capitali$m that unknown ideal (was Re: Obesity epidemic)

From: Scott Chase (
Date: Fri 02 Jul 2004 - 22:45:16 GMT

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      Chris Taylor wrote:
      Capitalism _is_ alive in the Lovelockian/Gaian sense (work with me here a bit) in that it alters its environment to further its own aims (in a completely unconcious way -- good old anthropomorphisisation shorthand). It is composed of lots of selfish memes in the Dawkinsian sense (I'm just Mr Neology today...) that have ended up 'cooperating' (i.e. not screwing each other up) in a thoroughly unconcious way. That's not to say people don't have lots of grubby little conspiracies etc. but they are like the cleaner wrasses / pick-a-parasite of the economic world. Nature red in tooth and claw -- capitalism is just another pattern replicating because it can, composed of lots of little ones replicating still, because they did before.

    Gene Doty then wrote:

    Your assertion of the "living" quality of capitalism reminds me of a book I read some years ago. It was written by a Dutch theologian, whose last name, I believe, was Berkhof, somewhere in the mid-20th c. I found out about it through the writings of the Mennonite scholar, John Yoder.

    Anyway, Berkhof argues that the "demons" that the New Testament talks about--the "powers-that-be"--are actually social structures like racism, classism, and so on. Your comment about capitalism suggests that these
    "demons" could be easily seen as memes. The memetic approach has several advantages, of course, not having any aura of supernaturalism or link to religious beliefs. I suspect that Yoder, at least, would have been receptive to the idea. If anyone is interested I can try to identify the Berkhof book and provide some info on Yoder. I was reading them back in the days when I was a left-wing evangelical Christian--a la Sojourners or _The_Other_Side_ magazine. That memeplex is dormant right now ;-)

    Scott's response to both Chris and Gene (BTW Hotmail has me all goofed up on replies so I'm cutting and pasting from another venue so please bear with me):

    First off I'm in the meme agnostic camp and can't quite bring myself to fully embrace the meme idea, so I'm cautious about ascribing any value to memetics as an approach to analyzing anything, literature, economic philosophies &c. Nonetheless, I'm trying to delve back into Ayn Rand's philosophical (don't laugh) system of Objectivi$m. She was a die hard capitalist and had an impact on popular culture. Given that Alan Green$pan (a former acolyte and member of Rand's Collective) has a thing or two to do with the economy these days, it might pay to dig deeply into the Objectivi$t mindset to see what ideological goodies are to be found and studied.

    I'm reading several books, including one by Rand acolyte Harry Bin$wanger called _The Biological Basis of Teleological Concepts_. He tries to address the vexing issue of apparent goal directedness in organisms, but not in evolutionary processes themselves. He tries to argue that purely "vegetative" systems (he's using Aristotle's terminology IIRC) like plants can have goals (due to needs, but not purposive conscious desires) and that goals are based on successful past survival (IIRC he prefers this to reproduction schemes of population biology) instances that have been set into the organisms proggramming via natural selection. I've probably flubbed his arguments a bit, so take my presentation with a heavy grain of salt. Binswanger is arguing within the framework of Rand's philosophy so whatever his arguments are, they are important in seeing how Rand influenced his worldview. He applies Objectivism to the philosophy of biology.

    As a refreshing, but somewhat longwinded antipode, I finally have gotten a chance to read rational emotive therapist Albert Ellis's scathing critique of Rand's Objectivism _Is Objectivism a Religion_. I'm only about halfway through. I haven't seen so much blood spew forth from a victim since watching the "Texas Chainsaw Massacre". Man, Ellis is into total evisceration. Yipes. He goes after Rand's economic and political views, in the part I've read so far, then is now turning the corner where he addresses the apparent religiosity of Objectivism. I'm not sure he's got Rand and Branden (her former star pupil/lover turned outcaste) pegged entirely right, but the book is loads of fun. Ellis might be trying to win converts over to rational emotive therapy and I can't quite be sure of his motivation for this book. I think he might have done a joint presentation with Branden and the largely Objectivist audience snarled at him so he's letting loose with all cannons.

    There's another book that's more recent called _The Ayn Rand Cult_ by Jeff Walker which might be a parallel of what Richard Noll had done with Carl Jung in his books _The Jung Cult_ and _The Aryan Christ_. Arch-skeptic Michael Shermer has a section of his _Why People Believe Weird Things_ devoted to Rand's philosopy called "The Unlikeliest Cult".

    I actually think that some of Rand's stuff isn't so bad when put in perspective as an ideology. She lived her early years in Russia and her somewhat bourgeoise family got caught in the rage of Bolshevism. She had a legitimate reason to grind her axe against collectivism and Marxian ideals.

    Her novel _Anthem_ is in the same genre as _Brave New World_ and _1984_, all harkening back to Zamyatin's _We_. _Fountainhead_ and _Atlas Shrugged_ are monuments of her philosophy. _We the Living_ spawned an Italian film version which I just watched and it seems to draw upon her life history in that its set in Bolshevik Russia.

    She set her ideal of capitalism in stone and it stands as it is, warts and all. Can't say I agree with all or much of it, but it's an index of how lots of people think, many of them becausse of Rand's influence.


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