The global capitalist structure has pushed commercialism so much so that there is a belief in society, that to be happy in life people must pursue material objects, a certain appearance, money, status; aspirations of no real substance. We now live in a world so commercialised that we are advertised products and services relentlessly, exhaustively. And so, in the pursuit we unwittingly maintain, strengthen the inherent greed produced by free markets the world over, whereby this cycle continues, generation to generation.
The Threat of Modern Capitalism to Society
As Ben Okri has stated, “Individualism has been raised almost to a religion, appearance made more important than substance. Success justifies greed, and greed justifies indifference to fellow human beings” (Okri, 2008). Our leaders strive to protect the interests of their citizens. They work to lower unemployment levels, improve education systems, methods to genuinely look after the people they govern. But for what end? The fierce competitiveness of our job markets push people to advance, where often to get ahead, individuals will abandon their sense of morals, of good. In the modern capitalist age we are told relentlessly to compete, that people break the rules to gain an advantage, sabotaging others if necessary. This occurs, while masquerading as fair competition.
In defence of capitalism, yes it promotes survival of the fittest, but it has now come to inadvertently push unethical practice, where behaviour bereft of values of good, of decency is seen to be necessary. It has come to be the norm in society now, through the omnipresent stream of commercialism and advertising.
Now, throughout human history there have and will always be, individuals who will cross any moral boundaries where necessary to meet their own ends, which leads us to one positive that we can take from the current society, from the effects of capitalism. True integrity, true moral character is accentuated by our system. There are people who still adhere to the principles of decency, virtue and of fair treatment of fellow human beings, which Ben Okri has not taken into account. Although his warning to the world is very real, the “heart of society”, as he puts it, is not as ruptured as profoundly as he claims.
However for the majority, the masses, there can be hope. Correct guidance and sincere leadership are now more important than ever before as the pitfalls of capitalism have become starkly transparent.
We Need Leaders of Values
As the devastating repercussions for the world from the disastrous decisions made in America are now becoming ever clearer, chiefly the financial crisis, a neglect of the dangers of climate change and human rights infringement on a colossal scale, it is also clear that we need strong leadership more than ever, to lead us through this dark time in the history of humanity. In Barack Obama not just America, but the world awaits with baited breath, in hope that he can undo many of the wrongs in our world. With leaders of principles, we aspire to be like them. A leader like Obama campiagned vigorously with the electorate, people across the country who share his vision for a better future, which led to record donations to his campiagn. His campaign was primarily funded by donations of less than $100 from over 3 million people, not large sums such as the £50,000 George Osborne sought to solicit from Oleg Deripaska, Russia’s richest man.
But how can we repair the damage within our civilisations when our leaders themselves undermine the values and principles that we should aspire to. If politicians and religious leaders lie or cheat in their own interests, what kind of example does that set to the peoples that they lead? Moreover many crimes committed by public figures have gone unpunished. This can be seen throughout history. Richard Nixon was pardoned by President Ford for the Watergate scandal. More recently the “cash for honours” scandal in Britain, where nobody in the upper echelons of the Labour leadership was called to account. Instead those who aspire to lead our civilisations need to engage the masses, campaign for donors in order to realise their vision for a nation, for the world. Society needs a relationship of trust between those who govern and the governed. It is inextricable, otherwise, we are faced with a broken society, where, as is now the case, the human race is slowly losing its very humanity.
- Ben Okri (Thursday, October 30, 2008), writing for The London Times, Page 30