‘Please Sir, may I have some more,’ the heartrending words uttered by the endearing fictional character, the orphan boy Oliver Twist, in a Victorian workhouse (a type of prison system) in Charles Dickens fabled commentary on the devastating effects of 19th century capitalism. Amidst the neglect, institutional abuse of the elderly, the sickly and the poor, little Oliver Twist had drawn the ‘short straw’ and it fell on him to challenge the system by pointing out the egregious inequalities, horrendous treatment and neglect, fearing a menacing threat of cannibalism from the other orphans boys.
I have on many occasions written about our current iteration of capitalism, more accurately described as extractive, heterotopian, patrimonial, megalomaniacal neocapitalism. In one of the most thorough exposes of the devastating effects of neocapitalism, the French economist, Thomas Piketty, points out the embedded inequalities in wealth and income almost all of its ‘praise-singers’ (euphemistically called economists) as the only panacea for wealth generation above all other economic systems. Observing that roughly 1% of the worlds wealthiest own upwards of 60% of the globes wealth, money and resources. If we only used the prism of 500-years of history as the measurement for the success or failure of a system, then capitalism as a system of wealth generation largely works for you if you’re white, male, reasonably educated, have patrimonial wealth and generational connections?
If neocapitalism is the devil, its demon spawn is definitely ‘consumerism’. Arguably, consumerism has caused or driven the majority of the wars of the past 100-years, wars that are essentially about resources, or rather the lack thereof. By this I mean the lack of resources on the part of the warmonger, the invader or the aggressor. At the vanguard of this mass looting of resources, mainly from Africa is the United States of America, who William Blum, in his seminal book, ‘Rogue State’, a guide to the World’s only Superpower’ describes as the greatest terrorist state the world has ever known. It isn’t so much that America, or the American people are genetically ‘hardwired’ for an unending series of wars, or that they are intrinsically bad, it’s that the system of ‘exponentially elevating’ consumerism demands it. So, flippant as it may seem, wars for resources like gold, silver and oil are a necessary part of neocapitalism. You can say it’s built into the system, and its primary driver, is the ‘benevolent,’ but malign modern-day discipline of advertising, which in reality has a hypnotic, but soporific effect on the masses, teaching them the values of owning and acquiring more than they actually need.
Of all the systems of human development and progress since we crawled out the caves, from Marxism, Communism through to Socialism, only consumerism, the bastard child of neocapitalism has won. Its deleterious effects on all societies, all over the world, across all classes are ubiquitous, universal and evenly experienced. This is to say that all people on earth are conditioned, socialized and some may even say, brainwashed to desire more and more in ever increasing cycles of unfettered desire for consumer goods we don’t really need. In a sense, you can say that of the seven deadly sins of the good book, we have for the very first time in human history ‘weaponised’ greed.
The ‘trickle-down’ theory: the principle that the poor, who must subsist on table scraps dropped by the rich, can best be served by giving the rich even bigger meals’
Part II to follow…