Saturday, December 08, 2012

Why Socialism? -- The Problem with Economic Markets

“Progress has not followed a straight ascending line, but a spiral with rhythms of progress and retrogression, of evolution and dissolution.” - Goethe

From its inception, capitalism in the West internalized the Protestant leaders’ emphasis on humanity’s “total depravity.” It is thus one of the deeply-ingrained assumptions of Western capitalism that goodness and excellence are to be found outside of the human sphere--goodness is achievable only through non-human, institutional means.

Nobel-prize-winner Muhammad Yunus’s belief in “social businesses” seems more far-fetched than Michael Albert’s “participatory economy,” in this regard. At least Albert recognizes that such a structure is achievable only with the elimination of economic markets, which exist only as a way of thinking, i.e. an insistence that we use structures which prioritize the non-human over the human--numbers over language, digitally-recorded contracts over face-to-face agreements, global markets over grassroots democracy.

‘Celebrity’ is such a structure. First used to mean “famous person” in 1849, ‘celebrity’ is a decidedly non-human category. It is a creation of mass-media that cares nothing about the humanity of the celebrity, i.e. serial-killers can be celebrities as easily as saints. The only requirement seems to be the single-minded pursuit of perfection--whether it’s the attempt to save the world or the attempt to commit the ‘perfect murder’.

Were the early Protestant leaders correct that with the Fall, humanity is in a state of “total depravity” and should seek excellence only through non-human structures such as economic markets? Or is it possible that they were mistaken, and as the Eastern mystics propose, excellence is to be found through balance rather than through the pursuit of perfection?

Why Socialism? Perhaps we should be asking "Why not?"

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