Saturday, December 1, 2012

Listening to the RTE radio show "The Business" Just a Moment Ago...

...three convictions sprang into my brain.

1) There is nothing wrong with trade and commerce. Marxists and quasi-Marxists and all those who attribute the root of all ills to "capitalism" or "consumerism" are (I think) totally off the mark. In a free society, goods and services will inevitably change hands for an agreed price.

Nor is there anything intrinsically mean or squalid about it. There is a romance and poetry to shops and markets and places of business. There is something in the human psyche that cries out for work, for some serious activity to get your teeth into-- and this urge can't be satisfied just by voluntary activity, no matter how much we love that voluntary acitivity. No matter how much we love painting watercolours or writing philosophical tracts or making flower arrangements, and even though this might be way more satisfying and meaningful to us than our "day jobs", sooner or later we languish without some task that we can't just take up and leave down as we wish.

2) Although there is nothing wrong with trade and commerce, there is something wrong with a society whose main activity is trade and commerce. Buying and selling should not be the central drama of human existence. Fields of human life such as politics, sports, the arts, and childhood should enjoy a certain detachment from the fray of buying and selling. Theatres named after private companies or soccer players sold for millions of pounds are symptoms that our society is over-commercialized. So are colour supplements in newspapers whose articles are all more or less a form of advertising. So are cartoons that exist to make children buy actions figures and dolls.

Though there is nothing ignoble about commerce, I do think there should be a limit to how seriously it should be taken. A grown man should not appear on television or in the print media saying, with a straight face, something like: "I'm passionate about giving customers the very best mobile phone converage", or "I never stop looking for ways to improve the shopping experience". Really? You have a few brief years on Earth, surrounded by all the mysteries and wonders and dramas of human existence, and you can really and truly waste your passion on such matters? Surely there is a point, in business, at which good enough should be good enough, and any additional care or dedication is filched from more important parts of our lives-- our from more important parts of our employees' or customers' lives, or from society's life.

3) This does not mean we should start looking around for some way to make wholesale changes to the way our society is run. Wholesale changes to the way society is run usually lead to war, famine, disaster and untold misery. In fact, I think the most important thing we can do is simply be aware of this excess of buying and selling. Man should have a sense of dissatisfaction with a hyper-commercialized society even if there seems nothing practicable to be done about it.

Every time there is a recession we hear the usual cries, intoxicated with vindication, that the goose of "capitalism" is cooked and that it will only be a little while now before the whole thing falls apart. Remarkably, "capitalism" always seems to get back on its feet.

I don't think we should be fretting about "capitalism", which is here to stay (unless, maybe, technological advances make it obsolete at some stage). We should be more worried about what sort of capitalism we bring about (to the extent that we have any control over it, which isn't always very much), and our collective and individual attitude towards "capitalism".

That's what came into my head. Maybe I'm wrong. But that's how it seems to me.

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