Capitalism has many merits, but what we are seeing now is its most crucial failing.
The last few years have not been a great time to be an idealist. Our country and the world feels increasingly unstable and belligerent, like it could all come crashing down into a smoldering ruin any day now. This anxiety has been growing to a fever pitch ever since the news of Russia’s aggressive build-up against Ukraine began spreading a few months ago.
Yet unlike Trump or the COVID-19 pandemic which proved so divisive and polarizing, much of the world is of the same mind that nobody wants this war, even many Russians. According to Reuters, nearly 5000 anti-war protesters were arrested in Russia on March 6 alone.
So, is this just a Putin problem? Are we staring down the barrel of the worst conflict of our lifetimes because of one man? Or is Putin just the most recent symptom of a broader condition?
Conflict has been a part of the human story since the first stone was thrown and the first stick was sharpened and hardened in flame. First driven by the scarcity of resources in an untamed world, then motivated by religion or race to destroy or subjugate those who were viewed as undesirable, societies have been forged and molded by conflict.
Yet the idea of conflict between major world powers changed forever in 1945. As soon as the bombs dropped in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the entire world knew the next great power conflict could be the end of the human species.
Ever since then we have had plenty of wars. Revolutions and civil wars in developing countries, wars of imperialist bullying as powerful nations like the U.S. or the former U.S.S.R. jockeyed for position on the necks of weaker countries.
Yet through all that time we have known better. Even during the hottest moments of the Cold War, the memories of the World Wars and the atomic bomb stayed our hands.
I’m not so sure we know better anymore. Greed has a way of twisting the mind of the powerful. Pride and masculine bravado have a way of corrupting the good sense of men. The important lessons pulled from the ruins of Hiroshima, Nanking, Berlin, London and Stalingrad have all lost their potency as they have faded from living memory.
We are caught in a toxic cycle, one where most people who would prefer to live a life of peace, love and betterment of each other are pulled into the depths of hell by a fringe minority driven by ego and greed.
All of us here at UWT are caught in this cycle, from the students and teachers, to the janitors, security guards and the homeless who stroll through our campus.
Putin is a symptom of this cycle, but the cycle itself is driven by greed. With all our advances in technology, science and medicine, we have all the means to end the problems which drive human conflict, primarily resource scarcity.
Just as the U.S. invaded Iraq with its eyes on Iraqi oil, Putin has invaded Ukraine partly due to Ukraine’s own energy reserves. Yet both countries could have just invested in clean, renewable energy avoiding destructive conflict and subverting the growing climate crisis at the same time.
This solution would have been better for humanity by any consideration, but both countries chose imperialist aggression, why? Because it was quicker, it was easier, and it made them rich.
This is how our system operates. What is best for the community is sacrificed for what is best for the few. Even though we have the means to end conflict over scarcity, scarcity is artificially created so that men like Putin and Trump can profit from it.
I do not deny capitalism has brought great things in the short term, from cars and airplanes to Spotify and video games. All of these wonderful additions to our lives have been forged in the furnace of free-market competition. However, the short term is only part of the story.
In the long-term, capitalism has brought corrupt leaders tone-deaf to the needs of their people, arbitrary homelessness and hunger, imperialist wars and crumbling ecosystems. With climate change only getting worse and nuclear war looking all the more imminent, I ask any who will listen, is it worth it? How “healthy” can healthy competition be if these are the long-term results?
A horde of locusts will eventually devour itself when all other resources are consumed. Is that what we are? Is that the final chapter of the human story? I don’t believe so, we have so much more to do than that. Great works of art to paint, architectural wonders to construct, diseases to cure, stars to explore and alien species to meet.
Historically, Marxism was the alternative to Capitalism. Many in younger generations are viewing the ideology much more favorably than previous generations. The history of Marxism is troubled, the ideology fell prey to the same human nature which now corrupts capitalism.
Yet in the theories of Marx there is a crucial and solid thesis statement; Firstly, that the means of material production have been the driving force of human events since the dawn of time. Secondly, that produced goods have consistently been hoarded jealously by a few elites at the expense of society as a whole.
In the Marxist tradition of thought, these two facts are the wellspring from which all human bloodshed, hatred and suffering has flowed.
I consider myself a Marxist, yet I also acknowledge that humanity may not yet be ready for some of its more radical alternatives. I believe for the time being, neither extremes are viable. We must seek a balance between the two. One that affords collectivism the same value as individualism.
Had both sides of the Cold War not been so belligerently close-minded, and more open to being wrong, they may have learned more from each other. We could be living in a much better world right now. Instead the cycle has been allowed to repeat, and the horrors of the 20th century may be outclassed by the horrors of the 21st century.
In an episode of “Star Trek: The Next Generation” titled “The Neutral Zone” Captain Picard responds to a citizen of the 21st century who awoke in the 24th after centuries of being frozen in sleep.
“A lot has changed in the last 300 years; people are no longer obsessed with the accumulation of things. We have eliminated hunger, want, the need for possessions, we have grown out of our infancy,” said Captain Picard.
In the Star Trek universe, it did take near extinction at the hands of nuclear war for humanity to grow out of its infancy. Let’s hope it doesn’t have to come to that in our own universe.