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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 9/7/19

Capitalism, Socialism, and Existential Despair

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Message Chris Wright

Capitalism will never be overcome and our collective existential anguish is perfectly appropriate
Capitalism will never be overcome and our collective existential anguish is perfectly appropriate
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Decades ago, Edward Said remarked that contemporary life is characterized by a "generalized condition of homelessness." Decades earlier, Heidegger had written that "Homelessness is coming to be the destiny of the world." Around the same time, fascists were invoking the themes of blood and soil, nation, race, community, as intoxicating antidotes to the mass anonymity and depersonalization of modern life. Twenty or thirty years later, the New Left, in its Port Huron Statement, lamented the corruption and degradation of such values as love, freedom, creativity, and community:

Loneliness, estrangement, isolation describe the vast distance between man and man today. These dominant tendencies cannot be overcome by better personnel management, nor by improved gadgets, but only when a love of man overcomes the idolatrous worship of things by man"

Over a hundred years earlier, Karl Marx had already understood it was capitalism that was responsible for all this collective anguish. "All fixed, fast-frozen relations" are swept away," he wrote in the Communist Manifesto, "all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned"" Home, community, the family, one's very relation to onesel fall are mediated by money, the commodity function, "reification," exploitation of one form or another.

And now here we are in 2019, when the alienation and atomization have reached such a state that it seems as if the world is in danger of ending. The phenomenology, the "structure of feeling," of living in this society is that everything is transient and "up in the air," human survival is in question, a hectored, bureaucratized anonymity chases us from morning till night, nothing really matters, no one gets their just deserts. Young people are refraining from having children. There is certainly no collective sense of belonging that's long gone. We're les e'trangers, passively consuming distractions as we wait for the other shoe to drop.

Meanwhile, we read of little else but agonized suffering, from children in cages to rainforests burning, from opioid epidemics to rampaging neofascists.

The case for socialism is usually made, rightly, from the perspective of its justice. It would be just to have economic and social democracy, for one thing because it is intrinsically right that people not be forced to rent themselves to a business owner who exploits them for profit but instead that they collectively control economic activities and distribute rewards as they see fit. Moreover, economic democracy, whether in the form of worker cooperatives or democratic government control, would essentially make impossible the extreme income inequality that corrodes political democracy and ultimately unravels the social fabric.

But it's also worth broadcasting the message that even from an existentialist point of view, our only hope is socialism. Certain types of conservatives (usually religious) like to complain about the demise of the family, the community, non-hedonistic interpersonal ties, and the sense of meaning in our lives, a demise for which they blame such nebulous phenomena as secularism, "humanism," communism, and liberalism. That is, everything except what really matters: capitalism, the reduction of multifaceted life to the monomaniacal pursuit of profit, property, and power. So these conservatives end up in the realm of fascism or neofascism, which promises only to complete the destruction of family and community.

The truth is that only socialism, or an economically democratic society in which there is no capitalist class, could possibly usher in a world in which the existentialist howl of Camus and Sartre didn't have universal resonance. Mass loneliness, "homelessness," and the gnawing sense of meaninglessness are not timeless conditions; they're predictable expressions of a commoditized, privatized, bureaucratized civilization. Do away with the agent of enforced commoditization, privatization, and hyper-bureaucratization-for-the-sake-of-social-controli.e., the capitalist class and you'll do away with the despair that arises from these things.

It's true that the current suicide epidemic in the U.S. and the mental illness epidemic around the world have more specific causes than simply "capitalism." They have to do with high unemployment, deindustrialization, underfunded hospitals and community outreach programs, job-related stress, social isolation, etc. In other words, they have to do with the particularly vicious and virulent forms that capitalism takes in the neoliberal period. But long before this period, widespread disaffection and mental illness characterized capitalist society.

Now, in light of global warming and ecological destruction, it's possible that humanity won't last much longer anyway, in which case capitalism will never be overcome and our collective existential anguish is perfectly appropriate. But nothing is certain at this point. Except that we have a moral imperative to do all we can to fight for socialism. "By any means necessary." It is what justice demands, and it offers the only hope that even we privileged people not to mention the less privileged majority can know what it is to truly have a home.

 

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4 people are discussing this page, with 5 comments  Post Comment


Chuck Nafziger

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Two viewpoints in this climate and financial crisis are expressed by the Transition movement and the Prepper movement. Both groups think the whole social fabric will be shattered by climate or financial collapse and are making plans for the future. Both groups think it prudent to stockpile foods and to home grow as much of it as possible. Also in common are survival skills, how-to books and lots of tools.

The groups diverge on how to handle the next part. Preppers go for guns and personal security, sometimes compounds of like minded people. The Transition people are more inclined toward local markets, share what you have.

When the oligarchs hide in their luxury bunkers and quit militarily governing us, will everyone turn into the violent monsters constantly preached to us by the mainstream media, or will people go back to more cooperative societies as we live out the endgame? I am planning for the latter because it makes today better.

Submitted on Saturday, Sep 7, 2019 at 7:22:15 PM

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Derryl Hermanutz

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Chuck asked if a Collapse would turn people into the monsters imagined by Hollywood. It might.

The economic system is driven by the financial system. The danger of financial collapse is not that the necessities of life are produced "for profit"; it is that they are produced "for sale". If the banking system fails, the bank-issued money (bank deposits) fails, and the bank-operated payments system fails. Aside from the cash we have in our pockets, there would be no money to pay each other.

If agricorporations cannot be paid, they will stop delivering food to cities. It doesn't matter how "cooperative" the city people are: they will run out of food within one to a few weeks. It takes months to grow more food, assuming you have the seeds and land and tools and know-how to do it - which most people don't have. And assuming it's not winter, when you can't grow food outside in much of the US.

Will starving people turn into "monsters" robbing and plundering to try to survive? Some people certainly will. And others will become "monsters" to defend themselves against the violent looters. But it won't matter, because most of them sill starve to death within one or two months.

The large scale organized "capitalist" economy produces and sells vast economic wealth, but ongoing functioning of the economic production and distribution system depends on the ongoing functioning of the money system. The money system is the weak link.

If the money system goes down, the whole economy Collapses, and most people will simply die because we do not live as self-sufficient farmers who produce for ourselves our daily necessities of life. When we can't "buy" water and food and electricity, we have no way to survive, unless the corporations who produce these necessities give their goods to the consumers for free.

Basically, our survival as consumers living in mass societies in cities depends on the ongoing functioning of the electrical grid, and the bank-operated electronic payments system. If either of those weak links goes down, so do we. A global EMP generated by a solar flare (like 1857) - or human-generated EMPs - could take down the electrical grid and fry all our electric motors and appliances and electronic devices, and our way of life would be over. We live a precarious existence dependent as we are on these fragile systems.

Submitted on Sunday, Sep 8, 2019 at 1:43:52 AM

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shad williams

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Reply to Derryl Hermanutz:   New Content

Waiting for any shoe to drop.

Submitted on Sunday, Sep 8, 2019 at 6:48:12 AM

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nelswight

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Derryl, I really appreciated (and respect) your comment. For me, at 90+, I don't

fear things much regarding me and my wife of 67 years, but should SHTF, my kids &

their children may well suffer. We have a remote acreage with good sustainability

here in Maine (soil and wood, etc) but the southern refugees could quickly overrun

us. I'd be happy to meet you and enjoy your company before the likely collapse.

And Shad is welcome to drop in, too.

Submitted on Sunday, Sep 8, 2019 at 1:49:42 PM

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Derryl Hermanutz

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Chuck asked if a Collapse would turn people into the monsters imagined by Hollywood. It might.

The economic system is driven by the financial system. The danger of financial collapse is not that the necessities of life are produced "for profit"; it is that they are produced "for sale". If the banking system fails, the bank-issued money (bank deposits) fails, and the bank-operated payments system fails. Aside from the cash we have in our pockets, there would be no money to pay each other.

If agricorporations cannot be paid, they will stop delivering food to cities. It doesn't matter how "cooperative" the city people are: they will run out of food within one to a few weeks. It takes months to grow more food, assuming you have the seeds and land and tools and know-how to do it - which most people don't have. And assuming it's not winter, when you can't grow food outside in much of the US.

Will starving people turn into "monsters" robbing and plundering to try to survive? Some people certainly will. And others will become "monsters" to defend themselves against the violent looters. But it won't matter, because most of them sill starve to death within one or two months.

The large scale organized "capitalist" economy produces and sells vast economic wealth, but ongoing functioning of the economic production and distribution system depends on the ongoing functioning of the money system. The money system is the weak link.

If the money system goes down, the whole economy Collapses, and most people will simply die because we do not live as self-sufficient farmers who produce for ourselves our daily necessities of life. When we can't "buy" water and food and electricity, we have no way to survive, unless the corporations who produce these necessities give their goods to the consumers for free.

Basically, our survival as consumers living in mass societies in cities depends on the ongoing functioning of the electrical grid, and the bank-operated electronic payments system. If either of those weak links goes down, so do we. A global EMP generated by a solar flare (like 1857) - or human-generated EMPs - could take down the electrical grid and fry all our electric motors and appliances and electronic devices, and our way of life would be over. We live a precarious existence dependent as we are on these fragile systems.

Submitted on Sunday, Sep 8, 2019 at 2:10:33 PM

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