Inferno: the State of the Modern Capitalist Soul

Divine Comedy - InfernoThere’s no doubt that I’d be a communist if I had even the smallest amount of faith in humanity. But I believe that regardless of the economic system that we create, the worst people will rise to the top. It’s because these are the people who care about rising to the top. That’s not to say that all people in the ruling class are equally horrible. But I do think they are mostly equally uncreative. What young man worth his salt thinks, “I know what I went to spend my life doing: I want to spend it making a lot of money!” His is a soul worthy of Dante’s Inferno

Yes, the 25 year old who wants to save the world is naive — silly even. But he’s got a soul. You know the old line often (falsely) attributed to Churchill, “If you’re not a liberal when you’re 25, you have no heart. If you’re not a conservative by the time you’re 35, you have no brain”? There is something to that. Of course, in fact, people don’t get more conservative as they age. Sometimes society passes people by, but people are pretty consistent.

If you think that you are going to make a bunch of money at 20 and then at 35 you will do what you really want, you truly have no brain. You are what you do not what you plan to do. And if you plan is to make money today, it will be same tomorrow and when you are 35 and when you are lying on your death bed and finally when you are deep in the Inferno.

The Communist (False) Hope

In theory, a communist system would allow one to be more serious about the choices one makes. Think about it. How much would everyone have to work in order to make sure that everyone was housed and clothed and well-fed? An hour a day? I can’t imagine it’s more than that. And that would allow for a lot of time for people do what they want to do. It just so happens that a lot of what they want to do is stuff that makes the world better. I’ve known a lot of inventors in my lifetime. None of them did it for the money.

Inferno MovieI look out on our capitalist system and I see unbelievable waste. Look at the internet! Have you noticed that every month someone comes up with some new and annoying way to shove advertisements at you. The button to close an annoying video commercial changes so you have to hunt around for it. A pop-up may not have a button; you may just have to click outside it to make it go away. It wastes your time. It angers you. And it even increases your blood pressure. I have no doubt that people die as a result of this nonsense.

The Capitalist Inferno

So why do they do it? Because 0.1% more people will watch the stupid video ad or click on it. And the website owner will be 29¢ richer! But don’t get me wrong! I understand! I’ve read my Adam Smith! I’ve read my Friedrich Hayek! I understand that there is a cycle. That website owner makes money and continues to provide me with the great content that I’m looking for. It’s like the natural world itself! Isn’t that great: capitalism has allowed humans to create a system that bacteria discovered three billion years ago!

I just have a few questions. Where is our Iliad? What about our Aeneid? Where is our Divine Comedy? Do you know what shows up if you Google “Inferno”? Dan Brown’s 2013 novel and the movie based on it that is coming out later this month.

I’m not saying that communism is the solution. We humans are hopeless. But it does bother me that in the modern world virtually no one even thinks that maybe something better than capitalism is possible. I’m cynical. I know that. But I also know that humans are clever. If we tried, we might be able to come up with a system that would work better than the one we have. But instead, we just get better and better at selling things. And the result is that we get no Iliad, no Aeneid, no Divine Comedy. We just get better and better at extracting 29¢ here and 29¢ there.

Our Civilization Is in Hell

It’s not just we’ve lost the souls of young people who think making money is a fine way to spend a life. It’s that we’ve lost the soul of our culture. When western civilization crumbles in upon itself and we are reduced to countless warring tribes, there will be scattered people wondering why it had to be this way. But I can already answer the question: we haven’t evolved. We still act as though we are one bad harvest away from starvation. Our ideas of justice are warped. We don’t understand mercy at all.

We are just stupid animals who can do clever tricks like earn 29¢ by getting someone to watch the entire trailer of Ron Howard’s newest blockbuster, Inferno. In theaters 28 October!

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

5 thoughts on “Inferno: the State of the Modern Capitalist Soul

  1. How to write a bestseller:

    1. Draw up template based on “Odessa File,” any other book where Guy Finds Big Dark Secret
    2. Spend two hours researching conspiracy theories on Internet
    3. Insert conspiracy theories into template
    4. Hire good tax accountant

    As for young people losing souls, I knew many in high school who were planning on money by age 16. Raised by soulless parents. It’s sad.

    • Speaking of conspiracy theories, they are a big part of my folklore play. Two conspiracy theory believing birds torture the chorus with more and more bizarre theories. I remember writing that because I didn’t make up anything. I just researched what people actually believed. It was amazing. Of course, it’s never clear that the birds actually believe the theories. Without thinking about it, I think I based them on Heckle and Jeckle:

  2. I think about how to move Western civilisation out of the vicious spiral of demand that comes from not needing everyone to work anymore. Like, hydrogen cars sound awesome, fuel could – might – be virtually free. And food could follow, given advances in growing crops, and the possibilities of synthetic meat (growing a whole animal just for the meat is terribly wasteful). Living space would still be expensive, but two major costs of living could conceivably drop almost out of the game, countering the lack of income being earned by people who can’t work because their labour is superfluous. But it won’t happen like that, I’m guessing, because people are scum. We’ll solve the dilemma of making too many goods at extremely low overheads the same way we do now, by pumping up the brand and charging stupidly inflated prices. There’s only one reason a BMW costs twice as much as a Toyota, and that’s because of the badge. They’ll charge the same for a kilo of hydrogen they do for a litre of petrol, because they know we’ll pay it.

    I said I think about it; I didn’t say I know what I’m doing.

    • Another one from the archives/catacombs you might like:

      “Why invent an intelligent robot that can clean your whole house when the people with all the money can hire some recent immigrant for peanuts?”

      We’ve had the technology to reduce worldwide labor and misery for quite some time. We don’t do it, because the powerful don’t want to do it, because then they wouldn’t be as powerful. Like you, I don’t know how to solve this, either.

    • I think you are hitting on what I see as the only possible way forward in the long-term. It isn’t the Star Trek future. It’s about humanity finding meaning internally. If we solve the energy problem, then no one has to work. And then, the question is what the point of life is. I don’t think it is a trip to the stars. I think it is a trip deep inside ourselves. But we run into the same problem as ever: those in charge are those for whom the current system works.

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