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The fundamental aspect of capitalism is supposedly competition. Businesses compete against each other for customers, and it is that competition that keeps the game fair. If one company behaves poorly, customers will take their dollars elsewhere and that company will fail. This keeps companies honest in order to maintain a solid customer base. This competitive drive to succeed among all participants creates a so-called “Invisible Hand” of the market that keeps it fair as companies compete against other companies, and the aggregates of supply and demand will fall into harmony to provide a equitable cost for everyone involved.

However, competition is just a euphemism, or a deliberate deception depending on how cynical you want to be, for the real essence of capitalism: conflict. A “by-any-means-necessary” attitude is taken towards financial gain, and governments must impose very strict regulations on companies in order to prevent them from undercutting their “competition.” Corporate espionage, predatory pricing, monopolization, etc. are all fraudulent, non-competitive methods of achieving victory that are quite illegal (regardless of how frequently they might still happen). This is technically considered government regulation, which pure capitalism would frown upon. If businesses act closer to rival gangs than two opponents having a race, then this illustrates the non-competitive nature of capitalism, because in a race, you don’t win by cutting the Achilles tendon of your opponent. Well, maybe you do, but you’d have a hard time legitimately defining it as a fair competition. Capitalism, left to its own devices, would not achieve harmonious balance, it would devolve into the last scene of The Godfather. Or… whichever scene is the one where Michael has all the other heads of the families killed. It’s near the end, anyway.

Conflict also appears between businesses and employees. Adam Smith suggested in the Wealth of Nations that business owners will try to get as much out of their employees for as little pay as possible, and employees will try to do as little for as much pay as possible. When both sides are attempting to gain exponential financial growth, this conflict is surely to blossom. Problems of course arise when employers hold all the cards, and this one-sided battle will naturally escalate into as close to slavery as the company is socially allowed to get away with.

Smith writes that if there are fewer people around to do the work, then employers will have raise wages and working conditions in order to get employees to work for them; after all, a business will not function without workers. This will allow families to grow and people to immigrate, increasing the population, and allowing wages to be lowered. On the flip side, if there are too many people around, then wages and working conditions will decrease. The Invisible Hand will create balance this way by having people starve to death until the number of people decrease to accommodate a natural wage/workload equilibrium. The problem that Smith is forgetting, outside of this abhorrent solemn acceptance that people are just going to have to suffer and die for this system of economics to function properly, is the unwavering spirit to live that human beings possess. We do not just lay down to starve and die when things are oppressive and tough. A good many Jewish people survived the Holocaust if they weren’t killed outright. Therefore all the oppressive measures will forever remain in place if businesses are allowed to have their way, unchecked. Also, considering the globalization that has occurred since Smith’s time, businesses can now just move their production to parts of the world where the human capital is highest, and can exploit the world to their hearts content.

To even things up a bit, workers have come up with their own solution: unions. Unions were invented to create an opposition to the tyranny of management. Within a capitalistic system, unions are a definitive necessity to avoid the inevitable slavery that allowing management to have absolute power would produce, but this is replacing slavery with strife. Unions are not designed to work with management, but against it. Allowing either side to “win” this capitalistic conflict would either bankrupt the company financially or morally. Within capitalism, for it to be “fair”, workers and management need to be forced into an eternal struggle wherein neither side can emerge victorious.

If we are trying to avoid this union/management rivalry, the government can regulate businesses to provide humanistic working conditions and wages, which again is outside of pure capitalism.

To further show the all-encompassing nature of conflict within capitalism, we come to the remaining participants of the economic system: the patrons. The very essence of supply and demand is that customers will try to get the best product for the least amount of money, and businesses will try to get the most money for the cheapest product. This means that businesses will cut corners to provide substandard products, and use guile and propaganda to persuade the masses to purchase their products regardless. Businesses work under the mantra to buy from the lowest bidder and sell to the highest one. This creates inferior, often dangerous products, that only through government regulation can be reigned in. The “Buyer Beware” practice of the past proved fatal, as all businesses will invariably take the cheapest route, and when that route involves lead, for example, and consumers have no other alternatives, it is up to an overseeing, regulatory body to make sure companies do not put literal poison in their products.

As in all conflicts, there are losers. What capitalism fails to take into account, either through apathy or ignorance, is what to do with those losers. The only solution capitalism offers is to try again within the same framework. Pull yourself up by your bootstraps. But those who lose in a conflict will always be starting again with much less, and in a dog-eat-dog system that is just a set-up for further failure.

Alternatively, a government which provides for those who slip through the cracks, such as through a welfare system or other social programs, could potentially salvage the losers from the depths of the capitalistic war.

There are social costs to capitalism as well: We are alienated from our neighbours by having our typical everyday social interactions with strangers taking place within the realm of conflict. It’s why both people on either side of the Starbucks counter hate each other. The division of labour, though it cuts costs and increases production, means that the people we depend on are strangers a thousand miles away, rather than those who live within our community. Friends and families are often torn apart over issues of money because each transaction will always be tainted with self-interest and greed; the fundamental tenets of capitalism.

Capitalism also prioritizes short-term gains over long-term problems. We destroy the environment, our planet, for the sake of a few dollars. We create economic bubbles by creating and profiting off of a market of debt. We lay off employees to save a few bucks, and then go under completely because we now deliver a shoddier product (eg. the entire state of Michigan).

There is planned obsolescence, where new products are designed to either break or go out of style so that the consumer will have to purchase a new one. Repairing items now is more expensive than a new purchase, furthering this drive to consume more, and in the end, waste more.

There are so many more examples of the inherently flawed aspects of capitalism. I am probably missing some key elements already, and I’m not even bothering to cover distinct examples of companies doing atrocious things for the sake of profits, or how governments subsidize big businesses to the point where even calling it capitalism is a joke. Some argue the capitalism works because it plays to our human nature: self-interested and savage, and that any other system we try would inevitably follow the same patterns. I disagree, but getting into what I believe constitutes human nature is a tangent that will be discussed in a future blog.

Some might argue that without capitalism we would not have the advances in our society that we all enjoy, that it is because of the promise of wealth and fame that people are inventing things. But studies have shown us that money as motivation is actually counter-intuitive to the creative process, and only works for menial, brainless labour. What is necessary for inventive creation is freedom, and capitalism works as a barrier to that freedom because of the walls that those we are in conflict with place in front of us. How much better would computing technology be if Microsoft and Apple didn’t manhandle the market so that no new contributors could participate? How would the electric car be doing if the oil and gas industry didn’t have their say?

As we have seen, the only way for capitalism to “work” is with heavy government regulation and social programs to make sure that we don’t devolve in corporate feudalism and gang wars. And by that point you’re already basically at socialism. So why bother?

We live in a culture of distractions. We watch TV and movies, or browse the innumerable Buzzfeed, 9gag, or Reddit pages, or become sucked into a spiral of Youtube videos, or spend endless hours plugged into our phones even when in the company of friends and family, or play video games of all genres and platforms.

What qualifies these as distractions, rather than play? They are all passive consumption, whereas play is an inherently creative act. It is the difference between playing a sport, or watching it on TV. Of telling a story, or having one told at you. At least books require the creative power of imagination, compared to a television show where the mental faculties required are less than when we are sleeping. Some might argue that video games, since they require input from the player, might escape the definition of a distraction, but actions in a video game cannot evade the programmable components of its software. All the possible outcomes of the game have already been foretold, and it is simply a matter of finding and consuming them.

Think of when you were a child, playing with your friends and siblings. You would create ideas, stories, and whole worlds with something as simple as a cardboard box. Sports and board games frequently had completely made-up rules that were only understood by those playing them. There was a shared intimacy, a bond, created in this play that adults in their more nostalgic moments despondently recall as having lost forever.

Think of your friendships and relationships now. How often does your “play” with friends require passive consumption? Do you go out to consume food? Or drinks? Or a movie? Maybe you play video games. Even playing in organized sports is more about conforming to rules and authority, than it is about engaging in a creative output. Do you feel as though you are not as close with your adult friends as you were with your childhood ones?

Distractions are a narcotic. They are an escape from the world we live in. They offer stimulus without effort. And, like a narcotic, we are developing a tolerance for them. Our movies are a prime example of this: movies today have faster cuts, more special effects, more explosions, more Michael Bay. Movies of the past are frequently referred to as “boring” because of this developed tolerance. Boredom is a withdrawal symptom of the lack of stimuli that our body now craves.

Busyness has become a virtue. Filling our time with something, anything, is a commendable feature of contemporary culture because it means that there is no time for that person to get bored. To stop and appreciate life, to clear one’s head in meditation, to slow down; these are all boons to both health and stability. But too often they are dismissed as “boring”, and people are frequently unable to participate in these slower activities, despite even an active attempt to try them.

The peril of distractions comes not just from their narcotic effects on our minds, but in the literal sense of “distraction” as well. If we are pacified and preoccupied, we are not paying attention to the world around us. This allows unchecked oppression, war, and other such human rights violations to occur while most of the developed world focuses more on celebrity gossip than the strife that surrounds them. The promise of the internet was a worldwide voice, access to infinite knowledge, and with that knowledge and voice would come revolution against oppression and hate, and equality for all. But if you ask anybody today what they use the internet for, typically the answer will be pornography, epic fail videos, or sports statistics.

We also tend to miss out on life; we miss out on the connection with our loved ones, if we are too busy with our distractions. If the time we spent on Facebook was spent with friends, or the time watching cat videos was spent adopting and playing with our own, or if we tried new and exciting activities rather than watching the epic fails of others, the enrichment in our lives would be exponentially higher.

Further tragic correlation with the proliferation of distractions is the jingoism that seems to almost be an inherent aspect of them. Sports fans will become physically violent with other fans, despite no real connection to anybody on “their” teams. People will get up in arms over their choice of computing or gaming platform. People will even define their lives by the television, or other mass media productions, they consume. Any perusal of an online dating website will reveal the dependence on the series Game of Thrones for a person’s sense of identity.

Do these distractions merit the emphasis and importance that we place upon them? Probably not, since they have absolutely no relevance to life, and any meaning we place on them would be purely without basis.

It is true that listening to someone else’s music or stories can affect us emotionally or stimulate us intellectually. Even regular drugs can induce creativity or offer new ways of appreciating the world. But to rely on them, to make them the foundation of our lives, that is the life of an addict.

We do need to escape sometimes. I myself enjoy movies and television, and when I go out with friends, it’s usually for a beer or a meal. The way life is set up almost requires escape; distractions are a necessary coping mechanism to deal with our day to day working lives. But what does that say about the system of our culture if it saps the life and creativity out of us, requiring us to run away with our distractions just to survive?

Post-script: Creating a story or a song requires a passive receptor of that story or song, it’s true. But often the missing component is intimacy and connection in that process. For example, being able to look and experience, or even interact with the person delivering the creative output is far more valuable than seeing them on a screen. Even with this blog, I find it much more rewarding when someone comments or brings it up with me in person, and I’m sure the reading experience is more rewarding as well if there is a connection with me as an author.

Also, for an even more critical look at distractions, specifically sports, listen to Noam Chomsky:

We seem to allow happiness to be relative. If someone told you that they went out and had a grand ol’ time for ten whole dollars, and someone else came and told you that they had an equally great time for an exorbitant one hundred dollars, you would be able to accept that quite easily. You of course stayed at home that night because neither of those jerks invited you out.

So the little African child who everyone uses as the go-to scale for everything is playing with his little wooden sculpted block, and the fat North American child playing with his Xbox are both equally happy. Sure. But as soon as that fat little child’s Xbox breaks, and he bursts into fat little tears, we would feel less sorry for him than if our little African child were to start crying poverty-stricken tears.

The happiness can be equally valid, but the sadness can not. Why not?

Because the fat kid has more, and the starved child will likely die soon. But then wouldn’t that mean that the fat kid should have more value for his happiness? But, but, but material wealth doesn’t affect happiness!! We learned this when we were young, and Sesame Street was pushing its radical left-wing ideals down our impressionable throats. And I agree, due to my radical left-wing ideals (thanks Sesame Street!)

Being sad carries with it a harsh stigma. Sadness is the “wrong” emotion to feel (because it sucks) so it is scrutinized more strongly than any of the other emotions. And since empathy is hard, most of the time people just write off sadness as the person dwelling too much on their issue, or not being strong enough, or whatever the reason. Being sad means being weak, and therefore you’d better have a damn good reason for why you feel like shit. Being dumped, losing a loved one, losing your job, being a starving African child… All of these are socially acceptable reasons to be sad. But remember, not for too long. Here’s a video that delves further into the stigma of sadness compared to the harmful proliferation of “thinking positive” which is worth a watch if you have ten minutes:

Labeling problems held by fortunate people as “First World Problems” do more harm than just perpetuating the myth that being miserable is a “bad” thing. It also leads to this:


Poverty becomes looked upon in absolute scales. Remember the African-child-scale that the world wants to apply everything to? Well, that child doesn’t have a refrigerator, so therefore all the poverty-stricken in North America should just buck up. Life isn’t so bad for them, so they’re not allowed to be miserable about it. But as I’ve hopefully explained clearly, emotions are all the same, regardless of which scale you’re using. Just because we don’t live in a crippled nation, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to fix the problems we *do* have.

So when someone tells you to cheer up because at least you’re not living in a mud hut with only dried shoots of grass to eat, remember that emotions don’t scale. But problems do. So tell them to fuck off. Politely, if  the two of you are close.