Arguments for capitalism, refuted (part 16: capitalism and fascism, part 1)

Racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia, anti-Semitism, and Islamophobia are poisons that originated and have developed over the course of history. They’re always around, alas, but they are shaped by political and economic conditions: they increase in strength and prevalence during the economic recessions and depressions which are par for the course under capitalism, when anxiety, rage, and fear are most prevalent and far-right politicians who legitimize hatred proliferate like toadstools on rotted logs after a rainstorm.

Under “normal” circumstances, capitalists are able to use various mechanisms (ranging from sham elections between corporate-controlled candidates to dreaming up new and ever more dangerous financial instruments to enslaving people through debt to old-fashioned state violence) to suppress the masses’ unhappiness and make capitalism seem stable (although capitalism is an inherently unstable system because the principle of profit maximization demands constant expansion). But when the economy goes into crisis (as is “natural” for capitalist markets), these mechanisms begin to fail, and people’s fury at being deprived of a decent life when the rich gorge themselves can no longer be ignored.

Under “normal” circumstances, capitalism, coupled with the ideologies of white supremacy, male chauvinism, and heteronormativity, promotes a mentality that champions money, power, strength, beauty, technology, spectacle, and (a very narrow, stupid version of) efficiency. It privileges symbols over substance, images over reality, circuses and horse-races over serious politics, suits and ties and briefcases over normal clothing. It idealizes capitalists, mostly white men, and celebrities. Capitalism indoctrinates people to measure value by wealth and to try (vainly) to satisfy their psychological needs through consumerism. It encourages self-expression, but only for a narrow band of privileged people. Everyone else is to conform to the fashion standards, patterns of thought, and values set by the powerful.

Capitalism marginalizes anyone who doesn’t conform to its ideal image of the virile white, straight, Christian billionaire businessman: the poor, the homeless, the disabled, women, minorities, anyone who doesn’t abide by bourgeois fashion standards or meet bourgeois beauty standards. The marginalized often internalize the loathing and hatred that the system directs their way; this creates resentment and rage, which simmer and slowly come to a boil. All of this is fascism in embryonic form.

Anger and disenchantment with the status quo aren’t immediately political. They are moods that can be harnessed to good political ends (uniting the people around genuine economic justice, a la Bernie Sanders) or to evil ends (stoking hate, scapegoating the wrong people, and making phony promises, a la Donald Trump). Under “normal” circumstances, the masses are denied representation by the capitalist elite and knuckle under. All of the emergencies that people face regularly under “business as usual” don’t get expressed or redressed. But when the masses are “mad as hell and not going to take it any more” (Network-style), they no longer accept being shunted aside.

In a culture that is so thoroughly saturated with fascist values, in a culture where some considerable portion of the masses are filled with self-loathing because of all of the messages capitalist society sends them about their self-worth, in a country where many people think they’re just “temporarily embarrassed millionaires,” as John Steinbeck put it, this is the perfect recipe for fascism. But provided that people’s smoldering rage is channeled in the right direction, it could also be a recipe for democratic socialism. What determines which path a country takes? Why do I think fascism and capitalism are two sides of the same coin? How exactly are fascism and capitalism connected? And what relevance does this have for the present? Join me tomorrow and find out.

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