Saturday, April 14, 2007

Capitalism is War

     I think everyone, regardless of their political and religious orientation, hopes for a future in which all of humanity lives in harmony with each other. We hope for a world free from war and the human suffering it entails. But these goals can never be met as long as mankind lives beneath the shadow of capitalism.

     What's so bad about capitalism you ask? And how the hell is it comparable to war? To begin with, let's look at the conventional wars, those fought with formal militaries. What starts them? Perhaps every one was started due to a conflict over resources. They, for the most part, were not fought over religion, as an apolitical atheist may hope you to believe. Religion is often used to placate the masses or to aid in convincing them to participate in the slaughter of their fellow human beings, but the initial motivation is always material in nature. Kings and emperors, the predecessors of todays' ruling capitalist class, started wars with the intent of increasing their material wealth. They have always had others shed their own blood for their material comfort, and if they could not convince their people to fight by calls to religion, patriotism, and the defense of "freedom","democracy", "order", and "civilization" then they resort to drafts and other forced service in their interests.

     Now perhaps this doesn't seem all that bad to some people. After all, eventually a nation will emerge the final victor, having either obliterated its adversaries or having reduced them to a powerless extension of themselves. And then war, outside of minor scuffles and "interventions", will be over. However, this is not the case in my opinion, because I think the mere existence of capitalism necessarily puts humanity in a constant state of war.

    What is war? War is a conflict of interests, in which (typically) one party wins and one party loses. The losing party's quality of life is diminished, and to the victor goes the spoils. But what is capitalism but the glorification of conflicting interests? Capitalism, not by systematic imperfections, but by design is a system that puts people's interests opposed to each other. Worker versus owner, buyer versus seller. These interests are necessarily in opposition. There can be no peace and we cannot work toward common goals if our goals are not the same, if one of us being better off necessarily means that the other is worse off. These conflicts of interests and their outcomes are just as serious as those from more conventional wars. Those who starve, suffer from inadequate health care, curable diseases, and the like do so whether they are the losers on the battlefield or if they are the losers in the marketplace, whether suffering is delivered to them at the point of a gun or handed down to them from the "invisible hand of the market". Even in the "first-world" countries where hard-won labor reforms exist they are constantly under attack by those who lose profit by their very existence. The daily demand for more work from the workers at less pay by the employers and more pay for less work by the workers puts every individual in the society in constant conflict with others.

     I don't believe that anyone is inherently "bad" (if only because no objective definition for the word exists), but I do believe that people act in their own interests, whether they be of a material nature or not. This is a fact that cannot be avoided. So it is crucial that our political and economic structures tie people's interests together rather than set them opposed to each other. No one can reasonably expect any system to be free from conflict, but if you ever hope to minimize it, you shouldn't be using a system that is actually built on it.


Mookie said...

I like to think of cooperation as constructive interference and competition as destructive interference. Maybe this analogy is not perfect, but it really drives the point home for me. The trillions of cells that make up each of our bodies did not get that way by competing with each other.

The only time competition is justified is when resources are limited. The earth is a finite system, so it would seem legit to compete. However, although finite, the earth is more than adequate to satisfy all the worldly needs of humans. There is no need for us to fight over food, water, energy, etc. Which means there really is no need to have wars at all. What really needs to change is the creation, distribution, and utilization of the goods we have now, mostly to make them more sustainable and widely available.

Elliott said...

You've hit the nail on the head - there's no new thinking here because this is such an obvious and consistent flaw throughout society. The problem, however, isn't simply economic or political. I think we're still very much rooted in individualism as a basic psychology.

This is a great dilemma for our age, I think. While we value individual liberties highly, there seems something deeply imperfect about individual competition. There are very few cases where both have been satisfied.

Howard said...

"What is war? War is a conflict of interests, in which (typically) one party wins and one party loses."

Seems like you left something out here... e.g., the use of violence. War as I think of it always involves the use of deadly force. Leaving out the violence aspect allows redefinition of war to just about any conflict, however minor.

Delta said...

War as I think of it always involves the use of deadly force. Leaving out the violence aspect allows redefinition of war to just about any conflict, however minor

Yes Howard, violence is an important element. But the capitalist system is in fact maintained by force and either violence of the threat of violence. In the US and other western countries capitalism is actually what people believe that they support, due to effective propaganda both for capitalism and against communism (greatly helped by the totalitarian USSR), and so in this case it doesn't need to be maintained by force. But in times of struggle, say America around the turn of the 20th century or regions of Europe throughout the 20th century capitalism was indeed maintained, or imposed, by force on populations that were opposed to it. The state's military and police don't just say that they uphold the law and property "rights" but they indeed do, and with force.

Another way to look at it I suppose would be in analogy to a naval blockade or some other act of war which deprives citizens of the things they need without actually killing anyone (unless of course they attempt to break the blockade). Likewise, capitalism prevents people from getting what they need, and there isn't any violence unless you attempt to "break the blockade". I mean sure, as long as you follow the laws that the politicians (which are extremely responsive to capitalist interests) make, then there is no violence. But if you oppose the system, there damn sure will be.

But regardless, you do have a valid point in that any conflict could perhaps be termed a "war" because violence undermines any relationship that people don't come to on mutual agreement. As an example, if I think this apple is mine and you think it's yours then we have a conflict. If we can't agree on a solution then obviously the deciding factor will be of a physical nature. If you're bigger than me then you get the apple, either because you can take it violently or perhaps you are so much larger that the threat of violence (and my knowing of certain defeat) is enough to secure the apple. But I think this differs from actual war and capitalism because this is a physical conflict on a small scale, whereas war and capitalism are performed on a very large scale and by institutions that are made for that purpose.

Brock Tice said...

What do you propose as an alternative? Will it improve people's quality of life, or decrease it? On what grounds do you base your answer?

Delta said...

Hi Brock,

I appreciate your response. I'm currently preparing for a presentation I am giving on Tuesday, so I may not get back to you in detail until then. But I plan on addressing your question =)

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