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What’s Wrong with Capitalism?

October 9th, 2008 · post by anon · 1 Comment

What’s Wrong with Capitalism?- an elementary look into the rationality of irrationality

Acting out capitalism in our own personal lives is an act that has become so synonymous with our everyday ‘tasks’ that it has emerged and developed into “the representation of financial markets as a thing- a natural phenomenon- (and as such) is a factor in undermining resistance to their negative consequences” (Callinicos, 2003:30). These consequences lead to many complaints but little questioning. Seemingly simple questions like asking yourself- “How are you affected by the requirements of efficiency, which place value on the product rather than the process, on the future rather than the present?” (Crimethinc. Ex-Workers’ Collective 2, 2005)- have become frightening to ask for fear of the realisation that the individualistic “concentration on borrowing, buying, and making out, (has) allowed our always inadequate social policies concerning our education, health, housing, pensions, and public transportation to dwindle or disappear” (Dowd, 2005). The individualism you’ve been promised all your life as a gift from the wonders of free trade has become tantamount to “bosses and workers brought together under mutual economic duress: one pointing the gun of unemployment and poverty to the others head” (Crimethic. Workers Collective, 2001:71)

Just how much actual free choice exists within our everyday scenarios? Since the separation of ‘life and survival’ the most prevalent choice we seem to encounter is- play by the rules and increase your chance of ‘happiness’ or ignore the rules and suffer the consequences. The scarcity of free food, shelter and resources within a society entrenched in capitalist values has left the choice of playing by the rules as a seemingly rational and valid selection, but again the complaint of ‘having to go to work’ is tied in with the question- “Can you put a value on a beautiful day, when the birds are singing and people are walking around together? How many dollars an hour does it take to pay you to stay inside and sell things or file papers?” (Crimethinc. Ex-Workers’ Collective 2, 2005). Many of those that have confronted this question would agree that the “one impulse behind the anti capitalist movement is the desire to escape, to create a space free from the imperatives of the market” (Callinicos, 2003:28) furthered by the realisation that the social and economic mechanics of capitalism “extracts enormous wealth from the vast majority, in terms of human energy, thought and action, and distributes most of it to a minority in the form of financial profit” (O’Brien, 2001:77).

The Anti-capitalist movement, criticised and ridiculed by many, has shown itself to be much more developed, widespread and accessible within the last decade and a half or so than many acknowledged or have given it credit for. Perhaps as a result of several major demonstrations, most notably against the G8 (arguably an organisation that represents a manifestation of economics vs. politics debate), the Word Bank and IMF, the convergence of people from different walks of life has seen “workers…link arms with environmentalists, students, feminists and third world activists because the neo-liberal onslaught to which all of us have been subject worldwide raises questions about every sphere of our lives” (O’Brien, 2001:69).

Critics of the nature of anti-capitalists often declare their revolutionary notion as ‘unrealistic’ or romantic pipe dreams, a view blatantly ignorant of the work of such writers as Michael Albert, who with his prolific writings involving the system of ‘Participatory Economics’ has identified a structured system alternative to capitalism in which “methods of self management replace authoritarian decision making and a new method of allocation called participatory planning replaces markets” (Albert, 2004). Many anti-capitalists still would argue that this approach is legitimising a life with an emphasis around a persons’ working day but it is still an important critique of the undemocratic nature of free market capitalism and provides an alternative not entrenched in capitalist ideology. An ideology that is learned at a young age and to which this study aims to identify as negative to a child’s learning and development as a person because they are developed as a worker.

How we perform capitalism in our everyday lives is a result of the underlying ideology embedded in our culture which eventually manifests in system sustaining actions founded in an ideology of “worship of self interest and a denial of the public good (where) the practical effects on the individual are passivity and conformism in the areas that matter, and non-conformism in the areas that don’t” (Saul, Unspecified date). The subtlety in the divide between us believing we’re free in a system of control is a result of these effects, if you stopped to think “how are you being organized, immobilized, and scheduled rather than wandering, roaming freely and spontaneously?” (Crimethinc. Ex-workers Collective 2, 2005) maybe you would arrive at a different conclusion. It is evident within lay suppositions and even within statistics of voter apathy that it could rationally surmised that “most of us feel as though everything has already been decided without us, as if living is not a creative activity but rather something that happens to us” (Crimethinc. Ex-workers Collective 3, 2005). This feeling of alienation from our own existence can be attributed to how much of our experiences have been taken out of our control by powers that “even get to determine the physical and psychological landscape of society, since they own most of the land and control most of the media” (Crimethinc. Workers Collective, 2001:59).  

The omnipresence of advertising reinforces further ideologies that co-exist and support the overall capitalist order and witnessed the birth and perpetuation of the middle class who bought into but failed to articulate any criticisms of the idea that “consumer pleasures amount to nothing more than daily rewards for manifest career disappointment, and the habits of social and personal stagnation are inherited by each succeeding generation” (Kowalski, 2000). As a result, the concept of how we define ourselves as free comes under scrutiny as “in your ‘free’ time you can buy back what you made during your time at work (at a profit to your employers of course); but you can never buy back the time you spent at work” (Crimethinc. Workers Collective, 2001:62) so have we sacrificed our freedom of choice to explore and define ourselves for the freedom to choose between Coca-Cola and Pepsi?

Attributing our feelings of depression and bewilderment to the restraints of our jobs and social scripts is not that tenuous of a link, as Bunting identifies- “it is the sheer meaningless of the chaotic instability of our experiences which exposes us to despair” (Bunting, 2004) but rather than attempting to discover the reasons for this, it is approached via treating the symptom rather than the cause as “stress is transformed into a disease by a growing industry of therapists, counselors and lawyers eager for new business” (Bunting, 2004), again highlighting the marvelous ethical approach of experiencing relations through what can be bought and sold from them as “commodification is among the defining characteristics of capitalism. First was land and labour; now, everything is a commodity; everything is for sale” (Dowd, 2005).

Returning to the issue of choice, the inevitability of obtaining a job is often disregarded as another factor in the argument that attempts to proclaim our autonomy but in reality “work is voluntary from the juridical point of view but compulsory from an economic sense” (Bakunin, Unspecified date), yet again this can be attributed to the mirage of individuality that covers any suggestions of questioning why we perform our job roles and for what purpose as “the best kept secret of capitalism is that play activities can also provide for our survival needs: except in extremities, work is unnecessary” (Crimethinc. Ex-workers Collective 1, 2005).

Many positions of work within our post-industrial/service society pail into utter insignificance and irrelevance when put into context of merit, desirability and necessity as “surely within a less competitive society, we could still produce all the things we need, without being forced to produce all the frivolous extra stuff that is presently filling up our landfills” (Crimethinc. Workers Collective, 2001:66), the ‘extra stuff’ that we bizarrely attach value to. They can then be placed in a particular spot on a hierarchy of value that has been established within our consumption culture that cannot be attached (or forced upon) “the relations of love, intimacy and friendship, for example, (because they) are social practices that are less codified (and) as such, these daily activities feel as though they have a less fixed quality to them” (Burkitt, 2004:214) and therefore, again bizarrely, are seen to have less instant gratification. It is important to point out that such relations are becoming increasingly regulated by external factors, for example, via the increase in prenuptial agreements in which you declare your ‘worth’ to another person and the subsequently affects this has on divorce settlements. These practices seem to be a result of “what we refer to as ‘institutions’ associated with the state or the economy (that) are attempts to fix social practice in time and space- to contain it in specific geographical states and codify it in official discourses” (Burkitt, 2004:211).

‘Official’ discourses produced and regulated by a capitalist economy cheat us out of our life experiences by keeping us ’safe’ from chaos, from anarchy, from answering the question-what is the meaning of life? They don’t have an answer for you, neither do I, you do. “Life is glorious, heartbreaking, and extravagant. Survival, without life (whatever it’s ‘meaning’) is ridiculous, burdensome, absurd” (Crimethinc. Ex-workers Collective 1, 2005) so what are your real choices? Capitalism is content with the segregation of life and survival- and in a society that equates survival to a semi-detached house; two cars and 2.4 children, which is then sold back to you as life- deciphering the choice, let alone choosing the option that cherishes experiences over bank balances has become excessively difficult. As long as the values of free market capitalism are legitimised by our generation – and are taught to the next generation – this problem will persist.

This article orginaly apeared, in printed form, in the pages of ‘And Then There Was Silence’ zine. You can contact there author here

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