The purpose of writing this article is to bring forth an objective perspective on modernism and postulate the direction in which it can evolve.
Capitalism — an economic system based on private ownership of capital.
The fundamental characteristic of capitalism is that it creates a binary hierarchy structure comprising of those who own capital and those that don’t; those that own capital are at the top and those that don’t work for those that do.
Capitalism is the best economic system in human history because it generates [an excess of] wealth. Countries that maintain free markets have higher standards of living and the poor people in those countries have more relative wealth than poor people in countries that don’t have capitalist economies. Therefore, capitalism elevates the people who are at the bottom. Capitalism is also correlated with low child mortality rates.
Capitalism is driven by profits. Profit is the best way to reward abstract value added by business managers in coming up with an idea; coming up with a strategy and marketing plan; acquiring customers, and managing an enterprise efficiently. Profit additionally provides a reasonable constraint on wasted labor. Capitalism punishes enterprises that don’t deliver profits.
However, capitalism equally has negative aspects such as the wastage and destruction of resources. Wastage of resources is a consequence of the maximization of profit incentive. Corporations are not motivated to resolve human problems in totality, because if they did that, they run out of business. They design partial solutions with obsolescence embedded, to force consumers to keep buying their products in the future. A case example is an electric toothbrush created by Oral-B that didn’t include rechargeable batteries. Were they fools not to realize that customers needed a toothbrush that would provide utility indefinitely? They presumably knew customers would reap more benefits from a toothbrush with rechargeable batteries but decided otherwise to get return business.
Capitalism has also established an industrial society that exploits and destroys natural resources such as flora, fauna, and water bodies.
We have to recognize that our industrial way of life is not inevitable, nor is it sustainable; our industrial way of life remains a choice, and someday it is going to strain our finite resources till it crashes. The impulse for “progress” may hold sway for a moment, but other more humane ways of living are open to us. Before we can change, we have to recognize that we have choices and that we can remake our culture.
“Progress” is a myth. We have progressed in material terms but lost the principals, the fundamentals of living. “Civilized” nations have fought a couple of world wars that exterminated more than 50 million people. Industrial civilization disrupts communities by increasing the velocity of people and goods. Capitalism and technological society have atomized us; we have few obligations, few bonds, lots of cash in our pockets, and lots of time on our hands.
It is naïve to think of modern technology as simple as a tool; it is a social system that springs from and forges certain relationships with the world. We can reevaluate what is genuinely important to us and hold on to that while putting away the rest of the ill industrial monster that wrecks the life of the planet. But to do so requires a vision. A vision of a natural, re-enchanted world, dominated by wild nature instead of concrete structures and technological artifacts. A vision of a wonderful blossoming and efflorescing in our lives; the independence, freedom, and deeper emotional participation in life that our stressed and restricted culture cannot tolerate.
Our society resembles a prison in the sense that it is subject to constant supervision by anonymous managers. The government possesses more data on you than the worst tyranny ever accumulated on any of its citizens. Eerily, compared to other modern institutions, the state today pales in its ability to form our knowledge of who we are, to create the imagery and symbols that define us. That power currently resides with Coca-Cola and the beauty and cosmetics industry.
We under the control of the media, the universities, the corporations, and the church which produce ideas that are to their benefit and that increase their power. If you constrain the universe of discourse and make certain that only certain ideas can be discussed, you can effectively control a population’s thoughts and actions. Our relationships with each other are narrowly defined by a debased economic and political language. The wild, the poetic, the numinous, the irrational are all dismissed as nonknowledge, if not insanity.
The result of our diminished view of the world is a society of pseudo choices. We don’t get to decide how we are going to live our lives or the images that define us, or how we relate to one another.
Building a sustainable society
To achieve sustainable development without sacrificing the gains of modernism, I put forward that:
1. We control overpopulation and report a steady decrease in the human population.
2. We develop steady-state economics.
3. We redefine the whole notion of corporations. Corporations must have a deeper community interest, something beyond making a profit for their stakeholders. PROPERTY RIGHTS MUST BE CORRELATED WITH SOME SENSE OF RESPONSIBILITY AND ACCOUNTABILITY.
4. We implement service-learning in our higher institutions. Students should learn by solving real problems.
5. We acquire and demonstrate civic virtue. We acknowledge that we can’t govern a good society with selfish and short-sighted people.
6. We re-evaluate our values. We have to reckon with the kind of people we have become. Advertisers benefit from and take advantage of our tendencies to infantile self-gratification. That’s how we can stop the consumerism culture.
7. We have to keep in mind the collective interest and long term obligations to our children.
“We cannot act with virtue if we cannot think clearly about it or articulate it well.”
The problem is that we have accepted a view of ourselves as purely economic creatures. We need to strive for a full, mature, human identity. We are capable of courage, virtue, and altruism. We can produce poetry and prose, tell stories, and we can die for each other. None of these, however, are economically rational.