Capitalism is Cruelty

capitalism-as-fishMy condemnation of private property startles people. After all, we’ve been immersed in private property for 10,000 years, and few people today can see its drawbacks or imagine any alternative. And even critics of capitalism generally excuse “mom and pop stores,” because Mom and Pop manage to be kind in spite of capitalism. But Mom and Pop don’t really like swimming with bigger fishes in a sea of competition. They would welcome a revolution turning their store into a “community distribution center,” so that they can address people’s needs instead of their money.

We made a cultural wrong turn 10,000 years ago, when we invented farming and decided we no longer needed each other. That decision yielded bullying, poverty, plutocracy, war, and ecocide. Nuclear war or other forms of ecocide may soon kill us all.

dead duckThe biggest and most important “possession” that we aren’t sharing is the global ecosystem, the circle of life, the support system on which we all depend. It cannot survive in pieces, any more than you or I can. And yet it is being sold off in pieces, not at replacement cost, but at extraction cost. Toxic runoffs are never completely cleaned up or paid for. Market externalities are inevitably ecocidal. Ultimately, the ecosystem is being killed by the “every man for himself” attitude that is normal in our current culture, a very sick culture indeed.

The problem won’t be solved by reforms, because the problem is not superficial. It’s not just a few bad Exxons and a few bad congressmen. The problem is inherent in the fundamental principles of any kind of separateness, competition, trade, and hierarchy, things so deeply ingrained in our culture that it rarely occurs to us to question them.

In our present culture, kindness is the exception, not the norm. If I have something you need, I can’t just give it to you. If I did that, people would think I’m an easy mark. What if too many people make demands on me? I must defend against that, by building a wall around myself, so our lives are separate. You keep your stuff in your house, I keep my stuff in my house, I don’t need to care about you, and I can’t afford to care about you.

rat-raceIn fact, I am forced to compete against you, and I must watch for treachery. At best, you may be a useful commodity to me. Your role in society and your self-esteem depend precariously on your keeping up in the rat race, while someone younger and stronger is nipping at your heels.

Competition does not “bring out our best.” In fact, anything that can be done with competition can be done better with cooperation. Most technological innovation does not come from competitive profit-driven corporations, but rather from research labs in universities and in the military. The market does not create a better world; it only creates better advertising. “Voting with your dollar” doesn’t work, because none of us have time to become experts on all our purchases and watchdogs on all the manufacturers.

monbiot-millionaireWe’re not lazy, but most of us hate our jobs, because they have no meaning for us. Extrinsic motivations routinely displace and kill intrinsic ones. You’re paid not by how much you produce, but by how much you control. You’ll never meet a corporate executive who is a thousand times as smart or as hard-working as you are. Our privately owned workplaces are little dictatorships.

We have no feeling of community. Most of us don’t know our neighbors. Separate and powerless, we can do nothing to help those less fortunate than ourselves, and so we avoid thinking about them, or perhaps we even blame them for their misfortune, because that is less painful to us than seeing the injustice in the world.

In addition to enduring material disadvantages, some people feel left behind emotionally, which may be even worse. Some take it personally. Bullying becomes commonplace, because the bullies don’t know how or why to form healthy friendships. Bullying is the one way that they can feel powerful, can feel some control over something in their lives. Thus stabbings, shootings, bombings, wars become commonplace.

better bargaining positionWe buy and sell everything, and rent is too damn high. Voluntary trade benefits both traders, but it yields greater benefit to the trader in the stronger bargaining position, thus making him stronger still, increasing inequality. This would be inherent in trade itself, even if there were no cheating.

small wealthy classIncreasing inequality creates a small wealthy class (Norton and Ariely 2011). Meanwhile, hierarchical government — even a nominal democracy — creates a small class of the politically powerful. These two classes merge, because money and influence are interconvertible, and have been for ages. Thus we end up with plutocracy (Gilens and Page 2014). The market does not “reward the industrious and punish the lazy”; rather, it rewards the few who control it and screws everyone else. “Anarcho-capitalism” and “free market” are oxymorons.

Power corrupts, as the Stanford Prison Experiment proved. The powerful convince themselves that their underlings are undeserving. Bosses become mean and police become brutal. Plutocrats profit from horrific policies. For instance, for decades the tobacco companies and Exxon knowingly spread disinformation, concealing their harm to lungs and to the climate, respectively. Private prison companies lobby to imprison more people. Weapons sellers hire retired generals to lobby for more wars. The government lies about everything. Our society has the material ability to feed and house everyone, but that’s not happening because it would not make the rich richer. And so on. Capitalism IS cruelty.

Ending capitalism is

  • necessary for all the reasons listed above,
  • possible — just look inside yourself, and inside your friends, and
  • urgent, because we are nearing both nuclear war and total collapse of the ecosystem.

We must replace the market with caring and sharing, and replace hierarchical government with horizontalist networking. Our concept of “self” must become larger than a bag of skin, larger than a house, larger than a nation — it must become the entire planet, because that is the scale on which our life is now endangered.

The first step is to get more people talking about it.


2016 Oct 17, version 1.17