Capitalism cannot save us, and we shouldn’t save it
The whole world is in a crisis, the most immediate cause of which is not Donald Trump — he is merely the American emperor finally exposed for the world to see, naked, crooked, and incapable of saving anyone.
The crisis behind the fake leader-of-the-free-world is a result of businessmen having seized control of most supposedly democratic governments.
It is only during the last 100 years or so that it has been possible to “seize” governments by winning elections, and corporates only got serious about doing that when socialist or humanist parties won power in a few dozen countries in the 20th century, and passed laws that put social causes before profit. They regulated banking and mandated public health and common wealth, and chief among them were the Democratic administration of Franklin Roosevelt, Labor governments in Australia and like-minded nations, popularly-elected socialist regimes in parts of Europe and South and Central America, and some of the former ‘communist’ autocracies.
Equally alarming for business was the growing popularity of legislated “rights” — civil rights, women’s rights, the right to clean air and water, indigenous people’s rights, the right to decide one’s own gender identity, and many more — and providing these rights to masses of people seriously interfered in the functions of brutal capitalism.
Most of these social reforms and “rights” grew out of the 18th century breakthroughs collectively known as the Enlightenment, which were fundamentally about science replacing superstition, a transformation still very much in progress today.
By the 1980s, global corporates realized that the populations of countries which had prospered were somewhat addicted to these products of enlightenment, but even more addicted to consuming the products of big businesses — so the bosses of business used their media to convince enough people that social spending needed to be cut if the goodies were to keep on coming. Thus we now have elected governments committed to downgrading public interests, like clean air, art, science, health, and curtailing all those rights, for our own good, where “good” means owning more than our neighbours do.
Corporatists have sold themselves to a thin majority of voters by claiming that they can run things better than nationalist or socialist governments did, or than do-gooders could. Their package of policies is sometimes called neo-liberalism, and right now it is coming apart, the promise is losing its credibility, and the men in suits look as scared, or clueless, as the rest of us.
We cannot, however, simply hand government controls back to non-corporate politicians, because the deeper problem behind the crisis is capitalism itself.
Capitalism proposes that unregulated competition for profit, and the consequent private accumulations of wealth, will inevitably produce a safer and ever-more enjoyable life for all of us who work within the system. In fact, universal human fulfillment is no more inevitable under capitalism than was Marx’s communist fantasy born of a “historically determined” proletarian revolution.
What we are in the midst of today is the breakdown of social cohesion as the yield of capitalism’s mindless “growth” is revealed to be an exponential growth of waste, pollution, inequality, oppression, and a cascade of other unintended, negative consequences.
In this pivotal moment, the hucksters of laissez-fairyland, including Trump and his Republican enablers, and Turnbull/Morrison and Co., plus their vast propaganda enterprises, insist that the real problem is too much commonwealth, too many social programs, too much enlightenment — too much Political Correctness.
They tell us that jobs are vanishing, wages are dropping, and migrants are swarming over borders, because of feminism, environmentalism, and multiculturalism: these newfangled movements have taken goodies from the older and whiter people and given them to gays, trees, and wogs. This too is part of the neo-liberal project, to blame the failures of capitalism on the expansion of egalitarianism.
Our challenge is to confront the deeper diseases of our era, and to work with everyone across this endangered planet who sees our plight this way to save us from disaster by environmental breakdown and/or war.
There are many diagnoses of the diseases propagated by our species on our planet, and as many visions of what must be done to cure them. I propose that scientific observation and imagination has revealed the major myths we must release ourselves from in order to find our place in our planetary ecosystems, such as:
That nature is free. A staggering number of people believe that naturally occurring things such as air, water, sunshine and soil are free and infinitely tolerant of whatever we do to them.
That we are all white men with Christian values. In fact, Australia has more women than men, and Christianity is tied with “no religion” at about 45% each in our latest Census. And despite the noise generated by some churches in the US, Americans too are increasingly abandoning the myths of discredited religions.
That war is inevitable. Globally, war-based industries are estimated to cost many times all the productive products and services generated each year, plus uncounted damages to human health, ecosystems and infrastructure. We cannot afford war no more.
That our “economy” makes sense. It is estimated that the entire tangled web of the global “finance industry” transacted $1634 trillion in the year 2010. Even Lord Adair Turner, chairman of Britain’s Financial Services Authority, admits that much of what the industry does is “socially useless”. A rapidly expanding portion of the global “economy” is a casino run by algorithms.
In short, we are not a species created by a beneficent god or gods to be destined for greatness or eternal life, and we are not presently managing our lives and our global systems in intelligent or sustainable ways.
We are one species on one planet and we are now knowledgeable enough, and capable enough, to re-design all of our actions to live within the hierarchy of ecosystems we now see we are a part of. And we don’t have much time to do it.
That’s a simple notion, and it can guide everything we must do, all of us, for the foreseeable future. The fact that this will mean abandoning systemic violence including war, and private property beyond our domestic enclaves, is, I agree, a challenge. But unlike blind faith in gods or stars or soothsayers or businesspeople, it has a framework for living that is accessible, practices that are doable, and goals that are achievable.
It’s called science. If you don’t know much about it, find out more. If you hear someone deny it or denigrate it, understand that they are hastening our demise as a species, along with all the other species on this overstressed planet. They may not mean to, but they are.
You can still chant and hum while you do science: just check the ingredients on the package before you light the incense.
Photo from toptene.com