Posted by: atowhee | November 16, 2020


This fine essay on capitalism v. democracy in the current Harper’s got me thinking–always a bad sign on a rainy Monday.

I am not naïve enough to think there is a social or political organization that our species could build that would be kindly, safe & sustainable on this planet.  Not royal rule nor communism nor fascism nor nationalism nor some form of democracy—all can and often do lead to horrific crimes against fellow man and planet alike.  Forget Utopias, let’s try for survival as that is what nature intends for each species.  Fight to live, as pillbugs, stegosaurus and trilobites have done before us.

During the current era the most important thing for people to realize is that capitalism is deadly. It was deadly four centuries ago as it spread slavery across the oceans.   It was deadly two hundred years ago as it spread the use of child labor in dangerous mines and mills and factories. It is deadly today as it destroys rain forests, coral reefs and the climate, and spreads toxic chemicals across land and sea. Sure, it has brought us medicines, technologies (like this blog), transportation of great speed—but often with no heed paid to the planetary costs.  Is Twitter really a positive thing?  Are airplanes really a great improvement over sailing ships which polluted so much less?  Nobody ever asked because there was efficiency and profit to be had.  Time is money and that means more is better, right?

Capitalism was deadly to indigenous peoples for five hundred years around the globe.  At various times for profit capitalism has slaughtered bison, beaver, elephants, egrets and hordes of other fellow creatures.  No form of life is seen, by capitalism, to have intrinsic value be it hominid, fungal or insect.  Every bit of nature is measured in capitalism’s scale—what can we do with it, can we profit by it?  Does it have market value?  If not, can we advertise enough to give it market value?  Like ivory buttons from African elephant tusks in the 19th Century–invented and marketed widely—no thought given to all the slaughtered elephants.  Their carcasses often left to bake and rot in the sun.

Labrador duck (long gone), labia, laborers—all have some or no market value at a given time or place, thus putting the thing somewhere on the capitalist’s value scale.  Under capitalism the things that are valuable are used, sold, bought, but that does not guarantee their survival.  Just ask the dodo or the right whale or Steller’s sea cow, the played out mines, the fished out seas.

To protect life on Earth from capitalism will take more than mere political action. Politics are too easily swayed and corrupted by huge piles of money, or promises thereof.  Few men (the gender problem) rise to power while maintaining any sense of humility or broad sympathy with other organisms.  Power corrupts as we have known for a very long time.

I have railed against the invention of the nation-state because it makes global co-operation almost impossible.  Further our species is not good at rational thought nor careful consideration of the future.  For this hominid experiment, which nature initiated some millions of years ago. to continue, our species needs to think and act very differently than we have through much of history.  War and dominance and skin color and profit must not continue to rule our collective activities. Religion must stop urging folks to turn their backs on this world in hopes of some future paradise in some ideal by-and-by. Here and now co-operation and careful consideration must replace profit and pleasure as life’s greatest goals.  What are our chances?

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