Circumstantial Racism, Universal Exploitation

Ta Nehisi Coates rails against White racism in his analysis of Donald Trump’s ascendancy to the Oval Office. That racism is characterized as a universal Caucasian affliction, evident even in the policies of the Clinton White House. Coates cites welfare reform and mandatory sentencing as reasons that Hillary Clinton did not command black loyalty as did President Obama. That these policies are color-conscious only in the pattern of their enforcement reveals Coates’ own racism.

In his analysis of the root causes of white supremacist logic, Coates hits closer to the truth. In the face of economic exploitation (whether as white indentured servants or black slaves, whether living in company towns or struggling to survive as share croppers), the pride of the impoverished whites was preserved by their social superiority to blacks, Hispanics and Asians. Any policies intended to even those disparities opened a yawning pit of debasement under the feet of the white electorate.

It is this fact that Republicans have used to solidify their control of that constituency. The stark evidence is seen in the exclusivity of the staff in Speaker Paul Ryan’s office. Not a colored face among them.

So Coates takes a step backwards, and argues that the true root of racism is capitalism. This is an error, as the seat of slavery in America was in the agrarian South. With this fact, we should recognize ‘capitalism’ as a stand-in for ‘exploitation.’

Exploitation is a universal phenomenon that manifests as deforestation, water pollution and global warming. It is consumption of resources without consideration of costs to our neighbors or descendants. It is a phenomenon seen in every hierarchical culture on earth, not excluding any race, ethnicity, religion, or economic framework – and in fact driving internecine conflict that belies any attribution to those causes.

Given that universality, Coates’ calls for retribution against those that celebrate those causes (such as those co-ethnic to slave-holders in America) are counter-productive until we can demonstrate a political and economic framework that mitigates against exploitation. Without it, we are simply adherents to the ancient policy characterized satirically by:

The beatings will continue until morale improves.

The Faceless Donor

Foreign Policy has published the results of a survey that demonstrates that the younger generation rejects their experience of capitalism. The methodology of the survey was not a simple “yes or no” on capitalism per se: respondents were actually asked to identify the favorability of a number of “isms.” At the top of the heap came “patriotism.”

Neither did the survey attempt to define the terms. This means that the respondents were indicating their favor of the terms as used in common social discourse, rather than as understood by those that originally coined them.

Instead, the survey probed with specific policy prescriptions, such as “Should government provide housing and food for those unable to obtain them?” This is obviously a socialist prescription. The answer from millennials was a resounding “yes.”

I wonder why the expectation is that the government should provide this support. What about family and friends? What is it about “government” that is so attractive as a source of support?

I have an unfortunate intuition that the desire to avoid obligation to others may be involved. Receiving something from government as a right means that we can chart our course independently from others. We don’t have to constrain our choices to sustain their good will.

Of course, that is impossible: the “government” is our family and friends. It is us. If the greed of the 1% should remind us of anything, it is of our dependency upon one another. The faceless “isms” don’t care about any of us individually, and our loyalty to them will always be betrayed. Ultimately, we survive only because others care for us, and that requires a reciprocal caring for them.

Response to “Are Christianity and Capitalism Compatible?”

Source post is here.


Thanks for the link back to my post.

A comment on the history of economics (see Nasar’s “The Grand Pursuit”), motivated primarily by the principle that just as we should not hold Christ responsible for all the terrible things done in his name, so we should not hold Adam Smith responsible for all the things done in his name.

At the beginning of the 19th century, economic thought was dominated by Malthus. The “dismal science” held that there was no escape from widespread poverty, because the growth of systems of production appeared incapable of keeping pace with population growth at the subsistence level. This meant that, no matter how freely owners distributed profits to the workers, population would continue to grow until poverty imposed a constraint on lifespan. This justified much of conservative thought of the era, which held that sustaining the institutions of the state in the face of ravenous poverty was essential, lest the entire body of humanity be reduced to barbarism

Capitalism found a way out of this dilemma, essentially by supplementing the productive capacity of individual workers with machinery. The upshot was that, while wages per piece produced fell (as decried by Marx), the cost of goods fell even faster. This instituted an era of enormous growth in the global standard of living and average life span.

Unfortunately, this boon comes largely from our harvest of the bounty of the Earth – in the West, each of us consumes energy equivalent to 200 man-years of labor. This has been indulged without a mind to sustainability, so it looks as though we are likely to return to Malthusian economic outcomes in the near future.

I would note that the economic practices of the early Christian communities did not focus on the mechanisms of production or the issues of sustainability. These were beyond the ken of all except the most sophisticated members of society. In fact, the Fall of Rome and the ensuing deurbanization and decay of the social order was so traumatic to the Church fathers that they spent the next 1500 years trying to reestablish the Roman Empire, which they saw as the first Christian nation and therefore “God’s kingdom on earth.”

So I would suggest that capitalism, with its hopeful, rational and scientific view of productive processes, is not incompatible with Christianity. We are still left with two problems to confront: maturity regarding procreative opportunity (each of us needs to ask “can I actually love a child into the future he/she deserves?” and discipline ourselves accordingly), and fairness in the distribution of wealth, which currently is seriously out of whack in America.

Anti-Christ Anti-Scientist

A few years back, National Geographic ran a photo essay on the Alaskan tundra. In the publication notes at the back, the photographer recounted a conversation with a native regarding the urban tourists that passed through each year. When asked to characterize them, the native, a man who lived in solitude for most of the year, remarked that “They seem lonely.” That loneliness reflects not a lack of human association Rather, it is a deep disconnection in our souls from the root of life.

This problem is so characteristic of modern societies that, in our search to escape our constructed reality, we tend to gloss over the defects of ancient cultures. Pagan worshippers extol the virtues of Roman worship for its naturalism, ignoring the paternalism that gave license to fathers to murder their dependents. The homeopathic intuition of native healers is lauded, ignoring the vicious lore of hexes and curses. And nobody appears to want to reflect that xenophobia was endemic to all the ancient cultures, with outsiders that looked and spoke differently treated as inferiors.

But if the ancient world mixed its spiritual vices and virtues, it is still fair to ask why the spread of modern civilization has resulted in a spiritual divorce. Naturally, critics seeking to heal the divide focus on the dominant elements of modern culture. I am sympathetic to these concerns:

  • Science applies methods of analytical reductionism to reveal creative possibilities. Unfortunately, reducing things to their constituent parts is not something that souls engage willingly: to do so would be a form of suicide. Therefore, science achieves its most impressive manifestations in the material realm. Scientists seeking funding for fundamental research have a strong motivation to ignore their failure to explain spiritual phenomena, and tend actually to pretend that souls just don’t exist.
  • Capitalism heralds the efficiency of the free market in responding to unforeseen public needs and opportunities. Unfortunately (as recognized by Adam Smith), the metric of success – the accumulation of wealth – is too crude to support political control of resource exploitation by the greedy. Worse, concentration of wealth has allowed the exploiters to broadcast rationalizations for their behavior, almost all of which cast the exploited resources as spiritually deficient, and therefore not deserving of protection.
  • The traditions of Abraham (dominated by Christianity in American society) tackle the problem of masculine aggression by heralding the power released through submission to unconditional love. Unfortunately, the target population persists in its aggressive recidivism, to the extent that scripture is often quoted selectively (when not completely rewritten) to justify destructive behaviors that are decried universally by the avatar(s). This perversion divorces us from the noblest masculine manifestations of spiritual maturity.

Given the problems outlined above, I would be surprised if it were impossible to assemble evidence that each of the three elements can facilitate depravity. The science of eugenics justified medical experiments on populations (both human and animal) that were considered to lack souls, and therefore believed to be unable to feel pain. Unbridled greed first drove the adoption of slavery in the New World – both of native populations and imported Africans, and now drives us pell-mell down the road to ecological collapse. And the “Great Commission” to propagate the good news of Christ’s resurrection has been used to justify violent suppression of indigenous cultures.

But is it fair to stop there? After all, is not the material construction of our modern reality, with its buildings, appliances and tools, far more conducive to liberty from fear than the natural world we inhabited previously with its predators, diseases, weather and natural disasters? Does not capitalism also distribute wealth and create monetary velocity that supports personal initiative, thereby providing an escape from exploitation? And have not the traditions of Abraham been foremost in providing charitable support of those in need?

For those seeking spiritual reconnection, this seems to leave us in a limbo of ambiguity. If we cannot find the seeds of disconnection in our history, then how are we to escape from the mistakes of the past?

The answer I have held out here is that the way out is to recognize that it’s not just about us.

One of the great gifts of the Bible is that it charts the progression of human spiritual maturity from the heralded “era of innocence” experienced by primitive cultures. In The Soul Comes First, I explain the Biblical days of creation as the history of the evolution of the senses as revealed by the souls that survived the experience. The Garden of Eden is a similar metaphor, in my view. It describes the ideal state sought by the pagans – man and spirit united to create a world of peace. But that unity is sundered by the serpent, who tempts the woman – the nexus of life-engagement – into partaking of the “fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.” For that sin, man and woman are cast out of the Garden.

As I expressed it recently to a friend, the great tragedy of the Fall was the sundering of trust. That trust was not only between mankind and spirit, but between man and woman. Ever since, we have been engaged in the sterile course of trying to fix blame for the problem. What we fail to realize, however, is that the source of the problem existed before the Garden. We did not create the serpent, although we were susceptible to its wiles.

We were cast out of Eden not because application of our intelligence was evil, but because we had admitted sin as a guide to our intelligence. Rather than allowing Life to guide our intelligence for good, we became committed to a course of resolving the difference between good and evil, and of developing the strength to choose the good. This is an extremely dangerous path, and the spiritual collective decides that we must be cast out lest we partake of the “Tree of Life” and live forever.

Again, we can think of this in material terms, but from the perspective of the soul of life, this is to say “if man, having admitted the serpent into his mind, enters into the Soul of Life now, then we will never be rid of the serpent.” In Revelation, this aim is made quite clear: the serpent/dragon attempts at one point to assault heaven, and is ultimately destroyed in the final confrontation with Christ.

But what is the serpent? The best way to characterize it is in the contrast between reptilian and mammalian parenting: while the mammalian newborn is nurtured for weeks or years before being forced into independence, the baby Komodo dragon must climb a tree to avoid being eaten by its mother. The reptile manifests the virtues of the predator, seeing in others only resources to be consumed.

So the problem is not science, or capitalism, or Christianity – it is with the ancient reptilian spiritual infection that we must purge. It is our path, on the knowledge of good and evil, to master that influence. It is a skill first encouraged in Cain (“sin crouches at your door, but you can master it”) and delivered by Jesus to the Apostles when he says “what you loose here on earth will be loosed in heaven, and what you bind here on earth will be bound in heaven.”

But until we as a species accede to the disciplines taught by Christ, we will discover, the further we walk with sin down the path of knowledge, the more distant will become our relationships with the Spirit of Life. Not because we can be expected to do differently, nor as punishment for our weakness, but as a matter of its own self-preservation.

Capitalism: Friend or Foe

This is a response to Kiss Me On a Burning Barricade and other recent post at Gods and Radicals. I do sympathize very much with the intentions and energy of this forum. I would just hope to see it focused more precisely on human behavior, rather than abstract ideology.

A speaker at a recent conference exhorted liberals to reclaim Adam Smith, whose concerns regarding abuse of workers under the system of capital have been ignored by the “Greed is Good” and “Invisible Hand” libertarians that took over the Republican Party during the Reagan era. Smith saw capitalism as simply the use of wealth to invest in technology that would amplify the effects of labor. It was this process that finally overturned Malthusian poverty (see The Grand Pursuit) because while the cost paid per shirt went down, the cost of a shirt fell even faster.

Under your definition of productivity, the core problem in the situation that you describe is psychopathy, which is subtle and seductive and has infected many of our institutions. In Smith’s work, this is articulated as the problem of the Commons: well-meaning people create value for one another, accumulate wealth, and then the psychopaths come in and steal it from them.

For example, the sleepy Savings and Loan industry of the ’60s and ’70s allowed the middle class to pay itself interest at 6% while borrowing at 7%. Reagan deregulated the industry, allowing raiders to take the assets it had accumulated and transfer them to high-risk instruments. Now the middle class borrows at 18% and gets interest on deposits of 0.2%.

Regarding the specific situation you outline, there is a movement among the restaurant workers to establish humane working conditions in an industry that exploits mercilessly. Among the industry’s crimes include lobbying against a general working wage increase in order to protect an extremely low minimum wage for their industry. As agitators document, in many states the tips we leave are in fact the bulk of the worker’s wage.

Abstracting from Smith, the theory of Capitalism and productivity is a means for organizing information about economic activity, including work practices. While proponents of capitalism cite the benefits in increasing productivity, the information they gather can also be used to identify psychopathic behavior. The reason that you have the numbers to criticize the workplace practice is because of that theory. Don’t blame the messenger – attack the root cause.