Value System Disorder

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I believe that greed and competition are not a result of immutable human temperament; I have come to the conclusion that greed and fear of scarcity are in fact being continuously created and amplified as a direct result of the kind of money we are using...The direct consequence is that we have to fight with each other in order to survive.[1]
-Bernard Lietaer

Thought Genes

Given the relatively slow rate of change of the human being with respect to biological evolution, the vast societal changes that have occurred over the past 4000 years of recorded history have occurred due to the evolution of knowledge – hence “cultural evolution”. If we were to search for a mechanism for cultural evolution, the notion of the “meme”[2] is useful to consider. Defined as “an idea, behavior, style, or usage that spreads from person to person within a culture”, memes are considered to be sociological or cultural analogues to genes,[3] which are “functional (biological) units controlling the transmission and expression of one or more traits”.

While genes basically transmit biological data from person to person through heredity, memes transmit cultural data - ideas - from person to person via human communication in all forms.[4] When we recognize, for example, the power of technological advancement over time and how it has dramatically changed our lifestyles and values and will continue to do so, we can view this overall, emergent phenomenon as an evolution of ideas, with information replicating and mutating, altering the culture as time moves forward.

Given this, we could gesturally view the human mental state and its propensities for action as a form of program. Just as genes encode a set of instructions which, in concert with other genes and the environment produce sequential results, the processing of memes by the intellectual capacity of human beings, in concert, create patterns of behavior in a similar way. While “free will” is certainly a complex debate to be had with respect to what actually triggers and manifests human decisions, it is fundamentally clear that people's ideas are limited by their input (education). If a person is given little knowledge about the world, their decision process will be equally as limited.[5]

Likewise, just as genes can mutate in ways that are detrimental to their host, such as the phenomenon of cancer,[6] so can memes with respect to ideological/sociological transmissions, generating mental frameworks that serve as detriments to the host (or society). It is here where the term “disorder” is introduced. A disorder is defined as “a derangement or abnormality of function”[7]. Therefore, when it comes to social operation, a disorder would imply institutionalized ideological frameworks that are out of alignment with the larger governing system. In other words, they are inaccurate with respect to the context in which they attempt to exist, often creating imbalance and detrimental destabilization.

Of course, history is full of initially destabilizing, transitioning ideas and this ongoing intellectual evolution is clearly natural and necessary to the human condition as there is no such thing as an “absolute” understanding. However, the differentiation to be made here is the fact that when ideas persist for a long enough period, they often create emotional connections on the personal (“identity”) level and institutional establishments on the cultural level, which tend to perpetuate a kind of circular reinforcement, generally resisting change and adaptation.

Recognizing our intellectual evolution, as a process with no end and being open to new information to help better align ourselves for sustainable practices, is clearly a core ethic needed both on the personal and social level if we expect to keep adapting for the better in the context of cultural evolution. Sadly, there are powerful cultural forces that work against this interest in the world today. Structures, both ideological and encoded in the current social infrastructure[8] actively work against this critical necessity of cultural adaption. An analogy would be the starvation of our biological cells by removing oxygen from the environment – only in this case we are restricting our vulnerability to learn and adapt, with knowledge being the “oxygen” by which we as a species are able to solve problems and continue progress.

This disorder is, as will be described, inherent to the market capitalist tradition. It is not only the actual decisions being made against the interests of adaptation, knowingly or not, that perpetuate detrimental effects on many levels – it is also the value system – the employment of “identity” and a normalized sense of custom, which bears a powerfully problematic force. This is compounded even more so when the purpose served (or appears to be served) by such intents directly ties to our survival and existence. There is nothing more personal to us than how we identify ourselves and the economic system we encompass is invariably a defining feature of our mentalities and worldview. If there is something wrong with this system, then it implies there is something wrong with ourselves, given that we are the ones who perpetuate it.

Value System Disorder

Just like cancer is, in part, an immune system disorder, sociological traditions which persist with ever-increasing problem generation for society could be called a value system disorder.[9] This disorder has to do with a kind of structured psychology where certain assumptions have been given credence over time based merely on their cultural persistence, coupled with an inherent reinforcement of itself in operation. The larger the social context of the disorder, often the more difficult its resolution, not to mention the difficulty of its mere recognition itself.

On the scale of a social system, it becomes very difficult as the society as a whole is constantly being conditioned into the dynamics of its own framework, often creating powerful self-preservation reactions whenever its integrity is challenged. These, what could be called “closed intellectual feedback mechanisms”, are what comprise the vast majority of arguments in defense of our current socioeconomic system, just as they have in generations prior. In fact, it appears to be a general sociological trend since, again, people's very identity is invariably associated with the dominant belief systems and institutions they are born into.

In the words of John McMurtry, Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at the University of Guelph, Canada: “In the last dark age, one can search the inquiries of this era’s preserved thinkers from Augustine to...Ockham, and fail to discover a single page of criticism of the established social framework, however rationally insupportable feudal bondage, absolute paternalism, divine right of kings and the rest may be. In the current final order, is it so different? Can we see in any media or even university press a paragraph of clear unmasking of a global regime that condemns a third of all children to malnutrition with more food than enough available…? In such a social order, thought becomes indistinguishable from propaganda. Only one doctrine is speakable, and a priest caste of its experts prescribes the necessities and obligations to all...Social consciousness is incarcerated within the role of a kind of ceremonial logic, operating entirely within the received framework of an exhaustively prescribed regulatory apparatus protecting the privileges of the privileged. Methodical censorship triumphs in the guise of scholarly rigor, and the only room left for searching thought becomes the game of competing rationalizations.”[10]

Such reactions are also common with respect to established practices in specific fields. For instance, Ignaz P. Semmelweis (1818 -1865), a Hungarian physician who discovered that puerperal fever could be drastically cut by the use of simple hand washing standards in obstetrical clinics, essentially foreshadowing the now fully accepted germ theory of disease, was shunned, rejected and ridiculed by his finding. It wasn't until long after his death his now very basic realization was respected. Today, some use the phrase, “The Semmelweis Reflex” as a metaphor for the reflex-like tendency to reject new evidence or new knowledge because it contradicts established norms, beliefs or paradigms.[11]

Overall, once a given set of ideas is entrusted by a large enough number of people, it becomes an “institution”- and once that institution is made dominant in some way, such as existing for a certain period of time, that institution could then be considered an “establishment”. “Institutional establishments” are simply social traditions given the illusion of permanence and the longer they persist, often the stronger the defense of their right to exist by the majority of culture.

If we examine the institutional establishments we take for granted today – from macro system attributes such as the financial system, the legal system, the political system and major religious systems – to micro system attributes such as materialism, marriage, celebrity, etc. – we must remind ourselves that none of these ideas are actually real in the physical sense. These are temporal meme structures we have created to serve our purposes given conditions at certain points in time and no matter how much we emotionally attach to such issues; no matter how large an institution may become; no matter how many people may believe in such institutions - they are still impositions of thought and transient by nature.

So, coming back to the context here of the value system disorder, market capitalism, while arguably being deeply decoupled from physical reality and a root source of the vast majority of the social woes in the world today, keeps itself in place through a set of culturally reinforced values and power establishments upon which the society is ultimately conditioned and generally inclined to defend. This is made increasingly powerful in its persuasion since the dominant value system disorder at hand today is born out of assumptions relating to critical human survival itself.

Characteristics of Pathology

In order to critically evaluate an existing framework of thought, a basic, mutually accepted benchmark needs to be generated. “Cultural relativism”[12] is an anthropological notion that refers to the fact that different cultural groups generate different perceptions of “truth” or “reality”. “Moral relativism”,[13] which is a similar notion, has to do with the variance of what is considered “correct” or “ethical”. Over the course of human history, these distinctions have become increasingly narrow since the scientific revolution of causal thought, from the Renaissance onward, has increasingly reduced the “relative integrity” of various beliefs.

The fact is, beliefs are not equal in their validity. Some are truer than others and hence some are more dysfunctional than others in the context of real life. The scientific method of arriving at conclusions is the ultimate benchmark upon which the integrity of human values can be measured and this modern reality demystifies the common “relativism” defense of subjective human belief. It is not about “right” and “wrong” but what works or doesn't work. The integrity of our values and beliefs is only as good as how aligned they are with the natural world. This is the common ground that we all share.

This concept ties in directly with sustainability in the broad context of human survival itself, as a sustainable social system naturally must have sustainable values to facilitate and perpetuate the structure. Unfortunately, the evolutionary baggage of our cultural history has maintained value structures that are so powerful, yet so clearly decoupled from reality, which our personal and societal assumptions of happiness, success and progress itself continue to be deeply perverted and exist in discordance with the governing laws of our habitat and human nature. The human being indeed has a common nature and while nothing appears 100% universal across the species, certain pressures and stressors can generate, on average, serious public health problems.[14] Likewise, if our values support behaviors that are not in accordance with our physical sustainability on the planet Earth, then naturally we can expect ever-increasing problems on that environmental level as well.[15]

The dominant value system, which the capitalist socioeconomic model perpetuates, is arguably deeply pathological to the human condition as the mechanisms related to survival and general reward compound emotional attachments and forms of self-preservation which are essentially rooted in a kind of primitive desperation and fear. The fundamental ethos is that of an anti-social, scarcity driven pressure, which forces all players of the game to be generally exploitative and antagonistic both of others and the habitat. It also has built-in pressures to avoid socially easing interests due to a resulting loss of profit,[16] furthering this stress-induced emotional disparity. The result is a vicious cycle of general abuse, narrow-minded selfishness, and social and environmental disregard.

Of course, historically, these caustic characteristics are usually defended as simply “the way it is” - as though our evolutionary psychology must be stuck in this state. In fact, if the touted psychological doctrines of traditional market theory hold true (“neoclassical utilitarianism”) regarding our apparent limits with respect to a “workable” social structure, then imbalance, environmental destruction, oppression, violence, tyranny, personality disorders, warfare, exploitation, selfish greed, vain materialism, competition and other such divisive, inhumane and destabilizing realities are simply inalterable and therefore the whole of society should do nothing but work around such inevitabilities with whatever “controls” we can put in place to “manage” these realities of the human condition. It is as though the human being is deemed to have a severe, incurable mental disorder – a firm retardation - that simply cannot be overcome, so everything in society must be altered around it in an attempt to deal with it.

Yet, the more we live as human beings; the more history we are able to see of ourselves over generational time; the more we are able to compare the behaviors of different cultures across the world and across history – the more clear it becomes that our human capacity is being inhibited directly by an archaic reward and survival structure which continues to reinforce primitive, desperate values and while such values might have served a positive evolutionary role in the past, the present and foreshadowed future arguably lays these behavioral patterns bare as detrimental and unsustainable, as this overall text has expressed at length.

Self-Preservation Paralysis

While each of us generally wishes to survive and do so in a healthy state, naturally prepared to defend that survival when need be, self-preservation in the current socioeconomic condition unnecessarily extends this tendency in ways that severely inhibit social progress and problem resolution. In fact, it could be said that this short-term preservation occurs often at the cost of long-term integrity.

The most obvious example of this has to do with the fundamental nature of seeking and maintaining income, the lifeblood of the market system and, by extension, human survival. Once a business succeeds in gaining market share, typically supporting employees along with the owners, the business naturally gravitates to an interest to preserve that income generating market share at all costs. Deep value associations are generated since the business is not just an arbitrary entity that produces a good or service - it is now a means of life support for everyone involved.

The result is a constant, socially debilitating battle, not only with the competitors who also seek the same consumer market, but with innovation and change itself. While technological progress is a constant, fluid progression on the scientific level, the market economy sees this emergence as a threat in the context of existing, currently profitable ideas. Vast levels of historical “corruption”, cartel and monopoly generation and other defensive moves of existing businesses can be found throughout history, each act working to secure income production regardless of the social costs.[17]

Another example has to do with the psychological neurosis built out of the credit-based reward incentive inherent to the market system. While it is intellectually clear that no single person invents anything given the reality that all knowledge is serially generated and invariably cumulative over time, the market economy's characteristic of “ownership” creates a tendency not only to reduce information flow via patents and “trade secrets”, it also reinforces the idea of “intellectual property”, despite the true fallacy of the notion itself.

On the value system level, this has mutated into the notion of “credit” entitlement and hence often “ego” associations to presented ideas or “inventions”. In the world today, this phenomenon has taken a life of its own with a tendency for many who contribute often seeking status elevating “credit” for the idea, even though they are, again, clearly part of a continuum larger than themselves. While appreciation for the time and labor of a given person working towards the progress of an idea is a productive social incentive and fundamental to our sense of purpose in action, the perversion of intellectual ownership and all its contrived attributes extend this operant satisfaction into distortion.

In fact, on the largest scale of knowledge culmination, such acts of “appreciation” inevitably become irrelevant in the memory of history. Today, for instance, when we use a modern computer to assist our lives, we seldom think about the thousands of years of intellectual study that discovered the core scientific dynamics related, nor the enormous amount of cumulative time spent by virtually countless people to facilitate the “invention” of such a tool, in its current form.

It is only in the context of manifest ego and monetary reward security that this becomes a “natural” value issue with respect to the market system. If people do not claim “credit”, they will not be rewarded and hence they will not gain survival from that contribution in the market. So, the condition has compounded this neurosis that is invariably stifling towards progress via the sharing of knowledge.

Furthermore, disorders associated with market “self-preservation” can take many other forms, including the use of government as a tool,[18] the pollution of academia and information itself[19] (since educational institutions are supported by income as well), and even common interpersonal relationships.[20] The fear inherent to the loss of livelihood naturally overrides almost everything and even the most “ethical” or “moral” person, when faced with the risk of non-survival, can usually justify actions that would be traditionally called “corrupt”. This pressure is constant and is the source, in part, of the vast co-called “criminality” and social paralysis we see today.

Competition, Exploitation and Class Warfare

Building on the prior point, exploitation, which is inherent to the competitive frame of mind, has permeated the very core of what it means to “succeed” in general. We see this “taking advantage” rhetoric in many facets of our lives. The act of manipulation and exploitation for competitive gain has become an underlying force in modern culture, extending far beyond the context of the market system.

The attitude of seeing others and the world as merely a means for oneself or a particular group to “conquer” and keep ahead of is now a driving psychological distortion to be found in romantic relationships, friendships, family structures, nationalism and even how we relate to the habitat we exist within - where we seek to exploit and disregard the physical environment's resources for short term personal gain and advantage. All elements of our lives are necessarily viewed from the perspective of “what can I get out of it personally?”

A study performed at the Department of Psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, in 2011 found that: “...upper-class individuals behave more unethically than lower-class individuals...upper-class individuals were more likely to break the law while driving, relative to lower-class individuals. In follow-up laboratory studies, upper-class individuals were more likely to exhibit unethical decision-making tendencies, take valued goods from others, lie in a negotiation, cheat to increase their chances of winning a prize, and endorse unethical behavior at work than were lower-class individuals. Mediator and moderator data demonstrated that upper-class individuals’ unethical tendencies are accounted for, in part, by their more favorable attitudes toward greed.”[21]

Studies of this nature are very interesting as they reveal that the common human nature argument in its extreme context, that of people inevitably “being competitive and exploitative”, when defending the current social system, is bypassed. Class relationships are not genetic relationships, even though the nuances of individual propensities could be argued. This study expresses a cultural phenomenon overall since it is axiomatic to assume that the general attitude of disregard for external negative consequences, or so-called "unethical behavior" expressed by the upper class, is a result of the type of values needed to achieve the position of actually making it to the “upper class”.[22]

In common poetic rhetoric, this intuition has held true for centuries, with the observation that those who achieve “success” in the business sense, are often “desensitized” and “ruthless”. There appears to be a general loss of empathy by those who achieve such “success” and it is intuitively obvious why this is the case, given the value system disorder of competitive disregard inherent to the market system psychology. Overall, the more caring and empathic you are, the less likely you are to succeed financially - no different from a general sport where you are not going to help an opposing player achieve their goals for it means you are more likely to lose.

Overall, the lower classes are found to be more socially humane in many ways. For example, it has also been found that the poor give a higher percentage of their income (4.3%) to charity than rich people (2.1%). A 2010 study found that: “...lower class individuals proved to be more generous...charitable...trusting...and helpful...compared with their upper class counterparts. Mediator and moderator data showed that lower class individuals acted in a more prosocial fashion because of a greater commitment to egalitarian values and feelings of compassion. Implications for social class, prosocial behavior, and economic inequality are discussed.”[23] [24]

A study conducted by the Chronicle of Philanthropy using tax-deduction data from the Internal Revenue Service, showed that households earning between $50,000 and $75,000 a year give an average of 7.6% of their discretionary income to charity. That compares to 4.2% for people who make $100,000 or more. In some of the wealthiest neighborhoods, with a large share of people making $200,000 or more a year, the average giving rate was 2.8%.[25] [26]

Success & Status

Underlying the capitalist model is an implied assumption that those who contribute the most must gain the most. In other words, it is assumed that to become say, a billionaire, you must have done something important and helpful for society. Of course, this is clearly untrue. The vast majority of extremely wealthy people originate their wealth out of mechanisms that are not socially contributive on any direct, creative level when broken down and analyzed.[27]

The act of engineering, problem solving and creative innovation almost always occurs on the level of the laborer in the lower echelons of the corporate complex, only to be capitalized upon by those at the top (owners) who are skilled at the contrived game of generating a “market”. This is not to discount the intelligence or hard work of those who hold vast wealth, but to show that the rewards of the system are displaced, allocated to those who exploit the mechanisms of the market, not those who actually engineer and create. In fact, one of the most rewarded sectors of the global economy today is that of investment and finance.[28] This is a classic example as to be a “hedge fund” manager, moving money around for the mere sake of gaining more money, with zero contribution to creative development,[29] is one of the highest paid occupations in the world today.

Likewise, the very notion of “success” in the culture today is measured by material wealth, in and of itself. Fame, power and other gestures of attention go hand in hand with material wealth. To be poor is to be abhorred, while to be rich is to be admired. Across almost the entire social spectrum, those of high levels of wealth are treated with immense respect. Part of this has to do with a system-oriented survival mechanism, such as the personal interest in gaining insight into how to also become such a “success” - but overall it has morphed into a strange fetish where the idea of being rich, powerful and famous, by whatever means necessary, is a guiding force.

The value system disorder of rewarding, in effect, generally the most ruthless and selfish in our society, both by financial means and then by public adoration and respect, is one of the most pervasive and insidious consequences of the incentive system inherent to the Capitalist model. It not only works to bypass true interests in types of innovation and problem-solving which inherently do not have monetary return, it also reinforces the market system's own existence, justifying itself by way of high status attainment for those who “win” in the system, regardless of true contribution or the social and environmental costs.

Sociologist Thorstein Veblen wrote extensively on this issue, referring to this value “virtue” as predatory: “As the predatory culture reaches a fuller development, there comes a distinction between employments...The “honorable” man must not only show capacity for predatory exploit, but he must also avoid entanglement with occupations that do not involve exploit. The tame employments, those that involve no obvious destruction of life and no spectacular coercion of refractory antagonists, fall into disrepute and are relegated to those members of the community who are defective in the predatory capacity; that is to say, those who are lacking massiveness, agility, or ferocity...Therefore the able-bodied barbarian of the predatory culture, who is mindful of his good name...puts in his time in the manly arts of war and devotes his talents to devising ways and means of disturbing the peace. That way lies honor.”[30]

William Thompson, in his An Inquiry into the Principles of the Distribution of Wealth Most Conducive to Human Happiness restates the reality of this associative influence:

“Our next position is, that excessive wealth excites the admiration and the imitation, and in this way diffuses the practice of the vices of the rich, amongst the rest of the community; or produces in them other vices arising out of their relative situation to the excessively rich. On this point, nothing is more obvious than the universal operation of the most common principle of our nature – that of association. The wealth, as a means of admired or envied by all; the manner and character connected with the abundance of these good things, always strike the mind in conjunction with them...”[31]

Classes and class warfare are a natural outgrowth of this as the value associations to wealth and power, manifest by the current system, become an issue of emotional identity over time. The status-interest begins to take on a life of its own and it generates actions of self-preservation on the part of the upper class that seek to maintain (or elevate) their status in ways that might not even relate to money or material wealth anymore. Self-preservation, in this case, extends to a kind of drug addiction. Just as a chronic gambler needs the endorphin rush of winning to feel good, those in the upper class often develop similar compulsions in relationship to the state of their perceived status and wealth.

The term “greed” is often used to differentiate between those who exploit modestly and those who exploit excessively. Greed is hence a relative notion, just as being “rich” is a relative notion. The term “relative deprivation”[32] refers to the discontent people feel when they compare their positions to others and realize that they have less of what they believe themselves to be entitled to. This psychological phenomenon knows no end and within the context of the material success incentive system of capitalism, its presence as a severe value system disorder is apparent on the level of mental health.

While maintaining a needs meeting, quality standard of living is important for physical and mental health, anything beyond that balance in the context of social comparison has the capacity to create severe neurosis and social distortion. Not only is there no “winning” in the end when it comes to the subjective perception of status and wealth, it often serves to decouple those figures from the majority of the human experience, generating alienation and dehumanization in many ways. This empathic loss has no positive outcome on the social level. The predatory reward values inherent to the market system virtually guarantee endless conflict and abuse.[33]

Of course, the myth is that this neurosis of seeking “more and more” status and wealth is the core driver of social progress and innovation. While there might be some basic truth to this intuitive assumption, the intent, again, is not social contribution but advantage and financial gain. It is like saying being chased by a pack of hungry wolves ready to eat you is good for your health since it is keeping you running. While certain accomplishments are clearly occurring, the guiding force (intent) again has little to do with those accomplishments and the detrimental byproducts and larger-order paralysis inherent nullifies in comparison the idea that the values of competition, material greed and vain status is a legitimate source of societal progress.

In fact, epidemiologist Richard Wilkinson has extrapolated a comparison of wealthy nations oriented by the income disparity present in each population. It was found that those nations with the least income disparity actually were more innovative[34] and when we consider that the competitive value drive has a large role with respect to how severe the gap between the rich and poor is, it is axiomatic to consider that the values of egalitarianism and collaboration have more creative power than the traditional economic incentive rhetoric would claim.

As a final point in this subsection, the subject of materialism and status can be extended to the similar issue of vanity as well. While a mild deviation from our point, the vanity-based culture we have today finds a direct relationship to these drives for status and measures of “success” rooted in the psychological value incentives inherent to the capitalist system. Given that the value system of “acquisition” is, in fact, necessary for the consumption model to work, it is only natural that marketing and advertising generate dissatisfaction continually, including in the way we feel about our physical appearance.

In fact, a study was conducted some years ago on the island of Fiji, in which Western television was introduced to a culture that had never experienced the medium before. By the end of the observation period, the effect of materialistic values and vanity took a powerful toll. A relevant percentage of young women, for example, who prior had embraced the style of healthy weight and full features, became obsessed with being thin. Eating disorders, which were virtually unheard of in this culture, began to spread and women specifically were transformed.[35]

Ideological Polarization & Blame

When the subject of what has “gone wrong” with the world today is broached - given the poverty, ecological imbalance, inhumanity, general economic destabilization and the like - a polarized debate often ensues. Dualities such as “the right or the left” or “liberal or conservative” are common, implying that in the range of human comprehension and preference, there is a rigid guiding line that embodies all known possibilities.

Paired with this is also the older, yet still common duality of “collectivism vs. free market”. In short, this duality assumes that all options of economic preference must adhere to the idea that society should either be based on the supposed democratic will of all the people in the form of “free-trade” – or that a small group of people should be in control and tell everyone else what to do. Due to the dark history of totalitarianism that plagued the 20th century, a fear based value orientation, which rejects anything that even remotely hints at the appearance of “collectivism”, is extremely common today, with the related word “socialism” often used in a derogatory way.[36]

As noted prior in this essay, people's sense of possibility is directly related to their knowledge - what they have learned. If traditional educational and social institutions present all socioeconomic variation within the confines of such boxed frames of reference, people will likely mirror this assumption (meme) and perpetuate it in thought and practice. If you are not “abc”, then you must be “xyz” - this is the common thought meme. Even the political establishment of the United States exists in this paradigm, for if you are not a “republican”, you must be a ”democrat”, etc.

In other words, there is a direct inhibition of possibility and, in this context, it often manifests a value structure that builds emotional attachments to false dualities. These values are extreme barriers to progress today on many levels. In fact, as an aside, if the intention of a ruling class were to limit any interference from the lower classes, they would protectively work to limit people's sense of possibility.[37]For example, the supposed problem of “state intervention” of the free-market, a constant theme of capitalist apologists, essentially says that since various policies and practices of the government limit free trade in some way,[38] this is the source of the problem generating market inefficiency. This blame game actually goes back and forth between those who claim it is the market that is the problem and those who claim it is the state's interference with the market.[39]

What isn't talked about is the duality-shattering reality that the state, in its historical form, is an extension of the capitalist system itself. The government did not create this system. The system created the government or more accurately - they evolved as one apparatus. All socioeconomic systems root themselves in the basis of industrial unfolding and basic survival. Just as feudalism, being based on an agrarian society, oriented its class structure in relationships to the livelihood-producing land, so do the so-called “democracies” in the world today. Therefore, the very idea the state government is detached or without the influence of capitalism is a purely abstract theory with no truth in reality. Capitalism essentially molded the governmental apparatus's nature and unfolding – not the other way around.

So, when people argue that government regulation of the market is the root of the problem and that the market should be “free” without structural or legal inhibition, they are confused in their associative understanding. The entire legal system, which is the central tool of government, will always be “infiltrated” and used to assist in competitive tactics by business to maintain and increase advantage since that is the very nature of the game. To expect anything else is to assume that there are actually “moral” limits to the act of competition. Yet, this is completely subjective. Such moral and ethical assumptions have no empirical basis, especially when the very nature of the socioeconomic system is oriented around power, exploitation and competition - all considered to be, in fact, ideal virtues of the “good businessman”, as noted before.

If a profit seeking institution can gain power in the government (which is the exact intent of “corporate lobbying”) and manipulate the governmental apparatus to favor their business or industry to gain advantage, then that is simply good business. It is only when the competitive attacks reach peak levels of unfairness that action is taken to preserve the illusion of “balance”. We see this with anti-trust laws and the like.[40] These laws are, in reality, not to protect “free-trade” or the like – but to settle extreme acts of competitive intent inherent in the market place, with all sides jockeying for advantage by whatever means possible.[41]

Even the very constituents of all governments in the world today are invariably of the corporate-business class. Hence, deep business values are clearly inherent in the mindsets of those in power. Thorstein Veblen wrote of this reality in the early 20th century:

“The responsible officials and their chief administrative officers - so much as may at all reasonably be called the “government” or the “administration” - are invariably and characteristically drawn from these beneficiary classes; nobles, gentleman or business men, which all come to the same thing for the purpose in hand; the point of it all being that the common man does not come within these precincts and does not share in these counsels that are assumed to guide the destiny of the nations.” [42]

So, to argue that the “free market” is not “free” due to intervention is to misunderstand what the nature of “free” really means with respect to the system. The “freedom” is not the freedom of everyone to be able to “fairly” participate in the open-market and all the utopian rhetoric we hear about today by apologists of the capitalist system – the real freedom is actually the freedom to dominate, suppress and beat other businesses by whatever competitive means possible. In this, no “level playing field” is possible. In fact, if the government did not “interfere” by way of monopoly/anti-trust laws or the “bailing out” of banks and the like - the entire market complex would have self-destructed a long time ago. In part, this inherent instability of the market is what economists like John Maynard Keynes basically understood, but arguably to a limited extent.[43]

Individuality & Freedom

All too often people speak of “freedom” in a way that is more of an indescribable gesture than a tangible circumstance. We hear this rhetoric in the political and economic establishments constantly today where associations of “democracy” are made to this “freedom”, both on the level of the traditional practice of voting and the movement of money itself via independent free trade. These sociopolitical memes are also reinforced in a polarized way, relatively, which often uses examples of oppression and the loss of freedom and liberty in prior social systems to defend the current state of affairs.

The creative works of philosophers, artists and writers who have been influential in furthering various ideological notions of this “freedom”, often at the expense of societal vulnerability, increasing this dogmatic polarization, has further compounded these values.[44] In short, a great deal of fear and emotional power exists around the notion of social change and how it might affect our lives in the way of liberty and individuality.

Yet, if we step back and think about what freedom means away from these cultural memes, we find that notions of freedom can be argued as relative given human history, along with standards of living and even personal expression itself. Therefore, in order to decide what freedom is and how to qualify it, we need to measure it from an (a) historical perspective on one side and with respect to (b) future possibility on the other.

(a) Historically, the fundamental concern is based on the fear of power and the abuse of power. Human history, in part, is certainly one of perpetual power struggles. Fueled by deeply divisive religious and philosophical beliefs and values which manifested abject slavery, the subjugation of women, periodic genocide, prosecution for heresy (free speech, or what was and still is known as "free thought"), the divine right of kings and the like, it could be argued that human history in this context is a history of dangerous, unfounded superstitions made sacrosanct by primitive values/understanding in those periods of time, at the expense of human well-being and social balance. The fear and scarcity of these earlier periods appears to have amplified the worst of what we might consider “human nature”, often seeking power as a way to avoid the abuse of power in a vicious cycle.

Yet, it is critically important to notice that we have been in a process of transition away from these archaic values and beliefs overall, with the global culture and its institutions slowly embracing scientific causality and its merit with respect what is real and what isn't. With this, certain positive trends have become clear.

We have moved from the “divine”, ultimate power of genetically determined kings and pharaohs into a system of very limited, yet general public participation via a so-called “democratic process” in most of the world. Human exploitation, subjugation and abject slavery has lost its common defenses of religious, racial or gender superiority and improved to the extent that the slavery today overall takes the less severe form of “wage labor” - in the larger context of “class” associations - as determined by one's place in the economic hierarchy. The market economy, in all its historical forms, has also been able to overcome the race-like “caste” predeterminations as well since it does allow a level of (limited) social mobility in the community where income gained facilitates more general “freedom”.[45]

Such progressive realities need to be taken into account as capitalism, with all its flaws, has served to help improve certain things in the social condition. Yet, what hasn't changed is the underlying premise that is still elitist and bigoted in how it favors one group over another, both structurally and sociologically. Only in this case the “group” favored has nothing much to do with gender, race or religion anymore – but to do with a kind of forceful expedience and competitive mentality that pushes itself to the top of the class hierarchy, at the inevitable expense of others.

Capitalism, it could well be argued, is really is a post-modern slavery system, with a new value orientation of “competitive freedom” holding it in place. This reinvented notion of “freedom” basically says that we are all “free” to compete with each other and take what we can. Yet, as noted before, such a state of “open freedom”, existing without abuse, oppression and structural advantage - is clearly impossible. So, while proponents of capitalism may adduce the social improvements which have occurred since its advent as evidence of its social efficacy, we must acknowledge that its root form is not in the interest of human freedom, but an echo of social bigotry which has been polluting culture for thousands of years, rooted in a general psychology of elitism and scarcity.

Today, true freedom is directly related to the amount of money a person has. Those below the poverty line have severe limitations on personal freedom as compared to the wealthy. Likewise, while proponents of the free market often talk about “coercion” in the context of state power, the reality of economic coercion is ignored. Traditional economic theorists constantly use rhetoric that suggests that everything is an issue of choice in the market and if a person wishes to take a job or not, it is their choice. Yet, those in poverty, which is the majority,[46] face a severe reduction of choice. The pressures of their limited economic capacity creates a powerful state of coercion by which they not only must take labor roles they might not appreciate to survive, they are often subject to vast exploitation in the form of low wage rates due to that same desperation. In fact, general poverty, in this context, is a very positive condition for the capitalist class for it ensures cost-efficiency in the form of cheaper labor.

So again, while we may have seen some societal improvement over time, this improvement is really just a variation of a common theme of general elitism, exploitation and bigotry. The long history of assumed resource scarcity and limits on production have also compounded this idea, in the Malthusian sense,[47] where the idea of everyone finding some level of economic equality was deemed simply impossible.

(b) Yet, modern science and the exponential development of technical application, along with a deeper awareness of our human condition,[48] has opened the door to future possibilities for social improvement and, in fact, a further elevation of freedom in ways never before seen. This awareness presents a problem since the possibility of achieving this new level is deeply inhibited by the values and establishments set forth by the traditional capitalist social order. In other words, the market system simply cannot facilitate these improvements because the nature of their culmination is against the very mechanisms of the system.

For example, the efficiency made possible on the technical, scientific level today, if correctly applied, could provide a high standard of living for every human on earth, coupled with the removing of dangerous and monotonous labor through the application of cybernated mechanization.[49] In the world today, the vast majority of people spend most of their life working an occupation and sleeping. Many of these occupations are not enjoyed[50] and are arguably irrelevant with respect to true personal or social contribution and development.

So, if we wish to think about what freedom means on a basic level, it means being able to direct your life in the way you wish, within reason.[51] Being able to live your life without worrying about your basic survival and health, or that of your family, is the first step. Likewise, the labor for income system is one of the most “unfree” institutions that could exist today not only with respect to the inherent economic coercion, but also with respect to the corporate structure itself, which is quite literally a top-down, hierarchical dictatorship.

Sadly, even with these possibilities present and real, the value system disorder built from the capitalist model and its rather paranoid fear of anything outside of it, has and will continue to fight these possibilities for more elevated states of freedom. In fact, the very idea of providing basic social support in the form of “welfare” or the like is attacked, in part, on the basis of its avoidance of facilitating the open market – the very market that, in reality, likely created the impoverished state of those who need such assistance.

As a final note on the subject of “freedom”, capitalist theory, both historical and modern, is devoid of any relationship to the Earth's resources and its governing ecological laws. Apart from the most primitive awareness of scarcity, which is a marker of the common “supply and demand” value theory, the scientific nature of the world is absent in this model - it is “external”. This omission, paired with the exploitation and cost reducing reality inherent to the incentive system of the market, is what has generated the vast environmental problems, from soil depletion, to pollution, to deforestation, to virtually everything else we can think of on the ecological level.

In analyzing the early development of this philosophy, we can logically speculate about how this came to be. Given the largely agrarian base of production and the minimalism of early “handicraft” type good production, our capacity at that time to negatively affect the environment was inherently limited. We simply did not pose as much of a threat since the vast edifice of industry as we know it today had not evolved.

This development reveals that under the surface of capitalism is an old perspective, which is growing increasingly out of date, with ever-occurring repercussions resulting as our technological capacity increases our ability to affect the world. A parallel would be the institution of war. Competitive values and warfare were a tolerable reality when the damage done was limited to primitive muskets centuries ago. Today, we have nuclear weapons that can destroy everything.[52] So, taking an evolutionary view, capitalism has been a practice and value orientation that did help progress in certain ways, but all trend evidence now shows that the inherent immaturity of the system will lead to ever increasing problems if it persists.

The “Marketization” of Life

As a final point of this essay, the trend of the ever-increasing marketization of life has created a deep distortion of values in the world. Since “freedom” has been culturally associated with “democracy” and democracy in the economic sense has been associated with the ability to buy and sell, the commodification of just about everything one can think of has been occurring.

Traditional values and rhetoric of prior generations have often viewed the use of money in some ways as something of a “cold” necessity, with some elements of our lives considered “sacred” and not for sale. The act of prostitution, for example, in which people sell intimacy for money is a situation where cultural values usually find alienation. In most countries the act is illegal, even though there is little legal justification since sexual engagement itself is legal. It is only when the element of purchase comes into play, is it deemed reprehensible.

However, such sanctities that have been culturally perpetuated are becoming increasingly overturned by the market mindset. Today, whether legal or not, nearly anything can be bought or sold.[53] You can buy the right to bypass carbon emissions regulations,[54] you can upgrade your prison cell for a fee,[55] buy the right to hunt endangered animals,[56] and even buy your way into a prestigious university without meeting testing requirements.[57]

It becomes a strange state when some of the most normal, natural acts of human life become incentivized by money as well, such as how it is being used to encourage children to read,[58] or encourage weight loss.[59] Psychologically, what does it mean for a child when they are reinforced with money for their most basic actions? How will this affect their future sense of reward? These are important questions in a world for sale, with the guiding value principle that it is only when one makes money from an action, is that action worth doing.

Such market values appear as a clear social distortion as the very essence of human initiative and existence is being transformed. While we might not take much extreme concern over seemingly trivial issues such as the fact one can purchase access to the carpool lane while driving solo,[60] the larger manifestation of a culture built on the edifice of everything being for sale, is the dehumanization of society as everyone and everything is reduce to a mere commodity for exploit.

Today, as shocking as it is, there are actually more slaves in the world than anytime in human history. Human trafficking has and continues to be a massive industry for profit, selling men, women and children into various roles.

The US Department of State has published “It is estimated that as many as 27 million men, women, and children around the world are victims of what is now often described with the umbrella term “human trafficking.” The work that remains in combating this crime is the work of fulfilling the promise of freedom—freedom from slavery for those exploited and the freedom for survivors to carry on with their lives.”[61]

In the end, while most people who believe in the free market capitalist system would ethically stand in outrage at these vast human abuses occurring in the world, usually making distinctions between “moral and “amoral” forms of trade, the fact of the matter is that the commodification concept itself can draw no objective lines and such “extreme” realities are, in truth, simply a matter of degree with respect to application. From a purely philosophical standpoint, there is no technical difference between any form of market exploitation. The psychology inherent – the value system disorder – has and will continue to perpetuate a predatory disregard within the culture and it is only when that structural mechanism is removed from our very approach to societal organization, will the aforementioned issues find resolution.


  1. Bernard Lietaer is an economist, author and professor most notable for his work to help design the EU currency system. Quote from YES! Magazine, Interview with Bernard Lietaer, Beyond Greed and Scarcity, Sarah van Gelder (
  2. Source: ('meme' defined) (
  3. Source: ('gene' defined) (
  4. Richard Dawkins' book The Selfish Gene introduced the term "meme". Dawkins cites as inspiration the work of geneticist L. L. Cavalli-Sforza, anthropologist F. T. Cloak and ethologist J. M. Cullen.
  5. The inverse relationship of literacy/knowledge accumulation to superstitious belief is clear. According to the United Nations’ Arab Human Development Reports, less than 2% of Arabs have access to the Internet. Arabs represent 5% of the world’s population and yet produce only 1% of the world’s books, most of them religious. According to researcher Sam Harris: “Spain translates more books into Spanish each year than the entire Arab world has translated into Arabic since the ninth century.” It is axiomatic to assume that the growth of the Islamic Religion in Arab Nations is secured by a relative lack of outside information in those societies.
  6. Cancer is a term used for diseases in which abnormal cells divide without control and are able to invade other tissues. (
  7. Source: ('disorder defined') (
  8. To clarify the notion of “encoded”, this refers to structural attributes such as needing, for example, “to compete” in order to succeed in the market economy. It is built into the system's framework, or encoded.
  9. To clarify the phrase, the term “value” refers to an ethical preference in a personal or cultural sense, generally considered subjective. It becomes a basis for action. For example, a person who believes in a certain religious philosophy might establish values in favor of certain behaviors. A value system is a set of consistent values and measures.
  10. The Cancer Stage of Capitalism, John McMurtry, Pluto Press, 1999, p.6
  11. General biography of Ignaz P. Semmelweis:
  12. “Cultural relativism” is a principle that was established as axiomatic in anthropological research by Franz Boas in the first few decades of the 20th century.
  13. Similar to “cultural relativism”, “moral relativism” is generally defined as: “any of several philosophical positions concerned with the differences in moral judgments across different people and cultures.” (
  14. Please see the prior essay Defining Public Health
  15. A general example would be the consumer values prevalent in the world today. The act of increasing ownership is common as more property is equated to increased success and more consumption is related to economic growth. Yet, such an un-conservative ethic can be considered un-sustainable given we live on a finite planet with finite resources. In fact, it has been argued by many that the “standard of living” of the United States would be, in the current scheme of things, technically impossible to extend to the rest of the world. According to some surveys: “Humanity is now using resources and producing carbon dioxide at a rate 50 percent faster than the Earth can sustain...” Sources: Living Planet Report: Humanity Now Needs 1.5 Earths, 2010 (; The Earth Is Full, 2011 (
  16. It should be understood that the more problems in the world, the more there is to service and capitalize upon. The more true problem resolution, the less capacity there is to capitalize and hence less to maintain or increase economic growth.
  17. A well-established example of inhibited progress for the maintaining of existing profit establishments was the successful effort made by the oil industry and, by extension, the US government to slow progress toward fully electric vehicles in the 1990s. Reference: Who Killed the Electric Car? (
  18. Corporate lobbying, by its very nature, is a means to use money to influence political decisions. Reference: Corporate Lobbyists Threaten Democracy, Julio Godoy, IPS: (
  19. A unique example of this was the 2007 case in which Microsoft Corporation, dissatisfied with the information on the public encyclopedia “Wikipedia” worked to hire an editor to change the public information in its favor. Reference: Microsoft Offers Cash for Wikipedia Edit (
  20. A study by a Connecticut wealth management firm showed that many would get married simply for money, with the average ‘price’ that people would marry for being around $1.5 million. Reference: Survey: Most People Would Marry For Money, Tom Miller (
  21. Reference: Higher social class predicts increased unethical behavior, Piffa, Stancatoa, Côtéb, Mendoza-Dentona, Dacher Keltnera, University of Michigan, 2012 (
  22. Reference: “How Wealth Reduces Compassion”, Daisy Grewal, Scientific American, 2012 (
  23. Source: “Having Less, Giving More: The Influence of Social Class on Prosocial Behavior”, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2010, Vol. 99, No. 5, 771–784, 2012 (
  24. Source: Study: Poor Are More Charitable Than The Wealthy, NPR, 2012 (
  25. Reference: The Rich Are Less Charitable Than the Middle Class: Study, CNBC, 2012 (
  26. Reference: “America's poor are its most generous givers”, Frank Greve/McCLatchy analysis, 2009 (
  27. Reference: The Engineers and the Price System, Thorstein Veblen, 1921
  28. Reference: “The 40 Highest-Earning Hedge Fund Managers”, Nathan Vardi, Forbes (
  29. There is a common argument that the financial sector is relevant to industrial production because it facilitates the capital by which production is originated by investment. However, that facilitation is a contrivance since the act of production in physical reality, absent the Capitalist model, has nothing to do with money or investment at all – it has to do with education, resources and engineering. Investment and finance is not real as it does not produce - it is not needed with respect to the real components of production.
  30. “The Instinct of Workmanship and the Irksomeness of Labor,” in Essays in Our Changing Order, Thorstein Veblen, pp.93-94
  31. Source: An Inquiry into the Principles of the Distribution of Wealth Most Conducive to Human Happiness, William Thompson, London, William S. Orr, 1850, p.147
  32. Source: Relative Deprivation: Specification, Development, and Integration, Iain Walker, Heather J. Smith, Cambridge University Press, 2001, ISBN 0-521-80132-X, Google Print
  33. More in the essay: Structural Classism, the State and War
  34. Reference: “The Importance of Economic Equality”, Eben Harrell, Time, 2009; Also See: The Spirit Level by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, Penguin, March 2009
  35. “Study Finds TV Alters Fiji Girls' View of Body”, Erica Goode, The New York Times, 1999 (
  36. Reference: “Pat Robertson: Obama A 'Socialist,' Wants To 'Destroy' The United States”, Paige Lavender, The Huffington Post, 2012, (
  37. Much controversy has existed with respect to continual decline of Western education, specifically in America. Charlotte Thomson Iserbyt, former Senior Policy Advisor in the U.S. Department of Education, has written about what she calls The Deliberate Dumbing Down of America, Conscience Press, 1999
  38. Reference: Ronald Reagan: Protectionist, Sheldon L. Richman, 1988 (
  39. A notable statement by the famous economist Milton Friedman on this issue: “Government has three primary functions. It should provide for military defense of the nation. It should enforce contracts between individuals. It should protect citizens from crimes against themselves or their property. When government - in pursuit of good intentions tries to rearrange the economy, legislate morality, or help special interests, the costs come in inefficiency, lack of motivation, and loss of freedom. Government should be a referee, not an active player.”
  40. Even Adam Smith in his writings implies that businessmen use every means at their disposal to avoid competition and to secure monopolies: "People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices.” Reference: An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith, New York, Modern Library, 1937 p. 128
  41. Economist Thomas Hodgskin wrote in the early 19th century: “It is not enough, in the eyes of legislators, that wealth has of itself a thousand charms, but they have[...]given it a multitude of privileges. In fact, it has now usurped all the power of legislation, and most penal laws are now made for the mere protection of wealth.” Source: Travels in the North of Germany, Describing the Present State of Social and Political Institutions, the Agriculture, Manufactures, Commerce, Education, Arts and Manners in That Country, Particularly in the Kingdom of Hanover, Thomas Hodgskin, T. Edinburgh, Archibald Constable, 1820, vol. 2, p. 228
  42. Source: An Inquiry into the Nature of Peace and the terms of its Perpetuation, Thorstein Veblen, Harvard Law, pp.326-327
  43. Keynesian economics, unlike the more libertarian, free-market liberation schools of economic thought, such as the Austrian School, sees, in part, government intervention as periodically needed to avoid certain problems. In the words of the online Business Dictionary: “This theory further asserts that free markets have no self-balancing mechanisms that lead to full employment. Keynesian economists urge and justify a government's intervention in the economy through public policies that aim to achieve full employment and price stability.” Source: (
  44. Ayn Rand's famous novel Anthem is a notable, influential example of this artistic culmination of values. It takes place in a dystopian future where mankind has entered another dark age characterized by irrationality, collectivism, and socialistic thinking and economics. The concept of individuality has been eliminated. For example, the use of the word "I" is punishable by death.
  45. 'Social mobility' is structurally inhibited in the capitalist system, with a very small percentage actually attaining upward mobility, statistically. Mobility in the United States, home of the “American Dream”, has also been increasingly declining. Reference: “Exceptional Upward Mobility in the US Is a Myth, International Studies Show”, Science Daily ( Also See: “Harder for Americans to Rise From Lower Rungs”, New York Times, 2012 (
  46. While the poverty line standard is relative based on the region of application, over 50% of the world as of a 2005 World Bank Study live on less than 2.50 a day, or about $912.00 a year. Source: (
  47. See the section on Malthus and Ricardo in the essay History of Economy.
  48. Clarification: Socially causal or psychosocial effects of the human-society relationship have proven some powerful realities about the origins of aberrant or destructive behavior. See the essay “Defining Public Health” for more explanation.
  49. A detailed extrapolation will be presented in part III of this text.
  50. Reference: “New Survey: Majority of Employees Dissatisfied”, Forbes, Susan Adams 2012 (
  51. Naturally, there can be no “pure” freedom in the natural world that is governed by the laws of nature, nor can unlimited freedom exist in a social condition that deals with life standard requirements for social stability. For example, one is not “free” to murder another in a direct sense. Such social contracts and values exist around not abusing others because they ease imbalance and destabilization.
  52. Albert Einstein was quoted as saying, "I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones." (The New Quotable Einstein, Alice Calaprice, Princeton University Press. 2005 p.173)
  53. Reference: What Money Can't Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets, Michael J. Sandel, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2012
  54. Reference: Data can be viewed online with respect to the EU at
  55. Source: “For $82 a Day, Booking a Cell in a 5-Star Jail”, New York Times, April 29, 2007
  56. Source: “Saving the Rhino Through Sacrifice”, Brendan Borrell, Bloomberg Businessweek, December 9, 2010
  57. Source: “At Many Colleges, the Rich Kids Get Affirmative Action: Seeking Donors”, Daniel Golden, Wall Street. Journal, February 20, 2003
  58. Source: “Is Cash the Answer”, Amanda Ripley, Time, April 19, 2010, pp.44-45
  59. Source: “Paying people to lose weight and stop smoking”, Kevin G. Volpp, Issue Brief, L.D. Institute of Health Economics, University of Pennsylvania, vol. 14, 2009
  60. Source: “Paying for VIP Treatment in a Traffic Jam”, Wall Street Journal, June 21 2007
  61. Source: Trafficking in Persons Report 2012, US Department of State (