I aim to show in the following paragraphs that our deep rooted sense of alienation and suffering in the modern world is a necessary and inescapable consequence of our continued adherence to the economic system of capitalism, and in fact that capitalism itself as a phenomenon cannot exist without it. I hope to demonstrate that there is no real place within the ideologies of capitalism and the modern free market for human compassion, restraint, or altruism, and that in fact all of these traits are automatically punished and devalued by the structure of the system set in place. Only those who sacrifice the heart on the altar of profit will be carried through to the holy garden of success. In its place, we are to reorient ourselves towards an explicitly economic mindset, where everything has a price and nothing any value, where the military marching of the clock rules human affairs down to the bodily level, and where profit comes before people.
We are, in modern techno-consumer democracy, becoming all too aware that the promises of this peculiar ideology far outstrip its possibilities. On the backdrop of an emotional-spiritual void is projected the arch-image of success; the beautiful wife or girlfriend (or husband/boyfriend), the expensive car, the mansion, the travel, the work culture shiny and new. This is all made to seem tantalisingly close at hand, with its images plastered across advertisements for products, in our movies and television dramas, and in “reality” TV nightmare programming. We are told that we want this, that this is a mark of security, of being well-loved, of being a truly decent person, and by extension, to see those without it as simply faulty, not deserving, a sinner of sorts. This is the mana, the elixir of heaven, which will, according to the best advertising and marketing rhetoric, make us feel whole, satisfied and content.
What is most fudamentally required of the individual in order that he may be granted access to any of the aforementioned boons of this system is to engage in one of the many forms of abstract busywork that crop up in its wake. I am speaking of the duty manager, the area manager, the filing clerk, the “personal assistant”, and the many other guises that pointless activity wears. These “jobs” are in a very real sense superfluous, that is, they do not in any way, shape or form, contribute to either the ongoing survival of the species or its enrichment. In many cases they are closer to forms of parasitism, wherein they in fact actively decrease the survival potential of the species and degrade quality of life in the process, for example, the fossil fuel industries, big mining, fracking and so on.
That these jobs are either superfluous or detrimental is no secret to the average person, it is simply not spoken about. The overwhelming majority of persons engaged in these types of work know on some level, whether harshly conscious or blissfully unconscious, that what they are doing cannot be termed “contributing to society” in any meaningful way, and that in many cases “scraping a living off the back of it” would likely be a better description. The individual then, in any such situation, will be likely to experience a sense of pointlessness, a vacuum of meaning related to the the very real lack of it in their day to day behaviour. As we can all see from our interactions with other persons in the work sphere, this tends to give itself to apathy, frustration, ill-will and overall a general sense of disquiet, which has come to be confused on a societal level with the natural state of the human being at work and thus treated as normal.
But it is not normal. Humanity was not born, did not come out of this world, in order to pointlessly toil for the benefit of others. Mankind is a social animal, and our psyche is a social psyche. We feel good when we do good in the sense of maintaining and supporting the social group, living in harmony with it and furthermore, bringing the group to harmony with the wider environment in which it exists. It is only natural for us to feel sick when our work is sick, when it does not lead to health but rather decay, and to see this state of sickness as an inherent and ordinary condition of the mind of the human being is nothing other than an ill-considered adjustment to and a justification of a sick society.
The amount of this work to which the individual is asked to adjust himself is equally as inhumane as the nature of the work he is asked to perform. Far from the directly beneficial and minimal outlay of time set aside to hunt and gather of our ancestors, often only some four hours of the day, we have become slowly accustomed to working 45+ hour weeks, taking home aspects of our work to be completed after hours, and attending mandatory “team building” excercises and the like. To work longer and harder is encouraged, it is seen as a sign of integrity and focus, and rewarded with progression up the arbitrary social ladder imposed around the work to be done. But this leaves us with little time to attend to the deeper needs of the human organism, the emotional connections with friends and family, recreational time spent outdoors connecting with the land, self-love and relaxation, and this malnourishment of the spirit is all too obvious in the exhausted faces of the working class.
We see here an odd mechanism beginning to take shape. We are being asked to submit ourselves to a dehumanizing process, by which we are led into a state of temporal and emotional poverty. Then, we are promised exit from this state of affairs, which is retroactively mythologised as the natural state of human life, through closer and closer involvement with the apparatus of our dehumanization. Thus, a feedback loop is created, whereby the poverty felt is most easily addressed with overconsumption, the overconsumption leads to further material poverty, the material poverty leads us back into direct contact with the system, where the poverty of the spirit once more takes hold and is supposed to be necessarily addressed by a return to overconsumption.
This complicates itself to the extreme of the hedonic treadmill, where an individual has become so empty of him or herself that he or she becomes maddened with each exposure to pleasure, craving it and seeking it all the more to mask the sense of disunity and lack within. We see this represented in the tales of CEO’s living it up around the world, drinking the finest wines, eating the rarest foods and sampling the most extreme pleasures, all the while moving, seemingly restless and on the run from something. The something is the vacuity of spirit at the heart of the capitalist world, and it is the fuel that drives the engine of economic progress and production.
Enshrined as a basic tenet of this system is the notion that desire should be increased. Markets must expand, and as the range of goods expands with them, the desire of the people to consume these goods must follow. We have seen above the mechanism by which desire is grown in the consumer, through a forced sense of lack or poverty and a conversion of the radical, creative life energies of the individual into a mechanistic and ultimately meaningless repetition of behaviours which, according to the ideology of the system, will address the problem. It is not simply enough to have and be happy with what one has. The simple life is old hat, out of fashion, and what is most respectable in this system is to have the most of anything. So desire becomes the holiest state of mind, and the fulfilment of desire the goal of all activity, the key to the lock of success and privilege.
Those familiar with Buddhist ways of thinking will see clearly the problem with this state of affairs. For it is desire, wanting things to be other than they are, that is the root of suffering and the cause of conditional action, which is action that seeks a goal or an end. Let us examine for a moment the phenomenon of happiness in the human being. When one is happy, there is absent from the experience any sense of wanting or needing things to be different; one is simply content with the arrangement of phenomena in their experience and rests in their own being-in-it. Absent also are thoughts of the past, regrets and wishes for things to have been done differently; and thoughts of the future, plans, anxieties and so on. The mind of the happy individual is centred fully here and now, in the present, in a state of open receptivity to the play of reality.
When the aforementioned thoughts of the past and future, of wanting things to be as they aren’t, enters the mind, the individual becomes restless, and goes off in search of something, someone, some experience or other, to fill this apparent void in their experience of the world. So we can see clearly that desire, wanting, is the root cause of suffering, as it pulls the individual away from contentment and being, and into the sphere of discontent and becoming. Capitalism as an ideology requires desire to expand and grow infinitely, and thus implies the infinite growth of suffering. Once again, there is nothing inherent within the ideology of capitalism that would see it trend towards reducing desire, for this would imply the reduction of markets, products and so on, and therefore the reduction of profits.
On top of this root mechanism of infinitely increasing desire, we have the mechanism of estrangement from the natural self, or as I shall describe it for our purposes here, the commercialisation of the ego. The natural human self is a thing of emotionality, subjectivity, whimsy and play. We see it best represented in young children, and in the lives of various self-actualised people from around the globe such as Ramana Maharshi, D.T. Suzuki and Ram Dass, formerly Richard Alpert. It bears the qualities of happiness we have just discussed. It is not overly concerned with boundaries between self and other, nor does it seek happiness elsewhere. All of us human beings are quite naturally enlightened in our unbothered form, free from neurosis and delusion, at play with life and its energies. This image of humanity may come as a surprise to many readers, accustomed as they are to viewing human beings through the lenses of our cultural mythologies.
We generally subscribe to one of two images of man: the first being that man was created by a deity of some sort and is thus separate and for various reasons inherently sinful, dirty or problematic, and must therefore atone for his nature through submission to the heavenly parental authority and the doing of works deemed good by his culture, lest he be utterly destroyed. The second is that man is an accident of causality and chance in a dead and stupid universe, and that he must strive against his own animal nature and make the best of this ultimately meaningless sliver of existence between the maternity ward and the crematorium.
Neither myth is supported by the best science of our age, and neither contributes particularly well to the harmonic functioning of the individual or his social group. Both tend to create narcissists of different kinds, the first in the form of pious middlemen who claim divine authority and misuse it, and who treat the world as a dirty object to be held in contempt for its innate sinfulness, and the second in the form of the free radical, the rogue who has forsaken life and seeks to eke from it what selfish pleasures he can before the inevitable yawning abyss takes him, who sees the world as a random and meaningless occurence. The first we see manifest in the priests, rabbis and imams of our major religions, and the second dotting the boardrooms of major corporations and running drug empires out of war-torn environments.
So we can see how this estrangement from the natural, innate wakefulness that is human consciousness, how this perversion of our basic understanding of ourselves and our fellows as being basically good and its substitution with a model of humanity that sees us as innately evil, feeds into the sense of lack and incompleteness that informs the desires which spin the wheel of capital. And on top of this we have the aforementioned commercialisation of the ego.
Humanity must add to their suffering not only the myth of separateness and innate wrongfulness handed down by their culture, but now the donning of a suit of respectable falsehoods, which we call the ego. The market loves good salesmen, and unfortunately for the market, salesmen do not simply grow of themselves; they must be made. And so we worship the false face, and obfuscate the real, all in the service of appealing once more to the apparatus of our continued enslavement. Anyone can now become a “hippy” or a “new ager” for a simple downpayment of around $1500, with which one can buy the necessary aesthetic badges of identification, the yoga mat, the mala beads, the chakra shirts, and then off the back of this false yet on the surface alluring image, find a sense of belonging in one of the many acceptable and monetised pastimes of the culture. The nature of capitalism is to monetize the bohemian impulse in man, to turn the freaks of one year into the fashion of the next.
In the same way, with the right suit and tie, the right vehicle, the right kind of language and so on, an individual can buy his way into the upper class and be afforded the varieties of belonging and security that come with the territory. These behaviours are role-playing games, obfuscations of the true and genuinely felt experiences of the individual, which are substitued for culturally acceptable phrases, gestures and beliefs. They require a supression of the authentic, natural human self, for the emotionality and subjectivity of real persons is like acid to ideology and ego, it is the dissolving truth which cannot coexist with the calcifying rigidity of the going game.
So we have walled off the vessel of our happiness, our felt presence and experience of the moment, our natural selves; and we have introduced to this situation a mechanism which only entrenches us further in this delusion. This mechanism pulls the individual into the orbit of this situation and engenders in him emotional states which require further association with the system that breeds his discontent, and gives him a remedy which requires more of the sickness to access. We have here an example of a zero sum game, whereby the very conditions of the game, its rules and acceptable plays, inevitably lead to a situation whereby the game is not only unplayable, but it has destroyed the environment in which it can be played and the players themselves as well.
We can see then that capitalism is in some sense a phenomenon of the order of a cult, but a peculiar cult indeed. It demands adherence to the rules and dogmas of the in-group, and seeks to destabilise and delegitimise the out-group, as all good cults do. It also seeds in the individual a certain poverty of the spirit, which it claims can be addressed by further adherence to the behaviours of the cult, again, as all good cults do. And finally, all things outside the cult, which cannot be used by the cult, are devalued implicitly. In one sense, capitalism is unique in the world of cults, as it has no external point of reference, no transcendent function, no release valve. The cult involves itself as its own deity, and the measure of a good acolyte is to unquestioningly increase involvement with the stuff of capitalism. The whole enterprise is a self-referential feedback loop that requires infinite participation.
What then to do if one wakes up and sees that this is the case, that we are all somewhat-willing participants in a giant con, a shell game where the promises outstrip the prizes? Well, my suggestion is that anyone sick of the current situation turn themselves to art and creative activity, and that they employ the help of plant teachers to do so. The whole edifice of capitalist society is built on arbitrary distinctions, walls of language built between men and women, ideas of separation and economic rationality; in short, the devaluation of the subjective world of human emotion and experience and the pedestalization in its place of the rational, logical mind; the thinker as opposed to the feeler.
What psychedelic plants do best is to foster states of consciousness where there occurs the dissolution of existing boundaries, the overcoming of previous hardwired modes of thinking, feeling and doing. It is these very boundaries, these arbitrary limiting conditions placed upon the individual through his culture, that enable the whole misery-go-round of modern capitalism to turn. No deals can be done in the boardroom if we love one another. No mass deforestation will arise from the awakened heart. No truly artistic culture can stomach the rape of the forests and the oceans in the name of “progress”.
So, to all those interested in a way forward, I recommend you read through my suggestions on the matter in the article entitled: “Revolution of the arts – Alchemica!”, and begin to build in your own lives the kind of conscious community that can make a trans-capitalist world a reality. In short summation, we must all familiarize ourselves with the most emotionally engaging symbols and designs from our cultures, and begin to synthesize these symbols into profoundly engaging works of art, that trigger intense emotional responses from the viewing public.
To a world without commodification and wage slavery, to a future without arbitrary suffering, Ave Alchemica! Hail Eris!