It started with an odd capitalism vs co-op vlogger post
There I was, on some social media outlet, thumbing through content. Can’t find it now. . . but there was this guy ranting on capitalism. His comparison was something like:
A company with 100 employees buys a new machine which doubles production
And after this 30 second rant, the guy stands there, confidently stating “capitalism is the problem”!
My reaction distilled to a meme
My reaction as text
First of all, I am not kidding. Here is a document from the Marxist Archives where they call out co-operatives as an agent to establish the proletariat and overcome the “capitalist terror.” As I have written elsewhere, all “isms” can create their own form of terror, but I certainly have little faith that the communist engine will fix the woes of capitalism. Been there. done that. They gave me the t-shirt “for free” and then said I couldn’t leave until my indentured servitude to the party was fulfilled. When I asked how long that would take, they replied, “Welcome to the Hotel California.”
History repeats itself
Just like bell bottoms and big hair, there are other, more dangerous parts of our history which can repeat themselves if we allow and enable them to do so. The claim “a co-operative will cut the workday in half” is great marketing, but there is just not enough context in the video to back either the problem nor the solution it advertises. Although I personally believe in a future where the idea of a “work day” is completely different than today’s version, that thought is the easy part. It’s easy to stand there and say that “co-ops will cut the work day in half and capitalism is the root of all evil.” Easy! But capitalism, socialism and communism have a long list of real-world case studies which show their challenges. For example, I have postured (quite un-originally!) that capitalism’s current lack of anti-trust and shelving of intellectual property has both reduced free market competition and slowed our innovation. I know capitalism is not perfect, but I believe siding with this video is just going to result in an unwanted flavor of history repeating itself.
Ironically, the “repeat” I am talking about is less about taking communism for another spin and more about how the decision of “isms” gets made and enforced. We shouldn’t be using emotional social media as the only mechanism for our decision making here – viral activism, and the mob mentality it generates, can be as dangerous as the problems it purports to solve. We see the results of this type of campaigning every day. It repeats in social media so often, people have names for the response trends (flash, rollercoaster, sleeper, etc) and influencers use their analysis to better position their content. Driving engagement on whatever message they are promoting.
Viral activism leaves the details of implementation out of the debate. People SCREAMCASE, name call, finger point, and then it’s all hearts and smiley emoji when they “win.” But there was little to no backing research. Just a 30 second video, and out folks stroll into cyberland with their virtual torches and pitchforks. Who knows, even when they achieve a “victory” if the details behind the scenes will actually work in their favor at all.
Most systems can and will be exploited
Even though I myself have contemplated alternatives to capitalism (such as “sustainabilism“), the question I ask, and this person making the video should ask is, “How will my plucky humans exploit my idea to their advantage?” Maybe this vlogger has considered the exploits – if so, I would be interested in hearing more about those details, because exploitation is the cornerstone of our greatest systems: I believe every governance system that has been put in place by humans to date has — if not initially, then eventually — been exploited to subjugate the many and benefit a protected few. The reason capitalism has been so successful is that it allows a broader level of opportunity. People can rise from nothing and become rich. They have a shot at their dream. It’s not an equitable shot, by far, but it’s at least something. How does a co-operative give its dreamers that opportunity? If a resurgence of communism is supposedly the answer, let’s hear about how it will protect DEI and stave off those exploits that give rise to our huge socioeconomic inequities?
Give people access to mature context
This phrase sounded like a good idea, but now I keep giggling about it like a four-year-old who just learned the “pull my finger” joke. Oh well, if we can’t laugh about ourselves, why are we here? Anyway, back to the post at hand. . .
Long ago, I was tasked to give a speech on defense spending. I was absolutely certain that defense spending was causing our national debt to explode (pun intended). During the course of my research, the narrative of my speech got flipped 180 degrees. At the time, it wasn’t defense spending ballooning our national debt. It was social spending. My take away from that experience: being right was not nearly as important as being informed. That’s why they say “information is power,” because being righteous is easy, and as my mother always reminded me, “Anger is always righteous.” Ergo, an angry, uninformed mob truly believes they are doing the right thing! That’s the scary truth.
Therefore, I have two calls to action here for all those would-be influencers out there:
- If you are going to post a clip or blurb, using your influence on an issue of substance (“I love this eye shadow”, probably doesn’t need to be held to this standard), where you are pushing for a particular decision or outcome, give people a place to go where they can access the backing context. It’s 2023, put a little URL at the bottom of your video, put a link in the social media post. Easy.
- Wherever that URL goes, make sure people get “mature context.” Maybe I will write more on that, but visitors shouldn’t be hitting a landing page or squeeze page. They should be hitting a research-driven or rationality-driven page which informs them about the alternatives and attempts some level of less-biased comparison. The content will likely be biased, but we are not trying to force cattle through a chute – I mean influencers are indeed trying to herd cattle through a chute and I am asking them to step up and do something better. We want people to be treated with respect, given mature context and enabled to make a decision based on the best information available.
Whether or not people read the backing info or not is on them, but the information superhighway shines best when people can use it to find credible research and make informed decisions. In other words, a mature, contextual internet is better than an SEO, influencer internet.
Photo by Vladislav Reshetnyak