Defining Capitalism

If I’m going to fulfil my intention of de-capitalism-ising my business, I’m going to need a clear definition of what I actually mean when I talk about ‘capitalism’.

(I’ve been wanting to share a piece about this for ages, but have kept putting it off, fearing that it needs to be long, detailed, complex and full of research.

Well, perhaps that piece will materialise in time. For now, my definition is pretty simple.)

Capitalism is defined by the word ‘more’. It is a relentless pursuit of material growth at any cost. In order to fulfil this, it must keep people consuming, which it does through perpetuating messages of scarcity and fear.

Structural capitalism

There are plenty of resources out there that help to describe what capitalism looks like structurally (i.e. how it is organised, how power and resources are distributed), and in particular, stress that under capitalism, the means of production are owned by private individuals:

“Means of production” refers to resources including money and other forms of capital. Under a capitalist economy, the economy runs through individuals who own and operate private companies. Decisions over the use of resources are made by the individual or individuals who own the company.

The Balances

I completely agree, and believe wholeheartedly that the structural status quo (i.e. capitalism as defined above) has to go. As long as resources (natural resources, power, money) are controlled and distributed in the interests of a privileged few, we will have widespread inequality, oppression, poverty and violence. Capitalism is deliberately designed to create inequality, it is necessarily a system of haves and have-nots, and it relies on keeping people in their places.

Because of this structure, we simply cannot achieve social justice, equality and liberty as long as capitalism is the dominant economic system.

However, in my own grappling I am less concerned with structural capitalism, and much more concerned with cultural capitalism. The ethos of this system, its spirit, its message. The way it influences human feelings, beliefs and behaviour.

I believe that if we can shift ourselves away from capitalism culturally, then the structural system will necessarily collapse.

Cultural capitalism

Cultural capitalism is a social sickness suffered in many and various ways by the people who are targeted by it (which in the west is basically all of us). Controlling the majority of media outlets and thus the messages we receive every day, capitalism seeds and nurtures a sense of total not-enough-ness. This is the core tenet of the whole system: without it, constant growth can not be maintained, or justified.

As I’m sure you’ve noticed, we are constantly reminded that we are not rich enough, not productive enough, not thin enough, not beautiful enough, not clever enough, not cool enough. We don’t have a big enough apartment or perfect enough skin or enough tv channels or a good enough phone. Etc etc etc. Lucky for us, there are paid-for solutions to all of these (fabricated) problems.

Capitalism has successfully colonised our individual and collective selves. Where once we had the skills and resources to find enoughness, validation, self-belief and self-confidence within ourselves, now we have internalised the constant message that we have to look outside of ourselves and our communities for validation, to fill the ‘not-enoughness’ gap. We are born with the ability to validate ourselves (or more accuraltey, without the need to) – and then life under capitalism slowly grinds it out of us, exploiting the moments of fear we naturally experience as humans, and turning them into sales opportunities. Furthermore, our manufactured preoccupation with our own insecurities (and what we can buy to mask them) keeps us scrabbling away on the surface, distracted from the horrific things big corporations are doing to our planet.

The mind-body-spirit scene – a so-called ‘alternative’ culture that includes wellbeing and spiritual websites like my tarot shop and blog – is a marketplace filled with new ways to measure ourselves, come up short, and purchase ‘ethical’ solutions. In the wellbeing world, you might not be ‘mindful’ enough or ‘spiritual’ enough or ‘connected’ enough. Perhaps your business isn’t ‘soul-centred’ enough. You might not be eating ‘clean’ enough or maybe you just don’t have enough crystals or tarot decks. I actually find the way capitalism manifests within the wellbeing scene all the more sinister, since it is dressed up in the guise of ‘self care’. The solutions we are sold to these not-enough-nesses are billed as taking precious time for you, as ‘reclaiming yourself’, as empowerment (Andi Zeisler explores this thoroughly in We Were Feminists Once: From Riot Grrrl to Cover Girl, the Buying and Selling of a Political Movement.)

Literally, we are having our ‘selves’ sold back to us.

What an absolute fucking travesty.

To be clear: I’m not anti marketplaces, not anti retail, not anti economy, I’m not anti money (which is fortunate considering I run a shop for a living.) I think the trading of skills and wares and the dynamic, healthy flow of money around a community is a great system. Like, I’m really into it! Like most people I like buying and enjoying nice things. I think people who offer spiritual services and any other kinds of services should be properly paid for their work. This is not about saying that any particular individual offerings or creations or desires are wrong or invalid. It’s about the collective culture of scarcity, of not-enough-ness, that greases the wheels of capitalism and keeps us trapped in a cycle of insecurity and consumption that serves up incredible profits for the few who have the most access to resources, and keeps the rest of us economically and spiritually poor.

So, when I am writing about anti-capitalism and non-capitalism here on this blog, it’s this culture of scarcity, these messages of not-enough-ness, that I am primarily concerned with. It’s this culture that I’m looking to recognise and challenge and shift in my business, my life and my community, on every level.