How predatory Capitalism warps the way we define maturity

Dictionary.com defines “capitalism” as:

“an economic system in which investment in and ownership of the means of production, distribution, and exchange of wealth is made and maintained chiefly by private individuals or corporations, especially as contrasted to cooperatively or state-owned means of wealth.”

In and of itself, there’s nothing sinister about individuals or groups being able to own means of production. It becomes deathly sinister for workers and customers though when business owners underpay their workers and overcharge their customers… because that’s how poverty is created.

When a Capitalist economy goes full predatory, it hurts people in ways that can be measured by empirical quality of life statistics, but it also hurts people in more subtle, psychological ways, such as warping their perception of maturity.

Dictionary.com defines “maturity” as:

1. complete in natural growth or development, as plant and animal forms: a mature rose bush.

2. ripe, as fruit, or fully aged, as cheese or wine.

3. fully developed in body or mind, as a person: a mature woman.

4. pertaining to or characteristic of full development: a mature appearance; fruit with a mature softness.

5. completed, perfected, or elaborated in full by the mind: mature plans.

We know when a piece of fruit is mature, and we know when a human body is mature, but when is a human mind mature? That’s a philosophical question that humans have been arguing about since the dawn of civilization, and every culture has institutionalized their own opinions about what knowledge and ideas a mature person should have in their head. But there’s one prerequisite to maturity that all cultures hold (and must hold): the ability to survive and thrive in the local environment.

The skills it takes to survive change depending on the challenges of your local environment. For example, it would take different skills to survive and thrive in Alaska, Hawaii, Australia, Vietnam or New York City. If a “responsible” person moved from one environment to a place where there skills were inapplicable, the locals would watch that person struggle with the smallest responsibilities, and would likely view that person as immature. The locals would certainly look down on members of their own community who couldn’t master the environment they were raised in.

This concept is easy to observe when looking at primitive hunter/gatherer societies living in harsh natural environments. It becomes murkier when the environment is a modern, service-based economy that you grew up in and have taken for granted your entire life.

In the modern world the average worker doesn’t need to know how to build their own shelter or live off the land. Most people work at jobs in buildings where they make and sell goods or services. They get paid for their work with money, which can be used to buy anything, and in fact, is the only medium of exchange most businesses accept. In order to put a roof over your head, clothes on your back or food in your belly you need money. Money is survival, comfort, security, freedom and power. Since one’s ability to survive and thrive in a Capitalist economy depends on having money, that means for people living in that environment, responsibility is inextricably tied to making and keeping money. That’s not petty or materialistic. It’s simply the reality of the local environment, and the more predatory the economy is, the truer it is.

Growing up in an economy where surviving and thriving depends on making money, it’s natural for children to view people who have money as responsible and people who don’t as irresponsible. Children who never learn the causes of economic inequality tend to grow up into adults who worship the rich and despise the poor.

This is a warped perception of reality, because the way most millionaires and all billionaires get rich is by paying their workers the lowest wage that supply and demand and the law will allow while selling the cheapest goods and services at the highest price supply and demand and the law will allow. Then they pocket the difference. The poorest of the poor may have made bad decisions in their lives, but when the cost of living is higher than (or even slightly below) your income, you’re stuck struggling to keep your head above water most of your life or until the inevitable hospital bill finally robs you of everything you’ve saved.

There are those who would argue that there are ample options available to the poor to help them lift themselves out of poverty, and therefore anyone who doesn’t take those opportunities proves they’re irresponsible. While it’s true that some poor people pass up on opportunities, the fact of the matter is that most high paying jobs require a college degree. More often than not, employers care more about their applicants’ degrees and certificates than their actual job skills or work experience. Since a college degree costs as much as possible, the only way to get a college degree is to be born to rich parents or go into half a lifetime of debt.  Since the poorest, unskilled workers can’t afford to live a decent life, let alone a college degree, they’re shut out of most of the jobs that pay a living wage. To add insult to injury, uncredentialized employees who work 60 hours a week to provide for their family have to live with the stigma of not being mature or responsible enough to graduate college while the children of rich parents can party their way through four years of college, barely pass and still be viewed as more responsible and have more doors open to them.

The glass ceiling of the college degree cleanly separates society into two castes of people, and the easier it is to divide society into deserving and underserving classes, the easier it is to justify and accept exploiting the underclass. When a caste system becomes so ingrained in a culture, the under-class will even celebrate and defend it themselves. You can see this happening in almost any office building in America every day, and it’s not entirely illogical, just short-sighted.

Since survival depends on making money, and making money depends on getting a job, the people who are the best at keeping jobs have an evolutionary advantage over people who can’t hold down a job. Therefore, the ability to keep a job is a hallmark of responsibility and maturity. And the best way to keep a job is to do your duties correctly, go above and beyond your duties, follow all of your employer’s rules flawlessly and treat your employers with gracious respect. Since these are the skills employees need in order to survive, they’re responsible and mature behaviors.

These rules would be completely reasonable, but in a predatory capitalist economy, employees are already worked as hard, as fast and as long as possible with as few breaks and as little mercy as the law allows. That’s how hard poor people have to work to prove to their peers and bosses that they’re responsible, and they’re held to that level of accountability every single day. When that becomes the norm, and workers start holding their peers accountable to slave standards, they effectively police their own slavery. If those are the values they live by all day at work, those are the values they pass down to children. And from one point of view, they should, because that’s what it takes to survive.

Predatory businesses don’t just ask employees for their time and energy. They often take their employees dignity. Employees are often expected to wear humiliating uniforms, endure offensive treatment by customers and bosses, perform degrading tasks and address higher paid employees with higher titles and signs of respect. They’re expected to erase their personality while at work and act like soulless robots who love their job. Since these are the behaviors necessary to keeping a job and thus keeping an income, these behaviors are responsible and mature.

This means that being yourself and standing up for yourself are irresponsible. Quitting your job and pursuing your passion is seen as childish and naïve. And actually choosing not to have a full time job is looked down on as absolutely crazy. Many young people have a hard time adapting to this dignity-less environment when they enter the workforce, but if they live in it long enough they often come to accept and even embrace it.

Cultures always reflect their environment, and oppressive economic environments tend to create oppressive cultures with oppressive values. That’s exactly what’s happening in most of the world right now. While it may technically be responsible to beg, bow, scrape, fight and play the game to survive, that’s only because the economic environment was shaped by people who profit from exploitation. If our environment wasn’t designed to make life so hard and hopeless, responsibility would be defined by higher standards. We all have a responsibility to survive, but we also have a responsibility to our children and humanity in general. We’re not fulfilling our responsibility to our children by passing down instructions on how to be the ideal slave. We owe them a more humane economic environment, and until we deliver that, none of us are mature.

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