As much as I decry life under Capitalism, we also don’t live under Capitalism. This contradiction is important to understand. Lived life is full of contradictions and to make sense of anything you have to understand this fact, and the relative nature of facts themselves. You have to hold more than two perspectives in your head at once. Seeing this, you can see an entire life outside of Capital. You just need to look around. Most of your life is lived outside of the ambit of Capitalism at all. As the Beatles said, the best things in life are free.
Take love, take sharing, take everything you’re taught in preschool and promptly made to forget as adults. Take hugs, take shared meals, take a sunset, take everything that makes life worth living. We live 90% of our lives outside of capitalism and outside of laws and only notice these things as they hold the power of death over us. Capitalism says you must starve if you disobey it and the law says you must be cuffed and caged. And so we think these things are experience. In fact they are just the thin black line drawn around a multi-colored experience. And experience which is vastly cooperative, mostly caring, mostly free.
I, for example, give you this writing free. It is carried on the platform Medium, which completely fails at being a profit-making venture. It is also distributed on my own blog (indi.ca), which is only as capitalists as a busker’s hat on the pavement. Everything you give to your children, to your partners, to your family, even to your co-workers; most of it is not measured out, is not calculated, is not calculating. As much as we can, we give out of kindness, we take out of generosity, we live entirely outside the ambit of invoices and litigation and the coercion of the state.
Again, because these forces get invoked when things go wrong, we think that they define the space of existence, but they are in fact just the border where experience gets brutally amputated and cut off. Capitalism and ‘rule of law’ are really just the definition that life gets by its relation to death. They are not how life is lived by the living at all.
By what contract do you raise your children? By which agreement do you divide sides of the bed? What money is exchanged for meals to a grieving neighbor, how much does God charge for the flight of birds across the sky. While there is certainly energy exchanged, while there are certainly expectations, none of these are captured in GDP or in the dismal incantations of economic priests. As Bobby Kennedy said before he got capped:
“The Gross National Product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country, it measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile.” (Double Entry, Jane Gleeson-White)
The fact is that even once we get into a job (the feudal fief of Capitalism) we immediately start behaving uncapitalistically. We chat, we waste time, we help out beyond our ambit, or we drag our feet for entirely petty reasons, because someone is annoying. We develop relationships at work, strange relationships where someone can disappear with all their goods in a banker’s box, but relationships nonetheless. Even within the belly of the beast, humanity lives on.
When I talk about defeating, overthrowing, or escaping Capitalism it is first and foremost a trap of the mind. Because the fact is that we already live most of our lives outside of Capitalism. As much as the globe-spanning AI I call Capitalism tries to make us do everything through a payment or an app, children still pop out of wombs with no money and terrible credit and remain resolutely jobless for decades. And they are never more loved than when they are the most useless. There’s something much deeper than our marginal utility to corporations. There is our deep value to each other, and to the old gods that still have our back. The fact is that most of human existence was before Capitalism, more will be after, and that substrate is the bedrock of existence still.
When we talk about defeating Capitalism, the fact is that it has already lost. Yes money has the power of death over us, yes the inherent social contract of Capitalism is work or starve, but man does not live by bread alone. Though we may earn our bread by the sweat of our brow, we still share it with children we keep in the shade. We still split what we have with those that have nothing. We still give food (and energy) away joyfully, in ‘transactions’ Capitalism can make no sense of. Like birthday parties. Or weddings. All the ‘irrational’ things that make us more than ‘rational economic actors’. All the things that make us decent human beings.
I’m not trying to give you hope or anything. Tolstoy wrote The Slavery Of Our Times in 1900 and we’re still in chains. The power of death, the power of starvation, the power of cruelty, the power of greed; these are still great powers. My point is just that there are higher powers still. There is the love for children, for lovers, compassion for strangers, cooperation with co-workers, and the love between gods and human beings. Do these higher powers win? They are so ephemeral, so transient, so defenceless. They are crushed by the stomp of money or the blows of the law at every step. And yet they persist. Is this winning? I don’t know what that question means. They’re not even playing the same game.
Gods know we can die under Capitalism, but we don’t live under it. Ask your beating heart, as the air your breath, ask the child whose hand you’re holding, ask the wind, ask the trees. Capital can make things into commodities, it can tell you stories on flickering screens, but at the same time it can’t commodify everything and it can’t tell your story. When you hold a child, when you weep at a grave, when you taste food or see beauty, what are you doing? There is a life beneath and well beyond Capitalism. You’re living it.