What is Capitalism?

I have been working on essays about the economy for a while now, and this one will likely end abruptly whenever I run out of time to write. The idea of a gray area between work and leisure came from a book gifted to me by one of my sponsors that I found very helpful, How to Not Always Be Working by Marlee Grace. Writing is, for me, a gray area between work and leisure. There’s also a monster hiding beneath the words that is ravenous for me to feed it with emotional output through writing, which is kind of the main thing, and words like “work” and “leisure” are too simplistic to apply. As I focus on shifting my relationship with my blog, I want to make sure that I’m writing out of habit, not obligation for me.

Rather than talking in circles to avoid the topics that seem too big to blog about because I don’t have enough time, I want to blog more often and in smaller bites to get a conversation going. I’m aiming for a daily practice, one that can take anywhere from fifteen minutes to several hours, depending on what I have available in my day to dedicate to talking to all of you who mysteriously care to hear what I have to say. But as with any daily practice, it must remain flexible enough that on a day like yesterday, I don’t allow my perfectionism to destroy me. My own sanity and recovery from the trauma that demanded an impossible work ethic of me for the first 22 years of my life are worth more than not missing a single day of an extra task.

I haven’t begun to transition into a conversation about the benefits of capitalism yet, but the traces of it are littered throughout our entire perspectives and thought processes in the modern world. In an opening paragraph discussing life, I have mentioned work, nonwork, the gray area between, the existential crisis of duty, practice, habit development, discipline, self-care, work ethic, and prioritization. All of these concepts are in my present thinking influenced by my understanding of and beliefs surrounding money. Others may not value self-care but may be more willing to accept the terminology “work/life balance,” when the two are essentially the same idea, which is that productivity is not all we have to live for.

People who benefit from others’ productivity perceive loss in any resource that is unexploited. Exploitation is a neutral word for the capitalist, and a negative word for the anti-capitalist. When defining the verb “exploit,” Merriam-Webster puts “to make productive use of” before “to make use of meanly or unfairly for one’s own advantage.” Google’s definition of the word is “make full use of and derive benefit from (a resource).” This third definition manages neutrality between the more capitalistic emphasis on capitalism and the less capitalistic emphasis on unfairness. To the capitalist, exploit also fits its definition as a noun, “a bold or daring feat.” To the non-capitalist, exploit is not merely “mean,” or “unfair,” but akin to abuse and stealing.

Labor is a resource. Land in a resource, filled with resources. A person’s labor is being exploited, by definition, when it is productive, or when it produces a profit or benefit. Land is being exploited when it is bought and sold to turn a profit, and the many varied materials on land and in the sea is being exploited when it is extracted, killed, destroyed, or moved for profit. But even to use the term “resource” is to use capitalistic, colonized (colonization is a different but related conversation, but here’s a good overview) language to describe what is more than what can be synonymized with stocks, assets, materials, and lucrative things. This is what the capitalist sees in the world: opportunities to convert everything into profit. The Midas touch is the dream of the capitalist – because let’s face it, the ending of that story is still patriarchal, the guy only realized everything shouldn’t be made of gold when his own daughter, who he probably needed to marry off for profit, was probably worth more alive than her weight in gold. But I digress.

I’m starting with defining these terms clearly before I turn to tackling the definition of capitalism itself, much less its alternatives, because I recognize that we must break down the basics to have a thought-altering conversation. The blog is a wonderful medium for this because it is often read alone and in an emotionally uncompromised state – many blogs have changed my mind about concepts I thought I had the answers for. We can’t start off with the many derivatives and symptoms of capitalism, like a personal relationship with work and finances, because they are rooted in the one simple question that our modern globalized society revolves around: Does it make money?

My perspective is unique because I used to be a capitalist. I defended it with, I think, some of the best arguments in its favor. Now that we’ve talked about exploitation and productivity and profit, we can turn to how capitalism represents these things. I, along with many capitalists, believed that the other part of the definition of capitalism was more important than the one about profit: private property.

Capitalism is not so simple to define, and I want to offer and discuss multiple definitions so I’m not guilty of creating a strawman, though I am likely to be accused of doing so anyway. Our whole language around how we talk about money and economics is controlled by capitalistic thinking, so it is also difficult to talk about capitalism without falling prey to its controlling nature. Wikipedia says, “Capitalism is an economic system based on the private ownership of the means of production and their operation for profit.” Google says capitalism is “an economic and political system in which a country’s trade and industry are controlled by private owners for profit, rather than by the state.” Merriam-Webster defines it, “an economic system characterized by private or corporate ownership of capital goods, by investments that are determined by private decision, and by prices, production, and the distribution of goods that are determined mainly by competition in a free market.”

There are a few things to highlight here: first, there’s a definition by comparison and contrast. Capitalists are often clearer on what capitalism is not than what it is. It is not a government-regulated economy. That they’re certain about. Instead, the market is what they call “free.” The definition of freedom is too hefty a one to sidestep into here, but to non-capitalists, the term “free market” is a misnomer: what it really means is that nobody can keep the rich from stealing everything. Here, “free” means “without consequences,” and “market,” well, means purchase and sale and marketing. When defending themselves, capitalists emphasize the “free” instead of “market” in “free market,” and then defend capitalism as “freedom.” All of these grandiose and wordy definitions for capitalism are attempts to enshroud its true meaning, which is far simpler: Capitalism is, simply, the prioritization of profit.

When nothing stands between exploiters and what is being exploited, freedom quickly disappears for everyone who is not benefiting from that exploitation. Soon, as resources grow rarer for those being exploited, and more abundant for those doing the exploitation, the only freedoms being protected are those of the rich. This is factual – to see my research, see my original introduction to economic injustice that I published in 2018 – and well documented with evidence of the modern global economy: the rich are getting richer, and the poor are getting poorer. This impacts every human on the planet in some way.

Capitalism is often misunderstood by its proponents. This is because it is not profitable to keep the general public informed about how deeply the profit motive runs our lives. But no matter how deeply you dig into the definition of capitalism, the result is always the prioritization of profit. There are many alternatives to the prioritization of profit, and they need not be contrasted with words that the capitalistic mindset has demonized, like “communism” and “socialism.” The capitalist plays with words to dilute the meaning of the prioritization of profit, then demands that anti-capitalists provide proof that anything could possibly be better than the rich bleeding the rest of us dry, when it should be obvious that bleeding the rest of us for profit shouldn’t be acceptable behavior in a truly free society.

Rather than allocating resources according to needs, capitalism demands that profit be valued over human life and wellbeing. Understanding what capitalism really is explains what is fundamentally wrong with the United States healthcare system, food distribution system, and access to stable housing. The ultimate end of capitalism says that if you cannot be productive, you do not deserve access to the benefits of the great wealth of the modern world. Furthermore, the net result of capitalism is that the resources and wealth are allocated to those who are not capable of being productive enough to directly produce the property they own. The roots of this go deeper: people who defend capitalism have an outdated scarcity mentality, one that imagines it is impossible to care for everyone who needs access to food, water, shelter, and medical care. This is also not factual – there are more empty homes, wasted food and water, and advanced medical technologies and personnel available than people who are homeless, hungry, thirsty, and ailing.

See, I have spent several hours on this and the day is drawing to a close, and I haven’t a conclusion. Only the plea that more people will recognize that we are being gleefully exploited by the 0.01%, and there is no excuse for it, except the idea that prioritizing profit is somehow good, that is, capitalism.

The Flawed

Absurdity in art creation is one of the few reasonable behaviors for us to engage in, finding ourselves as aware animals meaninglessly suffering in a world that exists by chance. The world has always been horrible, the only difference now is that we have the technology and resources to provide for the needs of everyone on the planet, and we’re stuck in an old rut of hoarding resources and accessibility, which is likely to destroy us unless we change our collective way of life drastically, and soon. Absurdity and satire are a kind of grief, a lamentation. Douglas Adams may have best critiqued our utter smallness in the vastness of space best through humor. Laughter often follows tears, the lightness of unloading weight.

We are not okay, me and those I know. We are breaking under the weight of minimum-wage work or the incapacity to work altogether due to disabilities and illnesses. Our planet is burning, a little bit more every year. The worship of profit as the top priority in every instance is costing lives in uncounted numbers. I joked ruefully with my partner the other day that the brilliance of capitalism is that it neglected to keep lists of those murdered. Instead, it buries the facts, reporting the money made alone. Nothing to report as far as the unnecessary loss of human life is concerned.

Every time I start speaking in such apparently drastic terms about the state of humanity, I get comments disagreeing with my nihilistic outlook. Prioritization of profit has caused the warming of the planet. I know that it’s still possible to lengthen the amount of time we have left with a human-inhabitable home planet, but I’m going to keep living like we’re headed in the direction of zero hour for human extinction in 80 years, because that is the direction we are currently headed, like it or not. If our course changes, and we still have at least some power to steer our course, my hope will increase with the chances, but not before.

Humanity is headed for extinction. What remains in our power is how much longer we have. But when I say “our,” I don’t really mean that all of us are powerful, because we are not. The powerful among us are hoarding all the resources, while the rest of us struggle to survive. Instead of facing our own inevitable extinction together and trying to delay it, most of us are being exploited for our time and labor, while those who are too ill or disabled or poor to work at all suffer on the brink of death constantly. The gap between the 99% and the 1% is increasing every day, with the wealth constantly flowing upward from the poor to the rich. We literally outnumber them 99 to 1, but they hold the keys to our livelihoods. They rule with violence for profit. Police across the world rob and murder civilians without repercussions. The rich are robbing and murdering the poor without repercussions. Reporting on the tyranny of the rich can get you killed.

On an individual level, there is suffering because of a system that prioritizes money. Money matters more than access to medical care. Money matters more than access to food. Money matters more than access to shelter. Money matters more than access to recovery from trauma. Money matters more than quality of life and the right to thrive. Money matters more than maintaining a livable habitat for ourselves.

Right now, the political is personal in the medical aspect, because lack of access to speedy, advanced care is leaving my partner with untreated pain. I watch him suffer every day through countless symptoms that are highly worrisome, and doctors keep shrugging him off. Even if the individuals are not motivated by profits, they are powerless in the face of the for-profit medical system here in the US.

In many countries across the world, the oppressed are rising up and demanding the right to thrive, to rebel against extinction. I long for the day when my country joins them. Until then, I will be making art to encourage those of us who understand what our species faces. Perhaps it will encourage others to speak up, too.

While I’m highlighting the flaws of life as I see it right now, I have some personal flaws to face. I avoid publishing what I write mainly because it seems too personal, too blunt, too anything-that-keeps-me-from-hitting-publish. Like I discussed in yesterday’s post, I’m fighting with perfectionism. Another thing I’m fighting, though, is the fatigue of keeping up with what’s going on. This post has taken a few hours to write, and it was a depressing one. In order to fight the overwhelm that would push me back into months upon months of silence, I want to create whatever it is that inspires and encourages those who recognize that oppression and injustice and extinction are all worth fighting. That means making art that criticizes, but it also means utilizing satire and absurdity. We need artists now, more than ever, to fight this fatigue and keep creating what keeps the human experience alive while it lasts. I hope my words offer something to the chaos.

The Perfect

(Images are described for readers who cannot see or load images.)

The maxim goes – almost exactly something Voltaire said but a concept that dates in record to Aristotle and Confucius – that the perfect is the enemy of the good. I’ve been practicing blogging for the past week or so, and I have the document ten pages long and full of over 6,000 words of talking to myself about my fears and blocks, getting out what’s too personal to put on the blog.

I want to get back to blogging in a totally different way. I’ve been holding back because of what I call “The perfect,” or the idealized form of what I want to write before I write it. I want to write about many things, most of them political. I find myself ranting in my head, thinking about how I would phrase each sentence and structure each paragraph, but I don’t follow through. I remind myself that I am very self-critical, and I have valid excuses to not have been writing very much for the past six months, like that I’ve been taking care of a really ill partner, and I started a second job as a deli clerk in that time. Finally, though, I feel that I am ready to balance those things and get back to writing on my blog as well. What I want to change is that I usually write aimlessly for thousands of words before I write anything that I feel is worth publishing, waiting for months to feel inspired by something I’m working on. Instead, I want to free myself to publish even what isn’t my best.

While I’ve been taking a break from the blog, I have still been writing a great deal. I spent a lot of time writing by hand in my journal, and filled over 100 pages in that time. My old computer was slow and buggy, but I now have a working keyboard that actually records each letter accurately as I type, on software that doesn’t crash or take extra steps to navigate. I have my sponsors to thank for giving me a 2019 full of generous gifts that have altered my entire way of living. I have furniture now, and a new computer, and equipment for recording high quality videos. I want to fully utilize these resources to create in the upcoming years, and I’ve had this new computer for less than a month, but I want to get back to blogging now that I have it. It’s just a matter of being decisive enough to pick topics from among my notes and getting to work, and one of my biggest struggles is indecision.

This is generally the part where I stop and distract myself from the task, to be quite honest. I am a master of writing in circles without getting to any real point. I hate the way it makes me feel to be writing what feels like nothingness, yet another entry to file away in the not-good-enough pile. Today, I’m determined to begin an everyday practice. Today, I choose to look back on the last ten years, even though it’s cliché at this point because it seems like everyone else is doing it. I’ll pick something else to talk about tomorrow.

2009. This is the first picture I have of myself on my Facebook. One thing hasn’t changed, I’m still a writer. My laptop ten years ago was a white macbook, because my dad was really into Apple products and idealizing Steve Jobs. What I remember about 2009 was being on TV for the second time with my family, this time for a show called “The Secret Lives of Women” for ABC’s WE-TV channel. The episode my family was on was called “Born to Breed” because my parents had so many kids. Being 17 made me feel very grown up for an inexplicable and subjective perception of the number, and I felt like I should wear jeans that flared a little and choose cute shirts, but I was very self-conscious about my body and felt that I should be very modest in my appearance and loyal to god in my very thoughts.

Image description: In this picture I’m in an airport under blurry gate numbers, typing away at my laptop. My long brown hair is pulled behind my ear, I’m wearing rectangular glasses with metal frames, and I’m smiling at the camera.

2010. In this picture I’m dressed in a light blue blazer over a black dress, wearing the same glasses, and my hair is pulled back into a simple partial bun over loose long hair. I’m standing and addressing a row of judges at a homeschool speech tournament (the judges aren’t in the picture), with my right hand raised. This was for a speaking event called “Apologetics,” in which students were expected to research questions of theology and present defenses of our religious beliefs. In this category, even then I was raising controversial questions about the bible and the supposed nature of god. The more I researched Christian theology, the more contradictions I found. At this point in my life, walking away from the religion altogether was impossible, so I started by rejecting certain details of theology that didn’t add up. This was just one of several speech and debate events I participated in between the ages of 12 and 19, for as long as it was possible to compete in the leagues (NCFCA and Stoa) that I was in.

2011. In this picture I’m holding my newest and youngest baby brother, Elijah. He was the 16th child in my family, and after my two oldest sisters moved out, an impossible amount of responsibility was on my shoulders to help raise and educate my younger brothers and sisters. Even at 19 years old and starting college, I was incredibly ignorant about human rights issues and marginalized people, knowing only that I was expected to get married and have dozens of kids myself.

Image description: I’m sitting at a desk in my bedroom, with a bookshelf and a row of speech and debate ribbons along the walls behind me. I’m holding a very young newborn baby with wide blue eyes. I’m wearing oval plastic-rimmed glasses and I’m smiling sidewise at the camera.

2012. Even though I’d finished high school, I was still debating as a coach at my dad’s camps. I was responsible for many management and odd tasks, including being a lecturer and coach. A lot of people ask me about what having an education surrounding debate was like, and I’m working on a whole chapter on the subject in my memoir. I told myself that I enjoyed it, but the truth is that I was so sick of it by the time I was debating these rounds, I was dissociating and have little memory of my last few years of debating. My dad liked to call debate “the homeschool sport,” and it was something of a sport, which required intense focus and training of my mind to perform and think a certain way. Speech and debate competitions and camps were the main reason we traveled anywhere throughout my teenage and young adult years.

In this image I’m back to the wire rimmed glasses, long brown hair draped over my shoulders as I write intensely. I’m wearing a black vest and bright shirt under it, and I’m writing with intense focus with a red and blue pen (these were a signature product in our bookstore).

2013. Most of the pictures I have of myself are at these speech and debate events, and this is yet another one. This beach was sequestered off a cliff at one of our camp locations, and I climbed down with a few other coaches for a brief interlude, where I begged my little sister to take some pictures of me. In this image I’m trying to look happy for a profile picture, but at this point it was beginning to dawn on me that I was trapped. I was in college, but my parents weren’t helping to pay for anything, and I was being made to feel like a freeloader despite doing the majority of the caretaking for my siblings. This was a few weeks before I’d be kicked out with my little sister.

Image is of blue-gray rocky shores surrounding me, standing at the shallow edge of the ocean, waves gently washing over my bare feet. I’m looking off to the side and smiling weakly. I’m wearing that same black vest, this time with a gray shirt under it, and rolled-up jeans.

2014. This is the year when everything started to change for me. I was finding my feet, had a part-time job, and I dropped out of college. My dad really wanted me to stay in school but expected me to do it without any real support, which I found physically and mentally impossible and financially unwise. I dyed a bit of my hair bright red. I was still expected to show up and babysit for free, and got lectured if I visited and didn’t help with the housework while I was there. I took this selfie in front of a house where I was renting a room for a generously low price thanks to a friend who took my sister and me in the day our parents kicked us out.

In this image my brown hair is dyed red in the front right side, and on the other side I’ve braided a red ribbon into part of my hair. My glasses are rectangular and plastic now, and I’m wearing braces, which I got so late in life because they were part of a charity and required community service from me.

2015. Many things have changed at this point in my life. I’m no longer in contact with my family. I missed my siblings so badly that I decided to continue working with kids, so I worked as a nanny in the spring school semester of 2015, and then as a wilderness camp counselor that summer. I’d left my Christian faith behind and now identified as an atheist. I knew that I was bisexual and had come out online as such. I was reeling from the shock of coming out of a traumatic situation, and this work kept me busy. Late in the year, I would have my first experiences with psychiatric drugs and polyamorous relationships.

This image is of me atop a mountain, eating a green apple to make me look like an asshole, with rows of mountains stretching out below me. I’m dressed in a beanie, sunglasses, a blue windbreaker, jean shorts, and climbing boots.

2016. I don’t have very many pictures of myself from this point on because there hasn’t been much to photograph – living in a car or in a basement doesn’t make for great photography, and that’s how the next few years were. 2016 was the beginning of my current relationship, and my partner and I had a few parks we loved to frequent, and this one was taken of me in the top of a tree at dusk. The lighting is dim, but the tree branches look black against a soft blue sky, and I’m looking up whimsically, my long hair appearing dark over a blue jacket, the rims of my glasses barely visible.

2017. This was a hellish year for us. It was the year we move to Texas to avoid being homeless again. I was practicing witchcraft for a while to help me get through how difficult it was to rely on unfriendly people for survival, then to be isolated in a place where we didn’t know anybody, but would ultimately abandon the practice as useless the following year. Here I am in the home of someone I once trusted, who gave us a packed closet to live in for a few months until we could get a car and place of our own.

Image description: A photo of me in low light in front of a plain wall and off-white window blinds. I’m wearing plastic rimmed glasses and a sleeveless pajama top, and looking over my shoulder into the camera. My hair is dark blue, and looks almost black in this light. It is pulled over my left eye for an emo appearance, but mainly that’s to cover the blue spot of dye that lingers on my forehead.

2018. This time when we were homeless, I felt a lot more prepared for it and like we were at least in a place where people would care for us. I took the below selfie during this time, while I was working out of the garage where my partner and I slept on a stage block for a couple of months until we found a place with roommates nearby. To my surprise, we’ve lived in the same place since summer 2018, making it almost two years that we’ve been stable.

Image is of me with my head tilted to my left, smiling and looking up at the camera. I’m wearing wide plastic rimmed glasses, my hair is long and brown with hints of purple and red, and I’ve got a big grey coat on. Behind me is a wire fence and some green trees beyond it.

Bonus picture from my birthday on 2018. Image is of me, wearing a low-cut emerald dress, my messy brown hair hanging loose with hints of my last color – dark red and purple. With my right hand, I’m finishing a cigarette, and with my left, I’m flipping off the camera. I have a smug, unimpressed look on my face, traces of smudged mascara, and dirty plastic-rimmed glasses. I’m sitting on a lawn chair in front of a white fence.

2019. Stability is a new thing, and it took all these years to finally reach it, with the support of sponsors who helped me make rent and buy necessities and who gave me furniture to help me put down roots. Here I am after working a shift at my deli clerk job. Life is not perfect and things aren’t okay, but I’m far ahead of where I was ten years ago.  

Image is of me in front of a bookshelf full of books and some folded cardboard boxes. I’m wearing big plastic rimmed glasses and am smiling widely at the camera in selfie fashion, and my long hair is all brushed to the right with the left side of my head shaved, naturally brown on top and colored black starting halfway down to the bottom, partially curled at the ends. I’m wearing a big soft purple blanket hoodie.