II. Indirect Negative Consequences
Effects of consumer culture on the environment
There is no inherent mechanism in capitalism that ensures environmental sustainability. In fact it is the opposite: if there is high demand for a certain resource, it is often shamelessly exploited in order to meet the demand and make as much profit as possible. There is no mechanism that prevents wastage of material resources – it is more profitable to manufacture something that needs to be replaced in 1 year than something that will last 100 years – even though this can create huge amounts of waste.
Every day, we humans continue to pour chemical waste into rivers and canals, dump electronic waste into landfills, and release high amounts of CO2 and other pollutants into the air. The vegetables and fruits we eat have been genetically modified to withstand the harsh synthetic fertilizers, insecticides and pesticides we spray on them, killing off valuable plant and soil life in the process. Entire forests and mountains have been wiped clean off the map in the endeavour to meet the unrealistic demand for resources. Virtually all mass-produced products and foods are packaged in plastic, which inevitably end up in landfills or the ocean.
Are we doing this because we are deeply evil, and trying to destroy the ecosystem? No. All of these practices can be attributed to the financial gain they bring to the individual organizations responsible.
The more you realize that Earth itself is a closed system, the more insane it seems that we have become dependent on the increasing usage of finite resources such as oil, and are polluting the planet with non-biodegradable waste such as plastic. This is like using your own furniture as burning material for your fireplace, and storing all your trash in a room in your house. Eventually, there will be no more furniture left for you to sit on, and your house will overflow with garbage. This unsustainable model is held in place by the monetary system’s pressure to expand, and the “black spots” in the consumer’s consciousness created by our imaginary absolution of responsibility through payment:
- We don’t have to think about where our food, our energy, our products, or our water comes from- because we paid for it!
- We don’t have to think about where our food waste, water waste, human waste, and our product waste goes- because we paid for it!
Every material we use must be sourced responsibly, if we want our species to survive. This is common sense, but unfortunately, the rules of capitalism do not factor moderation and responsibility into the equation- often the most reckless and unsustainable behavior creates the most profit. The oceans are being overfished, hundreds of species are dying out because of the destruction of rain forests, and mountaintop removal causes devastating problems in the surrounding ecology and human health.
Instead of demonizing and punishing the individuals who cause environmental destruction for monetary reasons, and then just naively hope that no one else will ever want to make a lot of money again, it makes a lot more sense to remove the mechanism that connects “destroying the environment” to “making a lot of money”. The environment is far too important to leave it up to the good faith of whomever is in charge.
Until we collectively decide that money has no value, I predict that humans will continue to destroy forests, coral reefs, mountaintops, and pollute the ocean, and the air.
Industrialization of our food supply
The industrialization of our food supply has had many disastrous consequences for our health and the environment. Firstly, the pressures of capitalism are exerted on the companies that produce food; costs are cut wherever possible, and profit is maximized. Since the health of the consumer and the health of the environment don’t lead to profit, they are left out of the equation. Food is turned into a product like any other; individual companies are in fierce competition with each other, market niches are sought to be dominated, and high demand is met with industrial expansion, with no regard for environmental sustainability of the resource.
Industrial farmers must look at growing a crop like an investment; a mathematical equation they must design in order to produce the most profit. All they need for their business plan is that one crop – so they isolate it! They kill off all the other plants, weeds, bugs, worms, animals, microorganisms, birds, trees, until the only thing left is bare, lifeless soil, and one type of bell pepper, genetically modified to be as large and resilient as possible, duplicated endlessly on mathematically exact rows. Of course, the bell pepper was never meant to grow in these conditions, so the industrial farmers have to use chemical fertilizer, chemical pesticides, and chemical herbicides to compensate, causing health problems in humans and the environment along the way.
Packaged foods suffer from the denaturation processes that occur in order to increase shelf-life and artificially enhance flavor. Large quantities of sugar are added to most packaged products in order to compete with the flavor of other companies’ products, and ultimately to make the consumer addicted to the taste. The growing epidemic of diabetes and obesity in children does not deter companies from further marketing these sugary products. Huge quantities of non-biodegradable plastic film are produced every day to make transparent packaging for food – the motivation here being that plastic is cheap, seals well, and also makes the product more attractive to the customer. Neither the hormonal impact of phthalates on humans nor the environmental devastation caused by non-biodegradable plastics in the ocean are considered the company‘s responsibility.
In companies that sell animal products, the resulting food factories are similarly designed for low-cost, high yield operations. Neither the dignity nor the well-being of the animal are factored into the mathematical calculation of profit, so they are not given much consideration. Milk cows are given no place to move- instead they are confined to a small cage, where they remain attached to tubes for most of their lives, occasionally being artificially inseminated and giving birth to calves which are immediately torn away from them. Most factory farm animals are kept indoors in the most filthy conditions, and fed food that is barely healthy enough to keep them alive; antibiotics and hormones are commonplace. In chicken egg factories, newly hatched male chicks are sorted out and killed simply because the company has no use for them. It is cheaper to kill them right away than to provide food and space for them to live.
Again, either you hear these things and conclude we are simply an evil, misguided species that routinely does abhorrent things – or you conclude that each one of these concepts comes from a monetary motivation, and is only put into action through our obedience to the monetary system. I prefer to believe the latter, because it means there is hope we could change.
There is an unfortunate lack of consciousness about where our food comes from. From the viewpoint of a consumer, everything in the store looks pristine and tasty, having been precisely marketed to our psychology. When we see the printed image of a lush, green field with some cows on it, subconsciously our concerns about animal welfare are assuaged. Prominently placed claims of “naturalness” and “freshness”, no matter how baseless, can give us the impression that the cookies and chips we are buying are part of a healthy diet. The overwhelming convenience of the store experience, stemming from the prevalent “the customer is always right” attitude, thrusts us back into the position of a greedy child, where the only factors are how badly we want something, and how much money is in our pockets.
A drain on human resources
There are many thousands of jobs entirely dedicated to the administration of money and taxes, which in a moneyless society would become obsolete immediately. These jobs form a self-serving machine: one which does not in any way directly benefit real things, real humans, or the planet. Much like planned obsolescence, it is, from an outsider’s perspective, an utterly pointless exercise. Abolishing these occupations would liberate a large portion of humans to do other, more meaningful tasks. In a moneyless society, the entire branch of finance, business, and marketing would cease to exist, and free up a large amount of human time, energy, creativity, and patience.
Financial obligations are felt by everyone. Deadlines, debts, etc. are felt as a burning necessity: one‘s personal integrity, social standing, and even survival depend on them. We are brought up to believe that thinking about financial issues is especially serious and important, when in fact it is a distraction from real issues such as homelessness, hunger, and the destruction of the environment. The pressures of living in a monetary system are so great that it is very difficult to concern oneself with the welfare of other people, or large-scale environmental problems that endanger us all as a species. We are all swamped in immediate personal financial problems that blind us to these things. Removing the entire concern of money would shift our focus and attention to real life; allowing us to finally see the true consequences of our actions and take responsibility for them.
The effect on the school system
From a young age, schools start indoctrinating children into the reality of the working life they will likely face as adults. The school hours are getting longer and longer, and children’s free time has become almost non-existent. Strict discipline, graded tests, standardized curriculums, and no room for argument or interpretation, personal discovery, or creativity, breeds the perfect slave: a worker who does not question authority, is used to long hours and repetitive tasks, and never does anything unexpected.
Children that have received the same standardized education for 12 years cannot be expected to suddenly develop unique skills or discover new solutions and ideas. The majority of kids graduate high school having achieved vague academic knowledge in similar subjects. No wonder they leave with the feeling that they are “not good at anything”: without being allowed to drift and dabble in their own personal interest, free from external judgement or rules; without ever finding a skill they personally enjoy, discovering profound insights and deep satisfaction along the path to mastery. This leaves the kids with a lack of feeling of identity, perfectly preparing them for submission into an anonymous, slave-like job.
Marketing, competition, & secrecy
Living in a free market requires us to aggressively self-market ourselves in order to compete. In the presence of several competitors, we have no other choice but to pour much time and energy into marketing and PR. So anything from a massage session, to a music CD, or a table, or a book about dieting, requires an evangelical sensationalist marketing scheme to attract attention and generate enough income! Not everyone’s musical taste is the same, and not every diet works for everyone, etc. But in this climate, you must always act as if the product is objectively the greatest thing in the world if you want to sell anything. By encouraging this self-aggrandizing behaviour, the nobler codex of being humble about yourself and complimenting others is suppressed. Only the least modest and generous will succeed in this system, slowly weeding out anyone who acts otherwise.
Since marketing and commercials have become so sophisticated, it has become impossible to trust any health advice that is written on the internet, in public media, or even on pamphlets in doctor’s offices. One is always aware that the alterior motive of making money is lurking beneath the surface. We have lost the free exchange of ideas and discoveries, because it is far more profitable to exploit an idea for money. Any discovery will first be kept secret in order to hide it from “competitors”, and then “sold” using a marketing scheme that convinces people to pay ridiculous prices to hear that “secret”. Then customers continue to keep that secret from other consumers because they want to uphold the justification for them having paid to hear it in the first place. When applied to health, science, and technology innovations, I believe progress is significantly slowed through this mechanism.
Social disconnection, anonymity, & insignificance
As a result of the scramble to secure one‘s own survival, we become rivals and competitors instead of collaborators and friends. Our false assumption that we owe our survival to companies who supply our food and water disconnects us from the respect and awe that nature deserves and requires from us. In lonely, administrative 9-to-5 desk jobs we lose our sense of meaning in a social group- we don‘t get to experience any positive effect our work may have had. Through the disconnection between the manufacturer and the user mentioned earlier, one develops the feeling of insignificance. We get the impression that “no one knows me, no one needs me“.
Since we primarily assign value through money, we believe that we ourselves can rise in value by acquiring more money and „things“. While we are hoarding our own possessions, we increasingly isolate ourselves out of fear of someone else stealing them. I believe that anonymity and isolation lead to more egotistical decisions, because if you don’t see yourself as part of a larger social web, you don’t include the needs of others into your own considerations. If you then add the existential fear caused by poverty into the mix; assault and robbery become completely understandable acts of desperation.
If you don’t have a tight-knit social web of friends and family, and an open, socially active community of people with whom you interact on a daily basis and hold you accountable for your actions, a kind of “free-for-all” opens up where each person becomes his own island with little to no attachments or responsibilities to anyone other than himself.
In our society, we tolerate the fact that fellow humans waste away on the streets, right in front of us. Our empathy has been blacked out so much that it is commonplace to not even make eye contact with homeless people. People are sometimes admonished by their friends or family if they wish to give money to the homeless, because they “cannot be trusted with it”. The fierce competition of the work environment, which does not factor in natural asymmetry, human decency, or common sense, eventually ejects certain individuals out of the system- and if they have no security net provided by friends or family, they can lose their homes and be left starving on the streets.
Corruption of virtually every field
Sickness caused by the drug industry. If you allow medicine to be governed by capitalistic rules, the effects on human health are disastrous. If the goal of a company is to cut costs, increase profit, establish a long-term market, and expand its capital, then these rules also naturally apply to a drug company. Easy, effective, long-lasting healing is not particularly profitable. If a company is making millions selling a mediocre drug, it is not likely to look for ways to get that product off the market by introducing a cheaper, healthier alternative. A completely healthy populace would make drug companies go out of business.
Prostitution. Because sex is something that is desired greatly, it follows that a lot of money can be made by “selling” it. This is the most obvious corruption of something that should be given freely, or not at all. The only reason it is possible for prostitution to exist is our mental willingness to exchange two completely unrelated things for each other and to quantify value in a mathematical, abstract way.
Corruption of politics. With enough money, you can blackmail a politician into changing his policy. This allows our governments to be controlled by the biggest financial interests, such as the oil, drug, and weapons industries.
Misleading marketing. With enough money, you can pay a marketing firm to roll out an extremely attractive marketing strategy for your product – including artwork, music, and a psychologically manipulative slogan. If your product happens to be unhealthy or hazardous to the environment, good marketing can gloss over that fact and mislead a large portion of the population (e.g. cigarettes, Coca-Cola).
Injury and death by guns. For gun manufacturers to increase sales, the public must be indoctrinated or scared into the belief that it is important to own a weapon. This can be done through clever marketing and political lobbying, despite it being obvious that the more guns are manufactured and bought, the more likely it is for gun accidents and deaths to occur.
Corruption of journalism. In the struggle to compete for viewers, news outlets become entertainment shows featuring slogans and music that are designed to manipulate the viewer‘s emotions. They also expand and compete like other companies, striving towards monopoly. Those who own private media companies have great power over the information citizens get to hear, the opinions they form, and the politicians they eventually vote for.
Mass Incarceration. Due to the high prevalence of privatized, for-profit prisons in America, there exists a financial incentive to put more people in prison. Because the income of these private prisons depends on a steady influx of prisoners, the corporations in charge of these prisons lobby the federal government in order to enforce legislation that increases incarceration.
Corruption of the justice system. With money having such great power, there is virtually nothing that acts above it; not even the law. Even if you outlaw bribery; you can still bribe the human in charge of deciding if it was bribery. People don’t automatically become superhuman arbiters of justice and truth once they are awarded a title or a badge. We remain human, susceptible to basic needs and psychological temptation like everyone else.
But doesn’t corruption and bribery exist even without money?
Of course. In a moneyless society, you could try to bribe a politician or a judge with your carpenting abilities or a guitar lesson – anything you actually have. But the existence of money with its abstraction of value makes it possible to offer something you don’t actually have. Money is the entitlement to potentially anything. It can be used to buy anything from land, to houses, to an obedient work force. That would be far more likely succeed in bribing someone, which is what makes money so dangerous.