Capitalism and meaning

Slavoj Žižek, whose name I learned to spell because I liked his ideas on ideology, has a rather cryptic piece in the Spectator (UK) on whether Trump isn't a cause of the opioid crisis so much as a symptom. Which is a rather boring thing to waste your time writing (or reading, for that matter) about. But the interesting stuff that happened to me today was at a board meeting and it's all confidential and so here's the passage that stuck out for me:

"Capitalism is the first socio-economic order which de-totalizes meaning: it is not global at the level of meaning. There is, after all, no global capitalist world view, no capitalist civilisation proper: the fundamental lesson of globalisation is precisely that capitalism can accommodate itself to all civilisations, from Christian to Hindu or Buddhist, from West to East. Capitalism’s global dimension can only be formulated at the level of truth-without-meaning, as the Real of the global market mechanism."

See, this is the problem with Žižek - he thinks he understands capitalism. But like many academics (and doesn't the Moldbugian Cathedral ring true here), he has never understood the ethical triumph that is capitalism. 

[Trigger warning: smacks of Rand]

Capitalism is, in direct contrast to what Žižek the Marxist believes, the first socio-economic order that elevates meaning and celebrates equality in humanity. It is, in fact, global at this level of meaning. The global capitalist worldview is of the non-violent exchange of value using an agreed upon currency - money. That, for the best of my efforts in bringing value, I receive such currency that I am then free (free!) to spend to acquire the value of others' labors. 

It is precisely this abstraction from culture, from the historical rivers of blood and slavery, that makes meaning - it is the only way to live in freedom. In return, it asks the best of each of us and expects us to demand the best in return. And this is where the problems begin.

Contrary to popular belief, it is not the decay of late-stage capitalism that has caused the misery we see around us. It is the lack of ethics and morals to demand better of the goods and services provided by and to us. Who stood against the sweatshop owners, the Taylorist timetracking slavedrivers, the polluters of our planet? And I don't mean the cheap standing they do at universities everywhere, but the actual refusal to consume the goods tainted by greed and violence. Even if it means a loss of comfort or convenience. 

Capitalism has brought us unprecedented prosperity. It has brought opportunity to the darkest places on earth. It is beginning to allow us to live as Gods. But in the end, capitalism only says "you are free to choose." Or as I like to put it: you are a God - now act like one.

4 responses
David Simon made a comment on this topic that has stuck with me - capitalism is not a moral force. I think he's right. But also think you're correct that, more than any previous order, it clarifies where we can and should apply morality. That's a conflict it seems we haven't resolved yet...
First Jordan P, and now Zizek! If I understand correctly one of the things you are saying is that capitalism renders us equal through providing us with universal equality of freedom of choice. And to exercise this freedom optimally we need to summon our morals. That capitalism is not at fault, but our disability to exercise it optimally is the problem. Would have loved to know how you relate this to the reality that is happening just outside the window.
@Bryan: I think that capitalism is a moral force. It asks you to trade and not to take. @Nat: yeah, I'm on a roll misinterpreting the controversial thinkers of our day. I'm not saying capitalism renders us equal. I'm saying it's a pre-requisite of freedom. The outcomes of capitalism are necessarily unequal. For better systemic outcomes, we need to decide ethically. Outside my window? It's socialist Germany. The little freedom it leaves is consumerist dystopia.
Great you clarified that. Funny how your argument method isnt agreeable to me and yet the result conclusions are. For me the problem with little freedom and regulated life is that it seems to correlate with decrease in overall intellectual and critical thinking capacity, which in turn makes it difficult to ponder ethics. But still not convinced that capitalism, as freedom torch-bearer, could be seen and used as accelerator to ethical thinking and living. GReat we are conversing about these things!!!