For more than a century now, there has been a mainstream argument between the merits of capitalism versus the merits of communism/socialism. Many people merely clump communism and socialism together as if they are the same thing and hold this fused ideology as the antithesis of capitalism. Of course, they aren’t usually very good at actually defining capitalism either.
Capitalism has a number of definitions. It can be used to describe the seemingly rational practice of using one’s private property to generate what would seemingly be more wealth as well as the seemingly irrational notion of burning up or otherwise disposing of natural resources and shared wealth in order to manufacture scarcity in order to have power over others. And, of course, for those with eyes to see, there is a rainbow of definitions between these two.
Of course, the differences between communism and socialism can be just as disparate. The harsh militaristic regimes that usually accompany communist governments are a far cry from the humanitarian efforts so often seen in socialist governments.
The battle between capitalism and whatever is not capitalism has been spurred on by two different “Red Scares”, when Americans were taught to fear with great cowardice any possibility of giving credibility to the likes of the soul-sucking ideology that is communism. Most of us clung more tightly to the idea of capitalism that was laid out before us, held our individuality as more important than being part of something bigger, and then we followed the latest trends and fashions in our pursuit of gathering as much personal property as we could. Basically, as is obvious by the currently elected leader of the country, we’ve cultivated a religion of ego aggrandizement, but in the minds of many of us, it’s either this or communism.
We’ve been conditioned to think in this black and white scenario since we first waged the war of good versus evil, but it has been made all the more ingrained by our political habit of only giving voice to two parties. However, just as people are opening up to the idea of ranked choice voting, in order to give the 30 different “Third” parties a voice, or to empower the citizenry of the United States to get involved in politics without having to conform to a party’s indebtedness and corruption at all, we also have the capacity to think beyond just our narcissistic obsession with capitalism and our fear of or anger towards having to share with others.
It’s true that capital is a real thing, and it is very important that it be used for the greatest advancement in well-being, particularly for those who have become caretakers of said capital by claiming it as their private property. However, in the face of the environmental degradation, pollution, and income inequality we’ve seen in the last fifty years since Milton Friedman won a Nobel Peace Prize for claiming that a corporation’s sole purpose was to make money for its stockholders, the owners of the capital, it’s fair to say that Uncle Milt, the Nobel committee, and the corporations who have plundered the planet since were all a bit myopic in the way they embraced this ideology.
And while I suppose that from a certain vantage point of consciousness, it is a wonderful thing that we’ve made so much money for these owners, that we’ve channeled so much of our human energy and natural resources into becoming little more than bits of light and information into a number of bank accounts so that those with access to those accounts can live lavish lives of luxury and leisure that the rest of us can’t even imagine, there’s also a downside to all of that. We’re running out of things to turn into money for the billionaires to hoard. We are running out of natural resources to burn up or turn into garbage so they can offer the conveniences we need in order to continue serving the owners as we’ve been conditioned to.
Granted, both communism and socialism also contribute to this trend of consumerism, and it may very well be that, as scientists have pointed out, humans are preternaturally disposed to create hierarchies. Nevertheless, rather than supporting any of the isms as religiously we have, we would be wise to open up to the notion that, although capital is important, it is not all important. Community and society are both just as important as capital, but none of them is the One True Way.
Humans are more complex than the either/or scenarios we offer one another or the petty competitions of spectator politics we’re offered in lieu of actual leadership. What if humans still have the capacity to innovate beyond capitalism, socialism, and communism altogether so that they will join feudalism and mercantilism on the scrap heap of history? What if we continue to innovate beyond the isms?