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Capitalism and the human psyche

  1. Feb 1, 2006 #1
    Capitalism to me seems to be a natural development for humans.
    It's almost the only economical system where each person has an alleged equal chance at success.
    But is society built the right way?

    If we look historically on the psychological side of it, capitalism was a way to let people have free competition, it was a way to let people do what they wanted.
    It was a natural economical system that arose because of peoples need to have competition and to have their shot at doing what they wanted.
    But things didn't end up as planned, because monopolies occured, and suddenly the rich became richer and the poor became poorer.
    These days, capitalism is dead hard. You see it everywhere.
    But really, will humans allow any other system unless we rebuilt society under completely different terms?

    Each person when born into society, is getting pounded with the idea that you have to work to survive.
    You have to do your job in society, or get out.
    So then, a person doesn't have much choice, he must succeed to survive.
    Then we end up with a consumer environment, where each person buys other persons products, and if they don't like the product they go somewhere else.
    So obviously the one with the best product wins, and he becomes richer, while the other ones will go on to do other things.

    But do you think perhaps, that this is actually a good thing, or a bad thing?
    It's basically survival of the smartest, the original and the skilled ones.
    In some weird way, it actually contributes and makes everyone do a good job, not always, but many times we will see great products come out, and in some ways it brings humanity forward, but in return it eliminates the weaker ones.
    Is this the way we are supposed to live?
    If we want to end up as an intelligent, ever evolving race, then yes it is.
    If we want to focus more on humane ideas, and social issues, then it's not imo the right way to do things.
    We would need an equalizing apparatus of sorts, so that everyone could live happily and equally to eachother, and eliminate competition.
    Though that would eliminate any progress we could've made, but I ask you, is progress more important than the well being of a person?

    EDIT: I'd like to add the topics of discussion;
    is capitalism destroying human rights? Is humanity living as good as it should? Is competition good or bad on a grand scale? Was this actually the only way humans could have evolved? Is this at the deepest level an after effect of biology and psychology?
    What does this tell us about humans?
    Last edited: Feb 1, 2006
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 1, 2006 #2
    I certainly love being rich! That's just my opinion though.
  4. Feb 1, 2006 #3
    Please provide your definition of "right".
  5. Feb 2, 2006 #4
    Let me get serious for a bit. Right or wrong is purely subjective to your experience. Meaning, a rich person probably thinks it's a whole lot better being rich than imagining being poor. (on average, i would guess this is so).
    If I think about the rise of what we call capitalism, I would start with imagining an early human discovering fire. Something that one could posess and another could want. I could also imagine how this could evolve into an early form of trade, giving rise to someone offering a carcass in trade for a glowing ember. This grows exponentially from there. We humans have since assigned a symbolic value to our tradeable goods and wha-la, Capitalisim. (An extreme over-simplification but...) It does lead me to believe that it is an innevetability of the human race. Nothing seems "wrong" with that scenario of basic capitalism. Where wrong seems to factor in is fairness. If you believe that it will ever be fair, you are probably deluding yourself. There will always be those who posess more of whatever it is that you deem valuable enough for you to want. Have we reached the point of no return? The wealthiest people in the world are now ruling the world. Do you really think there is ever going to be a way to level the playing field? Do you think they would let that happen? Only if there was a natural disaster on a cataclysmic scale. Then I won't be around to care.
  6. Feb 2, 2006 #5
    I believe progress is much more important than short term well being. that was the way evoulution meant for us to be; the strongest survive and weaker one that can't survive don't
  7. Feb 3, 2006 #6


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    I think he left it intentionally undefined so that each response would vary according to what each poster feels is "right," although he is definitely talking about moral correctness.
  8. Feb 3, 2006 #7
    When I said "right", I meant that each person is living equally "good" in that they have equal rights, equal amount of food, goods and so on.

    If everyone dropped their selfishness for just one day, and did something selfless for someone who needs it, then the world would be a better place in just one day.

    I'm just saying, why have all this poverty, war, hate, etc, when it's ruining peoples lives all around the globe every day.
    So as an addendum to the OP, is all this worth the lives of those who are in pain/poverty/about to die?
    Plenty of wars, poverty, and general aggressiveness comes from capitalism, but I'm also talking about the general competitiveness among people.
    One person can betray, deceit and even kill for money, money is so important that everyone wants more more more.

    I'm just saying..
  9. Feb 3, 2006 #8


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    Never mind, then. In that case, I'll have to disagree with your use of the term, as I don't feel those things are what is "right." Having equal amounts of rights and food and such does not by itself guarantee an ethical social structure. For instance, prisoners down the road at San Quentin all have equal rights and are alloted the same amount of food every day, but I wouldn't want an entire society to function in the way San Quentin does. I would hardly consider such a society to be "right."
  10. Feb 3, 2006 #9
    I have to say that a totaly equal society where everyone has exactly equal ammounts of everything would be so horribly boring and pointless that I would probably commit suicide.

    Without competition one of the main driving forces behind mankind goes away. The human race would become apathic, useless and decadent. What point is it if you cant improve in some way:confused:

    Progress imo makes life better for alot of people but maby worse for a few if exploited. But I rather se that alot have a good life than to se everyone have a equaly miserable life. So I guess I could say that progress is more important than the wellbeeing of any single individual or group of individuals.
  11. Feb 3, 2006 #10
    If I build a house for myself using help from my friends, and two friends die because the roof falls on them, is the progress attained from the standing walls more important than the well being of my friends (single individuals) ? I just do not see how this holds logically.
  12. Feb 3, 2006 #11
    If you take a concept and limit it to a few individuals it can seem outrageous. But if you expand it to the whole of society it seems logical.

    Most of the technology we have around us have caused grief for some people. Computers/automated systems have gotten rid of many many manual labors. Medicine developemnt has caused alot of animal and in some cases human suffering. But I think we both can agree that medicine and computers are benificial for society as a whole?

    Maby the house they died when building will shelter 50 people during a vicious storm that would have killed them otherwise. Would that mean the walls where more important?
    Last edited: Feb 3, 2006
  13. Feb 3, 2006 #12
    Isnt the strive to get better one of the most fundamental driving forces behind mankind? Everyone has some kind of dream that they want to make into reality and often those dreams atleast involved getting a better financial situation.

    Make everyone equal(I mean truly equal, remove grades in school, everyone has exactly the same things, homes, food, salary) without oppertunity to rise above and you will kill the dreams of most people and that will be the end of them.

    Just think about it, everyone has some thing(no matter if its a gadget, car, grade in school, fortune) they take pride in BECAUSE its better than what most others have. Something they have struggled to get.

    What is life without a dream to chanse? Just a boring task, a meaningless void betwen beeing born and dying.
    Last edited: Feb 3, 2006
  14. Feb 3, 2006 #13


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    Often stated, but factually untrue. The global poverty rate - even with a scale that gets more stringent with time - is decreasing and has decreased by half in the past 20 years. The rich are getting richer - but so are the poor.
    Tough questions - do you have an idea about how we could do things that you think would be better?
    Well, the US was basically founded on the idea that capitalism requires human rights and human rights require capitalism. So I don't think so....
    Certainly not, but it is improving - mostly due to the recent expansion of capitalism.
    Depends on what you mean. I think if it results in the betterment of mankind overall, it is a good thing.
    In my opinion, yes - based on the nature of evolution. Evolution is competition - capitalism is competition.
    What if equal results in equally bad? So far every attempt at equality of outcome has resulted in equally bad.
    Well, according to Maslow's heirachy of needs, yeah - self actualization (aka "betterment") is the ultimate goal of human accomplishment.
  15. Feb 3, 2006 #14
    Capitalism has nearly become a creed or religion in this nation. Capitalism is too narrow in its focus, too linear, to be the only operating mode for our planet or our species. The idea that the world is better because it has more leftovers from capitalist waste, is handy, but not factual.

    Over time we developed many things to soften the desperation of hand to mouth living, agriculture, animal husbandry, fortifications, trade, specialized defensive personnel. Capitalism is profit as the end product, but it tends to lack that introspective quality, that would cause it to examine effect. There are capitalists like Bill Gates, or Jon Huntsman, who get to some very high ground, and decide that they can do for others, even on a grand scale. That is viewed as optional activity.

    We all want some magic to happen in our lives, whether it is having an apple fall from a tree to us, or being engaged by what we do for a living, or whether it is having huge dreams and making them happen. Frogs, whales, dolphins, mosquitos, birds, or bodies of water, cannot participate in capitalism, yet have an important role in every life, whether capitalist, communist, or socialist. There must be a more thoughtful organizing principle for all lives lived in this non linear world. The cause and effect of Capitalism is much too simple to be the absolute ruler.
  16. Feb 4, 2006 #15


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    This is exactly why I think discussions about the ethics of capitalism miss the point. Capitalism is simply a name for an economic model that maximizes economic profits, and that's all it should do. There is nothing inherent in the drive to be more efficient and productive so as to outcompete others in the same market as you that forces or even inclines one to perform either good or bad moral actions. There can be moral capitalists and there can be immoral capitalists, but capitalism itself is amoral. Striving for human rights and environmental sustainability is not an economic matter, and neither socialism or capitalism or feudalism or any other system of processing business transactions is going to force people to either treat each other decently or poorly. Treating people ethically and not destroying the planet is something that we should all strive to do regardless of how we feel about property ownership and resource allocation.
  17. Feb 4, 2006 #16
    Ahh.. Now I understand.
    i was kind of mixing everything into one grandiose idea for a moment.
    The idea that everything humanity has done, is a direct result of everything man has ever done.

    It sounds kind of weird, but I mean, in some ways it's true, cause such a big thing as capitalism will no doubt touch into other aspects of life, and people will get hurt as a cause of it.
    For instance the clothing companies child/labor camps down in thaiwan and such, hadn't capitalism existed I don't think anyone would have set them up. (Of course they could have, it's not a /direct/ result, but it's a driving force by the need to earn money and keep profit up, like capitalism tells us to do.)

    Also I think maybe money as an idea, is great, but it's too powerful.
    People are sometimes blinded by the idea of money, /everyone* wants more of it.
    That's because money can get you /anything/.

    Also russ_waters, thanks for putting me straight on a couple issues, I haven't read much about the real effect of capitalism, I have more just philosophized on the effects such a system can have on a grander scale.
  18. Feb 5, 2006 #17
    I think Hesiod captured the point perfectly in his Works And Days.

    (when speaking of one of the two kinds of Strife)
    "The other was born first though. Ebony Night
    Bore her, and Kronos' son who sits high in thin air
    Set her in Earth's roots, and she's a lot better for humans.
    Even shiftless folks get stirred up to work.
    When a person's lazing about and sees his neighbor
    Getting rich, because he hurries to plow and plant
    And put his homestead in order, he tends to compete
    With that neighbor in a race to get rich.

    Strife like this does people good.

    So potter fueds with potter
    And carpenter with carpenter,
    Beggar is jealous of beggar
    And poet of poet."
  19. Feb 5, 2006 #18


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    Well, "better" and "worse" are opinions and your description of the situation is subjective as well. To me, "better" is simple math: fewer people starving to death and fewer people dying of preventable diseases is "good" in my opinion (and, I would hope, in yours as well), so in my opinion that means the world is "better".
  20. Feb 6, 2006 #19


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    The OP conceded the material welfare side of the issue, but suggested these topics for discussion

    I think the thread should stick to those, without defenses of capitalism on other fronts.

    I think the first question could be answered, compared to what? What economic or social order in the presnt or in history do you suggest has BETTER human rights than the modern capitalist world?

    The other questions seem to address the issue of whether capitalism is inherent in our genes. I think all societies and economies are deeply affected by the fact that humans have various talents and each talent has a bell curve of a few with high values of it, a middle with many at average values, and a few with very low values. so there are 5-sigma high individuals with persuasivenes, need for dominance, ruthlessness and so on while the bulk of the population is only so-so in these and other relevant characteristics. The 5-sigma individuals are going to try to dominate in any society; exactly how they go about it varies. But I would rather have Bill Gates or even John D. Rockefeller on top than Attila the Hun or Joseph Stalin.
  21. Feb 6, 2006 #20
    Humans have developed many complicated processes in the process of accumulating the necessary energy, so that our collective fire (our species) does not go out. I think of us as ambulatory chemical fires that have to be fueled in order to exist.

    We learned a lot of techniques for survival, but we have not learned collectively how to get rid of the "on top" idea. As able as we are to contemplate the stars, or grow a better radish, you get my drift; we still haven't rid ourselves of the need for dominance, even giving it respectful scientific names, alpha male, or five sigma high. Capitalism is the monetary extension of that primate social structure. We are so bound by its workings, that humans actually try to make a connection to psyche, and make Capitalism an extension of western religion. Now the obvious anthropomorphism here is that since all us good folk are doing this, then, that makes it good.

    This is like looking at your coffee table and there is a scientific calculator and a bag of candy, and declaring that all is right with the world. Capitalism is just a huge, ongoing equation that a lot of individuals work on constantly, that is all. Life can be very hard, if you are not a part of the equation, or if the equation suddenly needs your net worth, or land, or life, to continue. That is all Capitalism is, however, it has no spirit, life, ethic, goal, or exit plan.
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