Have you ever noticed how online capitalism cultists who condescendingly tell socialists they “just don’t understand economics” are always unable to lucidly defend their own understanding of economics?
If you’ve never pressed such a character to clearly and concisely explain what it is you “don’t understand” using their own words, I highly recommend that you try it, because it’s one of the funniest things in the world. If you keep interrogating them about each aspect of their belief system, demanding that they explain exactly what it is they know and how they know it, they will invariably end up getting frustrated and telling you to listen to this or that economist if they don’t rage quit on you altogether first.
It’s really fascinating how consistent this experience is; talk to other online leftists about it and if they’ve ever really engaged the argument they’ll have had the same experience. Someone who truly understands something will be able to clearly and concisely tell you in their own words what they know and how they know it, and someone who strides in talking down to you about how you “don’t understand economics” is certainly claiming to know something, but when you really plunk them down and interrogate their understanding you will always find it to have been a lot of empty bluster. They don’t understand their own position, they’ve just listened to a bunch of capitalists explaining their position to them in an assertive tone and assumed it must be unassailably correct.
This happens because in our profit-driven society, capitalism cultists are unaccustomed to having to defend their positions rigorously. They tend to gravitate toward tightly insulated echo chambers where their beliefs are not challenged with any degree of depth, and our systems completely support them in this. Richard D Wolff has said that in the entire time he was obtaining his PhD in economics through Harvard, Stanford and Yale, he was never assigned a single word of analysis written by Karl Marx to read as part of his education. Echo chambers rule our world.
Rigorous debate is permitted as to what precise flavor of capitalism would best suit this civilization, but the question of whether capitalism should remain the driving force behind our behavior as a species at all is largely verboten in mainstream discourse. This is why those who have been most heavily indoctrinated into the faith think of money and economics in much the same way we think about forces of nature and the laws of physics. The idea that money must continue to function in more or less the way it’s been functioning since our birth is taken as some sort of unbreakable principle that’s been inscribed upon the fabric of reality, and not just a bunch of made-up concepts invented by human beings.
But that’s exactly what they are: money and economics are conceptual constructs invented by people. They have no solid existence of their own; they exist only inside the human imagination. They are only as true as we agree to pretend they are. Money is a collective belief system we all agree to participate in, and we are free to collectively alter how it operates in any way at any time.
When I talk about the fact that money has no real value outside of mental narrative, I often get people mistaking this for a conversation about fiat currency as opposed to something more tangible like gold-backed currency, but that’s not what I’m pointing to here. It’s true that currency backed by bureaucratic fiat has more of its existence in the narrative world than currency backed by some non-conceptual physical resource, but it’s also true that even if we were using actual gold coins as currency, those coins would only have as much value as people collectively agree they have. If no one agreed that gold is worth anything (or silver or cryptocurrencies or whatever), then as far as trade goes it would be worthless.
What I’m getting at here is that together as a collective we have complete improvisational freedom with money and value. If enough of us decided tomorrow that peach pits are the new form of currency, then that would immediately be the case, solely because we collectively decided to re-write the rules in that way. All the imaginary numbers in the bank accounts of the billionaires would immediately be worthless, and presumably the new plutocratic class would be the peach farmers.
What this means is that there is no actual legitimacy for claims that instituting any form of socialism or communism would be some kind of theft from those who have wealth. It would not. Because the rules of money and how it operates are a collective belief system that is being actively maintained by the belief of the collective, we are free to collectively cease believing those beliefs and replace them with a system which we collectively agree would serve us better.
That’s what’s so funny about the rugged individualism which upholds capitalism while decrying collectivist models: capitalism is collectivism. It’s a collective improvisation being performed by the collective, at the consent of the collective. It only exists because we collectively participate in it. If the collective wants to switch to another form of collectivism that doesn’t let people starve and die for not having enough imaginary numbers in their bank accounts, the collective is free to change the rules of its collective improvisation.
Wealth only exists where it exists and how it exists because we’ve all agreed to pretend that’s the case, and we are free to collectively cease pretending this at any time. If enough of us decide to cease pretending that Jeff Bezos’ money is worth anything, we are within our sovereign right to do so. We didn’t steal anything from Jeff Bezos, we just changed the rules of the game we’ve all agreed to play. We decided we don’t believe the conceptual constructs which make Bezos immensely wealthy, and that we believe different ones instead.
The super rich are acutely aware that the only thing holding their respective kingdoms together is our collective belief in the story that wealth works a certain way and exists in certain places, which is why they continue feeding us these stories in the form of propaganda. They can’t have us awakening to the realization that we are free to completely rewrite the rules of money, and they certainly can’t have us awakening to the realization that we are also free to rewrite the rules of power.
Power, like money, also only exists in the way it exists because we collectively agree to pretend that that’s the case. We could collectively decide tomorrow that nobody takes orders from any part of our official government anymore, and our government would immediately lose all of its power. This is why so much energy goes into keeping us propagandized into belief in official narratives: narrative is the only thing keeping this empire afloat.
And that’s exactly why we haven’t changed things already: we are being ceaselessly manipulated into keeping our minds jacked in to the matrix in which money and power exist in their current iterations. But we do have the ability to unplug ourselves, and if enough of us do this, we can change the world into something unrecognizably sane and healthy.
And we had better hurry up and do so. As I’ve said previously, what I mean when I say “capitalism” is the current system dominating our world today wherein human behavior is driven as a whole by the pursuit of capital. The current system of profit-seeking and competition as the primary determining factor of what humans are doing on this planet.
Profit-chasing as the driving factor in human behavior is what got us into the ecological mess we are in right now. As long as it remains profitable to destroy the environment and human behavior is driven by profit, then humans will continue destroying the environment. Inevitably. This will have to happen.
So for purposes of this conversation it’s actually irrelevant whether capitalism enthusiasts believe the current system is “real capitalism” or not, whether you believe the markets are “free” or not, or whether or not you prefer Austrian over Keynesian models of economic theory. Since we’re talking about any system where profit-chasing and competition drives human behavior at mass scale, we are necessarily talking about whatever pet definition of capitalism you happen to prefer.
We’re going to have to move to something drastically new if we’re to survive the existential crises on our horizon as a species, both environmental and the steadily growing risk of nuclear war caused by capitalist imperialism. It will necessarily have to look like something that’s never been tried before, because any deviation from our trajectory toward self-destruction will necessarily need to include a deviation from all the old behavior patterns which got us here.
For this reason, all the mindless bleating capitalism cultists do claiming “socialism has never worked” is completely irrelevant: nothing we’ve done has worked, that’s why we’re in the mess we’re in now. Something radically unprecedented is needed, so it necessarily cannot look anything like the capitalist order which has brought us to the brink of armageddon.
But we absolutely do have the freedom to create such a radically unprecedented world. There’s nothing solid stopping us, just the fairy tales of a few sociopathic manipulators being funneled into our minds. The door’s not locked. It’s not even closed. There’s just a screen blaring “DON’T LOOK AT THAT DOOR” at us all day long. We are perfectly free to stand up together, and walk outside.
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