Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Predictive posting

By Carl 

There's a theme in my thinking with respect to this nation that, eventually, some large-scale changes are going to occur, and that they might occur suddenly and perhaps even violently.

American culture is based on three things: democracy, faith, and capitalism.

There's a basic disconnect in there. Those three things are, jointly and separately, untenably conflicted. Somethings have got to give, because it's within the human nature that one of those things aligns.

A basic drive of humanity is self-protection: food, clothing, shelter are all manifestations of our primal drive to survive. To believe that, somehow, that urge ends just because we satisfy those basic needs flies in the face of modern marketing, Maslow's theory notwithstanding.

Capitalism takes this into account when it says that each of us acting in our own self-interest will create a general good for society. Capitalism is the only one of the legs of the stool upon which American culture sits that speaks to the most basic inner needs of the individual.

The other two, a faith in a higher power (including science) and the democratic process, speak to the more noble sentiments of community and caring.

Democracy and faith both require humility: an understanding that the individual is not bigger than the whole, that there is something "out there" bigger than we each are.

Democracy serves the best interests of the community by polling the combined wisdom of that community, group-sourcing decision making. Faith serves the best interests of the community by reminding us that the components of that society, people, are just like you and I and share the same ultimate fate.

Both of those are very humbling concepts, but capitalism not only ignores the best interests of the community -- it has to, by definition -- it is antithetical to humility. Capitalism breeds ego and the most successful capitalists tend to be those with outsized egos and overinflated senses of self. Think about it: you set a goal to earn a million dollars a year. The average income of an American is somewhere south of $50,000, 1/20th your goal. You have to be pretty self-involved to believe that you can do that, that you are 20 times better than average.

Democracy and faith are inefficient. Indeed, they both reward inefficiency: democracies take forever to make major decisions, taking into account all arguments before casting votes. That's why we in America chose a representative democracy, where we elect people who presumably have our best interests at heart.


Too, faith rewards inefficiencies. Most faiths speak to a reward in the hereafter: a heaven, or 72 virgins, or to be written into The Book and memorialized, or reincarnation. This is antithetical to living life in the now, to be rewarded immediately relative to the work and success you attempt. A powerful, perhaps the most powerful, form of learning. Hell, we can teach rats and pigeons with this method. 

Capitalism rewards efficiency and -- particularly the gruesome form practiced in America -- punishes inefficiency: a dollar given to a charity is a dollar that doesn't go into the pockets of the shareholders. And also unique to American capitalism (although this is sadly spreading), the rewards are tallied up every three months and woe betide the CEO who doesn't beat expectations, much less last year's books!

It has been said that a lie is halfway around the world before the truth can lace up its boots. Substitute American capitalism and democracy/faith, respectively, and you begin to comprehend the full impact of this dynamic. Long before we can enact laws or get the flock to stop a particularly noxious economic behavior, the damage is done.

This is why liberals believe in the so-called "nanny state": by getting ahead of the curve, by getting ahead of the behavior, we can mitigate and perhaps even prevent the damage.

Sadly, capitalism has one-upped this: by infesting not only the democratic process by dangling dollar bills in front of the elected representatives, but also by stepping squarely into the arena of faith.

Indeed, my suspicion is that corporate America is more in bed with the religious right than even you suspect, and we can't even really prove this, because churches do not have to pay taxes so they don't really have to report income or where they get it from.

It's an opportunity to exploit an inefficiency and as we've seen already, capitalism exploits inefficiencies and punishes those who indulge in them.

I don't know what the answer is and I don't even really know what the question is, but I do know where the question lies: in the corporatocracy.

Specifically, the investor class. See, we might blame the American corporation and there's some truth to this, but it's also true that the rules themselves are designed to reward this behavior and punish behavior that would be more compliant to society's benefit. If a corporation were tomorrow to decide to pull its profit-making back a little in order to make the community a better place, its stock price would plummet. Unless they can prove it would make an immediate return on investment, of course.

No, we need to look deeper, into the bowels of the markets themselves and see the inhumanity that reigns there: the quantification of human beings and economic activity. The software that detects the slightest deviation from maximum profitability and exploits the inefficiency for its own benefit (after all, software that fails to do this is abandoned -- killed off -- and my thinking is there's a certain amount of consciousness amongst all those chips and wires.) Most major investment decisions are now done by computer and that means efficiency will reign supreme.

Which means you can kiss democracy and faith goodbye.

(Cross-posted to Simply Left Behind.)

Labels: ,

Bookmark and Share


  • $50,000 is not 1/200th of a million. Maybe America is headed for problems because people can't do basic math.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:56 AM  

  • Fixed. Thanks for pointing it out.

    By Blogger Michael J.W. Stickings, at 10:11 PM  

  • Hey, Anon?

    I have an IQ that's been measured as high as 154, which would make me one and one half times as smart as average. And well into the top 1%.

    I'm 1.5x.

    So 20x? 200x? Does it really make a difference to you?

    Yes, a math error. BFD, dude. I'd argue that our focus on precision is what's the real problem, and anal retentives like you only bear me out! :-)

    By Blogger Carl, at 9:45 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home