From Capitalist Realism to Anarchist Idealism, Part Three

Daniel Pinchbeck
12 min readNov 21, 2021

Before I bring together the lines of thought opened by the first two parts of this essay, I find I must step back for a moment and ask: Do we, in fact, need some kind of radical social change to overcome the current capitalist system, as it is? Or can what we have be repaired, patched up, improved? Some people find the reasons we need a kind of radical transformation quite obvious. For others, it requires a bit of unpacking.

First of all, I am not someone who feels any particular nostalgia about the past. I wouldn’t want to return to an earlier mode, to live without technology, in a completely indigenous way. Yet I recognize that those societies, at their untainted best, provide far more beauty and satisfaction than ours, on many levels, while maintaining a steady-state of harmonic reciprocity with their local ecology. Many intact indigenous cultures possess a satisfying mythos that anchors them in a holistic sense of connection with the Earth and the greater cosmos. These communities tend to possess a greater sense of purpose, meaning, and belonging. I do believe that a future direction for post-capitalist technological society (if there is going to be such a thing) involves learning from these cultures, analyzing their core spiritual, ecological and political principles and translating them into new societal forms.

Three Wounds of Capitalist Realism

Growing up in New York City, I suffered at least three core wounds to my Psyche that I can attribute to “capitalism realism.” These wounds are, I feel, universally shared, collectively painful, and rarely acknowledged. The first was spiritual: I found my innate yearning for meaning and purpose thwarted by my culture’s belief system. Growing up, I learned that we live in an accidental universe where self-consciousness could only be an epiphenomenon caused by the brain’s evolving complexity. Death was permanent annihilation. This was not presented as hypothesis or myth. It was absolute, unquestionable truth.

The second wound was social and political. I didn’t have any sense that I was meant to participate in shaping the future of my society, nor did I feel connected, in a meaningful sense, to any local community. This engendered a sense of alienation and desolation.

Daniel Pinchbeck

Author of Breaking Open the Head, 2012: The Return of Quetzalcoatl, and When Plants Dream. I teach online seminars at