Extremely Enlightened Capitalism

I’ve been seeing a theme lately, cropping up: it’s easy to find evidence for what you want to believe, and much harder to find evidence for what you don’t. In other words, it takes very little to convince you of what you like, or what is comfortable, while it takes a good deal more to convince you of something more difficult. In Science, that’s probably a good thing. In a climate of secrecy, such thinking is a major handicap. In the society of capitalistic positivism, this thinking is equally problematic.

A few of you are crinkling your eyebrows right now, while your eyes go wide, poo-poo’ing this phrase capitalistic positivism I just threw out there. Nevertheless, I’m going to tell a story about it. Also, I’m only going to reference back to the academic canon a couple times, which some of you will find outrageous and irresponsible, while others will be thankful, while most, well, will have stopped reading by now anyway.

First, I’m sure we can all agree that Capitalism and Democracy are different things. Capitalism is an economic system. A Democracy is a form of government. It can be argued that Capitalism is necessary if a Democracy is to exist. However, it can just as easily be argued that a Democracy can exist just fine without Capitalism. Lately, there are also notions of Extreme Capitalism entering into the public dialogue, where Capitalism has grown in influence great enough to overshadow any pretext of Democracy, thus becoming, in practice if not word, a form of government with distinct differences from a Democracy.

Positivism normally refers to the philosophical school of thought grounded in empiricism where, it is believed, people can reach a point of understanding to become self-governing without the dominance of hierarchical structures. In this, people become self-regulating as a result of clear, rational thinking about the lives we inhabit together. These ideas influenced many people, particularly scientists in the last couple centuries, who become very idealistic during the rise of realism and measurable viabilities. These ideas had a strong influence on our modern sense of Socialism.

Proponents of Capitalism never liked many of the ideas in Socialism and Positivism. Socialism and Positivism, in their basic sense, tend to spread out and equalize economic factors toward maximum benefit for the most people. You can find many philosophical and economic works that rail against Positivism as a terrible hindrance. Capitalism does not really want people to be socially self-regulating. Capitalism wants money and businesses to be self-regulating, however. So in a sense, they pull down Positivism as it applies to people, while at the same time extolling the virtues of Positivism for businesses.

This is what I am talking about when I say Capitalistic Positivism and I am also saying a little more. I’m also talking about the more psychological and marketing-oriented meanings of positivity which come into play within an business organization and within their interactions with the things external from themselves. This positivism, like marketing, akin to propaganda, works to promote itself, and its utility, in the economic sense.

But Capitalistic Positivism is not based in the empirical. Certainly, it wields many of the tools of empiricism, such as mathematics in accounting and some economic theory. It also utilizes science in research, production, distribution and studies, both financial/economic and social/environmental. But with Capitalism, or Extreme Capitalism in place within the society producing the empirical endeavors and disseminating their results, these endeavors and results are prone to forces outside Positivism and empiricism. It is here that we enter the realm of marketing, propaganda and other factors that comprise the “sell”.

Businesses tend to focus on the Positive. This Positive does not have to be a positive truth or an actuality. Focusing on the Positive can include other factors, such as spin, the selective recollection or outright distortion of history, choosing the most favorable financial reporting to meet a given circumstance, the marginalization or denial of negative acts or outcomes combined with diversionary tactics toward places the organization would rather have people look, and the manufacture of empirical data interpretation that supports a desirable Positive outcome regardless of data and interpretive integrity or any preponderance of evidence to the contrary.

Within an organization, employees are encouraged, in a variety of ways, to focus on the Positive regardless of any perceived negative factors. This encouragement can be in the form of monetary or positional gains for the employee, appealing to a sense of personal or organizational loyalty, and if necessary, can enter into punitive measures of varying degrees. It is a strength of Capitalism, particularly Extreme Capitalism, which also permeates the social strata, that employees often arrive at the Positive outlook without any effort set forth from the organization. This behavior by employees who might be considered “good people” is most likely explained by the widespread of adoption of enlightened self-interest, which is, for the most part, a by-product of Capitalism, arising very near the same time as Comte’s notions of Positivism.

So here we have Positivism with its inherent characteristics of self-regulating people, being attacked by proponents of Capitalism who do not like the wealth-sharing tendencies of such things, but who, in turn, promote many of the aspects of Positivism for business organizations, but not for people. Many of these proponents have been very good at linking Capitalism to Democracy and have succeeded to such an extent that Capitalism is now equated to individual Freedom — and any discussions or arguments otherwise are pointless, since their same-ness is apodictic.

In this intellectually stifled climate, it is not surprising to find that corporations have more liberties and freedoms than individuals, are more readily able to escape prosecution under the law, and have far greater influence in our government than people do. And, since Capitalism is Freedom, we, as people, have no choice but to support this truth, if we value Freedom, while adopting, to a lesser degree, what pale ethics happen to fall out to us from the ongoing process of this “enlightened self-interest”.

Perhaps this is why we can free the Iraqis from tyranny, while occupying their country. Perhaps this is why we can take another country’s oil, for the benefit of more people in the world. Perhaps this is why we can know this, and so many other things, yet continue participating fully, without raising questions, in our enlightened and self-interested lives.

Anyone who has worked in an organization whose leaders have committed acts of wrong know how it goes down. First, the leaders show how no wrong was committed, going to great lengths to push credibility and truth to its limits, and draw focus back to the daily tasks that need doing. This usually works to contain the evil act, and nothing more is heard. But if this doesn’t work, the next step is to lie and, if possible, discredit and marginalize any person or force that continues to bring the act of wrong to light. At this point, most employees concerns are quelled, by fear and/or enlightened self-interest. If this also does not work, denials, alternative explanations, diversions with overwhelming information, and the revelation of crisis that needs immediate attention is used, which will hopefully, when all is said and done, leave everyone concerned numb enough to forget or not want to bother with anything more. Past this, depending upon the scrupulousness of the persons and their ability to circumnavigate legal constraints, other tactics may come into play. Only if this fails, will anything happen that migh undo an act of evil. And even then, an admission of any wrongdoing will be only the remotest possibility. Sadly, even if wrongdoing is proven or admitted, it is extremely unlikely that anything will be done to rectify the evil. Business as usual will simply start again, from that point.

Organizations, or rather the people directing them are experts at putting the past behind them and carrying on. Histories will be re-written, stories will be told, everything will pass, and everyone can now focus on the future instead of the past. In these scenarios, lessons are not likely to be learned. This is a process, and it is an old one. It is a product of, and it is perpetuated by the dubious ethics of enlightened self-interest. It is Capitalism.

I do not believe that Capitalism is inherently bad. I think it would be a difficult task to argue that enlightened self-interest is unethical. Unfortunately, Capitalism has moved forward, relatively unhindered, into Extreme Capitalism. It now spans any one nation’s borders. It is driven to profit at any cost, unrestrained by ethics. It cannot be influenced locally, except through acts which are large enough to draw the entire world’s attention for a protracted length of time — and those kinds of acts are likely to be deemed illegal by a given nation. Smaller acts will not draw the eye of multinational media organizations. And, if Net Neutrality is eliminated, as these multinationals are trying to do, it will most likely be very difficult to find even if you’re looking for it.

We are at a crossroads. Most all of us subscribe to this notion of enlightened self-interest. I think it would be a very good thing for us to stop and think, to ask ourselves, what is it about us that is enlightened? What is it that truly is, in our self-interest?

I’m certain if we do, we will discover that our enlightenment has something much more to do with caring for and helping of our fellow human beings. I’m certain we will see that our own self-interest is more truly in the interest of others. We are enlightened because we can see beyond ourselves. And just as certainly, we need to act in the interests of others, so that they, in turn, might have our interests at heart. There are many who would say, this is naivety. But you must believe. All significant change, is naive.

NOTE: I received a good deal of feedback that this piece was unclear. Another post exists which attempts to clarify.

  • Jeff Stewart

    Can’t say I agree with much of this one, Mark…

    And honestly I think there is an underlying issue not addressed here that figures significantly in any discourse regarding capitalism and its relationship to our system of governance:

    The united States of America are NOT a democracy. Never were, and never were intended to be. Our system of government is a representative republic, and the founders would have choked at the thought of the U.S. as a democracy… a place where “the tyranny of the masses” spells the end of individual liberty.

    Oh, wait… never mind! I forgot for a moment there that individual liberty died here some while ago.

    *sigh*

    Vote Ron Paul in 2008. At least ONE member of Congress actually understands the Constitution!

  • I can’t say that I agree with much of this one, either. I meant the “Extremely Enlightened Capitalism” as a bit of an irony. I did very much mean to draw connections between Positivism and Capitalism, though, and try showing the duplicity.

    I could very well be mistaken, but I think that a democracy is a very broad term, where the government is subject to the approval of these “masses” through voting, whether it’s direct voting like you describe, or representative voting, like in our republic.

    I do like how Ron Paul sounds on many things. But he worries me at the same time. For example, he says that free markets are “compassionate” and take care of people. We all know this is not true, as many things that are driven by free markets are causing widespread harm. And in a nit-picky way, too, cannot be true, since markets cannot experience emotion.

    And for me, it doesn’t matter if we technically have individual liberty and freedom or not — we are supposed to. We are supposed to, not corporations. The liberties and freedoms are for people.

    If we could put half as much emphasis on free people as we do on free markets, I think it would be a very, very good thing.

  • Jeff Stewart

    “If we could put half as much emphasis on free people as we do on free markets, I think it would be a very, very good thing.”

    The problem is that we are not really putting emphasis on EITHER, when we desperately need BOTH.

    =jeff