Gangsterism—the goal of getting ahead no matter what the cost to others—slowly becomes the norm, which has so far happened most notably at the very bottom and very top of the system…
[This is an excerpt from the new book Plain Radical: Living, Loving, and Learning to Leave the Planet Gracefully, published by Counterpoint/Soft Skull, which tells the story of Robert Jensen’s intellectual and political collaboration with teacher/activist Jim Koplin.
Jim Koplin, who developed the most comprehensive and consistent radical left/feminist/anti-racist/ecological politics of anyone I have ever known, talked with great affection about his time as a bank teller.
Jim was good with numbers, liked working with ordered systems in which accounts could be summed and settled at the end of the day, and was satisfied only when a job was done right—which made him perfect for a summer job at the State Bank of Lake Park. In that small, locally owned bank, serving a main street of small shop owners who served the surrounding farm country in the late 1940s and early ‘50s, Jim saw the importance of neighborliness and trust in a local economy. That didn’t mean everyone in town loved each other or that people always treated each other kindly, but the economy of Lake Park generally worked. The banker knew the folks to whom he was lending money, the store owners knew the nearby farmers, and the richest person in town didn’t seem all that different from the poorest, though everyone was aware of who was rich and who wasn’t.
Jim spoke fondly of that job, both of the work he did and the people he worked with. And yet throughout his politically conscious life, Jim did not hesitate to describe capitalism as a depraved and destructive economic system that is incompatible with social justice and ecological sustainability. Jim believed that we have to acknowledge not only the successes but the profound failures of capitalism and leave it behind.