Welcome to the 21st century!
If anyone denies that the earth is composed of literally two different worlds, they’re living a completely sheltered life in theirs. Here in the year 2008, we have machines that can literally detect thought before you have the thought, we can map the genome and know what each gene is for, we’re perhaps just years before we can use nanobots to treat cancer, we have telescopes which can see the remnants of post-Big bang radiation.
And we still have places where women are forced to cover their bodies lest they offend men and Allah’s sensibilities, where people are relegated to class divisions based on levels of reincarnation, where virgins are raped because it’s against the Koran to kill a virgin if they fall in love with a non-Muslim, where priests discourage condom use in AIDS and famine plagued places because it’s against God’s will, and let’s also include just plain stupid and ridiculous ideas of war in this contradiction, whether religious or not.
It is completely mind-boggling to me that part of the world lives in relative comfort, watching satellite television, using iPhones, eating safe (mostly) food, getting modern medical care, and the rest of the world is still living in the 8th century. It’s totally incongruous to me. Part of it I suppose can be blamed on lack of natural resources. I guess there’s only so much stuff in the planet that allows us to build additional modern hospitals, libraries, schools, water treatment plants, food processing plants, etc. I mean, sure having a McDonald’s every 4 miles is a sign of our modern culture, but I dunno…if I think too much about it, it seems to me that a few less Starbucks and Applebee’s and Wal-Marts might be perfectly reasonable cost for a few more schools in places plagued with such crippling ignorance that people have no choice but to rely on Dark Age superstition and tribal tradition to get by. I think maybe we can get along in the west with a few less cell phone retail stores and a few less options of frozen dinners if it means more efficient food and water creation and distribution in developing countries. And we sure as hell can do with a few less battleships and bombers if it means more power plants and civil utilities in countries that constantly war for resources.
It’s not a matter of send more money, donate more to charity. Those are reasonable endeavors, sure. The problem is the fundamental nature of global market capitalism. (Here we go again, I know.) Think for a moment: If money wasn’t an issue, if the “cost” of stuff didn’t matter, do you think we don’t have the resources and materials to bring modern life to the rest of the world?
Of course we’re so conditioned with the idea that wealth is the means by which the world moves, it’s hard to divorce the idea of resources with money. But money is an abstraction. It’s merely a symbol of power over people. Money is not something that comes from nature, not something that is inherent to living or natural resources or human thought or labor. The material components that comprise a school building, a waste treatment plant, even a church (why not), does not materialize out of thin air at the transfer of dollars, or marks, or euros, or shells or salt for that matter. Money is simply a tool by which those who are in control (in our case the capitalists) exert and maintain control with as little force as possible–letting the masses control themselves and keep themselves in line by putting dangerously sincere and absurdly massive belief in the imaginarily inherent power in this idea called money. Money is fundamentally nothing but an idea, and abstraction. The “value” of money changes day by day and often by something as equally abstract as “consumer confidence.”
What kind of inherent, concrete, immutable power does a dollar have considering that? If all forms of money miraculously disappeared in an instant, suddenly went away. All bills, coins, debt and credit stored as data in databases, all the numbers on stock market ticker boards, it all went poof… would lead and steel and iron and copper and titanium suddenly cease to exist? Would oil and petroleum and uranium and electrons cease to exist? Would any of the items that make up the building of a McDonald’s, the “food,” the clerk’s uniform shirt, go away? Would we be incapable of developing polymers and Styrofoam? Would the material components of our civilization, the human thought and planning, and human (and animal) labor that built modern civilization cease to exist?
Whatever the religious implications let’s ignore for a moment, but the “worship of money” is not just the greedy hoarding of it–it’s this; ALL of this. Capitalism itself is the worship of money. When we put our faith, our values, our hopes and dreams, base our culture around the transfer and collection of a complete and utter fabrication as a material certainty–we are worshiping just a different ideological religion. Those of us raised under capitalism instinctively reject the implication that money is unnecessary, saying, “But that’s how things just are! It’s how it’s always been.” Wrong! Once, entire human civilizations existed and thrived through barter. Some cultures used equally abstract concepts of honor as currency. Regardless of what examples in human past can be shown that “money” is not inevitable nor a universal absolute, the point is: it doesn’t have to be! There is no Law of Thermal Dynamics, no component of quantum mechanics, no mathematical absolute, that states money has to be the means by which society grows and advances. Or even has to exist at all.
But it’s the only way our capitalist controlled minds can conceive of things, and that’s how ideology works. Ideology is the values of the dominate, controlling class, thrust upon the masses as what’s “natural.” Ideology works by convincing people the traits of the ideology are just natural law, always have been and always will be, and there’s no fighting it. No changing it. Why bother? It’s “natural.”
Now comes the point in a cultural study that separates the American cultural critic from the European: praxis. “OK, that’s all well and good, but what do we do about it? How do we change things?”
(Ironically, it’s the American cultural criticism tradition to comment, critique, complain, and then do nothing and advocate no change. Perhaps it’s because of our tradition of always existing in capitalism (or its 16th-19th century predecessor, mercantilism.) We’ve always lived in a culture of money, wealth accumulation, dominance by those with the most wealth, and being controlled by the reverence to money. Europe has had the French Revolution which hearkened the fundamental change of the end of feudalism and the beginning of capitalism, social rebellions, rise and fall and rise again of various forms of socialism, the influences of communism (both the good and that bad) and fascisms. Europeans are surrounded by social and political ideological change–they know that nothing ideological is “the way things have always been, the way it will always be.” They know praxis is possible.)
Well, I’m short on magic wands, otherwise I’d wave one and all concepts of money would be banished. Also, I’d magically banish myth and superstition as they’re crutches humanity no longer needs and are now an anchor to our progress–but I think I’d get less support on that wish. Rebellion and forced redistribution of wealth is a wonderfully Che Guevaran dream, but it’d be doomed to fail as the underlying worship of money and wealth as a natural inevitability of life would still exist. The scifi expectation is that once nano-technology becomes viable, “scarcity” becomes non-existent and thus wealth becomes nullified. But (a) that’s still possibly decades, maybe even centuries, away (although signs point to maybe 30 to 50 or so years) and (b) once it is developed those who control the means of production and distribution will simply control that form of production and distribution as long as they can, altering the ideology as needed to aid in its control. Plus, we may simply kill off our own species thanks to hatred, xenophobia, religious intolerance, racism, and capitalist hegemonic imperialism versus those who oppose it, long before nano-tech saves the world.
The thing is, we don’t need the nano panacea! We have the material and labor on earth right now that can provide the rest of the world with the access to education and basic needs and comfort without even having to sacrifice the western middle-class lifestyle. What’s stopping us is our adherence to ideological control. Whether it’s capitalism, or fundamental Christianity, or radical Islam, or radical Hinduism, socio-political or religious–it’s our unreasoned belief in abstract concepts of control and dominance of one class, people-of-belief, sex, as being better and more worthy than the others. Ironically, it’s a fair criticism to say secular humanism (which is what I’m advocating) is itself an ideology. An abstraction. A concept without “natural” concrete and objective reality. Yep, it kinda is. But here’s the key word to consider, and it’s appropriate for today: reason.
It’s easy to dismiss radical and fundamental religious beliefs because they’re simply unreasonable…any longer! Sure, at one time they were reasonable! As I’ve said before, religion is humanity’s first attempts at science and philosophy. but they’re predicated on human limited experience before the concepts of objective evidence and rigorous testing and examination of claims of what’s “natural,” before microscopes and telescopes. And they’re rife with early human tribalism and xenophobia and fear and hatred of “the other.” Religion is no longer useful to humanity, and is in fact an dangerous detriment that threatens to destroy us as a species now that we have the tools to do so!
(Note! I’m talking about ideological and dogmatic religion here, not faith in ethical and/or liberal spirituality. Beliefs based on personal emotion should still be examined for basis in possibly harmful ideology! After all, someone could say they don’t believe in organized religion, but still believe God tells them people of color are less human than they are! I don’t think a sense of non-dogmatic spirituality is incongruous to evolved human awareness and progress. I don’t personally believe in the supernatural or metaphysical, but I don’t believe a faith in it (that does not hold bronze age tomes of religious persecution and mythology to be “divine” lessons of Truth) to be innately harmful so long as they promote empathy, inherent human value and worth, tolerance, human scientific progress, and despise persecution and hatred based on another’s belief system.)
Although, as I write this, I realize getting rid of dogmatic religion would be a boon to humanity, it won’t affect capitalist consumption and commodification. Look at the royal Saudi family: big Muslims, just as big capitalists. The U.S. government is becoming increasingly theocratic but equally objectivist. Religion is often used by the hegemony to control the masses (and in Stalin’s case, use the trappings and mystification of religion without the pre-existing myths). The religion is used to support the ideology of those in power, reinforcing the “naturalness” of the cultural logic. Whether it was the medieval Church which supported and enforced feudalism and the rule and ownership of land and people by the god-ordained royalty, or the current trend of wealth-based Christianity that teaches capitalism is now God’s holy plan. No, getting rid of dogmatic religion would help humanity, but religion and socio-political ideology go hand-in-hand supporting each other–one can’t fundamentally change without the other.
No, what has to happen is a massive, totalizingly significant change that affects the planet–whether is a global economic collapse, global pandemic, nuclear disaster, cataclysmic natural disaster, it’s going to have to be huge. That is if the change is going to be significant and quick. Otherwise, the natural socio-political evolution to a world without monetary wealth isn’t going to happen until all the little changes pile up to some kind of critical mass. Not until there’s enough people who live through egalitarianism, communities that eschew corporate competition and refuse to live under corporate owned government, where the cracks in the ideology can be exploited and widened and more people see that money and wealth are not natural, and humanity can still progress and advance and thrive without it.
Some Marxist philosopher, I think Fredrick Jameson, said: “Capitalism is the best thing to happen to the world, and the worst thing to happen to the world.” I like computers and the Internet. I like air conditioning and vaccines. I like MP3 players and action films. Capitalism is a stage of human social development, just like all the stages before it and all the will come after it (should humanity survive long enough). Capitalism is simply a step toward the next stage which may come in my lifetime, or not for another few hundred years–who knows. But there is nothing in nature, nothing in human history, that demands that capitalism is the natural order of things, and that the progress over the last 200 years in science and technology aren’t possible under more cooperative, egalitarian social dynamics. Capitalism may have made some of these advances happen faster (though certainly not all!!) It might not even be possible to reach world-wide collectivism or socialism or anarcho-anything without capitalism having some first. Who knows. In my unabashed opinion, only a Luddite fool would want to return to some pre-indoor plumbing, pre-modern medicine age. The goal of the socialist, even the anarcho-socialst (*raises hand*) is not to devolve human progress! It’s to progress it world-wide with true equality and liberty for everyone regardless of what geographic corner they live in. Capitalism serves to sustain the idea of scarcity of wealth, as a zero-sum game, which supports the necessity of poverty in the world. Of famine, disease, hunger, and strife. Animalistic competition. It serves the hegemony and those in power for there to be abject poverty throughout the world.
It doesn’t have to be. One percent of the U.S. population owns equal wealth to the other 99% of the population. Think about the disgusting and pointless greed of that, in a world in which the concept of wealth determines whether or not billions of people live in horrible poverty and suffering, and millions die every year from hunger alone. Tell me there’s nothing wrong with this way of running the world, when you consider the punch-line: wealth is an abstract myth and the actual resources of the world still exist whether money does or not.