A few years ago, the term “family values” was used to describe decent, caring folk, as opposed to the degenerate values allegedly held by those deemed “other”. More recently, political religion has given us “moral values”, said to motivate those repelled by cultural aspects seen as indecent or debased. But regardless of the partisan nature of such labels, our political economic system demands the practice of socially “immoral values”, however it may program us to observe personal behaviors that contradict social reality.
If morality has to do with honesty, respect, consideration for others, and neighborly human relations, our entire way of life is a diseased spit in the face of such notions. The social truth of capitalism is smothered in a blanket of lies to promote individual confusion; people are to act personally responsible, while supporting a social order that is, by its nature, socially irresponsible, and murderously so.
This contradiction between personal and social motivations stems from the root of our problem: the capitalist way of pro-individual political economics, and anti-social political organization. It guarantees physical, mental and spiritual disorders that make private profit possible, and social loss inevitable. It’s time that advocates of social change who truly desire democracy and peace begin to face, understand, and act on that reality.
Individually based single issue and identity group politics serve a purpose in bringing about reforms for some, but in doing so they strengthen the economic foundation of capitalism. They perpetuate its stratification and divisions by including a few more tokens in an upscale consumer class, while banishing greater numbers to its downscale debtor and poverty class. The society that created the concept of disposable income also created the reality of disposable people, and it can operate no other way. The marketplace war of survival assures that immoral values will always rule, until they are challenged by people whose individual moral values become the kind of social action and democratic unity that can bring about real change.
The mindless consumption, malignant waste and hysterical materialism that result from our programmed life style depend on these immoral values, masked from consciousness by a corporate religious focus on what are called family or moral values. But even while we attempt to govern our personal lives with an ethical code learned from human experience predating capitalism, the environmental impact from the practice of capital is horrendously antisocial. And not only human relations, but the treatment and use of the natural base of those relations suffer as well.
Climate change, vanished farmlands, polluted waters and foul air are not simply due to the human impact on our planet, as believed by those who seem to hate humanity, while loving nature. These are problems of a specific mode of economics, which treats all of nature as profit making commodities for private capital. This pursuit of profit at the expense of humans and non-humans alike must be understood for what it is: inhuman. It isn't a matter of decisions made by greedy or evil people. It's the operation of a system with immoral values that will not change by simply choosing a new president, or including some minorities in its administrative and executive class.
People desiring a different world have to confront this system, and not be fooled by the demonization game that blames our problems on evil foreigners or wicked presidents. Transforming reality can be made to seem an impossibly difficult task, but only if we keep confusing individuals with systems, and separating the personal from the social.
Democracy isn’t something that can be exercised one day every four years; it calls for collective action on an ongoing basis, hopefully informed by the need to change a system. And if our immoral values aren’t changed now, future generations may face a dreadful situation of wars, terror and deprivation that will make life miserable for most, and pleasant for none. Personal morality may motivate us, but without collective action it won’t be worth a prayer.
Whether the inspiration for that morality comes from a sacred bible, a holy Koran, a secular philosophy, an old wives tale or a mother goose rhyme, the values of consumption and waste will prevail as long we neglect to balance the material with the spiritual, and the social with the personal. Whether we believe the universe has existed for billions, millions, or thousands of years are matters of faith, in religion or science, but immaterial to how long our economy has existed, and what it does to the earth and its people.
As boring as economics are made to seem by its high priests, it is subject to human understanding, far more than enigmas about universal creation or invisible forces behind that event. And our long outdated method for producing and distributing the fruits of human labor are far more worthy of our time, our consideration, and our action.
Without changing the immoral values of markets under the control of private capital, we can live personally moral lives only under a collective delusion. The hungry poor coexist with the overfed rich, the homeless shelter with the luxurious mansion, only in the most socially perverse circumstances. The accumulation of capital by a minority depends on the accumulation of debt by a majority, and that accumulation process creates most of the environmental problems we face, whether physical or psychological.
We begin a new year with more serious problems than we had in the old, but solutions may be closer than we think. There’s no better time to begin practicing moral values with action that promises permanent social progress, rather than temporary private relief. You can’t cure a headache by driving nails through your skull, and you can’t live a moral life in an immoral system. It’s time to balance personal belief with social action that confronts, rather than avoids, capitalism. Happy New Year.