By: Martin Pharand
It came to me in the shower, I set down my pretend microphone and realised; Chris Burke and I are arguing for the same ultimate end but we are comfortable with different methods of achieving that end. Whereas Chris has argued for an express flight to a Socialist Utopia, I have decided to hop on my inner tube, and let the current take me there; a classic divergence between those with more radical tendencies and those with reactionary tendencies. It is otherwise the continuum commonly known as the left and right, respectively.
If I understand Chris properly, he is delivering a handful of good, strong messages. First, he demands the complete vaporisation of the capitalist paradigm under which we all win and lose (making emphasis on the latter). The key reason for this appears to be, because the power of the wealthy to oppress the few is inherent in the capitalist system. Secondly, Chris, seemingly accepting that his is the minority view, argues correctly that just because a position (on capitalism) is held by a majority does not make it necessarily true. And finally, the line I have grown particularly fond of for its axiomatic qualities; Chris says, with authority “People do not always act in self-interest, they are not always lawful, and capitalism is not “free”.” (I especially enjoyed the leaving out of ‘always’ before “free”)
Keeping in mind that our ultimate destination is probably the same (or very similar), I still cannot accept, that if we were to get rid of capitalism in its entirety that we would successfully arrive at that destination. Maybe it’s because I have been recently steeped in the thought process of public administrators, that I demand workable methods to achieve goals. But, I am assuming Chris means to eviscerate our capitalist system by the traditional means of revolution, which I feel is highly improbable and untenable. So, if he would be so kind as to describe the contemporary method by which we would throw off the shackles of capitalism, I would definitely take the opportunity to respectfully critique that process in another post.
Chris argues that the majority’s general support for capitalism is based on a misunderstanding of its ‘true’ form and that my definition was therefore lacking. But I don’t think anyone would deny that there are poor people in the world, or that elites and their host countries tend to benefit at the expense of the poor. But the very real, natural and highly effective means of achievement that are available under a system of capitalism is something that cannot and has not been offered by what I believe encompasses Chris’s alternative. The freedom in the knowledge that in most cases but of course not everywhere, you will ‘get what you put in’ is one key aspect of the majority’s support for capitalism, but I have to hear Chris’s alternative before I go further.
As a brief aside regarding my comments about evolution; although I have added Kropotkin’s work to my reading list, I am aware of the evolutionary explanations for cooperation; in fact the Atlantic article I linked to in my last post talks about this. Perhaps, and most likely, my understanding is limited. My impression was that, certainly species have learned to work together, but even in this case it is out of self-interest that they do so, so that they benefit from a reciprocal act in the future. In this way understanding self-interest as a basic, dare I say innate, disposition in all species is furthered, although I realise that I can only go so far with it.
Regarding Chris’ three part formulation, I have to say that I disagree with the first, and can easily apply the final two to the Marxist systems that have come and gone in the past. Think of how the Soviet system was administered, and specifically how Milovan Djilas describes the rise of the ‘New Class’. In these cases, we clearly see all three parts of Chris’s statement at work; we see self-interest in those party officials who took to sitting on golden toilet seats while the starving masses lived in a ‘classless’ society, we see a laughable commitment and abuse of whatever system of laws existed, and of course freedom was reserved for a special few, a list of inequities Chris would argue exists in our capitalist system today.
I realise there are many ways the ‘New Left’ or today’s left might demonstrate all that they’ve learned from the Soviet adventure, but I nevertheless believe that self-interest, imperfect adherence to the law, and limited freedom is and will forever be a part of any political (or economic) system we create. And people will always look to the Soviet model, and see how socialism so willingly courts authoritarianism. Just as people today look at capitalism and see the injustice, avarice, and elite control.
My call for a better synthesis of capitalism and socialism is not only a call for us to get behind things like Social Impact Bonds where elites are empowered to solve social problems; it is also, as I have tried to demonstrate here, meant to show that perfect synthesis, like implementing perfect capitalism or socialism on their own, is impossible. And so I was lying when I said Chris and I probably have the same ultimate destination in mind because what I realise is that that destination is ultimately unreachable.
What we must consider is what capitalism can offer and what an alternative cannot. I have tried to make the point that capitalism is very natural, and an effective platform for human achievement. The leap of faith, in my mind, required for society to shed capitalism is much farther than that required to compel the rich in our society to partake in solutions to social problems. It will take the power of the individual not the recognition of a class struggle to make society better. Synthesis will take place slowly, and gradually and it will always be incomplete or imperfect, but so is the human condition and so will be the systems we use to organize ourselves…… Capitalism Out!