The concrete roots of capitalism’s magical thinking

Most people don’t actually like capitalism. Dislike of the jobs we head to each day is quite the norm. Resentment of the power of the corporations we deal with in our daily lives crosses all social lines. Loathing of banks is nearly universal, across the political spectrum.

A sullen resignation to the continual unfairness of the world is pervasive. And yet, “there is no alternative.” Mercenary scribblers furiously tell us so. That this barrage of propaganda ceaselessly flows from the corporate media and other institutions speaks for itself as to the necessity of reinforcing this message; but it doesn’t in itself account for the widespread acceptance of “there is no alternative.”

There is the argument that if we simply ceased to cooperate, it would grind to a halt. Tempting though that argument is — and, in theory, it holds much truth — the puzzle of capitalism’s continued acceptance is a good deal more complicated.

"Nothing is nothing" photo by Darwin Bell

“Nothing is nothing” photo by Darwin Bell, San Francisco

Advanced capitalism is intertwined with so many aspects of our lives, and the capitalists who effectively rule the world possess multiple levers of power and influence to keep themselves in the saddle. There is also the not inconsiderable problem of the livelihoods of millions being entangled in destructive production and exploitation. Nor should the power of modern ideologies, such as nationalism, to provide emotional underpinning be ignored.

Except for the hopelessly cynical, humans need something to believe in, something bigger than themselves of which to be a part. The nation is the object par excellence for this; nationalism to this point in human history has proven stronger than class solidarity or any other more general identification in a common humanity. It has also superseded tribal or other local-community loyalties. Nationalism is a unifying glue holding together what Benedict Anderson calls “imagined communities” — human constructs that are mostly recent in origin.

Professor Anderson, in his classic book with that very name, Imagined Communities, offers this definition of a nation:

“It is an imagined political community — and imagined as both inherently limited and sovereign. It is imagined because the members of even the smallest nation will never know most of their fellow-members, meet them, or even hear of them, yet in the minds of each lives the image of their communion.” [page 6]

Approaching the question from a different angle, a nation might be thought of as a group with a common ethnicity, cohesive culture and shared language occupying a particular area (diasporas excepted). Most commonly, nations are organized as countries, although some countries (such as the United Kingdom) can contain multiple nations and settler countries (such as the United States) can be organized on an idea rather than an ethnicity, although culture and language are unifying factors. Some nations are colonies of or minorities within a larger nation and some nations are split among adjoining countries.

Nationalism versus solidarity

Religious belief has obviously been, and remains, a powerful force — as Christian fundamentalism in the U.S., political Islam in the Middle East and Hindu chauvinism in India attest, to cite merely three examples. Religions offer answers to life-and-death questions that other systems of thought don’t, not to mention promises of eternal life. It’s hard to top that. But religious belief has declined in most of the advanced capitalist world as science has taken hold since the Enlightenment.

To return to Imagined Communities, Professor Anderson argues that something was necessary to fill the void left by the withering of religious belief, and nationalism became the substitute as it came into being out of preceding cultural systems. He writes:

“What then was required was a secular transformation of fatality into continuity, contingency into meaning. … [F]ew things were (are) better suited to this end than an idea of nation. If nation-states are widely conceded to be ‘new’ and ‘historical,’ the nations to which they give political expression always loom out of an immemorial past, and, still more important, glide into a limitless future. It is the magic of nationalism to turn chance into destiny.” [pages 11-12]

The erasure of boundaries (for capital) through “free trade” agreements or entities like the World Trade Organization is a function of capitalist expansion. Globalization advances as competition within a given industrial sector narrows from separate sets of local corporations dominating particular countries or regions to a handful of corporations operating around the world. Yet although the largest capitalists are today transcending national borders, the largest capitalists of the 19th century were an important force in creating unified nations. What is today Germany and Italy were once a myriad of small principalities; capitalist trade required the barriers that frequent borders represent be dismantled.

The rise of books and other printed materials, and the accompanying rise of literacy along with the construction of centralized states, bureaucracies and school systems, brought about standardized languages. Often the dialect in the capital became the standard language, and a common language became a crucial building block for national consciousness. Nationalism became a necessary prop to wage modern war with the need for mass conscription, without which imperialism and colonization are impossible. Few soldiers would fight for corporate profits, but will for “national honor.”

The abject failure of the Socialist International to have any effect on the outbreak and initial enthusiasm for World War I was due not only to nationalism being more powerful than international or class solidarity among social democracy’s constituents but that social democrat leaders themselves were nationalists.

In no sense can nationalism be said to have lost its potency. It remains a durable force to divide the world’s people and block international solidarity — a devastating development when the world’s biggest capitalists are trans-national, conscious of their common interests beyond borders and relentlessly organizing chains of production that span the globe.

Democracy as consumerism rather then participation

We can freely buy whatever we like from whatever corporate behemoth we wish (assuming we are fortunate enough to have a job that provides a living wage). Untold billions of dollars are pumped into advertising campaigns designed to induce us to buy particular products and, crucially, to define this choice as “freedom.” Democracy is reduced to the ability to buy a corporate product as opposed to being defined as the ability to meaningfully participate in the decision-making processes of your society.

That crabbed definition of democracy and the ability to freely vote in elections with little meaning or choice (although the ability to vote is being eroded in the U.S., particularly for People of Color) are promoted as the epitome of political development. But how much freedom do working people in capitalist countries actually have? We have no control over our lives when on the job, which consumes most of our waking hours, nor any control over the corporate behemoths that routinely run roughshod over communities, nor legal recourse against “market forces” that enable the relentless privatization of previously public spaces and services.

I can think of my experience at Occupy Wall Street, the encampment of which was close to my place of employment. Invariably, anytime I happened to mention that I was handing out fliers or engaging others near to where I was employed while on lunch hour or after the end of my workday, the response was always concern that I would lose my job or get in trouble should my employer discover my participation. I wasn’t discovered, but the commonality of such reactions speaks for itself on the topic of democracy.

Political control in a capitalist society is hidden in a way that it was not in a country like the former Soviet Union, and the contrast in the manner of social control in capitalist versus Soviet-style societies became an invaluable tool undergirding capitalist triumphalism. Because the power held by capitalists in a capitalist society is secure through a myriad of institutions upholding their ideologies and deferring to them, bolstered by the appearance of democratic assent provided by elections, there is far more elasticity to capitalist régimes than Soviet-style régimes (which should more properly be called “post-capitalist” than “socialist” as their form congealed far short of any socialist ideal.)

The illusion of democracy

The historian Isaac Deutscher, in a series of lectures collected in his book The Unfinished Revolution: Russia 1917-1967, outlined this difference. He said of freedom in a capitalist country:

“[I]n bourgeois society it can be a formal freedom only. Prevailing property relations render it so, for the possessing classes exercise an almost monopolistic control over nearly all the means of opinion formation. … Society, being itself controlled by property, cannot effectively control the State. All the more generously is it allowed to indulge in the illusion that it does so. … In a society like the Soviet, freedom of association and character cannot have so formal and illusory a character: either it is real, or it does not exist at all. The power of property having been destroyed, only the State, that is, the bureaucracy, dominates society; and its domination is based solely on the suppression of the people’s liberty to criticize and oppose.

Capitalism could afford to enfranchise the working classes, for it could rely on its economic mechanism to keep them in subjection; the bourgeoisie maintains its social preponderance even when it exercises no [direct] political power. In post-capitalist society no automatic economic mechanism keeps the masses in subjection; it is sheer political force that does it. … Capitalism has been able to battle against its class enemies from many economic, political and cultural lines of defence, with much scope for retreat and maneouvre. A post-capitalist bureaucratic dictatorship has far less scope: its first, its political line of defence, is its last. No wonder that it holds that line with all the tenacity it can muster.” [pages 106-7]

(“Property” in the above quote refers to large enterprises and other economic entities in private hands.) The Soviet bureaucracy could maintain its privileges only through undisguised direct political force. Capitalists, in contrast, maintain their rule by virtue of owning the means of production, able to maintain power through decisive influence over a range of social institutions and thus diffusing and mystifying the roots of power.

There is no dictator, no party in permanent power, and the ruling capitalists and their political servants have conflicting interests that are debated in public. Thus the illusion of democratic accountability can be maintained, on a separate track from the pervasive advertising that reduces democratic choice to consumer selection of corporate products.

There are more flavors of cola to choose from than ever before. What more could you want?

Show your individuality by buying the same product

Marketing has become so sophisticated that consumption of corporate products is equated with individual expression. Individualism must be continually stimulated to counter the development of social solidarity, without which change in the structure of any society is impossible, yet consumerism-dependent production requires the fostering of mass taste to facilitate mass production.

Consumers are encouraged to “rebel” by decorating their smartphone or buying a copy of the latest recording by a “transgressive” musical act, a work of intellectual property owned by a corporate behemoth and carefully calculated to appeal to the widest possible demographic. Today’s cultural rebellion is tomorrow’s marketing campaign. The use of the Stooges’ “Search and Destroy” in a Nike commercial is but one example; more recently, 1960s icon Bob Dylan starred in a Super Bowl commercial for Chrysler extolling U.S. patriotism.

Photo by Istvan Takacs, Budapest.

Photo by Istvan Takacs, Budapest.

The word “revolution” has been reduced to a corporate slogan; the selling back to us of rebellion has attempted to shrivel the popular imagination to the point that the only change that can be imagined is an upgrade to a consumer product. This is no less true of the food we eat — as eating organic becomes more popular, large food corporations that have foisted on us unhealthy, over-processed foods are increasingly entering the organic field, both by creating new brands and taking over existing ones while being careful to not signal those corporate ownerships on the label.

Some of the largest multi-national corporations that spend millions of dollars to defeat genetically modified organisms (GMO) labeling initiatives own some of the best-known organic brands. Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream may claim it is an “autonomous subsidiary” of its owner, multi-national conglomerate Unilever, but the profits it earns go to Unilever headquarters. Those profits fund a corporate parent that opposes GMO labeling, has been cited for making false health claims, has used its market power in tea to bully tea farmers in India, and promotes the World Trade Organization. Slick marketing keeps people buying the ice cream and obfuscating where the profits are going.

Yet even if a particular company stays true to a particular value, consumerism is an individualist gesture incapable of effecting change. All the more reason for it to be equated with “democracy.” In the 1970s, a frequently run public service announcement (PSA) featured a Native American man shedding a tear when a bag of garbage is thrown out of a car and lands at his feet, ending with the tag line that “People start pollution. People can stop it.” In a discussion of this PSA in his article “On the emotional terrain of neoliberalism,” Tim Jensen writes:

“Funded by beverage bottling corporations, the campaign was intended to lessen political pressure on manufacturers to stop producing non-refillable bottles and more generally be held accountable for creating the products that create litter. By placing the onus on the individual consumer, who is positioned as the cause of the problem and thus the solution’s origin, too, these corporate interests successfully deflected growing concern about pollution away from themselves. …

The PSA performs an emotional orientation focused on guilt, an emotion that is critical to our current landscape. What makes its rhetorical strategy effective is not simply the evocation of guilt in the consumer, but a specific form of guilt that is coupled with a pathway that channels the desire for atonement—one that does not put profit at risk. Asking why harmful bottles are being made in the first place and to what degree their manufacturer should be held accountable is trumped by a framework of consumer culpability, individualized responsibility, and ineffectual chores. It marshals the potential forces of transformative collective action and individuates them in an atonement strategy.”

If it is our own fault, then the system that actually compels such waste is blameless, beyond questioning.

Blow up that mountain or be out of work

Even when we are cognizant of the waste and destructiveness of capitalist production, it is not a simple matter to de-couple. Millions of jobs, and the communities where those jobs are located, are dependent on environmental destruction and unsustainable resource extraction. Faced with dismal, or no, prospects for alternative employment, the workers in such industries naturally oppose efforts to reduce the damage done — a market economy doesn’t offer new jobs for those put out of work.

The relentless competition of capitalism mandates that costs be steadily cut, so jobs are steadily lost anyway. Individualist ideology comes into play here as well: Something must be wrong with you for losing your job. And when that fails, there is always the strategy of finding scapegoats.

Scapegoating is not unique to any system, locale or time. But when a small elite commands the mass media and possesses decisive influence over educational, military, religious and other institutions, it possesses the means of shaping public opinion. The very fact of private ownership of the mass media contributes significantly to the effectiveness of the media in shaping public opinion. If several different media outlets report more or less the same thing, then those reports tend to be widely accepted.

It is surely true that the corporate owners of various publications and electronic news sources did not consult with one another, and in a capitalist formal democracy no government official tells you what to report. But the corporate plutocrats who own the mass media have a common interest in promoting a system that benefits them and thus narratives that reinforce those interests.

Most large, influential broadcast stations and print publications are owned by large corporations, and a typical small-city newspaper is owned by a prominent local businessperson if it is not owned by a large corporation. Powerful corporate interests appoint the top editors and managers of their media properties — these mass-media decision-makers are quite likely to be men and women who already see the world through the prism of dominant ideologies, and those ideologies will be reflected in the way that news stories are covered.

Battle in Seattle photo by Steve Kaiser, Seattle

Battle in Seattle photo by Steve Kaiser, Seattle

Those ideologies are also reflected in indirect ways — pressure to increase readership or viewership easily leads to pandering to perceived (and sometimes manufactured) consumer interests such as wall-to-wall coverage of celebrity gossip and exhaustive coverage of sports teams simultaneous with the shrinking of news sections.

No collusion is needed. It is enough that corporate-inspired ideologies pervade a society and that corporate ownership ensures that decision-making positions are filled with those who hold to some variant of prevailing ideologies or are inclined to “play it safe” by cautiously remaining within “acceptable” boundaries. The mass media will then simply reflect these dominant ideologies, and continual repetition through multiple mass media outlets reinforces the ideologies, making them more pervasive until the emergence of a significant countervailing pressure.

The persistence with which stories are reported is another reinforcement — stories that serve, or can be manipulated, to uphold dominant ideologies can be covered for long periods of time with small developments creating opportunities to create fresh reports at the same time that stories that are ideologically inconvenient are reported briefly, often without context, then quickly dropped.

Nor does the structure of corporate-dominated mass media exclude sometimes vigorous debate — as long as the positions being debated fall within the range of “acceptable” ideas that don’t challenge corporate orthodoxy. A system in which the mass media is believed to be independent is far more effective at suffusing a society with an ideology than the media of a closed society. Such a system is not the result of some sort of conspiracy or a conscious plan, it is simply a natural outgrowth of corporate institutions growing so powerful at the expense of all other institutions.

A network of institutional reinforcement

A web of institutions are necessary to maintain belief in a system, or to block to the extent possible, opposing narratives to the dominant belief system.

Educational institutions have been reduced to job-training facilities. University presidents and board members are increasingly prominent business leaders who seek to make educational institutions more “business-like” — pursuit of knowledge for personal intellectual enrichment is almost an after-thought. Educational initiatives at all levels are increasingly funded directly by corporate elites — instead of education being funded by the public through accountable institutions managed by education professionals, it is instead adapted to the needs of corporate-elite donors who seek to produce students grounded in technical skills without exposure to the types of courses that encourage creative or independent thinking.

Militaries in capitalist countries frequently function as enforcers of corporate prerogatives in weaker countries; militaries also underwrite corporate and university research and development, and are heavy buyers of corporate products. Politics cannot be anything but a significant corporate transmission belt because corporations provide campaign donations and give jobs to office holders when they leave office — those with money are those who get access, and thus provide the perspectives that will be heard.

The modern corporation also employs an army of lobbyists to influence politicians’ thinking. Corporate executives additionally create a network of auxiliary institutions — research centers and “think tanks” that can leverage lavish funding to disseminate class ideology through various channels. Bankrolling right-wing street movements, such as the Tea Party in the U.S. or outright fascist fronts in Europe, is another methodology for creating the appearance of popular support for anti-social tendencies.

Corporate institutions are competitors with sometimes sharply different interests — in terms of antagonisms between suppliers and buyers of raw materials and component parts; in divergence of the optimum conditions sought by different industries; and the ever present fierce fight over the sharing of profits between industrialists and financiers — yet these conflicts and antagonisms are contained within the perpetuation of the system within which they operate. As this collective power grows, it will steadily be wielded in harder forms in the absence of serious countervailing pressures in the form of mass movements.

Ideologies of individualism are not simply mechanisms to atomize society through breaking down bonds of solidarity — although that is an important reason for their propagation — they grant a license for those who have more but never enough. The cult of individuality, by reducing all social outcomes to personal behaviors independent of any social structure, provides the basis for the celebration of greed while simultaneously inculcating those who have been run over with the self-defeating idea that their individual failures account for their fate.

“Freedom” is equated with individualism — but as a specific form of individualism that is shorn of responsibility. More wealth for those at the top (regardless of the specific ideologies used to promote that goal, including demands for ever lower taxes) is advertised as good for everybody despite the shredding of social safety nets that accompanies the concentration of wealth. Those who have the most — obtained at the expense of those with far less — have no responsibility to the society that enabled them to amass such wealth.

Ongoing belief in capitalism, despite the widespread disapproval of its concrete results, rests on multiple pillars, none on their own decisive. The perceived lack of an alternative, however, is a linchpin. Cooperatives and other social forms of enterprise management, successful in significant numbers, would provide such an alternative — if people see examples of something better, “there is no alternative” would lose its force. But much organizing will be necessary to bring forward that day, for the massive force that capitalist society can bring down on alternatives hasn’t been, and won’t, be held back.

25 comments on “The concrete roots of capitalism’s magical thinking

  1. Reblogged this on Agenda: Awakening! and commented:
    The tangled web we weave to delude ourselves into thinking we can have at all and never pay the price. There IS an alternative, but you will have to revolutionise yourself first…

  2. Jeff Nguyen says:

    Reblogged this on Deconstructing Myths and commented:
    If I had any say in the Pulitzer Prize, a nomination for Systemic Disorder would be forthcoming. I highly recommend this exhaustive analysis of the cradle to the grave conditioning, state repression and controlling of the narratives that capitalism engenders. This read is time well spent.

  3. Blind Noise says:

    This is a phenomenally written, powerful piece that does an excellent job of covering all the bases.

  4. Waiting around for alternatives seems pretty passive. And I speak as one who has spent decades in the co-operative economy. There is no alternative but fighting back. See Laborless Day: US Labor Day Needs Retooling ->

  5. Reblogged this on Destroyer of Exoplanets and commented:
    My initial reaction to anti-capitalist screeds is to roll my eyes. But, uh, wow this is pretty right on. I do have a few issues. For one, it starts out by putting this in quotes: “there is no alternative.” Yet…this is no way convinces me that there IS an alternatives. I come across this a lot in anti-capitalist stuff and it’s always the same. Put force the vague idea of a cooperative and just suppose that it’ll be any better. The problem is the assumption that humanity can live in a harmonious cooperative or anything like that. There will always be people in control and they won’t relinquish true power. Even if it was a perfect system, they’d still have to maintain control of it to keep it that way. That’s my biggest beef with this sort of ideology. Yes, fuck capitalism, it’s terrible. But tell me about a mechanism to remove the Controllers from society. Please. Enlighten me as to how to change human nature with a clever political/economic system.

    • Destroyer, please forgive me but the reference to “there is no alternative” appears to have been misunderstood by you. “There is no alternative” is the infamous statement by Margaret Thatcher that capitalism, as it currently exists, is the only possible way to organize society; that nothing else is possible, which is repeated ad nauseam. That is what I was debunking in the opening.

      All systems hereto have had elites, or controllers, or whatever term you might wish to apply. But all such systems were based on scarcity, either actual physical scarcity (such as famines in feudalism) or artificial scarcity (such as gross inequality in capitalism). They are all also based on control of the society’s surplus — that is, the fruits of the work of others is hoarded by the “controllers,” with some going to those who serve the “controllers.” (The comprador class, if you want to be technical.)

      Systems of political, economic and social force develop to enforce these inequalities. What would be necessary, then, would a system(s) where equality is built in — economically, politically and other ways, so that there would be no elite, no group of “controllers.” In my as yet unpublished book, I have sketched ideas on what this might look like. I have summarized some of these ideas, inter alia, here:

      There are many others out there working on these problems, and attempting to pierce the future of a better world. I claim no originality; I have synthesized and built upon the ideas and concepts of others. Very briefly, my conception rest upon the idea of an economy of state ownership through public, democratic accounting for key industries such as banking and energy and, for most everything else, cooperatives collectively owned and managed by the workers with input from the local community. And that the cooperatives would engage with one another in a cooperative manner, not through market relations.

      I plan to return to concepts of future social arrangements in future posts.

      • I look forward to reading them. You do a marvelous job conveying the ideas and debating the merits. I’m definitely not an expert.

        That said, I went and read “There is no democracy…” and quite enjoyed it. Aside from my natural pessimism that we’ll get a post-capitalist world without an apocalypse first, I did have a few contrary thoughts.

        Basically, I can’t help thinking of the mafia. No, stop laughing at me. I’m serious. The mafia was quite adept at manipulating trade unions and there’s a few underlying reasons for that: charisma, institution, and corruption. Now, those issues don’t pop up right away. I’m thinking of later on, a couple generations in when all the kids have grown up in the cooperative system.

        After a little while, a cooperative would form a natural leadership core. Technically, workers would be able to vote out anyone who displeases them. But I would argue that they wouldn’t. People are intensely loyal, particularly in high competition environments. Lapses would be forgiven. The people in control would maintain it partly through cult of personality, but also through the atmosphere of institution.

        Moving on. So the leadership would meet to negotiate, right? But what’s to stop them from conspiring to set prices? If this is truly a competitive environment, then won’t that drive them to seize any advantage?

        And less important, if I’m not mistaken, you conceded that monopolies might/probably will form in the system you described. How is that not a bad thing?

        • If a fully cooperative world were to come into existence, after some time new contradictions, certainly ones we can’t even imagine right now, would arise. The day would come when that new world would have to be transcended as well. Nothing of human creation is forever.

          What would stop price collusion would be that every enterprise’s financial records would be open for public inspection, including by suppliers and buyers up and down the supply chain, and prices would be negotiated with buyers and suppliers, who have conflicting desires on pricing.

          Price negotiations already exist in the chemical industry. Those are competitive talks between buyers and suppliers. Sometimes a price does get out of whack, but the others can see that and the price tends to be adjusted in the next round of negotiations. (Some prices are set monthly, some are set quarterly.)

          There is also the presumption that there would be several enterprises in a given industry. Cooperatives can only get so big, so I think there would difficulty for something to get anywhere near the size of a multi-national. And, again, there will be community input.

          I also advocate that enterprises must be certified in various categories, environmental, safety, labor, etc., before being allowed to operate, with periodic checks to maintain approval. Independent bodies can grant these certificates; they need not be official government bodies although perhaps they would be.

          I don’t necessarily see that monopolies would form, except for, say, basic utilities for a specific geographic location, in which case the utility would be heavily regulated and under community control. Its financials would also be public, so it wouldn’t get away for long with price-gouging. And if the utility has to negotiate for power, raw materials, etc. with other utilities, also under public control, the chances of price-gouging should become still lower.

      • One of the major problems in our building an economic democracy (highlighted by Destroyer’s response) is the widespread belief–even among many on the radical Left–that some intrinsic “human nature” is responsible for economic disparity and the desire for some to control others, as if that behavioral tendency existed independently of the socio-economic environment in which we live. But as you noted, that arrangement is the result of specific economic systems that condition and reward people for seeking dominance over others, and which literally make avarice and selfishness mandatory to reach “the top”. People tend to behave and react to the environment in which they live. We are endlessly adaptable that way, and we are not slaves to some intrinsic “instinctual” hard-wiring as other members of the animal kingdom are, who lack humanity’s ability to reason and think in complex ways, and to modify behavior in accordance with the requirements of whatever society we happen to live in.

        One thing I do not agree with, though, is to continue with any form of banking or money, or any type of state apparatus as we know it today. Money needs to go, because its retention will still place a fiscal price tag on needed services and products, and will continue to limit people’s ability to acquire products or services they need based on individual ability to purchase them. And that will encourage people to continue to hoard things, the continuation of a consumerist mindset, and the continued incitement from those selling any given product or service to try marketing schemes to get people to spend more money (just as the advertising industry under capitalism does). No fiscal price tag, or no fiscal concerns of any kind, should be part of this new framework.

        As for cooperatives, I see that manifested as workers collectively operating the industries and services to meet the needs and wants of everyone, but *not* competing with each other as “worker-owned” businesses to provide the same products and services. This competition would produce “winners” and “losers,” and eventually result in the same concentration of power and behavioral patterns that we see under capitalism, as every collective strives to “outdo” the other and get the most monetary rewards, as opposed to working with each other to produce what everyone needs and wants, plain and simple. I believe we need to rise fully above that, divest ourselves of any remaining loyalty to money and fiscal considerations, if we are to truly achieve an economic democracy based upon material parity and full cooperation among all workers.

        I see any iteration of the state being replaced by elected worker cooperatives who do not have any type of privilege, power, or material remuneration that the workers do not enjoy, do not have a professional military or police force under their beck and call to enforce their edicts, and are concerned with arranging the flow of goods and services that are needed and wanted without having money or business-like competitive ventures to “regulate.” There would never be any material incentive to strive for power over others, and nothing to bribe them with as lobbyists do for the “winners” today.

        Otherwise, I think your article is fantastic, and better than anything I could have written, or ever have. Thank you for taking the time to do the required critical thinking and research! I have re-blooged this excellent peace, and shall share it with fellow socialists and progressives.

        • Greetings, GodofThunder, and thank you for such kind comments and taking the time to write an interesting reply.

          Many folks, anarchists and Marxists included, would similarly argue for a future world without money. The vision of such a world underlies Marx’s famous saying of “from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs.”

          I have no argument with what you have outlined here. I tend to leave to others to imagine such a world and instead concentrate my thoughts on a next stage of society that would be a far better world but one I readily admit would be a transition toward something still different.

          It is hard to conceive of our being able to leap from our present decaying capitalist world all the way to a world without money such as you describe and that many Marxists and anarchists envision. Nonetheless, it is of the highest necessity that we do use our radical imaginations to conceptualize a better world and how we might get there.

  6. tubularsock says:

    SD, that was fucking brilliant! What a wonderful piece of work! Tubularsock thanks you. Wow, Tubularsock is going to have to go out for a run just to process your incredible insights. Tubularsock has always found your work great but you have topped yourself here SD!

  7. Alcuin says:

    SD, have you read the work of G. William Domhoff (Who Rules America? and other books) and Sheldon Wolin, Democracy, Inc.: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism? Both are great authors who deal with the themes you are dealing with in this post.

    • I am not familiar with either author. A quick look at the blurb for Democracy Inc. says:

      “Wolin portrays a country where citizens are politically uninterested and submissive–and where elites are eager to keep them that way. At best the nation has become a ‘managed democracy’ where the public is shepherded, not sovereign. At worst it is a place where corporate power no longer answers to state controls. Wolin makes clear that today’s America is in no way morally or politically comparable to totalitarian states like Nazi Germany, yet he warns that unchecked economic power risks verging on total power and has its own unnerving pathologies.”

      That’s not a bad starting point. We live in a bourgeois sham democracy (or a “formal democracy,” if one prefers), not in fascism. What we have is bad enough, and it will get worse in the absence of sustained struggle. Unfortunately, as fascism is capitalism with the elements of democracy stripped away, the potential for fascism exists in any capitalist country should conditions deteriorate sufficiently.

  8. mytiturk says:

    It is increasingly clear that all humans (look to your left and to your right, then in the mirror) are merely one more commodity for the very, very few who rule. Useful for a time, to be trashed when income can no longer be squeezed out of us.

  9. mytiturk says:

    The threatened commodification of water has been clear for some time. The abuse of other life forms too. The contempt for North American citizens sunk into my brain when the media this year reported alarming situations where we – in Canada at least – became victims of the approved use of “temporary” foreign workers on a much broader scale simply to cheapen the labour costs of fast food outlets, mining companies and, yes, banks! There is now no Canadian job that is out of bounds. Only those professions protected by besieged unions/associations are currently and, I fear temporarily, secure.

  10. Jeff Nguyen says:

    A bit off topic but Michael Stipe penned an interesting piece on nationalism circa 9/11:

    • A most thoughtful article. One passage said:

      “Every time I see the Freedom Tower, I think of “freedom fries” – the term coined when the US wanted to invade Iraq, and France objected. Anything attached to the word “French” in the US was then relabelled with the word “freedom”: freedom toast, freedom fries, freedom kiss.”

      Ah, yes, that word “freedom.” The freedom to be a mindless nationalist, to embrace jingoism. Another, more permanent, substitution was changing the name of Newark International Airport to Newark Liberty International Airport. At first, it was going to be “Liberty International Airport” until the people of Newark complained about their city’s name being removed. Most likely that was the real reason, 9/11 the convenient excuse, as the white suburbanites who control New Jersey politics hate Newark and its minority population.

      They did back off from removing the name of Newark, and I would guess that millions of dollars were spent changing signs simply to add the pointless word “Liberty” into the name of the airport. I suppose the point is to induce a Pavlovian response to the words “freedom” and “liberty” — you had better salute the flag because it stands for freedom or we’ll twist your arm behind your back and make you stand to prove to you that you are free.

      • Amy C says:

        “Ideologies of individualism are not simply mechanisms to atomize society through breaking down bonds of solidarity — although that is an important reason for their propagation — they grant a license for those who have more but never enough. The cult of individuality, by reducing all social outcomes to personal behaviors independent of any social structure, provides the basis for the celebration of greed while simultaneously inculcating those who have been run over with the self-defeating idea that their individual failures account for their fate.

        “Freedom” is equated with individualism — but as a specific form of individualism that is shorn of responsibility. More wealth for those at the top (regardless of the specific ideologies used to promote that goal, including demands for ever lower taxes) is advertised as good for everybody despite the shredding of social safety nets that accompanies the concentration of wealth. Those who have the most — obtained at the expense of those with far less — have no responsibility to the society that enabled them to amass such wealth.”

        I just have to say that I loved these paragraphs of yours especially! I am 38 yr old discouraged artist, and I am just now pulling myself up out of the mental trap that I haven’t been happy or “successful” in this world because of something I did or didn’t do… coming to the realization that it really ISN’T me, it’s this society we live in! That I’m not depressed because I have some mysterious chemical imbalance (see Johann Hari, Lost Connections), that I haven’t simply failed to work hard enough, work long enough hours, work quickly enough, work “smart” enough, etc.

        I used to wish that I could have lived as a hunter-gatherer, pre agriculture! But now I’m thinking we can recreate that cooperative way of living once again (obviously not as hunter-gatherers though!), that this assumption that we humans are naturally so selfish and cutthroat is not as true as we currently think…
        Anyway, thank you, I’ve been devouring your blog!!

        • Cooperation is as much a part of human nature as competition. What human qualities come forth depend on which get rewarded. Can anybody imagine a hunter-gatherer community where one leader decides he gets 50 percent of everything, somebody else gets 30 percent and the entire rest of the band gets the last 20 percent?

          We wouldn’t have survived as a species without organizing ourselves on the basis of cooperation and solidarity. We won’t have much longer as a species if we don’t relearn that.

          And thank you again for your encouragement.

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