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The Accidental Bodyguards of Capitalism

Written By: - Date published: 6:33 am, November 15th, 2017 - 69 comments
Categories: capitalism, Deep stuff, Economy, political alternatives, vision - Tags: , ,

This Guest Post is by Standardista Incognito.

This is a follow-up on my previous post and a reply [1] to the comments that were made and I would like to thank all commenters for some great feedback.

The arguments in favour of sticking with capitalism run along two familiar lines: 1) capitalism has delivered so much; 2) there is nothing better. Both these lines are predominantly economic ones but obviously have political implications.

We have indeed had industrial revolutions and technology is advancing at phenomenal speed. Undoubtedly, the influence of capitalism grew in parallel and enabled & reinforced economic progress and vice versa. However, this does not mean that capitalism caused progress & prosperity, in the sense that it provided obligate necessary & essential or even just permissive & facultative conditions. This kind of answer relates to the second argument that there is no (better) alternative.

In other words, as the all too familiar reasoning goes, capitalism and economic prosperity appear to have gone in hand and they must, therefore, be causatively connected. Taken one quasi-logical step further, economic prosperity was caused by and could only have happened because of capitalism. This, to me, seems like retrospective historical determinism and a logical fallacy as, for one, it conflates correlation with causation.

Recently, we have seen and heard many economists arguing that capitalism is the best we have got and that with a bit of tinkering, a ‘human face’, it can be sufficiently improved that we can still reap the alleged ‘benefits’ but also counter the obvious side-effects of capitalism especially of its Hulkish form called neoliberalism. On the other hand, plenty of anthropologists and psychologists have pointed out the obvious failings of capitalism. In addition, even economically capitalism has not delivered the goodies to all; prosperity and wealth are very unevenly distributed, which is the default and inevitable outcome of capitalism, of course. Sure, many have enjoyed economic progress to some extent, but it has come at a huge cost.

The argument that there is nothing better is so weak it is funny. If the caveman had never bettered himself beyond what he knew so that he could ride a Woolly Mammoth Beast to work we would still be crawling in caves on our knuckles & knees. Interestingly, democracy, as we know it, also gets this woeful defence, e.g. Churchill said:

Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.

To me it all sounds very much like “better the Devil you know” and “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” – ignoring or diminishing the social and psychological damage that is occurring not to mention the ongoing devastation & desecration of the environment to feed the capitalist machine.

These arguments in favour of capitalism and democracy as we know it came together when Francis Fukuyama wrote that liberal (capitalist) democracy was the ideological endpoint and final form (and ‘destination’) of government.

One of the best counter-arguments in my opinion was provided by Plato in his story of the cave. This is an award-winning clay animation of this story and here is a good link for some follow-up reading. Briefly, my counter-argument is that defenders of status quo generally lack imagination and are trapped in their way & world of thinking in fear of change and the unknown and, in fact, denying there even is an unknown (hubris). It is a strong argument in favour of Utopian thinking and not accepting the here & now as the only possible interpretation of reality or, even worse, as some kind of Universal or Absolute Truth.

There are two more issues that are intimately associated with capitalism that warrant attention when arguing against it. The first one is that of ownership, which is, just like capitalism, an artificial human construct.

Even when you were still a twinkle in your father’s eye and even after you have departed this realm of the material world your existence is embedded in and defined by ownership of Earthly possessions although not necessarily limited to Earth.

The whole concept of ownership is engrained in our psyche entirely through ‘nurture’ I would argue. In fact, this idea results in competition, distrust, and exclusion (e.g. enclosure) and runs counter to our biology; it is in our nature to cooperate and be social. I believe it goes deeper than this but I won’t dwell on this here & now. So, it is hard (but not impossible!) to imagine a world and an economic system that is, in contrast to capitalism, not deeply founded on ownership and effectively we all are prisoners in a cave.

Property rights and ownership are enshrined in many of our Laws. But there are many other rules & regulations that limit our actions, our choices, and our thinking! Many human genes have been patented by companies so in a way you may not even (fully) own your own DNA.

The second issue is that of freedom. All sorts of institutions (state, insurance companies, employers, banks, etc.) demand full disclosure of all sorts of (personal) information. Every time we ‘accept’ the Terms & Conditions we freely give away our rights to some of our information when we use social media (never forget that we are the product). When we sign up for a loan or mortgage we chain ourselves to decades of wage-earning. None of these actions per se might be reason to worry but together they weave a suffocating straitjacket that severely limits or choices and actions. Freedom in this environment is as much an illusion as the shadows on the cave’s walls. However, it is oft used as justification for capitalism and vice versa capitalism is supposedly leading to more (personal) freedom.

Freedom is also determined by how well you know the system and its rules and other idiosyncrasies. Some get to know it well enough to game the system (at the expense of fellow humans or the collective) while others (e.g. beneficiaries) do not know or understand what their rights & entitlements are and thus miss out. In other words, not only is there a built-in and wilfully propagated asymmetry of power (ownership) but also of (system) knowledge and thus we are not equally free in the true meaning of the words.

If you accept that freedom is relative at best and an illusion at worst then you will also have to question the arguments for neoliberalism and the so-called free market dogma. It runs something like this: people are free to engage in voluntary transactions (trade, buy & sell) and make rational decisions. This cannot be true if we are chasing shadows on the wall or, in fact, when we merely are a shadow on the wall!

What does this mean for post-capitalism? We do not yet know what it will look like because we have not yet ventured out from our caves. It will be different, at first, but no worse than what we knew before despite our current belief that capitalism is the best thing since sliced bread – a belief that is harder to keep given the mounting evidence for the contrary. Till the time comes when we are sufficiently educated to see things differently we are and will remain staunch defenders of capitalism if not by conviction but for our actions.


[1] Unfortunately, I did not have time to reply at all to the comments at the time the Guest Post went up on TS. However, as Lynn recently suggested, it lightens his workload and that of the Moderators here if I were to do things by posting rather than commenting. Lastly, rather than replying to separate individual comments I thought it actually made more sense in trying to capture my thoughts in a single more cohesive post.

69 comments on “The Accidental Bodyguards of Capitalism ”

  1. Ed 1

    The media are in the front trenches fighting for neoliberalism.
    Indeed they are in our trenches, pretending they are on our side, yet undermining our position.
    Stop believing the media, New Zealand.
    It is biased, it lies, it represents powerful corporate interests and it spreads fake news.

  2. Andre 2

    In the past century there have been a bunch of societies that have tried something other than capitalism. The results have not been good. The societies that look most attractive to me, the scandinavian-style social democracies, are still firmly rooted in capitalism. They just have a slightly stronger state sector and firmer commitment to using the powers of the state to level the playing field.

    So, you want to move to something other than capitalism? Then provide a clear fleshed-out picture of what is to replace it.

    One problem is the sociopaths that will always be among us. They will always try to find a way to live in the biggest flashest quarters, eat the tenderest cuts of meat, root the prettiest girls. That’s what they live for. How are they going to be managed?

    How will people be empowered to indulge in the pursuit of happiness? Capitalism, with its attendant property rights, gives people the freedom to allocate their resources towards the things that make them happiest, whether that be their house, or driving their fancy HSV Codpiece or whatever. To be sure, in many capitalists societies that’s fallen down for a large chunk of their people who have to allocate all their resources to simple survival. But that failing is relatively easy to tackle with minor changes to expectations around state actions, as scandinavians have shown.

    • weka 2.1

      What did you think about Plato’s cave story? If someone presented you with an alternative would you be able to see it or are you looking at the shadows on the wall? Because I can see an example of non-capitalist societies 200 years ago right here in NZ.

      • One Anonymous Bloke 2.1.1

        So just like us, did they occasionally fight one another for land and resources? Yes. That’s a sense of ownership if ever there was one.

        • weka

          Still not capitalism and looking at how that fighting and what you call ownership are different than what happens in capitalism is useful.

          • marty mars

            Yes the total reasons and purpose of what Māori did in the past is not actually related to capitalism at all and not even slightly. Looking backwards and saying they did it too and they did it for similar reasons that we do things is simply incorrect.

            The model is known and still around. It is based on reciprocity.

            • weka

              Yes. Disappointing to hit the colonialist mindset so early in the conversation.

              • One Anonymous Bloke

                Weka, if you’re going to invite comparisons between pre- and post-colonial Aotearoa then complain when people make them, is that your post colonial mindset at work?

                • weka

                  I don’t have a problem with making comparisons, it was how you made them that didn’t look right to me.

                  You think that fighting over land somehow equates to landownership in the context of a discussion about capitalism. I think there are distinct differences between Māori concepts (pre-contact and now) of landownership and Western ideas entrenched in law in NZ that we inherited with the colonial system, and that those differences are worth exploring if one wants to look at getting past capitalism.

                  I’m interested in opening up the conversation not writing things off so early on especially where they appear to be being misrepresented.

                  As marty said, reciprocity. It’s a very different system than what we have currently. Andre wanted examples, I thought this was a decent enough place to start.

                  • One Anonymous Bloke

                    You think that fighting over land somehow equates to landownership

                    No. That’s your assumption. I’m not making value judgements.

                    I simply observed that concepts of ownership are evident. It’s often said that (by contrast to Capitalism) the land owns the people: that doesn’t prevent conflict over resources.

                    Incognito posits that ownership is a cultural phenomenon, and that’s probably true, but it’s a cultural response to a real phenomenon – finite resources.

                    Even reciprocity requires that one thing be weighed against another.

            • One Anonymous Bloke

              what Māori did in the past is not actually related to capitalism at all and not even slightly

              You can still compare the two, especially in the context of a discussion of how Capitalism can be improved or replaced altogether.

              I wrote “a sense of ownership”. Not “a sense of ownership that’s exactly like Capitalism”.

              • Yep comparing different systems is valid.

                • One Anonymous Bloke

                  So, for example, reciprocity – willingness to sign up to a ‘win-win’ deal depends upon the perspective of the participants.

                  From a Taoist perspective, a large country can offer protection, a small country can offer service. Both may gain from the deal, but there’s an inherent power imbalance at play.

                  It’s the same for groups and individuals within the hierarchy of a society.

                  • Another word for reciprocity is utu.

                    I did a paper on reciprocity within Ngāi Tahu kinship groups once. Very complicated. A system of obligations – based around mana, kinship, resources, ahi kā – and within that whānau, hapū, iwi groupings. So sometimes you’d work with a group and at other times you’d compete with them. E.g. attacking a pa sometimes a group who were kin with the pa would go ahead and warn them to get out. Other times kin would be used to draw people out of the pa to the enemy – by the kin. Actually i found it very satisfying to read and hear these stories because they show the fluid and changing nature of reciprocity.
                    Please note I’m only speaking for myself. Māori are tribal – for instance where I come from Papatūānuku was married to Tangaroa not Ranginui.

                    • One Anonymous Bloke

                      Democracy and the rule of law are crude attempts to respond to the shared experience of things like ahi kā.

      • Andre 2.1.2

        You want my support for an alternative vision? Make it clear what that vision is. Fill out the details. Show me what’s outside the cave. Vague mutterings don’t cut it.

        I’m clear about what I want. For instance, you want details about how I’d like our education system to change? I’ll point to Finland as a model that actually works, and it’s easy to go find as much further information as you could possibly want.

        • weka

          I’m not wanting your support on anything other than a genuine conversation.

          You appear to be saying that the only examples you are willing to accept are the capitalist ones. That kind of defeats the purpose of the conversation.

          Pre-contact Māori had excellent education systems, have at it if you want to look that up, but I suspect you will be viewing it through the shadows on the wall. Going outside the cave is much more interesting IMO, even if you don’t end up liking or valuing what you see.

          • Carolyn_Nth

            And also, current Māori systems do offer an alternative model, or at least glimpse of alternatives. I am increasingly engaging with such protocols and systems at work. Look to the marae, to protocols, etc.

        • Michael

          “Show me what’s outside the cave” – isn’t that the point of Plato’s cave allegory? Pursuers of wisdom are meant to journey outside the cave (in this case a neoliberal one) and come back inside to enlighten those still chained up (to neoliberalism?), by telling them that the real world is (a) different and (b) better than the version they can see reflected on the walls of the cave (mainstream media?).
          IMHO, I’d say that there is more than one alternative to neoliberalism but none of them are perfect. I’d also say that we’d do best to pick an alternative that suits conditions in 21st century Aotearoa-NZ, as opposed to merely copying and pasting someone else’s version.

          • Andre

            Thing is, I’m fairly confident I’ve done a fair bit more travelling and experienced more alternatives to what we now have than most others.

            I’ve spent (a thankfully very short) time behind the Iron Curtain, and may an abomination like that never be foisted on humanity again.

            I’ve been exposed to a commune type structure, and the group-think and suppression of individuality would never appeal to me nor anyone else I find interesting. The few productive thinkers there lost interest fairly quickly and left, followed by the collapse of the commune shortly after.

            I have some rellies that practice a fairly self-sufficient bucolic lifestyle that appears similar to what some commenters seem to aspire to. It works for them, sort of, but just as well for them they’re of substantial financial means and can subsidise it from their rentier income elsewhere. If they needed an income from it, it just wouldn’t work.

            The list is a lot longer than that, but suffice to say I’ve been close enough to enough alternatives that don’t meet the starry-eyed descriptions of their promoters. Therefore I’m extremely wary of people promoting utopias that can’t point to something very similar actually working in practice over an extended period. Hence my enthusiasm for the scandinavian model, which does have a fairly healthy extended history.

            • marty mars

              Have you done any research on the indigenous people here and how they structured the society? Or any indigenous peoples experience in other places such as first nations peoples and so on.

              • Andre

                Like I said to weka, historians seem to have a wide range of reports about what historically happened here. If you can recommend a link to something you consider authoritative and has a lot of detail, please do.

                For a while I took an interest in southern US and central american indigenous cultures. There were a lot of tales about egalitarianism, consensus, non-violence etc that often sounded very nice. But human remains often told another story.

                So I’m not inclined to put a lot of credence to historical accounts that can’t be independently confirmed now. When it comes to ideas about how to improve societal structures, I’m much more interested in models I can go see in action.

                • This country is prefaced on the treaty between the crown and Māori. It is important that everyone understands the two cultures imo especially as here quite a few Māori concepts get incorporated into society. Maybe one of your friends can recommend something. You seem pretty good at sorting the good from the bad – I hope you accept the challenge and investigate further.

                  But to help

                  Reading the maps and He Höaka are two blogs with some good information and perspectives.

                • If you can recommend a link to something you consider authoritative and has a lot of detail, please do.

                  Debt: The First 5000 Years is pretty good. I might even go so far as to call it a must read.

        • Tracey

          You are also wanting an example that exists. Inotherwords someone elses status quo.

          Greater minds than me can give it a go, and some must have but all innovations will fail your “show me a current example” test.

      • McFlock 2.1.3

        And I can imagine non-capitalist societies in the future, when energy production and fabrication make resources non-scarce. Star Trekky-stuff.

        The issue is whether the person in the cave looking outside can also see the chasm between them and the cave entrance, and a way to bridge it.

        How does society change or move forward? It’s not engineered. It moves forward by accident, pressures and scarcities behind and opportunities in front. That why the communists in europe were successful first in Russia – a feudal society in the twentieth century. The rest of Europe had constitutional safety valves to let off pressure.

        Small groups can apply some pressure, but the big social drivers are economic or catastrophic.

        So what do we move towards when we move away from capitalism, and how do we get there without falling into a chasm?

        • weka

          Good questions.

          I think those drivers of change are real, but also, wasn’t neoliberalism engineered?

          I quite like exploring how the bridges can be constructed, but I also think that that is mostly a mental (and perhaps emotional) exercise. You can’t build a bridge to something that doesn’t exist yet. But we can imagine different possible futures and then what those bridges might look like.

          It’s certainly easier to do that with the change of govt. Not that I think Labour are looking at ending capitalism as their long game, lol, but creative freedom to influence change is just going to be so much better for a while. I also think that the Greens increasing in parliamentary power would shift us considerably. They have some solid beyond capitalism values built into the kaupapa. Again, not that I think that’s where their thinking is at, but that if they had more power the window would be shifted enough that the view would be different.

          Permaculturist David Holmgren, when talking about the Powerdown, says we don’t have to solve all the problems for the generations ahead, we just have to solve the ones in front of us with an eye on the long term. The generations who come after us will be better placed to understand what the next steps are and how those might be done.

          • McFlock

            I think neoliberalism was the objective of a small group, but it wouldn’t have happened without stagflation (which keynesianism had no immediate response to) and other economic crises, or the opportunities in NZ from the backlash against Muldoon.

            I agree about the changing dominance of the different parties being an opportunity for creative freedom.

            But circumstances will drive us more than imagination – the transition away from fossil fuels towards renewable energy is partially a response from society to climate change, but it’s also basically destiny as renewables become cheaper and betteries more energy dense per kilo than fossil fuels. We’ve had a century of intensive development of the internal compustion engine, we’re gettng diminishing returns on how much power we can pull out of them. The discovery of graphene still has blue sky areas when it comes to energy use and storage, let alone other new battery technologies.

            I think the other main driver to a new society is automation and AI: driving people out of work while making that work negligible in cost over the long term will necessitate UBI/UBS (the “S” is for services provided without payment). Resources mined and developed by robots into products have no feedback loop for profits to go back into the community that buys those products. The system breaks down.

            Call me complacent, but we won’t reject capitalism. We’ll just outgrow it.

      • Andre 2.1.4

        weka, it might be helpful if you linked to something that provided more detail about the kind of society you’re speaking kindly of.

        There’s all kinds of portrayals of pre-European maori out there, from rampant cannibalism through to hopelessly romantic noble savage fantasies. Left to my own research, I might end up with the idea you’re advocating some very strange things indeed.

    • Bill 2.2

      In relation to comments 2 through ….

      So this whole thing of trying to imagine a future when we’re bound by the imagination of the present – or trying to understand the past by way of projecting current understandings into foreign settings…it’s kind of arm wavy daft.

      That said, we can easily enough know by simple observation what’s “wrong”. And we can easily enough figure out what causes those things we consider to be “wrong”.

      So by rejecting the believes, politics, economics, traditions etc that produce those “wrong” results – or by rejecting the components of the believes etc that produce “wrong”results – we inevitably wind up in a better place.

      A problem arises because there are some who enjoy immense privilege and benefit from believes etc that have deleterious effects for a majority or even just a sizable minority. And they will defend that privilege and power, principally and in many ways, by defending the underlying believe etc that delivers them their privilege and power.

      But it seems to me that state of affairs (whatever the details of it may be) always relies on our participation and consent (the “consent of the governed”).

      Withdraw consent and capitalism (or whatever other arrangement we’re talking about) collapses.

      And it’s pretty simple to identify the “shamans” and then accord them the same level of respect and acquiescence as any other who would elevate themselves above the rest of us unless… at some, perhaps difficult to acknowledge psychological level, “you’ve” got ‘skin the game’ and therefore a reason to maintain a given status quo. 😉

  3. Neoleftie 3

    With respect to post capitalism or the Next Way economic system one wonders if we have seen the present elected tribal leaders first glimpse out of the cave with the cry of “wellbeing for the people”, ” global warming” action plans and the first policy changes such as monetary policy reforms. Small acts maybe but profound statement of intent without scaring the established societal actors…gradual subtle long term system change might just be the new generational plan by the left coalition dreamers.

  4. shane 4

    We need to understand what the Romans left behind then reflect on the system that educates and why it was created…..

    • shane 4.1

      In this so call capitalist society one needs to be lucky or work in areas of compliance, regulation or per cent clipping.

      In a bee hive the drones are reduced each winter so the worker bee’s survive the winter…… why not build a system that rewards productivity but not procrastination or accumulation.

  5. One Anonymous Bloke 5

    Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.

    To me it all sounds very much like “better the Devil you know” and “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”

    Things that aren’t broken can nonetheless be improved. Churchill’s remark can also be read as a warning against Utopian thinking: ‘best is the enemy of good’.

    runs counter to our biology; it is in our nature to cooperate and be social.

    The brain adapts to dishonesty: brainwashing and propaganda are also “in our nature”. So are psychopaths who exploit the brain’s weak spots to their own advantage. Political philosophies ignore this at their peril.

    • weka 5.1

      How have pre-industrial non-capitalist societies dealt with those that work against the common good?

      • One Anonymous Bloke 5.1.1

        Mostly, elevated them to ‘leadership’. Just like we do.

        • Andre

          In sarcasm veritas.

        • weka

          Can you give some examples so I know what you mean?

        • marty mars

          Not in this country oab.

          • One Anonymous Bloke

            Firstly, I’m not making value judgements – and I’m sure I have a whole lot of ignorance and poorly understood ideas so please forgive them.

            Rangatira, tūtūā, and taurekareka. Surely a society with such predestined hierarchy cannot help but elevate the odd idiot. Prince Charles leaps to mind.

            Even the most socially mobile of taurekareka will find rangatira status out of reach.

            In this case, you might say that it’s the system that works “against the common good” (in Weka’s original comment).

            One of the chief failings of Capitalism is the way it concentrates wealth, and therefore, power, but what’s the difference between “ownerless family wealth” and social status determined by parentage?

            Not much, in practical terms: they both convey unearned privilege.

            That said, these (existing) systems have “worked” for centuries, or not, depending on your perspective. How do you judge “success” in this context?

            Once again, please forgive my ignorance. Sorry for blundering around.

            • marty mars

              All good mate this cave is dark for all of us ☺

              I like your comments oab.

              Yes idiots, due to inherited mana, could take over but not for long in my understanding. The major reason was that mama came from the people as all and if you could not show you could lead them effectively (a lot of different aspects to what e ffectivelly means here) they’d just not follow or rather give their name (metaphorically and practically too) to someone else.

              In the old times if someone had very high mana they were untouchable literally and metaphorically.

              It was a good system with flaws like capitalism but it accepted the ebb and flow nature of life I think.

              • One Anonymous Bloke

                Apocryphal (ie: I can’t remember the source): the burka (sp?) indicates wealth and privilege: working class women cannot do their jobs while wearing them.

                This is going to sound shitty no matter how I phrase it, so again I apologise: appreciate the ebb and flow of life as much as you like, taurekareka don’t have the luxury.

                What I’m blundering towards is the idea that hierarchy and privilege might be endemic to societies that exist for longer than a few generations.

                A problem that certainly predates Capitalism, as the Tao can attest. I think this is part of what Incognito’s getting at: seeing the cave from the outside.

                To labour the metaphor, if society is like a cave, let’s choose one that doesn’t experience immediate cave-in, and proceed carefully, like walking on thin ice.

        • Draco T Bastard

          Actually, mostly they banished them from the tribe. This was effectively a death sentence.

      • KJT 5.1.2

        In the remnants of Polynesian societies there are useful concepts..

        Like the talkers standing up and doing the talking. But they are only allowed to say what the “Aunties” leaders, let them say. Or you get massive eye rolling at the back.

        A chief is only the Chief so long as he looks after his people, and/or shows competence in the area in which he is Chief. You can have a “talking Chief” a Navigation Chief, and a warrior Chief, in charge, depending on the need. . His mana depends on what he gives away, or contributes.
        We could learn from Polynesian culture to avoid our most common mistake. Assuming the best talker/bullshitter is the best leader.

    • Carolyn_Nth 5.2

      Yes, and it is also in our nature to be competitive – both cooperation and social engagement and competition are in our natures. A lot depends on how they are related.

      Sports teams, with a strong colonial, and/or warfare connection, use a specific mix of competition and cooperation.

      Competition comes to the fore especially when resources are limited. This situation can become artificially generated when some groups hoard the resources, and limit access to them by others.

      Hunger games.

  6. DoublePlusGood 6

    Well, I for one am keen on some Fully-Automated Luxury Gay Space Communism…

    • adam 6.1

      define your take on communism Doubleplusgood

    • OnceWasTim 6.2

      But would that fully-automated gay space communism come equipped with all the comforts? I mean – such as a ‘faghag’ robot to service all your emotional needs?, or mmmm
      Utopia perhaps? But shit! what about the other (admittedly fluid) 9%
      Perhaps I’ll talk to a few more taxi drivers before I form an opinion

  7. If you accept that freedom is relative at best and an illusion at worst then you will also have to question the arguments for neoliberalism and the so-called free market dogma. It runs something like this: people are free to engage in voluntary transactions (trade, buy & sell) and make rational decisions. This cannot be true if we are chasing shadows on the wall or, in fact, when we merely are a shadow on the wall!

    And it most definitely cannot be true if we have FTAs that force us to sell that which we don’t want to.

  8. SpaceMonkey 8

    I think I prefer Oscar Wilde’s definition of Democracy, from his essay ‘The Soul of Man Under Socialism’:

    “Democracy means simply the bludgeoning of the people by the people for the people”

    • Carolyn_Nth 8.1

      Spoken well by a member of the privileged classes. They are oh so clever – and so witty – the best education money can buy.

      • SpaceMonkey 8.1.1

        That he was, but Wilde was adamantly opposed to capitalism. In his eyes it “crushed creativity” in society due to constant need to apply resources into fixing the social problems that capitalism caused. He was an advocate for socialism as he saw it as the only political and economic organisation that would enable humanity to realise its true potential – what he called “individualism” – which in his view was the ideal state where people were free to develop their talents for the betterment of society as a whole.

        It is a privileged 19th century perspective but it gives plenty of food for thought, especially as we head towards a possible future where the means of production are fully automated.

        • Carolyn_Nth

          Oh. So he saw socialism as an alternative to “democracy”, rather than democracy being a component of socialism?

          • SpaceMonkey

            He appears to have had no time for any form of government. From the essay:

            “Individualism, then, is what through Socialism we are to attain to. As a natural result the State must give up all idea of government. It must give it up because, as a wise man once said many centuries before Christ, there is such a thing as leaving mankind alone; there is no such thing as governing mankind. All modes of government are failures. Despotism is unjust to everybody, including the despot, who was probably made for better things. Oligarchies are unjust to the many, and ochlocracies are unjust to the few. High hopes were once formed of democracy; but democracy means simply the bludgeoning of the people by the people for the people. It has been found out. I must say that it was high time, for all authority is quite degrading. It degrades those who exercise it, and degrades those over whom it is exercised. When it is violently, grossly, and cruelly used, it produces a good effect, by creating, or at any rate bringing out, the spirit of revolt and Individualism that is to kill it. When it is used with a certain amount of kindness, and accompanied by prizes and rewards, it is dreadfully demoralising. People, in that case, are less conscious of the horrible pressure that is being put on them, and so go through their lives in a sort of coarse comfort, like petted animals, without ever realising that they are probably thinking other people’s thoughts, living by other people’s standards, wearing practically what one may call other people’s second-hand clothes, and never being themselves for a single moment. ‘He who would be free,’ says a fine thinker, ‘must not conform.’ And authority, by bribing people to conform, produces a very gross kind of over-fed barbarism amongst us.”

            • Carolyn_Nth


              By “democracy”, does he mean “representative democracy”?

              • SpaceMonkey

                As opposed to direct democracy? Not sure the distinction was made back then… so I would assume representative democracy. Even then, not in the way we might view it today. For example, women were not allowed to vote in Wilde’s day.

    • Sounds like someone who understood that democracy is communism – and didn’t want others to realise that.

  9. Thanks for this post – very enjoyable reading your thoughts incognito

  10. Ant 10

    It is consistently overlooked, perhaps because of aversion to having to contemplate the possibility of a “sky fairy”, that humans have the capacity for a mode of being that brings fulfilment and a sense of purpose through cooperative living rather than competition. Implemented en masse, cooperative living based on the belief that everyone has talents, skill and ability that can be put to work salvaging the mess earthlings have gotten themselves into could bring defining steps saving humanity from the many dismal futures consistently portrayed.

    Competition, peaking with destructive capitalism and neoliberalism, has surely reached its “use by” date.

    Many are aware of a transformative element within self that recognises fulfilment has avenues at variance with self-aggrandisement and competition. The route to its discovery was pointed out in Buddhism a non-theistic “religion” and (surprise, surprise) the tenets, in terms of the work required on oneself to forge the new, are mirrored in the major faiths of the world. (No I am not a Buddhist).

    Countless millions of prayers go out to “God” hourly; to be sure there is enough sincerity there and an over-abundance of global disaster spots to have warranted some kind of divine intervention by now.

    God (if there is such a being) is not going to rescue us; the capacity within self which awakens following certain disciplines and leads to a naturally expressed life-style of cooperation might.

  11. Sparky 11

    The notion of what amounts to capitalism is hardly new and indeed its been on a continuum for a very long time.

    That said we were progressing towards something better with notions like Communism and socialism but sadly one ended up in the hands of dictators and the other was subverted to bring capitalism back.

    Whats next? Who knows. It really depends on a lot of things and I doubt there will be any real movement in my lifetime. As we are seeing its become ingrained in our political system with only the Greens being the real stand out that I can think of. The rest talk if improving capitalism or reforming it but I really don’t think that can work long term.

    I’d say China’s hybrid capitalist Communist system works for them because of the sheer size and scale of their economy., population and land mass. What will work for us? I’d say a return to a pragmatic socialist model would work but I doubt the vested interests who have a stranglehold on our society will let that happen.

  12. Angel Fish 12

    Capitalism is the best we have because the alternatives are stupid and fantasical beyond belief! In arguing against capitalism you’ve provided NOTHING OF VALUE OR VIABILITY! Nothing! You just mentioned a bunch of idiotic idealistic statements
    and allusions to what our human nature is.
    Provide something viable and practicable and then we’ll see if it’s good enough to beat capitalism.

    Take crypto currency for example, it isn’t merely critical of the debt based fiat currency, but then worked to offer an alternative! You lot need to try something similar, other than making stupid vague remarks about how our nature is to share or give or some nonsense like that.

    You lot also fail to address the innate need for individuals to exchange resources and services with each other. And fail to address the different extents to which some individuals desire things. Some desire more and some desire less.
    A market allows such exchanges to take place freely, where the participants can express their wants and needs and negotiate with each other towards the price/value they desire.

    Personally the only viable alternative to any ills that one may perceive in capitalism, are technology! Eg: medical advances like vaccines, The internet for the most part, GPS. That is technology can potentially give a population an equal footing.

    Another thing to address is CONSUMER RESPONSIBILITY!
    Many of you people who whine about capitalism are gluttonous consumers yourselves! For example, most of you shove meat, eggs, fish down your throat with little thought to the animals or the environment. Many of you also buy the latest technology, instead of trying to get the most out of existing ones.

    Much of the problem in this system therefore comes from stupid and irresponsible consumers.

    So in conclusion, it’s very very silly and ignorant of people to blame capitalism as a whole for all this. It’s also pathetic in that you as a consumer is not helpless but can take charge on many issues from environmental ones with green technology, ethical ones by being vegan and economical ones by avoiding child labour/slave labour involved products!

    • One Anonymous Bloke 12.1

      Capitalism is the best we have

      So why isn’t it fully applied anywhere? And why do the happiest people live in countries with mixed economies?

      avoiding child labour/slave labour involved products!

      Can you show me an example of such a product? Whatever you’re using to make your comments isn’t one of them. By your ‘standards’ the people who want to end slavery must first stop using all electronic media devices.

      And if we did that, cui bono?

  13. R.P. Mcmurphy 13

    almost everybody alive looks at the world and says this is the way it has always been but that is not so. Every species will expand to the limit of the available food supply and humans are no different. no amount of belletristic words and recondite exposition will alter the fact that capitalism is sui generis and will continue till it reaches its own break point. It has become a cultural fact and as long as the pundits experts and commentators keep discussing the isms then they are totally missing the point about what is happening in the world.

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