Unloved Hero Faces the Senate

by Lily James playgrnd@ais.net

The guilt of capitalism forces us to make our own heroes into villains. Instead of growth, we call it greed. Instead of successful competition, we call it unfair domination. Instead of a winner, we call him an oppressor. Capitalism is a game of hierarchy and power, but this is a game no one is allowed to win. As soon as someone begins to win, really win, really succeed, really truly exemplify all the ideals and values that drive our system (OUR system) that person becomes evil, criminal, suspect.

As soon as a guy achieves a level where he can say that he has won, that guy is dragged in front of the government and accused of that ultimate evil: monopoly.

I want to know when it was written that successful capitalists must be stopped at all costs. It seems a contradiction between the moral platform of our economy and its practical execution. Capitalism is about winning, and about dominating and controlling the market. We are supposed to create better products, build better gadgets, invent the best ideas, beat down our competitors. We love the little guy who starts up small and makes it big, but when he gets too big, our secret socialist guilt takes over, and we have to pound him back down. What is this secret socialist guilt? It's the way we rationalize capitalism, the way we make it palatable, the way we deal with the fact that capitalism creates a large class of oppressed workers, demands a constantly expanding market, encourages cutthroat competition, the fact that capitalism creates victims, losers, defeats, and exploitation. We deal with the evils of capitalism by villainizing capitalists, even while we enjoy the fruits of their labors.

Marxism did have an effect, if not in the overall structure of our economy then at least in the way we think about it. We want to be capitalists; we really do. We want to drive nice cars and compete for lakefront properties and earn raises and eat at nice restaurants and feel placed in the scheme of things -- placed by our income, by our earning potential. We like the financial stratification of humanity. It's comfortable, and we feel like we can work within that system. However, Marxism has created a conscience within that system which demands that we critique it constantly, that we feel guilty that people are homeless, guilty that we have Christmases when others don't, depressed about little children in the street hungry.

But we still want to be capitalists! Even if these are the effects! So we transpose our guilt, and our nervousness about the possible immorality of the triangular structure within which we move, onto the leaders of industry, the capitalists who have made it big, and we expect them to be guilty, guilty, guilty, to the point where they back off, make things fair, apologize for their success, help others up to their level. This is not something that we expect of the population in general. We do not apologize when we get raises. We are happy. We're not morally conflicted when we upgrade our automobiles. That's normal. However, people like Bill Gates are supposed to be sorry that they have managed to completely dominate an emerging industry, and are supposed to step back, hobble themselves, deny themselves ultimate capitalist victory, because it's "not right."

What ludicrous inconsistency. If we're going to be capitalists then let's accept the ultimate achievement of a capitalist as a success, not an evil. If Bill Gates must be beaten down, then in true capitalist style, let's run out and invent a better chip, or a better operating system, or a better satellite, and beat him fairly on his own terms. Let's not sit back and let the government take his powers away in a move that is inherently socialist in its moral underpinnings.

Lily James is a freelance writer and web designer based in Chicago. Her book, The Great Taste of Straight People, was published last fall, and she is the editorial director of The Playground.