Anatomy of a Capitalist Ransom Note

As I follow the “negotiations” between the Greek government and the troika on Twitter, it all just sounds like an elaborate ransom note to me. This is not a negotiation between “equal partners.” It is an entire country of people being held hostage by an international capitalist cartel intent on extracting every last drop of wealth and value from human life and labor, with zero regard for life itself. They speak on endlessly, genuinely content with their circular logic, which uses a sociopathic economic system as its starting and ending point.

If you accept the premise that capitalism is the best or only way to organize society, than it is easy to get caught up in their rhetoric because it generally follows an internally valid line of reasoning. But the fact is that capitalism is NOT the only or best way to organize society. Ultimately, as living beings whose survival depends on the functioning of an intricate ecosystem, it is actually quite illogical to base our society around a system of private profit and endless growth.

But, like parasites, the proponents of capitalism not only leech from us but convince us to love the leeching. In Greece, you can see this in the millions of people who still prefer to stay in the Eurozone at any cost, repeating the lies about their own “lazy” and “corrupt” nature as the source of the economic crisis. You see it, too, in the leaders of SYRIZA, like Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis, who speaks of these negotiations as a means of creating an “equal partnership” with their “lenders”. A Stockholm Syndrome of epic proportions.

The victory of SYRIZA has in many ways upset the balance of forces in Europe and there are important gains that can be won by this new government, if their feet are kept to the fire. But they are still negotiating with sociopaths, within the framework of a sociopathic system—perhaps asking for a bit less blood loss, a clipping of claws. We can only hope that such gains will be enough to breathe new life into the masses of people and break the parasitic spell. Because freedom will not be found within the rationale of a ransom note.

Anatomy of a Capitalist Ransom Note

“Anatomy of a Capitalist Ransom Note,” by Stavroula Harissis. [Printed paper, newspaper, ink, on manila folder]

Freedom: To Oppress and Exploit?

“Not freedom for all, not equality for all, but a fight against the oppressors and exploiters, the abolition of every possible oppression and exploitation–that is our slogan.” -V. I. Lenin

Everyone believes in “freedom” but how many people actually think critically about what that word means? I doubt anyone would advocate ABSOLUTE freedom of the individual, because that would have to include the freedom to murder and rape, which most people agree is unacceptable. But where then do you draw the line?

It was once acceptable to “own” people as property, as slaves. We now see this as abhorrent. Will we eventually realize that the capitalist system of wage slavery is also abhorrent? Should individual human beings have the “freedom” to “own” the resources we ALL need to survive, and to withhold those resources from people based on their ability to “pay” with a currency they “earn” by selling their labor? Is that the highest form of “freedom” our species can envision or attain? I certainly hope not.

The Right Thing for the Wrong Reasons: Ron Paul

What does it mean to do the “right” thing? Is it still the “right” thing if it’s for the “wrong” reasons? Can you do the “wrong” thing for the “right” reasons? How are people’s moral values manipulated by larger forces to support immoral causes?

These are questions that I seem to be coming up against a lot lately. It seems to me that most, if not all, of the horrors being perpetrated in our world today are allowed to continue due to the manipulation of people’s perceptions of morality. We all strive to be moral, but we are easily lead astray. There are several examples in current events that I’d like to point to in this discussion. Here is the first.

Ron Paul

This man’s name stirs up more impassioned arguments than any other in the political arena today. And for that, I love him. I think it is essential that we grapple with the ideas he presents and the contradictions they evoke in many of our consciences. I appreciate his candor and his commitment to principle (although, to be clear, I disagree with his principles). I admire his fearlessness in speaking what he believes. These are qualities sorely absent in most politicians today, and I believe that RP’s appeal to the masses begins there.

His appeal is further strengthened by his rhetoric of Individual Liberty. Because who doesn’t support the ideals of liberty and freedom? Indeed, at a time when our civil liberties are being increasingly eroded in the name of safety against “terrorism,” it is crucial to be speaking about these issues. But on what terms does Ron Paul support liberty and freedom? How does he ultimately believe these ideals should be manifested? These are equally important questions. The answers, according to Ron Paul, revolve around the ideas of individualism, private property, and the “free market”. Ron Paul wants an absolutely minimal federal government, with maximum personal freedoms.

While this may sound good at first, I believe it is crucial to dig deeper into these issues, to see what’s really at stake. His faith in the “free market” to balance out human moral shortcomings is particularly troublesome to me. Free Market Capitalism is predicated on exploitation of resources in pursuit of personal profit. And, in line with his Libertarian belief in individual liberty, this works out just fine, because it is an individual’s right to exploit whatever resources he can get his hands on in order to better himself, i.e. in pursuit of individual freedom and prosperity. This, in turn, creates an imbalance of power in society, where a handful of people can gain control of the vast majority of resources and thus exploit the masses of people, who must subordinate themselves to those who control the resources that they themselves need to survive. Clearly, this is precisely the situation we have today, with a fraction of a percentage of people controlling the vast majority of the world’s wealth, while billions of others suffer in abject poverty, with no prospect for freedom.

So is that the ultimate manifestation of freedom, Social Darwinism? Do only those (and the descendants of those) who most successfully exploit resources and their fellow human beings deserve life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness? I hope that for most people that answer is “No.” I hope that most people are compassionate enough to say “No, I do not believe that my ‘freedom’ should come at the expense of any other human being’s freedom.” But if compassion isn’t motivation enough for you, I will also point out that this unfettered exploitation wreaks havoc on the planet itself, the ecosystem that we all depend on to survive. If we do not change course, if we continue to pursue infinite growth with individual profit as our bottom line, then none of us will survive. We have reached a point in the evolution of our species where cooperation is truly pivotal to our survival.

Thus, while I am glad to hear a major political figure saying that we need to end our imperialistic wars, I also have a responsibility to go beyond the surface of his stance and figure out why he holds that position and what he proposes in its place. When I do that, I see that Ron Paul is not opposed to war for moral reasons but for financial reasons. He believes we spend too much money on our military, particularly in foreign wars for “nation building.” His National Defense plan is based on isolationism, i.e. do what’s best for our country and let the others fend for themselves. Again, if this doesn’t bother you on a humanitarian level, at least consider the impracticality of this stance in our current global economy and our common planet of inhabitance. Moreover, his reinforcement of the notion that our foreign wars are truly based on “nation building” or “policing the world,” when clearly they are based on imperialistic motives, leads me to conclude that he is either lying through his teeth or profoundly naive.

In conclusion, to go back to my original thought on “the right thing for the wrong reasons” and our distorted perceptions of morality, I believe that Ron Paul’s anti-war, pro-liberty positions are an example of both. It took me some time to reach this conclusion, as I was initially drawn to his positive qualities mentioned earlier and the surface of his stances. But once I started to really look into his positions and fight my urge to cheerlead for anyone who opposes war, it became unquestionably clear that Ron Paul was not the progressive candidate I so wanted him to be.

It’s sad, really, that our political field is so devoid of decency that Ron Paul would be the only glimmer of hope to a mass of people desperate (still, 4 years later) for change. Certainly, some of these people really do believe in Ron Paul’s ideals and plans—if I’m lucky, they will descend upon my blog to defend him to the death. With those supporters, I will just have to agree to disagree. But I believe another large portion of his supporters have simply been lead astray, either not understanding the true ideological basis for his seemingly progressive stances or supporting him despite this, as the new “lesser of two evils.”

This blog post is aimed at those supporters, the ones who fell in line with Ron Paul by default of not having any other candidate to believe in. To you, I say: Please rethink your stance. Do not resign yourself to simply supporting the lesser of two Evils. Demand Good. Demand real change, though it has no political figure as its face. We simply cannot afford to fight for anything less.

Questioning Political and Economic Systems

(This is essentially a continuation of my previous post. It began as response to a comment on that post but I think it deserves its own post. Again, respectful and thoughtful comments are welcome! I really want this to be more of a dialogue. Let’s struggle through these questions together!)

It is definitely true that there is no way that all the people in a certain nation will have the same opinion. And it is also true that if the system were to change there would be people forced to live under a system that they do not believe in. But… isn’t that already the case? Many people are forced to live under Capitalism though they despise the system. In fact, on a global scale, I would say the MAJORITY of people living on this planet do not wish to be living under Capitalism (because for the majority of people on this planet, Capitalism has been detrimental to their lives). And of those who ARE ok with living under Capitalism, how many feel this way merely because it is the only system they know? How many have been brainwashed to believe that this is the best of all systems?

And although there will never be a complete consensus of opinion, shouldn’t we at least be striving to find a better system? If we find a better system (better in terms of overall benefit to humanity and the planet), shouldn’t we then try to explain to people the merits of this system over the one we have? Because although there probably is no “perfect” system, surely there must be one that works better than what we have. Or at least better for our current situation. Maybe Capitalism worked for the past few hundred years to get us to progress technologically, but now Capitalism no longer makes sense. We now have the technology that would allow us to provide a decent living to all human beings. We are now capable of forming a truly global community. Capitalism at this point is actually harming human life, indeed all life on this planet. When our economic model leads governments to pay farmers to NOT grow crops, when it wastes up to 1/3 of its food supply, literally throwing away food it cannot sell, when this is REQUIRED in order to keep the system going, isn’t it time to rethink our economic model?

I also agree that human beings will find a way to corrupt any system. But does that mean we just give up and leave the fate of the world up to those few corrupt individuals? No. We must continue to fight against corruption and continue to develop the best possible system, one that minimizes the potential for corruption and remains vigilant in guarding against it, while also providing the most efficient, fair, and prosperous economy possible. The question then, of course, is: which system provides that? Which political and economic systems can provide the most fair, efficient, and prosperous models for human civilization? It certainly seems that a move away from Capitalism is necessary. But does that mean Socialism?

I guess I don’t have enough information to make that decision yet. I guess right now I’m still learning about history and political theory and economics. I do not yet have a sufficient foundation in those areas of knowledge to make an informed decision. So that is what I’m focusing my efforts on right now, absorbing information and struggling through the thought processes that lead to true knowledge.

Ideology of Truth & Justice

I am a seeker of Truth and Justice. I will not put political ideology above either of those things. I will not defend someone who uses dishonest means, even if I agree with their ends. Propaganda is propaganda, no matter who spews it. Violence is violence, no matter who the victim. You reap what you sow. Simple as that.

I want a revolution. But if a revolution is based on violence, dishonest propaganda, and/or dogmatic ideology, I want no part of it. Because a TRUE revolution is one that has the courage and creativity to break free of the prescriptive chains of ideology. Anything less than that is just a change in regime. Do I think that some form of Socialism or Communism would be better for our world than Capitalism? Yes. Will I do “whatever it takes” to bring Socialism/Communism into being? No.

First off, such blind allegiance goes against my commitment to TRUTH. If all of my debates use a particular political ideology as a springboard, then I am not really seeking truth, I am only seeking to reaffirm my beliefs. Do I see truth in the theories of Communism? Yes. Will I continue to question them even as I attempt to bring them into action? Absolutely. Because all ideologies are flawed. And yet we all must live according to ideologies in one form or another. We are all guided by beliefs. But the question is, do we cling to our beliefs and ideologies as omnipotent, indestructible absolutes? Or do we use them to guide us towards an ever-evolving truth and understanding? I choose the latter.

This stance is not only consistent with my personal core value of seeking Truth but I also believe it is the only way to build a successful revolution. A legitimate revolution must come from the masses of people. The existing masses of people have a wide variety of backgrounds and beliefs. In order to unite, we must respect each others’ opinions and work towards consensus. This includes listening to and considering the opinions of people we instinctively disagree with. Because no individual is in possession of complete or absolute truth. We must recognize and resist the tendency in ourselves to preach and to indoctrinate others to our beliefs. Our collective knowledge and creativity is what gives us strength. If we do not approach one another from a position of openness and humility, we cannot unite. It is not an easy task, but our humanity demands it.

Moreover, our humanity demands that we remain committed to JUSTICE. Committing to do “whatever it takes” to bring a particular political ideology into being goes against a commitment to justice. The ends do not justify the means. The intentional killing of another human being is never OK, in my opinion. So if it takes killing and oppressing “capitalists” in order to bring about a better system, I will not support it. We must find a way to break the cycle of violence that plagues our species. Oppressing our oppressors does not make us free, it just changes our role in the continuation of oppression.

Some say it can’t be done, non-violent revolution. I say that attitude is selling ourselves short. I say that attitude is cowardly and amoral. We must stick to our principles, even in the face of certain defeat. Because what is the worth of a victory gained by contradicting your own moral values? It is no victory at all, in my eyes. As Gandhi said, you must BE the change you wish to see in the world. When all human beings can BE what they say they wish the world to be, THAT will be the real revolution.

*I appreciatively welcome respectful comments, counter-arguments, and cooperative discussion.*