Critique of Capitalism – is cancer a good metaphor – by Joe Brewer

Capitalism Has A Metaphor – It’s A Cancer

My mother died of cancer five years ago. While most of the cells in her body grew and reproduced at a rate that merely kept her alive, there were a few rogue cells that mutated and changed?—?reprogramming themselves as greedy individuals who cared about nothing except rapid growth and exploitation of the body’s natural reserves.

Hi Joe

Having survived a terminal cancer diagnosis myself, I have a certain sympathy with the view you express, and the details are important.

Cancer in humans happens when something interferes with the normal signaling pathways between cells that keep them operating in a cooperative fashion, and some subset of cells starts growing at cost to the function of the colony as a whole (us).

I trained as a biochemist, with a fascination for molecular evolution and evolutionary theory more generally, over 40 years ago.

Somewhat over 6 years ago I was sent home “palliative care only” after being told that there was nothing known to medical science that could save me from the melanoma that was spreading through my lymph system and liver. That got my attention. I started researching. There is actually a lot of evidence that immune system function can be greatly enhanced by appropriate diet (largely plant based, in my case I went strict vegan). There is also a lot of evidence that in most people a lack of vitamin C is the rate limiting factor for immune system function. So my radical diet of high dose oral vit c and whole vegetable foods worked in my case, and my immune system was able to rid my body of the tumours that were infecting it.

When one understands evolution in the context that all major advances in the complexity of living systems are characterised by new levels of cooperative systems, and one also understands the basic games theory idea that raw cooperation is always vulnerable to exploitation by cheating strategies, and requires attendant strategies to prevent cheating from prospering and destroying the cooperative, then one can see that our immune system has evolved to deal with cancer, and adopt strategies that support it to do so. We have many levels of sets of such attendant strategies within us – both genetic and cultural, that support the many levels of cooperation that make us possible.

And one needs to also be able to see the deeper context, that as humans we have both cooperative and competitive modalities, and which gets to express is a function of the context in which we perceive ourselves to be. The greater the abundance we perceive, the more probable it is that we will act cooperatively rather than competitively.

Our current economic system works against such perceptions of abundance in many different ways.

In our recent history, when most things were genuinely scarce, then capitalism was arguably an effective method of decreasing the extent of that scarcity by distributing such resources as were present to where they could be most effectively used, and encouraging the production of more of what was needed.

What has changed, and it is a real game changer, is our ability to automate processes.

We are now capable of delivering universal abundance, but within the capitalist paradigm, any universal abundance has zero value. The double problem with that is that it actually incentivises developing systems that prevent the universal abundance of anything (arguably all of our intellectual property laws) in the interests of maximising money and profit.

So given the change of context that humanity has experienced, from one of a predominance of genuine scarcity, to one of an expanding set of goods and services that can be available in genuine universal abundance, the scarcity based paradigm of markets and capitalism is no longer as beneficial to life and liberty as it could once have reasonably been argued to be.

Capitalism is not a cancer per se, and it is a system evolved for contexts of scarcity, and as such promotes competitive rather than cooperative behaviour at higher levels, and also promotes hoarding (a strategy appropriate to our deep past but not appropriate to our present).

It is these levels of inappropriate competitive behaviour that create the cancer on the body politic.

Fully automated production gives us the ability to meet the reasonable needs of every person, but that would break the economic system.

Our economic system is complex at many levels.

In combination with our political and legal systems it has become a haven for cheating strategies at many levels.

Prior to now, people employing such strategies could genuinely claim ignorance. Such claims are becoming exponentially less believable.

We now require all people, at all the upper levels of our systems, to start acting genuinely cooperatively, in the interests of themselves and everyone else.

We have the technology to produce an environment where it will be in the genuine long term self interests of everyone to cooperate, and it will take time to change the habits of mind of many.

Human nature has two major modalities.

We can all be either cooperative or competitive.

We have the technical capacities to deliver a context that supports the cooperative side of our nature in everyone.

Our existing economic, political and legal structures are no longer in our real long term self interest (not any of us, not even those most benefiting at present – though I understand that few can fully appreciate that at present).

About Ted Howard NZ

Seems like I might be a cancer survivor. Thinking about the systemic incentives within the world we find ourselves in, and how we might adjust them to provide an environment that supports everyone (no exceptions) - see
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