Monday, July 19, 2004

On capitalism vs community

Amongst all the fatalist police-statists and the resigned political cynics at the BBC Have Your Say on the govt's crime crackdown plan, Raymond Rudaizky seems to air a voice of restrained sensibility:

"Crime is only partially solved by punishment. The main reasons for crime rest in the society that is essentially created by Government. In my view, prolific crime in England and Wales is caused by this Government constantly ignoring the large number of under-privileged and doing everything in their power to assist the rich minority to get richer."

Perhaps, quite feasibly, loss of community - and therefore, loss of a sense of individual responsibility - is one factor of the second invisible hand of capitalism. Following through on Ayn Rand's objectivist philosophy, our society is one in which we are encouraged to trade with others, and otherwise take a stance of non-interference in others' matters. Unfortunately, perhaps we have managed to instill an air of private goods exchange through a technical infrastructure, but none of the rest of the philosophy along with - ideologies that are much harder to obtain via purely technical means.

I am by no means an objectivism advocate, but I understand that in order to be truly successful, and successfully true to its roots, there is much needed in the way of education within a society. Interaction through purely transactional and economic methods is, as an understatement, in no way naturally appealing to any of us, and so in order to arrive within a society in which the benefits of such thinking outweigh the possible disadvantanges, the way of the system must be understood by all. There are "contracts" and agreements inherent in the system - most of which we realise through laws. But these rules that are supposed to guide us to a "better world" are only useful for those that are in the system, and that understand it. Everyone else - including those who are not yet in it, and those who are, for one reason or another, excluded from it - are not bound by the rules. And so it is the 10,000 other devices that we as humans employ in order to make our way through life and the world that come moreso into play, and it is these devices as a natural occurence that objectivism and capitalism neglect to take into account. They say "this way is not natural, but it is good. You must be unnatural to be good, and if you are naturally-inclined, then you are bad (and we will punish you)."

Is there a get-out clause? We are encouraged to trade as much as possible, from birth until we die. We offer our goods and services for money, we offer our money for goods and services. The system wants us to be integrated into it as much as possible.

At what point does the system explain to me that I should consider others, or that my own life is worth something by itself, as it stands? I have been told that in order to be "successful", I must best others. I have been told that I must constantly "improve" myself in the eyes of others, to gain promotion, more money, more stature, to not get left behind. In order to survive, apparently, I must win.

But too late. I realise the only way to win is to not play the game.

4 comments:

Justin said...

Even from a scant review of Objectivism, you would have read that individuals are inclined to share a self-interest with others. Even complete strangers have more in common, in terms of how to treat one another, than in how they don’t.

So any loss of community is not from following the Objectivist ethics, but from looking at people as a threat, as a claim on your own life.

The person who says “to survive … I must win” has fallen into that same trap as looking at other’s success as a predatorial invasion, which obviously is not the best conditions for fostering a sense of community.

Life is not a zero-sum sport. But don’t misunderstand me; this ethic does not advocate “the agreement inherent in the system,” which I take to mean the rule of law and protection of private property, for the purpose of making “a better world.”

The reason they are held up to be the ideals is because they are the moral. They recognize that I am the sole owner of my body. Prosperity and civility are not the justification, only the side-effects that even those outside the society enjoy.

Scribe said...

Yes, I agree with that, I think. And - as a slight disclaimer - while I say I am not an Objectivism advocate, nor am I totally dismissive of it either, and understand the ideas it puts forward. At least, as far as I've read, which probably isn't a great deal...

Nor was I trying to blame an "unruly" society on its philosophy. Rather, I think that such a scenario has come about because we have _half_ a philosophy, i.e. the half that we do have being brought about by widespread (and mostly economic) technology, and the half that we don't being unsustained. And it is this latter half that I intended when saying "there is much needed in the way of education within a society" - that is, educating people to realise more fully the society that they live in, how it works, and what their "morals" should be. As it is, we (the government, the corporates, the public) seem to be increasingly concerned about our own private goods, but not with respecting others privacy.

On any scale then, the overall "impression" I am lent by the society I grew/am growing up in is one of "betterment" rather than individual acceptance. The companies I work for seem to constantly and necessarily "improve", year on year, or fight for survival. In education, awards are given for being better than others, not for working well with them. In politics, there is a popular myth that if you show weakness or, indeed, honesty, then you will be out on the street.

I can understand the proponents of the cores of objectivist and capitalist protocols, and amusingly am increasingly finding similarities between them and my new favourite, Taoism. However, they all are, for intents and purposes, reasonably "unnatural", and require not just for people to be educated regarding their concepts to work on a large scale, but for people to /understand/ the concepts in a personal manner. I think that merely imposing the methods pertaining to, or emerging from any "ideal" philosophy, and hoping that the philosophy grows from that, will probably fail.

Justin said...

I am quite confused for why you say a philosophy must be rigged with some large-scale re-education campaign. After all, philosophy is used by individuals for improving their own lives. If the concepts behind them are valid, then they should work for any amount of people, regardless of who else lives by them.

And no one advocating Objectivism, which I have many differences with by the way, says it should be imposed on anyone. Even the most powerful empires have been relegated to history books because they imposed their will on people. So why should an idea be any different?

Also, a distinction must be made between the philosophy and its political/economic system of capitalism. And I read your “Why I Don’t Like Capitalism” post but just found a set of straw men instead (teasing).

Scribe said...

Yeah, I'm still sorting out my relationship with capitalism and, reading over that page again, I suspect my thoughts on it have changed a little since writing it... I'll sort it out after I fix that "modified date" bug too... :)

I think there's a difference to be drawn between imposing an idea on people, and the idea of merely having an influence on people. For individuals' philosophies, I agree with you in that a successful idea does not need to be imposed, or ... forcefully educated, perhaps. However, we should also consider that we undergo ongoing education with regards to ethics - being brought up properly, as it were, through behavioural governance by parents, teachers, peers, etc. Some of it is more formal than others, of course, and many at some point think that they know everything they need to, and that everyone else should know the same... Due to our social nature, it can be relatively difficult to maintain an individual philosophy if all around you are of a different one, as interaction is still a necessity.

Where I'm coming from though is when a society is collectively under the influence of a particular philosophy via the people that govern it, and the choices those people make as affected by their chosen philosophy.

Speaking solely from a British point of view, much of the last 20+ years have been influenced by a capitalist ideology, and judging by the current thoughts around universities, schools and hospitals, this is continuing to be the case.

At this point, there's definitely a distinction between Objectivism and Capitalism, just as there's a distinction between the Capitalism that Objectivism promotes, and the Capitalist system we have in place today. This system contains not just elements of Capitalism, but also many structures in place to maintain control (on behalf of both the government and the corporates, I would say), plus various other factors and ideologies to different extents.

So perhaps I need to restate, slightly. Instead of saying... "Top-down capitalism (without education of the the ideals it attempts) ignores social instincts" (which I think is what I was trying to get across), I should instead say... "our system is caught between control and capital liberalism, achieving neither in great amount". I still think that there's a view to be made that if you, as a governing body, are looking to improve society through a particular ideology, then unless everyone understands and *agrees* with what you are trying to achieve, it will fail - this is not a fault with any particular system, it is a fault in thinking you *can* impose that system on everyone.

And I think the only real way you're going to achieve that is with enforcement, or a police state. Hence why I can't agree with much of what the government is coming up with...