Saturday, January 20, 2018

Capitalism is a religion.

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Capitalism is a religion.
The highpriests of the religion are called “the owners.”
The thologians of the religion are called “economists.”
The promise of religious salvation is called the opportunity to achieve wealth.
The superstitious articles of faith of the religion are that the owners deserve what they own because they have earned their wealth.
The truth is that no capitalist has ever earned their wealth, because all wealth derives from labor and the land, and the capitalist has always used armed soldiers to steal the land and its fruits from the community residing on the land and has always stolen the fruit of the worker’s labor unto themselves and called it “profit.”


That's how it has looked to me, for at least 50 years.  And, of course, I'm not the only one who has noticed that "Capitalism is the West’s Dominant Religion".

Abraham Lincoln knew that good government would restrain the capitalist from taking the fruits of labor from the laborer. He said, 

"Labor is prior to, and independent of, capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration."

"And, inasmuch [as] most good things are produced by labour, it follows that such things of right belong to those whose labour has produced them. But it has so happened in all ages of the world, that some have laboured, and others have, without labour, enjoyed a large proportion of the fruits. This is wrong, and should not continue. To each labourer the whole product of his labour, or as nearly as possible, is a most worthy object of any good government."

I would argue that the religion of Buddhism is much closer to the religion of Lincoln than to the religion of capitalism. Buddhism says it is a meritorious virtue not to steal, not to tell lies, and not to kill.  Capitalism depends on all three: killing, lying, and stealing, just to survive, much less to thrive.  

The Dalai Lama Tenzin Gyatso has said, “I am a socialist.”    He elaborated in an interview
Of all the modern economic theories, the economic system of Marxism is founded on moral principles, while capitalism is concerned only with gain and profitability. Marxism is concerned with the distribution of wealth on an equal basis and the equitable utilization of the means of production. It is also concerned with the fate of the working classes--that is, the majority--as well as with the fate of those who are underprivileged and in need, and Marxism cares about the victims of minority-imposed exploitation. For those reasons the system appeals to me, and it seems fair. I just recently read an article in a paper where His Holiness the Pope also pointed out some positive aspects of Marxism.
As for the failure of the Marxist regimes, first of all I do not consider the former USSR, or China, or even Vietnam, to have been true Marxist regimes, for they were far more concerned with their narrow national interests than with the Workers' International.

The failure of the regime in the former Soviet Union was, for me, not the failure of Marxism but the failure of totalitarianism. For this reason I still think of myself as half-Marxist, half-Buddhist.
I agree in the main with these observations.

Whether or not it is called "socialism", any economic system that does not kill, lie, and steal in order for it to function is consistent with Buddhist values.  Of course this means articulating the contextual dimensions, contours, and limits of such terms as killing, lying, and stealing, but the discussion needed to provide that articulation is exactly the discussion that is taboo in the religion of capitalism. 

2 comments:

GD said...

Very interesting topic for examination and discussion but, in my view, somewhat of a tenuous stretch to call the rapacious economic model that is unbridled, and unregulated, capitalism a religion.

Alan Gregory Wonderwheel said...

Religions have shown that they can be rapacious economic models. The division of the world in half into Spanish and Portuguese hemispheres was a religious economic model. The Confederate Christian's rationalization of slavery was based on their interpretation of the Bible as sanctioning slavery as an economic model. And we should remember that modern Capitalism began with the economic model of slavery as its basis. (A web search for "capitalism and slavery" will generate much discussion of this. See for example, https://www.forbes.com/sites/hbsworkingknowledge/2017/05/03/the-clear-connection-between-slavery-and-american-capitalism/#1d052bdb7bd3 )
I'm using the word "religion" in its general symbolic sense, not a literal institutional sense. Some people reserve the word "religion" for a specific belief in a supreme being, but that is a too narrow connotation in my view, and I use the wider connotation of "a specific fundamental set of beliefs and practices generally agreed upon by a number of persons or sects." To me, the social matrix of the beliefs and practices is more important in defining the religion than the self-justifying view of its followers, who in Capitalism's case, deny that it is a religion.
We could compare Capitalism's unbridled and unregulated behavior to the Catholic Church's first 1200 years of support of the Roman Empire and it's inquisitional and crusading phases of religion. Several of the links in this post go to other writers who also compare the Capitalist Creed as a religion. The points being that (1) Capitalism rests on a false belief in a "free market", (2) Capitalism requires blind faith without questioning the underlying assumptions, (3) Capitalism uses sloganeering superstitions, such as "the invisible hand of the marketplace" to sell itself to unwitting people, (4) Capitalism rests upon an ideology of neoliberalism that justifies itself and its immoral/amoral behavior, (5) Capitalism uses "high priests" or "witchdoctors" (depending on your perspective) called "economists" to proselytize and confuse people of its true purpose, (6) in Capitalism money becomes a means of personal salvation and acquisition of goods becomes the evidence of one's worth, etc.
All this describes the SHADOW SIDE of religion, which does not need to prevail when religion allows honest discussion of its purposes and methods. For a religion to be beneficial to humankind it needs to be able to look at itself with humor and honesty and open itself up for discussion of what its origin myths are saying from both sociological and psychological perspectives. Religion is a psycho-social system of organizing people individually and collectively, and Capitalism is the psycho-social system that provides the overlay to modern day consumer culture.