The Head of Capital and the Body Politic

What is capitalism? The term is etymologically related to cattle (and chattel). The basic notion of capitalism is fungible wealth. That is property that can be moved around, like cattle (or else what can be moved by cattle, such as being put in a wagon pulled by cattle or some other beast of burden). It relates to a head of cattle. The term capitalism is derived from capital or rather capitale, a late Latin word based on caput, meaning of the head.

A capital is the head of a society and the capitol is where the head of power resides — Capital vs. Capitol:

Both capital and capitol are derived from the Latin root caput, meaning “head.” Capital evolved from the words capitālis, “of the head,” and capitāle, “wealth.” Capitol comes from Capitōlium, the name of a temple (dedicated to Jupiter, the Roman equivalent of the Greek god Zeus) that once sat on the smallest of Rome’s seven hills, Capitoline Hill.

But there is also the body politic or the body of Christ. The head has become the symbolic representation of the body, but the head is just one part of the body. It is the body that is the organic whole, with the people as demos: national citizenry, community members, church congregants, etc. This is the corporeal existence of the social order. And it is the traditional basis of a corporation, specifically as representing some kind of personhood. At one time, objects and organizations were treated as having actual, not just legal, personhood. The body of Christ was perceived as a living reality, not just a convenient way for the powerful to wield their power.

If you go back far enough, the head of a society was apparently quite literal. In the ancient world, when a leader died, they often lopped off his head because that was the source of the voice of authority. Supposedly, bicameral societies involved an experience where people continued hearing voices of dead kings and godmen, presumably why they kept the skull around. The earliest known permanent structures were temples of death cults with headless imagery, and these temples were built prior to humans settling down — prior to agriculture, pottery, and domesticating cattle. They built houses to their gods before they built houses for themselves. The capital of these societies were temples and that was the convenient location for storing their holy skulls.

Gobekli Tepe, like many other similar sites, was located on a hill. That has long been symbolic of power. After bicameral societies developed, they built artificial hills such as mounding up dirt or stacking large stones as pyramids. The head is at the top of the body and it is from that vantage point that all of the world can be seen. It was natural to associate the panoramic view of a hill or mountain with power and authority, to associate vision with visionary experience. Therefore, it made sense to locate a god’s house in such a high place. Temples and churches, until recent history, were typically the tallest structures in any town or city. In this age of capitalism, it is unsurprising that buildings of business now serve that symbolic role of what is held highest in esteem and so housed in the tallest buildings. The CEO is the head of our society, quite literally at the moment with a businessman as president, a new plutocratic aristocracy forming.

What we’ve forgotten is that the head is part of a body. As a mere part of the body, the head should serve the body in that the part should serve the whole and not the other way around. In tribal societies, there is the big man who represents the tribe. He is the head of the community, but his ability to command submission was severely limited. In Native American tribes, it was common for clans to make their own decisions, whether to follow the tribal leader or not. The real power was in the community, in the social order. The Amazonian Piraha go so far as to have no permanent leadership roles at all.

Even in the more complex Western social order before capitalism took hold, feudal lords were constricted by social responsibilities and obligations to their communities. These feudal lords originated from a tradition where kings were beholden to and originally chosen by the community. Their power wasn’t separate from the community, although feudalism slowly developed in that direction which made possible for the takeover of privatized capitalism. But even in early capitalism, plantation owners were still acting as the big men of their communities where they took care of trade with the external word and took care of problems within the local population. Store owners began taking over this role. Joe Bageant described the West Virginian town he grew up in during the early 20th century and it was still operating according to a barter economy where all outside trade flowed through the store owner with no monetary system being required within the community.

A major difference of the early societies is how important was social order. It was taken as reality, in the way we today take individuality as reality. For most of human existence, most humans would never have been able to comprehend our modern notion of individuality. Primary value was not placed on the individual, not even the individual leader who represented something greater than himself. Even the Roosevelts as presidents still carried a notion of noblesse oblige which signified that there was something more important than their own individuality, one of the most ancient ideas that has almost entirely disappeared.

Interestingly, pre-modern people as with tribal people in some ways had greater freedom in their identity for the very reason their identity was social, rather than individual. The Piraha can change their name and become a new person, as far as other Piraha are concerned. In Feudalism, carnival allowed people to regularly lose their sense of identity and become something else. We modern people are so attached to our individuality that losing our self seems like madness. Our modern social order is built on the rhetoric of individuality and this puts immense weight on individuals, possibly explaining the high rates of mental illness and suicide in modern society. Madness and death is our only escape from the ego.

Capitalism, as globalized neoliberalism, is a high pressure system. Instead of the head of society serving the body politic, we worship the detached head as if a new death cult has taken hold. A corporation is the zombie body without a soul, the preeminent form of our corporatist society with the transnational CEO as the god king standing upon his temple hill. We worship individuality to such a degree that only a few at the top are allowed to be genuine individuals, a cult of death by way of a cult of personality, power detached from the demos like a plant uprooted. The ruling elite are the privileged individuals who tell the dirty masses what to do, the voices we hear on the all-pervasive media. The poor are just bodies to be sacrificed on the altar of desperation, homelessness, prison, and war. As Margaret Thatcher stated in no uncertain terms, there is no society. That is to say there is no body politic, just a mass of bodies as food for the gods.

The head of power, like a cancerous tumor, has grown larger than the body politic. The fungible wealth of capitalism can be moved, but where is it to move. The head can’t move without the body. Wealth can’t be separated from what the world that creates it. Do the plutocrats plan on herding their wealth across the starry heavens in the hope of escaping gravity of the corporeal earth? If we take the plutocrats hallowed skull and trap the plutocrat’s divine being in a temple hill, what would the voice tell us?

At the end of the Bronze Age, a major factor of the mass collapse of civilizations was the horse-drawn chariot. Horses were an early domesticated animal, a major form of fungible wealth. Horses and chariots made new forms of warfare possible, involving large standing armies that could be quickly moved across vast distances with supply chains to keep them fed and armed. Along with other factors, this was a game-changer and the once stable bicameral societies fell one after another. Bicameral societies were non-capitalistic, but the following Axial Age would set the foundations for what would eventually become modern capitalism. Bicameral civilization remained stable for millennia. The civilization formed from the Axial Age has maintained itself and we are the inheritors of its traditions. The danger is that, like bicameral societies, we might become the victims of our own success in growing so large. Our situation is precarious. A single unforeseen factor could send it all tumbling down. Maybe globalized neoliberalism is our horse-drawn chariot.

A head detached from its body is the symbol of modernity, grotesquely demonstrated by the guillotine of the French Revolution, the horror of horrors to the defenders of the ancien regime. Abstract ideas have taken on a life of their own with ideological systems far outreaching what supports them. It’s like a tree clinging to a crumbling cliffside, as if it were hoping to spread its limbs like wings to take flight out across the chasm below. In forgetting the ground of our being, what has been lost and what even greater loss threatens? Before revolution had begun but with revolution in the air, Jean-Jacques Rousseau wrote in 1750 (Discourse on the Arts and Sciences), “What will become of virtue if riches are to be acquired at any cost? The politicians of the ancient world spoke constantly of morals and virtue; ours speak of nothing but commerce and money.” That question is now being answered.

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There was one detail I forgot to work into this piece. Feudalism was on my mind. The end of feudalism was the final nail in the coffin for the societal transformation that began during the Axial Age. What finally forced the feudal order, upon which the ancien regime was dependent, to fall apart or rather be dismantled was sheep, another domesticated animal.

Feudalism was dependent on labor-intensive agriculture that required a large local peasant population. With sheep herding, fewer people were required. The feudal commons were privatized, the peasants kicked off the land, entire villages were razed to the ground, and probably millions of people over several centuries were made destitute, homeless, and starving.

Vast wealth was transferred into private hands. This created a new plutocratic class within a new capitalist order. There is an interesting relationship between domesticated animals and social change. Another example of this is how free-ranging pigs in the American colonies wreaked havoc on Native American villages and gardens, making impossible their way of life.

This process of destruction is how civilization as we know it was built. Some call this creative destruction. For others, it has been plain destruction.

Ask A Cow What It Is To Be Free

Capitalism has its origins in a word meaning “head”. It is the same origin as for cattle and chattel.

Cattle was the earliest major form of movable property. This is the precedent for capital as fungible wealth, that which can be transferred elsewhere, removed and reinvested.

This is also why capitalism and chattel slavery have the same basic starting point. Feudal peasants in essence belonged to the land as part of the an unmovable property, whereas chattel slaves were like cattle that could be moved and/or sold independent of anything else.

In a capitalist society, the opposite of the capitalist is the slave. This is why the original offer in freeing slaves was supposed to be to give them forty acres and a mule. This simultaneously would have made them propertied citizens and capitalists. This is also why, in the end, it didn’t happen. It was one thing to end their overt slavery, but to make them genuine equals in this capitalist society was going too far.

Capitalism isn’t fundamentally about economics. It is about power. Cattle is a cow whose wild ancestors were once free to roam. The same goes for a chattel slave or a wage slave, workers whose ancestors were once free to roam, once free to work for themselves.

No one is free to roam in capitalism, though. And working for oneself is becoming ever more meaningless in an age of globalization. The Commons was privatized centuries ago. There is no where to be free for the system of control is now complete. There is no escape, no undiscovered and unclaimed place to seek out.

That was the first step in creating capitalism as we know it. Before capitalism, the Commons belonged to the People and the People belonged to the Commons. It isn’t accidental that the idea of privately owning land evolved as a legal concept in accordance with ownership of humans as slaves.

The US was founded on the ideal of an enlightened aristocracy and a paternalistic plutocracy, the expectation that the country would be literally be ruled by the owners, i.e., the propertied class. Those who own themselves and own the land they live on are entitled to own the government and hence to own all who are governed. To be a capitalist isn’t merely to have fungible wealth, for more importantly it means to be an owner and to play the role of owner.

We live in a world where everything is owned, where everything (and everyone) has a price to be sold. To be employed is to sell ourselves into indentured servitude, even if only temporarily during specified periods of time. While working as wage slaves, we don’t own ourselves while on the clock. It isn’t just a legal agreement of selling part of our life by selling our time and body for someone else’s purposes. It is a profound psychological transaction, a giving up of freedom, an act that becomes a mindless habit, until we forget what freedom ever meant.

Capitalism is a particular form of social control. Capitalists are those with the capital and so those with the power to control. We the People are those being controlled, the cattle, the chattel.

The system allows us to sell our freedom, but offers no way to buy it back. We are born citizen-consumers, never having been given a choice. We are property of the corporatist state. To demand our freedom would mean theft. If enough people made this demand, it would be a revolt. And if that revolt were successful, it would be called a revolution.

Minimum Wage, Wage Suppression, Welfare State, etc

I’ll keep this post simple. I mostly just want to offer some views on the wage issue that most people don’t come across. You won’t hear most of this in the MSM. You won’t likely even see it in social media, unless you have some very well informed friends. But first let me summarize the issue while offering some straightforward analysis.

The specific issue at hand is the minimum wage and whether to raise it. Everyone is talking about it. But the discussions I come across most often lack much depth and breadth. I see two related issues: wage suppression and welfare state.

Wage suppression is my main focus. It relates to decades (or even generations) of Fed hard money policy, union-busting, and off-shoring.

The Fed hard money policy is something I came across in William Greider’s Come Home, America. You can find the relevant passage at the bottom of the page.

Union-busting is something I was already well aware of. And off-shoring as well. These two are closely related.

It is easier to bust unions with threats of off-shoring. If labor tries to strike, the scabs will be in far off foreign countries. This is very sneaky and basically immoral in all ways. It undermines both democracy and free markets for there is no such thing as anti-democratic free markets. Corporations often off-shore to countries that lack not only democracy but also lack human rights, workers protections, and safety/environmental regulations. In these foreign countries, corporations are sometimes free to bribe officials and use private goons, police or the state military to bust up unions the old fashioned way.

It isn’t just foreign governments that corporations can bribe, threaten, control and otherwise influence. Off-shoring is possible because our own corporatist (corporate-owned-and-operated) government allows and encourages it with free trade agreements. These free trade agreements are shaped by big biz and so unsurprisingly are business friendly and labor unfriendly. Such trade is only ‘free’ for big biz. In these free trade agreements, there are rarely if any demands for participating countries to have democracy, human rights, workers protections, or safety-environmental regulations.

The second issue is where it gets most interesting.

Conservatives, libertarians and even many mainstream Democrats complain about what they deem an out-of-control welfare state. But this welfare state ultimately functions in two ways. Because minimum wage workers aren’t making a living wage, they end up on welfare which means the welfare state is a massive apparatus to use taxpayer money to subsidize big biz. And so without welfare the average American would be even more desperate.

What does desperation breed? Populist reform or even revolution. The ruling elite will never willingly end the welfare state because, along with mass incarceration, it is a social control policy. If minimum wage and all welfare was instantly ended, there would be revolution over night.

The minimum wage and welfare combo is the only thing making wage suppression and social oppression tolerable. As long as people are getting by, even if only barely, they won’t fight for their rights as citizens. It is the old bread and circus routine with big biz media serving the circus part of the equation.

There are a number of options here:

  1. We can raise the minimum wage while continuing wage suppression and while not increasing welfare.
  2. We can strengthen and broaden welfare while continuing wage suppression and while not raising the minimum wage.
  3. We can more moderate raise the minimum wage and increase welfare while continuing wage suppression.
  4. We can end wage suppression and solve the problem at its root.
  5. Or we can do none of the above and wait for the populist revolts to begin.

There are no other options. Excluding a return to such things as feudalism, indentured servitude, debt bondage, slavery, etc. Although there are other ideas that could work, such as a basic income, related to Paine’s citizen dividend. So, at least within the present system, there are no other options.

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Here are a few links to helpful articles and a couple of discussions:

An Idea Conservatives Should Love
By E.J. Dionne, Jr.
truthdig.com
Feb 17, 2014

The Skills Gap Argument as Cover for Wage Suppression
By J.URIS D.EBTOR
January 23, 2013

Suppressing wages and increasing corporate profits:
The tough math behind the current economic recovery.
By mybudget360

Suppressing wages
By davald
The Observer
December 10, 2012

The China trade toll
Widespread wage suppression, 2 million jobs lost in the U.S.
By Robert E. Scott
Economic Policy Institute
July 30, 2008

NAFTA AT SEVEN
Its impact on workers in all three nations
By Robert E. Scott
Economic Policy Institute
April 2001

ALEC AND WAGE SUPPRESSION
By Mary Bottari and Rebekah Wilce
from PRWatch
July 23, 2013

The Force Behind Bills To Lower Wages and Suppress Workers’ Rights? You Guessed It: ALEC
By Mary Bottari and Rebekah Wilce
inthesetimes.com
July 30, 2013

Union Busting adds to corrupt bureaucracy and incites crime
By zacherydtaylor
open.salon.com
September 26, 2013

On Becoming a Nietzschean Society
By Greg Horsman
About Questioning and Skepticism
November 1, 2013

What is ‘wage suppression’ and is it real?
Discussion on talkrational.org

Why should taxpayers subsidize low wage workers? (fast food, minimum wage, salaries)
City-Data forum

And below is the aforementioned passage from William Greider’s Come Home, America.

* * *

Kindle Locations 557-562

It was mainly the Federal Reserve-sheltered from public scrutiny and protected from political accountability-that engineered America’s great shift in fortunes. The Fed “hardened” the value of money and wealth with its successful campaign to suppress price inflation. Then it proceeded to encourage or passively allow the scandalous financial behavior that followed-wealth being concentrated in the financial sector, the growing inequalities among Americans, deregulation and the creation of dominating megabanks, and recurrent frauds and financial bubbles followed repeatedly by government bailouts of banks and financial firms.

The Federal Reserve’s policy essentially tilted the normal economic balance hard in one direction, then held it there for a generation. It favored wealth over wage income, creditors over debtors, capital over labor, financial investors over producers.

Kindle Locations 601-602

“Hardening” the value of money may modestly benefit average consumers, but the true winners are people with vast accumulations of financial wealth. As the Federal Reserve drove the inflation rate lower and lower, eventually getting it close to zero, disinflation was a great gift to the wealthy, one that kept on giving.

Kindle Locations 621-635

The “hard money” policy was sustained in a way that might have shocked many Americans if they had known about it. The Federal Reserve suppressed inflation by targeting the wages of working people. It prevented their incomes from rising even though, in a healthy economy, wages would normally rise consistently. Nobody in authority ever acknowledged this strategy in a straightforward way, but the reality was well understood by economists and financial investors. By holding back the natural energies of the economic recovery, this monetary policy kept labor markets slack and the unemployment rate higher as a result, at around 6 percent. That made it very difficult for industrial workers, union and nonunion, to demand higher wages. If the economy had been allowed to grow faster, more jobs would have been created, unemployment would have fallen, and workers would have gained bargaining power.

But the conservative Federal Reserve regarded rising wages as an inflationary threat and worked deliberately to prevent it. Throughout the 1980s and most of the 1990s, the Fed protected its victory over inflation by keeping its foot on the brake and tapping it occasionally to make sure the economy did not get too healthy. That is, the federal government-represented by the central bank-ensured that the broad ranks of working people would not share in the “good times.”

Paul Volcker used to carry in his pocket a card setting out the latest wage settlements in contracts negotiated by unions. When politicians urged him to let up and lower interest rates, the Fed chairman would cite recent wage agreements as evidence that he must hold tight. Monetary economists devised a theory to justify the antiwage policy. They claimed inflation would return if the Fed let the economy progress to below a so-called natural rate of unemployment. The theory was bogus; it was subsequently disproved by real-world experience when unemployment fell to 4 percent in the late 1990s, yet no inflation appeared.

The Federal Reserve, in other words, has played a central role in suppressing wages during the last three decades, a policy that was powerfully reinforced by globalization and the migration of US jobs to low-wage economies. Was this in the public interest? The question was not discussed in polite circles. The presumption among the governing elites, including the most influential newspapers, is that everyone shares a common interest in subduing inflation and therefore wage suppression is required. Wall Street celebrated the central bank’s success in restraining economic growth by dubbing it the “Goldilocks economy”-not too hot, not too cold, but just right. It may have seemed just right to financial investors. For working people, it was way too cold.

Simple Economic Truths

There is no capital without labor.
There is no land value without community.

Capital in the form of money is invested in capital in the form of raw materials and tools and labor-power, which is transformed — by the squeezing of actual labor out of the labor-power of the workers — into capital in the form of the commodities thereby produced, whose increased value is realized through the sale of the commodities for more money than was originally invested, which is the increased capital out of which the capitalist extracts his profits, only to be driven to invest more capital for the purpose of achieving ever greater capital accumulation.”
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