Capitalism as both an economic and cultural system has come to dominate much of our lives and pursuits, shaping entire generations and their aspirations. It’s values and exhortations have left an imprint on our relationships and changed the ways in which we view and use the people and nature around us. It’s greatest power – the sense of truth surrounding it. It is seen as an inevitability and naturalized into our lives. Indeed, the fall of communism has been a great shorthand for capitalist propaganda. However, the greatness of it should be examined with skepticism from both an economic and social standpoint and I will argue about the corrosive effects of capitalism.
The secret to the pervasiveness and insidiousness of this force is that it is primarily understood and espoused as an economic theory. It is a way of organizing work and labor. In our compartmentalization and separation of work and private (leisure) ever since humans left the age of mass agriculture/nomadic livelihood, we have come to see the economy as distinct and hence contained from the social dimensions of our lives. The commonness of the trope of a worker detesting his 9-5 job brings out how entrenched the difference is. We have been socialized to tolerate the mundanity and sordidness of work because it is seen as different, a suspension of our private desires and individuality ( often what the nature of our work calls for). In dialectical terms, it is seen as the bad while the personal, social and life is see as good and our ‘true lives’. Thus, capitalism as an economic system is held up only to the standards of the ‘effectiveness and profit’, rather than to the inseparable social effects that it has.
We live and work for Capitalism
Effectively summaries the heart of such an attitude to the life and our purpose. The association of industrialization and urbanization with the grim bleak plains of factories spewing foul black fumes cloaking grey streets upon crammed slums is one rooted in the dehumanizing nature of this ideology. When we put meaning into chasing what is inherently meaningless – money, and errect institutions and educational programs that prioritise and praises those who succeed in it, we structurally engender the penetration and proliferation of such an imbalance view to life.
Our lifestyles are built around capitalism. Consumerism itself is a social phenomena constructed and perpetuated by the demands of capitalism – and it’s purpose? To drive capitalism. Sounds like the paradox of paying the profession to work doesn’t it?
Joyce Appleby’s definition of Capitalism is as an economic system which relies on investment of capital in machines and technology used to increase production of marketable goods.
It is more than a way to produce – it has devised a social order for its service, a language and an ideology to it. The market is very much the social and the individual.
More for More
Capitalism is not about making money, it is about making more money. It is in the more that contains the ceaseless discontentment and the unsustainability of the economic model. The openness and even pride in using the ugly side of human nature to drive the system makes for rational logic – if you thought for the very short term. Infinite human greed as the driver should sound alarm bells for any enterprise.
The most crucial idea popularized by proponents was that man and women are consumers and producers and this was a good thing as it spurred economic growth – an unquestioned good. Adam smith himself incorporated the notion of human nature into such an objectively warped ideology and system by arguing that it was ‘human nature for individuals to participate as rational actors in markets’ and that the ‘invisible hand’ guided by the selfishness of one was good for all. Indeed it is an alluring notion that the shame we feel for our selfish tendencies and materialism can be alleviated and justified as incidentally being expedient for the greater good anyway. This language of twisted altruism and willed ignorance is telling of the moral state of our world order.
Let’s hold capitalism up to its very own metrics – providing for growth. Sure it does, like communism, it works and like communism, it is hurtling us towards its spectacularly catastrophic crash. The only difference? I’m not sure if we would live to see through the end and that it takes a longer time. Why? This growth is fundamentally unsustainable. Like a pyramid scheme, the generation of profits and utility for the elites works because it is gained at the expense and relative poverty of the rest. In fact, the lower the costs ie the cheaper your labor and subjugated your people, the more you have for yourself. The problem is not just capitalism having inequality, is capitalism being proud of inequality. More importantly, the unsustanability of the environmental degradation and great acceleration is a catastrophic recipe for a catastrophic demise.
We don’t have to give up our comforts – we need to give up our insane privileges, waste and use of what we don’t need and fundamentally don’t want. Let’s head back to what is right.
This essay is inspired by the fantastic 10 minute ish World History Crash Course on Capitalism (Youtube)