Last week, I gave a talk at the University of Toronto for Zeitgeist Day, a talk in which I explored the issue of moral agency in a free market economy. The thesis of my talk was simple: “it’s impossible to live by any kind of moral standards in a system where survival is dependent on appeasing people with no concern for others.”
I haven’t been blogging a lot lately, and one of the biggest reasons for that is that I honestly thought I had explored all the issues I wanted to talk about. This blog was meant to challenge the conventional wisdom on social issues. I had discussed planned obsolescence, resource depletion, environmental damage and the inherently unsustainable nature of capitalism. I had discussed potential solutions in the form of a resource based economy. I explored our ability to solve problems like world hunger and clean energy today, using technology we already have at our disposal. I thought I was done.
I was wrong.
This blog entry is a follow-up to my talk on moral agency, something that will be posted to YouTube as soon as the footage is ready. In this article, I will discuss some of my own personal difficulties with trying to follow a moral code in this economic system.
It’s no secret that I am anti-capitalism (and anti-socialism, and anti-communism). As I’ve outlined in my talk, with research that you can find here, the application of monetary incentives has an inevitable negative impact on the human pscyhe. It makes us less empathetic, more reckless and prone to anti-social behaviour.
This is because capitalism creates a system in which personal success – and in some cases, survival – is dependent on willingness to place financial concerns as your first priority always. The instant you acknowledge that there might be some issues that trump monetary concerns, you are no longer playing the capitalist game.
Let me give you an example.
Two months ago, I was approached by a self-published author – I won’t say who – with nearly sixty thousand Twitter followers and a sizable fanbase. The offer he made was simple: he’d promote my book if I did the same for his. So, of course, I read the book.
Unfortunately, his book contained numerous graphic depictions of rape. As someone who considers himself a feminist ally, this is not something that I can promote. I cannot do this in good conscience. Yes, it would be better for my career if I did – and yes, there are best-selling novels that use graphic depictions of rape – but just the same, I won’t do that. I want to see positive depictions of men and women working together in fiction.
I’ve been approached by any number of people who will review my book for a nominal fee. I’ve turned them all down. I could afford them, and I understand that good reviews are absolutely essential for a new author. But just the same, I won’t do it. Simply put: I don’t trust any review that I’ve paid for to be objective. I have had one glowing review of my book, and a lot of positive feedback from the the small fanbase I’ve gathered.
Here’s a snippet of an e-mail I received.
“You’ve developed the characters, especially Jack and Anna, very well, and made them to be incredibly believable characters. Dialogue scenes are natural, and “battle” scenes are wonderfully descriptive, so that one is able to visualize what’s happening while reading.”
Though I don’t expect everyone to like it, I’m pretty convinced that I can get more good reviews if I do it the proper way. That means reaching out to the right people, and that’s no easy task. Am I shooting myself in the foot?
But it doesn’t matter.
I can just imagine the people who will line up to tell me that writing these things and posting them online is career suicide. After all, critique of capitalism is blasphemy in today’s world. Any critique of capitalism is also a critique of the systems of power that allow one percent of the population to control over half the world’s wealth. This is a system where psychopaths thrive, and psychopaths don’t like it when you challenge their power base.
I love it when people appeal to me with warnings of what will happen if I’m too openly critical of the establishment. “No one wants to buy books by authors who are too political.” (My personal experience says that’s not true, but for the sake of argument, let’s humor them). Okay then.
I accept that.
You can call me an extremist for refusing to play the game, but the truth is this system is the perfect exemplar of extremism. It is a system where everything in existence – including people – is nothing but a commodity to be consumed. And the thing about extremism is that you can’t compromise with it. Extremist philosophies don’t give you that option.
According to the most recent research, we’ve got about thirty years left to fix global warming. After that, it will be too late. The delicate systems that allow human life to exist on this planet are kept in balance by a stable temperature, and if the planet’s average temperature rises by a mere four degrees, they will stop functioning.
The survival of our species is quite literally at stake. That’s about as extreme as you can get. And Capitalism, with its need for perpetual growth and cyclical consumption, is fundamentally incompatible with sustainability. That’s why some states have started banning the term sustainability from all official reports. So yes, my politics result in me losing the things that I want for myself: so be it.
If I must live a life in poverty because no one will touch me after I pissed off too many powerful people, so be it. It’s time we stopped being so flexible. It’s time we drew a few lines in the sand. There are alternatives to capitalism. We can easily provide enough food to feed everyone on this planet. Using nothing but clean, renewable energy, we can power this planet several hundred times over. We could make these resources available to everyone today. For free.
The only moral justification for making people pay for access to basic living essentials is the belief that such commodities are scarce, that there isn’t enough to go around. But we have more than enough to go around. To be honest, I dream of the day when I make my books available to anyone who wants them for free. So if you want to live in a world where we don’t have to violate our principles just to gain access to basic life necessities – if you want to live in a world where people don’t just survive, they thrive – you should support a Natural Law Resource Based Economy.
Hey, looking for some great fiction? Check out Symbiosis, the book reviewers have called the illegitimate love child of Star Trek and Buffy.
Now available on Kindle
It’s had some great reviews!