Archives for posts with tag: Capitalism

Charles Eisenstein (2013) predicts that a convergence of crises where the devastation of the environment, the increasing social hostilities across the world, the domination of monolithic international corporations over the global economy, and the impotence or facilitation with which governments typically respond to these factors will inescapably lead to the end of civilization. Ronald Wright (2004) looks at the rise and fall of previous civilizations and sees that there is a large sampling of civilizations that grew too large, consumed all their resources, and then spread out once those resources were finished. In an effort to see how humanity behaves without any room to expand, Wright looks at Easter Island as an example of a confined society where every last resource, in this instance trees, was eliminated, thereby destroying the civilization and the ecology of the island.

This analysis of the past and prediction for the future paints a bleak picture for our now global civilization. Humanity has run out of room to spread, and it is quite quickly running through its finite resources. Eisenstein (2013) suggests that those who wish to do some good for the world should continue their progressive practices in order to provide a solid foundation upon which humanity is to rebuild after the coming calamity. Another somewhat facetious approach is accelerationism; if we accept that the end of our global civilization is inevitable and imminent, the morally righteous course of action would be to speed that process along so as to hasten the opportunity to rebuild. This posits a critically important question, however: are we truly bound by a predetermined Armageddon where all hope of salvation for our current world is already lost?

Possibly the greatest threat to the stability of the world is the proliferation of international corporations. The Corporation (Achbar, Simpson & Abbot, 2003) illustrates the way that businesses that might otherwise be benign have infected the status quo by externalizing the problems they produce and internalizing anonymous blamelessness. Corporations lack any kind of accountability (outside of the profit motive) due to their personhood lacking any kind of body to incarcerate or otherwise punish. This leads to environmental and ecological destruction which damns future generations, and inhuman working conditions that damn the current one. Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Prices (Greenwald, Gilliam, Levit & Smith, 2005) localizes these issues by demonstrating how large corporations can turn communities into ghost towns by using predatory market practices to eviscerate smaller businesses and unfair labour practices to impoverish their workforce. These corporations run not just an oligopoly in the world’s economy, but in the media as well. In 1983, there were 50 different companies running the news media in America, and as of 2004 there are six (Perkins, 2011). By achieving a stranglehold on what the general population consumes as ‘news’, and by providing only the dominant cultural narrative through it (Mullaly, 2010), the corporate agenda can act with an even greater impunity than what the anonymity of corporate personhood normally would allow.

While these corporations continue to increasingly subjugate every aspect of the planet, the general populace faces contrasting destitution. The debt of the average Canadian is approximately $1.64 of debt to every dollar of income and continues to grow (Wong, 2015). This spiraling debt is the result of the credit industry; a tragedy caused by a gluttonous system creating superfluous demand to consume its petty trinkets (Perkins, 2011). This demand is built on a foundation of nothingness, however, and by witnessing its rapid growth we can predict a debt bubble destined to burst.

In addition to these worrying dilemmas, speaking out against them has its own problems. The film What Would Jesus Buy? (Morgan & VanAlkemade, 2007) depicts the criminalization of dissent as the protagonist of the film, Reverend Billy, is routinely harassed by police and security, or even arrested as he attempts to decry the commercialization of one of North America’s most sacred holidays. While many armchair activists might like to believe that posting a politically-themed status update on their Facebook page might be the equivalent of enacting social justice, the reality is that change will only occur through tangible efforts made by real people, such as the Reverend Billy. However, by forbidding that kind of activism through the use of police and the laws to which they adhere, the status quo clamps down on any real activism that might take place. While purporting to celebrate free speech and social justice, by relegating activism to predetermined locations where it might safely go unheard, society creates a wall where change breaks like a wave on the rocks.

Those working to create that change often find themselves at odds with one another as well. By being entrenched in a society that fosters competitiveness and creates a zero-sum funding method for social programs, activists are forced to fight not only against the structural inequalities of our broken system, but also against other activists that are labouring toward common goals. The system by its very function disrupts progress simply by exerting its default ideology of competition and capitalism (Bishop, 2006).

In addition to the systemic factors undercutting progress, there is a further burden on those advocating for change. Quite often when things go wrong, the blame will fall on those working toward ameliorating them. One example is the death of an Aboriginal teen which was primarily blamed on the “persistent indifference of front-line government workers” (Changes being made, 2015, para. 4). The problems inherent in the structure of racist policies that function to the detriment of Aboriginal youth go unnoticed as culpability is thrust upon the persons closest to the issue. This culpability further stigmatizes those seeking social improvement, and acts as discouragement toward even bothering in the first place.

So in the face of the impossibility of overcoming insurmountable global obstacles, or, on the off-chance that they are overcome, doing so in a timely enough manner that the already crippling environmental damages do not become irreversible, why do we bother? What leads us to bang our heads against this wall, suffering the slings and arrows, while facing off quite literally against the world? Would it not be simpler to merely give in, let the wave of inevitability wash over us, and accept somewhat less facetiously the merits of accelerationism?

The existentialist philosopher Albert Camus utilizes the myth of Sisyphus to illustrate how one might be able to confront meaninglessness. While Camus speaks ontologically, the method applies to social justice as well. Sisyphus is condemned to an eternity of pushing a giant boulder up a mountain, seeing it roll down the other side, then walking down to push it back up again. Camus, rather than seeing this as dreadful punishment, celebrates it and declares that Sisyphus must own his task and complete it passionately. He claims that Sisyphus overcomes the will of the gods in this manner in spite of them, and announces that “there is no fate that cannot be surmounted by scorn” (Camus, 1956, p. 314).

Bob Mullaly mirrors this view by declaring that anger is the necessary tool to combat futile odds: “anger at governments that cater to the wishes of the wealthy at the expense of women, children, visible minorities, and other marginalized groups; anger at a social welfare system that homogenizes, controls, and monitors people who are forced to go to it for assistance and that has proletarianized its workers; and anger at the discrimination, exploitation, and blocked opportunities that so many people experience today” (Mullaly, 2010, p. 283). Mullaly suggests anger as a tool to rally a community around an issue in an attempt to overcome it. From this perspective, it is only through owning the cause and becoming passionate about it that pointlessness can be conquered.

There are also those who believe that when knowledge is gained and compassion is utilized, fighting against these crises is humanity’s natural response. Si Transken defines these fruitless warriors as fuchsia elephants, who “may be on the verge of extinction,” but still “cannot blend into the chicken crowd” (Bryant et al., 1999, p. 33). No matter the outcome, fighting for social change compels them, and no amount of pressure from outside forces will quell the fires that have been lit inside. Once one adopts the mantle of the fuchsia elephant, it cannot be discarded. One may submit to the “exhaustive demands of the circus crowd” (Bryant et al., 1999, p. 33) and have their fire reduced to embers, but the fuchsia will never fully wash out.

Whatever the cause, be it natural or passionate, we must continue to fight. Even in the face of impossibility, in the face of meaninglessness, the battle for social justice must continue. Accelerationism works solely on the faith that there will be enough of a world left to rebuild once the convergence of crises has devastated it, and that is a deadly gamble. Giving up is not an option.

References:

Achbar, M., Simpson, B. (Producers), & Achbar, M., Abbot, J. (Directors). The Corporation [Motion Picture]. USA: Big Picture Media Corporation

Bishop, A. (2006). Becoming an Ally: Breaking the cycle of oppression in people. Black Point, Nova Scotia: Fernwood Publishing.

Bryant, V., Dahl, P., Lane, L., Marttila, M., Transken, S., Trepanier, C. (1999). Battle Chant. Sudbury, On: Battle Chant Ink.

Camus, A. (1956). The myth of Sisyphus, p. 312-314 In Kaufmaan, W. (ed.) Existentialism from Dostoevsky to Sartre. Cleveland: Meridian Books.

Changes being made after report on death of Aboriginal teen: Children’s Ministry. (2015, Oct. 20). Prince George Citizen, p. 6.

Eisenstein, C. (2013). The ascent of humanity: Civilization and the human sense of self. Berkeley, CA: Evolver Editions.

Greenwald, R., Gilliam, J., Levit, L., Smith, D. (Producers), & Greenwald, R. (Director). Wal-Mart: The high cost of low price [Motion picture]. USA: Brave New Films.

Morgan, S. (Producer), & VanAlkemade, R. (Director). (2007). What would Jesus buy? [Motion picture]. USA: Arts Alliance America.

Mullaly, B. (2010). Challenging oppression and confronting privilege. Oxford, NY:Oxford University Press.

Perkins, J. (2011). Hoodwinked: An economic hit man reveals why the global economy imploded – and how to fix it. New York, NY: Crown Publishing Group.

Wong, C. (2015, Sep. 12). Household debt ratio grew in Q2 as debt increased faster than income. Prince George Citizen, p. 32

Wright, R. (2004). A short history of progress. Toronto, ON: House of Anansi Press.

You know what’s a silly concept? Intellectual property rights. You create something, it goes out into the world, and if somebody wants to use it, they have to give you money. Seems harmless enough, but imagine if all the work a brilliant scientist did on cancer research was copyrighted. Not only would all pharmaceuticals and therapies derived from that research cost extra money for the royalties for that scientist, but any further research on cancer would have a similar financial barrier.

Say there’s another brilliant scientist further down the road, who, if they had access to this research, would be able to cure cancer. Everyone loves curing cancer; that’s why we all wear pink and grow ridiculous mustaches. Who wouldn’t want those irritating trends to be a thing of the past? And I guess a deadly illness would be gone too. However, with copyright, this brilliant scientist would have to cough up any and all royalties before they could even begin. What if this genius doesn’t have those funds? If there is an inherent initial obstacle that must be overcome for any additional research to be done on curing cancer, potentially preventing a groundbreaking boon to society, then we have a deficient system.

Any progress-minded individual would agree that any technology, be it medical or otherwise, should not be stymied by something as petty as money. Ethical reasons, maybe, but that ship has sailed long ago. If we want our society to improve, then removing barriers to those improvements should be a top priority. Tesla Motors, for example, recognized that the more people working on electric cars, the better off society will be, and put all their patents into the public domain.

Just as with technology, culture too is degraded by copyright. Arguably the greatest rock and roll band of all time, Led Zeppelin,  “stole” a solid percentage of their music. Johnny Cash may have stolen a song or two as well. As did The Beach Boys, Elvis Presley… Now, I’m not making a moral judgement about proper crediting, and I don’t want to get into white people stealing music from black people, but I will say this: the songs that Led Zeppelin, Johnny Cash, The Beach Boys, and Elvis produced were wildly successful because they were great songs. Taurus by Spirit is a good song, sure, but Stairway to Heaven is the best song. Ice Ice Baby is probably not a better song than Under Pressure, but they can’t all be winners. There will always be bad with the good. Do we eliminate Stairway to Heaven simply to prevent Ice Ice Baby?

Art can move us and inspire us. It can create a revolution or end one. Art motivates us politically, socially, and even artistically, and following the same logic as technological copyright, it is absurd to place a barrier on something that can drive us forward. What if Johnny Cash couldn’t afford the rights to Crescent City Blues? Walk Hard taught me that he was a poor country boy; it’s not an impossible idea. My childhood would be a lot different if I didn’t have my dad singing me old Johnny Cash tunes.

Of course, even beyond the pointless concept of copyright laws, within capitalism copyright get super capitalistic. In Canada, copyright extends for the entirety of your life, and then 50 years after that because we all know how much your grotesque, decomposing corpse needs pocket change. In the US, it’s 70 years after you die. If the purpose of copyright is to protect the creator’s rights, why does it extend past the very existence of those creators? John Oliver has his own critique of patents and their ridiculous cash-grab nature, wherein he discusses organizations that exist solely to purchase patents, and then sue the shit out of people. They don’t actually create anything, they just possess wealth and then use that wealth to fuck people over in an effort to accumulate more wealth.

So is the answer to abolish copyright and get rid of this detriment to human society? Unfortunately, no.

When creating something, it takes time and money. If the product of that creativity is given away for free, or pirated, or whatever, then that time and money is gone with nothing tangible to show for it. Which would be fine from a collective, short-term standpoint, sure, but that individual is now fucked. And if creative people are routinely fucked, we will eventually run out of creative people. If Gordon Jenkins didn’t get recompense from Johnny Cash, there might not be more Gordon Jenkinses in the future, and if there are no more Gordon Jenkinses, there would be no more Johnny Cashes.

So long as money is required to live a normal life, we need copyright laws to protect the labour of creative individuals even if the entire concept of copyright is insane. So long as capitalism exists, we need pointless laws to function. It’s almost like I’m driving at something here…

Since pop culture seems to generate page views, I’m going to make a reference to a graphic novel that is almost 30 years old, but don’t worry because it has a film adaptation from only six years ago. I am nothing if not topical and relevant here at Blog for Chumps. I refer of course to Watchmen. If you haven’t read/watched it in the time that it has been around, then I sincerely doubt you care that I’m about to spoil it for you.

Anyway, the premise is that humanity is about to kill itself. It’s set during the Cold War era, and it is assumed that America and Russia are going to nuke the shit out of one another. This story is actually super philosophical in its telling, and each character represents a different outlook on human nature. However, the unifying principle is that mankind is a savage beast, and the characters can only act with that principle to guide them. The Comedian embraces the savagery, and revels in the chaos and violence that naturally occurs in society. Rorschach uses the savagery against itself, hoping to use fire to quell the flames. Ozymandias realizes that nothing can actually stop the barbarity of humanity, and so he devises a plot to use it to secure peace: he utilizes the Us vs. Them conflict mentality and creates an outside hostile force (how he personifies that force depends on your medium) that unites humanity against it. Hilariously, the character representing God is only ever a puppet of the government or the ego-maniacal power monger.

Must we accept this basic premise, though? Are we naught but savages? There is a theory that says that life is not based upon conflict but on symbiosis. Natural ecosystems function because each individual species plays a specific and significant role in its upkeep. Predators and prey can never overwhelmingly succeed over the other because of a mutual need to survive, and so when life is in balance, they don’t. Even human beings are covered in tiny microorganisms which call us their home, without whom we would perish pretty much instantly. If life is based on symbiosis, then interdependence would be our natural modus operandi instead of conflict. Human beings today, and throughout history, attempt to reject this natural way of life, and this is why we live in conflict both with the world and ourselves. The basic premise of Taoism teaches similar ideology of not straying into discord by maintaining our natural selves. There are also many examples of pre-civilization humans and aboriginal tribes who lived in harmony with nature and were able to function on egalitarian basis, and it was only with the advent of agriculture, and therefore the accumulation of wealth, that humanity began its downward spiral into jackassery.

I mean, this might make it seem obvious that a communist revolution would ultimately lead to peace and goodwill among men. Get rid of accumulated wealth, and the discord will disappear. However, I don’t think it’s as easy as that. As early as Plato’s Republic have people been aware that material wealth leads to corruption and oppression. Possibly even earlier, I don’t know. That’s just the earliest book I’ve read that mentions it. If we knew of the problem over 2500 years ago and it still seems to be around, perhaps it hints at our natural disposition towards it.

I was once told that capitalism was a relatively recent construction, and therefore its hold over society was not as tenable as our one percenters would try to assure us that it is. It’s true enough; Wealth of Nations only came out in 1776, and deregulated Capitalism 2.0 was only as recent as Reaganomics. But if you recognize capitalism as the relationship between politicians, wealthy business owners, and everyone else, you would realize there have been rulers, aristocrats, and plebeians since the dawn of civilization, and the only differences throughout history have been how those three groups interact.

Capitalism is power over others gained by the acquisition of monetary wealth. In Soviet Russia, power was gained by political clout. In medieval Catholicism it was measured in spirituality. Throughout most of history it has been measured in the quantity of land. Hell, even in high school power over others is based on popularity; the accumulation of social status. We seem to create hierarchies in all aspects of our social culture, at every period in time, which lends credence to the argument that there will always be some form of oppression in our midst. Even if we somehow manage to create an egalitarian, harmonious society, all it would take would be one individual to disrupt and fracture it and the cycle would begin anew. As much social progress as Shah Akbar created as the ruler of India or Caesar Augustus in Rome, it was only a few generations before it all went to shit.

Niccolò Machiavelli points out that the goals of the aristocracy are always to increase their lot in life, and the goals of the people are simply not to be oppressed, to live out their lives unencumbered by the machinations of the elite. It is up to the rulers to decide how that dichotomy will play out, and rulers are not always good ones.

Is human existence as simple as a dualism between two factions to be refereed by an overseeing body? The proletariat and the bourgeoisie is but one example, but there are many. Criminals versus law enforcement. Men versus women. Young versus old. Black versus white.

In Ancient Greece, we coined the word ‘barbarian’ which meant someone who wasn’t Greek. ‘Barbarian’ comes from the strange ‘bar-bar’ language that outsiders would speak. This xenophobic blanket term carries on even today, when we have words like the pejorative Yid to denote someone of Yiddish descent, or Chink to ridicule the speech of the Chinese with their strange ‘bar-bar’ language. Nigger simply means black, making something as trivial as the tint of one’s skin to be one of the most significant aspects of their lives. Even my titular ‘savage’ comes from a slur for the “uncivilized” natives that European explorers found in the new world.

This Us versus Them dualistic conflict is of course overly simplistic. There are always players on the fringes that choose not to be involved, or barter for cooperation, or switch teams, or whatever, but it seems that majority of people in one group with their own culture, mores and beliefs will inherently reject or oppress those in another. These groups could be class, race, religion, gender, sports team, gaming console, favourite Quentin Tarantino movie…

Gay marriage was just legalized in the United States, and yet, the acceptance of Muslims is decreasing at an alarming rate. From my own experience, I saw this:

The views expressed in this image are not necessarily shared by the author of this post.

 

 

 

 

 

about a month ago walking down the street. We can all think that love will conquer all until we realize that that puts us into conflict with those who disagree, and there will always be those who disagree. Even relativism assumes absolutely that relativism is the proper method of thought.

This… this is why I’m cynical. Do we really need a Them to unify us as an Us? Machiavelli tells us that the quickest way to unite warring factions within a city is to attack it. Well, warns us, really; this is told in the context of whether or not it would be a good time to invade. Does that make Ozymandias correct? Is world peace only achievable by some outside, imminently hostile and powerful force? Bertrand Russell in his book The Practice and Theory of Bolshevism points out that a discrepancy in wealth is tolerable so long as everyone has enough. Is that really the best we can hope for if no egalitarian society is possible? Must we be satisfied with “good enough” if the perfect utopia is truly unattainable outside of more conflict?

Charles Eisenstein is a contemporary thinker that is a proponent of the “life as symbiosis” argument that I explained earlier. He argues that we don’t rape and pillage our neighbour not because of the laws in place that tell us we shouldn’t, but because we naturally are against that type of practice. Which again is true, for most people, but there will always be exceptions and it is those exceptions that have to be regulated in order for society to function as best as it can; be it a rapist, a capitalist, or an inquisitor. Life may be symbiotic and interdependent in nature, as the example of a functioning ecosystem clearly shows, but that does not mean that the species within that ecosystem will necessarily exude that characteristic. Typical prey animals without a predator will without fail over-consume to the point of self-caused extinction (you could argue that humans getting rid of the predators would make it our fault, but we didn’t force the deer into overpopulation once all the wolves were gone), and that could just be the perfect metaphor for our human achievement. Maybe the reason early tribes were equitable societies was because they had predators to keep them in line, and now we’re just unhunted squirrels hoarding our nuts because we’re biologically-inclined to think that the winter frost is on its way.

I am not one to endorse biotruths of any kind, so please keep in mind that my last few examples are conjecture at best.

Nietzsche describes human nature as the Will to Power; Freud describes it as the Will to Eros/Thanatos; Sartre, the Will to Freedom; Frankl’s Will to Meaning; and Schopenhauer’s Will. Each thinker in their observations of humanity makes valid points towards the disposition of our being, and in all likelihood a single Will to Anything is probably untrue. Human beings are complex, if nothing else, and an amalgamation of many of their ideas is probably closest to the truth. Even if one drive is stronger in one individual than another, those drives will always exist. Is it possible to overcome them, however? Could we potentially evolve, if not biologically, then socially to the point where regulatory bodies keep our less desirable natures at bay? Is it even a worthwhile goal to stymie ourselves in such a way?

I’m not really sure this post has much of a point outside of venting my cynicism to hopefully subjugate it to my Sisyphean idealism. It’s not really working. We are naught but savages, and I think the best we can do is recognize that aspect of ourselves, and work it into whatever world peace plans we come up with. Anarchy is clearly out.