The economy works relentlessly to ensure that nobody pursues a meaningful life. The central mission of a capitalist market economy is to persuade each and every one of us to suck in as much material pleasure (called “utility”) as we possibly can — and to serve others in the process as little as we possibly can. This is defined by the economic scribes as the essence of rationality, and rational materialism is considered the mode of behavior that makes us uniquely human. Any other dimensions to life, especially the spiritual, are dismissed as mythical — and service to others is dismissed as an impediment to personal pleasure (called a “disutility”).
The only reason we are infected with this vile ideology is to ensure that the class of individuals controlling the process get to suck in much more meaningless pleasure than everyone else.
That’s the real critique of capitalism — not a shallow horizontal radicalism in a dimension of left vs right — but a profound vertical radicalism in a dimension of good vs evil.
But what’s evil about it? The short answer is that capitalism strives to channel human activity into a narrow selfish materialism — one that attempts to reduce the human being to a grasping hedonist who knows nothing of spiritual values. Consume to the max, and care about nothing else.
To explore this point, we really have to consider what we actually want to do with our lives more than just drowning ourselves in consumerism. Philosophers have agonized about this for millennia. For answers I draw from my own tradition of Christianity, recognising that there are analogues in other spiritual traditions.
So what does Christianity say we should do with or lives? Serve! To love your neighbour means to serve your neighbour — to see that his or her needs are met. That’s the economic context. That’s the antidote to consumerism. Don’t spend your life sucking up all the goodies you can suck. Spend it putting yourself out there — helping those who are unfulfilled to find their fulfilment. Doing something useful for others. That way, you find your own fulfilment — by not seeking it for yourself, but for others.
That’s anti-capitalist as hell. It’s subversive and dangerous. But get out there and be subversive! We need each and every one of you, to upset the apple cart, one cart at a time. Defy the consumer mentality and be a poster boy/girl of the compassionate mentality. To serve others is the highest calling. That’s a revolution without guns.
Still, a question will always be raised. What are you going to replace capitalism with? Well, with nothing. That’s not our job. “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.” You won’t accomplish much in that arena. But what you can accomplish is to establish beachheads — what I call “Pockets of Grace” — anywhere and everywhere. In your neighbourhood, in your workplace, in your church.
Challenge power and the consumer mania that props it up with compassion and caring and humble defiance. Caesar will eventually bow to the power of God’s grace, because he won’t have anywhere else to turn.
Now that’s a revolution that would make Marx blush.