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The capitalist culture is contrary to life and happiness

07/05/2015

The demise of the theory underlying capitalism as a form of production started with Karl Marx and grew throughout the XX Century, with the emergence of socialism. To realize its main purpose of accumulating wealth in unlimited form, capitalism speeded up all available productive forces. But as a result, from the beginning capitalism paid a high price: a perverse social inequality. In ethical-political terms, it causes social injustice and the systematic growth of poverty.

In recent decades, society has also come to realize that not only social injustice exists, but also ecological injustice: the devastation of whole ecosystems, the depletion of natural resources, and, lastly, a general crisis of life and of Earth-systems. Productive forces have been transformed into destructive ones. Money is sought for its own sake. As Pope Francis warned in well known sections of the Apostolic Exhortation on the Ecology: «in capitalism it is no longer man who rules, but money and hard money. The motivation is profit… An economic system centered in god-money requires the depletion of nature in order to maintain its inherently frenetic rhythm of consumption».

Capitalism now has shown its true face: we are dealing with a system that it anti-human life and anti-natural life. And we face a dilemma: either we change or we risk our own destruction, as the Earthcharter warns.

Nevertheless, capitalism persists as the dominant system around the world, under the name of neo-liberal market macro-economy. On what do its permanence and persistence rest? In my opinion, they rest in the culture of capital. The culture of capital is more than a mode of production. As a culture, it embodies a way of living, of production, of consumption, of relating to nature and human beings, a way of creating a system that manages to constantly reproduce itself, regardless of the culture where it is installed. It has created a mentality, a form of exercising power and an ethical code. As Fabio Konder Comparato emphasized in his book, A civilização capitalista, (Saraiva, 2014), that deserves to be studied: «Capitalism is history’s first world civilization» (page 19). Capitalism proudly affirms: «there is no alternative».

Let us quickly review some of its characteristics: the end goal of life is to accumulate material goods through unlimited growth produced by limitless exploitation of all natural resources, by marketing everything and by financial speculation, all realized with the least possible investment, seeking to obtain the greatest possible profit, through efficiency, and within the shortest possible time. The motor is competence, stimulated by commercial publicity; the final beneficiary is the individual; the promise is happiness in a purely crass materialistic context.

To this end, capitalism takes over the whole lifetime of the human being, leaving no space for gratuitous activities, for fraternal coexistence among persons and with nature, for love, for expressing solidarity and experiencing the joy of life through simply living. Since those realities are not important to the culture of capital, but are the realities that make happiness possible, capitalism destroys the conditions ncessary for that which it proposes: happiness. And thus, capitalism is not only against life, but also against happiness.

As can be deduced, these ideals are not properly what are most needed for the ephemeral and only time we have for our life on this small planet. The human being is hungry not only for bread and wealth; the human being also carries other hungers, such as for communication, enchantment, loving passion, beauty, and art, and the hunger for transcendence, among many others.

But why does the culture of capital appear so persistently? I would say without hesitation that even though it does so in a distorted form, it persists because the culture of capital realizes one of the essential dimensions of human existence: the need for self affirmation, for strengthening the ego. Otherwise, it would not subsist and would be absorbed by other dimensions, or would disappear.

Biologists and even cosmologists (let’s just mention Brian Swimme, one of the finest) teach us that in all beings of the universe, especially in the human being, two forces prevail that coexist in tension with each other. One is the individual’s will to be, to persist and continue within the process of life; for which the individual must self affirm and fortify his identity, his “ego”. The other force is of integration in a greater whole, within the species, of which the individual is a representative, forming networks and systems of relationships, outside of which no one can subsist.

The first force revolves around the ego and the individual and creates individualism. The second is based in the species, the “us”, and fosters community and society. The first is the basis of capitalism, the second, of socialism.

Where is the genius of capitalism found? In the exacerbation of the ego to the maximum possible extent, of the individual and of self-affirmation, neglecting the greater whole, integration and the “we”. In this way it has thrown off balance all of human existence, due to the excess of one force, ignoring the other.

In this natural fact resides the force perpetuating the culture of capitalism, because it is founded on something that is correct, but accomplished in a disproportionately unilateral and pathological form.

How can we overcome this situation, that comes to us from centuries long past? Fundamentally, by recovering the equilibrium of the two natural forces that form our reality. Perhaps an endless democracy would be the institution that does justice simultaneously to the individual (the “ego”), but within a greater whole, (“we”, society), of which the “ego” is a part. We will return to this theme in the future.
Free translation from the Spanish sent by
Melina Alfaro, alfaro_melina@yahoo.com.ar,
done at REFUGIO DEL RIO GRANDE, Texas, EE.UU.

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