Sunday, November 20, 2011

Capitalism's lack of compassion

Karen Armstrong, TED Prize winner, a powerhouse of a thinker, and the driving force behind the Charter for Compassion, says that when we see suffering, we become compassionate, and we inherently lose our ego. We lose our will to be competitive, and rather, we become empathetic and think to ourselves, "That could be me." Rifkin says that this is exactly how our brains have evolved to function through the development of mirror neurons. We are social beings, just like ants and bees and the great apes. Then why have we built a culture and society based on competitiveness, expertise, centralisation? Why intellectual property? Indeed, why inequality?

We have been sold on the cultural traits of capitalism, competitiveness, and individualism. We have been given very little space and time to think for ourselves, and think for the collective good. This can seem like a ploy then, because if we are kept from thinking, we are kept from being observant, and we are kept from being compassionate and empathetic. Instead, many of us want to be the one percent.

Christopher Ketcham's, in his essay The Reign of the One Percenters from the current issue of Orion, writes:
The literature of the psychosocial effects of status competition and anxiety, to which Wilkinson’s work is only the latest addition, points to a broad-stroke portrait of the neurotic personality type that appears to be common in consumer capitalist societies marked by inequality. I see it all around me in New York, most acutely among young professionals. The type, in extremis, is that of the narcissist: Stressed, to be sure, because he seeks approval from others higher up in the hierarchy, though distrustful of others because he is competing with them for status, and resentful too because of his dependence on approval. He views society as unfair; he sees the great wealth paraded before him as an affront, proof of his failure, his inability, his lack. The spectacle of unfairness teaches him, among other lessons, the ways of the master-servant relationship, the rituals of dominance, a kind of feudal remnant: “The captain kicks the cabin boy and the cabin boy kicks the cat.” Mostly he is envious, and enraged that he is envious. This envy is endorsed and exploited, made purposeful by what appear to be the measures of civilization itself, in the mass conditioning methods of corporatist media: the marketeers and the advertisers chide and tease him; the messengers of high fashion arbitrate the meaning of his appearance. He is threatened at every remove in the status scrum. His psychological compensation, a derangement of sense and spirit, is affluenza: the seeking of money and possessions as markers of ascent up the competitive ladder; the worship of celebrities as heroes of affluence; the haunted desire for fame and recognition; the embrace of materialistic excess that, alas, has no future except in the assured destruction of Planet Earth and of every means of a sane survival.
Capitalism's failings are evident now more than ever. Yet, we still take it to be some god-given dictum of being--that creative destruction, hoodwinking, and greed are completely natural things. This is decidedly not the case. We can combat this culture through compassion and empathy.

I want to be surrounded by people that care, not people that "want to make it." In a culture of capitalism and creative destruction, though, I get no sense of community, no sense of regard, or frugality, of compassion, of limits. Rather, the epitome of this culture, New York City, is the hotbed of abundance, of arrogance, of centralisation, of power and wealth, and inequality. There is nothing in our economic structure that speaks towards the common good, towards the setting aside of our egos.

So, what society do you want to live in? A society in which destructiveness of communities and place can be painted as green? Or a more resilient, thoughtful, caring society?

No comments:

Post a Comment