Really enjoyed Joe Bageant’s 2010.08.16 essay Understanding America’s Class System.  Very perceptive, I thought.  😉

In recent years, I have personally come to the same opinion – that capitalism is indeed the cancer consuming the American soul.  Not because capitalism is evil, ‘wrong’ or even a sub-optimal approach.  (I am not a socialist or communist – IMHO, orthodoxy in these areas are ideological extremes that are just as unhealthy.)

The problem is that we have:

  1. Become addicted to capitalism
  2. Essentially made capitalism our religion

Capitalism is a fine way to run our economy – IMHO  the best one out there It supports freedom in a way that is completely compatible with democracy.

But capitalism’s value is as a means, not as an end.  It’s a tool that we can use to pursue our values and goals.  As Joe states very clearly in his essay, our society is ill now because we’re asleep at the helm.  Instead of consciously deciding what our values are and making choices to get us there, we have become addicted to capitalism, and let it take us where it will.  Instead of first choosing our values and then our methods to get there, we have become addicted to the method, and then rationalized the emergent values as morally/ideologically/patriotically justified.  Instead of making it the ox pulling our plow, we’ve made it the monkey on our back.

I also think there’s another factor at work that leads to the social stratification Joe  describes:  Personalities.

I work for a large corporation, one big enough to have a rich and sophisticated internal social ecosystem.  I have consistently seen assholes rise to power because of the following factors:

  • They are ambitious
  • They are willing to do whatever it takes to fulfill their ambitions, including:
    • Work very hard
    • Wave the flag of business success/propriety to rally the troops (sincerely and/or insincerely)
    • Manipulate people/spin the truth as required
    • Lie, cheat and steal to fill in the gaps – covertly, smoothly, effortlessly and without hesitation

Here’s the rub:

  • Corporations are not conscious beings, they are like wild animals.  All they want to do is consume and grow – to make ever increasing amounts of money.  This means that if left to their own devices, they will eat everything and everyone in their paths
    • Alhough there’s a lot of noise made about ‘responsible corporate citizens’, the reality is that very few corporate leaders have the cohones to do anything other than pursue the path to the biggest short-term gains and get away with it.  And the larger the corporation, the greater the pressure, and the closer to impossible any other path becomes
  • Assholes like those described above are more likely to lead a corporation to corporate success than someone who will pause and think and/or put another value system above the corporate value system
  • Therefore these assholes get rewarded with money and power – because they feed the hunger of the beast most directly

Of course I’m over-generalizing here:  The people who run corporate america are not ALL assholes – a range of personalities is represented.  But there is a much higher representation of assholes in leadership positions than in non-leadership positions, because they are more successful/desirable as corporate leaders than as corporate followers.

Why are we letting the wild beasts of the corporate ecosystem define our value system?

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