To embrace ‘free market’ capitalism is to “abandon hope all ye who enter here,” to quote the inscription over Dante’s gate into Hell. The reason is that people are rigidly materialistic on this economic view. Capitalism claims that we live to seek more and more products to satisfy an endless pit of desires. This makes us interminably narrow in that ethics will always be nothing but window-dressing over our possession-bound hearts.
Those who accept this worldview scoff at the possibility of a society motivated by standards of the good, such as harmony or compassion. Because they see human rights as mere dross over insatiable ego, atrocity does not particularly shock them. They accept evil with the unflagging cynicism of a philosophy that frames human beings as grasping amoebas in the competitive petri dish of life. Psychopathy is fine on this view, as long as the psychopathic CEO or manager makes the shareholders happy. Corporations themselves are paragons of psychopathic behavior:
Psychopathy and Capitalism
It is the deadening effect of this cynicism that I want to focus on today. It kills empathy, kindness, and hope, the sort that give motivation and meaning. Those who have a different view, who see people as capable of profound decency and “fellow feeling” (to use the words of David Hume and Adam Smith) are the moral heroes who have brought about great changes: women being able to vote, the end of legal slavery, evolving standards of human rights, the enactment of equality, the dawning of green conscience, and so on.
If capitalism is a highly flawed lens, which it is, and dominates the world, which is does, our global society is training generation after generation to lock up and ignore a large portion of their brains: that portion which nourishes the will for justice, that impetus to strive for a healthier, more fair civilization.
The cynicism of raw capitalism, the sort practiced in the United States, where one out of four citizens cannot afford a doctor, is an infection that attacks not the flesh but the moral compass. The result is an entrenched cruelty, one that shames and belittles us. When we are trapped in this thought-jail, we languish below our potentials, squander our chance to serve decency and peace.
Last night I watched the movie “The Whistleblower,” a heart-rending exposé of the problem of human trafficking (based on a true story). Young girls beaten, raped, imprisoned and forced to serve as sex slaves. Some of them were murdered. The captors and torturers included the United Nations enforcers and government officials supposedly there to protect human rights.
If your empathy, compassion, and hope for justice are active, you can’t watch this sad film without being deeply moved, in such a way that you think about the problem, and are likely to talk about it (which is an important form of action), and maybe take other steps. It will stay with you, a beacon in your deep conscious, influencing your political and moral choices.
“The Whistleblower” also shines light on other horrors: ingrained domestic violence and also the demeaned status of women workers within male-led hierarchies. A caring viewer is likely to come away from this not only concerned about trafficking but also a larger picture: the general global oppression of women, which includes epidemic violence.
However, an advocate of capitalism is more likely to shrug at this evocative movie. The capitalist, per theory, argues as follows: Cruelty is unavoidable on a planet where egos fight to get all the stuff they want, which includes males craving females. Not only that, ethical principles are never going to trump the bottomless need for consumables. Justice is entirely secondary to the psychology of acquisition.
It is pathetic indeed that people who could find purpose and hope through empathy, compassion and kindness, instead have been acculturated to wither a portion of their minds. The power of capitalism is on display everywhere, blatant in the presence of thousands of advertisements, logos, and sponsorships. Insecurity is hammered continuously into the human psyche, telling us that lots of money will not only make us happy but also provides the only avenue to a good life. The sheer pervasiveness of the assault, commercials being as common as breathing, has dulled us to the wrongness of it. And of course the coup d’état, the crown of the ill ideology: if you can buy whatever you want, you have achieved the gold standard of personhood.
This mindset is perverse. It makes us act more like ants than human beings. We CAN end human trafficking. It is within our purview and potential; and in the victory against this scourge, we would advance our greatness as a species. We’ve come a long way from the days when no woman was allowed voice or education, and all women could be beaten and sold with impunity. But we have much much farther to go.
I do think a certain form of selfishness has a place (though I would prefer to call it “self-involvement”); and so I will end with an appeal to ego: If we don’t advance our ethical awareness, catch it up with our technological prowess, we are going to self-destructive in some hideous way--by fire and radiation, by nanoviruses that shred DNA, by raping our Earth bare, or maybe just by hating each other into a state of perpetual murderous war.
End of Story.