Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Nature of Capitalism

I turned 53 recently (I know my boyish Cary Grant style good looks belie my chronological age) and in recent months I've been pondering the nature of our world-dominant social system.

I'm given to envy. It's not an attractive trait, but who among us has never felt envy? I read surfing magazines and I think about Kelly Slater and other pro surfers and I think: "What a life! Getting paid to travel to exotic locations all over the world and surf. Do the thing you love and get to surf the best surf all over the world." I'm sure there are downsides, but from the perspective of a man trapped in suburbia in an area where if the surf reaches 3-4 ft. and offshore, we think we're in heaven, Kelly Slater's life looks like nirvana.

I guess that's an upside of capitalism, but a lot of it is a bad joke played out on the majority of the population. You are told as you grow up that paying to rent a house is "dead money", money in someone else's pocket, so you are groomed to strive for the dream: a home of your own. Cue mortgage, cue financial chains. Unless you win the lottery, they've got you where they want you: in a steady job to pay the usurers at the banks.

And believe me, they are usurers. You don't need to be told that. Multinational banks seem to post higher and higher profits every year. I read an amazing book years ago when I was in Israel called, I think, Jews, God and History. It showed how in the Middle Ages, due to anti-Semitic laws, Jews became moneylenders to survive, but the Torah forbade them to charge high or unfair interest. Only when Gentile nobles horned in on the moneylending business, did interest rates become usurious.

Okay, Communism collapsed, but it was never a true interpretation of Marx's vision which was closer to Jesus's vision than Lenins. As so ably illustrated in Orwell's Animal Farm, human flaws like greed corrupted the system until it was the same old social pyramid as capitalism, but dressed up in totalitarian drag.

So many of us like to have more than the other fellow. A bigger house, a better holiday, finer clothes, fancier food...the list goes on.

And every night the TV shouts at you about all the things you need. BUT you don't actually need them.
You could live much more simply if you chose.

John Lennon never said a truer word than in that classic masterpiece, Imagine, when he sang: "Imagine no possessions, I wonder if you can." Maybe in Africa, John, or a favela in Rio, but not in the first world, not in the West.

But make no mistake, capitalism has been fouling its own nest at least since World War Two and it's gonna fuck this beautiful planet, Earth, no two ways about it.

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