The imbalances engendered by placing a great emphasis on productivity as a signifier of value in a capitalist society is one way this profit-minded system is alienating us all–but it’s not the only one. As capitalism roots itself deeper into our daily happenings, its impact starts to intertwine with other vectors of social alienation, sometimes with little to distinguish itself from direct causality. This is the main strength of capitalism–it has this ability to portray itself as a necessary prerequisite to modern life, inseverable from its machinations. Anything shy of that, is considered an aberration not worth sustaining.
Because capitalism collapses symptom and root cause, it’s hard to make a definitive claim about which that socially alienates us. But if the existing fissures between different groups — fueled mainly by political polarization — are any indication, the main mechanism through which alienation permeates, is by dissolving our own sense of identity, such as everyone is left hopelessly looking for a place to belong in the lonely halls of the crumbling castle that capitalism has become.
The rise of the far-right is a great example of this–veiled under what are concerns of abrupt demographic change and dwindling economic opportunities (at least superficially), many have been swiftly captured into a political movement whose main mode of recruitment is the very alienation that capitalism causes. In Kevin Roose’s profile of former far-right radical Caleb Cain, one of the themes that kept repeating is how so much of far-right mobilization hinges on giving its audience a false sense of finality–that they’re working towards a cause greater than themselves, diagnosing their disillusionment with pluralistic values as resentment towards women and minorities, instead of refocusing their attention on what really ails them , which is capitalism.
Concentration of wealth has made it so a small slice at the top has the needs of those at the bottom at their behest, and in the breadseeker’s quest to trickle down some of that wealth, they have to become subservient to the owners of capital–the main mean by which the rich stay rich, and the poor become poorer. As people are driven by the natural impulse to not die from hunger, it’s easy to turn that into an identity firstmost driven by labor, rather than proletarian solidarity.
A solution that ardent defenders of capitalism and others well-intentioned but misguided in their approach might offer, is to rekindle the fires of tight-knit communities that have now been lost to globalization. The problem isn’t our reticence to embrace a norm of intercommunal dynamics–it’s that we’re reaching back into a romanticized retelling of erstwhile history that fashions days of old as being those where everyone knew everybody, and where discord naturally dissipated under the crushing weight of quasi-coercive social atomisation. For as long as humans have lived, conflict has defined their existence–under a globalized world, it’s not a return to communitarian orthodoxy that closes fissures, but rather a commitment to rebuilding society from the ground-up with empathy for the alienated in mind.
What comes then, is the work of distilling what people desire, from what they think they desire. We’d be remiss to discount the work of re-integrating the alienated as useless, but it’s just as crucial to deconstruct the faulty process through which they manifest their alienation. It’s an effort shouldered by the bulk of society, to be ultimately ratified by those who wield the greatest power in shaping it.
If capitalism is inescapable, and there’s no end in sight for the neoliberal status quo, who’s then best poised to upend the system and bring about the change necessary to make sure members of society aren’t being put into such a tough bind? Given America’s great sway over the winds of political change on a global scale, Bernie Sanders has the most complete theory of how to tackle alienation on a systemic scale, even though he doesn’t explicitly acknowledge it as so.
This is easily seen throughout Bernie’s platform–a strong emphasis on government intervention in everyday life, such as members of society don’t feel as compelled to become mindless cogs in a capitalist machine, without any ability to claim agency over their own fate, in a world where opportunity seems like the result of happenstance more than careful planning. For those interested in the pointless debate about free will versus predetermination, it’s not so much about being able to plot out a life course independently, as it is accounting for every other way that could go completely awry. Capitalism rigs the game against everyone, such as in their quest to unrig it, they end up further rigging it against themselves–it’s only with a strong ideological vision for a post-capitalist society that commoners will finally be able to break free from the shackles of alienation. Until then, they’re left aimlessly wandering, as those who hold power are watching in glee.
Tackling alienation is primordial to maintaining democracy, and in that sense, abandoning capitalism will be the first step in achieving that. A society that throws its members into the fray of things, completely unequipped for what’s to come, is one actively plotting its own demise. Change is needed, and it has to happen on a global scale if we stand any chance of countering what is proving to be anti-democracy’s rocket fuel at this current stage.
Not all respond to alienation the same way of course–some take it as an invitation to pursue further knowledge, and maybe become themselves an agent fighting it within their own spaces. But because it’s hard to counteract what largely relies on personal motivations borne out of systemic circumstances, slashing away at alienation while capitalism still remains the law of the land is as moot an action as any –it doesn’t matter what the remedy is, as long as its target remains in sharp focus. Just as society was able to cope without an economy driven mainly by profit, it can easily survive after its downfall.