by Gargs Allard
Undoubtedly, there are a number of potential problems with unabashed Capitalism, and throughout the history of the United States, they have unfortunately reared their ugly heads. Despite its reputation for being the land of opportunity, there have been periods in the history of the United States when the middle class was very small and there was a large disparity between the wealthy and the poor. The turn of the 20th century is one such example.
In the late 1800s, industry came into prominence. In what was to be known as the Gilded Age, there was a general policy by the federal government to stay out of the affairs of the business elite and wealthy industry captains, like John D. Rockefeller and Andrew Carnegie, and only concentrate on law and order. As a result, great monopolistic empires rose and their concomitant wealth expanded their influences, effectively tilting the economic playing field to the disadvantage of the poor.
Foreseeing this exploitation of the proletarians, or the labor class, by the bourgeois, or the wealthy capitalists, Karl Marx propounded his philosophy of Marxism, which is often credited to form the foundation of modern Communism. Marx, an avowed atheist, after being brought up in a Jewish family which later converted to Christianity, thought that religion was used by the wealthy to give the poor some hope for a better afterlife, making it less likely that they would revolt in this life due to economic hardship. Marx’s quote, ‘religion is the opium of the people,’ has become a household phrase, so to speak. As a result of this sentiment, atheistic communism became a prominent political ideology for the better part of the 20th century.
In the United States, the wealthy have not always been able to keep an absolute stronghold on the economic system. As a reaction to the Gilded Age, the Progressive Movement, led by journalistic muckraking heroes like Upton Sinclair and Lewis Hine, exsposed the exploitations by the wealthy elite and influenced the voting population to help turn the tide that would eventually grow a strong middle class.
After the recovery from the Great Depression, the emergence of the New Deal, and the end of World War II, the middle class in the United States finally began to flourish, perhaps reaching its peak in terms of standard of living, up until the oil crisis of the early 1970s. Since then, there has been a gradual and steady decline of the middle class. Although there may have been some intermittent up times in the United States during the Reagan and Clinton years, the groundwork was set, especially with the policy of trickle-down economics, for the gradual squeezing-out of the middle class.
With the collapse of the Soviet Union in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and the Communist Party losing power in Russia shortly thereafter, the idealistic dreams of protecting the laborer class through Marx’s philosophy appeared to have died. Of course, many would have said such ideals had already died because the heads of the party itself not only exploited the proletarians, but in addition, terrorized all of its citizens through agencies like the KGB.
Problems With Capitalism and Communism
In an imperfect world there is a constant aspiration to make life nearer to perfect for individuals and the societies they form. The indomitable spirit of humanity is ever-hopeful of bettering itself, even in the most oppressing of circumstances. Tyrant kings and dictators from the past have been unable to squash this attitude. It’s as if some innate spiritual quality of human beings has guided them throughout history to tweak failed philosophies and societies in order to make a better life for its species.
The philosophy of Karl Marx attempted to cut God out of the picture, effectively throwing out the baby with the bathwater- while pointing out how the elite misuse religion and the concept of God to further their power. But just because counterfeit money exists does not prove there is no real money anywhere. To the contrary, the existence of something fake implies a perverted reflection and a basis for something real.
The communist-manifesto was a failure because it attempted to make all classes of humanity artificially equal, while the elite of the Communist Party actually became the ruling-class and the ultimate exploiters. Also, in a communistic system, where all one’s needs are automatically provided relatively equally by the state despite what one’s production may or may not be, the incentive for qualitative, as well as quantitative work becomes greatly stunted.
On the other hand, the capitalistic system can be easily compromised through greed and the manipulation of wealth. Over time, corporate conglomerates have seized much of the important institutions, including the mainstream press and media, and have great influence over the politicians through their multi-million dollar lobbying efforts. The struggle to get free health care as a basic right in the United States for all of its citizens is a prime example of the power the wealthy hold in this country. Middlemen-insurance companies and the pharmaceutical industry are getting such a big piece of the pie that it is difficult to have a single-payer system here where all people can get reasonable health-care coverage at an affordable price.
The Problems With Theocracies
The United States was supposedly founded on the basis of religious freedom by people who suffered from the spears of religious intolerance in Europe. The truth being said, however, points to the fact that many of the early settlers in the New World were actually the religious intolerant themselves. The Puritans, for example, were born due to the rejection of the Catholic Church, and later the Church of England, through the teachings of Martin Luther and John Calvin, who were pioneers of the Reform Movement.
The Puritans could find no place where they could start a community in Europe where they felt they would not be corrupted by outside influences. When they finally came to the New World and settled in Plymouth, Massachusettes, they systematically pushed their religion upon the Native Americans, often by force, and ruined their way of life.
Although many of the country’s founding fathers were not Christians, but rather Naturalists, this Puritan superiority complex led to the belief of manifest destiny and the subsequent theft, exploitation and/or murder of Native Americans, Africans and Mexicans. Fortunately, for fair-minded Americans who believe in freedom, the founding fathers, knowing well the corruption of theocracies gone amok, insisted on the separation of church and state in all matters of politics. The Constitution of the United States, as well as the Bill of Rights, have formed a foundation to protect its citizens, or at least be able to correct injustices that have been made in the name of a higher power.
It is an old vedic aphorism that philosophy without religion is mental speculation and religion without philosophy is sentimentality and sometimes fanaticism. In terms of fanaticism, one need go no further than the atrocities committed by Calvinistic Christians in the colonies and later the United States, to see what un-thoughtful religious viewpoints and its intolerance of others can produce. If one wants to, however, they can go back to the crusades and the long history of fighting between the Christians and Muslims, the Jews and Muslims, as well as the Hindus and Muslims. Of course, the current War Against Terror has a meddling United States and its allies fighting influential leaders from the Middle East who use the religion of Islam as it’s rallying point to terrorize innocent world citizens in order to serve their agenda.
It seems that intolerance is at the very core of fanaticism. Marx not only saw how the wealthy misused religion, but he also saw how religion had been traditionally misused by others to create dissension between people. In the early part of the 20th century, for example, the British created dissent between the Hindus and the Muslims, who had otherwise been living in peace with each other for at least the better part of 100 years. This method of divide and conquer is a common way to control masses of people in order to gain and/or hold onto power.
The Varnashrama System of Ancient India
What we know of the varnashrama system of today is no more than a shell of its former self- that shell being the rigid Hindu caste system. These vestiges, which placed a person into a certain station and position in life merely due to birth, is a far cry from the original system that organized society based on occupation and spiritual evolution while still maintaining freedom of religious expression. That original system was based on an aural tradition that dates back to time immemorial but was put into written form about 5000 years ago.
Originally varna, or occupation, was taken up by an individual according to proclivity, education and qualification. Over time, however, corrupt higher classes monopolized these stations and formed gotras, or nepotistic lineages that locked out those who may have been more qualified in favor of those who were born into the tradition. These occupational stations were known as brahmin, or the intelligentsia of society; ksatriya, or the political, ruling , or military class; vaisya, or the mercantile, farming and business class; and shudra, or the laborer class.
Brahmin is the Sanskrit word for spirit, meaning that the brahmins identified the soul as the self and had realization of the spiritual nature of all things. As a result, they were thus able to live according to spiritual ideals. They generally lived very austerely and did not strive to amass wealth. They were considered the most intelligent of the society and were meant to give guidance to the other classes. They lived off the donations of the ksatriyas and vaisyas who were duty bound to follow their advice. They were also not allowed to become directly involved in politics or accept a salary, otherwise their vision could be corrupted. A true brahmin, knowing the higher purpose of life of self-realization, was therefore incorruptible. The brahmins were the priests, writers, astrologers, doctors and scientists of the society and performed all of their services for free. It is said that their powers were so strong that they were able to curse a ksatriya who ignored the welfare of its people and cause his death.
Ksatriya is the Sanskrit word for governmental official and its literal meaning is “protection from hurt.” It was the duty of the ksatriyas to protect all its citizens and make sure they had everything they needed to progress in life both materially and spiritually.
They collected taxes from the citizens, enforced laws, and distributed the wealth to all who needed it. They were supposed to be the richest class and thus be free from the bribery of others.
Vaisya denoted a person who went into business for him or herself. This class of occupation included businessmen, farmers, and the mercantile community. According to the varnashrama system, the vaisyas were allowed to make some profit but their profit was limited to what was considered a fair percentage by governmental regulation. They were never allowed to be so rich that they could corrupt administrative officials.
Shudra denoted a person without formal education whose labor served the higher classes. These people were provided with plentiful necessities in exchange for their services.
n the vedic paradigm, the brahmins were considered the head of the society, the ksatriyas the arms, the vaisyas the stomach and the shudras the legs. All parts of the body were considered necessary for the healthy functioning of the entire social body. Although some classes were considered on some levels to be superior to others, they were ultimately all considered equal in importance for the overall health and well being of a state’s citizens. Each class had different rules and codes of conduct that they followed according to the individual nature of their occupations. A brahmin’s wealth was considered austerity and knowledge, a ksatriya’s wealth was actual riches, a vaisya’s wealth was considered land and agriculture, and a shudra’s wealth was considered service. Later, when the system degraded, the shudra’s position was exploited and became akin to slavery. As the degradation continued, those who did not follow any of the occupations were considered outcastes and/or untouchables and shunned by society.
The other half of the varnashrama system was called ashram, which literally means “shelter” in Sanskrit. The meaning of the word “shelter” here implies “spiritual stage of life that one takes shelter of.” The first order of ashrama was called brahmacari. The brahmacari order was student life when a person was between 5- to 25-years-old. During this period, a boy/man was celibate, studied scriptures, was trained in his occupation and made advancement in self-realization.
The stage of life from approximately 25- to 50-years old was called grhasta, or householder life. During that age a person worked their occupation, paid taxes if they were a vaisya, and raised a family.
The next stage was called vanaprastha life, or retirement. The vanaprastha stage, from age 50- to 75-years, was marked by the husband and wife being most often away from home and traveling together on pilgrimage and engaging in devotional service for their spiritual purification.
The last stage was called sannyasa, and taken up only by the most spiritually advanced individuals. At this stage, a man left his wife (who was supposed to be then taken in by a son), and took a vow of celibacy for the rest of his life, dedicating himself fully to spiritually instructing others.
The basic idea of the varnashrama system was a loose theocracy that gave individuals certain material duties and spiritual activities according to their abilities and depth of realization. It was meant to find a place for everyone and give a cohesive structure to society where everyone’s material and spiritual needs could be met, according to where they were at in life. It was a society whose aim was spiritual realization and at the same time coveted universal spiritual principles rather than a sectarian or dogmatic viewpoint. As with all things in the material world, however, it gradually deteriorated due to the exploitation of corrupted individuals. The deterioration is said to have started to occur about 5000 years ago.
Humanity naturally divides itself into the four varnas as described above. However, when the more powerful classes do not follow certain guidelines and principles, then any society or political system naturally degrades into an exploitative struggle of the classes.
Marx saw the potential evils of unregulated Capitalism but took the extreme position of trying to abolish it all together. He also made the mistake by thinking that misuse of religion should also equal it’s complete elimination. Over time, this has been shown not to work. In so doing, he cut the spirit out of the people by encouraging a political system that ultimately did not allow people to worship according to their choice. In communist society, no spiritual knowledge was disseminated, and as a result, the populace lost their natural luster and sense of ultimate purpose in life.
Throughout the world, whether in the Middle East, Europe, America, or Asia, whenever a fanatical extremist theocracy or religious viewpoint had autocratic influence, people lost their individual freedom and many other nuances of truth were lost as well. In such an atmosphere a synthesis of the real sciences and spiritual understanding cannot take place. The atmosphere inherently turns into factions of blind faith versus equally absurd reactionary stances of blind doubt.
I think, overall, the United States has a good thing going because of a strong constitution. Great strides have been made in this country over the years in terms of equality and rights but currently the challenge remains the shrinking middle-class. Being under the grips of what amounts to a corporation-nation-state, whose main purpose in life seems to be to get more for themselves and give less to the little guy, these current times present many challenges. The main cause of this, besides the lower-aspects of human nature, is that the average American citizen has remained asleep while pursuing an American Dream that is mostly elusive. During such a quest, many of his or her rights have gradually been eroded, as they are increasingly manipulated into farce elections that amount to choosing different sides of the same coin by the people who have the most wealth and influence in pulling the strings.Share on social media