The Heterodox

The Heterodox


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Capitalism and Euphemism

September 14, 2010 , , , , , , ,

With every passing year, George Orwell’s stipulations for maintaining intellectual honesty become exceedingly more germane. This is most patent in regards to his admonitions and warnings against euphemism employed within socio-political discourse. And if you are an instinctive skeptic and engage yourself in cultural criticism, then you are already keenly aware of how much our society’s functionality depends upon euphemism as well as many other forms of manipulated language. Bearing this in mind, one should always attempt to examine specific areas of our society and culture where this manipulation can be most easily observed. So for today, we shall examine an interesting phenomenon of interrelationship between our economic and political systems which employ a marked linguistic effect on our daily realities.

For most of my fellow Americans, I notice a distinct nescience towards how our economic system operates. If they know anything at all about capitalism and its relation to other economic philosophies, then it is in a very sciolistic form to say the least. It has been the lamentable case for at least sixty years that one can not even mount a critique against the American capitalistic system (I prefer the clarifying term of Radical Capitalism to describe American economics) without having slanderous pejoratives hurled at you, usually the sobriquet of socialist. The irony of being called a socialist in this country and within this context is that you can easily bet whoever uses this word as an intended insult can be assumed as having never read a single page of Smith, Ricardo, Malthus or Marx in their entire lives. Along with this ignorance, this same individual most likely does not even see the socialist structures within our society (Social Security, Medicare, et al) as socialist. But before I begin to digress here, let me make it clear that I will not be critiquing the entire philosophy of capitalism as that essay would be too rotund for any blog. Instead I wish to focus on one aspect of our government that best exemplifies the socio-political reality of capitalism that I alluded to in the introduction. This aspect is the phenomenon known as Lobbying.

For myself, and I hope for you as well, lobbying is the most pernicious euphemism extant today within our political dialogs, mainly due to the fact that our ruling elites still like to tout our society as a democracy. If we are at all honest about the everyday syntax involved with this word, then we have to admit that lobbying is for all intents and purposes state sanctioned corruption. Of course, throughout our species history, as long as there have been political systems there has also been some level of corruption intimately intertwined. What makes America so unique in this regard is that our republic was the first ever in history to legalize corruption while simultaneously integrating economics into its political system in such a way as to manifest what we have come to understand as a distinctly American form of political economy.

This has to be assumed as an inevitable outcome for any country like America which embraces capitalism with such unquestioned and febrile acceptance. Throughout the twentieth century as regulations for lobbying began to appear it probably was seen at the time as an egalitarian notion to require lobbyists to register. After all, that meant that the government could keep track of their activities in Washington. Yet this attempt as all attempts at regulation are moot points when the politicians and administrators are being bought and sold.

If one researches even in the slightest manner into the steady increase of lobbying groups over the past twenty five years, the evidence of corruption becomes overwhelming. The steady consolidation of PACs (political action committees) in Washington has legally transformed our representative democracy into a capitalist plutocracy. The more money any individual or organization possesses the more influence they will have in creating legislation that benefits their vested interests. This reality of our political system has unfortunately become axiomatic, and why shouldn’t it be so? This is after all the most rudimentary law if not the first law of political economy. This is why it no longer matters to a shameful degree who one votes for, because their actual action in Washington is based purely on pecuniary inducements.

And to make an already malign situation even worse, this moldered political environment creates the most fecundate possibilities for the growth of human avarice and cupidity. If by chance, an actually virtuous individual gets elected and makes it into the Capitol, this very corruption will engender their public service to be rendered a transient affair. This plutocracy is so entrenched and the system so broken and degraded, that it can not realistically survive much longer in its present state. Politicians are only able to convince their constituencies that the system can in fact survive as long as euphemism is allowed to be tolerated. And the American citizen will continue to ingest euphemism and deceit as long as they are continually encouraged to indulge in uncritical economic profligacy.

Even after all the events of 2008, when all of the dangers and contradictions of capitalism became blazingly apparent (yet again?), there still are those who continue to believe in the system’s viability. Wall St. rules our lives and we all know it, but will we resign ourselves to this fate or will we finally push back? Too many of our fellow citizens are still running on the illusions of eighteenth century idealistic notions about democracy instead of waking up to the fact that we desperately need our society on every level to reboot. It is in consideration of this contingency where the future becomes unsettling to me. America, and a good portion of the Western world, is heading to a revolutionary plateau that will be quite violent and turbulent when it is reached (as all revolutions are).

My ultimate fear is that when that scenario is enacted that a fascist element within our ranks will make a power play to take over our society by force, and there are more than enough firearms in this country to make this a reality. This is just another denigration of our pluralist, secular, and democratic society that we all must face and battle. We all are in a better position for that fight when we rally against euphemism and demand from our leaders some form of truth to power in any way that we can extract it. If not, then our fate surely will be relinquished to the stomping steel-toed march of Blut und Eisen.

I will leave you now with a rather apt passage from historian John Ralston Saul’s book Voltaire’s Bastards in which he correctly and presciently diagnosed the fate of our corrupt and broken system of government over eighteen years ago. This extract also provides the perfect peroration for my own arguments thus presented. Concerning democratic systems such as ours he said the following:

“The more evolved and careful forms of democracy seem out of place. The American model, on the other hand, seems perfectly adapted to this civilization of power worshiping, decision by courtesanage, limited public participation and high levels of personal corruption….This is a very simple conundrum. Societies grow into systems. The systems require management and are therefore increasingly wielded, like a tool or weapon, by those who have power. The rest of the population is still needed to do specific things. But the citizens are not needed to contribute to the form or direction of the society. The more “advanced” the civilization, the more irrelevant the citizen becomes.” (p 261)

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