10 October 2004, 10:18 PMTranslator
It's a pity you've erased whatever you wrote. In fact, you've broken one of the most important rules in my imaginary rulebook. Never edit, never rewrite, execpt, of course, for sylistic or grammatical reasons. Thoughts are thoughts, and if you find yourself not agreeing with what you've written, then laugh at yourself, critisize yourself, but never erase yourself. Saying this, I know not what you've written, so I'm saying this partially because I'm curious.
I enjoy a frank conversation with another person on the same level, but let us make keep to some rules - nothing is to be erased. Also, feel free to say anything you wish (at me, at the world, at others, whatever). I'm interested only in true opinions, however they're phrased.
Crap, have to go again. Be back late at night.
02 November 2004, 10:21 AMh.rousseau
OK, here is the long-promised deconstruction of capitalism, written to answer a little back-and-forth that was going on several weeks ago. We'll call it
ELEVEN THESES ON THE MESSAGE BOARD DOOR
1. It is idealistic to believe that people will ever be restrained by Judaeo-Christian ethics when a great bonanza is at hand. Those so governed, compete inefficiently, or abstain; those not, pile down the gangway & across the gap of moral allowability, exclaiming whatever formulas their culture gives them as justification. "Christianity!" (AD 1500) "civilization !"(AD 1800) "opportunity, free trade!" (AD 1900) "freedom & democracy!" (now). What they really mean is, Damn if anybody is going to stop us.
2. The traditional argument for capitalism is that it takes people as they are --- as self-centered bastards --- and does not count on anything beyond this. Its proponents make this argument. The Adam Smith proposition, or limited insight, was that all these totally self-absorbed self-interested individuals, operating independently, created by their activity a rising level of common good --- prosperity --- while actions self-consciously aimed at doing good usually failed or produced their opposite.
So many times I have been told, "Well . . . it would be nice if people were like you say . . . but people just aren't and never will be. So a system that is driven by greed is a realistic system . . . your system Just Won't Work."
Now Mr. Dark is saying that capitalism is either 1/immoral, or b/unworkable unless the greed is governed by JC ethics. He really believes that JC ethics will restrain the monster. I think he is an idealist.
The ethical people stand at the sidelines, protesting meekly, as the pirates pile down the gangplank and seize the women and children and the candelabra. Then they, or we, are derided as fluffy-soft, tree-hugging bleeding-hearts. This particular mockery is a staple among the current idolaters of capitalism, where mockery is a substitute for thought. Yah, yah, whatcha gonna do about it?
What, for instance, gives Charles Hurwitz, the modern lumber baron, the right to cut down every redwood tree on a thousand acre strip down the California coast? The fact that he 'owns them all?'
3. Capitalism proceeds through the world by converting all that is outside its realm to that which is profitable to investors. Specifically, to investors back home. Thus, parts of the world that are serving their own purposes, whatever those purposes might be, are seized and put to use to serve an alien purpose. Legal trickery is used; or military force is used. Whatever works.
No examples are offered in the interest of brevity. But the Judaeo-Christian ethicist would be appalled at the examples, were he to hear them. The examples are the rule, not the exception. No moral restraint exists in the real world; just good ol' boys slapping each other on the back and lighting cigars.
The only restraint that works in the real world is physical restraint. This poses quite a problem for the gentle humanists.
4. Capitalism, vis a vis the outside world, operated aat its best in the French fur trade with the North American Indians: this was simple trading, beneficial to both parties. From what I know, the tea trade with China was probably also reciprocal. But it was all downhill from there. The temptation to seize the sources of supply, and to enslave the natives, was too great.
5. Capitalism must be distinguished from simple small business, which has existed as along as civilization has. In England, 800 years ago, you had the crossroads community of innkeeper, stabler, barrel-maker, potter, tanner, and so on; and each business had its owner/master and employees. Small business hs existed as long as Empire has, and it is the soil from which capitalism grew, but it is not capitalism itself.
6. Mayberry USA is our favorite 'pastoral', where everything works as it should. I myself am quite fond of Mayberry. Mayberry represents the traditional village. There, the barber, the storekeeper, the innkeeper, the dressmaker, and various other small businesses prosper under the watchful eye of Andy the sheriff. Andy gets the leading citizens to subscribe to good causes. All sing hymns on Sunday. The traditional village has room for both the village atheist and the town drunk. All is well.
Mr. Dark might be thinking: it is JC ethics that keep these fine people in order. But actually, it is partly their inertia and partly their dependence on each others' good opinions.
It is the desire for the good will and the continued approbation of one's fellow men, men with whom we are in reliably daily contact, that keeps us in line.
7. When 'men of vision' begin to dream large dreams, they envision a future for themselves apart from the community of bunpkins that surrounds them. No longer married to the good opinion of their fellow men, now they are married to their expanding vision. Whatever means will realize this vision, they will use.
When you have a community of people broken down into a collection of schemers and dreamers through the seductions of individualistic free-market capitalism, then you have a collection of people, formerly a community, who have already committed treason against each other in their hearts, and are just waiting for the opportunity to cut,loot, and run. Everybody is dreaming of 'somewhere else' he'd rather be.
The things that formerly made a community a community have been removed, one by one, not by 'liberals', those all-purpose gremlins, but by capitalism as it chews its way through the social fabric. People instinctively miss Mayberry, and are encouraged by knowingly deceptive right-wing propagandists and talk radio hosts to blame 'liberals' for its loss.
8. As I look over American history, I see the traditional village appearing and disappearing. Usually it was a way station to higher degrees of development: it was a depot where the farmers sold their crops and bought the goods manufactured elsewhere. As mega-agrobusiness takes over farming and the family farmer vanishes, and as Wal-mart replaces Main Street, the village disappears. People collect in the cities where a new set of social relations prevails; formerly useful relations are wiped out and new relations either replace them or fail to take shape.
'Liberalism', as we know it --- as a political force in this country --- came into being in the latter part of the 19th century. Capitalism had just reached its first gilded flowering and in so doing produced the great beasts of self-interest who stole, bullied, and corrupted all processes, legal and legislative. Farmers, labor, and fair-minded but disinterested people --- do-gooders --- united to restrain the monster. Legislation was called for. William Jennings Bryan and Teddy Roosevelt, though politically opposed, were working different angles of the 'reform' movement. It was an ear of great hero/reformers, scarcely remembered today, like Norris and LaFolette and a hundred others, and if students today fail to construct the history of this era in their minds as the story of humane and decent people --- 'liberals' --- applying needed lifesaving corrections to capitalism, then it is the fault of a school system which in its local districts is far too deferential to people who call themselves 'conservatives' but do not really know the meaning of the word they apply to themselves.
Liberalism is a necessary corrective to capitalism. Without it, capitalism runs amok and plunges off the cliff like the Gadarene swine into who Jesus cast the evil spirits. But you know this. The Great Depression showed us this. Why, then the animosity toward 'liberalism'? If one is interested in preserving the old, the traditional, and the good, should not one call oneself 'conservative' and 'liberal' in equal measure?
9. Capitalism is one way of organizing human economic activity and should not be elevated to 'God's chosen system'; this is idolatry. There are many ways to organize economic activity, and each must be fostered and protected by legal definitions and instruments. Human beings have always decided, for instance, what was to be sold and traded and what was not; once human beings werre salable items till legal emendation pushed them off the auction-block. The American Indians did not consider land a salable item until pushed into this position by the advancing Euro settlers. A market mechanism is useful; in the market, consumer desire meets with productive capacity, but not everything need be 'on the market'. There are limits.
10. The private morality of its practitioners will not restrain capitalism. Hammerlocks and various pinning holds applied from without --- from the legislative realm --- only these will do the trick. These will force capitalism to behave morally even if it doesn't want to. The big-money boys know this remedy and fear its effectiveness; consequently they pour their money into propaganda campaigns in which government is depicted as "the enemy". "Starve government" means "de-fund the regulatory agencies." "Get government off our backs" means, sub rosa, "We can make a whole load of money before the s--- hits the fan."
11. Medieval merchants regularized and harmonized the legal systems of Europe so that they might trade long-distance. Then, in a stunning coup, they extended capitalist legal definitions to land use and land holding, creating privatized and alienable land ownership.
There have been a variety of land-ownership and land-use systems over the history of mankind. Held-in-trust, used-but-not-owned, or use decided by annual village meeting, and so on. If you compare Celtic and Saxon systems of land-holding and land-use to certain pre-colonial African systems, you will see some interesting things. Our present mode --- in which land is purchasable --- alienable --- and individually owned is only one extreme in the human race's long history of practical experiment. Hundreds of thousands --- and that is a conservative figure --- of Latin American Indians and mestizo peasants have died fighting against privatization, trying to preserve older and more traditional forms of land-holding. But through superior arms we and our kind have prevailed.
To say that our current mode of extreme privatization is God's plan for all mankind, for all time, now that we have discovered it and imposed it, and that all others are from the devil, i.e. communistic, is unwise. It limits thought and binds practical problem-solving by quasi-religous doctrine and so excludes solutions. Our present definitions of land ownership were borrowed from Roman law, by the rising mercantile class of Europe. But Roman legal definitions --- land as the alienable property of an individual --- led straight to the huge latifundias, worked by slaves, and the disposessed mobs in the cities. It was nothing but a mechanical process. We travel in the same direction.
Well, that's it for now. The topic is relevant to our lives, so I'd invite all interested parties to chime in.
[This message has been edited by h.rousseau (edited 11-02-2004).]