Friday, April 13, 2012

a diverse society (ethos stuff, part two)


The goal of capitalism should be a diverse society but also one in which certain civil or ethical principles exist, and can be upheld or enforced.
That's an aphorism I wrote and it is about the need to have some kind of standards or universals, which is to say even within diversity. Today the capitalist system seems too diverse, by which I mean that individual units may not talk to one another. There is no sense of unity, there is no longer any connection between persons or companies, this is the death of culture, and that is the problem here. And we cannot (should not) let that happen even though it looks as if we will. That would be the end to capitalist society. 
     Unfortunately, it looks like this is just what is happening; and, there was an article about Goldman Sachs that illustrates this (I think you could track it on this blog because I was writing about that article). It describes a firm in which each unit has but little to do with each other. An odd way to characterize a single firm, isn't it? I think it is scary. So, everyone is now isolated and they aren't talking to each other. GS, the article notes (as did the public letter sent by an employee to the Times) is real big. Really big. The units within GS seem a bit like the industries in capitalism. The "units" might be businesses that need financing. They have very little to do with any other units of that overall system, and it does not matter whether in GS or in the economy. 
     But this does happen in business. Businesses can be like that. For example, a businessman who knows how to run a fur store, this is my family I am writing about, has only some contacts in some parts of the fur industry. He does not even know the whole of his own industry. So there is this smallness to it, this isolation. My father didn't know exactly how the animals were raised and killed on ranches. His knowledge did not go that far. Any other contact with members of his society had to take place as a part of normal social life. The culture has to exist. What I am talking about a lot of the time is capitalistic culture, and the relationship of business to the larger culture. The sociality in capitalism, which is the very reason capitalism is viable, lies in the connection between business and the larger society. So, they feed off one another. What is happening in the businesses or units is indicative of a diverse society, all right. But that is not enough; there also has to be room for individuals to connect; that is part of capitalism, too. We need to have these connections, to uphold a social norm, and this is part of what capitalist society requires. Otherwise there is no culture at all, and this is a problem for our whole society, that capitalistic part and the greater whole, or culture itself, as such.
     When you do not have any social connection within capitalism, capitalism is not a global ethos but then again it is not supposed to be. But we do need an ethos, and therefore capitalism of that kind is not culture-friendly, it is destructive of culture. As commentators have pointed out, the really, really sad thing is that GS had a culture. And they let it slip away. This is probably what is happening to capitalist society in general,and it will destroy us. This is because there, in that case, no ethos. Capitalism then becomes nothing, just a global monster, rather than a system, and it didn't have to be that way. Maybe the socialists are right and if humanity is to survive, something other than this kind of capitalist or market system will have to be found at some point. But for now, capitalism must survive as a system. If capitalism is not a system, it is not anything at all anymore. It needs to be a system. So capitalism does need an ethos? 
     What is being suggested in the aphorism is not an ethos or an ethic. Rather it is that there always needs to be, and there is, if the system works at all, a loose framework that insures that everyone is acting within that set of certain civil of ethical principles, even if capitalism is not itself an ethical system. We have to admit to the need to assure that these human beings are acting correctly, not incorrectly. You should admit that: this is necessary, a basic part of capitalism.
     If there is no capitalism without this loose governing framework, if such a requirement is, as I believe it is, a natural aspect of capitalism, it would be good to study how that requirement was met in the past, since it would have had to be there. Similar to the need for diversity and choice, covered in the last post, I would suggest it was met by holdovers of traditional principles from previous historical periods. And there are other considerations, like the very gradualness of the early system itself, the fact that it is only slowly creeping up on us. Such cultural holdovers, as well as the slowness of progress, are wearing thin. Therefore, in addition to an understanding of how a basic ethical framework was maintained in the past, we need to know how to maintain it today. These normative aspects need to be there, for the system to be upheld and maintained, and extend its life, until something else comes along, assuming that capitalism is not itself a permanent system.

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