Reflecting upon the related problems of Covid-19, racism, and climate crisis, integrating thoughts from a few previous postings ( i.e. here; here; here; here; and here ) could offer some perspective.
How We Understand Our World
We’ve essentially structured society according to a mechanistic worldview (consistent with The Newtonian-Cartesianparadigm) which gave rise to the Industrial Revolution and capitalism as the societal order defining system. This system of orientation is so pervasive that it is not merely part of life—personal, professional, organizational, and societal—but is the lens through which we structure, understand and measure (our) life. In essence, in society everything is reduced to an economic transaction with faith that the invisible hand (i.e. the market) will bring about order. If we were fish it would be the water within which (we are unaware that) we are swimming.
Capitalism informs us that all there is are individuals seeking his/her self-interest—egocentrism is the capitalist ideal. Capitalism, to remain relevant, needs to feed the ego and not so much the person, since the greater the egocentrism the greater the self-interest maximizing behavior. In a fully committed capitalist society, the concern for others is an impediment to self-interest behavior hence there’s no concern for ‘We’—any evidence to the contrary is merely a façade. If you doubt this, the answer to the question, who gets bailed out—and benefits—in a recession will challenge your doubt.
While Covid-19 has been devastating to both health and income, it has brought to the surface the conflict between the economy and our collective well-being– between ‘Me’ and ‘We’–if not life itself, that has always been operative. Although a majority of the population understand their responsibility for the well-being of others, the business-minded and their sycophants clamor for the ‘opening of the economy’ asserting their right of individual freedom and for profit.
What is ignored if not denied is the fact that being human means that each human being is both an ‘I’ and a ‘We’ and our continued existence requires each to act in accordance with these deeply interdependent aspects of our very being—otherwise we are nothing more than the most intelligent animal walking upright.
Looking through the worldview lens of capitalism where ‘it’s all about ‘Me’ getting mine, we a led to think we free individuals. Yes we are free, but we are only free to be both the ‘exploited’ and the ‘exploitee’ at the same time, as we strive for success in support of the system’s aim for unlimited wealth accumulation—wealth for the wealthy, income for the rest. “It is truly a dependent/co-dependent relationship of addiction, where the opiate–the addictive substance–is material profit” (The Intent of Business, p 62).
How We Respond
As further illustration, consider the example of carbon offsets in response to the climate crisis, which are market-driven solutions to the climate crisis. This cannot possibly work, since it was devised using the very same system of thought whose consequence is the climate crisis. It’s a capitalist solution to a capitalism system caused problem!
Another is the distribution of vouchers as a solution to our educational decline. This solution is consistent with the capitalist belief that appealing to the economic and competitive drives of people—feeding the ego—will solve the problem: As if the reason a school is doing poorly is that there is nothing materially in it for educators and other stakeholders.
Yet another to consider is the way the vast majority of executives in many of our major business organizations act as parasites on society as they pursue ever increasing profit goals through labor cost reduction, avoiding environmental and workplace safety regulations—often through off-shoring—while at the same time lobbying for sweetheart tax laws to avoid or reduce their tax obligations. Because there is no ‘We’, the support of society and the public sphere itself is not seen as their responsibility, it is just an impediment to their material self-interest.
Why are captains of business and industry now showing some level of acknowledgment that Black Lives Mater, even though the movements has been around since 2013 and manipulation and exploitation of people underlies capitalism itself? Because until now, it wasn’t evident to those in authority—the captains of industry and their elected sycophants–that the requisite number of the vulnerable were no longer going to remain compliant with their manipulative, exploitative and extractive practices. The need to continue pursuing what they’ve been pursuing is paramount, so they placate and co-opt.
Then there is this which illustrates how what we truly value is put forth as the solution to our problems, when the call for the needed reform in policing is answered with the idea of providing police departments with (even) more funding: As if the lack of funding support has kept them protecting those of property rather than from equitably and ethically serving all people in society.
The above just illustrate the commitment to capitalism and the avoidance of addressing the root cause or causes of the dis-ease in our lives.
Problems Need to Be Dissolved
Our recurring problems are not the result of a mistaken action by individuals. These are not symptoms of a (one time or even recurring) mistake made by a person or persons. If this was the case, we’d quickly dissolve them and they wouldn’t recur! These symptom-problems are manifestations or consequences of a system itself—their cause is the system. The actions people take are largely informed by the system.
On a societal, if not global level, we must stop viewing the problems of economic instability, unemployment, inequality, impoverishment, homelessness, educational decline, climate crisis and police brutality/violence as if they are independent issues that can be dealt with separately. They all emerge from the very same system, and thus are quite interdependent.
Recall, Albert Einstein claimed that “we can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” Yet, there is no evidence that those in authority offering ideas to address these symptoms ever think critically, ever engage in thinking and learning that would challenge underlying beliefs and assumptions. Basically, what they generally address are the symptoms as if the symptom is the problem. Most often this is in an effort to merely placate the protesters. The problem they are seeking to resolve is the protesting. Attending to symptoms as problems can provide symptomatic relief and minimize the pain (some level of appeasement), but such efforts won’t and can’t get at the underlying cause. Hence the cause(s) remain active and inevitably the problem-symptoms re-surface some time later and with greater intensity. What is required is focused attention placed squarely at the root cause. The adage, those who deny or gloss over the need for change are destined to deal with the change in its extreme, applies.
Capitalism is at the Root
Often, when we speak of ‘the system’, many think we’re referring to the government. Hence the (misguided) conclusion is that the government is the cause, while claiming the ‘real’ culprit is usually those ‘others’—another example of our tendency toward reductionism and casting everything into an us versus a them dichotomy. Granted government and political parties have an influence, but they are not the cause of our problems even though they (most surely) perpetuate them through both their willful blindness and willful ignorance in line with them doubling down on their commitment to sustain the system itself.
The system that underlies all of these problems is the system through which life in society is structured, the system of capitalism. Capitalism is at base a manipulative, exploitative and extractive system—absent of moral precepts. Accordingly, to the capitalist everything in Nature as well as Nature itself is an object to exploit and commodify for profit. Further, for its continued existence it must ensure having, in sufficient number, an insecure and vulnerable population and sufficient natural resources to manipulate, exploit and extract for material gain. Why insecure and vulnerable? Those who aren’t either would never comply with what capitalism requires. Why only material value? Everything (people, Nature) is an object with no intrinsic/inherent value: the only value is that which is useful for economic exchange/gain. To adherents of capitalism there is no value other than material value.
Dissolve the System
What’s needed is problem dissolution not problem resolution. The difference is that dissolution necessitates a complete re-creation/re-design/transmutation of the causal system—the system of causes of the experiences we have—not merely a tweaking of or change in the system. In the former the problem itself is removed/eliminated, whereas in the latter the underlying problem—which is the capitalist system itself–is still present and operating and thus continues with its manipulative, exploitative and extractive processes. It continues objectifying and commodifying life itself, and thus diminishing the viability humankind.
In capitalism, labor serves capital and by extension so too does society. That is, inherent in the capitalist system is the notion that the society serves the economy—it is god-like. Why demand a re-opening of the economy during a very dangerous and easily transmittable virus? Why place material gain over the health and well-being of people (a.k.a. employees, customers, consumers, citizens)? Why do the business-minded, the captains of business and industry, want legal protection against liability for putting people as risk as the coronavirus continues to move throughout society? Why would the business minded place the concern of the economy and the corporation over the rights of people? Why are the externalities (i.e. external costs of business conduct) not incurred by business but left for society to pay? Here, the cost is not only in terms of dollars and cents but also in terms of the health and well-being of people, if not human existence itself?
The answer to these questions rests in the maxim that ensuring the profitability of the corporation outweighs sustaining the viability of life itself. When presented unquestionable (scientific) evidence that conducting business as usual intensifies our problems, it is suicidal to continue to do so. It is the kind of behavior you’d expect from an addict!
As long as people hide behind institutional or corporate interests, they feel that all responsibility lies elsewhere, and not within them. They feel absolved of responsibility and yet, at the same time, feel compelled to conduct themselves in accordance with the rules of the economic system and its affiliated organizations. The greater good will only be served when people feel it is their human responsibility to awaken to their ‘I’/’We’ nature; and this is unlikely to happen in an egocentric society. When the egocentrism supplants authenticity and material value supplants human value then the economy serves only itself, not humankind.
With business-as-usual continuing in spite of its negative effects on the viability of life, what if we defunded capitalism? We all have a right to life, but not a right to material gain/profit! Yet capitalistic society is structured as if the latter is what matters, and especially, if not solely, for those already privileged by the system. As long as people subordinate their will to an outside authority–as long as they conform to the irrational system–there can be no justice, no freedom, and no human progress. Morality is not contrary to sustaining our viability as a society—let alone as a species—it’s foundational to it.