Selfishness is Next to Godliness: How Capitalism is the Opposite of Human Moral Traditions: Part I
“Well, look, first of all, I know both (Lloyd Blankfein and Jamie Dimon). They’re very savvy businessmen. And I, like most of the American people, don’t begrudge people success or wealth.”
–President Barack Obama
“It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle that it is for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.”
–Jesus of Nazareth, New Testament, Matthew 19:24
“Americans celebrate wealth. And they should.”
–President Barack Obama
“Let those who hoard the wealth that God has given them never think that they will benefit from it. It will bring them nothing but evil. The riches that they have hoarded will be their chains on Judgement Day.”
The Koran, 3:180
Quite the contrast there. Barack Obama, a self-proclaimed defender of capitalism, succinctly summed up what he truly believes in those two quotes. He also directly contradicted a fundamental moral tradition that is common to all of the major world religions and moral philosophical traditions. I could have just as easily cited the Torah, a Buddhist work, a Hindu Yogi book, the Egyptian Book of the Dead, the threefold law of Wicca, of any number of secular humanists.
For capitalism, the ultimate good is the accumulation of capital, or profit, for its own sake. Profit is defined as how much money one has accumulated by the sale of a product or service after the cost of making the product or performing the service is subtracted from the total sale price. This isn’t exactly rocket science here.
Since the making of more and more profits is considered a good thing by capitalists, it follows that anything that stands in the way of increasing their profits is necessarily a bad thing. This is where capitalism gets into trouble with the moral traditions common to most of humanity, moral traditions that evolved over the millennia as survival traits of the tribe or nation or species as a whole.
The teachings of Confucius, Socrates, Buddha, Jesus, the Druids, the Stoics, Muhammad, Gandhi, and Martin Luther King all caught on with large numbers of people because they fundamentally make sense. People instinctively know that cooperation and sharing are necessary to their survival and the survival of their children. They know that treating other people or their environment badly always results in suffering, and that even an animal backed into a corner and tormented will strike back.
Most people know that they need the help of other people to build communities and to raise children. In order to get that help, people have to cooperate and to share. If they don’t, the community falls apart and the children don’t grow up to have grandchildren. This is a fundamental truth that goes back to the days when the first homo erectus figured out how to rub two sticks together to make a fire and shared it with his or her clan so they could all keep warm.
But capitalism isn’t about cooperation and sharing, except to temporarily collaborate to increase profits. I say “temporarily” for as soon as one capitalist sees a chance to increase his profits at the expense of a partner, much less an employee, he won’t hesitate to screw over his partner. In fact, if he does not do so, he is considered a fool by his own capitalist belief system and by his peers.
You see, capitalism isn’t about building communities, forging a better society, justice, or even the survival of the human species and Old Mother Earth herself. It is ONLY about building more and more profits, and will crush anything and anyone that stands in the way of that goal if it can.
On an individual level, one cannot be a good capitalist without being selfish. Therefore, selfishness is a moral good as far as capitalism is concerned, and any doctrine that teaches anything else is at best naive and at worst an evil that must be destroyed.
But those old moral traditions common to all of humanity just keep getting in the way. So capitalists write books and TV shows and invent entire news networks with the goal of preaching that selfishness is a good thing, that if everyone just acts in their own self-interests and gets out there and competes that they, too, have the chance of rising to wealth and power, that those who have attained wealth and power have a right to keep it, and that those who oppose that way of thinking are just a bunch of losers who should either shut up or be locked up, and that concerns about the survival of the human species or the Only Planet We’ve Got are just unrealistic drivel unworthy of discussion, much less policy changes.
They forget the lessons of our common history. They forget the lessons of human survival itself. They ignore the warning of Jesus of Nazareth:
“But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand.”
Our modern capitalists, our self-proclaimed Masters of the Universe, have built their palatial homes on the sands of selfishness.
And a storm is coming. It started in Tunisia.