Many of us have been trained to equate capitalism with Mom and Pop businesses, where you succeed by the sweat of your brow and make a new thing that, hopefully, fulfills a need in the community. Unfortunately, this is largely a lie. While some people manage to “pull themselves up by their bootstraps” and create a successful company, it never comes from nothing. Capital, the investment, has always come from an oligarchical ruling class since the days of feudalism. The names may change over the years, but those with the resources are able to wield power and invest in themselves accordingly. A young Bill Gates may well attract their attention (even with an inferior product that borrowed other people’s ideas) and get the investment, but we would do well to remember where the power comes from, and who actually owns the capital.
That capitalism — particularly global, corporate capitalism — creates massive inequality is clear. While that is bad, what is worse is what capitalism does to us as a race and as a world community.
There’s a good reason that the phrase “survival of the fittest” is thrown around so often in capitalist societies. Although Darwin’s theory was initially rejected by horrified men of the church in his day, it so readily excuses capitalist excesses as a sort of natural procession toward greater productivity and advancement that the capitalist oligarchs have adopted it wholeheartedly. In truth, the church (particularly the Evangelical church) has adapted the idea for its own means: if you’re not wealthy or successful, it’s not because of the inequality of the system; it’s because you didn’t have enough faith in God. It is a brutal theology.
We have been trained from birth to compete, to “be the best,” and to “work hard” for some (likely) unattainable goal. We go from being urged to share with our friends at age five to being told that that same friend doesn’t deserve a piece of the pie at age fifteen unless they’ve checked all the right boxes on some great, invisible list. We don’t work together; we try to out-do one another. This has made our schools a brutish environment dominated by bullies, and that same dynamic carries forward into the workplace. By the time we’re adults, we understand that we don’t “get ahead” by being the best. No one really rewards excellence. You get ahead by abandoning your moral compass to whatever degree you’re willing to do that. Behind every successful capitalist is a highway of roadkill that got thrown under the bus.
We also understand, through conditioning by the capitalist media, that people who do not “make it,” or who are poor or disadvantaged, failed not because of the system, but because of some inner personal flaw that makes them inherently unworthy. That homeless guy? Clearly a lazy drunk. That poor single mother? Shouldn’t have had a kid, and she definitely should work harder — though I fail to see how struggling people can work harder than the two to three jobs they’re already working. The mantra is, “I’m fine, and if they’re not, then they must have fucked up.”
But even if you think, “I’m fine,” you’re not. How many friends might you have if you weren’t trained to think of everyone as a potential competitor (or enemy) first? How less lonely might we be as a society if we nurtured each other and took advantage of our gifts, regardless of how “profitable” or “productive” those gifts are? Instead of seeing idlers and the unworthy, what if we saw a potential friend or neighbor? What if we stopped judging everyone and everything by the amount of money they can generate — for their bosses?
Capitalism creates disposable stuff in a disposable society. We fill the landfills, we exploit the labor of the poor (and keep them poor in the process), and we dispose of human beings as so much trash at the end of the day, or at whatever moment they become sick or disabled or “unprofitable.” As Professor Richard Wolff frequently says, if you tried to make a deal with your grandmother over the cost of Thanksgiving dinner, she would be offended. Families feed, nurse, and provide for one another because they love one another, not because they are trying to make a profit. Why shouldn’t societies do the same thing? Why shouldn’t our society make sure that everyone is housed, clothed, fed, and cared for? Why shouldn’t our society act as though none of us were disposable? Can you imagine what kind of world we could create?
I believe that many of us are ready for a more loving world and a more loving society, but we can’t have that with an economic system that is, at its very core, cruel. It will never happen. If we are going to be a loving society, then all aspects of our society must reflect that love. There is no other way. We cannot be love if we do not act love.
‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’