No one wants to be a cog in the machine. That’s one of the values that we post-Baby Boomers were taught. We were encouraged to pursue our passions, to follow our dreams, and to be our true selves. Americans are especially enamored by individuals who buck convention to pursue their own idea of freedom. We idealize the cowboy on the open plain, the pioneer forging ahead into the frontier, and yes, even the hippie. Whether it’s The Dude abiding or Clint Eastwood riding into town with one hand on his holster, our greatest heroes are not cogs in a machine. Yet most of us are cogs in the machine. The economic system of capitalism flourishes from such cogs, from the “yes man” who dutifully follows orders within a massive, impersonal corporation. Clint Eastwood isn’t the corporate type.
Yes, corporations have tried to rebrand themselves as places where individuals flourish, but we all know that this is more or less bullshit. The purpose of a corporation is profit, not the well-being of you or anyone else.
Even those in the tech industry here in Silicon Valley are realizing that their days of creativity and imagination are numbered. Big Tech companies are corporatizing, more and more each year, squeezing labor and maximizing short term returns, two of the defining features of capitalism. Their still so flush with cash that they can still keep their employees sitting on heated toilet seats, but it’s just a matter of time before an army of accountants starts trimming the “Employee Expense” line.
We in America find ourselves in an odd position. Our values of individual freedom are outpacing our outdated economic system (capitalism). So it’s no surprise that polls are beginning to show that young people are more favorably disposed to socialism than they are toward capitalism. The dirty little secret is that we don’t need capitalism.
Noam Chomsky is perhaps the most famous anti-capitalist intellectual of our time (at least to-date). Chomsky describes himself as a “libertarian socialist” but considers that socialism or some sort of collectivist form of social organization is the logical outworking of the values of classical liberalism. Chomsky puts it this way:
“….the appropriate form of social organisation for an advanced technological society in which human beings do not have to be forced into the position of tools, of cogs in the machine. There is no longer any social necessity for human beings to be treated as mechanical elements in the productive process; that can be overcome and we must overcome it to be a society of freedom and free association, in which the creative urge that I consider intrinsic to human nature will in fact be able to realize itself in whatever way it will…”
We need something to work for, not just something to fight against
So, more and more people are recognizing that capitalism sucks and despite the propaganda to the contrary, capitalism undercuts both individual freedom and in the process prohibits the flourishing of a decent society. Still, there’s no collective idea and narrative to unite those of us who recognize the failures of capitalism. In that sense, there’s a bit of a race going on, at the moment, between the pro-capitalists and the anti-captialists.
Pro-capitalists are seeking to force capitalism on an unwilling public, most notably via Trump’s renewal of “Make America Great Again.” The collective effort of the MAGA crowd is to force through legislation that gives power and wealth and control over to the few, to the wealthy and corporations. In this sense, Trump is very much the “puppet” that Hillary Clinton accused him of. To date, Trump’s only major piece of legislation was a tax cut that overwhelmingly benefits Trump and others of the 1%.
Then there are those of us feverishly pushing for new ideas and for a new narrative that can mobilize the masses in a resistance to MAGA. We need more than just a resistance to MAGA, though. We need a new idea and a new narrative outside of the capitalist framework. We need something to work for, not just something to fight against. We need to be inspired toward something good and beatufiful, not just a deconstruction of the old system.
The flourishing of individuals only occurs within a stable society. In other words, if free individuals is the end goal, then society is the means to that end. It’s sort of counter-intuitive, but the goal of socialism is to build the kind of social structure that allows individuals to flourish, making the world safe for hippies and cowboys and individuals the world over.