Cruel Spring   (2016Apr04)


Monday, April 04, 2016                                                    11:40 AM

April cruel? Well, yeah—in the midst of summer we feast among bountiful greenery—but in early spring, we wrest new life from the dank, chill mud—it’s a challenge. And life is challenge—without resistance to entropy, it is a meaningless Mandelbrot pattern—without struggle, there is no need to keep pumping that blood through the veins, that sap through the roots. Anger can be a lifesaver. Want creates wealth.

That’s the basic, natural principle. But we live in what we are pleased to call a civilization—dare I claim a society?—and in such, we give nothing a free pass simply because it is natural. We legislate against certain natural urges, we pressure our peers to respect civility over instinct. And civilization seeks to minimize struggle. If strength were our only criteria, we’d elect a chimp to be emperor of the world.

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But what if we look at it differently? Perhaps we have merely traded physical struggles for mental struggles. Our mental struggles have given us strength undreamed of by our cave-dwelling forebears—but our society is plagued by stress. We invent competitions to simulate natural selection—and those competitions are as much, if not more, about mental strength as physical ability. We begin with school grades, then advanced degrees, then job interviews—these are all competitions entirely of our own invention. And they all lead into the main event—the acquisition of money. That too is an invented competition that we choose to maintain—it is an agreed-upon, imaginary method of gauging strength and gaining power.

What we call Capitalism is just the collected agreements governing the sport of money-getting—whenever we wish to call a time-out on the game, and give something to someone for free, out of simple humanity, this is called Charity. Now, charity is cheating—why play the game if you’re going to break the rules whenever your feelings tell you to? But that is a valid question even without conditions—why play the game? Well, as with every game, the ones who are winning want to keep playing—the ones who don’t stand a chance are tired of the game. The odd thing about Capitalism is that it is a game that only a few thousand people are really enjoying—while literally billions of people would rather play something more enjoyable.

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Socialism began as an attempt to make Charity the prevailing game and restrict Capitalism to a few places, under tight controls, wherever it made sense to use it. This was thought up out of a desire for fairness—like the abolition of monarchial government, it was meant to prevent rich people from supplanting monarchy with wealth, and to give all people a fair say and a fair chance. Socialism is an attempt to make life, as well as government—of the people, by the people, and for the people. Money is power—but like the monarchy, that is only so because we choose to agree that it’s so. And Humanity isn’t power—it’s just a feeling. It’s a powerful feeling, as Christ, Gandhi, Dr. King, and others have demonstrated—but its power only manifests in unity—a single person’s humanity is just a feeling.

Still, an innate feeling has more staying power than any imaginary social construct—no matter how long Capitalism remains, the feeling of its wrongness will persist in the hearts of people. We allow for the least of ourselves—the weakest, the slowest, the least able—because they are one of us. We don’t compete with them—we cooperate with them, we include them. Capitalism is unfair because it puts competition ahead of humanity—naming the winners and losers, by law, is more important than what happens to the competitors—it enforces mandatory inhumanity—it makes us bad people.

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Socialism for fairness’s sake has gotten more traction in Europe than here in America—here we think of Capitalism as the supreme ideology, the giant that slew the Communist menace, the bulwark that upholds the champions of democracy and freedom. But it has never been that. Communism was an ideal—and attempts to practice it ignored human nature. The Soviet Union was a paranoid, corrupt regime that had no resemblance to Communism the idea—and the dysfunction of that regime destroyed itself, while we out-competed them on the global stage. I concede that Capitalism was more efficient than the Soviet nightmare—but that doesn’t make it good, just better than the worst idea ever.

Capitalism is straightforward—Socialism is more complex a system. But Socialism’s time has come—we are approaching a productivity ‘singularity’, a day when we have the production capacity of billions, yet only require the employment of thousands to do it. When there are no more jobs that need doing, the cracks in Capitalism’s façade will start to peek through—how can we call it competition when the field of play has evaporated? How can we say that only workers deserve rewards when there is no work to be done?

Ironically, this future conundrum doesn’t work for Capitalism’s winners, either—in a world of 99% unemployment, where are your customers? The rise of smart systems, robotics, and automation will require us to abandon Capitalism—it’s not an if, it’s a when. On the way there, while the super-wealthy cling to their unimaginable power and the rest of us become more displaced, chaos looms. I don’t advocate Socialism out of a hatred of Capitalism, but for safety’s sake—we see the future coming and I’d prefer, for my children’s and grandchildren’s sake, that we don’t freeze up like a deer in the headlights.

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As a child I watched Star Trek TOS, where, like much of science fiction, I saw a world without money—we always assume that humanity will one day achieve that Peaceable Kingdom, but we’ve never really thought about the transition phase from where we are now to that far-off, dream-like future. I think we leave that part blank because it’s a tough nut to crack—how can we ever switch gears from a roaring global economy to a thriving global village? One thing it will certainly involve is the confiscation of great power from those who presently hold it. That has always meant war in the past, and there’s little reason to suppose we could avoid it in this instance. So, how do the rest of us declare war on the only people with any power? Good luck with that one.

I suppose we could take a page from their book—the wealthy and their lobbyists have been slowly transforming our democracy, decade after decade, infusing it with special privileges and protections for the wealthy and the big corporations. Perhaps we could initiate a similar ‘frog in a sauce-pan’ strategy, where we legislate higher and higher taxes, greater public-services commitments, tighter regulations, and mandatory transparency. With a little luck we could bring them back down to our level without them ever noticing the water has begun to boil. But that would require a grass-roots political awakening that would make Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign look like a disaffected chess club meeting. Plus, there’s the problem of legislation being limited by jurisdiction, where cash is unhindered by borders or flags—it wouldn’t do us much good to socialize America by alienating all the wealth and power to foreign lands.

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And now that I think about it—Nationalism is as spurious and divisive an influence on humanity as Capitalism. The European Union illustrates, as did the United States, that divisions between regions and cultures should find their own levels and not be closed borders separating neighbors at the point of a gun. The more advanced a society becomes, the more obvious this fact appears—that’s probably why we all dream of ‘world peace’ someday, in spite of all evidence that this will never happen—we know that it should happen.

So, easy-peasy—we end Capitalism and Nationalism and we all live happily ever after. What a relief. Enjoy the sleet on this chilly April afternoon.

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