"I thought it was I alone who suffered. I went on top of the house and found every house on fire." -Baba Sheikh Farid
Saturday, August 16, 2014
capitalism (a reposting from the island institute's website)
I have come up with a definition of capitalism that I like because it has within it the explanation of the problem. It is not, in other words, a neutral definition, such as Webster's might try to give us. Neutral definitions are useful. And sometimes loaded definitions are useful too.
Capitalism is the system of relating to the world wherein absolutely everything--including all life forms, all land and water and air, mental processes, all labor, all pleasure, every stage of life including birth and death and love and loss, and everything else--is commodified.
In other words, capitalism is the commodification of everything.
I would like to have a conversation with a group of people with diverse viewpoints, who nevertheless agreed on this definition. We could then discuss: should everything be commodified? Why or why not? Should some things be commodified and not others? What are the consequences of commodifying human beings, for example? How are those human beings affected, and how are the commodifiers affected? How does it affect a forest when that forest is commodified? Is it different to commodify coal than to commodify salmon? If it's not different, why not? If it is different, what's the difference? How does it affect a person to commodify herself, to consider herself a thing to be consumed?
If someone in the conversation said that they believed in a model of limited capitalism, i.e., it's okay to commodify the Earth, but within limits, then I would want to know: who decides the limits? And based on what values? Maybe based on the pragmatism of living sustainably? Even in a system of limited commodification, are there still consequences to considering everything a product, a thing to be bought and used and discarded when done? Are those consequences that feel okay to us? What do we base that okay-ness on?
Is there an alternative way of living on Earth than to commodify everything? Well yes, of course there is. So then my question is: what would it take for any person in this conversation to consider converting to another way of living? Would you give up capitalism? Why or why not?