Capitalism is like cancer. Once it enters a host country’s economy, it will spread and devour labour, the environment, and any other impediment to the growth of profit. Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell. The essence of capitalism is to turn nature into commodities and commodities into capital. However, the world cannot continue to get richer as the earth becomes poorer. Just as the only inevitability in life is death, the only inevitability about our capitalist way of life, is the death of our planet.
Capitalism is malignant. Think about it. For most of human history, we have lived on the edge of starvation. Nowadays, in our over-consumptive gluttony, we are starving the earth. The global food system produces more than enough for every man, woman and child; yet capitalism’s misdistribution of resources means that countless people starve to death.
If you condense the earth’s history – about 4,54 billion years – to just one year, humans have been here for only about 23 minutes. Capitalism, as the dominant, global ideology, has existed for a matter of seconds. For over 130,000 years, mankind has lived harmoniously with the earth. It is only the last 500 years of capitalist ascendancy, which have caused the ongoing desecration of the earth.
The classic pattern of cancer mutation and spread can be seen through the ongoing destruction of the planet’s vital organs: water, soil, air and biodiversity.
It is said that if all insects on earth were wiped out, humans would cease to exist within 25 years. If all humans vanished, all other life forms would once again thrive.
In many pre-capitalist societies and natural systems, resources and final products are interlinked. Organic matter circulates, being re-used constantly. There are no garbage dumps of unusable matter in nature.
Mother Nature provides many renewable energy sources, such as sunlight, water and wind. But, many of the world’s largest corporations choose to ignore these resources, because they depend heavily on burning fossil fuels for profit. Such destructive processes cannot continue for long without destroying the host body.
Military weapons are among the leading manufactured goods traded globally. So are cigarettes, junk food, carcinogenic chemicals, greenhouse gases and many other goods that are lethal for mankind.
The uncontrolled spread of global capitalism not only threatens the environment; it also threatens another pillar of modern civilisation: democracy.
A major step in the diagnosis of capitalism as a cancer is that in all cancerous pathologies, a living organism’s immune system fails to recognise the tumor. The media, universities, and governments do not recognise the destructive capitalist system’s malignant growth, but actively collaborate with it.
Governments in democratic systems are supposed to defend the environment from the excesses of capitalism. The problem is that capitalism has infected democracy, such that governments put the interests of profit before the environment. Capitalist democracy inevitably leads to a dictatorship of capital.
While the US political system remains democratic in form, because freedom of speech and association are preserved and elections are free; in essence, it is becoming a plutocracy. After all, can a nation be credibly called a democracy if it requires a candidate to raise $1 billion in campaign funds from corporations and Wall Street speculators?
During the 1800s, governments would hang speculators. Nowadays, speculators take the form of Wall Street bankers who own governments. Wall Street regulates Congress, not the other way around. In the early 1800s, Thomas Jefferson prophetically remarked, “the end of democracy and the defeat of the American Revolution will occur when government falls into the hands of lending institutions and moneyed incorporations”.
The rich finance the political candidates who protect their interests. Money becomes speech, silencing the poor. Campaign contributions become votes; thus, the poor are politically marginalised.
A civilisation can be judged by how it treats its poorest members. Capitalism cuts public services that serve as immune systems to protect the poor, whilst increasing privatisation, which only benefits the rich. Private jets, private health care, private schools, private prisons, and private security. Then we wonder why our elite politicians cut public services?
Profit maximisation is the fundamental principle of capitalism. Profit, however, is indifferent to human suffering. In fact, profit is committed at every stage of its growth to the direct multiplication of itself. The similarities with a carcinogen are starkly evident.
With all that said, the poison serves as its antidote: all devouring capitalism will eventually devour itself. However, capitalism will be the dominant system for years to come because it appeals to Man’s worst qualities. The only question is whether civilisation can survive capitalism?
Garikai Chengu is a Zimbabwean academic. He is a fellow of the Du Bois Institute for African Research at Harvard University. He can be contacted at [email protected] Chengu will, from today write for Chronicle and his column would be out every Thursday.