Thursday, December 08, 2011

Lack of Imagination

Last night, the bi-weekly discussion group that I attend had the final meeting of the year on the topic of Inequality. The turn out was pretty big (15 people by the end of it) and we weren't in our usual spot. We were crammed in a small corner, which has happened before due to someone dropping the ball on scheduling. We usually have the upper floor of the restaurant (Madison's Grill, which is a great place with a super friendly waitress). I don't mind the coziness of the back corner, but it made discussion a little difficult to hear due to jazz music playing in the background. I knew I wouldn't be able to speak much because it would take a lot of effort to be heard over the music.

The discussion covered the basics of inequality and the Occupy movement and even segued into a debate about whether people of today are smarter or more informed than people of a hundred years ago. There was even talk about those who think that life was better 100 years ago as being afflicted by nostalgia for a mythological past that didn't really exist. What an interesting debate, as this is exactly what Midnight in Paris was all about (nostalgia is fine and dandy, but if you really think about it, life is pretty good right now and we wouldn't want to trade places with people in the past. Life was meant to be lived in the now).

What stunned me the most, however, about the debate is that everyone seemed to be in consensus that capitalism is it. There is nothing better to replace it. I really wanted to jump in at this point, but people are so quick to respond that its difficult to get a word in edgewise sometimes. I'm stunned that so many of my peers have fallen for the "capitalist lie" that as bad as capitalism can be at times, its still the only legitimate economic system to have. I don't buy it. You shouldn't either. Most of the people in the discussion group tend to be liberal / progressive (this is Portland, after all) and I heard many liberal professors in BYU's Political Science department extol on the greatness of capitalism and assigning reading materials such as The Lexus and the Olive Tree, Jihad versus McWorld, and The End of History and the Last Man. That last book is by neo-con writer Francis Fukuyama. I remember when I first heard the title and the premise, I was stunned by the arrogance of Fukuyama's thesis, which is: capitalism won the ideological battle of history. No other system can match it. That may be true, but capitalism is probably better thought of as a parasite. It may be able to defeat ineffective economic systems such as communism and tempt people away from the strict orderly societies under Islamic law and influence, but capitalism also destroys itself as we've seen at the end of Bush's reign of errors.

What I wish that I was able to bring up to the group was this: In college, I was struck by the brilliance of "Hegel's Dialectic." Apparently, so was Karl Marx (that commie!). Essentially, you can boil down Hegel's Dialectic to three important words / concepts: Thesis - Antithesis - Synthesis. That's it. Simple and beautiful. It is a great tool for anything in life. I have used it long before I ever heard of Hegel (a German philosopher). I believe life is cyclical, so a circular or cyclical view of history and progress is probably a smart idea. If we were to use Hegel's Dialectic in developing an economic system, here's how it would be done. The basic framework for capitalism would be written down. This is the thesis. Then, you look at the critic, which would be the antithesis. In capitalism's case, Marx's Communist Manifesto is the perfect antithesis. I've read it a few times and was always impressed by how accurate the critique of capitalism is. However, since we all have an advantage over Marx, we've seen the destruction that communism brought to our planet. It is so toxic and discredited an economic system that in the 20 years since its collapse in Eastern Europe and the USSR, not a single country has gone communist. China has been moving towards a capitalist economy and it appears to be working quite nicely for them (proving that capitalism doesn't necessarily go hand-in-hand with democracy). Of course, the other two "communist" states are the isolated cult of personality prisons known as North Korea and Cuba. Knowing all this, it is amusing that teabaggers still fear communism like its 1955!

So, if you take the pros of capitalism and fix the cons as pointed out in the Communist Manifesto, you'd have an improved upon system. This is synthesis. But it doesn't end there. Its an ongoing process. Self-correcting. Evolving. That's the nature of life on this planet. Stagnation leads to death. And that's the problem with our system. Once people get to the top, they want to hoard all their wealth and they game the system to the point where it collapses on itself because the greed and wholesale looting is unsustainable. Under the reign of George W. Bush, we saw capitalism at its ugliest and greediest. It is my hope that people will stop buying into the lie that we've been fed all our lives about capitalism being this great economic system. Its not. We can and must do better. Our evolution as a species depends upon it.

It was strange to hear all these much smarter than me people agree that capitalism is here to stay. Am I the only one who sees another way? That way is "ETHICONOMY." Ethics needs to be the guiding principle in our economic system. Greed must be rooted out of the system and people who are greedy must be punished or frozen out of the system. Read about "the tragedy of the commons." Greed always ends up destroying what is good for the most number of people. Until more Americans cry out for economic justice and not allow greed to stand, we're going to continue to be suckered into this losing economic scheme. Counting on winning the lottery someday and voting in favour of tax policies advocated by the wealthy class is just plain stupid. America needs "capitalism with a human face." Like Soviet communism, I believe American capitalism is on its way out. History has a way of evening the score, so if we want to be on the winning team, we need to make drastic changes. Realizing that we've been indoctrinated with lies is the first step down the long road to liberation. Will you join me?

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