The Ouroboros or Uroboros is an ancient symbol depicting a serpent or dragon eating its own tail. Originating in ancient Egyptian iconography, the Ouroboros entered western tradition via Greek magical tradition and was adopted as a symbol in Gnosticism and Hermeticism and most notably in alchemy.
In Jungian psychology, the alchemists, who in their own way knew more about the nature of the individuation process than we moderns do, expressed this paradox through the symbol of the Ouroboros, the snake that eats its own tail. The Ouroboros has been said to have a meaning of infinity or wholeness. In the age-old image of the Ouroboros lies the thought of devouring oneself and turning oneself into a circulatory process, for it was clear to the more astute alchemists that the prima materia of the art was man himself. The Ouroboros is a dramatic symbol for the integration and assimilation of the opposite, i.e. of the shadow. This ‘feed-back’ process is at the same time a symbol of immortality since it is said of the Ouroboros that he slays himself and brings himself to life, fertilizes himself and gives birth to himself. He symbolizes the One, who proceeds from the clash of opposites, and he, therefore, constitutes the secret of the prima materia which … unquestionably stems from man’s unconscious.
If we were to replace alchemist with modern-day neoliberal capitalist and prima materia with neo-capitalism we can get a glimpse or insight into how a market philosophy can turn the world into a dystopian graveyard of inequality, institutionalised racism and systemic mass-murder. A world that is 10 degrees away from irreversible climate change because super industrialisation has terra-formed the earth into another planet. A world that prefers dumping one-third of food bounty per annum instead of feeding the poor and where that same poor die at a rate of 36 000 daily with no one batting an eyelid.
Capitalism is the most vivid example of how a seemingly benign market philosophy can become the Frankenstein only Karl Marx predicted and few listened, instead he holds the dubious honour of being the most famous philosopher in history and simultaneously the most reviled. Is it a surprise that during the Covid-19 global pandemic, 113 of the richest people in New York who are worth a combined $500 billion live side by side with people so poor that 2 million of them have to queue for up to 6 hours at food banks daily just so they can feed their families?
So what exactly is next for capitalism post the Covid=19 experience? Well, the rate at which the global corporates have emasculated unions since 1980 drove down nominal wages for the average person in America, exported manufacturing jobs to cheaper places and top executives indulging in a share buyback on an unheard-of scale that we may soon arrive at the unique position that Ouroboros has eaten its own tail. This means that given that consumers represent two-thirds of the spending in an economy, their wages may be driven down so low by greedy corporate executives that they may no longer be able to afford the very goods they themselves manufacture?
Bizarrely this will necessitate that the companies shed more jobs, drive wages down even lower in an endless, unstoppable cycle of death by self-cannibalisation, and so capitalism’s very virtues would have ensured its own demise.