Idealism vs. late-stage Capitalism
I have a really smart friend who’s the epitome of pragmatism, the type who has well thought out ideas that actually make sense for improving the economy. I honestly envy that type of thinking. I can put the pragmatism hat on for work, because I’m paid to do so and because I believe it makes life less miserable for everyone involved. Alas, when it comes to my views on societal issues, I’m a hopeless idealist.
I don’t want a compromise. I want a full-blown shift in our priorities and our views as a species. I want people to realise we’re each but specks of dust orbiting a giant rock through the infinity of space, stop catering exclusively to their own egos, and want to work towards a post-scarcity society where we respect other living creatures and make caring for our planet’s ecosystem a first concern.
I don’t want half-assed fixes for a late capitalist system that’s inherently unfair and unsustainable in its demand for infinite growth amidst finite resources. I want fucking Star Trek The Next Generation.
I believe Gene Roddenberry had a strong message to convey beyond mere entertainment, one which we’ve relegated to the realm of sci-fi idealism because it’s difficult to hear: you could be living in this society right now. If each and every one of us overhauls their priorities, the solutions become surprisingly simple. Definitely not easy to implement after so many decades of wealth hoarding and continuous make-believe growth mentality — but simple.
If people are willing to throw themselves into something that contributes to bettering everyone else’s lives or our understanding of the world, rather than striving towards accumulating wealth, we can boldly go where no man has gone before: to the land of true equality of means and opportunities.
The pragmatist types regard my views with a sort of gentle condescension, as if I were a child whose pure and adorable take on the world could only ever hope to serve the purpose of endearing the adults. Some challenge my views — and I obviously prefer those to the ones who pat me on the head and move on, deeming my naive female brain incapable of ever comprehending the complexities of the world.
Obviously, my friend is the former, so we do share some interesting debates. Undeniably, all of his pragmatic solutions actually work and would help balance things out. They come with step by step instructions and you could easily see them happening with a modicum of effort and coordination. In contrast, all of my solutions are somewhat vague and involve a complete overhaul of the way we do things. Neither of these traits speak in my favour; people prefer ready-made and low-effort.
However, I’m here to argue that it’s not our job as ‘the people’ to come up with solutions. Of course, some among us will be fit for such a task and naturally rise to the occasion. But, for the rest of us, our job is to envision and demand change.
My views are not utopical and implausible because what I’m proposing is impossible to achieve, but rather because not enough people have made the leap of faith. If I had half the analytical people who treat me like a joke genuinely want to make a full ideological revamp possible, I’m fairly certain we could find ways to make it work before having finished our beers. But they don’t want to devote time to thinking up ways of making it work, they want to devote time to persuading me that I have no idea what I’m talking about.
Still, my observations are pretty logical, if you’re willing to set your own individual ass aside for a moment and concentrate on the implications shit has for other people and for the planet. You know, stop saying that it’s unfair for ‘burger flippers’ to be awarded the same living wage as ‘people who’ve worked hard to obtain an education and have dedicated themselves to a career’ and start saying ‘in a society as advanced as our own, everyone deserves food, shelter, medical care, and the opportunity to thrive within a community’.
Whether the minimum wage is anything more than a bandaid on a gaping wound teeming with flesh-eating bacteria is debatable, however the need to ensure basic needs are being met for everyone is not.
Career guy might have worked hard to get to where they are, but hard work comes in about last on the list of prerequisites for attaining a comfortable middle class status. What you actually need to rise out from under the crushing weight of poverty and lack of access to education is some measure of privilege or an insane amount of luck — or better yet, both. Hard work is nice to have, but with enough of the former, you can get away with surprisingly little actual effort. We’ve all seen it happen.
I’m not sure how anyone could claim capitalism to be an arrangement of equal opportunities when education costs as much as it does or when ‘burger flippers’ are essential to the functioning of urbanised society while being simultaneously treated as if it’s their own fault for having ended up performing this task. Nor am I sure how so many people can think themselves above the intellectual and emotional complexities of a hyena while at the same time trying to apply a survival of the fittest mentality to 21st century society.
So, own ass and immediate ego-driven needs aside for a moment, here is my list of common-sense observations:
1.As long as people have the option of working towards owning a private jet at the expense of other people and the planet, they will do so. If there’s ever to be enough to go around for everyone, including sufficient air to breathe, then this bollocks, along with everything it entails, needs to stop being an option.
Yes, she said there should be a capping point for the accumulation of shit and she meant it. Once you reach max level, you should be made to stop levelling to allow for others to fucking survive.
Now automatically stroke your gun for comfort and chant the phrase ‘my freedoms’ as I reiterate that this exercise isn’t about you, Steve, it’s about minimising suffering and maximising happiness for the entirety of our species and for all of the creatures we share our planet with. If your response to that is ‘I prioritise my individual convenience over other people’s wellbeing/the planet’, you’re a hopeless dickhead, Steve. Bonus points if you concurrently believe we should ban abortions because save the children. I mean, if you’re not feeling the cognitive dissonance drag you into a pit of tarry self-questioning over there, just click away now and go fire your freedom rifle at an empty beer bottle or something.
2.In a society that’s evolved to the point of sending giant penises into space, basic necessities like food, water, shelter, and medical care (yes, dental and vision included) should be non-negotiable basic human rights.
If you’re confused as to how that could ever be feasible, please see point #1.
I’m not at all maths-inclined like you pragmatist types, but I’m pretty sure someone has already calculated how many billions of people could be delivered from the misery of abject poverty if they ate Jeff Bezos.
3.The goal of work should be to minimise suffering and maximise access to resources and knowledge for all — not to accumulate wealth. In other words, ambition should be driven by the collective good, rather than self-interest.
This is only conceivable if we shift our thinking towards meeting the basic needs of all as per point #1, even if this hinders Kim Kardashian’s access to private island vacations.
The shift is arguably also in your own best interest. The absurd lack of meaningfulness and genuine human connection that results from working most corporate jobs is making a huge part of the 1st/2nd world population more depressed than we’ve ever been. There’s a significant correlation between a sense of purpose and mental wellbeing. Meanwhile, a huge chunk of what we consider to be successful careers is intrinsically meaningless outside of the alienating confines of the capitalist command of ever-increasing consumption.
If you can find meaning in bug testing a corporate time management application, I’m genuinely happy for you. Yet, for a lot of people, feeling like their work is contributing to society or helping to create a better future for upcoming generations is crucial to their sense of purpose and emotional health. I believe farming sustainably or raising happy chickens that live in constant contact with the ground is more meaningful than cold-calling people in hopes of getting them to invest with your company, because it fulfils a basic need and soothes your reptile brain via constant direct interaction with the natural environment we’ve evolved to live in. I’m pretty sure at least 99% of people who are forced to subsist by doing the cold-call investment routine feel exactly the same.
Shifting the purpose of work from producing more money to feed the machine to producing better outcomes for all humans and for our planet is crucial to the advancement of our society. With this mindset, no job is to be relegated to a ‘lesser class’ of human beings who end up pulling out their own teeth because they can’t afford a dentist.
With the minimise suffering mentality at the forefront, we need people to ‘flip burgers’ just as much as we need people to perform life-saving surgery — and definitely more than we, no offence meant we all do what we have to do to survive under Capitalism, need people to code timesheet applications.
4. Despite our stubborn insistence to the contrary, this planet does not ‘belong to us’, we just live on it. The mere act of being a bipedal species in possession of a debit card doesn’t automatically grant us the right to fuck shit up in an incessant pursuit of our own immediate interest.
Other sentient beings live here as well and, especially seeing as they don’t share our ‘superior cognitive skills’, their wellbeing needs to become a first concern. I mean ethical treatment of all animals over human convenience, conservation efforts, reforestation, prioritisation of natural habitats over highways and mansions, the tiring and almighty-Capitalism encumbering reforms needed to drastically reduce pollution at the corporate and industrial level — all that shit that scientists have been suggesting for decades, with Don’t Look Up level lack of success.
Animals might not share as many opinions or wear a smartwatch, but this planet belongs as much to a stray, abandoned dog as it does to you.
Should you instinctively find this notion outrageous, I urge you to explore the work of Noah Harari for a much more eloquently constructed case than I could ever hope to make — or, at the very least, spend a minute of your life asking yourself why. Why is your pain inherently more valid? Why are your desires automatically more important than another creature’s wellbeing?
I don’t believe in any gods whatsoever, but if yours has granted you inherent superiority over everything else on this planet, I’ll gladly debate your God over this, because the concept is morally abysmal and actively leading to a human-induced mass extinction event, as well as, ironically, to the destruction of the very ecosystems we depend on to survive as a species.
5. War is a barbaric, pointless drain on resources. I will settle for nothing short of humanity unanimously agreeing to create a global defence fleet in the event of alien invasion and resolve our own differences through more evolved and less resource-intensive means, because nothing short of that makes any sense in the year 2022.
I don’t care that your God is telling you to force your religion upon other people at gunpoint. I don’t care that you believe something gives you right of ownership over a piece of land someone else is currently occupying, see point #4. I don’t care that those people have oil and you want it. None of it is genuine justification for anything.
If we stop believing in the fallacy of our self-entitlement, we will immediately realise that these and many other differences can be peacefully resolved.
You can worship and live in the way that feels meaningful to you without enforcing it on anyone; nothing gives you the right to try and dictate how someone else lives if it’s not directly impacting you and no, you being offended by two men holding hands doesn’t count as direct impact. Should they ever actually ask, you can tell your children that the human experience of love is varied and complex and we should respect our fellow humans without prodding in their business when their business doesn’t concern or affect us.
You can find ways of coexisting with your neighbours in the spirit of equality and compassion.
You can negotiate with your fellow humans to fairly gain access to more resources to the betterment of all humans.
No human differences have ever been resolved by us warring over them; they’ve been resolved by compromise and communication, once resources on both sides had been sufficiently depleted by aforementioned warring to push us into the ‘last resort’ that is discussing our terms with arguments rather than with M4 carbines.
We could skip the mutual resource draining and dick measuring, along with the loss of life and nationwide trauma that come with them, and just get to the diplomacy part.
These are, in summary, my demands. Is all of this going to be easy? Well, no, but it’s going to get easier if instead of thinking up excuses for why it can’t be done, we start thinking up ways of making it all happen, one baby step at a time. Are there challenges and an entire host of things to figure out if any of this is to work? Duuh.
But what we’ve currently got going on is making a lot of humans miserable, inflicting immeasurable amounts of suffering upon other creatures and destroying our planet at an alarming rate, all in the name of protecting Elon Musk’s right to continue amassing capital as our oceans are becoming barren, our ice caps are melting, our sun is turning into a deadly laser, and our animal cousins are dying tragic drawn-out deaths at the hands of our convenience.
Too much has already been sacrificed to the altar of our self-interest and self-entitlement. It’s time for empathy and respect to take the lead. If that makes me a hopeless idealist, I’ll happily die on this hill. I’m by no means perfect, in fact I’m shamefully far from it, but I want to keep striving to better myself in relation to the world and to the other creatures I share it with, and will keep urging you to join me in this quest.
Here’s to the fellow utopians who will fight the only war worth waging along with me: the war on the supremacy of human selfishness. May we never become pragmatic for longer than it takes to get out of the planning cycle meeting. May we be joined in finding ways to do better by as many sceptical pragmatists as we can find ways to enlist the much-needed help of. May our children never know the nihilistic pain of attending a planning cycle meeting.
Thank you for taking the time to debate with me today and please feel free to share your thoughts. This all can only get better if we put our minds and ‘empathy muscles’ together. Until next time, stay safe, nerds.