Capitalist Realism, Capitalist Religion

”One can behold in capitalism a religion, that is to say, capitalism essentially serves to satisfy the same worries, anguish, and disquiet formerly answered by so-called religion.”

Walter Benjamin, Capitalism as religion

“Avarice — once one of the seven deadly sins — morphed into the ‘self-interest’ or ‘initiative’ indispensable to wealth and innovation, while the inscrutable ways of Providence yielded to the laws of supply and demand.”

Eugene McCarraher, The Enchantments of Mammon

“Even a quick glance at the self-improvement, management, spirituality, and Christian guidance genres reveals their thematic similarities: exhortations to “discover your inner strength,” “call the good into your life,” and “live without limits.” How could such disparate categories become nearly identical in their message?”

Regina Munch, Capitalism as Religion: How Money Became God

We are part of a family where, when gathered, there is much discussion and analysis of social responsibility and personal accountability in terms of finances, parenting, education, etc. Our parents are conservative, but our brothers are liberal. The views shared are not entirely ideological in a partisan sense and there is often much agreement about premises, as most Americans share an unquestioned faith in the dogma of hyper-individualism, captialist realism, and natural consequences — all of the accoutrements of WEIRD bias at the extremes of Jaynesian egoic-consciousness. It’s an all-encompassing worldview for those within it. Alternatives are not entertained, much less acknowledged. Such moral-tinged talk always implies that the world is a certain way, that it should not and cannot be otherwise, or else simply can’t be imagined to the contrary. There is no suggestion, of course, that anything is wrong or lacking within the system itself.

The lives of those individuals who fail according to the enforced social norms and rules are offered up as exemplary morality tales of what not to do, along with just-so narratizing of their failure and inferiority, although the condescension is couched within superficial non-judgment and neutral observation. After all, those others have no one to blame other than themselves, as isolated and self-contained moral agents. Or else, assuming they were simply born that way because of some combination of genetic predilection and inborn personality, familial patterns and inherited culture, there is nothing the rest of us can do about it, other than to express our sense of pity in noting how they acted wrongly or inadequately within the established system of social reality as given through the inevitable and unalterable link from cause to effect. To attempt to intervene would likely make things worse, as it would circumvent capitalism as a pedagoical system, one variety of the conservative morality-punishment link as social control. Each individual must learn or else suffer, as God or Nature intended. Still, much concern and worrying is offered.

Yet, for whatever reason, this ideological worldview as totalizing mazeway and habitus makes absolutely no sense to some of us. The indoctrination never quite took full hold in our psyche — maybe a personal failing of ours, as we are the least outwardly and normatively ‘successful’ in the family. In listening in on the talk of other family members, we can feel like an alien anthropological observer of strange cultural customs and religious practices. We can’t help but imagine that future historians will portray our present society in the way we look back on slavery and feudalism, humoral temperaments and miasmic air, witchburnings and bloodletting, an economically and scientifically backward period of societal development, like the pimples of an awkward and gangly teenager who is no longer a child but not quite an adult, if pimples involved mass oppression and suffering. But it goes beyond the outward social order itself. The underlying belief system can seem the strangest of all. The power it holds in socially constructing a reality tunnel is amazing, to say the least.

We’ve previously noted how humans will go to great effort, even self-sacrifice, to enforce social norms. A social order as an ideological lifeworld doesn’t happen on accident. It doesn’t develop organically. It has to be created and enforced, and then continuously re-created and re-enforced again and again across time. It’s an endless project that requires immense investment of time, effort, and money (trillions upon trillions of dollars are spent every year to fund the system of social control to punish the guilty and reward the worthy). For at least a decade, we’ve had the tentative theory that bullshit jobs are simply busywork to maintain the system or rather they are ritual activity like monks going through their daily routine of prayers, chanting, and monastical maintenance. Most work likely doesn’t serve any practical value other than upholding and enacting the very system that is dependent on the worker identity, where non-workers are non-entities or of questionable status to be used, punished, controlled, or dismissed as needed and by whatever means necessary. Yet when, pandemic panic shut down large swaths of the economy, it starkly demonstrated what was and was not essential work while the economy lumbered on just fine. The fears proved false. The forecast of doom never came.

As always, this brings us to thoughts on the ruling elite that are themselves ruled by their own elitism, taken in by their own culture of propaganda, the first victims of viral mind control to be spread like a plague from pussy rags thrown into the town well. The indoctrination is trickledown, if not the wealth and resources. The point is the oligarchs and plutocrats are in many ways sincerely paternalistic, elitist and supremacist in believing their own fevered rantings, as dementedly hypocritical as it can seem from an outside perspective. Obviously, this society is not the best of all possible worlds and, in some ways, the very point is to suppress progress, where the destabilizing consequences of creative destruction mostly apply to the victmized permanent underclass. Yet the costs of maintaining the social order, although disproportionately offloaded onto the dirty masses, also harms the monied classes. But one suspects that most social dominators take it as a good deal for there could be no value in a superior lifestyle of privilege, prestige, and power if benefits could not be denied to others — the scarcity principle of value. It’s simply the costs of doing business and business, as such, is doing well within the American Empire. That more value might be destroyed (endless war, imperial bureaucracy, suppression of competition, wanton destruction of human potential, etc) than created is not a concern, as long as the profits and benefits get concentrated among the deserving.

Capitalism is simply a modern religion, far from being an original insight. And the assumption of inborn selfishness within homo economicus is a variant on the belief in an Original Sin that marks all of humanity as a shared curse that justifes the system of punishment and sufferng that, accordng to doctrine, cleanses the soul and strengthens character. Economics is theology and economists the clergy. The cult of the market is operated according to various rites and rituals, theological doctrine and clerical law upheld by the mysterious authorities of Wall Street, US Chamber of Commerce (USCC), Internal Revenue Service (IRS), US Department of the Treasury (USDT), Federal Trade Commission (FTC), Federal Reserve System (“Fed”), International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank (IBRD & IDA), World Trade Organization (WTO), Group of Eight (G8), etc. The consumer-citizen seeks their salvation and redemption through workplace observence within corporate-churches and economic transactions of buying product-indulgences at market-shrines.

One could analyze it endlessly, as many others have already done. But what motivated our thoughts here was the basic observation of how it operates in such a casual and thoughtless manner. The theology of capitalist realism rolls off the tongue as if a comforting prayer invoking Divine Law. It’s such a simple and compelling faith that has such power because there is a vast institutional hegemony, if mostly hidden, enforcing Natural Law-and-Order. Even the economic sinners, the lost souls, and the excommunicated who fall under the punisment of debt, poverty, and homelessness rarely question the moral justification of their fate nor the system that sentenced judgment upon them, in the hope they might regain Divine Favor of material fortune, to be welcomed back by the Invisible Hand into the congregation of the saved. We so easily internalize this ideological worldview and identify with it. The even worse fate, so it seems, would be to lose faith entirely and find oneself in the ideological desert with no shared moral order to offer certainty, no shared moral imagination to offer comfort.

“Critics of the disenchantment narrative have long noticed that if you look closely at western modernity, this ostensibly secular and rational regime, you find it pretty much teeming with magical thinking, supernatural forces, and promises of grace. Maybe the human yearning for enchantment never went away; it just got redirected. God is there, just pointing down other paths. As scholars like Max Weber have noted, capitalism is a really a religion, complete with its own rites, deities, and rituals. Money is the Great Spirit, the latest gadgets are its sacred relics, and economists, business journalists, financiers, technocrats, and managers make up the clergy. The central doctrine holds that money will flow to perform miracles in our lives if we heed the dictates of the market gods.”

Lynn Parramore, The Gospel of Capitalism is the Biggest Turkey of All

“…capitalism is a form of enchantment—perhaps better, a misenchantment, a parody or perversion of our longing for a sacramental way of being in the world. Its animating spirit is money. Its theology, philosophy, and cosmology have been otherwise known as “economics.” Its sacramentals consist of fetishized commodities and technologies—the material culture of production and consumption. Its moral and liturgical codes are contained in management theory and business journalism. Its clerisy is a corporate intelligentsia of economists, executives, managers, and business writers, a stratum akin to Aztec priests, medieval scholastics, and Chinese mandarins. Its iconography consists of advertising, public relations, marketing, and product design. Its beatific vision of eschatological destiny is the global imperium of capital, a heavenly city of business with incessantly expanding production, trade, and consumption. And its gospel has been that of “Mammonism,” the attribution of ontological power to money and of existential sublimity to its possessors.”

Eugene McCarraher, The Enchantments of Mammon

“While the economist community that is comprised of economists sanctioned by the religion acts as the clergy of the religion, modern media which took the place of individual church buildings as a medium of communication acts as their medium to preach the religion to the society. This setup is amended by the education institutions and scientific institutions which act as the appendages to the Church, where children are educated/indoctrinated to the religion and its tenets from an early age by instilling them with ideas of competition, consumerism, materialism based success and in general a complete worldview that is created based on the religion’s tenets. The higher education and scientific institutions continue the education/indoctrination, creating the subsequent generations of clergy to preach the religion and run the institutions.”

Ozgur Zeren, Capitalism is Religion

4 thoughts on “Capitalist Realism, Capitalist Religion

  1. How can you prove you are one of God’s favourite children if you dont have more gold? The trick is to convince the underdog to convince themselves that their status as an underdog is well deserved, it couldn’t be any other way.
    Scarcity is what gives goods their value such as gold, or more recently Bitcoin which there can only be a limited number of (especially considering the dollar printers are going haywire without a hint of inflation). People feel good about themselves when they have something everybody covets,I.e. gold, houses, cars, ect.
    Material abundance as a sign of God’s favour is entrenched in American society.

    • This was one of my simpler posts. There really isn’t much to it. All I wanted to express was how smoothly ideological realism operates in the mind and in relationships. My family is reasonably well off, as my parents are upper middle class and my brothers are lower middle class, if barely. Much of the talk has a bourgeois quality about it. But it’s not like any of them are part of the ruling elite, although my dad came closest to upper class authority in his various careers.

      Of course, the fact that no one in my family has to worry about poverty and homelessness would strongly bias the kind of dialogue. There is nothing requiring us to think about the larger system we are part of. In fact, it works best by not thinking about it. We’ve been indoctrinated since childhood and so going along with the flow is the easiest thing to do, even for or especially for the poor. But it still somehow amazes me to see ideological realism in operation in everyday interactions. Those involved don’t seem to notice anything odd about it, as of course it’s fully normalized. Yet it only takes a moment’s notice to step back and appreciate it.

      The system itself is maintained mostly behind the scenes by massive institutional structures that create the appearance of a natural order that always was that way. Most people simply live fully enclosed within the system and kept busy by the demands of the system. Other than some ruling elite who have to see the big picture to keep it all running, the rest of us don’t need to talk or think about it since it frames everything we talk and think about. The casual nature of it all is spellbinding. But what really stood out, in a particular conversation, was how the focus was on how to ensure the grandchildren were properly indoctrinated and trained to find their place as cog-workers.

      I’m not sure I even found it depressing. I’m so used to such talk. It did feel perfectly normal, if I simply let my brain downshift into mindlessness. But for some reason, I had a jolt of awareness in that moment. It’s not like I don’t already know about capitalist realism and all that. It’s just something about seeing it play out before my eyes in that moment. I was impressed by it. It really was amazing. There is such a simple elegance tot it, an absolute certainty. I fully understand why it’s reassuring, in the way that going to church is reassuring. It tells one that everything is well with the world, everything is as it is supposed to be. Even when things don’t go as planned or lead to optimal results, there are explanations and stories to ensure meaning.

  2. This is almost as credible as your statement years ago about resistant starch raising insulin…(yeah about that)

    • So, if you’re an honest person arguing in good faith, and if I prove the credibility and plausibility of my doubts about resistant starches, then I assume you would be forced to accept my skepticism toward faith-based capitalism realism. Right? Okay, let’s begin. First off, I’ve never had a strong opinion about resistant starch, much less made dogmatic assertions. I have supplemented with resistant starches in the past, and I still eat some higher fiber plant foods like sauerkraut. But I have had doubts about resistant starch and those doubts are supported by various evidence.

      In theory, resistant starches don’t effect blood sugar or insulin. That is because they aren’t supposed to be digested in the normal fashion but, instead, turned into short chain fatty acids. That sounds good, if it were true; and assuming there are no confounding factors. To test this theory, people have cooked, refrigerated, let become warm again, refrigerated again, etc. They did this repeatedly over multiple days. This is supposed to turn most of it into resistant starch, as claimed by hundreds or thousands of internet articles and Youtube videos.

      Then people ate these so-called resistant starches and tested the body’s response. Many have found that it still spikes their blood sugar. Either resistant starches don’t work quite as expected or this method does not effectively produce resistant starches. The point is a lot of people are eating basically leftover food with the belief it’s a resistant starch without testing themselves to see the effect it’s having. They aren’t being scientific about it, not even in the most rudimentary sense of self-experimentation and observation.

      It could have to do with metabolic syndrome, specifically insulin resistance. More than four out of five Americans are metabolically unfit: obese, diabetic, etc. So, if one isn’t already metabolically healthy, as are the vast majority of Americans, one might want to be cautious about any starches, resistant or otherwise. This relates to a point made by Samantha West:

      “I feel like I need to say something about these starches in relation to diabetics. While certain foods may not show a spike in your blood glucose (20 points or more) …. these foods will still have an impact on your organs, especially your pancreas. You will be progressing your disease.”

      To be fair, you can buy resistant starch in the form of raw potato starch or green banana starch. The complicating factor is that pure resistant starch is apparently impossible to buy at a grocery store. The raw potato starch and green banana starch being sold are only partly resistant starch with the rest of the starch being plain old high glycemic carbs.

      Some people claim resistant starch still spikes their blood sugar, or at least when following the directions of making resistant starch. But other people claim beneficial results. For still others, results are mixed. One guy with no history of metabolic syndrome tested a bunch of different forms of resistant starch and his results were all over the map; and, in one case, he got major inflammation which is often related to metabolic issues. So, it might greatly depend on one’s overall health status, along with maybe genetic and epigenetic factors.

      Supposedly, some companies have begun to use pure resistant starch in keto products. It’s not common yet, though. It is pure resistant starch that have been used for studies. The problem is there has been very little research and most of it is of low quality, such as often small sample size or short term period of use. Even using the pure resistant starch, it’s not yet been proven that it has clear and consistent benefits. All of the research appears to be preliminary, if potentially promising. Also, a further complicating factor is that there are multiple types of resistant starch with varying affects on the body.

      About complex and confusing study results along with potential downsides to resistant starch, see these two articles:

      As I always say, experiment and find out for yourself. I’m a strong supporter of experimentation. My only doubts are about the sweeping generalizations of the miraculous power of resistant starches for everyone, even the insulin resistant and diabetics. But even ignoring the insulin issue, resistant starch can be useful for other purposes, such as feeding gut microbes to produce butyrate — that much is proven; although feeding specific gut microbes can lead to small bowel bacterial overgrowth (SIBO).

      Then again, a meat-based diet will increase isobutyrate that serves the same purpose and doesn’t seem to have the same risk of SIBO. Interestingly, Dr. Paul Saladino has tested the gut microbiome in himself and many of his patients. He has stated that initially the gut microbiome shrinks on a carnivore diet but then it regrows to the same number of bacteria as before. The only difference is which kinds of microbes. The microbial balance shifts. There has been little research in this area, though. We are still mostly ignorant about the microbiome.

      Petro Dobromylskyj made a seemingly good point about sources of butyrate, such as between bacteria and butter. I do get plenty from butter, even when I’m excluding all other dairy. His comment can be found in the comments section of the following post:

      “Just had a read of your links. In the first link what struck me was that RS at low doses increased fat oxidation (15g/d RS) but at 30g/d it completely obtunded fat oxidation to the equivalent of zero g/d. Why? The SCFA made by gut bacteria belong to the gut bacteria. They’re not ours. The microbiota will allow us a little of their butyrate but the bulk is sent directly to our liver and converted to tryglycerides. These are then stored as fat by activation of lipoprotein lipase. The whole cascade is controlled by Fiaf (Fasting induced adipose factor), which is to a significant extent controlled by the gut bacteria. Feed the bacteria and they make fat (butyrate), but they FORCE you store it. Now I like butyrate, it’s a fat after all, it will induce fat oxidation, and I LOVE fat oxidation. I’ll eat butter ’til I’m not hungry (I was going to say ’til the cows come home but…). Of course butyrate from butter feeds me directly, not via my bacteria, and via my small intestine not my colon. No gas! No Fiaf suppression either. I put it up in detail, first post is here , just check those with Fiaf at the start of the title.”

      Other low-carb advocates also recommend cautious self-experimentation:

      A well balanced comment was left by Rhonda Witwer:

      “Raw starch would be a better recommendation for resistant starch than cooked and cooled starches. For instance, raw potatoes have about 80% resistant starch, but when they are dried down into a powder, some of it is lost. If it is dried at higher temperature or harsh conditions, most of it can be lost, but if it is dried carefully, more than 70% can be preserved. MSPrebiotic in Canada sells raw potato starch that have a minimum 70% resistant starch but Bob’s Red MIll’s potato starch tests at about 50-60% (they do not claim or specify the amount of resistant starch in their products). The only way to tell is to measure it by the Englyst Assay (the gold standard method for measuring rapidly digested starch, slowly digested starch and resistant starch). I have done this on many products as I have worked with resistant starches for 17 years (I created and maintain

      “Another example – green bananas (as harvested in Stage 1 or really really green as are available in the tropics but not in the US, Europe or colder regions) have about 80% resistant starch. By the time they ripen to a Stage 5 (yellow with green tips), they have about 15% resistant starch and when they are over-ripe (with brown spots), they have only 1-2% resistant starch. Again, the drying or processing conditions have a lot to do with how much resistant starch is retained. International Agriculture Group’s NuBana Green Banana Flour (available from Jonnys Good Nature in the US) has about 65% resistant starch (minimum 60%) but other sources (Zuvii brand and Natural Evolution brand from Australia) deliver about 35-40%.

      “Cooked and cooled potatoes have only 5-6% resistant starch – This isn’t very much and would deliver significantly more high glycemic carbohydrates than eating raw starches or raw foods. Quinoa is also supposed to have resistant starch, but I tested it – it had only 1%. The tapioca starch I tested contained only 3.6% resistant starch, as the processing conditions to extract the starch are harsh and damaging.

      “Yes, some people can be really great starch digesters but most of the inconsistencies about resistant starch come from lack of information about how much resistant starch is present in the first place. It has to be analyzed and specified in high quality products. The best way to add resistant starch in a keto diet is in raw starchy foods or high quality raw supplements (specifying how much resistant starch is actually in the product).”

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