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capitalism Tag - PaganSquare - Join the conversation! http://www.witchesandpagans.com/latest.html Thu, 29 Jan 2015 09:14:44 -0800 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb Denouncing capitalism http://www.witchesandpagans.com/pagan-culture-blogs/dirty-money/denouncing-capitalism.html http://www.witchesandpagans.com/pagan-culture-blogs/dirty-money/denouncing-capitalism.html

I have a real problem with capitalism.  I get this little twitch whenever I see it in action, an urge to rise up and say, "NO!  This is wrong!"  Each year that passes I see capitalist forces making deeper inroads into our culture, and at times it's simply infuriating.  Of course, given the mind-boggling diversity within the Pagan movement, capitalist forces see opportunity around every corner, and seize every opportunity that presents itself.

I fear that we are losing to the capitalists, and I think it's time to rise up and loudly denounce everything they stand for.

Capitalism was extremely popular among the enlightened thinkers who helped cobble together the United States of America from its colonial progenitors, a fact which is easier to see when reading their original words, rather than the memes which disseminate pithy quotes these days.  English has strong German roots, and German is, hands down, the most capitalist language of them all.

My own writing is as free of capitalism as it can be.  I only use a capital at the beginning of a sentence, or in the case of a proper noun, that it, the unique name of a unique thing.  If something else can be described with a word, it's not a name, so it does not deserve a capital.

  • I worship gods, not Gods, although individual deities (never Deities!) have names.  Just because something is associated with a god doesn't mean it demands, requires, or deserves a capital letter.
  • My religion is Pagan because that's a proper noun describing a particular thing -- albeit an ambiguous, much-debated thing -- and so it retains the capital even when used as an adjective.  Wiccan, Hellenic, Kemetic, Heathen get the same treatment.
  • Although I am a polytheist, that's not a religion, so it's lower case all the way.
  • I occasionally do magic, but never Magic.
  • When I "do the work," I do it in lower case.
  • My compass points to north, south, east, and west.
  • The elements are likewise lowered; I can light an infinite number of fires, so I don't write it as Fire.  Even if I am trying to summon it into myself or worship it directly.
  • Capitals are not to be used for emphasis, to imply that something is sacred, or to distinguish between a physical object and its essential essence.  If something deserves a capital, it deserves the respect of a unique name.
  • The use of a capital letter does not change the pronunciation of a word in English, not one whit.  If a passage is read aloud, can the listener identify which words are capitalized?  E should be able to do so if they are all at the beginning of sentences, or denoting proper names.  E will just be guessing about anything else, which means that those words should not be capitalized.

Oh, you thought I was talking about the economic concept?  Well, it is April Fool's Day, after all.


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terencepward@gmail.com (Terence P Ward) Culture Blogs Tue, 01 Apr 2014 03:57:52 -0700
Paganism and Modernity: the crisis of humanity, the earth, and capitalism http://www.witchesandpagans.com/pagan-culture-blogs/all-our-relations/paganism-and-modernity-the-crisis-of-capitalism.html http://www.witchesandpagans.com/pagan-culture-blogs/all-our-relations/paganism-and-modernity-the-crisis-of-capitalism.html          This is part III of what will be a three or four part series on the social implications of Pagan religion. 

         Some Pagans probably found my previous essay on alternative forms of economic organization,    such as the Mondragon workers cooperatives, far removed from a strictly Pagan site’s expected interests.  At first glance it does seem far removed.  Here is why I think it is not and in fact goes directly to who we are.

Among the world’s Pagan traditions NeoPaganism is particularly open to coexisting happily with the modern world.  Our roots are in this world and most of us do not look backwards towards earlier Pagan times as being in most respects preferable to modernity.  But there is one important point where we clash fundamentally with modernity’s dominant attitudes, be they of the left or the right.  We see, and many of us have powerfully experienced, the world as inspirited.  Not only human beings are expressions of Spirit, so is the world itself. In sharpest contrast, the modern worldview treats the natural world as a storehouse of resources that acquires what value it has by serving us. 

Modern institutions reflect this attitude, rooted as they are in Protestant Christianity, subsequently strengthened by the dominant materialistic interpretations of science. No institution better exemplifies this view than modern economics, in theory, in law, and in practice.

Because the major modern economic institutions incorporate this rejection of natural value, and because there is no genuine separation between human beings and the rest of the world, these institutions are gradually turning men and women into nothing more than resources serving greater power than they, as has already been done to the rest of the world.  This attitude was as true of state socialism as  of capitalism, for both deny intrinsic value to the world. State socialism has collapsed, but capitalism is a tougher nut.  As my first post showed  people are increasingly rewarded only to the degree they serve capitalism. The world of human values does not matter.  The servant has become the master.

Late February witnessed a fascinating example of this logic at work, although in this case capitalism lost. That is probably the only reason it got headlines.  Apple Computer was created by Steve Jobs and others who gave it a distinct corporate culture that incorporated many “60s values.”   Jobs is gone, but it takes time for a corporate culture to be incorporated into the borg of the capitalist system. In this case the system lost, its effort at incorporation were premature. So-called ‘free market’ advocates sought to force Apple to put maximizing its shares’ monetary value above the company’s commitment to fighting global warming.  The logic of capitalist economics demands share value trump every other value. Apple’s CEO, Tim Cook, told the insurgents Apple had no use for people such as they.  They should sell their shares and leave.  Over 97% of Apple shareholders supported him. Yet the trounced insurgents replied “millions of Apple shareholders now know that the company is involved with organizations that don't appear to have the best interest of Apple's investors in mind. . ."

Actually the vast majority of shareholders did vote their values, and they were not the values of capitalism. The so-called ‘free market’ advocates put the values of capital ahead of human values such as seeking to preserve the earth’s environment for future generations. They were advocates of an inhuman system best served by the most sociopathic of human beings.

Because we Pagans include the world within the network of our ethical relations the conflict with Pagan spirituality runs even deeper than capitalism’s conflict with more purely human-centered religious traditions. All genuine spiritual traditions value human beings, but ours also honors the earth.

This is our chief, perhaps our only, real conflict with the modern world, and on this issue we are on the side of humanity as a whole as well.  But last time we Pagans confronted the issue, we were not.

This is not the first time

This issue confronted EuroPagans earlier, mostly in Germany in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  Germany had industrialized late for a European country, and its people experienced the change from an agricultural largely rural society into an industrial and increasingly urban society as very disruptive.  Further the European Romantic movement had sensitized many Germans to recognizing the intrinsic value in the more-than-human world.  In this environment a new German Paganism arose looking to the Pagan past for inspiration.

My new book Faultlines  explores how many of the themes that later characterized the Sixties and the rise of US NeoPagan religion were prefigured in the decades between the War of 1812 and the Civil War.  America’s alternative spiritual movements were progressive. After it was published I began exploring why these trends had taken a different, increasingly reactionary direction as one moved east in Europe, from Britain to France to Germany to Russia.  Most of these spiritual and religious movements were what we today would call New Age in character, but Pagan elements were present as well, especially in England and Germany. Germany’s Pagan focus was much stronger than the English equivalent of the time.  The German example is fascinating to me because its political impact leaned heavily to the right. The Thule Society, which had explicitly Pagan characteristics, ultimately played an important role in the rise of Nazism

I wondered why the difference between us and Germany of the time and began reading some of the key people active back then.

I found as I read the writings of Germans with Pagan beliefs, like Ludwig Klages  that I usually agreed with their criticisms of secular materialistic capitalism while being appalled at the practical conclusions they drew from their critique.  Klages clearly saw   the impact of capitalism on the world, writing for example that: “the winding rivers which once suspended themselves in glittering labryinthine curves, must now become perfectly straight canals; the swift streams and waterfalls  -  and this is true even for Niagra – must now feed electric power plants; ever – expanding forests of smokestacks reach all the way to the oceans’ shores; and the water-pollution caused by industry transforms nature’s pristine waters into raw sewage.” 

But his recommendations leaned strongly to the right, and it is on the most authoritarian and racist edges of the right that his writings are most easily found today. 

             Why the difference from us?

             One theme I continually encountered was their lumping modernity, democracy, and capitalism as a single spiritually hostile force (often most completely represented in their eyes by Jews).  In response they urged returning to simpler societies characterized by extreme hierarchies of power and authority, where all knew their proper place. They believed this society had existed during the Middle Ages and earlier.  Many blamed Christianity for their current situation and urged a return to more ‘Germanic’ traditions

They emphasized those aspects of past Pagan societies that were most at odds with modernity, such as traditional roles of subordination for most people, and the supremacy of masculine warrior values over feminine ones. Pagan imagery was characterized by a one-sided focus on the sun as a sacred source with masculine characteristics while ignoring or subordinating the moon and its feminine symbolism. The swastika was a venerable solar sign in much of Pagan Europe, and they revived and used it for decades with no connection at all to politics before its obscene appropriation by the Nazis. (In my opinion the prevalence of moon signs in modern NeoPaganism and their virtual absence in late 19th and early 20th century German Paganism is very significant, as we shall see.)

There is a tragic irony here.

The capitalist business models and practices these German Pagans and near-Pagans opposed transferred many of the hierarchical customs, laws, and principles of subordination from earlier times into modern industry.  Economic necessity often took the place of earlier laws establishing classes of people, but the practical impact was largely the same.

Workers had to be paid of course, and they ‘voluntarily’ took jobs to avoid starvation, but once hired they were controlled by the “boss,” a well-deserved title at odds with any rhetoric about contracts among equals.  Working people spent most of their lives as powerless subordinates.

Early liberals like John Locke and Thomas Jefferson had considered independent small farmers to be the ideal citizens for free societies.  The rapid rise of enormous industries undermined this ideal.  Jefferson and Adam Smith, who both lived in the first decades of the rise of capitalism, shared a concern with the impact of early industry on its employees. Later ones such as John Stuart Mill and Alexander Tocqueville, were very alarmed about the transformation they saw happening around them. 

Mass deaths like we now read about in Asia today, were all too frequent  in the US at the time. America’s labor history was among the most violent in the world because of the clash between our values of freedom and the demands of capitalist industry.  Pollution from mines rendered miles of countryside sterile wastelands as trees and plants died from the fumes of early industry.  Small wonder people were appalled by the excesses of giant industries and looked for alternatives. 

But, and here is the essential point, the practices destroying so many lives were rooted in the old values of hierarchical societies, not the values of democratic modernity. The world of the time, as it is today, was a complex mixture of values, beliefs, and practices, some modern and some reflecting older times of near universal subordination.  Yet these varied characteristics of society were often lumped together as “modernity.”

German Pagans looked backwards for a solution when they should have looked forwards, to expanding the values of individual freedom and equality instead of blaming them for practices that consistently undermined that same  freedom and equality.

Because most early modern Pagans did not, they supported anti-democratic völkisch  movements seeking better connections with nature and lives no longer controlled by capitalism, but they sought these goods by increasing still further the role of hierarchy and power over most people’s lives.

As we know, the ultimate political consequences were horrible.

Alternative vistas

During this time the Catholic Church was seeking a “middle way” between socialism and liberal capitalism.  While an enemy of religious liberty, and most certainly of Pagan religion, the Church was the strongest force in the West seeking to keep ethics and humane relations dominant ideals in the economy.  In their efforts Catholic thinkers created what is known as “Catholic Social Thought.”   It was this tradition that inspired Fr. Arizmendi when he initiated the changes at Mondragon that transformed the life of the region and eventually opened exciting possibilities for the rest of us.

I am hardly suggesting we incorporate Catholic social thought into Paganism, far from it. However, to a point our interests are the same as theirs and we can learn from them.  They grappled with some of the same problems we face today, and led to some very successful alternatives to capitalism and socialism alike. 

The Church still officially adheres to these principles, with greater or lesser focus.  In 1981 Pope John Paul described this perspective:   “A way towards that goal [of a humane economy]  could be found by associating labor with the ownership of capital, as far as possible, and by producing a wide range of intermediate bodies with economic, social, and cultural purposes. . .”

This, it seems to me, is a perfect expression of Mondragon’s achievements. 

It also describes an institutional setting where men and women can consider the values of the natural world on their own terms rather than seeking to subordinate them into dollars and cents terms.

Capitalism today is the culmination of the rise of large corporations to encompass much of economic production while systematically eliminating all alternative human values to their profit.  They have now become strong enough to begin turning back hard won protections for labor, and even for citizens in general.  They also are doing untold damage to the earth.  This is happening under the lie that we are increasing ‘freedom’ from regulation when we in fact are letting them create a new serfdom. We see the early stages of this serfdom arising around us with corporations increasingly freed from serious consequences for breaking the law while ever greater wealth accumulates in the hands of those who serve capitalism best  Even the very pro-business British magazine The Economist is worried about these trends, where the incomes of all but the top 5% are stagnating or falling If they have their way there is worse to come

The challenge for men and women of good will, a challenge I believe affects Pagans particularly deeply, is to find humane alternatives to capitalist amorality by perfecting the insights that gave us the best of the modern world.  Looking backwards has proven a mistake.  The Mondragon workers cooperatives and smaller but very successful American businesses organized in the same way, like the Alvarado Street Bakery, show us a way forward.

Only when men and women can consider the full richness of our relations with one another and with our world will they be able to act with the wisdom and insight we so desperately need today.

 (small edits on 3/29/14)


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gdizerega@gmail.com (Gus diZerega) Culture Blogs Mon, 10 Mar 2014 16:52:18 -0700
Business as if human beings mattered more than profit http://www.witchesandpagans.com/pagan-culture-blogs/all-our-relations/business-as-if-human-beings-mattered-more-than-profit.html http://www.witchesandpagans.com/pagan-culture-blogs/all-our-relations/business-as-if-human-beings-mattered-more-than-profit.html

Capitalism seems invulnerable today not because anyone likes it, informed decent people do not, but because it is hard to imagine a realistic alternative. State socialism failed, and failed in a horrible way.  Going back to the land is impossible for more than a relative few of us.  Markets work better than explicit controls and markets seem inevitably to generate capitalism.  We seem trapped. 

But markets are not as predictable as economists claim and most economists confuse their theoretical categories with the real world of men and women. Consider the Mondragon cooperatives   in the Basque country of northern Spain. In September, 2012, I had the opportunity to visit these cooperatives in September of 2012 as part of an annual study group organized by the Praxis Peace Institute.  Given all that I had heard, I felt that while I could not easily afford to go financially, I could not afford not to go intellectually. 

Here is why.

About 50 years ago Basque country was Spain’s poorest region, one of beautiful but steep mountains, narrow valleys, and a population where many had to seek work abroad.  Basque sheep herders were long a well known presence in the American West.

Today the Basque region is Spain’s most prosperous, and compares well with the most prosperous regions of Europe.  Workers’ cooperatives were the economic engine for this transformation, not capitalists.  The largest and oldest of these is the Modragon cooperative. Today the region’s economy of worker cooperatives encompasses hi tech industries, agriculture, higher education, large retail outlets, traditional manufacturing, housing, and much more.  It even includes Spain’s most solvent big bank. Total members of the Mondragon co-operatives now number over 80,000.

Within each cooperative management is chosen by and from among the workers. Even top managers can never be paid more than six times the lowest ‘wage’ in that particular firm. In Spain as a whole that figure is about 18 times, and in the US now an obscene many hundreds of times. 

As a developmental model the Mondragon cooperatives are exceptionally successful.  During their first 25 years 86 cooperatives organized along these lines were started. Only one failed. Today there are 289 Mondragon businesses and co-operatives and the huge economic crisis in Spain has claimed only one more.  Two failures in 289 enterprises over 50 years time. Spain’s current unemployment is well above 20%, as high as 25%.  The Mondragon cooperatives had zero % unemployment until one of their largest firms went under a few months ago due to the crisis.  Since then half of those workers have been re-employed by the cooperatives while the others are given retraining and most of their old income.  They are doing far better than Spain as a whole.  Truly they are a viable alternative to capitalism. 

There have been no Wall Street Journal articles on Mondragon, no TV specials on how these organizations have proven so resistant to the economic catastrophes hurting so many millions.  Instead in America we hear how the 1% “create jobs” that in practice do not exist and how they are the “makers” as compared to the “moochers” though they invent nothing, create nothing, and in many cases simply gamble with others’ money. Politicians extol the sociopathic doctrines of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged rather than the capacities and intelligence of most citizens. Workers supposedly lack the skills and foresight to manage their own lives, let along something a big as a factory.

The “spark plug” for this development was a Catholic parish priest, Fr. Jose Maria Arizmendi.   Under his leadership a small college was created, teaching engineering and the Catholic doctrine of labor’s superiority over capital.  This doctrine, which I will describe in my third column in this series, was essential to Arizmendi’s efforts and is not so much narrowly Catholic as broadly humane.  Later some of the college’s graduates founded a small factory, producing paraffin stoves. 

The factory prospered, and by 1958 had grown to 143 worker-members.  They were also actively assisting in creating other worker cooperatives. In 1959 Arizmendi urged creating a savings bank, Caja Laboral Popular,  the “Bank of the People’s Labor” to be independent of capitalist financial institutions. This bank was also to be a cooperative owned by its founding co-operatives and its own employees. One worker who would later become a leading Spanish banker told Arizmendi

“yesterday we were craftsmen, foremen, and engineers. Today we are trying to learn how to be managers and executives. Tomorrow you want us to become bankers. That is impossible.”

The bank is now Spain’s 7th largest. 

When I was there the president of the bank spoke to us, and his initial remark was “As we all know, capitalism does not work.” He was speaking in terms of working at improving human well-being. The word is slowly getting out.

Today the Mondragon cooperatives’ example is inspiring a new round of cooperative enterprises in different countries, including here In Northern California. As they do, they demonstrate people do not have to be Basque to exercise intelligent control over their place of work.

Let me illustrate by describing one very successful example is near where I live.

The Alvarado Street Bakery

Located in a modern office park in Southeast Petaluma, the Alvarado Street Bakery  seems far removed from its origins 30 years ago as a small quasi-hippie bakery. But unlike the more traditional businesses around it, the bakery is a worker cooperative, currently with 111 members.  To the uninitiated its hippie roots are visible only in its name and its trademark cat, Greta, curled atop a loaf of bread as the company’s logo. (Greta was their first organic pest control technology.)

To the initiated the bakery is an example of a road Americans can still take to reclaim the American Dream from its current corporate nightmare, a nightmare promising far worse to come

Organized like Mondragon, the bakery’s members are not so much its owners as its citizens.  Unlike shares in corporations and orthodox co-operatives, voting rights arise from working in the bakery, not from buying a share.  Members have to buy shares, but share prices are purposely kept low.  In this vital respect the bakery is more like a self-governing community than a typical business enterprise.  But it is a community that survives by producing products consumers want, such as good bread.

The quality of its breadis reflected in its profits.  The average worker’s income at Alvarado Street in 2012 was $68,000  plus a percentage of profits, based on the number of hours worked. There are time cards at the bakery, but rather than enforcing managerial demands they measure every worker’s right to a share of the profit.  Some workers receive more in disbursement than its CEO, Joseph Tuck, because, as he emphasized to me, they worked longer hours.  Last year these profits added an average of $18,000 to everyone’s pay.  In addition to this $86,000 workers receive generous vacation time, maxing out at 6 weeks annually after 7 years with the company. This includes the right to roll one week over into the next year.  In addition the company provides generous medical, dental, and retirement benefits. 

The flip side is that when times are bad workers feel it.  Twice since its founding workers had to vote in reduced wages for themselves, taking a pay cut.  But no one was laid off.  Since 1993 this has not been necessary.  Today the company is self-financing for all its needs. 

The ethical economy

From the standpoint of a column on a Pagan site, economic prosperity is not the major issue, important as it is. As I explained in my previous post, capitalism is radically inhuman and incapable of reflecting human ethical values.  Not so at the Alvarado Street Bakery, or other organizations based on the Mondragon model.  Money is important and profits are necessary, but other values can sometimes trump them.  In times of crisis everyone worked for less to protect all members, the opposite of corporations who see working people as sadly necessary expenses to be cut and minimized as much as possible.  In this and many other ways, a workers cooperative organized along Mondragon style lines is a community able to act responsibly within a moral universe. A capitalist enterprise is not.

Transparency and trust emerge from this kind of enterprise. The fact that everyone benefits when the company does well, and that necessary hierarchy is understood as good for everyone, breaks down traditional internal barriers. As CEO, Joseph Tuck makes three times what the least paid worker makes, and his salary rate is determined by the workers themselves.

Workers also vote in the Board of Directors which itself is made up of workers.  The Board sets hiring and firing policies, and decides whether or not to accept new members.  If someone is terminated by a manager they can appeal to the CEO. If they disagree with his decision they can appeal to a committee of peers that make a recommendation to the Board of Directors. The Board makes the final decision.

Turnover is very low at Alvarado Street with only three workers having left this last year. Over 65% have been there 10 years or more.

The Alvarado Street Bakery demonstrates workers’ co-operatives can prosper in our strongly individualistic culture.  When I asked Tuck about any tensions between American individualism and the cooperative model he replied “As Americans we change culture like no one else on the planet.”  More fundamentally, he observed “When you come here our basic culture is in harmony with the human condition. People are attracted to the idea of having a decent life and wage, and if the cooperative does well, they do as well.”

In many ways the logic behind the Alvarado Street Bakery, and the Mondragon model in general, is an economic version of one of America’s most venerated old institutions: the New England town democracies that so impressed many European visitors to the new United States.  If such a town decided to create an enterprise to support them all, and in which they all worked, we would be looking at an example of this model.

Ironically the Mondragon model is in far greater harmony with the logic of a market economy, voluntary contract, and individual freedom than are capitalist corporations. They take the greatest positive strengths of modern economic organizations and transform them into service to human well-being rather than rule by an oligarchy.

Now that I have provided a solid set of examples that alternatives to capitalism exist, I will return to more Pagan specific issues in the next follow up post.

 


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gdizerega@gmail.com (Gus diZerega) Culture Blogs Sat, 22 Feb 2014 13:02:58 -0800
Pagan religion and American society: the case against capitalism http://www.witchesandpagans.com/pagan-culture-blogs/all-our-relations/pagan-religion-and-american-society-the-case-against-capitalism.html http://www.witchesandpagans.com/pagan-culture-blogs/all-our-relations/pagan-religion-and-american-society-the-case-against-capitalism.html Every religious tradition stands in some tension with its society, legitimizing some things in terms of a larger eternal context, but in the process challenging others, sometimes deeply.  As NeoPagan religions increase in America this same pattern is developing. This essay explores how the logic of Pagan religion leads us to question the legitimacy of some important contemporary institutions, particularly the joint stock corporation, and with this questioning, the way our society views the world. 

More deeply than most religions, NeoPagans legitimize and honor the goodness of this world, the sacred immanence that shines through all things.  Consequently, from a Pagan perspective living well in our world requires observing appropriate ethical and moral relationships.  This insight cannot help but lead us to criticize attitudes treating this world as noting but a means for human ends.

Our society’s institutional and legal core views the world as without value beyond its use to us.  A mountain or forest has no more intrinsic value than a crumpled wad of paper.  Our economic system in particular is only able to relate to the world on these terms. Its signature institution, the joint stock corporation, is created so treat everything it encounters as either a resource for attaining its goal of making money, a threat to that goal, or irrelevant. By understanding what is defective about a corporation we can better appreciate what Pagan insights add to our world.

A corporation selects its leaders through voting based on how many shares an owner owns.  The more money a person invests, the more votes they control,  guaranteeing as much as any human institution can that values inhibiting making money will be ignored.  If a CEO sacrifices share value to anything else, he or she will likely be ousted.  Consequently, CEOs who care only for making money will have a competitive edge over men and women with a wider and deeper sense of what it is to be a decent human being.  Corporations select for sociopathic leadership, and often they succeed. 

The problem gets worse. Most share holders are normal human beings with a normal range of values. Doing well is one of them, but other values also matter. Many are too busy to spend a great deal of their lives pouring over comparative performance and forecast reports to determine what shares to buy or sell. So they hire others to do it for them.  These “others” are usually mutual funds. Most investors will not even know what corporations they “own” a part of. They own shares in the funds.

Fund managers are legally required to seek the maximum income for their clients.  Unless they are “green funds” mutual funds remove human values one additional step from influencing economic decision-making.

As decisions about investments are increasingly removed from the complex values motivating human beings to the one dimensional world of seeking money over everything else a strange transformation takes place.  In my terms it is the transition from a market economy based on private ownership to capitalism and the abolition of what we usually describe as private ownership of the means of production. 

The end of ownership

To own something is to control it and to be responsible for it.  But most shareholders do not control the corporation of which they ‘own’ a part.  Nor are they responsible for its actions.  If a corporation commits a crime, shareholders are not responsible.  But the problem is deeper than that. 

Suppose I discover a corporation in which I have invested is doing something morally objectionable.  I protest. They respond their policies are “good business.” I sell my shares in protest.  They are then bought by someone who is either not aware of why I sold, or does not care.

What happened?  The shares are now owned by someone without my moral objections. If bad actions increase the corporation’s profits, they benefit. If I break off my involvement with wrong behavior, those who approve it will benefit.  Whatever this is, it is not ownership. It has no resemblance to the small business created and owned by an entrepreneur and reflecting his or her values. 

In reality capitalism ‘owns’ the companies and share ‘owners’ receive a dividend depending on how well they invest their resources to serve capitalism in making as much money as it can.  Share ‘owners’ are only rewarded when they serve capitalist values. When they do not serve capitalism’s values  their shares dwindle in value or are sold, and they are excluded from influence.  In a sense they are laid off. 

Share holders work for capitalism rather than capitalism working for them.  If they are good at it they do well, but it is a mistake to think of them as anything but  subordinates. At this level they are akin to state socialism where the state owns the industries and pays managers to run them, giving bonuses to those who run them well. Capitalism is more efficient than state socialism, but the role of human values and freedom in both cases is subordinated to power.

There is a great irony in conservatives worrying about government taking over private property but having no objection to corporate capitalism. To the extent it is corporate the business world has already expropriated  private property. It happened not through laws taking rights away but by capitalism fundamentally changing the context in which those rights exist, so that the most important of them disappeared from practical economic impact. ‘Owners’ remain, but they receive income depending on how well they serve capitalism. If they object and leave, their oversight in service to capitalism is transferred to someone more willing to do the job.

A personal example

A concrete example might help nail down an abstract argument. For many years I made my living as an artist, and the stationery and cards I designed and sold paid for my Ph.D. and sometimes supported me for years afterwards.  I wholesaled over much of the US and met a pay roll.  Ultimately email began reducing demand, and I closed it down. (How many letters do you write every year?)

Suppose that had not happened and my business grew and grew.  At some point I might have chosen what many business people do when they are successful, and tried to take it public, becoming a joint stock corporation in order to raise capital and grow more. Had I done so control would have shifted from me to shareholders.  I would have become an employee, a hired manager.  If I had made decisions that negatively affected total money profit the shareholders would have been justified in firing me and hiring someone more money driven. And as I explained, share holding tends to go towards those motivated only by money in these decisions. 

When I ran my business I made many decisions that limited my profits over what they otherwise would have been, such as using recycled paper even though it cost more, providing “Pagan discounts,”  and giving products away for charitable purposes even though I received no recognition (and so free advertising) for doing so.  I often over paid employees compared to what I likely would have needed to if only money mattered.

None of these practices would have been justified under the new regime unless they resulted in greater profits.

Capitalism and Nature

The deathly logic of capitalism extends to living beings.

Bernard Rollins described the following event in his ethics column in the Canadian Veterinary Journal: (reported in The Land report, no. 74, summer, 2004.)

You [as a veterinarian] are called to a 500-sow farrow-to-finish swine operation . . .  As you examine several sows in the crated gestation unit, you notice one with a hind leg at an unusual angle and inquire about her status.  You are told “She broke her leg yesterday and she’s due to farrow next week.  We’ll let her farrow in here, and then we’ll shoot her and foster off her pigs.”  Is it ethically correct to leave the sow with a broken leg for a week while you await her farrowing?

When the visiting vet offered to splint the sow’s leg for free, he was told profit margins were so tight they could not afford the time to care for her.

This was not a unique event. When one of Rollins’ colleagues’ son-in-law was working in an industrial hog “farm” he noticed some of the pigs were sick and, being familiar with the disease, offered to treat it.  “’We don’t treat sick animals’ he was told, ‘We kill them by knocking them over the head with a crowbar.’”  The man treated them anyway and was fired for his efforts, until he told management he had done so with his own money.  He was re-hired “with a reprimand and warning.”

A Pagan connection

For years the family-held Pacific Lumber Company had logged profitably in Northern California while being popular with environmentalists due to their wise practices.  They decided to go public to raise more money.  When they did corporate raiders from Texas decided their shares were “under valued” because if they were more ruthless in their logging they would be able to make more money.  They took it over using borrowed cash, or junk bonds, greatly increased the rate of cutting, inflicted untold environmental damage on land they owned as well as land and people living downstream from the landslides they caused, and triggered the timber wars that tore apart Northern California’s social fabric for years.  Essentially Wall Street was waging war  against the people, land, and waters of northern California’s redwood forests. No clearer example of the conflict between capitalism and human values could be described (although there are many others as clear).    

 People protested this destruction. The protests were dramatically and firmly supported by Reclaiming, one of the largest Pagan organizations in the country. Witches helped raise money and offered other support for Earth First!  in its efforts to defeat the capitalists.  Ultimately they succeeded, as California adopted regulations requiring wiser logging practices, and when they became law the Texas vandals could not make money and the company went bankrupt. 

The issue here was not people making use of the land.  The issue was people using the land as if it had no value other than its service to some, and as that logic worked itself out, no value other than  its service to capitalism. Kiowa writer Scott Momaday’s observation captures a Pagan point of view: “You say I use the land, and I reply, yes it is true; but it is not the first truth.  The first truth is that I love the land; I see that it is beautiful.  I delight in it; I am alive in it.” 

From a Pagan perspective what is happening is a moral failing in many ways as complete and catastrophic as the millennial old acceptance of slavery.  Despite its horrors slavery was accepted by Pagans, Christians and others alike.  It only became vulnerable to abolition when some people developed sufficient moral awareness to see its wrongness while recognizing alternatives to it on a more ‘practical’ level. 

Do we have practical  alternatives available that can free us from capitalism and enable people to be able to act in a morally and ethically deeper way towards the rest of the world?

The answer is yes. My next post will describe the most inspiring alternative about which I know. 

 


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gdizerega@gmail.com (Gus diZerega) Culture Blogs Wed, 12 Feb 2014 11:47:58 -0800