The Dream Café

Steven Brust: “A masterful storyteller of contagious glee and self-deprecating badassery” —Skyler White

War and Capitalism and Stupidity and Aquariums

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A friend of mine had an aquarium with a snail problem.  In case you didn’t know (I didn’t), snails in an aquarium can cause nitrogen build-up that can kill the fish.  She dealt with the snail problem and the nitrogen build-up.  A year later, she carelessly permitted the filters to become clogged with the waste products of the fish (yeah, fish poo).  This caused a nitrogen build-up that can kill fish.

As she was explaining this to me, you know what I didn’t say?  I didn’t say, “fish poo can’t be the cause of nitrogen build-up, and the proof is, there was nitrogen build up last year before there was a fish-poo problem.”  Because, you know, that would have been a very stupid thing to say.

Here’s another stupid thing to say: “Capitalism can’t be responsible for war, and the proof is, there was war before there was capitalism.”

Um, hello?  No one said capitalism invented war.  War, in the most general sense, is a product of scarcity.  (No, it is not  because “people are evil,” and it isn’t the product of religious differences, though certainly religious differences can be and often are used to incite a population into doing what it would druther not.)  But you know those other economic arrangements we monkeys came up with in order deal with the problem of scarcity? They don’t exist any more.  Today, we have capitalism.  And, you know what?  Capitalism, among many other benefits (as well, to be sure, as countless crimes), has improved the productivity of labor so much, there is no longer any need for scarcity.  And thus, there is no longer any need for war.

So why is there war?  Because capitalism is organized on the basis of nation-states, and because of the nature of the profit system, in which production is inextricably tied to amassing personal wealth.   Thus, production, through the medium of accumulation of personal wealth, is tied to control of markets, resources, labor, all of which are divided among nation-states.  The US is bombing civilians in Yemen so the Koch brothers and Jeff Bezos can add more zeroes to their bank accounts, and they are in the position where they can (and in some ways must) do that because of the capitalist mode of production.  The irony is not lost on me that it is as a result of scarcity that millions of people have had to die to keep a few bastards living in luxury.

The point is, the fact that we can eliminate scarcity doesn’t mean we have eliminated scarcity. And we cannot eliminate scarcity until we break once and for all the relationship between production and the amassing of personal wealth.  Once we’ve done that, there will no longer be scarcity, and thus, no longer war.  In the meantime, the reason we still have war, is because we still have capitalism.  Kapeesh?

(Just in passing, this provides the answer to those smug idiots who like to say, “Neener neener  under socialism who gets to decide who gets the rare things like vintage wine and caviar?”  Just ask yourself: would you go to war for it?  If not, shut up.  If so, you’re a bloody sociopath, and kindly go shoot yourself.   I’m not feeling patient right now.)

Anyway, the next time some guy tells me that capitalism can’t be responsible for war because there was war before there was capitalism, I’m going to look him dead in the eye and say, “Fish poo.”

skzb

Author: skzb

I play the drum.

7 Comments

  1. Asking if they would go to war is an excellent response. I think I’ll use it.

    I usually just say, “Put it on a lottery and some luck people get the luxury goods each year. After all, that is what is really happens today–the lottery is just less obvious.” Most of them don’t understand this.

  2. “until we break once and for all the relationship between production and the amassing of personal wealth”

    Struggling a bit with this part, and working through it as I write. Is it really the relationship that needs to break? I mean I understand that if production can do whatever it wants, it can adjust to fill all needs, but then there is still the idea of amassing personal wealth that seems kind of, I don’t know, dangerous? Tyrannical? In need of addressing?

    Say we break the relationship and production is where it needs to be. Do people still want to amass personal wealth? If yes, are they permitted/able to do so? How?

    Ideas/inventions could be rewarded with personal wealth, but assuming that someone desires personal wealth, would they not simply go to the place where their ideas would amass the most personal wealth? Is that place here, or a capitalist country?

    If production fills all needs, what would be the point of personal wealth anyway? Is that what you see? Break production free and the desire for personal wealth vanishes (or goes somewhere else)?

    Sorry for rambling.

  3. If I could have personal wealth independent of production, I think I’d want to have a year’s worth of food stored safely in my home. I’d feel more secure that way. Just in case something went wrong.

    This is kind of wasteful. Presumably after a year the food would be a year old and uneaten. I could handle the waste by eating the food and replacing it with new food. So I would always be eating food that was a year old. Not what I want.

    Maybe better I take the old food and find other uses for it. I could ferment some of it into alcohol, and become a special wine or beer maker, or maybe go into distilling. I could feed it to chickens or something that would do just fine with it.

    But it’s wasteful. I’m wasting production because I want personal wealth, because I’m insecure. Why should I be allowed to do that? Other people know what I need, and they know the most efficient way to produce it, and why should they let me have twice the food I need and waste half of it, just because I feel insecure? They can give me the food I need without me storing it because I don’t trust them to keep the system functioning, because I want to be ready in case the system falls apart. What if everybody demanded twice the food they needed and then wasted half of it?

    Well, but if we have lots of production then we CAN produce extra food and let insecure people stockpile some of it. No particular harm done. When there’s plenty of resources we can let people decide what they want and give them the things they want most that are least expensive. It’s when there’s no surplus and we have to ration it all carefully so everybody can have just barely enough that there’s no room for giving anybody more.

  4. skzb

    Nate: I *think* point #14 of the link below answers this. If not, I’m failing to understand your question, and request you try again. http://dreamcafe.com/2018/08/02/war-and-capitalism-and-stupidity-and-aquariums/#comment-28144

  5. Nate: point #14 of: http://dreamcafe.com/2013/09/13/answers-to-a-few-things-im-tired-of-hearing/

    As Steve says, it is kind of a non-non-sequitor if we are in a Socialist framework. As Jonah remarks, why do you want to amass things?
    1) Insecurity. This is really a side effect of Capitalism’s — every man for themselves credo. Socialism is, we’re all working together to eliminate insecurity.

    2) A particular attraction to collecting things. A little of this is fine a lot ends up being a madness.

    Billionaires are hoarders of capital. They poison the environment in which everyone exists–just like the people you see in those hoarder shows poison their own living space.

  6. Point 14 covers it, yes, and that was my initial line of thinking. My confusion was with my interpretation of the phrasing of the quote – as if breaking their relationship would somehow allow production [the socialist state] and the desire to amass personal wealth [greed] to coexist peacefully.

    I’ve said before how in my mind, much of this breaks down to egoism vs altruism, and I read that quote (break the relationship) as suggesting that egoism might be left alone, when in fact the quote was a simple reference to revolution. Hence I dug in the wrong direction.

    I’m left with something of a [chicken] and [egg] question substituting [the reduction of greed] and [a successful revolution], and I’ll reference this from point # 14 because I think it recognizes the question, but struck me as a bit too far-future perspective (assuming it’s not playing dumb):

    “If there is someone who wants more stuff than he can use and particularly wants to deny it to others for no reason except to be mean, that seems like sort of a strange, off-the-wall kind of sickness, but I admit it could exist. In that case, how would this person, with no state power, go about enforcing this wish?”

    You spend the entirety of point #21 addressing this kind of sickness, and counter-revolution is a major concern in point #13.

    [many minutes later] I’m rambling again and the question seems moot anyway. I agree that the force will be unstoppable, and we’ll reach a point where #14 will be accurate at face value.

  7. skzb

    It might be that “breaking the relationship” was too vague, and introduced confusion. Sorry.

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