Apr 30

Capitalism Plus Human Nature Equal Extinction


In Brief— An explanation of how capitalism coupled with human nature is leading inexorably toward the extinction of humanity. [Written in January 2017.]

Eat, Drink, Be Merry for Tomorrow We Die—

Imagine we are on an eastward-bound train from Chicago to New York. Now substitute “Life’s Goals” for Chicago and “Death” for New York. Next imagine that we are walking from the front of the eastward-bound train toward the back (i.e., toward Chicago). We may think we are headed for our life’s goals, but we are, in fact, headed for death. Put simply, despite what we think, we are going to die.

The title of this piece— Capitalism Plus Human Nature Equal Extinction— is deliberately intended to provoke thought and possibly debate. I may be wrong in my conclusion, but I don’t think so.

Capitalism is generally defined as an economic system based on trade that is intended to give its owners a profit. This is a summation of assorted definitions, but the key concept is “profit.”

Human Nature is essentially those aspects of human personality that are found in all of us regardless of gender, origin or financial position. Human Nature includes both positive and negative aspects. Examples are benevolence, selfishness, energy, laziness, social consciousness, power-seeking and so on. Think of an adjective and it’s probably part of the human species. The title of this piece is actually redundant because profit-seeking is part of being human.

I have said that humanity has a no better than 5% chance of surviving this century. I have been accused of being pessimistic to which I point out that I’m a realist and actually optimistic in giving humanity a 5% chance of survival. Odds are it’s lower.

Why do I give humanity a no better than 5% chance of surviving this century? The answer goes back to the train analogy in the opening paragraphs of this piece.

Let’s consider an example of the scientist or technician who comes up with a new widget. S/he doesn’t do this out of the goodness of her/his heart. S/he gets paid a salary. In some cases, the inventor files a patent or sets up an organization to exploit that invention and make a profit. There’s that word again…profit.

Profit is entirely normal and part of human nature. How then does making a profit lead to extinction? Look at human nature and what it means. Humans want their efforts, their investments, to be successful. They want their businesses to grow. They want their profits to grow. They look for ways to assure that growth. Enter politics, greed and more, parts of human nature.

The world is built on a capitalistic framework. Every person, every company, every nation works to assure that their system succeeds, that their system becomes dominant. Human nature assures that whatever is needed, whether fair or foul, will be used to guarantee that their system wins. For them to win means others must lose. It’s a zero-sum world. Game Theory.

As long as there is a profit motive, there is the effort to outcompete the other guy. As long as there are winners and losers, the road leads only toward extinction. Why so?

Human nature again. It’s a big world in which the governing rule is survive or die. Since humans don’t want to die—although we all tend to forget that The Grim Reaper awaits us all—it is necessary to beat the other person regardless of what it takes.

Is extinction the end station on humanity’s trip? Try as I might, I can think of no alternative. Am I overlooking something?

The Weekly Sampler—

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  1. As you know I’m a mediator, and my process is collaboration, which can produce win-win solutions. Logically, and often in practice, both parties get more than in a competitive model, where possible gains may be left on the table. Profits per se aren’t the problem, its the need to maximize profits at all costs that is the problem. Cases in point: We live in a community of maybe 500 white people and 3,000 black. When we arrived in 2003 there was a small mini Spar grocery, really a super 7-11. We got along fine with that. Then in a few years it became a very large Spar, which won awards for being best in the province. In the past year it has become a Super Spar, an enormous store. It does serve a large transient holiday population and so isn’t necessarily too big, but here’s the problem.

    In this community there is a small health food store. Along with the usual supplements they sell nuts. They had enough business that they survived nicely. Now the super Spar carries a much larger selection of nuts, which compere directly with the health food store. The owner is struggling for the first time in many years.

    In this community of farmers there is also a farm supply business, which served the community adequately. Then the local hardware store opened a farm supply section. There isn’t enough business for both, but it increased the hardware store’s bottom line.

    The owners of the Spar and Forge (the hardware store) are both rich. They didn’t need, in my opinion, to expand this way, and in the case of the Spar especially they didn’t need to compete with the tiny health food store.

    It’s not profit per se, but again, it’s maximizing profit at all costs. I get richer and too bad for you. Actually, too bad for us all.

      • Don Bay on May 1, 2017 at 11:38

      What you write about perfectly illustrates why I say that the zero sum philosophy of humanity dooms us to extinction. While it’s normal behavior to want a profit, it’s still destructive. The only area subject to argument is when that extinction of humanity takes place. Whether it’s this century, earlier or later is irrelevant, extinction is the end result.

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