Monday, November 19, 2007

The Religion of Profit

In one of the more recent Star Trek series, there was a race called the Ferengi, whose claim to fame was that they worshipped profit. In fact, their "bible" was a list called The Rules of Acquisition, which may very well be the creed of the Republican Party. It includes rules such as:

- Anything worth doing is worth doing for money.
- Greed is eternal.
- Morality is always defined by those in power.
- When someone says "It's not the money," they're lying.
- Friendship is temporary, profit is forever.
- Never admit a mistake if there's someone else to blame.

But in a larger sense, these rules could apply to most of those currently in power. In fact, all of America seems to worship profit these days. Politicians argue about their beliefs in various religions, but most agree on the worship of Capitalism.

But unfettered capitalism can bring down a country. Rules and regulations are needed to keep the greed at bay. Otherwise the rich get richer, the poor get poorer, and the owners of the businesses line their pockets while everyday people barely scrape by. The Sarbanes-Oxley Act can only help so much; sooner or later, if we don't change our priorities, there will be more corruption.

And it's not just corruption; it's the diminishing of the quality of the products we produce. Anyone who works for a large corporation knows that more effort is put into cutting corners to increase profit than in increasing value or quality. But it is a short-sighted philosophy, since eventually people want quality. This is why people began buying foreign cars back in the 70's and 80's when the American cars became so poor they were an embarrassment. (My husband had a 1980 Chevrolet Citation that literally rusted away with only 50,000 miles on it. It had no floor; it was like the Flintstones' car.)

Unfortunately America has not learned that lesson yet. We are still trying to cut the corners to make more profit, and it will come back to bite us in the end.

Another aspect of the worship of Capitalism is that it permeates everything we do, including politics and foreign affairs. It isn't Democracy Bush is trying to spread in the Middle East; it's Capitalism.

Dashiell recently wrote an excellent post about how modern communication is basically all advertising:

"An ad could be considered merely another spice of capitalist life when it was just the local grocer hawking his wares, or a few lines in the back of a penny weekly. But with commercials plastered on almost every available surface and blaring from radio and television, the spice has become a deadly narcotic."

This emphasis on advertising, persuasiveness, and selling sends the wrong message. It assumes that everyone agrees that buying is the only thing that matters. As Dashiell says so well,

"The voice of the ad—which we can take literally as a voice in the case of radio and TV—is the voice of self-satisfied capitalism. "Everything is fine the way it is," the voice says. "There are no real problems other than what to buy, what objects to acquire, and how to acquire them." The commercial's persuasive appeal, the need to buy the product, is always set against the background of an essential acceptance of this situation as the only reality, the only happiness."

When the "War on Terror" began, Bush told everyone that the way to fight the terrorists was - not to make sacrifices or give up anything - but to go BUY MORE. So Americans continue in their oblivious pursuit of possessions while young men and women die in Iraq.

The problem is even bigger than the worship of Capitalism. The problem is a reflection of the lack of American values overall. There are an awful lot of people, particularly right-wing politicians, who use the word "values." They are usually using it as a code word for being anti-gay and anti-abortion. But true values mean believing in something other than selfishness. True values mean believing in helping others, in kindness, in empathy. Where are our values today?

Dashiell sums up the problem and the solution very neatly:

"The problem is really a new way of thinking and perceiving, a way exemplified by advertising but now influencing all aspects of society. It’s delusional because it filters everything through a paradigm of persuasion for profit, persuasion without reference to standards of truth and without a relationship to notions of the public good, the welfare of the individual or society. The principle that opposes this new force is simple honesty. With the loss of this principle comes the inevitable destruction of culture and the end of freedom.

To expose this way of thinking as false, then, is one of the goals of a progressive movement. It implies the recognition that capitalism does not constitute a way of life, but only a single aspect of society. This aspect needs to be kept within bounds by an informed citizenry and a government that represents all of the people, not just the salesman."

If you haven't already read his whole post, please do - it will really make you think.


M said...

This is so sad but so true, and unfortunately there is soooo much more even that can be said on this topic. It depresses me thoroughly. But some people somehow in all seriousness manage to insist that the free market/capitalism will take care of everything. . .

I have so much to say on this, but not now. Thanks for writing this. Have a great TG!

M said...

Oh and by the way, the recent posts I wrote on the state of healthcare in this country also illustrates what you talk about it this post. Leaving the profit motive to be the arbiter of how we care for our citizens is a mistake. Eventually, I believe, even many of the more wealthy will be affected. We are just shooting ourselves in the foot! I love this post; I'm going to link to it tomorrow!

PunditMom said...

Ah, Sarbanes-Oxley. It was such a good idea and now every effort is being made to dismantle it.

Mauigirl said...

Thanks, M, you have a great Thanksgiving too. And I agree about the healthcare too - that is so true.

Punditmom, it figures they're trying to dismantle SOX. I'm sure they'll try to get around anything they can if it keeps them from lining their pockets.