“Man’s capacity for justice makes democracy possible, but man’s inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary.” Reinhold Niebuhr
A couple of years ago I published an essay titled “It’s Turtles All the Way Down”. The essay featured an anecdote related by Bertrand Russell, a conversation which occurred directly after a speech in which he described how the earth revolves around the sun. At the end of the speech an elderly lady stood up and said, “What you have told us is rubbish. The world is really a flat plate supported on the back of a giant tortoise.” The scientist then asked, “What is the tortoise standing on?” “You’re very clever, young man, very clever”, said the old lady. “But it’s turtles all the way down!” (This anecdote was also cited by Stephen Hawking in “A Brief History of Time.”) The definition of “anecdote” according to my dictionary mentions that such remarks are brief and adds that they “reveal a truth”; in this case the truth being that there are real people walking around us who believe such things.
I will posit the following: It’s systems all the way down. As defined in Wikipedia, “ a system is an entity with interrelated and interdependent parts; it is defined by its boundaries and it is more than the sum of its parts (subsystems). Changing one part of the system affects other parts and the whole system, with predictable patterns of behavior. … And, systems often exist to accomplish a common purpose (a work function) that also aids in the maintenance of the system …”. In short, we are, ourselves, human biological systems. We live surrounded by and are immersed in systems we create, especially political systems. Even though we don’t generally think of them that way, there are family systems, neighborhood systems, and so on down the line and, importantly, we also live within financial systems.
One of those extant financial systems is Capitalism which is the dominant financial/economic system in the world. The initial usage of the term “capitalism” in its modern sense has been attributed to Louis Blanc who in 1850 wrote, “What I call ‘capitalism’, that is to say the appropriation of capital by some to the exclusion of others.” The operative term “exclusion” is what matters here because that is the Capitalism we are experiencing today. Truth is, there are many people in the world today who have been, and who are being excluded from and by the dominant economic system over which they have no control and little if any influence.
Truth, of course, isn’t always, “… just the facts, Ma’am ”. There is always more to the truth than just bare facts. That’s what the “walk in another person’s shoes” meme is about. One person’s truth is not necessarily another’s just as one person’s experience of a particular moment is not necessarily another’s. We all live like fish in the same water and in the same world but we experience it separately. We also share the same times and that being the basis of the curse: “May you live in interesting times.”. These are, I believe, irrefutably interesting times. We have in the United States a president who is at best an emotionally as well as intellectually immature adolescent attacking truth and an already tattered American social contract as though they were nettlesome insects. Congress is dominated by individuals who are willing to create economic hardship for working people in order to serve up major tax cuts for the already wealthy in exchange for financial rewards. As it begins to fail them, working people are learning something about an economic system they have for so long worshiped and relied on to feed them and their families, to provide them with a good life including access to adequate medical care.
Capitalism as an economic system has been hoisted to a status none dare criticize as though it were a religion. We have a polity of exploitation worshipping at the altar of manna and like those who, according to the proverb, ate thereof and ultimately either died or thrived depending upon whose version of the story you choose to believe. Capitalism has become at the same time both an economic system that elevated the lives of many into a middle-class and is now destroying those same lives as their former employers shift production to places where people will work for less. It is the great “Invisible Hand” of Adam Smith’s imagination run amuck. Capitalism owes no debt to any country or political system. It is a system unto itself. The Capitalists will eventually turn on each other as each tries to have it all. Capitalism is going to destroy this society just as surely as it has around the globe – with monetary aggression replacing human values. Like inviting pyromaniacs to a barbecue.
There is no conception of Justice in Capitalism nor of Morals just the sacred mantra, “Only More Is More!” For example, as opposed to investing in businesses, capitalists “pump and dump” stocks contributing nothing to the economy and much less to society. This is the evil attempt at moral equivalence of Capitalism. In fact, even the idea and practice of Civil Justice has been reduced to a game, a game of winners and losers. That this is true is demonstrated by the fact that no lawyer, save those who represent such organizations as the ACLU or the Southern Poverty Law Center, for example, enters a courtroom with any motive save winning. Winning has become the working equivalent of Justice in the vast majority of what has become the practice of Law.
Large monied legal clients such as insurance companies only hire winners. Winning has nothing to do with right and wrong, nothing to do with justice – only with winning. We are living in a time of Legal Positivism which holds there is no necessary connection between the law and morality and Legal Realism which claims the practice of Law, as we know it, is based solely on what is legislated and what is decided in the courts. In both instances there is a disconnect from truth and a solid and immutable conception of how a society properly conducts itself. And those who underwrite the sociopathic behavior of those who write the laws to the specifications of their paymasters are the many members of Congress who enter politics as middle-class and become millionaires over the course of their political careers. Perhaps is not a coincidence that a great many legislators at the national and state levels are lawyers.
Where will it all end?