If we're really honest with ourselves as a society - and I know we rarely are - capitalism has developed into a sort of cultural sociopathy. We can pretend that corporations qualify as people because that allows them to spend money to affect politics, but that insidious self-deception falls apart when we start down the path of examining what it means in terms of personal responsibility, or personal accountability, or conscience. I happen to believe that personal responsibility, personal accountability and conscience are at the very heart of humanity and therefore more necessary to the definition of personhood than capital.
Even those most outspoken about the power of the invisible hand of the marketplace know that a level of disingenuous rhetoric is necessary for a business to thrive in a capitalist environment. Look at the mission statement of any company, large or small, and then compare that to its actions. You will read something to the effect of, "Our mission at Brand X Airline is to provide a seamless and pleasant consumer experience, connecting the passion points of every community we serve. This serves as part of our commitment to our dual bottomline of Performance and People. Our ultimate Purpose is to connect people to what's important in their lives." You might find a corporate claim that, the mission of a supermarket is to bring the best and freshest food to the public in a clean and inviting atmosphere or that the goal of an insurance company is to provide security and protection for its clients. None of these mission statements is true and all of these mission statements prove to be false time and again as the customer service to which they pledge their focus is abandoned in favor of more profitable practices, cost-cutting at the expense of quality or client experience or safety. Regardless of the mission statement, ever-increasing profit is always the true mission and goes perpetually unstated.
In retail stores, employees compliment customers on how the clothes they might buy make them look. Salesmen impress upon them how beneficial the car under consideration will be for their careers, their families, their personal sense of well-being. They never, ever speak aloud the real motivation for their apparent interest, the desire to make the sale, to earn the commission or the paycheck. Producers and gallery owners speak of their desire to bring worthy artists to the public eye while actually trying to increase the price of the product with which those artists provide them; meanwhile artists must create the sense that they love what they do so much that they would do it for free while not allowing advantage to be taken of them by those willing to take them at their word.
From the bottom rung of the economic ladder to the uppermost echelons of the corporate hierarchy, money becomes the subtextual impetus while human compassion and service receive constant lip-service. This reflects the very nature of individual sociopathy: the ability to present a charming, caring, emotional façade while calculating for personal gain.
The United States is a capitalist nation. Before it is a democratic nation, it is a capitalist nation. We tend not to notice this, largely because capitalism has been pushed so deep into the subtext of all discussion. By conflating other economic models with unappealing structures of governance such as fascism or totalitarianism, the possibility of revolutionary economic discussion has been nearly entirely forestalled. When grade school teachers compared the benefits of democracy to the threat of communism, as they did throughout the years of the Cold War, any critique of capitalism came to be perceived as an assault on democratic principles. This distorted belief that our political structure could be favorably compared to a foreign economic model persisted generationally as children grew up internalizing by osmosis a wholly false dichotomy.
Thus, even as increasingly unregulated capitalism leads us deeper into economic disparity, back toward a neo-feudal system of limited inherited wealth and a legacy of widespread perpetual poverty, we deny ourselves the very language we might use to intelligently discuss the issue. We cannot discuss whether we might prefer governance whose mission is to benefit the community, or the society, rather than to serve capital because to do so seems an assault on democracy itself. To speak of an alternative to capitalism can be perceived only as a call for some sort of dictatorial oligarchy. That socialism functions well in many European countries, that the people of those countries benefit from expanded social services and live happy, healthy lives in peace and freedom cannot penetrate the zeitgeist of a capitalist nation unless that nation has the language, the intellect and the education that allows it to see past its automatic inference that socialism is vaguely evil and was a word once used by Nazis and the USSR. Any attempt to create not only equal opportunity for all citizens but also to value all citizens equally cannot be fairly considered until we can do away with the threat that such thoughts will be deemed communist and therefore equated automatically with the repressive regimes of China and North Korea.
The ability to present an acceptable demeanor, a pretense of humanity while acting out of unconscionable motives is sociopathy. After decades of war justified by lies, it becomes apparent that sociopathy has lapsed in true, murderous psychosis. We have so lost our way that we, as a nation, kill people and believe that it is justified, that it is right, that it is good. Almost nobody would say that the best foreign policy is to kill tens of thousands of people every year. Almost nobody would say that peace is bad or that it can be achieved through a permanent state or violent conflict. Yet these are the policies we maintain, these are the tactics we employ and they seem to make sense when the rhetoric says this is the way to freedom and security and the true motivation, the profitability of it all to the weapons' manufacturers, the oil industry, the military and its contractors and so on is buried under seemingly benign mission statements about "the development, manufacture and marketing of innovative products of the highest quality for demanding applications in the commercial, law enforcement and defense markets with value-added solutions derived from a thorough understanding of our customers' needs and aspirations."
It is my hope that someday I may live in a healthy America. I do not care if it is capitalist or communist or socialist. I do not care whether it is structured as a democracy, or a republic, or a limited representative democracy (which, by the way, is what we have now). What matters to me is that the values of my nation be driven by conscience, not by profit. I want America to become a country whose mission statement aligns with its actual mission.
The Morning Email helps you start your workday with everything you need to know: breaking news, entertainment and a dash of fun. Learn more