For the past few years, I’ve been coming back to this idea about the danger of treating self-replicating, amoral systems as if they were a fit substitute for governance. The people who defend these systems imbue them with non-existant ethical faculties as if ethical choices were a consequence of their design, rather than a conscience decision to fight for ethical outcomes by people within the system.
Primarily, I am talking about Capitalism. Capitalism is treated as if it were a universal good, as if it could self-regulate or consistently reward individuals for moral or ethical behavior and has been firmly established as the international religion by the only people holding the megaphone. Anyone who questions the “Free Market” isn’t a serious thinker, is fringe, an extremist. Capitalism only works, they explain, when absolutely no restrictions are put upon it or the people who wield it.
This belies the fact that we already check the reach of Capitalism. We put a lower bound on the amount of time a product can take to kill someone. We attempt to hold companies responsible for their actions, and too often we fail dismally. We each accept increasing personal irrelevance on the world stage because a group of billionaires want to strip mine every continent on the planet and retreat to their private islands when the world collapses.
Very few of them are twirling mustaches and stroking cats, but they have been taught to expect that if they want to make money off of it, and it doesn’t kill too many white, able-bodied, straight men with social security numbers people should just mind their own business. These individual choices aggregate; those with power in this system can make their own guilt diffuse and remote enough to squash, abetted by an industry that exists to tell them that they are under attack for their “success” and deserve every ounce of profit they can wring from this life, no matter the collateral damage.
The mouthpieces of unregulated capitalism can wrap themselves in the justifications provided to them by conservative think tanks and convince themselves they have no choice but to place their own self-interest above the safety and health of the nation. That they have no choice, for example, but to reject a bill that would fund after school programs because it would raise their taxes ever so slightly and Damn it, they deserve nice things/have private boarding school fees to pay/need to live in a nice house and believe they are more worthy of investment than poor children, that their luxury is worth the destruction of the safety net the “very poor” rely on. Each of these people can think of themselves as good people as long as they “give a little back” while dispassionately placing their foot on the necks of everyone not deemed worthy to suck breath.
They can send more and more money out of the country, bust unions, push a more regressive tax code, demand harsher and harsher prison sentences while turning their back on institutional rape and abuse, build private prisons to turn human misery into equity, stoke fear and hatred of queer people abroad and push for their execution in order to please and delight religious bigots at home, fight environmental innovation, nurture White Supremacy, claim to value the lives of children while reifying rape culture and a culture of domestic and casual violence against members of society not deemed credible witnesses, push through a drone program to be implemented no later than September of 2015 to put cameras in the sky, track everything anyone does online because the law has not caught up the technology and the suveillance arm of the government now exists only to grow, “purchase” the incarceration of non-violent teenagers accused of petty crimes, discourage clean, healthy, well-educated citizens, rob poor and underserved communities of health care to prove their Fundamentalist bonafides, swindle entire communities by bribing public officials, sharpen their tools of disinformation, pump millions into campaigns to deny Queer Americans rights because they do not consider us to be human and they would slightly inconvenienced if we could legally commit to each other, prop up Christian Supremacy and train a generation to expect that religion is trump card in any argument, support war crimes because if you can’t sell anything to people they can at least be targets, kill abortion doctors by calling them baby killers on National Television, support ALEC, smear a rape victim because the man who raped her is the son of a police captain, at the helm of a rapidly-militarizing police force that regularly abridges the rights of people without institutional power, murders minorities in cold blood, and savagely attacks anyone they deem a threat, up to and including having a man committed for collecting evidence that they regularly arrest people for no reason at all, AND because her attacker works for a news station that that is owned by News Corp, which owns the Post, and News Corp has a monetary incentive to deny her justice, can promulgate racist stereotypes during the almighty mother of all religious ceremonies, the Super Bowl, steal from their employees, dismantle industries in favor of quick profit over national investment while raking in government subsidies whose passage was justified in the name of “job creation,” leaving the state with a giant tab when they refuse to honor their responsibilities to their employees, lock people out of their own houses with trumped up claims of ownership, break laws by forging signatures to churn all of the mortgages they have no incentive to compromise on, genetically alter our food, stifle innovation using patent law, treat the poor and minorities as if they were what was wrong with the country, rewrite history to suit them, engage in historical revisionism, scapegoat people of color to distract from the corporate grift and the tentacles of the ultrarich and the zombie capitalists, invest in the failure of the nation, denigrate the President for a credit downgrade that was inevitable in the face of their failed economic policy, elevate the profile of Rick Santorum, distort the lives of Civil Rights Leaders, engage in apology for Slavery, Eugenics, Racism, Fascism, Capitalism, Rape, Hate Crimes, Misogyny, Sexism, Hate Groups, Astroturf, & Christian Supremacy, espouse hatred of Muslims to justify the erection of a police state, make publically-funded elections seem like some weird European joke, push for laxer industrial regulations no matter the environmental impact, support the teaching of bad science, and sleep very soundly at night, thank you very much.
Everything in their life convinces them to think of their actions as if they existed in a vacuum. They actively shy away from information that contradicts this. They can ignore the damage they do because Capitalism, like any system, survives by adapting. It gives people incentives to perpetuate it. It spawns things like “The Culture Wars” to distract the population from the pillaging of the entire world. It whispers in our ears that there is no other way, that capitalism is flawed but necessary. We spend every day reading stories about people who were destroyed because someone wanted to make money off of them and we haven’t advanced in our conversation enough to connect all of these things together and point out that Capitalism is not inherently friendly to human life. It must be treated like a wild animal in a cage, as should all the people that are charged with protecting us and given a wide berth in doing so.
I’d like to sit down and create a timeline of a person’s life in a functional society and I hope some of you will help me. I want to write a story about a person who grew up in a society that did not believe the national business was business, but instead believed the nation’s highest duty was the production of happy, well-educated, respected, free people. If I can pick on Glenn Beck for a bit, it always astounded me that he claimed conservatives surrounded progressives. In reality, either party can claim to be the hammer of the world, if they can win the moderates over. Conservatives are good at articulating the complete visions of the society they want; we aren’t so great at that.
[Note to Commenters: I don’t give a damn how long you spent composing your apology for Capitalism and outlining your right to ignore the incomplete litany of abuses it is guilty of that I have provided, I will delete it with no discussion because I don’t believe in debate, don’t want to hear the truth, am a monster, etc.]