No existing social theory is sufficiently powerful to even begin to construct such a comprehensive chart of possible social destinations beyond capitalism. It may well be that such a theory is impossible even in principle—social change is too complex and too deeply affected by contingent concatenations of causal processes to be represented in plan form. In any case, no map is available. And yet we want to leave the place where we are because of its harms and injustices. What is to be done?
Instead of the metaphor of a road map guiding us to a known destination, we could think of the project of emancipatory social change as more like a voyage of exploration. We leave the familiar world equipped with navigational devices that tell us the direction in which we are moving and how far from our point of departure we have travelled, but without a map laying out the entire route from origin to endpoint. This has perils, of course: we may encounter unforeseen obstacles which force us to move in a direction we had not planned; we may have to backtrack and try a new route. Perhaps with technologies we invent along the way we can create some artificial high ground and see somewhat into the distance. In the end, we may discover that there are absolute limits to how far we can go; but we can at least know if we are moving in the right direction.
This approach to thinking about emancipatory alternatives retains a strong normative vision of life beyond capitalism, while acknowledging the limits of our knowledge about the real possibilities of transcending the capitalist system. This is not to embrace the false certainty that there are untransgressable limits for constructing a democratic egalitarian alternative: the absence of solid scientific knowledge about the limits of possibility applies not only to the prospects for radical alternatives but also to the durability of capitalism. The key to embarking on such a journey of exploration is the usefulness of our navigational device. We need, then, to construct what might be called a socialist compass: the principles which tell us whether we are moving in the right direction.
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