Capitalism operates under a set of Linear Principles based on the Balance Sheet. This is an extreme reduction of complex interactions. The Balance Sheet assumes that whatever is unknown, or beyond the tangible self-interest of its controlling parties, may be simply left out of consideration. Only what they have found to be of value is considered worthy of measure. The focus is on the accumulation of a particular kind of value/power. We suffer as a result. Tradition and acceptable innovation both tend to stay within these narrow parameters of inquiry.
Ask an Economist to describe our financial state at any given time and they will say that we are at some point in a business cycle buried within a larger trend that is always soaring upward. The validity of the assumptions behind this analysis is assumed, not tested. The Business Cycle’s existence within any larger encompassing reality is hand-waved away as just another externality. As our understanding of complexity has evolved, fragmentary insights derived from this study have been applied as tools to tweak things within the overall system of Capital, but they have not been focused on its basic aims and assumptions.
In the meantime, we are learning that no analysis of any sort of complexity can be reduced to linearity without either destroying that complexity outright, or at least degrading any insights our analysis was intended to generate. This accumulated wisdom, gained at the high costs paid in the tumult of tragedies throughout the Twentieth Century, has not entered into our discussions of Economics.
Capitalism assumes its practitioners understand their world and can make valid decisions based on their understanding of the nature of self-interest. This is the biggest crack at the base of the entire edifice.
It was assumed that being good at the game qualified you to play. Lesser creatures, unable to win points/accumulate Capital, were excluded from positions of power and influence because they were obviously incapable. This gate-keeping was long ago institutionalized and manned by a self-identifying and self-limiting group. They earned their positions within society by being good at guarding this assumption from any scrutiny that might endanger the positions of its players. What began as useful common sense has now become a pathological condition.
Everything else in our economic history over the last few centuries devolves from this initial dynamic.
We have a powerful linear conceptual framework that concentrates attention, energy and authority on the ends it deems valuable. Its power comes from stripping away any considerations that might interfere with its focus. It has been tremendously effective at defending its premises and validity.
We’re familiar with other entities that combine these traits. It’s not a poetic metaphor to say that this is precisely how tumors function or infectious viruses.
The founders of Capitalism were not particularly culpable, they lived within a social system that empowered their viewpoint while it was ignorant of much we now know about the way the Earth operates. At small, and even relatively large regional scales, it’s possible to be Linear and not run up against limits that can’t be overcome by simply spreading out. This meant that while the system was doing harm to people and the Earth, that harm could be hidden, whether incidentally or purposely, by and from the parties who benefited.
At smaller scales this worked. It furthered its practitioners’ aims. This self-identifying and self-limiting pool of players generated feedback that seemed to show them they were doing something right. As they gained power and dominion they also gained justification for their actions. It doesn’t take long. When all the rewards benefit those who are willing to negate broader values in return for limited gain. Hubris, venality and corruption become endemic. An attitude that assumes everyone outside of their most narrowly defined clan is available fodder for exploitation takes hold and dominates society.
At this point the apparent self-interest of its practitioners has taken them into a self-destructive mode of action without giving them any signs that they are hurting themselves along with everyone and everything else. This lack of corrective feedback cannot be made-up-for by post-facto regulations. If the intent of an Ethos is destructive and powerfully embodied its will can only be marginally thwarted while its practitioners can continue to feel justified in their actions. Such an Ethos must be discredited so that its practitioners see for themselves how it is against their broader self-interest. This can only come about in conjunction with the development of a new Ethos that has virtuous feedback to provide internalzsed correction between its practitioner’s activities and their effects on the broader whole of which they are a part.
Similar dynamics have operated in all fields of human endeavor over the last few hundred years. The concept of Linearity unleashed a potential to harvest narrow advantages in everything from religious and philosophical thought to the most particular technological application. A high rate of growth is available whenever this dynamic is unleashed within robust systems with available “surplus” to be tapped into.
Linearity gathers up elements that had been held within dynamic equilibrium within the fine pores of a great robust complexity, and redirects them for its own ends without concern, or even knowledge, of its effects on that greater system as a whole. In this way it has little self-regulation and eventually it uses the greater system’s robustness and resilience to carry on to the point of collapse. Runaway, over-reach, juggernaut, call it what you will, it’s a self-catalyzing reaction that continues until it uses up the available material and energy.
Unless we put our efforts into sorting out this fundamental flaw in our economics, we will continue to flail away at cross-purposes. It used to be fun to laugh at the Monty Python skit in the Holy Grail lampooning the limitations and ludicrous levels of unreality in the Medieval mindset as they attempted to decide if the poor woman was a witch. It’s not so funny now as our own Expert Class goes about spouting similar baloney.
So long as the primary incentive behind our economic system is to reward the narrow view and treat the web of life as a source of pillage for a skewed and malignant sense of self-interest, we are just perpetuating lies and allowing the overreach to extend yet further. As individuals and as societies we have the mechanisms available to adapt our norms and enforce them. As with any complex system, these changes tend to come at the ends of long periods of apparent stability. Such changes are triggered at tipping points and the new norm’s arrival is a seismic shift. At that point the old norm is widely viewed as ridiculous and reviled by a new common sense. We find it hard to imagine anyone could have been so foolish. “Of course she’s a witch, she’s made of wood!” “Burn HER!”
Those trying yet to fight their way out of this conceptual dead-end from within the old system are in danger of sinking along with it. The rest of us need to find our courage to put its failed common sense behind us and work towards finding new ways to focus our attention, energy and authority within a new system. One that is self-correcting not self-defending. Reality moves on, the defensive get left behind. But unless we make efforts to fill the void left by the collapse of a failed conception of reality we are doomed to whatever reactionary reflexive aftermath is left in its void. To think otherwise is delusional.