Ruminations

Restored to Factory Settings: Straight, White, Male, and Capitalist

Though our societal "default" standards when it comes to sexuality, race, and gender are discussed with increasing, and deserved, regularity, the conversation rarely extends to the numerous other presumptive schema through which each of us views the world. One under-explored conceptual framework is capitalism. 

It might seem like a capitalist mentality is fairly toothless. We work longer hours so we have more spending money, and it permeates our rap music and other aspects of popular culture, but it doesn't seem to affect our relationships with other individuals, or cultures. 

But, in reality, it does. A true detachment from worldly goods would be as alien to a capitalist mentality as a caped and masked lesbian Hispanic superhero would be to a contemporary American movie-goer. Our capitalist worldview can make alternative philosophies (as opposed to market systems, for I believe capitalism has transcended the confines of Wall Street and now inhabits the mind) seem not just strange, but even wrong-headed or backwards.

In addition to inspiring confusion or a desire to guide those to Adam Smith's bright shining light, capitalism has also bred an assumption that money is the solution to almost any conceivable problem. This has led the United States to develop large-scale aid programs that provide funds to developing nations around the world. These fiscal band-aids, however, are increasingly seen by scholars, politicians, and citizens of recipient countries as disabling. Critics argue that these surges of funds often disable local solutions from being developed, and undermine the autonomy, social unity, and self-reliance of local populations. 

The notion that money is the answer to our problems is not held by the federal government alone. Upon some reflection, each one of us would likely find we hold some version of this belief as well. It is why we donate to non-profit organizations and, when we have the money to spare, support a family member or friend in their time of need. It is also why we work nights and weekends -- so we have the money to buy the things we think will make us and the people closest to us happy. 

The second assumption is that people are objects to be bought and sold. This has several clear examples, like prostitution, which is the literal objectification and purchasing of another human's body. But this example is alienating, as few of us would engage in such a transaction. While very few of us are hookers with hearts of gold, or consumers of them, each one of us engages in the purchasing of human "brands" on a daily basis. We happily consume a new film based on its status as a "Michael Bay Production," watch a self-titled show because we love its star, put Jessica Simpson on our bodies, and stuff our feet into Christian Louboutin.

This blog is, in some sense, a commodification of me, Eleanor Cummins. Though no one pays to read my content (yet), does not mean I do not hope to use this free platform to turn myself into a brand, with a unique voice and developed opinions, that can one day be purchased. In other words, I hope one day to bought, by you, in the pages of a New Yorker magazine.

Capitalism is deeply ingrained within me. If it were to disappear, I would lose many small parts of my identity with it. For this reason (and several others), I am not advocating for some kind of wild-eyed Marxist overthrow (just as those who point out the problems with white males as "neutral" are not advocating for the end of white males), but rather for sustained reflection. If we do not turn a critical eye on our own worldview, and all its assumptions and implications, we will never be able to understand the worldview of others. And if this is allowed to stand, we will continue to live in this strained sociocultural stalemate for centuries to come. 

---

This post was inspired by a Facebook comment left by a man named Iago Bojczuk on a recent Humans of New York photo. Bojczuk left the following note: 

I remember a story I have lived when I was in Jordan. While visiting Petra, I was taking pictures of a little kid wearing simple clothes who was selling things over there. He’d noticed I was taking pictures of him and caught me off guard by kindly asking: “Hey, please delete the pictures you have just taken or I will break your camera”. I did try to convince him that I wanted to keep the picture with me and offered him some money — that is what we mostly do in the Western World as a way to help people out in the way we think they need. Right after that he said: “You know, money isn’t everything, my friend”. For the first time in my life I thought about how my mindset was not seeing things and people’s feelings as it should. Trying to be respectful to himself and his country, I deleted the picture but I can say that I will carry this memory for ever. I can now say: that kid changed the way I see people’s needs and that money is something quite limited.
— Iago Bojczuk

The comment, and the HONY photo that prompted it, can be viewed here

Subscribe to my mailing list

* indicates required