Serpent of Capitalism... or Human Nature?
An interesting exhibition that I have been able to see this summer has been the work of the artists Walker & Bromwich entitled “The Serpent of Capitalism”.
The work is a large snake made of black fabric with the word “Capitalism” marked on its back, and it is kept upright thanks to a fan that constantly inflates it.
The work attempts to use the mythological symbology of the serpent (Adam and Eve, Australian aborigines, German Nordics…) which represents the destruction and rebirth of the world. Anarchism used the same symbol in propaganda at the beginning of the last century to represent how the snake strangles the world and workers until they suffocate.
The meaning of this work of art
But the authors’ most important message is that the Serpent of Capitalism is sustained only by being continuously inflated: a belief system that sustains it – thin air.
As soon as this belief system disappears, capitalism will no longer stand and will fall under its own weight.
Although the criticism and symbolism of the authors is good, my impression is that capitalism is easily criticized by many artists (and some intellectuals) as a perverse system based on artificially maintaining beliefs in the majority of the population.
The question arises: Is not any system an ordered set of beliefs among a group of people so that it remains standing?
According to anthropologists, when humans began to have communities of more than 500 people (where it was already impossible to maintain non-explicit norms of behavior supervised by the entire community), religions were created to keep the community united with explicit morality.
Any religion (and its descriptive morality) is nothing more or less than a set of beliefs that maintains social cohesion as long as the group trusts said system and order.
The same goes for communism, socialism, anarchism, Nazism, or any other political form. The system is maintained thanks to a thin air, as long as the group or community believes in said order. Money is also a belief system.
In reality, in today’s societies where there is such a high level of interdependence between thousands of individuals, any system (economic, social or political) is sustained thanks to a system of beliefs.
Anyone who wants to create an idyllic order (said comunism), as it was in our origins, will have then to create an isolated community of less than 500 people (or perhaps less than 150 according to anthropologist Robin Dunbar), so that they do not have to create a belief system. Something to my understanding, quite difficult in current times.
Human Nature in 21st Century Capitalism
What surprises me is that behind the political idealism of anti-capitalist movements there is the belief that human nature is perverted by the capitalist system. Human beings are kind until selfishness, greed and alienation from the community flourishes – capitalism corrupts them.
In fact, they have the same belief base as those who support uncensored capitalism – men are selfish and greedy, and we have to live with it.
Neither of them considers that in the capitalism of the 21st century, where capital is human creativity and the means of production is the motivation and alingment of teams of people around a project, this vision of the human being as being essentially egocentric is impossible.
Any company today knows that its greatest asset (= capital) is the human team that forms it. If it is not motivated and aligned with the purpose and values of the company, the business will not be able to survive in a competitive environment.
Going back to the origins
In reality, today’s companies may have a certain similarity to the tribes of yesteryear – an order in which a series of behaviors and values are allowed and others are not for the coexistence and development of said community.
Today is less and less necessary to create explicit and detailed regulations and manuals of what has to be done. A few values and a clear purpose pave the way for cooperation, altruism, and the natural goodness of the individuals that make up an organization.
If we have managed to survive as a species, it has not been thanks to our selfishness, but because the chemistry of our brain makes us especially cooperative:
– Our inner desire to be part of a group (oxytocin and serotonin).
– Participate in it to achieve goals (dopamine).
– Feeling that we are valued in the group (serotonin).
These 3 neurotransmitters – oxytocin, serotonin, and dopamine – are essential for our happiness and well-being. We are able to survive thanks to them.
Selfishness is based on fear, which secretes the well-known cortisol. Our species would not have survived based on fear of the other. Our ancestors would have been all neurotics (like many of us are today), and as consequence, our species would have long disappeared from mother Earth.
Cooperation always triumphs over selfishness in our most elemental Human Nature.
The next time someone tells you that capitalism brings out the worst in us, challenge them with their belief system.