a thoughtful web.
Good ideas and conversation. No ads, no tracking.   Login or Take a Tour!
comment by tacocat
tacocat  ·  2598 days ago  ·  link  ·    ·  parent  ·  post: Survival and mental health in a capitalistic world

Hey, I'm some kind of bipolar schizo too!

The problem isn't capitalism, and I say that as a pinko living in the free market paradise that is the American Southeast. Capitalism is a very effective system for sustaining an increasing population. It also motivates people with incentives, even for kids who work at McDonald's. Communism is the only modern alternative I know of and it's failed, sometimes spectacularly and brutally, every time it's been tried. China is an exception I guess but it's some weird Communist/market hybrid now.

The problems he's having seem to come from human nature, not Capitalism specifically, Capitalism has just become very effective in the last century at exploiting human nature. I get jealous and resentful, I want nicer things, but so does everyone and our economic system and its marketing and advertising arms are set up to leverage that into purchases. This drives most people to settle into a life path where they will be able to live comfortably and have nice things and that's not a bad thing. Everyone wants to live comfortably and the average person in America and the Western world can do that on $50,000 a year or the equivalent.

As for the human interaction capital, well that's nothing new even if it's framed here to support a viewpoint that putting a price on everything is a huge problem. Money really doesn't buy friendship and if you can do a cost benefit analysis of a relationship and find out you're getting short changed then leave. People have been doing that for a long time even if the phrase "cost benefit analysis" wasn't part of vernacular.

The biggest salient point he makes is the struggle many people have just to get onto that path towards a comfortable life. There's no real solution to that without reforms and I don't see any politicians coming forward with a solution. Helping the poor is a toxic topic in United States politics. Poverty, illness, race can all be stumbling blocks towards success and to fix the problem we need to reform within what we've developed, not rail against what's become a system that's in many ways too effective. The comfortable majority is too self absorbed to really care what happens to anyone less fortunate so I don't see effective political reforms any time soon. No one's life is easy. American politics can turn into a pissing match over who has it easy and who needs to just, who worked hard for success and who needs to work harder. It's ridiculous and gets nothing done.

It's easy for people who aren't seeing the benefits to look around them and be jealous or resentful, I work with middle aged women every day who want pretty pictures for their walls and too often I'm seething inside at how vapid they seem to be. I'd advise anyone in this position to seek a meaning to life outside of the day-to-day business of life. I'm an artist so that's easy for me but find something to keep you going, to look forward to, to come home to and say "that other stuff doesn't matter because I have this one thing that brings me back to who I am apart from my petty basal feelings."

That got long and meandering. Sorry.





deepflows  ·  2598 days ago  ·  link  ·  

I've heard "it's not capitalism, it's human nature" a lot. I wouldn't call that wrong, but I would call it an incomplete picture. Capitalism seems to take the worst parts of human nature and reinforce them while devaluing our less selfish and competetive aspects.

I'd also argue that communism has never been really tried. There have been dictatorships calling themselves communism, and it was to both sides advantage to accept that label. I'm not saying communism is the solution. It'd be a nice utopia, though. Fact is, sane alternatives to capitalism have not simply failed. They have been dealt with either through means of economic warface (and economic hitmen) or through actual violence. "Terrorism of the western world" is a good introduction on the subject.

Marketing / advertisement don't just leverage desires into purchases. I'm convinced they artificially create desires. I also wouldn't call people selling their time and work for a pittance so the shareholders of a huge fastfood corporation or soulless callcenter #22312456 can rake in the profits "incentivation". I'd call it extortion. I've also never seen a stuy suggesting that external rewards lead to better performance or greater fulfillment. Intrinsic motivation beats pay every time. Most people won't find intrinsic motivation to flip burgers, though, I get that. Fortunately, as a society we are entirely capable of automating this kind of work.

I also don't think capitalism is terribly good at distributing wealth or at improving peoples conditions. It certainly creates growth for a while, but that is bought with inevitable concentration of the wealth which is created and eventually, the system seems to need to reset itself in order to function - war seems to be a sufficient reset mechanism, especially since you can have a lot of growth afterwards. We live in a state of socialism for corporations and capitalism for the poor and the "third world", anyways. I pretty much agree with everything Chomsky has to say about that matter.

As far as distribution goes, I don't believe you need capitalism for that. It's useful to have markets. You don't need people accumulating disproportionate amounts of capital for these, though. Worker owned factories can compete just fine. Markets and a well regulated form of "capitalism" may make for a decent engine for growth. But I think you need socialism at the helm if you don't want to have that engine drive you into a wall. Since we are not dealing with actual scarcity anymore but in fact the problem is really crappy distribution, it seems entirely possible to me that markets actually have outlived their usefulness. Capitalism certainly has.

Oh well, I'm perfectly happy to agree to disagree about any of these points. Arguing the merrits of capitalism was not really what I created this thread for, anyways. "I deal with it by being well integrated and regarding capitalism as the best system currently known" is a coping strategy I already knew. Just doesn't work for me.

Edit & PS:

It's entirely possible that I'd be singing a different tune if I had a few millions in the bank. I can be an opportunistic bastard like that. I hope I wouldn't, but it's possible.

rictic  ·  2598 days ago  ·  link  ·  

I have certainly noticed that I have tended towards being an apologist for the status quo after my financial situation became comfortable.

In that role, I'd say that capitalism has been responsible for a ton of wealth creation. First world people are materially far better off today than any group of people ever has been in the past. This isn't just gold watches and fast cars either. WIthout modern medicine I would have probably died as a young teen. Without modern transportation I couldn't have afforded to move 2300 miles to take the chance at getting my dream job. Without modern telecommunications we couldn't be having this conversation.

That said, I also believe that we should not settle for something that's merely less awful than the past. Capitalism, like feudalism, has resulted in a very skewed wealth distribution. That alone would not bother me were it not for the fact that hundreds of thousands of people die every year for lack of an inexpensive antimalarial interventions. We have jobs that suck the personality and individuality out of people. You can get rich selling drugs, or scamming people. The US will bomb a group of people coming home from a wedding party because there's a moderate chance that they're enemies and through a very abstract chain of reasoning they could be a threat.

I don't yet know what a solution to any of those problems would look like, but I'm gonna keep looking.