empirical interviews in the field of sharing economies, the talk describes how people have managed to overcome car dependencies, and what it means politically. These are important insights in order to build a movement which by overcoming cars – meaningless objects only at a first glance – can also help getting beyond carpitalism.

moderated by: Ozren Pupovac

Christoph Henning is Prof. of Philosophy and Humanism in Utrecht, Netherlands. Before, he worked in Erfurt and Jena (Germany), St. Gallen (Switzerland), Friedrichshafen and Dresden (Germany). He has published extensively on political philosophy, critical theory and Marxism. At the moment, he works on a materialist reconceptualisation of eco-humanism.