Unmasking the Limits of Capitalism

We are meditating on the role that moral imagination and creativity must play in a post-corona world.  One area of public life begging for some creativity is economics.  Does our current economic system foster indifference to suffering?

Author and Activist, Naomi Klein, shares her thoughts about “Coronavirus Capitalism”. Aired on Democracy Now!

Naomi Klein, in her book, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs The Climate,  lays the problem at the feet of an economic system that puts profits for the already powerful and wealthy ahead of the health of the earth and her creatures, humans included.

There seems to be a reckoning coming about the limits of capitalism.  A full-throated debate is in the offing.  And should be.

One of the silver linings to the coronavirus and climate change emergencies may well prove to be a new awakening to the limits of our current capitalist system as we know it. 

Phone showing stock market rates. Photo by Jamie Street on Unsplash.

Yesterday we spoke to two issues: Sponsoring and manufacturing a vaccine for the world at prices people and governments can afford; and net neutrality, meaning all and not just the super-rich can have access to the internet.  And especially in times of emergency such as a pandemic or wildfires. 

Another shadow to capitalism is the mythical role it can play in the human psyche to inflate illusions.  Think of the archetype of the miser.  The miserly archetype feeds the human propensity to greed and avarice, which are sicknesses of the soul that every human religion cautions us about.  As Thomas Aquinas warned us, “avarice knows no limit and extends to infinity.”  Or in the words of Henry Ford II, when asked when multi-millionaires like himself have “enough money” responded “when you always have a little bit more.”

Today I think it can be said that the occupant of the White House is a poster boy for capitalism.  Amassing more money, power and towers with his name on them seems to have been his motivating force from the moment as a child he received an inheritance from his father to the present. 

Anti-Capitalist, peace rally in front of MLK Memorial in Washington, D.C. Photo by Maria Oswalt on Unsplash.

This ‘capitalist in chief’ has appointed to government roles and the cabinet people woven of the same cloth.  These are the people he is at home with and whom he admires as “winners and not losers.”  Part of a “populist appeal” is that those at the bottom of the very competitive economic ladder have internalized the philosophy of capitalism which is at bottom a reptilian brain philosophy—I win, you lose–and projected their dreams onto illusory promises.

The thorough-bred capitalist can become so enamored by one’s numbers, wealth, or imagined power, so in love with one’s image in the mirror (which is what Narcissus was all about having fallen in love with his image in water) that one’s capacity for compassion completely flies out the door.  Also, when the ego is weak or over compensating, such a person becomes utterly fearful at losing his self identity.  Fear also drives compassion out the door.

See Matthew Fox, Skylar Wilson, Jen Listug, Order of the Sacred Earth: An Intergenerational Vision of Love and Action, pp. 47-52.

Banner Image: Seeing beyond the mask. Photo by Nong Vang on Unsplash.

Queries for Contemplation

Do you know examples in current history where Aquinas’s words, about “avarice or greed tending toward infinity” are being played out? 

What can we do to interfere with such mistaken energies?  What alternatives can we offer for our hearts’ quests for infinity?

Recommended Reading

Order of the Sacred Earth: An Intergenerational Vision of Love and Action
By Matthew Fox, Skylar Wilson, and Jen Listug

In the midst of global fire, earthquake and flood – as species are going extinct every day and national and global economies totter – the planet doesn’t need another church or religion. What it needs is a new Order, grounded in the Wisdom traditions of both East and West, including science and indigenous. An Order of the Sacred Earth united in one sacred vow: “I promise to be the best lover and defender of the Earth that I can be.”
Co-authored by Matthew Fox, Skylar Wilson, and Jennifer Berit Listug, with a forward by David Korten, this collection of essays by 21 spiritual visionaries including Brian Swimme, Mirabai Starr, Theodore Richards, and Kristal Parks marks the founding of the diverse and inclusive Order of the Sacred Earth, a community now evolving around the world.
“The Order of the Sacred Earth not only calls us home to our true nature as Earth, but also offers us invaluable guidance and company on the way.”  ~~ Joanna Macy, environmental activist and author of Active Hope.

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7 thoughts on “Unmasking the Limits of Capitalism”

  1. Avatar

    Are there any limits to the avarice and greed that seem to feed so many of the politicians in our country? They think nothing of lying, cheating, and falsifying anything that contradicts their way of increasing their wealth, no matter who gets hurt.
    Unfortunately, this narcissistic self-centered and thoughtless behavior has spread among many in our country and in our world.
    Many people such as our healthcare workers and people in charge of keeping things going in so many ways, are counteracting some of the unpardonable and unnecessary wounds inflicted on so many. And I am eternally grateful for them.
    What can I do as an elderly? Do kind acts of giving when I can; spread light and joy and love through energy work, through a smile, through gratefully accepting the help that I need when offered, bowing with a “Namaste” instead of hugging, and remaining positive always! Not much . . . But people do respond. Praise God!

  2. Avatar

    Creativity, knowledge and love know no bounds, according to Aquinas, and neither does avarice. Avarice is in charge right now, and I agree with Matthew. The people at the bottom of the ladder have accepted the false capitalist story, which is a product of the reptilian brain–that is the saddest thing to me, that so many of the greatest victims of a corrupt system cannot see it at all and live on false hopes and maybe a few crumbs thrown to them. It is a time of great opportunity, but much damage has already been done, and I fear I will not see the sea change that is needed in my lifetime–at least in the U.S. If we do not blow ourselves up, it may be two or three generations ahead before democracy as it is meant to function, will take over. I pray that I am wrong!

    1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      We pray that you are wrong also, but you are right in seeing as Matthew says that “Avarice is in charge right now.” So many people at the bottom of the ladder are suffering while those at the top are profiting from our suffering. You speak of a false capitalism and I agree. There are actually many versions of capitalism being practiced in our country, from those which makes their profits and investments in view of the community as a whole in which they live, to those who make their profits and investments simply for their own selfish interests–and without regard to how their investments hurt the earth and the people who live on her.

  3. Avatar

    It is so ironic to me that his “winner” appointees only last until they either disagree with him or they don’t (according to him) march in lockstep. The government since 2016 has a revolving door, there have been so many “hire-ings and fire-ings”. And then there are those who are in prison (or should be….).

    1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      Elaine, you are right, it does seem that there is a revolving door for the President’s appointees. Ben Carlson however, is still hanging in there, but even he says he probably won’t continue for another term, if there should be one…

  4. Avatar
    Joan Mistretta

    I have started to say at any opportunity (and I am obviously taking this one) that the United States does not have capitalism as an economic system (it might be an ok one) but as a religion (it is a terrible one.)

    1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      You are right! As Jesus rebuked those who worshipped “Mammon” or “money” (Matt. 6:24), he would also rebuke those who have made a religion of capitalism. Thank you for your comment Joan!!!

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