Sunday, 2 March 2014

Capitalism - Part I

Onto the next chapter of The Economy of Desire... in the light of my Moral Theology's first 3 lesson takeaways.

The Grinch who stole Christmas... 

This is one of my most favourite movies I can watch over and over. The Grinch, a very different-looking human being, lives high up on a mountain cliff, away from the village after he was very hurt and wounded by rejection. Away from humanity, life seemed to get by pretty well. The cave he had shut himself in seemed pretty harmless since it kept out those nasty people who could hurt him again. Yet, not only did it keep him safe, it kept his heart locked in too. So much so that his heart was only a third the size of a normal person's heart. And he even invented a machine to scan his heart to keep its size in check. 

One of the things that struck me about the Grinch is that he knew what to do to make his heart size shrink and to keep it small. It brings to awareness that what we do externally does have effects on what happens to us internally, even though we may not be as aware of these effects as the Grinch nor do we deliberately measure our heart-size and intentionally keep it small. Leads me to consider what capitalism does to us internally. Does it affect me?

Capitalism is quite good what... 

The usual question people ask to decide if capitalism is morally good is: "Does capitalism work?" The answer is obvious - Yes! There are people who were poor and were made richer because of capitalism. Because of this, people conclude that capitalism is good for us. 

This way of coming to a moral decision is called utilitarianism. Utilitarianism is to measure the consequences of a decision to decide if it's good or bad. If the good is greater than the bad consequences, then the decision is good to make. So, it seems that capitalism has brought about so many good consequences. Today, we have a wide variety of food to choose from, many gadgets to aid connectivity with one another. Hence, it is right?

Returning to basics... 

"Instead of asking, Does capitalism work? we ought to ask, What work does it do? ... What are people for? ... Why are we here? What is our end purpose?" We need to trace back to our human nature. St. Augustine said that "our hearts are restless until they rest in God." St. Thomas Aquinas said "that our end is ... nothing less than friendship with God." St Ignatius said our life's purpose is to praise, reverence and serve God, and for the salvation of my soul (union with God). Does capitalism serve this end? Or does it pull us away from this end? Does capitalism bring us closer to God? Or has it made itself a god in our lives?

We are "created to desire God and live in communion with one another in God." This is our human makeup. Why are our hearts restless? Because our desires have been corrupted, disordered. Our priorities made upside down. Because capitalism "disciplines our desires" towards market ends; for the sake of the wellbeing of the market and the market players who are profit-driven. They tell us what are life's necessities. In Singapore, we are told we need certificates to prove our worth in society. This is how society works and we have to subscribe lest we fall out of the rat race and be left behind to fend for ourselves. 

On the hamster wheel...

We are taught what success looks like and what failure is. Why does examinations cause so much anxieties in students? Isn't it because what is involved is not simply an examination grade that tells of how well we have understood the subject? The grades imply too how intelligent we are, how good our future prospects, how we will look in front of others. We are told to study hard or we'll become road sweepers. Yet if no one becomes road sweepers and garbage collectors, we'll be walking on decomposing trash everyday. It doesn't mean we all become sweepers and garbage collectors but isn't it true that because it has been ranked the lowest of all jobs, we have thrown it conveniently out of our minds, become unappreciative of the service these sweepers and collectors render to us, and even despise them who do these jobs? We need not do anything bad to them. We have already robbed them of their human dignity in our hearts when we see them as the lesser of our kind. 

We study hard to gain the freedom of choosing the degree to go into. Yet, the degree we ultimately choose is controlled by what is in demand, what will give us the most job options and security, what will fetch us the highest pay, give us the highest prestige, but are we truly passionate about what we are studying? I can go into medicine with all its nobility and good salaries but I may not be passionate about it at all. I may well be dreaming everyday of becoming the compassionate Youth Coordinator in Church who can really touch the lives of the wayward youths. But it pays substantially less and so to give up being a doctor is illogical and foolish. We kill our passions to conform to what society defines as good, better, best, most often in monetary measurements. And we end up shaping our desires this way.

Perhaps, it is helpful to pause here to call to mind the beliefs we have about ourselves being in this society. What am I striving for everyday? What am I living for? What are my priorities? What do I spend the majority of my time working for? Who and what influenced and shaped those beliefs and practices? 

(... to be continued)

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