There is an important social dialogue taking place throughout the developed world concerning the problems of capitalism. Unfortunately, two factors are severely hampering the discussion: the tendency to speak in shorthand, and the narrow polarity of the dominant paradigm.
The English language is filled with words that have many and/or broad definitions. The “-isms” tend to belong to this group of words. In the interest of time and not boring people to distraction before making a point, we tend to toss these words around lightly without taking the care to define exactly what we mean by them. We speak in shorthand, but we are not always speaking the same shorthand.
The narrow polarity of the dominant paradigm is a significant issue which deserves adequate treatment. However this is not the post for it. For now, in this context, let it suffice to say that the polarity is defined by capitalism vs. socialism. Rarely does one encounter another position, such as distributism or mutualism. That said, let us return to addressing the shorthand plaguing “-isms”.
It is important to recognize a distinction between respectable capitalist ideals and the bastard capitalism which is enslaving the world. Appendix Zain to “The Illuminatus! Trilogy” begins with four quotes:
“Property is theft.” – P.J. Proudhon
“Property is liberty.” – P.J. Proudhon
“Property is impossible.” – P.J. Proudhon
“Consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
The appendix goes on to discuss property1, property2, and property3. In short, property1 (= theft) is established by “artificial laws of feudal, capitalist and other authoritarian societies” and therefore requires “the armed might of a State to force people to honor it”. Property2 (=liberty), in contrast, would “be honored in a free society of rationalists”. Finally, the struggle between property2+1 (= property3 [taking some license with this elaboration]) creates so much conflict that society consumes itself and all property, making property impossible, at least insofar as property1 is present. The mistake of Objectivists is two-fold: to assume that property1 = property2; and Objectivism is Satanism. These mistakes are closely related.
A common mistake in diabolical thought is to focus on one truth to the exclusion of all other truth. Ayn Rand makes many excellent points about the virtue of applying one’s skills and efforts to create value. That value is then traded for value to mutual benefit. Money stands as a symbol and vehicle of that value. These are all admirable and true values. Unfortunately, her experiences of persecution by the Bolsheviks seem to have pushed her beyond the middle way, and in reaction to the collectivist, communist evils seen in her youth she pushes hard into the equally dangerous territory of pure self-interest.
Along the same line of thought, I propose:
Capitalism1 is theft.
Capitalism2 is liberty.
Capitalism* is impossible.
Capitalism1 exalts wealth above all other values, moral, social, ecological or otherwise. Defining monetary wealth as the highest good justifies whatever means to the end of acquiring more wealth. This is the capitalism of the corporatocratic empire that has purchased the mainstream media (left and right, don’t forget about the narrow polarity) and much of the government. At the present moment it appears that capitalism1 has won.
But there is capitalism2, too. Socialism, and certainly not communism, is not the only alternative to capitalism1. Skilled and diligent work should reward both the entrepreneur and the laborer with its fruit. The capitalist2 is free to value morals, society, and the world outside of the “market”. The people are free to patronize commercial institutions that uphold their common values. This freedom is an opportunity to shift the values of our society in a positive direction.
Capitalists1 have purchased immense political power with the money the people gave them. As a result, the people’s votes at the polls are of little value. The votes that have value now are the votes that capitalists1 value, your money. If you want to encourage values beyond money, the current subjective reality demands that you invest money in those values. Capitalism with a conscience is capitalism2.