Our current strain of monopoly capitalism has extraordinary social effects, although one would never find this discussed in the media. Since the media itself is one of the drivers and perhaps the main cheerleader for monopoly capitalism in general, it would be foolish and self-destructive to allow a real dialogue on the subject of how the system affects our individual selves.
One obvious example of this is in religious belief. It is much remarked on how we have the most Christianized society of all the major Western countries and how incongruous our way of living is compared to Christ’s actual message. The preachers in our society are distinguished by their expensive suits, jewelry, and snake oil personalities, and are nonetheless listened to by masses of people who purport to followers of Jesus Christ – that is to say, a Jewish man/god who had no possessions whatsoever and spent all his time with lepers, prostitutes, and destitute fishermen. This arises out of the peculiar brand of Christianity that emerged in the United States, derived from the concept of the “elect,” a kind of aristocracy in which material wealth and success constitutes evidence of providential blessings. God is thus reinvented as a capitalist, and never mind what his chief messenger actually said and did.
Although this may be the clearest example of the domineering effect that monopoly capitalism possesses on our lives, it has other pernicious influences as well.
An anthropologist, seeing our culture from above, would naturally remark on the disparity and poor and rich, the racial lines in which rich and poor are distributed, and the culture’s obsession with imprisoning black men for the crime of smoking a plant. That same anthropologist would no doubt also note the manner in which the bodies of women are used as prizes to distinguish the relative success of men and how those bodies are used to sell every manner of product imaginable. They might also conclude that, whatever gains women have made in the working world, they remain viewed by society as pure commodities to be selected for their physical characteristics, used, disposed of, and then replaced.
That is to say, our culture views women the way the military infrastructure sees young men.
And this brings us to the subject of my little rant here. Of course youth is a fetish in our culture; it is so obvious that to say it is to invoke cliché. It makes perfect sense that it should be so. In a culture where everyone and everything is seen in purely mercantile terms, and worldly goods form the basis of worship, it is natural that youth – which is to say, raw human potentiality – becomes what is most valued.
Spirituality itself – the sense of the sacred – is dead in our country. Sacrality requires a certain attachment to history, and to traditions, and to learning from the past. All of this is dead, of course, in a society which has no long-term memory and jumps from fashion to fashion in increasingly hysterical and rapid succession. It is literally dépêche mode. And what remains is the desire to be frozen in one’s youthful state, and – absent that – to possess others who still embody youth. What material good, after all, could be valued more than the promise of maximal time, given our instinctive fear of death and the utter lack of social comfort?
These things are connected, then, in my view: the elimination of social bonds of any importance, the capitalist infrastructure, and the fruitless pursuit of youth for its own sake. The phrase “he who dies with the most toys wins” becomes a motto for an entire people. The phrase itself acknowledges the essentially infantile nature of modern life without any real beliefs in a higher purpose. Hence the rampant cynicism in our society, an unearned cynicism, a cynicism without history or education, the knowledge of a desiccated world acquired from one’s couch.
I am not arguing in favor of natural religion or that we should believe in an illusion. Indeed, one of our many problems is that in believing everything to be illusory, we become vulnerable to every illusion imaginable. Our cynicism becomes a means of control.
The simple reality is that monopoly capitalism is an oppression machine. In the quest to generate fantastic profits for a tiny subset of human beings, it requires vast energies from other human beings who are graded according to their youthful potential, dumped into the machine, and spat out. Is this what we want? Is this the best organization possible? Is the only worthwhile goal in life maximal productive efficiency in the service of 0.1% of the population, regardless of the human costs?
What I am arguing is that if our society tells us that the only thing worth knowing about life is that young men kill and young women fuck, then it is wrong.