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The Fallacy of the Morality of Capitalism

September 20, 2011

As a person who tries to be honest in all their dealings, becoming a self-described ‘information junkie’ has included some rather disturbing revelations, the foremost of which is this: we live in a world where dishonesty is more profitable than honesty.

I’m not saying that the only way to become successful is through dishonesty, because that would be a patently foolish claim, nor am I attempting to assert that Capitalism is inherently immoral. Our economy is composed of an unfathomably large number of predominantly honest business enterprises. The problem is that we have a society that has somehow convinced itself that economic success is its own moral compass, and when you believe that acting in your own best economic interest is the most moral course of action you can take, you are falling into a pit of nihilistic, ego-driven self-delusion that promotes the *cough* bending of the truth.

What I am saying is this: if you take two men who are in all other ways equal and put them in exactly the same situation in our society, the one who is willing to lie through their teeth will, more often than not, come out better off than the one who tells the truth.

To a certain extent our self-delusion is driven by societal programming: we have been told that materialism, aestheticism, and greed are the foundation of our country’s economic vitality, and once you hear a lie enough times, you start to believe it. We believe that behaving as rational and self-interested actors makes our actions morally viable, regardless of what those actions may be.

By the age of 10, the average American child has seen over 10,000 advertisements. Our formative years are becoming overburdened with a constant flow of materialistic propaganda doing its best to convince us that without these things that they are trying to sell us, we will not be happy. The real problem is that, once a person hears this lie enough times, they may start to believe it.

Mind you, I recognize that I am a complete hypocrite. I love all of this stuff that I have acquired. As I sit here using my personal computer to complain about the moral deficiency of capitalism I cannot help but think of how privileged I am to even possess a computer, let alone to have seen the things I have seen and to have done the things I have done. It is difficult to become accustomed to a certain quality of life and then to actively deny yourself the same benefits to which you suddenly feel entitled. While I may recognize the truth of this fact, I find that I cannot resign myself to that fate which our materialistically driven society has tried so much to advance; I will not resign myself to acting solely out of my own self-interest.

But that is the problem. All of our economic structure is dedicated to telling the average American not only that they need stuff to be happy, but that they deserve that stuff. And don’t kid yourself, they are preaching to the choir; we all (or at least the vast majority of us) have some arbitrary and selfish sense of entitlement to the American Dream, to this lifestyle.

There is an immense amount of money to be made in convincing the American public that  they deserve a certain thing, regardless of what that thing may be, and it only gets easier to convince them if you are willing to lie in order to do it. If there was ever a citizenry that was eager to believe they deserve whatever it is that is being sold, it is us. We love to buy into their narrative that we deserve our due compensation for just existing, for just being an American.

Even our politicians have to accede to our exceptionalism and our greatness before they can be considered electorally viable. Even just apologizing for the many, many fucked up things that have been done in the name of America is considered unpatriotic. And that’s ridiculous, America, because we do do a lot of messed up stuff, and just being America doesn’t make us above reproach. But I digress.

The economic forces that be have trillions of dollars at stake as they sell us these narratives of our own exceptionalism and entitlement. But we buy them, and we buy them wholesale.

Democracy is a system dedicated to the idea of accountability. Accountability of businesses and corporations to the government, accountability of the government to  the people, and accountability of all involved to the laws of the land. But America, we have to be honest. I don’t care that in some cases honesty is a financial liability; self-interest is not morality, regardless of what delusions we may have forced upon our collective consciousness.

I am not saying that capitalism is bad. I am saying that capitalism is what we make it, and right now we are allowing it to be exploited in all the wrong ways by all the wrong people. Capitalism provides no moral weight in and of itself; the moral viability of any capitalistic society is the aggregate moral viability of all those living within the society.

We have allowed corporations to appeal to our materialistic apathy, and it has allowed our nation, as a whole, to become an arguably destructive force in the world. Having all thisstuff does not make us right. The hard truth is, America, we are not always right, and until we are willing to accept this truth, we are relegated to a position of moral incoherence.

America is a great country, a powerful country, and a global leader on many fronts. But being a great country does not, by default, make us a good country, and being good takes effort and sacrifice, and I am not yet convinced that we have what it takes to reverse the damage done to our society by our own greed.

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From → Economics, Politics

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