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Take the money and run,
if you have nothing better to do...
Note: I wrote this a while back when I still had a landline and caller ID. I published the first iteration of this piece on Medium. I am slowly moving my work from there to here.
This post is me getting all passionate about how the values of capitalism encourage people to be jerks. Sometimes I have to rant. While I don’t think ranting is a particularly effective way to open hearts and minds, it does let off steam.
I just got two phone calls, one after the other, that showed my local exchange on the caller ID screen (a new low in unscrupulous marketing). Both were recorded messages trying to sell me something. Both were high-pitched female voices, grating to my ears. One wanted to sell me some sort of security system and the other one told me I had won a free trip. I didn’t listen long enough to discover what I would have to do to claim it.
As they were recorded messages I was unable to swear at them with any satisfaction.
This technique for obtaining filthy lucre astonishes me. It is so annoying, so invasive, so transparently manipulative that it’s hard to believe it works.
It’s capitalism, baby. Take the money and run. O Sinner Man (or young woman with chalk-on-blackboard voice), where you gonna run to, all on that day? You too, buddy, who set up this system and hired these poor fools to waste their time and mine trying to trick me into parting with my money so that you can have more of it. Where YOU gonna run to?
Or more to the point, why don’t you have anything better to do?
That’s what I say to those guys who call up from all over the world telling me that their records show that my Windows computer (the one I don’t have) is messed up and they will fix it for me, or telling me that the IRS is very very angry and is coming to get me. I say, “Hey guys, why don’t you find something better to do than try to trick and cheat people? I promise you, you’ll feel much better about yourself.”
I know you need to make a living somehow, and it’s not easy. When I say, “Don’t you have anything better to do?” I’m not trying to shame you; I’m asking why you don’t have better opportunities — ways that you could both make a living and also contribute to helping people, instead of trying to trick them out of their money.
There is a long nuanced line between being a violent criminal and/or a complete asshole, and being Jesus, as ways to make a living and a life. The cancer of capitalism has metastasized along a good stretch of that line.
While there may be a difference between telling people that the IRS is coming to get them and telling them that a certain car, hair product, bra or vacuum cleaner will bring success and enlightenment, the difference is slight.
Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn…
I am a person who is actively pondering how to make a living selling things on the internet. So I think about this stuff. A lot. And I don’t have the answers. There is much discussion in the world of ecommerce about creating value for people and a stupifying amount of guileless discussion about how to manipulate (if not cheat) people into buying things you are selling.
That’s the trouble with capitalism as we know it today. At it’s worst, capitalism is a code word for “I don’t have to care about you or anything else, I just want to get as much stuff for myself as I can, and damn you, damn the planet, damn the future, I’m in it for the money.” The code is not necessarily a fully conscious thought; it’s just an accepted cultural belief.
It’s high time to question that assumption/religion/addiction (choose your own metaphor). It’s not a sustainable system. It’s too small a picture. It’s not sustainable for lots of reasons. A big one is that the same false claim used in so much advertising—that getting your hands on this, that, or the other, is going to make you happy, is the baseline claim of capitalism itself—that getting stuff will make you happy. Guess what, folks… It doesn’t actually work. And too much harm is done along the unsustainable way.
That’s not the only reason it’s unsustainable. It’s unfair and unbalanced. It works for some people and absolutely does not work for others. The not-working-for-others is not a glitch; it’s a feature.
I’m sure there are people who feel happy, safe, and powerful because they can buy whatever they need or want, but that kind of satisfaction is thin gruel in the sparkling, energetic world of creative awareness, love, and transcendent meaning.
Honoring the material needs of the day and the immaterial needs of a life well lived is a great challenge, THE great challenge. It’s not a contest, not a sport; it’s a journey. Sometimes painful and dangerous, sometimes exhilarating, sometimes confusing and sometimes deeply satisfying. Always changing.
Redefining the bottom line
Can we shift the meaning and practice of ‘capitalism’ to something more visionary — to something that takes more into account than just the bottom line? That redefines the bottom line?
Not to make big pronouncements or anything, but I would say that the survival of our species on planet Earth depends on figuring out what the actual bottom line is. Clearly, taking the money and running off with it is not the answer. Some of those who have taken the most money may think that they can run to their bunker in New Zealand or their second home on Mars, but good luck with that, kids.
Those dreams of personal survival in the midst of global devastation are perfect illustrations of what is illusory about the greed mindset. It is based on the idea that it is possible to be separate—to carve out a private environment that is immune to the greater environment in which it exists.
And sure, up to a point that does work. You can have a big mansion surrounded by property and guards, or whatever. You can have resources far beyond those of most people. But this is still a physical world based on deep natural systems that we defy at our peril.
Will the consequences of our actions wake us up to a more comprehensive understanding of the real bottom line? So far that’s not working as well as it needs to. The illusions of capitalism camouflage reality as successfully as the virtual world in The Matrix.
Even the great evidential force of nature itself is not enough to shift consciousness. Greater human consciousness come from within. It cannot be forced; it can be encouraged and supported by security, acceptance and love, like sun, soil and water for a growing plant—by not having systems that keep so many people struggling to meet their basic life-form needs that they don’t have the bandwidth to listen and experiment.
In spite of all my ranting, I do not despair. I know that there are many amazing humans today, all over the world, who are inspiring awareness in multiple ways, and working to build more sustainable systems. There are many people helping to spread awareness of the real bottom line of love and connection.
There are people everywhere, in every field and type of activity, who are making love art with their lives. My deep thanks to you all.