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...and got three very interesting kinds of replies:
1. people aren't suffering from capitalism because people are suffering from marxism.
2. people aren't suffering from capitalism because people suffer in every system of government, and
3. this is just the way the world is. work harder, and you'll have a better job, make more money, and transcend all this.
to some extent, these replies were a wake-up call; i guess i hadn't realized how much talking about capitalism is off-limits in a lot of circles. many of the people who read this blog may feel similarly - that capitalism just isn't something worth talking about, and that those talking about it are often being subversive and using it to leverage political gain for them and theirs.
it's true - there are a lot of people manipulating peoples' frustrations with capitalism so they can make more money and have more control. it's sad, but a lot of groups in the states are very subversive. but i'm not in a political party, and i don't have any intention of asking you to join one. i just think that it's important to at least have this conversation, for all of our sakes.
so let's take a crack at these replies: the first two answers will be a little easier to talk about. let's get them out of the way so we can talk about the third one, which i think is the most helpful analysis of the three.
one response i've gotten when i've talked critically about capitalism is that, if i were born in a marxist country, i wouldn't even be able to express how much i didn't like my government. i definitely thought along these lines for a long time. here's a meme that pretty effectively sums up my attitude tward critics of capitalism two years ago:
and this critique works pretty well. when someone was critical of the american way, i used to think, 'well, if these liberals hate america so much, why don't they go live abroad.'
but maybe this isn't the best way to think about it. telling genuine dissenters that they had better go live elsewhere simply ends the conversation. it's a distraction, not an argument. and if you assume that all critics of capitalism are endorsers of marxism, that doesn't seem fair either - those aren't the only two options for the organization of people.
in fact, capitalism emerged as mercantilism in the 16th century, but didn't include co-option of land and a labor market until the nineteenth century. in the form that we see it today, it has only existed about a hundred years. here's how i saw capitalism when i first started going to school:
similarly, marxism is a stream of historical analysis that emerged in the 19th century, and was developed as a industrious tag-team effort between karl marx and his cat:
the important thing here is that both of these ideas are less than five hundred years old, and neither of them took effect in their current paradigms until the early 20th century. it's not as if capitalism or marxism were given to us by God or have descended into our consciousness through the influence of very smart aliens... or did they?
by the way, the logical fallacy at play when you're assuming that everyone who is not pro-capitalist is a marxist is called a false dilemma.
2: all systems are the same
i talk a lot about this kind of stuff. often, conversations about government, politics and human need a pre-empted by a single statement that is often treated as a game-winning touchdown by the person who first says it: 'it's not the system that's the problem. it's people. until people's hearts change, nothing else is going to change.'
and somewhere in the wilds of barbaric pre-history, some thinker was asking about the merits of cannibalistic tribal warfare, and all the other members of her tribe were rushing to be the first ones to score the touchdown: 'it's not cannibalistic tribal warfare that's the problem. it's people. until people's hearts change, nothing else is going to change.'
that's kind of extreme, but do you catch my drift? cannibalism was a problem. in that case, and, i would argue, in most cases, the system that those people lived in was also present inside of them. true, maybe they needed to change their hearts, but they might not know where to start or even what to aim for if they never started talking critically about cannibalism.
that said, i don't think our present adherence to capitalism has the potential to be bad for humans on the level that cannibalism has been. sometimes, though, it takes an extreme example for us to get used to talking about things critically again. here's picture describing the sort of hesitant way that some people are thinking about our current way of organizing:
3: just the way the world is
as i mentioned before, i think this is the most interesting critique of the three. this is the analysis that helps me the most with having a conversation about capitalism (and i really want to have a conversation about capitalism). i also like this reply because, in a certain sense, it's true.
my world is capitalist. i buy my food and sell my labor. i buy my education, and, most of the time, i buy my transportation. people are making money of of all of these interactions through various processes that i still can't understand after two terms of college economics. if i work harder, generally, i will have more money, and thus more of these things i want. nevertheless, i am disturbed by the way my world is.
when people tell me to work harder and stop complaining, i feel misunderstood. i don't want to complain. i like my standard of living. i like working where i do, and truly enjoy my work. even though the recession has really reduced the number of jobs i can pick up as a landscaper/painter, i truly value every day i get to work, and i'm completely content with my life. i have enough to eat and (usually) a safe and warm place to sleep at night.
however, capitalism has not worked out like that for the millions working in american-owned sweatshops, and mining operations which only exist to support first-world markets. they are often exploited to the point where they lack food and shelter, and often don't have the option to buy the things they need for their families. i feel as if this system is not working out for my brothers and sisters in other countries, even if, in some ways it has worked out for me.
true, modern american capitalism is 'just the way the world is.' and yet, i can't help thinking of a better world. and, hopefully, we can talk about that better world together...
p.s. i made a little faq to anticipate the potential fall-out of this post.