Welcome to the Moment of Truth: the thirst that is the drink.
Irrational capitalism. There are those of us who complain that capitalism and its corporate and financial pillars only consider, or consider way too much, short term gain over long term effects. I held this belief for a long time myself. But that would be too simple for capitalism. Capitalism is cunning. It’s suspicious and watchful. It has principles now, principles perhaps it always had, but now it’s adhering to them, as they say, “bigtime.”
It’s not necessarily that capitalism leads its misbehaving leaders to seek something other than their own advantage, it’s that financial profit isn’t the only profit to their advantage.
Yes, if they could have peered into the future, they’d have seen that raping the Earth would eventually render their raw materials more expensive. Yes, they’d have seen that impoverishing as many of the public as they could push around would cripple the very consumption that drove the economy. They’d have seen that gaming for short-term future payoffs in a numerical gambling universe rather than long term sustainable development in the real world would lead to bubbles of imaginary accumulation that would explode, over and over, causing ever more volatile booms and busts. They would have seen that jockeying to narrow and unleash the wealth accumulating class would lead eventually to the loss of their health and heads.
But none of that would have changed their behavior. A lot of these destructive achievements required dedicated forethought and scheming, projecting well into the future. So why did they not heed projections of negative outcomes, negative even for themselves?
Beginning with the carving up of the commons in England in Shakespeare’s time (to The Bard’s advantage, I might add) and continuing through last week or so’s successful cramming of Prop 22 down California’s esophagus, corollary and coeval to the profit motive has been the fight for the sovereign right to control – control rules as well as resources human, agricultural, mineral, and otherwise. Now, you might suppose this is not separate from the profit motive, and in many cases it’s not. But it also arises from its own overriding principle.
It’s a principle of material philosophy with an invisible, therefore deniable, spiritual element. Weber wrote The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism for a good reason. It seemed to him that an epistemology of spiritual accumulation of merit had been transformed into a worldly, rational one of accumulation of wealth. My feeling is, the spiritual dimension has never been fully subsumed, sublimated, digested, or dispersed. My feeling is it’s still the divine right of kings to own everything within the boundaries of the realm. My feeling is, and my feeling is, and my feeling is, and that’s how I feel.
Because it’s all about feelings now, isn’t it? Our feet have left the ground. The reality-based view of events has been ignited and sent off into the fjord for an honorable Viking burial. It’s ironic that those who’ve told everyone but themselves to eff their feelings, our feelings are not their problems, have completely surrendered logic, evidence, rational discussion, and reality for whatever their demagogues tell them, because they feel it’s true. This abdication of reason and inquiry has reduced the worldview of a horrifically large portion of our fellow citizens to a comedy routine.
“Yes, if someone was defying subpoenas and court orders and blocking witnesses, it would show he has something to hide.” “But Trump’s defying subpoenas and court orders and blocking witnesses.” “Oh, well, then he must have a good reason.”
Since the partitioning of the commons, up to today, the principle has been to wrestle common resources, those available to anyone regardless of wealth or status, away from the public. Privatization has been the driving force of capitalism since it first began to recognize itself as an attitude. Somebody has got to own it. Preferably me, says one capitalist, but at least somebody, say all of them.
They’ve tried at every turn to take from the people their land, their labor, their bodies, their rights – this is the method, and the principle is to maintain a distance away from and above reasonable fairness. It’s the divine right to get away with crime. It’s the divine right to buy your way out of trouble, the divine right to avoid accountability and ignore the authority of another’s rights not to be screwed over. To “show ‘em who’s boss.” It’s the right to win, to kill, to deprive, to amass surpluses that would stagger the Inca, the Pharaoh, the Queen of Sheba, and the Emperor of Rome.
Much money has been parted with to prevent unions from forming, not because of the money it would save, but to prevent the workers getting a foothold from which they might eventually, sometime down the road, climb to a more commanding position. Oil pipelines are routed through tribal lands, not because it’s the most efficient route, not even because the oil itself is so profitable. It’s to show the indigenous people that their claims mean nothing. The capitalist retains the right to spit in our faces and tell us it’s raining.
The people have made it their business in the West over the last three or four centuries to shape government into a tool for helping their communities with material and organizational support to carry on everyday existence. You’ll notice that the parts of the government astroturf tax protest movements focus on destroying are the ones that provide money and services to the general public. So much about being a decent person is offensive, puny, trivial, or laughable according to the religion of capitalism. It is blasphemy to speak of the rights of the public. It’s blasphemy to claim any being’s right to anything unless someone richer and higher than them acknowledges that right. The winning capitalist has the right. It’s the right to order killing and the right to profit from death. It’s the right to judge, to decide, and to crush another’s dreams. That is the religious principle now.
Milton Friedman wasn’t an economist, he was an acolyte, a priest, and eventually a prophet. His prescriptions for economy rely, without stating it plainly, on the defeat of unions and other communitarian movements and on the gutting of whatever power they might have acquired between the time of the New Deal and whenever the capitalist thinker is thinking.
Any talk or action that crosses the boundaries of the spiritual realm of capitalism must be dealt with, with whatever cruelty is required to make the point. Who cares if solar power is dirt cheap now? We’re not going to abandon fossil fuels just to save money, it’s the principle of the thing. Who cares if those doing the real work of caring for the outrageous number of plague victims during a pandemic are themselves falling ill, government is not the answer, because the principle we’re defending is exactly that: government is not the answer. Who cares if it would be more efficient to do away with the private medical insurance structure, it’s an institution! An institutional monument to an ideal, the ideal of privatization at all cost.
This is why it’s so easy to imagine Biden’s accession to power having little to no effect on the public state of well-being. The real solutions are all forbidden by the national religion, a spiritual illness that’s spread throughout the world, though nowhere is it nearly as virulent as it is right here in capitalism’s Holy Land. Biden won’t solve the problems of record poverty, hunger, disease, and homelessness, because the amount of money he’d have to channel away from the overseers of possibility is so great it’s almost forbidden for him to entertain the inkling. So of course the people will rise up. And when the police come to put down the unrest with their religiously sanctioned violence, it will again be blasphemy for Biden to consider, for the wispiest sliver of a moment, that the police ought to serve the people, not beat them back into servile submission.
There are those who say the market can be enticed by profit to do the right thing. My cousin, who’s the kind of mad genius I once hoped to be, has floated a proposal. Who is he to float a proposal? He’s a mad and joyous genius who is teaching various subjects on the Micronesian island of Yap. He has a PhD and founded an institute, of which he is the entirety. From the Island of Yap he floated, in a press release picked up by the Associated Press wire, a proposal to entice energy companies, using the carrot of profit, away from fossil fuels toward geothermal energy, of which he’s concluded there is enough to power the world economy for millennia. And the energy companies can still frack and destroy a little bit, which they enjoy, as long as that fracturing of the Earth’s crust is done to make heat within the planet available for the generation of electricity.
He’s thinking practically. But I’m sure he’s being too idealistic. Practicality, efficiency, sustainability, gentility toward the environment – these aren’t the concerns of the energy capitalists. They take a back seat to their concern to control land and resources, to maintain that which they already control, and to achieve control over new lands and resources they don’t yet command. Profit is not the motive. It’s the power to dictate the feeling and spirit of the agenda.
I would be overjoyed to be proven wrong by events. My cousin is onto something. He’s made other dreams of his a reality, like having an institute, and it would not surprise me if this proposal found its way into the world at some level.
We say, “follow the money.” We say, “look for whose bread is being buttered.” I would like us to say, “Whose right to be above the law is being threatened?”
I’ll go out on a limb and say that, within my lifetime, the question whether or not some corporation – maybe headed by a tech hero with an admirable if not exciting life story, maybe headed by a ruthless, vain ass hat who claims rugged individualism but got his fortune from his pimp daddy – the question will arise before I leave this broken world: whether or not some corporation or other should be allowed to project their logo on the face of the moon, whatever phase it’s in, whatever largest size will fit, day and night. It’s come up before, but this time it will be immanent. And there will be a period of public debate, with the usual powers-that-be controlling the frame of the conversation, and what input gets recognized and what gets ignored. And if things remain on their current course, the people will be oh so close to winning... but they’ll lose. And the Nike swoosh or the name Trump or the Amazon erection will appear in dayglow green in the sky. And no one will like it. It will not improve brand loyalty. It will not make any more than a small circle of snickering associates happy. It will only be there to take a dump on the face of the people and rub it in. Because that is the principle of the thing.
This has been the Moment of Truth. Good day!