Monday, 24 January 2011

A Defense of Capitalism, not that they might see it that way...

Capitalism is shit.  That I feel is the consensus of the majority of the world from my limited viewpoint from on lucky street.  It is also, I would argue, closer to what the majority of the capitalist world itself would proffer compared to its glittering opposite as the contemptuously titled ‘End of History’.   The growing inequality; complete ignorance of what it is to be happy, nay, the frightened denial inherent in wealth’s desire to buy what cannot be bought.  It has the potential to tear us apart as a species, this walling off of homes and minds.  But this article isn’t really about that.  It is about perspective, about how we got where we are and why we can have optimism about where we may be going.  It is also about picking the right target, so that we may endeavour not to marginalise those that might otherwise adept to the zeitgeist.

Humanity has progressed to varying degrees through three main types of imagined identities (as in Benedict Anderson’s Imagined Communities), created by those who monopolised cultural production.  Religion, the State and Commerce emerged one from the other to accommodate the ever-greater complexity that derived from the accumulation of knowledge and technology.  Larger empires, multiple faiths and disparate people... they could only be bound by common memes to the extent communication technology allowed.  This is why a common vernacular in Europe, as brought about through the printing press (commerce), facilitated such fervent nationalism.

Throughout history, power has devolved; and that is reflected in the level of brutality.  Just a few hundred years ago, heads were left on spikes in city streets as warnings. Genocide was commonplace, the wholesale rape, pillage and hand-made destruction of entire cities… who could imagine that in the developed world? From Emperor and Demi-God, King and Aristocracy, CEO and Marketing… Those who create culture, create identity.  That power is now democratising further, toward an information-based identity.  If we identify with the ‘other’ through shared culture then we have done the complete opposite to the dehumanising process that enabled the Holocaust.   Even simple communication is enough, since our shared humanity brings with it common desires, familiar fears, more than enough to make that connection.

This is what capitalism has given us.   It got here through some pretty noble ideas, ideas that the right are loudest to (often blindly) shout but which, compared to what came before (and sometimes now to be fair) are pretty radical.  Individual Freedom?  A lot of the headway with that was from merchants and business.  Free-Markets and movement of capital and labour are very much post-nationalist ideals that resulted in a changed dynamic by the mid-20th Century.   The consumerism it produced enabled TV’s to be in almost every house, something many would regard as negative when it fact it’s merely primitive.  By the standards of the age however it was a miracle and no one can deny the effect film has had on the global consciousness. In the book Multitude, Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri sum up this transormational aspect of caiptalism by saying:

"Capital has always been oriented towards the production, reproduction and control of social life... [however], the production of Capital is, ever more clearly and driectly today, the production of social life."

In other words, now that the fuits of capital have enabled the multitude itslef to partake in social production, capital has gone from creating and maintaining virtical social identities (when the form was monopolised by the state) to being the medium of expression of the multitude itself.  Truly this represents the biggest shift in tendency since Marx himself recognised the coming hegenomy that capital represented at a time when agriculture was still hugely dominent.  Now we are tending toward true emancipation of the individual, a reawakening of the notion of network, not centralised discipline.

We have to be careful to remember what Capitalism actually consists of.  We are quick to picture the fat cat corporate exec, lighting his cigar with a fifty-pound note.  Yet the majority of capitalism feeds from the same meme-pool as you or I (assuming you aren’t an actual corporate exec reading this which, if so, please change).  Sure, as you get to the top, the memetic influence becomes restricted to high-powered, institutionalised jargon and dogmatic priorities, an identity that has outsourced its own responsibility to humanity for the sake of shareholders.  But they do not live in a vacuum.  Not like Kings, not even like the four-yearly terms for politicians.  They have customers and they have staff and more so than religion or the state they have more incentive to keep us happy. They know about evolve or die.

In the last hundred and fifty years capitalism has shown considerable amounts of adaptation in the west when it comes to western populations. It’s because we aren’t the ‘other’ anymore, no longer the proles.  We’ve had that outsourced now too.  For decades, multi-nationals have polluted, killed, bribed, betrayed and pillaged their way across the world, every bit the fundamentalist with their own holy book with it’s own commitments.  Number 1, Make money for shareholders. Number 2, Make money for shareholders… I’ve no doubt many are great family people that sincerely believe they do good.  We are relativistic beings, and if you are unknowingly trapped in a wealth induced meme-bubble consisting primarily of positive reinforcement how can you think otherwise?

The co-opting of the political class by corporations combines the two most potent cultural identity producers in the world since the demise of religion in the west.  Listen to a politician.  Now listen to a high-level manager.  They speak the same language.  There is a pretty obvious reason why: it is because of the intricate web of links between business and government, a back-slapping, champagne swilling orgy of congratulatory arse-licking; a web that forms a cocoon. It is this meme-bubble that the global consciousness should seek to expose, using the infrastructure capitalism lays, (as they must to compete) to counter this push from corporations (unlimited funding of politicians in the U.S., the concentration of media conglomerates, the institutionalisation of mainstream media) in an info-war that will grow ever larger as technology continues to explode exponentially. 

But this will take time.  Evolution has to happen in steps.  There are no sky-hooks in biological evolution and there aren’t any here.  Violence can clear a blockage, but it must be an act of last resort on behalf of the majority else, like suicide bombings, they will appear illegitimate to the global consciousness.  It must be rational, targeted violence and only when the right to speak and to listen to contributions to the creation of imagined identity have been fully denied.  Too much, and without rational limits and objectives both stated and kept to, and the chaos produced can have the opposite to the desired effect in the short-medium term leading to greater suffering.

No comments: