Friday, February 19, 2010

Free Market Capitalism Turns Souls Into Masks

In his latest New York Times column, conservative pundit David Brooks unintentionally pinpoints a serious flaw in free market capitalism; namely, that it destroys freedom by forcing people to alter the very essence of their personalities. Not for a higher cause or worthy ideal, but in the pursuit of a buck.

In one of his lamest moments ever, Brooks starts out by saying, “Financial crises stink”--as if we didn’t know, and somehow his terse commiseration would magically mollify us.

(“The Lean Years,” Feb. 15)

He then goes on to say something that I happen to agree with, but for different reasons and toward different ends: Men have to change. Not just superficially but in their souls.

Think about that. Men are approximately half the population. In the U.S., we’re talking 150,000,000 vessels of testosterone. That’s unimaginable upheaval. If it were for a good cause, such as promoting equality, eliminating sexism, or getting deadbeat fathers to make support payments, this would be absolutely wonderful. A real victory for progress.

Is this what Brooks is up to? Absolutely not. He wants to emasculate men for money.

He makes his point in two stages. First of all, he implies that men who aren’t working are basically losers:

“Men who are unemployed for a significant amount of time are more likely to drink more, abuse their children more and suffer debilitating blows to their identity. Unemployed men are not exactly the most eligible mates. So in areas of high unemployment, marriage rates can crumble.”

“The Lean Years”

Secondly, Brooks points out that the money is in service jobs; and so it follows that men, especially guys in construction and manufacturing, need to be re-trained. They have to be made “nurturing” and sent out to work in touchy-feely fields.

You know, the kind of job were you smile sweetly and say, “Welcome to McDonalds, may I take your order, please.”


"We need to redefine masculinity, creating an image that encourages teenage boys to stay in school and older men to pursue service jobs. Evangelical churches have done a lot to show how manly men can still be nurturing ..."

"The Lean Years"

At no time does Brooks offer any criticism of the system itself. For him, capitalism is the god in which we trust; and we all need to adapt without questioning to the dictates of market forces, even if it means going from jackhammer operator to perfume salesman. And being taught how to nurture by evangelical Christians no less!

In a way, men deserve to suffer. While women have worked hard to get college degrees, guys have skated along on sexist cultural norms, making good money out of high school.

But this isn’t about men, really. It’s about the dangers of a financial system that jerks us all around with frightening boom and bust cycles, and demands that we adjust by altering our very personalities to fit the moods of the stock market.

The stock market, of course, is run by greedy males. Free market capitalism harnesses us to a Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride of vice, upheaval, physical displacement and psyche distortion.

Next time, it might be women who have to change. The dictates of profit could demand that they lose their empathy and emotion to become cold replicas of the worse aspect of ‘objectivity.’

Our personalities are hostage. Our integrity is victim. Nothing is safe. One of my favorite quotes sums it up:

“Capitalism is profoundly anti-traditional. It’s expansion has remolded in its image families, communities, schools, and churches, subordinating all relationships to the calculus of the bottom line.”
Eric Foner, The Story of American Freedom, Ch.13

Brooks doesn’t get it. He insinuates that if you don’t behave like a capitalist worker, you are a failure; and that there is no better way to run the world than a crazy guzzle of profit followed by an inevitable reflex of vomiting out recession.

Yes, financial crises stink, but not just because they cripple people and places. They also stink because they weren’t necessary. If only we had a healthy way of living, one that prioritized ethics over mathematics.

Yes, ethics over mathematics!!! We have to stop telling people to trade their current essence for another one.

Very sadly, we have become a world not only of disposable products, but also disposable faces.

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