On the seventh day of creation, Sunday, in the Christian tradition, God rested. Instead of following the divine example, I begin the day by reading the paper, exasperating myself trying to understand on what basis of principle anyone could continue to support existing capitalist society. I understand the narrow economic interests that it serves, and thus why the ruling class will fight to preserve it. I can understand the reasoning that leads many would be opponents to accept it because they have concluded that there is no realistic possibility of building a democratic socialist alternative. I can also certainly understand the desire to flee the reality of crushing environmental and social problems into the haze of diversionary addiction. But I can no longer think of any plausible argument that capitalism is justified by a superior capacity to secure the conditions in which the higher values of human existence can be realized. Those higher values it once served in its ascendency against aristocratic feudalism– individual liberty and initiative, the moral and legal equality of human beings, toleration, experimentation, and the need to justify beliefs with evidence and argument– have been discarded, and all that is left is craven service to money-value growth as an end in itself.
The evidence from which I draw this conclsuion is not found in occult leftist tracts available only to initiates. The inter-related narratives of life-support and life-development system collapse are openly reported. Canadian Thanksgiving Sunday was, ironically, a day of disharmonic convergence of stories about threatened and actual life-destruction on the natural, social, and individual planes of being alive.
Let us begin with the foundation of all life on earth, nature, the universal life-support system. In The Toronto Star, publisher John Honderich travelled to the Great Bear temperate rainforest in British Columbia to bear witness to the land and sea threatened by the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline. “It is a unique place,” Honderich writes, “where ocean, salmon rivers, and coastal rainforest exist in one dramatic landscape that takes your breath away. It is also one of the richest and most productive eco-systems on the planet.” (John Honderich, “B.C.’s Delicate Balance Between Oil and Nature,” The Toronto Star, Sunday, Oct. 7th, 2012, pp. A1, A8-A9.) When he says “richest” he does not mean “most money-valuable.” Clearly, he means by “richest” “most full of the beauty of life and the lands and waters that support it.” Yet, life-value, no matter how obvious to the eye that opens itself to what is before it, does not appear to the oil barons and their Tory servants. The possibility of even more profit makes the possible destruction of an irreplaceable wilderness area a risk worth taking. Predictably, to the ‘alarmist’ and ‘radical’ critiques launched by environmentalists and local First Nations people, the industry responds that nothing catastrophic can ever happen. They do not allow themselves to be addressed by the real issue the opposition raises: how can it be rational to risk catastrophic destruction of the extraordinary life-value of this place? The hubris of technophilia combined with insatiable hunger to access the Chinese market predictably blinds industry and the federal government to the depth problem- capitalism, dependant as it is upon unsustainable rates of conversion of the natural life-support system to the bad infinite of money-value growth, literally devours its own conditions of existence. Unfortunately, those conditions of existence are our conditions of existence as well.
Let us now proceed to the social plane of being alive. Human sociality develops out of nature through interactive labour, mediated by economic, political, and cultural institutions and regulated by definite ruling value systems. Through this interactive labour our organic nature is worked up, transformed, and developed into human social self-conscious agency. Human beings do not choose to be members of a society. We are born, marked by definite needs which we also did not choose and which we cannot satisfy outside of social relationships. Nor can parents, whether as isolated dyads or as single parents, meet all of their children’s needs, for the socio-cultural requirements of human life require multiple forms of relationship, activity, and experience, in institutions more complex than the family. The point is: societies are essentially systems of human life-capacity development. They succeed when they enable the satisfaction of the life-requirements without which our social self-conscious agency cannot develop. They fail when they drive human beings to revert to purely mammalian forms of survival behaviour.
On the social plane of being alive too the mainstream media cannot avoid reporting the on-going systemic collapse. In Spain, where the official rate of youth unemployment is 50% and the overall rate of unemployment is 21 %, people are being driven to scavenge food from garbage bins. As Suzanne Daley reports in The New York Times, in Madrid, “at the huge wholesale fruit and vegetable market … in virtually every bay, there were men and women furtively collecting items that had rolled into the gutter.” (Suzanne Daley, “Spanish Are Recoiling as the Hungry Scavenge The New York Times, Sunday, October 7th, 2012, p. 3). Yet, even as the disaster unfolds overly before our eyes, the purported “rulers” of the society proclaim their powerlessness to do anything about it save to prescribe more of the same murderous medicine.
Onward, now, to the individual plane of being alive, the concrete reality and expression of the natural and social planes. In the individual living human being nature, (the arrangement of elements that produces life and the inputs and systems that support it), and society (institutions, relationships, symbolic codes, value systems) are synthesised. The individual is at once a unique and unrepeatable centre of intrinsic life-value and a social self-conscious agent capable of valuing its own and other life’s conditions of existence, other living things, and other people, in wider or narrower circles of association. The intrinsic value of human being is grounded in life’s finitude, vulnerability, and capacity for meaningful experience, creation, and mutualistic relationship. Were a specific individual life infinitely copiable, like the pages of a text or a line of computer code, or were it absolutely innert and capable of nothing at all, it might still have instrumental life-value as an input or tool that serves other life, but would lack intrinsic life-value, i.e., would not be worth living independently of its usefulness to others. It is because human life is both intrinsically valuable and vulnerable to harm that it is always wrong to treat human beings as nothing but means, as Kant argued (but without laying out the life-value basis of his position). An individual life is worse to the extent that it is treated as means, and worse still the more violent the form of instrumentalization to which the individual is subjected. Amongst the worst fates that can befall a human being is to be subjected to torture for the sake of advancing the political interests of a ruling minority group.
And so to my final story. The Windsor Star reports on a recent court decison that allows Kenyan victims of British colonial torturers to sue the British Crown. What drew my attention, however, was not the decision, but the British government’s decison to appeal the ruling. Their decision to appeal is a transparent attempt to delay the process of being held publicly accountable until the victims have died, in essence evading the responsibility to answer for their barbarities. “What could be more despicable, what could be more immoral,” asked Paul Muite, one of the lawyers representing the victims, “of Her Majesty’s government than to bide time simply to wait for all these victims to die one by one before tasting justice?” (Estelle Shirbon and Drazen Jorgic, “Kenyans Can Sue U.K. Over Colonial Torture, The Windsor Star, Weekend Edition, October 7th, 2012, p. A13.) And why is the British government, great champion of human rights and democracy, or so it never tires of telling the world, awaiting the death of the victims of its ancestor-adminstrations? Money. Talk is cheap, law suits are not. The global brutalization of indigenous peoples– i.e., the British Empire– has left millions of victims, many of whom are still, although barely, alive. The financial costs of successful legal actions could be enormous, so rather than atonement, the government has chosen delay, in the hopes that soon all the direct victims will return to the quietude of dead matter.
The stories provide the facts people need to convict capitalism of morally insane public policy and monstrous crime. That which is absent in the mass media is the conceptual basis required to develop integrated understanding of the shared causes. The shared cause of environmental degradation, the destruction of public institutions, and individuals as unique centres of intrinsic life-value is evident but unspoken in all three stories: the subordination of life and life’s natural and social conditions to the reproduction and expansion of capitalist money-value. Since a money-value economy presupposes human life, and human life presupposes natural life-support systems and social life-development systems, their destruction by the process of money-value accumulation is self-undermining. Although self-underming, the process continues, because it is invisible from the perspective of people who serve it.
But not only is this system-logic self-undermining, it is essentially nihilistic. In place of the entire complex wealth of diverse life-forms and eco-systems, in place of the manifold ways that human beings can experience and create, in place of all the different ways to find meaning and purpose and to build commitments in life, it imposes a monotone singularity: everything for the sake of money-value growth. Capitalism has ceased to be a civilization, a system of social organization that elevates humanity by enabling its properly human capacities, and is now nothing better than an omniverous machine keeping people alive as spare parts.