Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Capitalism or a Den of Thieves

As a child I was weened on the American Dream, one where if I worked really, really hard I could one day be a rich as Donald Trump, have a half dozen multimillion dollar homes, drive a different car each week, and literally throw worry and cash to the four winds. Well, I worked hard, went deep into debt to get degrees, then worked even harder and got to upper middle class then bam! - end of the highway. After paying my debts, having a big house with pool, hot tub, great family, visiting Europe, drinking expensive wine, eating the expensive cheeses and the 18 year old single malt scotch, I sat down I realized what a terrible nightmare that dream really was. I had all I needed and more yet I still felt an emptiness. This emptiness increased with my spending. As I contemplated this dilemma I realized that I was a thief. For every thing that I had above and beyond my basic needs, another human somewhere on this planet had less. For me to afford these things that looked like the luxury of the Trumps, I bought cheap knockoffs made by tiny third world fingers that lived in a system of oppression that my government's military supported and enforced. The more I came to understand world economics, and in particular America's role in it, the less I could enjoy things and the more spiritually bankrupt I felt.

I couldn't quite figure out what the connection was. Most people assured me that my epicurean tastes were fine to indulge in, that I had worked hard and deserved it. But the people that rolled my fine cigarillo worked many more hours and harder than I could ever imagine, and probably couldn't even afford to enjoy the fruits of their own labor. I didn't work hard at all. Who was I kidding. Sitting in a cube, evaluating numbers or writing scripts doesn't work up a sweat for me. As an Engineer working purely to enrich a CEO and stock holders I was paid more than 5 times what a child care provider is paid. Whoa! My work does nothing to enrich real people, or ensure a peaceful human being for tomorrow, yet I made 5 times what these women make. This is the falsity of the political economy that capitalism enforces. Ask yourself, what is more important to you: to have a new cell phone designed by teams of engineers taking a huge portion of the local economic pie, or that your child gets the love and care he needs while you're at your job 9 hours of the day?

I've searched deeply for some saving grace for capitalism but have come up empty handed again and again. Capitalism is devoid of morality when it becomes incorporated, and it is these large corporate entities that run capitalism in this new world economy. When capitalism was first envisioned corporations were illegal in the permanent sense, only allowed to exist for public works until the project concluded (like the railroad). Then lawyers stepped in, found loopholes, and corporations took over. A person can be a moral agent, but a corporation isn't. Yet a corporation has the same rights of a person with none of the moral responsibility. A corporation is self serving and self preserving. It lives only for growth at the expense of people, environment, and anything else that limits it's growth.

So when someone tells me that are true capitalist, I become suspect. They have either bought into the dream with all its propaganda or they are unclear on what capitalism implies. Well, there is one other choice, and that is that they are morally bankrupt believing that to serve the material happiness of a few it is okay to sacrifice the many.

Gandhi started off as a lawyer, albeit not a good one. But after success in South Africa he could have easily gone home to India and perused a private practice based on his popularity. Earlier he had bought into the look, life and indulgences of the British Western life proud to be a citizen of Her Majesty's Rule. But in South Africa he came face to face with the cost to those whose labor secure that life style for the British. One day on a train he opened a book by an English writer, John Ruskin, titled Unto This Last. Gandhi was transfixed, he gave up sleep on that train in order to finish the book. He was so taken with Ruskin's argument against the science on political economics, that he translated the text into his home language Gujarati and distributed to Indians as a way to warn them against the evil of industrialization and capitalism. Gandhi's paraphrase of this work was in such demand it was again translated back to English and available at www.forget-me.net/en/Gandhi/untothislast.pdf
the original text of Ruskin is here.
From these pages emerges the very concept I'm discussing. Each and every human has a gift to share with the world and should be allowed a comfortable life for that gift. We all have the ability to dig and clean latrines, we all have the ability to work in the kitchen and we're all responsible to see that the children are loved, cared for and taught how to be moral agents in this world. Capitalism in a pure form has never existed for a reason, it is deadly. As the world economy melts down before our own eyes, let us sweep it away and build a new way. It'll be painful for sure, but what's little suffering to the nonviolent soldier that can see what the future could be for their children and grandchildren.

Have a Namaste, and when sitting at the table of life just take what you need, so that your neighbor may eat too.


Anonymous said...

Wonderfully put. People do not understand the source of their income. As if it falls off money trees somewhere. They feel they have earned it by academic endeavour or by their professional skills or long shifts. The reality is just as you say, there is one pot and taking more than you need inevitably means somebody somewhere misses out. We can see this in our own neighbourhood just as we can hear about in the third world. Our current capitalist cultures are devoid of true value. They are ridiculously digitally quick producing not only selfish people but also people with short attention spans. I downsized economically- (in the uk the joseph rowantree trust came up with a figure of £13000 per year for an individual to have an inclusive lifestyle. I was way above that until a year ago when I dropped my minor professional job for straightforward shift work in an emergency line call centre)I have also become vegan. As you say non violence is the way and an extension of basic rights to food, shelter and love to beings around you. I enjoyed your entry and will revisit your blog.

Terri said...

Thanks Shift. Congratulations on your personal shift in life to living simply. Your actions become a model for those around you, starting the ripple for change. Namaste.