Call me old-fashioned but...In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Almighty Dollar
Central to its implementation has been a move towards stressful city-living, the separation of church and state, an increased emphasis on efficiency and rationalization. For all of the social well-being, this economic system has brought a lot of not-so-good by-products like the privatization of essential resources, exploitation of third world workers, and striking global differences in production, consumption, and profiting patterns. Importantly, from my perspective; however, it’s capitalism’s infiltration of our value system which has proven to be the most detrimental.
Accumulation, accumulation, and oh did I mention? ACCUMULATION! This has become the purpose of life for many. Whether it’s cars, lovers, gadgets or gizmos, it is a rare occasion you come across others who simply pursue careers for the love of them. It’s all a means to an end – a way to earn dollars so you can eventually (when you’re well into your senior years) partake in the activities you actually want to (if you’re still physically capable), and then well...you die. Doesn’t sound like much of a plan to me! I mean, wouldn’t you rather be doing what you love all along? For that matter, considering how much of our lives we devote to the toils of our daily labour, shouldn’t we at least derive some pleasure and personal satisfaction from theses tasks? Shouldn’t we be able to see and enjoy the fruits of our own labour? Ah, but my friends, therein lines the problem: not all occupations are equally valued in society, and we have created technologies to replace so-called inefficient “manpower.” Therefore, we are all eventually confronted with the fact that we must “settle,” at least in terms of the economic aspect of our lives.
Even more troubling is the fact that this model of living is cyclical in nature: you can NEVER have enough, there’s ALWAYS something bigger and better that’s just been created waiting for you, and you can have it all if only you just work hard enough to save up those pennies and dimes. The reality, of course, is many of us are living paycheque-to-paycheque, despite the free market claims that this sort of system ensures a more level playing field.
But, above and beyond all of this, my biggest beef with capitalism is it has taught us to externalize our desires, so when we’re depressed, we buy something new and fancy. It’s never about NEEDS, only WANTS. In effect, this system has made us forget happiness is a conscious choice – a state of mind derived from internal self-actualization; something that can only be accomplished through introspection, a task the capitalist system distracts many from ever pursuing.
A secondary quibble I’ve got with the “big C” is its alienating capacity: not only are workers lacking personal investment in their tasks, but our relationships with each other have largely become based around a model of “goods exchange” (the “what can you do for me?” mentality). Perhaps because we don’t really value our own contributions (it’s not like we’re planting and harvesting our own crops on the family farm anymore), others’ contributions seem negligible as well. Transactions, and therefore relationships, in the modern view are designed to be as fast, painless, and efficient as possible. We get irritated when we have to wait in line or when a new employee is receiving training. We’ve gotten so caught up in this go-go-go lifestyle that if a wrench gets thrown into the works, our whole day gets ruined. In essence, we’ve come to value and emphasize the wrong things (tell me, how often do you actually stop and smell the roses?), and I don’t think I need to mention any of the horror stories that have resulted purely over “money wars.”
When it comes down to the nitty-gritty, humans really only require food, water, shelter, and a mate for survival. As much as I’m sure you’d all love to consider your flat-screen TVs and Ipods necessities of living – I hate to break it to you, but that ain’t reality.
While I’m not so naïve to believe that a complete overhaul of our economic system is in order anytime soon, I would like to propose that we find a way to re-harmonize our lives in the meantime. While it’s only a small part of the equation, I do believe a good starting point is the adoption of some sort of alternative belief system.
Whether it be religious, spiritual or philosophical in orientation, I think humans, as a species, need to get back to a place where life directives are driven by a defined moral code as opposed to the plan of action that will prove most lucrative. We need to take a moment each day away from our quests for cash to thank the universe for all that has been bestowed upon us. After all what good is money if you’re not in adequate health to spend it? Most importantly, we need to get back to a place where when times are rough, we have something deeper to turn to, something to pray to that gives us a sense of hope. Despite living in the Western world, the prevalence of mental illness is higher here than anywhere else, leaving me to rightly conclude that something is seriously wrong with this picture. In sum, this week’s lesson: materialism is fleeting.