Life – Terror. Ecstasy. Fight. Denial. Flight. Failure. PAIN. Forgiveness. Reconciliation. Hope. Love. Peace – Death.
transitive verb. 1 : to give in exchange : swap. 2 : to barter or dispose of by barter. intransitive verb. 1 : to exchange commodities : barter.
The story of modern capitalism begins in 18th-century England, where conditions were just right to create a new kind of economic model.
Traditional accounts of contemporary economics hold that humanity has a natural inclination to “truck, barter and exchange”, and rationally ‘self interested’ individuals have been doing this since the dawn of our species.
In this narrative, capitalism in its current form is just the logical progression of thousands of years of human economic evolution, with our tastes for new types of capital and new methods of trade developing as we took our bartering from the field to the stock exchange trading floor.
“MAN: Human nature—that people are fundamentally materialist, and will always want to accumulate more and more under any social structure. Greed.
Yes, you could say it, but there’s no reason to believe it?
If you examine peasant societies, they go on for thousands of years without it—do those people have a different human nature?
Or just look inside a family: do people “truck and barter” over how much you’re going to eat for dinner? Family is considered a normal social structure, and you don’t see people accumulating more and more for themselves regardless of the needs of the others within the family.
In fact, just take a look at the history of “trucking and bartering” : look at the history of modern capitalism, about which we know plenty. The first thing you’ll notice is, peasants had to be driven by force and violence into a wage-labour system they did not want; major efforts were undertaken—conscious efforts—to create wants.
If you look back, there’s a whole interesting literature of conscious discussion of the need to manufacture wants in the general population. It’s happened over the whole long stretch of capitalism, but one place where you can see it nicely encapsulated is around the time when slavery was terminated.
It’s very dramatic to look at cases like these.
For example, in 1831 there was a huge slave revolt in Jamaica—which was one of the factors that led the British to decide to give up slavery in their colonies: after some slave revolts, they basically said, “It’s not paying anymore.” Within a couple years the British wanted to move from a slave economy to a so-called “free” economy, but they still wanted the basic structure to remain exactly the same
If you take a look back at the parliamentary debates in England at the time, they were talking very consciously about all this. They were saying: ‘look, we’ve got to keep it the way it is, the masters have to become the owners, the slaves have to become the happy workers—somehow we’ve got to work it all out’.
Well, there was a little problem in Jamaica: since there was a lot of open land there, when the British let the slaves go free they just wanted to move out onto the land and be perfectly happy, they didn’t want to work for the British sugar plantations anymore.
So, what everyone was asking in Parliament in London was, “How can we force them to keep working for us, even when they’re no longer enslaved into it?”
Two things were decided upon: first, they would use state force to close off the open land and prevent people from going and surviving on their own.
Secondly, they realised that since all these workers didn’t really want a lot of things—they just wanted to satisfy their basic needs, which they could easily do in that tropical climate—the British capitalists would have to start creating a whole set of wants for them, and make them start desiring things they didn’t then desire, so then the only way they’d be able to satisfy their new material desires would be by working for wages in the British sugar plantations.
There was very conscious discussion of the need to create wants—and in fact, extensive efforts were then undertaken to do exactly what they do on T.V. today: to create wants, to make you want the latest pair of trainers that you don’t really need, then people will be driven into a wage-labour society.
That (deliberate) pattern has been repeated over and over again through the whole entire history of capitalism. In fact, what the whole history of capitalism shows is that people have had to be driven into situations which are then claimed to be their nature.
But if the history of capitalism shows anything, it shows it’s not their nature, that they’ve had to be forced into it, and that that effort has had to be maintained and enforced right until this present day.
Thanks for reading
Chomsky, Noam. Understanding Power: The Indispensable Chomsky