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