The Business of America

The business of America, as they say, is business. Politics, like education and even medicine, has become business. Indeed, there is scarcely any activity we can think of that has not been transformed into business, including sports. In education, we are now told to do what is best for our “clients,” and that translates into giving them what they want and not what they need — and making it profitable. Medicine has huge billboards and runs countless advertisements on the television selling their latest product or service to their patients. Businessmen, successful or not, are elected to high public office. And sports, well, we know about sports: even at the collegiate level they have become commodified. We have known for years that this was coming, but we were not quite expecting what has occurred.

So much of what is going on results from our collective attitude to the earth which we regard with indifference (contempt?) and threaten to destroy in our rush to garner greater and greater wealth and bigger and bigger profits. Let me explain — with the help of my friend Robert Heilbroner, author of The Nature and Logic of Capitalism. He points out that we need to ponder what he calls “the bourgeois attitude toward nature.”

“[In contrast with our bourgeois attitude] one aspect of the culture of most past civilizations strikes everyone who examines these extraordinarily diverse societies. This is their sacred view of the world. Whether in China or India, Greece or Rome, the Americas or Africa, the earth is seen by earlier civilizations as peopled with spirits and living presences, suffused with an animism that inhabits every rock as well as every living thing.”

This attitude cannot be found in the Judeo-Christian religion, however,

“which from Genesis on bids man to seize and shape, appropriate and subdue nature for human purposes alone.”

This attitude has come to permeate the thinking of much of the West and has given impetus to the tremendous success of the capitalistic system of economics which has given Western (and recently Eastern) people so much they can be proud of: a diverse culture, extraordinary creativity both in the arts and in science, longer and healthier lives, and wealth beyond rubies. But it has come at a price, because our attitude toward the earth threatens to bring down the entire edifice around our ears and bring suffering to millions of people as never before in human history. As Heilbroner goes onto point out, this attitude

lies rather in the function played by its deepest conception — an indifferent and inert matter as the ultimate stuff of reality. [The earth is no longer our Mother. It does not live. As we are taught by science and technology, it is simply there for the taking.] It thus provides a world view compatible with, and needed by, that required for the limitless invasion of the world for the purpose of surplus accumulation [i.e, profit]. . . . . Capitalism requires and engenders a belief in the indifference of ‘nature’ to the operations performed on it my man, a point of view epitomized by the scientific outlook. The culture of capitalism thus expresses a voracious, even rapacious, attitude toward a material world — a point of view that would be impossible if the world were portrayed as “mother” Nature. The ideological function of science is to delegitimize this animistic view, replacing it with the much more powerful view of nature as object, the obedient servant and uncomplaining treasury of man.”

To begin with, as I have noted in previous discussions on this topic, it is part of the nature of capitalism that it has no intrinsic moral dimension. Capitalism, is a-moral, at the very least.  Moreover, many of those in business who rely on science to assist them in taking from the earth as much plunder as they can would deny science in the form of the predictions of climate change which would thwart their desires and curtail their avarice. They lean heavily on the scientific attitude that the earth is inert and there for the taking — “obedient servant and uncomplaining treasury of man.” But they ignore its dire warnings that there is a price to be paid. They fly about the world making money; rely on computer models to tell them the latest stock predictions — not to mention the weather; they plant and harvest crops based on the latest information provided them by agricultural science. They quantify everything and rely heavily on calculations and predictions that depend, in turn, on scientific evidence. When it is useful science is leaned on heavily, but when it tells them to beware they refuse to listen.

It is not surprising, however, that an economy like ours would ignore warnings about climate change since such a thing cannot be fathomed by those who think in terms of profit and loss and who see the world as something to be exploited and to render up its treasure to them and to no one else. So we should not be surprised when those in Congress and the White House, so heavily dependent on the business community for their jobs, ignore the warnings about climate change and insist that it is a Chinese plot to destroy the American economy. They find it more comforting to keep their collective heads buried in the sand than to admit that it might be wise to proceed with caution. After all it’s only the earth and it’s there to plunder and exploit. It’s not our Mother, it is simply inert and lifeless. Or it soon will be.

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15 thoughts on “The Business of America

  1. What surprises me is that even if the global warming is ‘a hoax’ – people should still respect our planet and try to be good stewards, as the resources are dwindling. They ones who are huffy and defensive just don’t want to alter their habits…. and yes, many times it’s about the money…

    • I honestly believe those you describe simply do not care at all — assuming that they are even aware there is a problem. They are caught up in the making of money: it’s like an addiction.

  2. I wonder if one day we will all wake up and say “What have we done?” And it will be too late to change the course. Perhaps it is already too late, but I don’t think so. It rather reminds me of a child who does not take proper care of his toys, knowing that there will always be new toys … until one day there aren’t. Meanwhile, we keep using technology to create ever more ‘toys’ with which to bring about further destruction of earth and its inhabitants. It would be naive to think we will ever suddenly have an epiphany and change our ways, but I am encouraged a bit that at least some people are seeing the light. Sadly, those people are not in the current administration. Very good, thoughtful post, Hugh … thanks!

  3. Hugh, business is full of contradictions. This a key reason I try to disarm folks saying I am a capitalist and a tree hugger. Environmentalism need not be at odds with capitalism. The fastest growing energy jobs are in renewable energy, yet out politicians in the pockets of fossil fuel executives don’t want you to know. Doing the right thing can be profitable. This was a key tenet of the book about the most profitable companies in “Built to Last.” Keith

      • Hugh, that is quite true. At Sierra Club meetings, you would find a number of Republicans in the past, but the numbers have waned. Keith

  4. We could learn so much from those early animistic cultures. It is a sad fact that the dominant religions in the world have forgotten that everything living (and static, like rocks) has its own signature energy vibration. They have also forgotten that our energy (all things), affects the energy of everything else around us. It is called ‘symbiosis.’ Those early cultures held the secrets of life…and we have destroyed them as ‘simplistic idiocy.’ It is us who are the ‘idiots.’

  5. We like to interpret the world around us with an infant like knowledge that base. Each generation dies taking the little that is learned with it. The new generations are not in tune with that knowledge which I believe is still present through gene expression (‘100th Monkey Principle’ and all that…). We are doomed to failure if we don’t learn.

    • If we do leave our knowledge behind in our genes then future generations need to turn away from their electronic toys and look around. Those memories will not return unless they are attended to! But history suggests that generations do not learn much from their predecessors, sad to say.

      • Sadly true, or if they do, they somehow ignore it in a mis-spent youth… I sure as heck did. Now I’m old, I see everything with different eyes. When we are young, we are invincible, and when we are old, we are expendable. What a horrible society we have created!

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