Between & Beyond: Capitalism & Self

As I have stated before in this column, I don’t identify with either Democrats or Republicans. I am a leftist and both of the major parties are in fact centrist. In spite of what the media incessantly repeats, Democrats will never actually ban guns and Republicans will never actually ban abortion. The reasons for this can be seen from a few different angles. One is certainly the fact that politicians are incredibly concerned with maintaining power and not concerned with taking stances, providing leadership, or making tough decisions. They rely on their hyper-vigilant advisors to craft their stances and approaches and language, always playing it safe. But there’s another more important reason I will come back to in a minute.

Many people out there like to identify as “fiscally conservative but socially liberal” or any combination of the two. I often say (tongue firmly in cheek) that I am a fiscal Marxist and a social anarchist. What that means ultimately is that I think capitalism is inherently flawed and that no institution should dictate cultural values. The freedom to define values is the only true freedom. But it’s here that I also distinguish myself from libertarians as I understand them. Libertarians, as the name suggests, are very concerned with individual freedom. This includes freedom of the people, but also freedom of the market. With that in mind, they cast the government as the adversary, believing that if they would just get out of the way, everything would take care of itself.

So let’s now come back to that second reason why both parties are centrist and why I depart from libertarianism: I see absolutely nothing to distinguish the market from the government. I can imagine a chorus of libertarian voices crying out, “Exactly!” But I think they mean quite the opposite of what I mean specifically: Corporate and financial interests have corrupted and essentially taken over the government, rendering all policy impotent and exclusively geared toward unfettered dominance of the market by those who pay the policy makers. So, in essence, both parties are centrist because they aren’t serving the advancement of public policy, they are serving the maintenance of the status quo, keeping things the way they are, making sure the rich stay rich.

We see it time and time again: the demonization of so-called entitlement programs when, on the other hand, banks and corporations are bailed out, pay no taxes, and generally operate above the law. And how was this socialism for the rich and free market for the poor chicanery accomplished? By some anomaly or some virus in the system? No, it was accomplished by the captains of capitalism. The monolithic hedge funds and the armies of lobbyists are not accidents. These people are the best at capitalism. These are the end result of capitalism, a system inherently built on inequality and injustice left to unfurl. If the motto of your nation is “All men are created equal,” the basic tenants of capitalism do not apply.

And here we come to a point of this conversation that stretches beyond the confines of mere politics. As Tom Robbins once wrote, “…man’s primary problems aren’t political; they’re philosophical. Until humans can solve their philosophical problems, they’re condemned to solve their political problems over and over and over again.” And this philosophical point that underpins these concerns revolves around the concept of the self. Terence McKenna referred to the self as a luxury of the 20th century that we can no longer afford. And indeed, at best it is a luxury, but at worst it is entirely illusory.

From just about all perspectives, be it economic, ecological, or quantum, the inescapable fact remains that all things are connected and depend on each other. Capitalism has created an insane definition of survival in America, one based on selfishness and alienation that causes us to see our neighbors as competition and has obliterated the idea of community and public space. Survival, true long-term survival, in reality is the recognition of and respect for the fact that all things are interconnected and interdependent. It doesn’t have to be some grandiose spiritual concept. The web of life sustains itself by the relation of the whole to its parts. Similarly, every captain of industry has amassed his wealth by the participation of others, whether it be those who mine his resources, farm his food, work in his factory, or even buy his product. Individualism is an illusion.

Granted, when Ayn Rand or the like promoted radical individualism over the course of the 20th century, the impetus behind such promotion was somewhat noble. She and others of that time lived in the shadow of tyranny. What better statement could be made in defense of one’s own sovereignty and freedom? Here lies an inherent irony though which has never sat right with me. What is a tyrant other than someone who has totally fallen into the illusion of self?