Most of us might not consciously appreciate it, but we have been under the ideology of capitalism since World War 1. A lesser known fact was that socialism almost took over the world, as surely as the rising sun, only to collapse under its own weight at the very last minute. It is like saying today Facebook will be overtaken by Friendster. Just like back then, if you make such bold claim today, you will be ridiculed upon.
Capitalism, through its predecessor money, is about future growth. It promotes what is expedient, not necessarily what is beneficial to us. It is like a self sustaining monster. The entire engine of the world is geared towards this notion. Have you ever wondered why do companies only seek for quarterly growth or why does the society promote reproduction? It is as if we accept these as truths in life. Why isn’t company pursuing environmental sustainability as its ultimate goal? Why isn’t our society pursuing happiness of her members as the ultimate goal?
The other side of capitalism is consumerism. If the former ploughs back excess capital into our economy, then the system requires the latter as the addressable market. These interlocking forces feed into capitalism in a positive feedback loop.
1. On the balance, I think being on the capitalism side is better. What this means is one becomes a net investor. Step one. Spend less than what you earn. Step two. Invest that excess back into the system. Consume less, invest more.
2. One might argue passionately that capitalism brings about the advancement of science. This is true but it also means that one has taken an emotional stance on the matter. It is my observation that when we get too emotionally attached to a view, it only means we have overzoomed in on a particular matter. The corrective solution to this then is to zoom out to capture the bigger picture. Meaningful distance to see all the parts to the matter but in a more dispassionate fashion. Science is able to explain and solve say diabetes. We all celebrate this kind of scientific advancement and use this reasoning to defend capitalism. But this is only as far as capitalism allows for it. Have you ever wondered that if we really want to cure diabetes, then removing sugar is the most direct and practical solution. But this will not sit well with capitalism. Recall earlier that it needs to feed on consumption and spending. Meaning to say, the system will allow, in fact encourage you to consume sugar and then provide help (another form of consumption if you realize) when you require it. Capitalism is about what is expedient, not necessarily what is beneficial to you.
3. Another modern day example that is easily observable today is our obsession with travelling. At its best, travelling is just another form of spending (a creation of capitalism) but it will not help you find the meaning to life. To paraphrase Yuval Noah Harari who said it best in his outstanding bestseller book, Homo Deus, “the elite of ancient Egypt spent their fortunes building pyramids and having their corpses mummified but none of them thought of going shopping in Babylon or taking a skiing holiday in Phoenicia.”
Understanding this structure we are in is the first step inching towards finding meaning in our life. This will also cut down unnecessary experimental time to discover what our heart desires. And hopefully, along the road, we are spared from the snares capitalism has laid before us. May the odds be in our favour, forever.
“Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius—and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction.” E. F. Schumacher, British economist. (1911-1977)