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Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Alfamax: "Capitalism, Where is it taking us?"

Or should I ask where are we taking it?

I'm currently reading a book entitled the 'The Marx - Engles Reader'. Although I've just started it, it looks to be an interesting read and hopefully I'll learn something from it. In the interest of discussion however I'll leave a piece that I found on the internet and thought was rather compelling, its called 'Why Capitalism is Evil? hopefully it might kick some discussion off on the subject.


"In recent commentaries for the Old Mole I have been trying to make capitalism look bad -- as bad as it really is. I have argued that capitalism is war, and that those of us who do not own capital suffer from it just as do civilian populations caught between opposing armies, or as foot soldiers conscripted into armies fighting for interests that are not our own. I've tried to show that capitalism is the violent negation of democracy, for it is the interests of those who own capital that determine how we live: their jobs, products, services, manufactured culture, and propaganda shape our lives and our minds. Today I'd like to point to the ways in which capital undermines the foundation of moral life.

Well, what is the foundation of moral life? What makes it possible for human beings to recognize that they have responsibilities to each other and to their communities? For example: What could possibly make anyone willing to pay living wages to workers in Indonesia or Haiti if you can get them to work for less? The 18th Century philosopher David Hume asks, What reason can anyone give me to not to prefer the annihilation of all mankind to a scratch on my finger? Hume is one of many philosophers who argue that no such reason can be given. This means that the foundation of ethics lies not in reason, but rather in our passions or our hearts. For Hume it is part of our nature that we feel sympathy for each other, and this sympathy counters our narrow self-interest. Other philosophers have taken similar positions. Josiah Royce an American philosopher of the last century argued that you do not really understand another person if you do not understand her aspirations, fears, and needs. But to understand someone's feelings is, in part, to share them. And you cannot share an aspiration or a need without wanting to see it fulfilled, nor can you share a fear without hoping that it will not come to pass. So the mere recognition of what other human beings are involves us in wanting to see them live and prosper. The French-Jewish philosopher Emmanual Levinás whose major work appeared in 1961 claims that ethics arises in the experience of the face of the other. The human face reveals its capacity for suffering, a suffering we are capable of either inflicting or opposing. So to look into the face of another human being is to see the commandment, Thou shalt not kill. Another American philosopher, Nel Noddings, in her 1984 book Caring, argues that the ethical commitment arises out of the caring response that most of us feel towards those who, like children, are in need. Most parents encourage this caring response in their children, with the result that we grow up with an interest in cultivating our own capacity to care for others.

Now none of these philosophers are naive: none of them thinks that sympathy, love, or caring determines all, or even most, human behavior. The 20th century proves otherwise. What they do offer, though, is the hope that human beings have the capacity to want the best for each other. So now we must ask, What forces are at work in our world to block or cripple the ethical response? This question, of course, brings me back to capitalism. But before I go there, I want to acknowledge that capitalism is not the only thing that blocks our ability to care. Exploitation and cruelty were around long before the economic system of capitalism came to be, and the temptation to use and abuse others will probably survive in any future society that might supersede capitalism. Nevertheless, I want to claim, the putting the world at the disposal of those with capital has done more damage to the ethical life than any thing else. To put it in religious terms, capital is the devil.

To show why this is the case, let me turn to capital's greatest critic, Karl Marx. Under capitalism, Marx writes, everything in nature and everything that human beings are and can do becomes an object: a resource for, or an obstacle, to the expansion of production, the development of technology, the growth of markets, and the circulation of money. For those who manage and live from capital, nothing has value of its own. Mountain streams, clean air, human lives -- all mean nothing in themselves, but are valuable only if they can be used to turn a profit. If capital looks at (not into) the human face, it sees there only eyes through which brand names and advertising can enter and mouths that can demand and consume food, drink, and tobacco products. If human faces express needs, then either products can be manufactured to meet, or seem to meet, those needs, or else, if the needs are incompatible with the growth of capital, then the faces expressing them must be unrepresented or silenced.

Obviously what capitalist enterprises do have consequences for the well being of human beings and the planet we live on. Capital profits from the production of food, shelter, and all the necessities of life. The production of all these things uses human lives in the shape of labor, as well as the resources of the earth. If we care about life, if we see our obligations in each others faces, then we have to want all the things capital does to be governed by that care, to be directed by the ethical concern for life. But feeding people is not the aim of the food industry, or shelter the purpose of the housing industry. In medicine, making profits is becoming a more important goal than caring for sick people. As capitalist enterprises these activities aim single-mindedly at the accumulation of capital, and such purposes as caring for the sick or feeding the hungry becomes a mere means to an end, an instrument of corporate growth. Therefore ethics, the overriding commitment to meeting human need, is left out of deliberations about what the heavyweight institutions of our society are going to do. Moral convictions are expressed in churches, in living rooms, in letters to the editor, sometimes even by politicians and widely read commentators, but almost always with an attitude of resignation to the inevitable. People no longer say, "You can't stop progress," but only because they have learned not to call economic growth progress. They still think they can't stop it. And they are right -- as long as the production of all our needs and the organization of our labor is carried out under private ownership. Only a minority ("idealists") can take seriously a way of thinking that counts for nothing in real world decision making. Only when the end of capitalism is on the table will ethics have a seat at the table."



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