The Ruthlessness of the Human Spirit
I will begin this article with an aspirational statement of hope. And so I ask you to please amend the title in your mind to read, “The [Heretofore] Ruthlessness of the Human Spirit.”
Competition–the self-interested drive of one man to stand above another–was a foundational base upon which civilization evolved. Indeed, civilization would not have taken root without it. The original constructs of civilization and economic philosophy were built as an answer for how to live a better life, for oneself and for society as a whole. In this case, “better” means better than your predecessors or your peers. This underlying ‘action potential’ inherent in man’s psychosocial makeup quickly became an ever-present influence, affecting almost every aspect of daily life. Competition drove the basic hierarchical structures of civilization: caste systems, aristocracy, meritocracy, as well as personal hierarchies, e.g. the desire to be prettier than your counterparts, the drive to attend the most prestigious school. Competition is most obviously demonstrated, of course, in the marketplace–as in, creating a better product, acquisition of cheap labor (or even human slavery), ponzi schemes, corruption for self-interest, and the business of war. Adam Smith wrote extensively on this subject in both his Theory of Moral Sentiments and The Wealth of Nations: though he believed it was inborn in man to be geared by his own self-interest, he also believed that man derived his moral and ethical standardsfrom the awareness that arose in observation of his own self-interested behavior and that of his peers. He did not see any contradiction or conflict; to him, competition and ethics were not mutually exclusive–rather, they were entwined.
However, capitalism today does not reflect this awareness of morality or conscience as defined by society. The consequences of capitalism are appalling. Today, the same paradigm that drives commercial competition has resulted in a widespread mistreatment of human manufacturing workers in the developing world as if they were subhuman.
This reality is manifested entirely through the individual actions of the masses.
As consumers and investors who demand profitability as well as low prices, we as individuals
are in effect responsible for these policies. Ask yourself if you own technology made in China,
and ask yourself if you would have bought it at an even lower price if you could?
Again (for continuity of thought): this process manifests entirely through the individual actions of the masses (that means me and you).
In the same way, that paradigm can (and will) change also through the individual actions of the masses. That is without question; actually, it is the only way. The question then, is WHEN this change will happen, and what will the catalyst be?
It is easy to argue that civilization, on average and since it’s inception, has become more stable, less violent, more democratic, more intelligent and generally more liveable. With the technological advances of the past several decades we are better positioned than ever to make a monumental leap as the constructs of how we organize evolves. In light of the way the internet and social platforms have revolutionized daily life, it is hard to believe that they would not also ultimately revolutionize the structure of our government and the direction of our collective actions.
Currently, each of us has unprecedented access to knowledge and communication through technology. Thus we can organize ourselves in ways that were never before possible. There is more potential in the world right now for monumental advancement in every sector than has ever been imagineable. If there could ever be an age of knowledge or of enlightenment, we are on the cusp of it.
After writing this I gave it to Lisa Chong (a Stanford educated writer) for her critique.
She suggested defining an example, living proof, to support my thesis statement (that we are on the cusp of fundamental change). Coinci
dentally, she was also unaware of the current Apple manufacturing issue
. Theory became practice as she quickly clicked the link I provided and informed herself on the subject. After reading, she remarked that she would rather pay an extra $50 for her iPod than subject people to suffering. And with a couple more clicks, she was able to petition Apple
ange their ways. Another couple of minutes and Lisa shared the link to the petition on her Facebook and tweeted it too. So far, this exact chronology of events has led millions of people like her to take similar action
and even amass in person at Apple stores
. The Fair Labor Association was prompted to launch an independent investigation into the Foxconn plants, and a mere 3 days later,
Apple bowed to the public pressure
and announced full cooperation and transparency with the FLA. Case in point.
And so, for 2012 I propose a toast to our ruthlessness (Lisa says “ethically-motivated doggedness”). We owe the darkness a debt of gratitude for having carried us to this point, where we have the tools to organize ourselves by pur
e consensus. We can learn from it and not bear it any resentment, or waste time flagellating ourselves. After all, our very ruthlessness was responsible for giving us the computer technology that will break us free. Humanity is about to crawl out of its dark hole, and not a moment to