We tend to throw around words like we know what we are talking about. Democracy, freedom, capitalism they fill the air like so many snowflakes giving definition to space. For those who feel the following is no more then mere semantics I ask them to trace the phylogeny of words to appreciate how they shape our thoughts, which give rise to our actions. Our singular and collective actions are rendering perhaps the most beautiful and profound corner of the universe into something only those tenacious and ubiquitous unicellulars can handle. Perhaps then we should take a look at some of these words to see if we can transform our actions to represent our morality.
So many quote Adam Smith but so few have read him. I do not intend to give a full exegesis of ‘the wealth of nations’ but I would like to point out some obvious contradictions between Smiths “capitalism” and our modern economy. The ‘invisible hand’, as Smith argues, is an emergent phenomenon producing harmony and cooperation for the whole. The wealth of the nation, then, emerges from basically self-interested individuals and group’s whether it’s the businessman trying to make a buck or the consumer trying to save one.1 Those who use this thesis to defend their selfishness and greed fail to make note of the context in which this ‘invisible hand’ operates. This context includes a free market and informed consumers. Neither existed in Smiths time and neither exist now. Generally consumers are either lied to or the truth is hidden from them. Billions of dollars are spent to entice the public to consume a particular good or service or just to consume in general. Clearly there is some truth in advertising but the lies are ubiquitous. Perhaps what’s worse is what’s left unsaid. Genetically engineered foods are not even labeled. The FDA tells the public its hdl and cholestrohal that are bad instead of admitting its processed food loaded with chemicals that’s making you fat, stupid and lazy. Enough with that.
The modern economy is far from a free market. So many complain that we are a welfare nation and blame the poor. I agree that we are a welfare nation but I blame the ultra rich. Trillions of dollars are spent propping up the established corporations. The most blatant examples are called bailouts. Smiths ‘invisible hand’ like Darwin’s natural selection would weed out those corporations that failed. After all the Phoenix needs ashes to rise again. Subsidies are just a different word for welfare. The world of Adam Smiths invisible hand has no room for subsidies. Subsidies alter the playing field giving some an unfair advantage while the uninformed consumers have no knowledge or power to select the most fit to create a harmonious and wealthy nation.
Capitalism has never existed and it likely never will. Like Darwin’s natural selection it is a fascinating hypothesis and it might work. But the world in which Smith envisioned his invisible hand is gone. His was a world of unfathomably large frontiers and ‘unlimited’ resources. Ours is a full world a world in which we have reached a ‘peak’ and as they say it’s all down hill from here. A proper economy for our time must take into account a declining resource base and must be based, not on gold or silver as had been done or faith as is now done but on the land. The new economy must be an ecological economy, an economy that has at its base the regenerative capabilities of the land.
Democracy is another word we love to use in a masturbatory fashion. Hell we even start wars because we love it so much. It is absolutely amazing to me the power of the propaganda system. By the time you make it as a hotshot writer for the NY times or an anchorman f NBC you’ve got the system in your bones. No one in the establishment (most people) question it. Democracy does not, has not, ever existed! Just ask those slaves in Athens, or Thomas Jefferson’s for that matter. People think its as if the right to vote for a representative makes a political system a democracy. Sure they say maybe technically we didn’t have a democracy at the beginning cause only rich white men could vote but now every citizen (over 18) can vote. I don’t mean to sound semanticle but the ability to vote for a representative does not make a democracy. The ability to vote on and be an active part of decision-making does. Yes to be a democracy the House of Representatives would be pretty full. A couple hundred million people connected over the Internet might not cause as many logistical problems. Yes it could work, or we could have smaller nation states. I think my town of Russell would make a good size country. I could know everyone! That might be too big to…maybe just my watershed. We don’t have a democracy we have a representation theocracy.
Once the veil of democracy falls light will be cast about so we can see just what the hell is going on. The idea in a representational theocracy is that the citizen is being represented. Any honest look into the situation shows clearly just who is being represented. We have a one party system called the business party, sure it might have two factions, the democrats and republicans, but that serves only to create the illusion of debate meanwhile allowing the agenda of the business community to eat its way into the future. Mussolini, the fascist dictator of Italy circa world war two defined fascism as the merger of the corporation and the state.
As the veil of capitalism and democracy washes from your eyes and the stark reality of a hegemonic and fascist system crystallizes realize it is you the citizen that creates this reality by supporting it. It has no power without you. The revolution comes by simply turning away from it and joining with your neighbors in the creation of a different reality.
It is interesting to note the parallels between Smiths economic invisible hand and Darwin’s ecological one. Smith, a Scot, preceded Darwin, an Englishmen, and influenced him greatly. Darwin had to confront a problem with his survival of the fittest. How could the harmony and intricacy of the ecosystems we see about us be explained by a nature ‘red in tooth and claw’? Darwin’s ‘natural selection’ is Smiths ‘invisible hand’. ↩
Nathaniel Larson is a father, brother and husband at The Draw, a land-based community on the south shore of Lake Superior, where he does his best to live a life in service to Gaia.