Five Ways an Individual can Ethically Confront Capitalism

One of the greatest single objections to communism is that it is impractical. The ills of capitalism pale before the insurmountable gulf between life in the current system and life in a classless communist utopia. Given the incredibly damaging and inhumane attempts by revolutionaries to create communism by force that occurred in the 20th century, one must dismiss violence as a means of forwarding this goal—quite apart from the inhumanity and immorality of coercive violence under any circumstances, others employed violence hoping to achieve good ends, but wrought pain and misery instead. So what is left to people who still believe in the possibility of a society free from class, free from exploitation as a rule rather than as an exception?

A better question to ask is this: what type of society do we live in today? In Western Europe, but especially in the United States of America, the answer is “consumerist capitalism.” In consumer capitalism, not only is labor or work rewarded with money, the spending of money (or consumption of goods) is rewarded with increased social standing, which then leads to other benefits. Participation in popular entertainment (movies, video games, music) for the most part requires that one spend money or break the law—and participation also feeds into one’s sense of belonging to a culture (hence watching Game of Thrones, or playing the latest Call of Duty franchise game, etc.).

Money is bad
Old Hickory’s face adorns the $20 bill, a figure of controversy the replacement of which by a former slave will do nothing to solve the problem of money in a capitalist system that views humans as objects with value rather than invaluable in their own right

The current society rewards work with money, and spending money with acclaim. Therefore, the best way to strike back against consumerist capitalism on an individual level is not to spend money. Here are some ideas for helping frame that rebellion—which in its own way, if adopted by sufficient numbers of citizens, could do far more damage to capitalism than any armed rebellion (and, happily, does not require one to hurt other humans, which is the most unethical thing one can do, and the whole reason behind one’s wanting to undo capitalism in the first place).

Spend as little money as possible

In capitalism, spending money is inevitable. If one lives in the adult world, there are expenses like mortgage payments, health care, taxes, car payments, and soforth. The world is organized around spending money, which is accumulated through labor. Spending money will happen!

What doesn’t need to happen is spending money on the countless frivolous things that adorn the modern consumer world. If you’re replacing things you don’t need in your house with other things you or other family members don’t need, well—don’t. Invest in good clothing and then stitch it up when it’s wearing out, instead of buying a new wardrobe every 3 years to replace the shoddy on-sale items that populate your overcrowded wardrobe. Reuse rather than recycling. Make a project out of thrift.

Viewing one’s life as a struggle against the capitalist forces that require you to spend money has benefits. Properly committed to the task, you spend less money and that money tends to be spent on things that are more useful or necessary to your life, which means you have more money lying around for other things.

It’s worth pointing out here that people living closer to the poverty side of the spectrum will recognize these things as prudent advice for those attempting to make ends meet with little capital. Having observed this type of behavior at work in Ukraine, I believe it is feasible here in America—indeed, those Americans with Yankee New Englander roots have it in their blood to celebrate and even fetishize frugality.

Exist with a minimum of consumption and excess

Willful consumption of unnecessary goods to excess are how young men and women (as well as older, insecure men and women) signal to one another that they’re healthy and successful. Chimpanzees and other primates indulge in similar behavior. Rather than acting like our crude, savage genetic cousins, we should be able to moderate these tribalistic biological impulses. Rather than overspending simply to impress others, or to satisfy one’s own feelings of inadequacy and need, underspend (or refuse to spend at all).

This will have the pleasant effect of pressuring companies to produce more useful devices, less frequently. Fewer useless or redundant goods will be created and sold, which will mean less wasted human energy, and less wasted money. It will also mean a slower pace of development, which will mean people have more time to master the ideas and devices that they already have, rather than being or feeling compelled to get newer clothes/devices/vehicles, etc.

Here is a partial list of unnecessary, frivolous devices and items that could easily be eschewed in the short term: smart phones, smart-devices, tablet devices, the latest laptop or desktop, multiple pairs of shoes for all occasions, a newer car, power tools sufficient to build a house (unless you’re a carpenter or regularly use tools in one’s spare time), specialized devices for food preparation, a “new look” for one’s home involving curtains and tablecloths.

Treat others compassionately, rather than as value propositions. Have conversations.

The more isolated people are, both in terms of their emotional sense of themselves as special and unique individuals and also in social terms (these definitions aren’t entirely separate or clear), the easier it is for individuals to seek solace or comfort in capitalist, consumerist expressions of identity. This can take the form of expensive hobbies such as collecting antiquities or cars or guns, or other displays of consumption such as excessive travel, gambling, or otherwise performative spending. The more valuable people feel, the less they spend, and the more they invest in actions rather than value-based reactions.

There is a phenomenon that goes largely unremarked-on, of people viewing their social time as “precious” or valuable in and of itself, and then using it exclusively to cultivate relationships with other people who view time in this way, and have something to offer—social standing, and the possibility of money, power, or influence that goes with it. If one is unfamiliar with this phenomenon, suffice it to say that it exists, and is dispiriting to encounter.

Talking with strangers, people who look depressed, and other random individuals can help ameliorate the danger of social solitude and the dubious value proposition of time as money. Conversing with neighbors costs little money and no great amount of time, and any small conversation contributes to society’s well-functioning, while reducing opportunities for spending money. Of course this courts the possibility of having unpleasant encounters with nasty people, but that’s the risk one runs, and forearming oneself against that possibility reduces the chances that it will rebound negatively on you.

Minimize credit card use and credit card debt

Credit cards are, like money, almost necessary when it comes to doing business in today’s world. One could take the time to budget out expenses and only carry around cash, but at a certain point the hassle involved in conducting transactions solely in person using hard currency outweighs the benefits, especially when it comes to paying bills, taxes, and many other big-ticket items. Furthermore, unless one has a good deal with a credit union, storing money in or withdrawing money from a bank entails incurring fees that can add up quickly. USAA and the Navy Federal Credit Union are two organizations that veterans, active duty military members, and family members of the same can use to avoid many fees.

Overall, credit can be a necessary in an emergency or for convenience, but is not recommended otherwise. It encourages the worst parts of capitalism—one’s own inclination to spend money on frivolous distractions, as well as others’ inclination to profit from those frivolous distractions (thus incentivizing the cultivation and sale of frivolity, rather than utility).

Belong to a credit union

Making money for people when they are loaning you money is about the worst thing one can do if one hopes to diminish capitalism’s influence. Banks are not inherently bad institutions, but as experience and history instructs, leaving one’s financial wellbeing in the hands of institutions dedicated to making money is imprudent. Banks, which are far better than institutions of financial speculation such as brokerages, are nevertheless inferior to credit unions—essentially, pools of money created by groups of individuals who are interested in allowing members to use money for various purposes such as building or buying houses, cars, or other necessary items. Credit unions are by definition not interested in making money for its own sake—they make money so that money can be lent, a far cry from how banks (or more reckless institutions) are organized, or why.

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Adrian Bonenberger

Adrian Bonenberger is an author, essayist, journalist and provocateur. He published his war memoirs, Afghan Post, through The Head and The Hand Press. He believes that logic based on indisputable facts is a good intellectual’s shield, and humor based on an emotional understanding of those facts is the good intellectual’s sword. He has had many adventures over the course of his time on earth, and enjoyed most of them. Past lives include Ernst Junger, “Sir” Philip Sidney, and that guy at the round table Arthur’s Knights were always telling to shut up

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