Critics of capitalism are quick to write it off for promoting competition. Calling it anti-community, anti-social and such. Putting workers against workers, bussines against bussines, and brother against brother. The system is accused of “social darwnism”. Critics call for a society where we all work together and not against each other.
However, the nature of this competition is deeply misunderstood. It is true that market actors are competing. It is also true that often their motivations are self interested or driven purely by monetary profit. Doesn’t this profit requires customers though? This profit comes from working with others. You need a new window so you seek out someone who you can cooperate with to get that. The window repair man seeks out the best glass maker who they can cooperate with. The glass maker seeks out the best provider of the hard materials. So on. It is a chain of cooperation. It is true that the window repair compay is competing with other window repair companies. What’s not often communicated is that, they are competing with others in their industry to see who is the best cooperator. Who will work with you to fuflill your preferences and needs while also fulfilling theirs.
In this since, markets are not just made up of competition but also copperation. It’s made up of people working together. The maximum amount of cooperation becuase the cooperation inceitivized by literal profit. Guaranteed cooperation not found in any other economic system. Capitalism IS cooperation.
I struggle with understanding the utility of engaging people on philosophical topics. Sometimes it can be an enriching experince. Two minds engaging in mutual stimulation. Challenging and learning from each other. Other times it can be a huge waste. Cause unnecessary social conflict or trigger insecurities.
I have no confusion over writing articles and essays as a a good way to engage philosophically. I can write out their perceptive without interruption. I can get responses in long form. Having the time to flesh out my ideas, keeps me from misspeaking in the moment or strawmanning out of haste.
I used to just adore any debate all of the time. I’d bait friends and family into conversations. Part of this was a genuine love of ideas and a search for truth. I’m certain another part of it was out of a bit of sadism. Maybe need to feel smarter than the one I was engaging.
These days I’m a bit more careful. I’ve choosen to listen more. In fact there are some friends I refuse to enagage at all. Sometimes the chaos it can cause just isn’t worth it.
Simultaneously I find myself listening less. I’m more secure in my positions. More experienced and researched. Confident that with the right series of questions, I can get most people to reach similair conculsions to me.
Maybe there’s no objective rule to be found here. Debate can be good sometimes and bad other times. I’ve learned to be more nuanced in my evulation. Diccusion can be insanely valuable. It can also be insanely costly. As with all things, one must learn the right time and place.
One of the worst things that can happen to a bad idea, is to have it propped up by bad counter arguments. Marxism is one of those bad ideas that is often strengthened by misunderstandings. A particularly common strawman, is the accusation that Marxism is an egalitarian philosophy, seeking equal outcome regardless of unequal input. This assumption is popular within the libertarian community. It’s mostly put forth by fans of Hans-Hermann Hoppe and Jordan Peterson. It’s not hard to see why this misconception would arise. Marx and Engels collectively wrote well over 25 books and hundreds of letters, essays and speeches. There is so much work it would take a short lifetime to fully grasp all of their ideas. Egalitarianism is also a common trope within the general left. One could see a leftist calling for equality and falsely assume that such ideas are core of all leftist philosophy, included in that Marxism.
The truth is Marx and Engels were pretty explicitly anti-egalitarian. If you dissect what is meant by the line “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs”, it is necessarily a call for an unequal outcome and distribution of wealth and social responsibility. The phrase is a recognition that everyone is different and unequal and as such they need different and unequal things. But Marx gets even more explicit in other parts of his 1875 ‘Critique of the Gotha Programme’, he offers a criticism of socialist movements that advocate for equality.
The internet anarchist and marxist AnarchoPac summarizes Marx’s criticisms far better than I could in these paragraphs:
“Firstly, Marx claims that it makes no sense to speak of equality in the abstract. This is because we can only understand what it means for x to be equal or unequal with y if we first specify the dimensions along which they are being compared. For x to be equal to y is for them to be equal in a particular concrete respect. For example, if x and y are people then they can only be judged equal relative to particular criteria such as their height, how many shoes they own, or how much cake they have eaten. Therefore, one can only be in favour of equality along specific dimensions, such as equality of cake consumption, and never equality as an abstract ideal.
Secondly, Marx claims that advocating equality along one dimension, such as everyone in a society earning the same amount of money per hour worked, will lead to inequality along other dimensions. Everyone earning an equal amount per hour of work would, for example, lead to those who work more having more money than those who work less. As a result, those unable to work a large amount (if at all) such as disabled people, old people, or women who are expected to do the majority of housework, will be unequal with those who can work more, such as the able-bodied, young people, or men. Or those doing manual labour, and so unable to work long hours due to fatigue, will be unequal to those who engage in non-manual labour and so can work more hours. If a society decides to instead ensure equality of income by paying all workers the same daily wage then there would still be inequality along other dimensions. For example, workers who don’t have to provide for a family with their wage will have more disposable income than workers with families. Therefore we can never reach full equality but merely move equality and inequality around along different dimensions.”
There is simply no room for egalitarian thought in Marxism. It’s important that critics and advocates do not make the error of grouping them together.
I have an intense interest in ethics and using philosophy to discover general rules for how to live life and interact with others. This passion has always lead me to take the position of ethical egoism very seriously. Ethical egoism, which i’ll just call egoism for the rest of this, is the idea that when at the crossroads morality, you ought to always choose the thing that is in your self interest. Of course egoism doesn’t mean you can’t help others or value the interest of others. Simply that the core principle that should motivate one’s moral actions should be based in self interest.
Virtue ethics is the idea that morality is not about specific actions, or specific results, but about the character of the person making those moral choices. Aristotle is the old dead philosopher often credited with its creation. He starts with idea that all people want to and should seek their eudaimonia. The simple translation of this word is happiness, but that’s a bit misleading. Eudaimonia is a much grander final goal in life. Think of it as fulfilment beyond just simple fleeting pleasures and temporary happiness. The major way Aristotle thinks we can reach such a state is through learning to live out the virtues. The virtues are the characteristics one can embody when making choices. The virtue of courage is needed to make the action to defend your community against an invader. The virtue of temperance (not to be confused with the temperance movement) is needed to learn how to enjoy alcohol in moderation without going overboard. For Aristotle, the way in which me discover the virtues is by finding the middle of two extreme vices. Courage is in between being a coward and seeking out danger for example.
Though I think this sort of middle ground approach for discovering the virtues, has its flaws, I’m very interested in the synthesis of virtue ethics with egoism. Obviously one can see where valuing eudaimonia can be interpreted as a sort of egoism. If at the core of our ethics is the question of happiness and fulfillment for ourselves, then the core is a matter of self interest. Maybe more intriguing is how virtue ethics helps us flesh out egoism. It’s not enough to say “you ought to act in your self interest”. The question that must follow is, how do we know if something is actually in our self interest or not? We could simply it down to impulsive wants, that may lead us to some confusing contradictions. I may want to shoot up heroin all weekend but I also have a value for maintaining healthy relationships with my family and friends. Both of these are my expressed values, yet It’s unlikely I will be able to successfully do both. If the standard for self interest is simply “what I want to do”, then I’m not really closer to knowing which choice is best. It may be tempting to resolve this by categorizing specific actions as good or bad. But such an approach isn’t very universalizable. Shooting up may be intuitively in the bad category, but there’s certainly cases where it might be in your self interest. Soldiers in Vietnam used heroin was a way to self medicate and deal with the horrors of war. Most of which were able to come home and quit cold turkey. This is where the virtue ethics comes in. If you want to truly act in your self interest, then the specific actions you take are less relevant than the mind set and intentions of why you took those actions. It would make sense to embody virtues and characteristics, that are universalizable, to help insure you always make the choice that is in your best interest. For example, If you want to know what the best choice to make is, then you must live with the characteristic and virtue of valuing truth and logic. This is what helps us reach a better egoism. It’s through embodying virtues that we can get closer to resolving the question of knowing what is truly in our self interest.
One of my favorite contemporary thinkers is a guy named Jordan Peterson. He’s mostly a psychologist and deals with a lot of work around “Archetypes”. Throughout our human evolution we have noticed characteristic patterns, and group those together into abstract mental images. So like when I say, The Trickster, you intuitively think of a set of characteristics that make up this archetype. Be it lying, stealing, joking around, etc. The evolutionary aspect is very important here. Not only have we evolved to understand archetypes of people but archetypes of events (birth, death, etc), and archetypes of myths, narratives and symbols (resurrection, The Hero’s Journey, lions as a symbol for strength, etc). Deep in out psychology there are “spiritual” symbols and experiences waiting to be tapped into when the moment is right. I don’t mean these things are ideas shared from a god or whatever. They can have purely physical explanations. One example Peterson brings up, is the commonality of symbols in ancient religions all around the world. Both European and South Americans cultures shared the symbol of a tree connecting heaven and earth, with a snake circling around it. Sometimes this included a hell aspect below the tree. The easiest explanation is to consider that most of our evolutionary history was literally that. Our ancestors lived in trees. The heaven of sorts was near the top of the tree. That’s where all the socialization and eating happened. With the ground of the tree being the dangerous place filled with snakes and lions. You can see how generations of animals evolving in these situations would start to develop these archetypal associations. The early animals that survived would have to have had instincts deep down inside them, that made them see the tree as good and the snakes below as risks. Any animal that didn’t would have been bread out of the gene pool pretty quick. These instincts would have obviously stuck around in our evolution. They become more of an abstract association. You don’t need to be presented with a reason for thinking of the world as a tree connected to heaven and hell. You just have to have the subconscious instincts. This offers up a pretty thorough explanation for a lot of spiritual phenomenon. When people enter into hallucinations, they often see the same symbols and archetypes as other people. Not because there are literal demons and ghosts to see. More because these ideas are deep in our psyche and can come out at times when they are triggered.
How exactly we trigger these spiritual things to come out is important to address. The human mind is very complex and still misunderstood. However I have some personal experiences and ideas that might help us flesh this out. I’ve had sessions of prayer that were so moving and powerful that it could be explained as spiritual. Moments that brought me to tears. I don’t think it was because I was actually interacting with God. A more simple explanation would be to write it off as just normal brain chemistry interactions. These moments only ever happened when there was psychological priming. It could be a lack of sleep from staying up late at night, causing my brain to amplify my emotions and induce minor hallucinations. If I already believe (and i did at the time) that God exists and that I’m interacting with him, then it makes sense that in a vulnerable mental state, I start to fill in the gaps of my experience with my assumptions on God. I’ve noticed too, that often spiritual experiences happen in spiritual places while doing spiritual things. Maybe you’re listening to a great worship song that is touching you deeply. You zone out into this song. You dance wildly, spinning in circles and doing repetitive, almost animalistic actions. Or maybe in a more traditional church you find yourself standing up and sitting down in rapid succession. What if these are the exact things that prime us to have intense feelings of being possessed by the holy spirit? Cults are well aware that they can trick people by psychological priming them to have spiritual experiences. In the 80’s there was a cult that almost took over a huge voting block in Oregon. The Rajneeshpuram. There’s a Netflix doc on this. It’s great and worth watching. The videos of their initiation process show people dancing wildly, screaming, singing and spinning in circles. This lowered a lot of their psychological barricades. Weakening the mind’s ability to tell fact from fiction. If followed by a sermon like lecture from a charming and wise old man, it makes sense were a defenseless mind might start to believe nearly anything said.
The mind is so sensitive. Even the chemical interaction of what food you eat that day, can have notable impacts on your psyche. Drugs like DMT can induce amazingly visual hallucinations tapping into the dreaming parts of your brain. Ingesting chemicals can be a simple explanation for a lot of spiritual phenomenon. If you dig around demonology reports, drugs are extremely common. People attempting to summon a demon almost always have ingested some sort of drug first.
If we can explain away an experience with basic psychology, why bother to complicate our metaphysics with things like gods and ghosts? With all these insights, it’s hard to see where there’s room left for legitimately spiritual experiences. When you have a spiritual experience, remain skeptical. Do no attribute to a God what could be easily explained with simple psychology.