Does Capitalism Make Us Crazy? | Susan Rosenthal, MD


From Susan Rosenthal, MD: “For capitalists to accumulate capital, they must deny ordinary people any meaningful control over their work, their lives, or the direction of society. It’s a huge challenge to trap a highly social species in such a dehumanizing social arrangement. Capitalists must block workers from taking collective control, insist that their suffering is their own fault, promote ineffective solutions, and treat all protest as criminal or pathological.

Force alone is insufficient. Workers vastly outnumber capitalists, are intelligent problem-solvers, and run the machinery of society. They must be systematically bamboozled into resigning themselves to capitalist rule. Psychology serves to solicit and police this resignation with the message, ‘Accept what is, and we will help you build a bubble in which you can function.’

Denied the information, tools, and social power to actually secure our safety, psychology directs us to build imaginary bubbles that give us the illusion of safety. Individual bubbles confirm our belief that we can only count on ourselves. Friend, family, and group bubbles form around shared interests or activities. While these bubbles provide a sense of connection and shared reality, they are fragile and easily ruptured. Under the strain of this pandemic, more people are losing their jobs and homes, relationships are breaking down, and murder rates and drug-related deaths are at record highs.

. . . For hundreds of thousands of years, our ancestors relied on strong social bonds to survive. Inequality ruptures social relationships, so hunter-gatherer societies were fiercely egalitarian. They would not tolerate boasting or arrogance. Their first line of defense was ridicule. If anyone acted superior, the rest of the group, and especially the elders, would ridicule that person until proper humility was shown.

In contrast, capitalists celebrate inequality as a sign of their success in extracting capital. The result is mass activation of the threat response.”

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  1. Good stuff, Bravo!!!

    But as I pick choice morsels of this article out from my teeth I find one or two do not dissolve.

    The article suggests that the mind is not an organ, it is a function.

    I dont know what my mind is. I dont know if it is a particle in my brain, or is a form of electricity interwoven so much inside my brain that it is my brain, or is a movie projected from vast distances across time and space like films are zapped by balletic satelites onto a television screen, to the extent there may be a difference between my mind and my brain, or whether mind, which is maybe consciousness, is something in my brain on a subatomic level that we lack scientific scope to see. My mind does get sick. Everyone elses mind may not. I often say that I am going out of my mind. And what do we mean by the word sick? And who gets to decide who is sick? And who gets to decide who cannot possibly be sick? A child may point to a knee to say he or she feels upset about not getting a helium baloon. A child may point to a helium baloon and say it is terrible because their knee is bruised. Externals get blamed for our feeling sick. Bits of our body get blamed for our feeling sick. It is each persons free choice to tell others how sick they themselves feel and which parts of their body or brain or mind or external environment feels sick to them uniquely.

    Scientists have not any clue what my mind is. They cannot tell me where it is. Is it here in my brain or in my knee or in a helium baloon or beaming to me from a vast distance away through the pillowy fabric of spacetime?

    I dont want to be in any society that insists on telling me what my mind is and where it is and where it is not. That’s my job! As the owner of my very own mind I get to enjoy the perk of announcing to friends and family that indeed I do have a mind, though not all of the time, and that it runs circles around me like a dizzy ferret and that sometimes it becomes my brain and sometimes it does not.

    Even Einstein could not figure out what the mind is. So if you cannot figure out what something is, can you say with certainty where it begins and ends, or where it is located or embedded? Some people read minds. Does that mean their mind is like a fizzy headache pill errupting in a glass of water with someone elses fizzy headache pill, or mind? And in such as way as by merging in a froth the two minds become one mind? Maybe if minds can dilute and merge together my mind is often in your mind. Maybe it is capitalist to think one’s own mind is like a little palace with a lock and key. But it would be unpleasant to think one’s mind “had to” merge with group consciousness.

    The article suggests that hundreds of thousands of years ago there were strong social bonds. This reminds me of a book by an author who mooted that Art was started by people with schizophrenia. Cave art would have needed an isolationist to trudge away from the chattering camp and pick up a clod of earth to paint what other minds could only glaze over in awe at. Cave art, the bisons and gazelles, was a retreat started by the lonely marginalized schizophrenic individual, probably with a mind grown weary of talk. That was the author’s theory.

    As a former professional archaeologist, at one point in my life, I suspect my archaological colleagues would be for saying that the notion that early societies were egalitarian is not accurate for many of those hundreds of thousands of years. I think “society” is the last thing you want if egalitarianism is what you seek. Rigid structures like “a society” go against an individual’s freedom of choice. We build society to protect the vulnerable but that society then becomes a power that feeds off the vulnerable. But we must ask why was anyone vulnerable in the first place? Such that “a society” needed built up. It will have been because one or two members in a small tribe became bullies. So what starts the apparent necessity for “a society” is a bunch of bullies not being dealt with.

    The article suggests that the elders way back in the mists of time would not tolerate arrogance and boasting. This arrogance and boasting is different to actual destructive bullying that directly harms another, as in bruising them. Arrogance and boasting are as much an individual’s free choice as meekness and modesty are free choices. Just because a person is arrogant or boastful does not mean they should be locked up. See the documentaries of tribes in Namibia. The women are outstandingly and healingly proud and boastful, and the men are sumptuously arrogant. Humans loving themselves and peacock stutting is natural. As natural as a lion or a bird of paradise is arrogant and boastful. Arrogance and boasting do not equate to actual bullying. As for the notion that elders ridicule and humilate. I just do not see why a tribes person, elder or not, would come over “the factory boss” and bother wasting a vital day, a day of good light that could be enjoyed hunting and gathering. Why would such a hunter and gatherer waste a moment on ridiculing and humiliating some other person’s free choice to have the distinctly “different” unique characteristics they choose to have. The article seems to be superimposing a western neutotic, over focus on “the personality” onto ancient untainted humans. It is “the personality” that experiences ridicule and humiliation mostly. The leg doesn’t. The arm doesn’t. But from anthropological and archaeological understanding much of westen personality is in fact the enshrining of ego. Ego can be exhaulted. Ego can be demolished. But many tribes such as live close to nature swap bothering with the encumerance of ego and personality and instead wed to nature and become part of nature. That is not the same thing as becoming part of “society”. Nature is not “society”. Nature is a lot more tolerant of who you intrinsically are. Nature is a better bride or groom than “society”. If you visited and tried to ridicule a person in a tribe they would mostly not know what you were trying to wound about them nor why. They would most likely find your intellectual attempt to floor their “ego” a complete waste of time, and weird.

    There is only one area where most ancient tribes do put a limit on others in the tribe and that is in banning child abuse.

    The article goes on to suggest that psychology has been extracting the individual from society. Does this imply that the individual therefore…
    “has to”….
    be part of “society”? What if the individual wants to be left alone to do lovely cave paintings? What if the individual despises that behemoth called “society”? When a newborn is pushed out into the start of its life journey does it get told, or perish the thought even ordered, to be not its own unique one of a kind self but “a society”?

    The article seems to suggest also that only the poor suffer from hyper arousal and heart attacks. The body is not the monopoly of one sort of human being. The body is just as susceptible to impairment in all other sorts of human beings. All humans suffer hyperarousal and panic and depression and heart attacks, even surgeons who are filthy rich. Indeed such careers predispose to suicide and alcoholism. The body does not belong to the poor. The body does not belong to the rich. The body does not belong to the politically left or right. The body does not belong to the this sector of the population or that sector. The body is your body. Nobody else has your body. The body is something unique to each owner of their own body. The body, as an emotive symbol often debated over, is for all eight and a half billion human beings.

    Otherwise, the article is a peach.

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  2. This appears to be a diatribe typical of socialist or communist ideology.

    If you borrow ten bucks to make a pitcher of lemonade, you are in some sense a “capitalist.” The word has been tossed around until it is nearly meaningless.

    This woman appears to be complaining about psychopathic executives, of which there are far too many. They exist in businesses, in the professions, and in government. They exist in democracies, in socialist countries, and in communist countries. They are the scourge of this earth, and in fact, of this universe. And you will never get rid of them by raving about “capitalism!”

    Psychology has served many masters. Many of those stories live in ignominy. To handle these mistakes we must do more than rave. There is much to learn, both in thinking and in doing.

    Do we really want to go back to living like “our ancestors?” Could we? The modern world requires organizations, and organizations require hierarchies. I have lived in one where all were paid the same, so I know it is not impossible to humanize modern society. I just know that it has rarely succeeded. Great wisdom is needed to make that really happen.

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    • Our ancestors had much better lives than we do, what’s not to want to go back to? They had everything we want, except all the “stuff” we produce that’s clogging up & destroying the Earth & not making us happy anyway. I recommend reading John Zerzan’s anti-civilization writings (e.g. Running on Emptiness: The Pathology of Civilization) or, for an easier start, In the Absence of the Sacred: The Failure of Technology and the Survival of the Indian Nations by Jerry Mander. That hunter-gatherers had worse lives and we have better ones now is one of the main myths/bits of brainwashing that keeps the pathology of our society churning away.

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      • You are welcome to return to that way of life if that’s what you really want. But I do want to point out that the indigenous peoples have not been able to fend off the incursion of a techno-space society onto their planet, which indicates there could be a chink in their armor.

        We need to be realistic here. People like techno-space societies because that is what they are used to. It is possible we can re-imagine this one to be much more humane than past ones have been. But if we don’t learn to play this game well, we will become enslaved by it. I am quite certain of that. Nothing we can do can change that now. The planet could have 1/2 a billion people on it and be clean as a baby’s butt, and we’d still have to deal with the techno-space problem; it is all around us.

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