Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Freedom and Capitalism

What do freedom and capitalism have in common? In the most fundamental way possible they are both antithetical to human social life, in the case of freedom relatively so, in the case of capitalism, absolutely so.
"Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains. One man thinks himself the master of others, but remains more of a slave than they are."
Roussea thought this was so because of the corrupting influence of society and, in a sense, it is. He felt it was necessary for humans to revert to a more natural way of life if they were to live more peacefully and achieve freedom.

While it might well be so that living closer to nature allows one more freedom than living in a more complicated society, there is no known society that allows its citizens unlimited freedom. Even in the most “primitive” societies, such as Australian aborigines or Bushmen/Hottentots, there are cultural proscriptions as well as prescriptions people must abide and live by if their members are going to survive and live in relative peace. Obviously some societies allow their citizens more freedom than others but nowhere is one allowed absolute freedom. Thus you are relatively “in chains” simply by virtue of being born into a social group and living as a human being.  

But nowhere in small, face-to-face communities, in which humans traditionally lived for thousands of years, was there anything comparable to capitalism. The New Guinea “Big Man,” who became “big” because of his organization of huge feasts and gifts of pork, or his skill as a warrior, did not result in his material well being becoming much greater than others, he acquired reputation rather than wealth. Similarly, the Northwest Coast chief who organized huge potlatches and distributed gifts of blankets and other things did not benefit himself materially. In such exchanges there was no “profit” or “profit motive” involved. Indeed, in such societies if an individual attempted to gain at the expense of others he or she would be ostracized and, in extreme case, even murdered. Shameful greed simply was not allowed to exist. There was no capitalism.
As societies grew in size and complexity, some individuals managed to convince the masses they were more powerful and entitled to more, often much, much more, than others. Beliefs in the divine right of kings were enshrined allowing royalty to help themselves to whatever was available. More often than not royalty was bestowed upon those who were, in fact, more powerful than others, wars were the order of the day, might established right, and right meant that everyone had their fixed place in the order of things, peasants and serfs were just that, and nobles likewise held more or less fixed positions in society. Still there was no real profit motive or capitalism as we now have.

When you have a well established profit motive and excessive freedom as in “free market capitalism” you have reached the epitome of an essentially antisocial society, a true oxymoron. You have, in fact, repudiated your human status and reverted back to “the law of the jungle,” a form of primitive Darwinism in which greedy humans cannibalize each other for profit and the losers are cast aside as “collateral damage.” The most basic elements of humanity: empathy, caring for others, community, the basic social contract itself, are simply abandoned as everyone now competes for profit and power, two linked passions that will slowly and inevitably destroy  whatever is left of our humanity and, indeed, our lives.   

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