I’ve been following this issue on a local radio station and appreciate coming across it here.
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.
A growing number of persons are coming to realize that human societies and economic modalities are on the verge of radical, fundamental change. This change will occur with or without the consent or intention of anybody. On the one hand, if the dominant economic paradigm persists on its current course, the resources fueling the economic engine will be so depleted and the planetary biosphere will become so poisoned as to trigger a shocking “correction”. On the other hand, a slim probability exists that people may change their individual and corporate behaviors so as to mitigate the inevitable damage.
Faced with this grim realization, various individuals and groups are endeavoring to develop strategies and tactics to either avert this disaster or prepare for it. Others accept, even champion, the idea that the human race is, and even should be, doomed. I am not so optimistic that the disaster can be totally prevented. Nor am I so pessimistic as to accept that the human race will be annihilated in the absence of any effective effort to change course. I am of the opinion that the changes necessary to achieve sustainability are so incompatible with the existing societal and economic structures and the time to implement such changes before the cataclysm is so short, that the reforms themselves would be catastrophic.
The notion of a top-down solution has been championed by many. This is a delusion. The entities in power at the top depend on the status quo as the foundation of their power. If world leaders betray their real constituents, the corporations and investors perpetuating the problematic economic modalities, they will be removed from power by any means necessary. If a concerned party were to attempt to seize power by force, they will be met with unimaginable resistance which all but guarantees a swift defeat or protracted, devastating bloodshed and destruction. The so-called “War on Terror” has excused our leaders to terrorize their subjects into accepting a legislative-judicial-executive complex capable of suspending due process to quickly and quietly halt any such activity.
Even if an organized revolution were successfully carried out, history teaches us that the new powers will serve their own interests over and against those of many, even those who supported their rise. Besides, our social and economic systems are so bewilderingly complex no person, group or machine can possibly fathom the myriad effects of any singular policy, directive or restructuring much less a comprehensive program for change.
Our singular, collective hope for positive, meaningful change rests on a critical mass of individuals independently exercising their liberty to disengage from the dominant economic paradigm and dynamically engage society. Several seemingly insuperable challenges are immediately apparent. First, a great many people will have to break their addiction to consumerist candy. The very act of abstaining from the consumer culture isolates a person from society-at-large. In response to this isolation and societal pressure, participants will desire to gather together for mutual support. This assembly would attract the attention of powerful adversaries. The powers will exert their influence to infiltrate, disintegrate and marginalize the newly-formed community. Any resistance by the community to these efforts will be used by the powers as evidence of their dangerous and potentially “terroristic” character.
How do we disengage from the dominant economic paradigm? Grow and eat good food. Go on a media diet. Perform a consumerism cleanse. These activities are mutually re-inforcing. The effort and expense of producing or otherwise acquiring local, organic produce will make it more difficult to have time to watch mainstream media garbage. The time and expense of good food and the break from advertising will promote better purchasing habits. How do we dynamically engage society? Raise awareness of the corporatocracy. Have fun! All the doom and gloom of the challenges we collectively face can be a real downer. Learn to take seriousness humorously; sometimes take humorousness seriously. Laugh, learn and love!
Persons interested in disengaging from the dominant economic paradigm and dynamically engaging their society must remain geographically dispersed. They must seek support from those of like mind through media such as the internet and independent press, through horizontal networks, and small gatherings. They must seek to educate and raise awareness among their friends, neighbors, co-workers and the public without raising flags of any color. They must be like “a little leaven hidden in three pecks of flour.”