Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Capitalism Perverts the Human Spirit

I'm giving a presentation to a high school sociology class this Thursday, and then again to a college class on Friday on social stratification. I think I'm going to lead with this quote from Terry Eagleton's Why Marx Was Right:
"Human beings are not at their best in conditions of scarcity, whether natural or artificial. Such scarcity breeds violence, fear, greed, anxiety, possessiveness, domination and deadly antagonism. One would expect, then, that if men and women were able to live in conditions of material abundance, released from these crippling pressures, they would tend to fare better as moral beings than they do now. We cannot be sure of this because we have never known such conditions. This is what Marx had in mind when he declares in the Communist Manifesto that the whole of human history has been the history of class struggle. And even in conditions of abundance, there would be plenty of other things for us to feel anxious, aggressive, and possessive about. We would not be alchemized into angels. But some of the root causes of our moral deficiencies would have to be removed. To that extent, it is indeed reasonable to claim that a communist society would tend by and large to produce finer human beings than we can muster at the moment. But they would still be fallible, prone to conflict, and sometimes brutal and Malevolent."
I like this quote because it emphasizes the mercurial nature of mankind, and puts at rest right up front the notion that any social and economic structure would lead to some kind of utopia.

I have had to abandon calling myself a capitalist, because, for one thing, I am not. My error has been in believing that because capitalism best accommodates our real animal nature, it must be the right system. I have realized, mostly from working with the poor and homeless, and from trying to make ends meet for my own family, that the cost of capitalism in the long run is too steep; it is a machine that must always be moving, and to propel itself it must juice and churn out human bodies. For another thing, capitalism does accommodate the whole of our animal nature, but it accommodates best our more ruthless and ugly impulses. Rather than looking for what accommodates our natures best, maybe I should be looking to a system that uplifts our natures, or compliments them in a constructive way.

I am not to the point of calling myself a Marxist, but studying Marxism has been enlightening. I am learning that Marxism doesn't hold as its final goal the creation of a utopia, but rather the elimination of an unfair and unjust system; it aims to create a level starting point for everyone, and aims to allow individuals to pursue their own bliss, and to contribute to society in their own way. It would be nice to see more of these elements reflected in our own society. Clearly, both Capitalism and Communism have their weak points. Each system has its leeches. But if I am expected to account for my welfare families and folks on food stamps, then I will also expect capitalists to account for Paris Hilton.

I plan to hash all of this out a little more with the classes I'll be speaking to this week. I get great pleasure from talking to groups, especially groups of young people.


2 comments:

the elegant ape said...

capitalism is brutal, unforgiving, akin to an experiment in social Darwinism designed by a bored researcher who kept his thumb permanently on the fast forward button. But if you are not a small homogenous country (Scandinavia states ect, with a outside income source north sea oil ect.)
It is the best we got.

Lodo Grdzak said...

My limited understanding of Marx's theory is that Communism is not something that has to be pursued but something that will ultimately become the natural state of things. The pursuit of higher profits and ever greater productivity drives the value of labor down. At the same time, as economies cycle between expansion and recession, they eventually become old and can no longer sustain the level of growth needed to keep enough of the population at a satisfactory living condition. At which point, labor becomes disenchanted with the compensation they get for their work; produce less (if at all), the economy cycles ever downward, and...you've got yourself the conditions for a revolution. Course after the revolution what do people want? To make money of course!!