Friday, September 30, 2016

Overcoming Bad Mental Habits

Western civilization: 2000 years ago, although the mass of people were in some senses less free than they are today -- for example, as many as 15% of the people in the Roman Empire, and as many as 40% of the population Italy, were slaves -- still, most of them, even the slaves, were somewhat freer than we are today to speculate about religious matters.

That freedom of discussion began to go away as Christianity began to take over in the 4th century, and by the end of the 5th century, like the Roman Empire's territory in the West, it was almost completely gone.

Western civilization had adopted a very bad idea: that there was only one true religion and that no-one was allowed to have any other opinions about it. We in the Western world began to shake off this intolerance of discussion of religious things in the 17th century, and we're still shaking it off.

As Christianity has faded, capitalism has grown. As there was with Christianity before, there is very little tolerance for people (socialists) who say that capitalism is a bad idea. There is constant discussion about what kind of capitalism is best, much as the Western universities were once dominated by discussions of what kind of Christianity was best, but to say that capitalism itself is something which must be overcome is still today a lot like saying several centuries ago that Christianity itself was nonsense: it's bad for a career in business or politics.

Now I want to make it as clear as I can that I did not just say that capitalism is a religion. I said that I saw a similarity in the development of the two and their places in Western society in two different eras. But they're not the same thing.

If I point out that a cat and a dog both have fur, I am not saying that a cat is a dog or that a dog is a cat. That would be ridiculous.

But a lot of Christian theologians have said that capitalism is a religion. Other people have said it too, but it seems to be very common among the theologians to say that this or that thing which is not a religion, is a religion. Karl Barth said that everyone has a religion and that therefore everyone is a theologian of some sort.

Theologians are constantly saying completely nonsensical things like that. It seems to me that they have to say all sorts of nonsensical things in order to sustain religious belief, or, more precisely, in order to impede clear thought about religion.

Capitalism is not a religion. Neither is socialism, or golf. But because we in the Western world have become so inundated with theological nonsense and so used to it, many of us fall for absurd notions such as that a way of doing business or a sport can be a religion.

Clear thinking about religion tells us that, although it may have been very useful in the past, and may still serve many functions today, its major premises about supernatural creators and guardians and eternal reward and punishment and so forth, are all unsound.

Similarly, and once again I am by no means saying that capitalism is a religion, clear thinking about capitalism tells us that it has many shortcomings among its basic premises, and that we can do better. Capitalism is dog-eat-dog. It rewards sociopathological behavior. It is deeply, inherently unfair.

It is not particularly unusual for me to say that I am an atheist. It's becoming more and more common for people to just come right out and say that they're atheists. And we're not all extremely pugnacious and unpleasant about being atheists, the way that the New Atheists are. We're getting closer and closing to the level of religious tolerance which existed in the Roman Empire 2000 years ago, when it was taken for granted that anyone was free to say want they wanted about religion and to believe and practice as they wished, and it was considered quite rude to denigrate anyone else's religion and insist that one's own was the only correct one.

They may be very many people today who believe that it would be best if society were organized so that everyone contributed to the well-being of all according to their abilities, and was cared for by all according to their needs. That's socialism. Capitalism and socialism are incompatible. Almost all of us are part-capitalist and part-socialist: part-capitalist because we have to be in order to survive within the capitalist system which dominates the world today; and part socialist, because we're decent human beings. There are very few people who are purely capitalistic all the time. They are awful, disgusting people like Donald Trump and the AIDS medication douchebag. But they are following the rules of capitalism very strictly: buy lo, sell high, put off payment as long as possible, don't let your effect on others even enter into your thoughts -- and because they've followed these rules so consistently, they're very rich. Very rich, loathesome sociopaths. The AIDS medication douchebag was always smirking in court and during interviews because he knew he was following the rules of capitalism. What's clear neither to him nor to most of the people nauseated by his behavior and smirk is that following the rules of capitalism all the time makes you a disgusting person.

Not all investors are the same, of course. Not all extremely wealthy people are the same. Not all capitalists are capitalists all of the time. Different billionaires get their billions in very different way, and do very, very different things with their billions. If Bernie Sanders grasps that, he's trying very hard to make it seem as if he doesn't. Prejudice is forming opinions about someone based on their membership in a group, rather than regarding them as individuals -- even if that group is the group of billionaires. Some billionaires are socialists to a very great degree, whether Bernie can grasp that or not, and whether the part-socialist billionaires realize it themselves or not.

"Antisocial" means both that you're against socialism and that you're an unpleasant person. "Social" means the same thing in both cases, and also in the case of the term "sociopath." Exactly the same. If you're an investor and you take actions which will tend to extend the life of the petroleum industry and hinder the growth of green energy, because you calculate that it will make you more money, you're a sociopath -- and a perfectly good capitalist. Watch the money shows on TV: the effect which investments will have on others never enters into the conversation unless someone has made a calculation that "green stocks" will make more money than others. On the money show this is all completely out in the open. Nobody's even the slightest bit embarrassed about ruining things for other people. The effect on other people is 100% beside the capitalist point of why they're there.

Capitalism = getting more and more money for yourself. Socialism = making the world a nicer place: cleaner air and water, fewer starving people, etc.

And none of that is exactly rocket science, but very few people are willing to face what they're able to understand about socialism and capitalism, the same way that very few people were able to face the fact that the stories in the New Testament made absolutely no sense, and that is was absurd to base all of society on them, although that, too, was quite plain to see, if one would but look.

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