The Unimagined: Capitalism and Crappiness

Capitalist realism is one of the best explanations of our society I’ve ever come across. I’ve written about it before, but my mood lately has brought it back to my mind.

Sometimes life can feel like a set of bad choices or else no real choice at all. We find ourselves trapped in a collective reality tunnel. It closes down our ability to think about and perceive the world around us, limits our potential and choices, constrains our imaginations. We either lower our expectations or become cynical, as long as we remain in such an ideological worldview.

There is nothing specific going on in my life that turns my thoughts in this direction. I just have my normal depression that pervades my personal world, although it is obvious that my depression makes me hyper-aware and over-sensitive about such things.

Beyond general mood, a more direct connection could be made. Psychiatric conditions are mixed up with capitalist realism. Capitalism atomizes society which leads to breakdown of extended families and communities. Capitalism undermines, weakens and in some cases eliminates social capital. Capitalism destroys natural ecosystems that help maintain our health, from cleaning our air and water to providing nutritious food.

There is good reason for why so many people feel like crap in our society. People are isolated, disconnected and ungrounded. People are overworked and stressed out. People are overweight and out of shape. People are depressed or manic or both, are sleep-deprived and/or suffer insomnia, are over-medicated and self-medicated, are addicted to sugar and caffeine and alcohol. This is the normal state of being in capitalist society.

Yet capitalist realism shifts the blame to the individual. This is the flipside of externalizing costs. Through indoctrination, individuals internalize responsibility for bad choices while not realizing that all choices offered by capitalism are tainted with negative consequences.

In criticizing capitalism, I’m not advocating another ideological system in its place. Capitalism isn’t the only thing that has this capacity to put blinders on our imaginative vision. But capitalist realism is the problem directly before us.

As such, what is it that we don’t see? What possibilities do we ignore? What alternative visions are left unimagined and unarticulated?

In the future, what will be to capitalism as capitalism was to slavery and feudalism? What would it mean if our economy was led by democracy rather than our politics led by capitalists? What if we were not only free to choose among limited and predetermined choices but free to consider all possibilities and envision new avenues of possibility?

This isn’t the end of history. We should hope that this is just the beginning. It would cause me to fall into suicidal despair to think this is the best of which humanity is capable. So, for the sake of my own mental health, I’ll try my best to maintain hope for something better on the horizon, even if I may not live to see its fruition and benefit from its results.

May our imperfect present be the seedbed for new and better future realities, whatever they may be.

18 thoughts on “The Unimagined: Capitalism and Crappiness

  1. What you’re saying is absolutely true, and I think more people are beginning to realize this, in part because of the recession. Consumerism is critical for capitalism to succeed, but if people have no money or less money to spend they have to find other sources of fulfillment than shopping or buying the latest toy. I don’t think that’s a bad thing.

    • Hello bobcat!

      I’m actually not as directly anti-capitalist as I sometimes portray myself. Of course, our present capitalist society is dysfunctional. It very well might be beyond saving, but maybe it could morph into a more functional form. I’m open-minded about such possibilities.

      I must admit this is an interesting thought experiment. What would capitalism be like if it were separated from soul-deadening consumerism, militaristic/imperialistic globalization, oppressive exploitation, horrific poverty and malnutrition and disease, etc? If you removed all the negative factors would it still be capitalism as we know it or capitalism at all?

      I don’t really care about capitalism in and of itself, for or against. I care about all these negatives, whether they are inherent qualities or mere incidental side effects. It does seem that more people are becoming aware of such negatives or else less willing to rationalize them away.

      • I think that soul-deadening consumerism, militaristic/imperialistic globalization, oppressive exploitation are critical to the success of unfettered capitalism, without them it couldn’t survive. Horrific poverty and malnutrition and disease are the natural consequences of it.

        • Yeah, I tend to agree. I just like giving people and their ideas the benefit of the doubt. That said the burden of proof is on those who want to defend capitalism. But if someone is willing to try to prove through real world results that capitalism can be something entirely positive, then I say more power to them! Until then, down with capitalism! 😀

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