In the ongoing conversation about the structures and systems that govern our societies, there’s a recurring element that often stands as the elephant in the room – the profit motive. It’s a mechanism deeply rooted in our current capitalist framework, but its impact reaches far beyond simple economics. Contrary to what some may argue, it is not the profit motive itself that is the primary driver of all immorality and depersonalization, exploitation, and alienation in capitalism. Rather, the issue lies in how the profit motive and the Nietzschean “will-to-power” have been over-emphasized and allowed to overshadow and become detached from the both the spirit of community, and the principle of fundamental human equality, which is even mentioned in the United States Declaration of Independence.
This is not to suggest that the idea of capitalism ought to be absolved or championed as preferable to the natural social organizations we tend to fall into as humans in small groups — which are, in essence, forms of socialism, and usually non-market socialism as they not typically transactional or mediated by some symbolic representation of value or exchange.
Consider, for a moment, the principles of positive liberty and equal consideration. These ideals affirm our status as moral beings of equal inherent rights, deserving of dignity and respect in our communal relations. Yet, our capitalist structures seem to frequently undermine these principles as we are reduced to mere cogs in a machine, and wholly dehumanized. The system is inherently amoral, which is not the type of governing system for real humans with human needs and emotions, family bonds, goals, preferentes and desires. Our commitment to equality before the law – regardless of social or financial standing – appears to be threatened by the same forces that drive our economies. This corruption of equal consideration, I propose, is at the heart of human conflict and the primary cause of all our social dysfunction and suffering.
Now, we might be tempted to label capitalism, socialism, communism – essentially every form of human social organization that has ever been put into practice – as flawed and unworthy. While there is no “perfect system” again, it’s not the concepts themselves that are inherently problematic. Rather, it’s their implementation, particularly when detached from the spirit of community, that leads to their corruption and, consequently, our disillusionment with them. But the common ground that many of us have, regardless of what paradigm or quadrant of the political spectrum we are coming from, isn’t what we deeply and truly want for ourselves, and our loved ones. It’s so easy for us to get lost and upset in our disagreements about the best ways to achieve that, especially when what might improve things, for some folks situations would cause others to suffer, or make sacrifices. If we focus more on the fact that we all want the same things, fundamentally, and refocus on that, it’s very plain to see that, labels aside, we’d all enjoy living harmoniously within sustainable, cooperative communities, where every individual enjoys the equal respect, dignity, and opportunity and support to flourish creatively and intellectually, while contributing to a shared, high-quality standard of living that trends upwards. Against all odds, from one perspective, we can consider that this is the story of civilization itself, for better and worse – but it doesn’t and here with this model of capitalism in which we see and directly experience so many issues with the conflict of interest between profit, maximization and human welfare.
Embracing actions and behaviors rooted in this inherently socialist conception of community spirit are crucial for our evolution as a society. They civilize us, affirm life, and foster community building. On the other hand, actions or behaviors detached from this central ethos are akin to wolves in sheep’s clothing, or proverbial foxes in the hen-house. They are a corrupting influence that derails our efforts for developing social harmony and increased cooperation and cohesion.
Interestingly, it is this very corrupting influence that causes civilization to assume a paradoxical role. In its noble quest to be the cure for societal ailments, it has, unfortunately, mutated into the very disease it purports to treat. Civilization, as it develops, appears to be causing more harm than good, for many people, yet greatly benefitting only a few, forcing us to confront an uncomfortable reality. And while this may have always been the case throughout every civilization and social system, throughout history, to say “that’s just the way it is” is, and has always been the biggest cop-out. It’s either a sign of resignation, or worse, I thought terminating cliché repeated by those intent on conserving a system that they feel served and protected by. Suggesting that we ought to abandon efforts to improve quality of life for folks who are suffering because it would inconvenience some who are already well-off is clearly small- minded and counter-productive. Ironically that seems to go against the productive principles of Capitalism itself.
So where do we go from here? It’s clear that change is called for. Working folks on both ends of the spectrum are passionately outraged at being underserved and under appreciated in the way that we are currently doing things. Real sustainable change begins with acknowledging the power of organization – implementing that spirit of community and the principle of equality. If we can rebalance the scales, ensuring that the profit motive and the selfish will-to-power championed by neoliberal economists and neoconservative politicians do not overshadow these essential principles, we can exert pressure on and move towards a more just and inclusive, and FREE world.
In essence, it’s time ORGANIZE and engage in projects to reclaim the spirit of community, reinstate equality, and reshape capitalism. Only then can humanity move beyond what Thorstein Veblen called “ the predatory phase of human social development,” (as mentioned by Albert Einstein and his famous essay “Why Socialism?”).
Civilization has always aimed to be the cure for our societal ills, yet the best laid plans of mice and men always fail to take the complexity of human social interactions into account, and it often ends up becoming the disease itself. We need to be gentle in our approaches and allow buffers and flexibility to accommodate these unforeseen, unpredictable outcomes, yet never stop striving for a world that is not just productive but also equitable, just, enjoyable, inclusive, and kind.