Money. I’m sure everyone has heard by now that 1% of Americans have more money than the entire 95% of the rest of us combined. The fact seems to shock many people, but honestly, I don’t mind. As long as we are free and not torturing or killing people or things without the most ironclad justifications, and we can live a modestly comfortable life in our homes, without starving or suffering unduly from disease, I am, at least perfectly content with someone else having as much money as they want. In fact, others can have whatever fetish they feel they need.
I don’t even mind if their fetish is a notion of power instead. Sure, you go have a great time making the laws we must live by, or enforcing them, as long as you must live by them too, and they conform both in letter and spirit to the boundaries we have agreed.
I’m curious how the new Michael Moore movie will portray Capitalism. Will he demonize it, or will he educate us? With Capitalism, like all academic constructs, the reality is, they are meant to be examined and studied — learned from — and only rarely taken as absolutes. They are meant to serve and better us, as humanity, not we them.
Right now a great deal of confusion is being generated through the people and mechanisms of this self-important abstract system, called Capitalism, that we have adopted. So much confusion is generated that we are even turning on ourselves. In essence, it is a holy war we wage, caught up in our own creation, adopted within our cultural myths and beliefs. And on all sides, real human lives are sacrificed in growing numbers upon the alters of progress. But what progress, really?
Is our measure of progress and success an accumulation of numbers, like the bizarre old woman whose attic gets filled to overflowing by her obsessive accumulation of trinkets? Or is true progress and success measured differently, more acutely, as the astonishing and previously impossible undertakings we have shouldered for one another in the interest of progressing our species onward to a better life for us all?
In a very real sense, Capitalism is a primitive structure, rooted in our most primal, and even barbaric instincts: conflict, gaining advantage, greed and strict boundaries. I can imagine no quality of Capitalism that cannot be reduced to at least one of those four. It is a reflection of our current world. It is a reflection of our beliefs, a reflection of work, and a reflection of nations. For most of us, it is a reflection of ourselves, even more so than a religion will shape even the most devout among us.
So what about the big bad word used by politicians and money interests to throw the brakes on any policy, law or even idea that tries to give, even the smallest amount of our public money back to the people who need it most, the ultra poor and even the mostly poor now, middle class? That’s right, I’m talking about the “S” word; Socialism, which, through a long history of propaganda, conjures images of evil Communists, secret police with interrogation cells, constant phone taps on citizens, disappearances, torture, and the invasion of foreign countries around the world to promote their oppressive way of life. Oh, wait. Hmm. Is that us?
Of course, there will be some among us who will claim, through hopelessly wrong reasoning, that it is the few wisps of socialist thinking recently entering into our political dialogue, that is to blame for our descent into that same state we claimed was so evil – evil, that is, when it wasn’t us. But that state is us, committing wanton acts of evil, and we are not a Communist state, nor even by a long stretch, a Socialist state. States become evil when they try, at any cost, to maintain themselves, unchanged.
I am not advocating Socialism, nor any other political or economic abstraction. However, I am advocating a thorough exploration of modern ideas, as well as old ones. It is unlikely that any one system will be good. We know that reality rarely conforms to ideals. Socialism is flawed because it requires that we can genuinely trust one another to adhere to the best principles for us all, through rational means. But unfortunately, we still have far too many liars. We still have far too many people who want things for themselves alone, despite the existence of other people. As long as this is true, more modern and humane systems like Socialism will be in danger of exploitation. We must learn to be honest, and care for each other, and not just in our own self-interest. But that does not mean we should avoid taking steps in new directions. In fact, we should. How better to learn, than to explore, with both our minds and hearts set to the task?
Pure Capitalism does not fulfill our social needs.It is wholly inadequate, and its shortcomings even go a long way to fostering ill for us, socially. Good does not arise, on its own, from greed. Capitalism is not wholly evil, either. But it impact upon our social structures must be tempered by something more humane than mathematics. It must be tempered by our desire to help one another, which all of us, when we are interviewed individually, possess a strong predisposition to do. We want to help others. And there is nothing wrong with that. And there is nothing wrong with making certain that those among us, who have benefited so greatly from us, also, to some degree, return benefit to us. There is nothing wrong with saying that ethics are every bit as important as profit. Doing so is a large step up in our social evolution and is one we are beginning to understand, and believe, despite the monumental efforts of purely capital interests.
Capitalism is not freedom. Nor is Socialism freedom. In the US, our notions of freedom arise from our founding documents, from which all subsequent law must, in theory, conform. Capitalism and Socialism are abstract ideals that we can look to and study, adopting those qualities we feel are right, for a given circumstance. I have heard it said by both liberals and conservatives, that the economic bailout of Wall Street was an act of socialism for the rich. That is not Socialism. Socialism would have that money go to all of us, not the banks, to pay off the mortgages. It was, instead, an act of Capitalism, and a telling example of how Capitalism can actually undermine a democracy – just as the trends in health care reform are also currently headed: a boon for capital interests, at our expense, with possibly something beneficial for us, coming down the road.
You know, I have given up being surprised by how many things lead me back to the general exploration of our universe, beyond all these ridiculous machinations. Those of you who follow NASA are familiar with the Augustine Report, commissioned to study NASA and its programs, then report back to the government. The preliminary report suggests that NASA needs more funding. And the GAO finds that NASA has not done enough to “develop all the elements of a sound business case” for its current human space flight plans.
If we used the money we have spent on the wars, and money we spend on the military in just one year, we would fully fund NASA, and more, for over 100 years, which is twice the agency’s current age. What “sound business case” is there for these wars, let alone humanitarian justification? The justification is oil, and its impending scarcity, and subsequent rise in value, which is also at odds with alternative energy development. Capital interests should not trump humanity’s interests. The question should not be how much money can we make, but rather, how much better can we make ourselves, through our understanding of each other and the universe we inhabit?
Imagine what we might come to understand and accomplish if just some tiny fraction of money were diverted from our military industry, or we decided to transform our military industry into scientific research? If we could just change from thinking in terms of offensive capabilities, to defensive, the savings would be enormous. The resources we could devote to energy, science and exploration could begin a new renaissance in our human endeavor.
I was listening to an astronaut speak a few days ago about his first sight of the Earth during a space walk. He’s a big, goofy Italian from New York, with all the trimmings. He said, it’s one thing when you look at the Earth through the window of a spacecraft, but it’s another thing altogether when you see the Earth clearly, right before your face. This big lug said, he looked at the Earth and words can’t even describe how beautiful it is. He looked away from it and thought to himself, God didn’t mean for anyone to ever see this. Then he looked again. And he thought, this is what Heaven must look like, watery-eyed, and worried that the moisture would do bad things in his suit, and that he would be given hell by his fellow astronauts now for telling this story. And then he thought no, this is not what Heaven must look like, this is what Heaven is.
It’s time we pull our heads out of money, power and war. It’s time we pull our heads out of never-ending ideological struggles that do not elevate us. It is time we devote ourself wholly to our own betterment as a species, not just to our own betterment. It is time we evolve. It is time we remember how, to show the way, by our example.