A millenials thoughts on the new millenium - cars VS bikes and some left-wing propaganda.
In a society where more people believe that the Earth is flat than that capitalism is not the final economical and political paradigm, writing an essay like this one is not an easy task. Many people would probably think I am doing it just because I did not get the memo that market economy is the best and is here to stay. And even more would be the ones who will just dismiss this article - why should there be interested in politics at all. After all, nobody is paying them to do so, right?
In an attempt to be heard, many people who probably feel the same way as me and have the same motivation would try to equivocate when they talk about that, or to try to change other people’s opinion one step at the time, or be almost apologetic in their tone saying stuff like “It’s obvious that capitalism is great, but…” Me, I won’t try to equivocate, so if you think that, “communism does not work”, or “capitalism is bad, but there isn’t anything better” and you aren’t ready to challenge these assumptions probably won’t find anything interesting here.
Social structures, past and present.
When I talk about capitalism, I won’t be talking just about the characteristics political system which is capitalism and its characteristics such as the practice of free trade, the idea that the market regulates itself etc. Rather, I will talk about the social structure which enables this system to exist. Talking about just the political system in isolation would be incomplete and, in most cases, decebtfull.
What do I mean by a social structure? For me it conststs of three main elements which play along in order to keep the status quo: At the heart of every social structure is a mythos, an origin story a purpose-giving narative - something which people believe in order to keep each other together as a society. As every mythos, this story is neither true nor false and its not meant to be evaluated by its truth or falcity. You can either live according to it or not. Then, there is the political system itself. Every political system has a rulling class. Much of the political system are the rules under which this group operates and based on which its members gain and lose power. The mythos should, in one way or another, justify the political system, otherwise, people just wouldn’t want to play along and there would be no society. The third important element is a social group which I will call the “mediators”. Those are the people who have the job to explain to the people how every decision of the ruling class fits into the big picture of the mythos, thus justifying it.
The ruling class itself can help the mediators but it cannot do their job by itself. Seeing the ruling class trying to take upon the role of the mediators, is a sure sign that their actions are not really justifiable by the mythos. In other words, society has a problem which, although the ruling class would try to convince you that it can be solved by hiring and firing a few of its members, is really an indicator that the days of the political system, and even the mythos, are numbered. Along this line of thinking, we may deem the mediators the most important element of a social structure - and bad ruler can always be replaced, but if there are no people who are willing to support the system, the whole runing class is powerless.
Let’s test our little theory by examining monarchy - a social structure which is obsolete enough for us to have an unbiased perspective of it. The monarchy mythos goes like this: kings are (descendants of) gods. Therefore they not only know what is good for you, but alko know what is right i.e. what can gurantee you a spot in heaven. So obsolete monarchy is that it is hard for us to imagine how its mythos had any effect on people but try to look through the eyes of a person living in the middle-ages - poor, illiterate, working 12 hours a day for one bread, looking upon a man who lives in a wonderful castle, who has never worked in his life. Surely this person cannot be the same as you, right?
The mediators in monarchy were the clergy, who have a hotline with God and which, once they get a response from him, give their blessing to the next king, using obscure rituals. The * political system* was simple - because the king knows best, he can appoint the rulling class by himself. As simple and rudimentary this system was, it did work at many times and places. Its success is, for me, a testament to the fact that a system does not have to be complex in order to “work”. The most important factor is probably the good balance between the ruling class and the mediators, i.e. having a clergy who has high morale and cares about the people.
What came after monarchy is the idea of a secular state and of democracy. Again, we will start with the mythos, which, as that of monarchy, may seem surprising to us, but for different reasons - democracy’s mythos is the idea that people are equal and that they themselves have not only the ability, but the right to decide what’s best for them - it is an idea which seems obvious, but it really isn’t and even today there are few societies where really everyone are considered equal and no-one is excluded.
The system of democracy is that the ruling class is appointed by the people based solemnly on skill.
The role of the mediator is played by the media - the free press, accompanied by the education institutions, which holds the ruling class accountable and criticises it.
It is hard to criticise democracy, as it looks like (and probably is) exactly like the social structure that we should be uniting ourselves around, but when comparing it with monarchy, we can see one fatal flaw - democracy is incomplete. In particular, its mythos lacks a firm ideologic grounds. While monarchy always rests on the firm ideology of a religion, democracy just allows everyone to follow their own doctrines and does not give a direction as to how a state should function. Under democracy, we agree on what is good, but not on what is right for us. It does not tell us why are we together which, as obsolete as it sounds, is absolutely instrumental for having a functional society. An example of societies without a firm ideology are the authoritarian regimes of the 20th century, like the Third Reich. Although the leaders of such regimes talk about ideology all the time, their “ideology” consists of just a couple of slogans, whose constant repetition cannot make up for their insubstantiality, nor can the criminalization of their criticism make up for their many inconsistencies.
A social structure and its ideology are not only related - they are the same thing, just as “the medium is the message”, as McLuhan says. A new ideology can easily drive a change in the social structure and the lack of a proper social structure could immediately make an ideology obsolete. In other words, if we have a functional society, we have an ideology.
I would call the current ideology which supplements our democratic society capitalism (or “consumerism” in order to differentiate it from the purely economic aspect of the former term). In terms of economy, capitalism is just the ability of people to own trade goods freely - something a form of which existed for centuries. In terms of ideology, I’d say it is characterised with the practice of putting a price tag on everything, as the ultimate merit of value. Capitalism is democracy’s bastard child which ended up killing its father. But in order to understand how that happened, let’s first examine how did it evolve in the form in which it did.
From democracy to capitalism
The process of forming a new ideology after the decline of aristrocracy wasn’t a straightforward one. People did not overthrow monarchy for ideological reasons. Their main motivation for doing so was the fact that their basic survival was threatened. Although they were still accepting many of the Christian values, people were hungry and they weren’t ready to wait until they die for a better life - they wanted that better life ASAP. In other words, when builing the new democratic society, people were driven by survival instincts. When turning into a full-blown ideology, these instincts became the new values of the new democratic society: human rights, security, stability, progress and of course happines. And as times passed, these values converged into one thing - money. How and why did that happen is a question which can be disputed, but the fact that it happened, for me, is very clear - nowadays money is so synonimus with survival that threads like pollution and climate change which are not caused by the shortage of money are perceived as marginal and nonexisting and threads like obesity which are clearly caused by overconsumption are combated by more consumption (pills, fitness cards, etc.) All second-level values, which I mentioned before are also perceived as problems which can be solved with money, both on the level of the individual and of society as a whole and all solutions are ignorred.
The capitalism mythos is the “scientific theory” that human beings have unlimited wants and needs. A theory which, as far as I’m concerned, is not only non-scientific (what are some experiments which can falsify it), but also (from my standpoint) pure wrong - how can a person who posesses limited time, limited energy, attention span etc. have unlimited needs?
Capitalism uses democracy’s social framework to create the social structure that we know today. Democracy tells us that people are equal and free, but capitalism tells us why are they free and what should they do with their freedom - strive to aquire more wealth (our needs are infinite, so more is always better). Democracy tells us that we should choose who would rule us, but capitalism gives us the criteria we should use, the mediator is still the media, but media which is dominated by advertising which in addition to individual products promotes the whole consumerist culture and citizens are kept obedient to the state not by an army, but by their addiction to all the different comodities which the structure provides them with.
What happens next - from cars to bikes.
This chapter is dedicated to the possible solutions of the issue outlined and because the last thing would want in such a chapter is to be vague, I will start by analysing a more specific instance of it - the automobile is not only a symbol of capitalism, but it is a very good metaphor for the capitalist social structure. Cars as we know them wouldn’t exist without capitalism (and you might say that capitalism as we know it also depends in many ways on cars).
Here are some of the downsides of using cars: cars are based on technology, which in many cases is more complex that it needs to be. The car is the most expensive good which a person can buy. The more people in a given city have cars, the harder it is to travel in and out of the city, not only by car but by using any other means of transportation. Cars are amongst the most dangerous modes of transportation. Cars also pollute our environment and, without causing it directly are probably one of the top reasons for the issue with obesity.
An much better alternative to cars, especially for city commuting, are bikes - bikes are healthy and eco-friendly, they have good benefits for physical and mental health. Bikes are cheap, accessible and also simple - most people can fix most of their issues with their bikes by themselves. There is a great sense of community between bikers, whereas car drivers are generally very rude with one another.
Unlike car drivers, though, bikers are much more affected by their environment - they cannot make due without good infrastructure - they need bike lanes, places to store their bikes etc. They have to rely on the strength of their bodies to get to where they are headed, they have to rely on other people, complete strangers to keep them safe, when riding at the street.
Unlike bikes, cars seem like a mode of transportation which generally shields its passengers from their environment: once you are in a car, you can move great distances relatively authonomously and without regard for the environment in which you are moving in. Cars give you the privilege to even ignore certain issues which you would otherwise have. You can, for example, live in a very dangerous or depressing neighbourhood, but that wouldn’t make much of a difference for you if you are only travelling there by car.
But though the protection that cars provide is real, the feeling of independece that they induce is a sham - the posession of a car brings about as large amount of dependencies that a consumer product can: oil companies, insurance companies, repair shops etc. all exist because of our car-related needs, needs that not only make us dedicate a great amount of our labor to serving those organizations’ interests but, more importantly, increase amount of labour that we should perform, period. In effect, the superficial independence which cars give us, is at the cost of a much more deeper dependence which defines the capitalist social structure. A dependence which is not between people, nor between different classes of people as it is commonly thought, but between individuals and organizations. Organizations which have an agenda on their own and ways to preserve themselves even at the cost of the wellbeing of the people who compose them.
But organizations are composed of people, therefore the organizations’ domination over people is possible only through people who directly and without realising it, support their own oppressors. But how is that possible? It might happen in three ways:
- By supporting such organizations directly and voluntarily.
- By working for them.
- By buying from them.
And although nobody does 1, many people do 2 and almost all people do 3. Point 3 leads us to the idea of ethical workplace choice and point 3 leads us to the idea of ethical consumption.
Now, there is a great deal of polemics over what is ethical consumption that I won’t go into. I will just say that I totally disagree with the thesis that there is no ethical consumption under capitalism so there is no point of changing our habits (that is like saying that there is no point in Buyng stuff from a friend is ethical. Buying stuff from an organization of people who you’d like to have as friends is ethical, and so is working for this organization. Buying stuff from an organization which does not work in the best interest of either its employees is unethical no matter what you buy. Working for such organization is unethical no matter what you do.
That people find this structure less than favourable is proven by their thirst for more money, money being seen as a way to escape from all dependencies and do “whatever you want”. But this view is naive - even if it comes with some conveniences, in terms of dependencies being on the top of this structure is not much different than being at its bottom - you still rely on money as a means to achieving your goal and on assuring that people around you would serve your interest.
As a result, individuals start adopting the same values as organizations such as fear of change and support for the status quo. for a person, lack of change means boredom and despair, the fear of change is fatal to their mental health.