Social structures are powerful cultivators of thought and desire. Far from being independent thinkers and autonomous individuals, human beings are trained to think in certain ways by the habitual activities which they perform, activities to which they are compelled by the necessities of living in certain social structures. Social structures provide very limited sets of options to individuals who inhabit them, in terms of life-activity and life-style. There are certain activities which are imperative for anyone who wishes to live functionally in a society. In the social structure of modern consumer capitalism, it is imperative that most people engage in the activity of buying things. In order to do this, it is imperative that they be employed. Under the social structure of capitalism, in other words, it is imperative that most people participate in the markets which constitute capitalist society.
A market is, in fact, a specific form of social structure. In capitalist society, it is the market which defines many of the social relations into which people enter with each other. Capitalism makes people market dependent. Consequently, it is more and more difficult for people to conceive of ways of relating to other people, and ways of giving and receiving benefits to and from other people, outside of the market relation and its constituent activities of buying and selling. As a buyer, one engages in relations with a seller, as a seller, only to the degree that that person has a good to offer you in exchange for your money. In this late capitalistic phase, one relates to so many sellers that it is almost impossible to cultivate any relationship with them that extends beyond the mere market transaction: they are all, equally, reduced to useful sources of the necessities and conveniences of life. Likewise, a seller relates to the buyer only insofar as he may receive money from the buyer; and he relates to so many buyers that it is impossible to cultivate a meaningful relationship with any of them, except perchance by accident. In and of itself, isolated from other kinds of social structures, the market relation does not encourage close relationships between people; rather, it isolates them. The psychological effects are profound: people begin to think that they are alone in the world; they begin to think of each other as mere buyers and sellers, not as friends; they begin to suspect that other people are out to profit off of them; they begin to desire not to cultivate friendships with others.
Moreover, it becomes difficult to conceive of receiving goods other than those conventionally offered by the market itself, or offered by the most available and most powerful sources on the market. To the extent that such unconventionally offered goods are available, their acquisition and use appears difficult and not worth the trouble. The market is of such a form that non-market alternatives take much more effort to acquire; and even within the market, those alternatives which are less available — have less of a monopoly on the market — also take more effort to acquire, or they are more expensive, etc. Consequently, consumers begin to think that those alternatives are worthless; they even begin to think that the only options that are really good for them, even objectively, are those which are conventionally available on the market; they cease to even care about what is objectively good for them, but care only about what is easy or convenient.
Capitalism isolates people not only from each other and from their communities, but also from nature as a source of the goods which they may enjoy for their real benefit. In such isolation, people tend to regard their friends and their goods as scarce. Apart from community with people, and apart from immersion in nature, the awareness of abundance disappears — even as the capitalist economy boasts that it has created more consumer goods than any society before it.
This effect is particularly acute in areas such as nutrition and health. The food, pharmacy, and health industries are among the most powerful in the market, as they provide some of the most basic and necessary goods for human existence. Industrial agriculture has claimed such a monopoly on the production of food that few people now have the experience of cultivating nature, or even cooking their own meals. Much less do they know what sorts of foods they must consume in order to live healthily. Instead, most people are entirely dependent upon the market for their source of nutrition; and the goods available on the market are crafted with a very specific intent: profit. Companies routinely adulterate their food offerings by means of sugars and other addictive substances, in order to accelerate consumption and maximize profits. In the meantime they are destroying the health of their customers as well as the natural environment. In America especially, where industrial food production has entirely taken over, there is an unprecedented crisis of obesity and diabetes that is caused and exacerbated by the marketed goods which constantly bombard consumers on a daily basis.
Some consumers are, of course, able to muster the courage and energy to seek out healthier options and live more sustainable lifestyles, in the midst of a market society which constantly pressures them to give in to the status quo. Some are able to rediscover the lifestyle options that are offered, not simply by the market, but by the natural environment itself. Moreover, in the midst of an artificial market society, a few smaller markets exist that successfully manage to serve, rather than obscure, the aims of really harnessing the bounties of nature, unmodified by artificial interference in natural processes. Some small agricultural communities exist which consciously aim to facilitate the cultivation of a way of life that is closer to nature, drawing its goods more directly from the earth and its abundance, rather than being subject to the necessity of acquiring of all things from the corporations that dominate market society.
But these communities are small, and still necessarily isolated from the wider society. Many people in these communities still have friends or family members outside their communities who suffer ill health due to the ravages of industrial agriculture, industrial food production, and industrial medicine, which are their only source of goods. More health-conscious people are unable to help these friends and family members, because the latter have been seduced and habituated by the forms of society — market society — in which they participate. Sometimes the mere suggestion that there is an alternative way of life is met not merely with respectful disagreement, but with severe moral disapproval. This suggests, not so much that these people are at fault for their blindness to alternative ways of life, but that they have been duped or brainwashed by a social structure that pressures them to accept its ways of life as morally imperative. The subjects of such a social order are not even aware that they are victims of a massive society-wide deception, that their very own mode of thinking and way of living — which they suppose they have freely chosen for themselves individually — is little more than an effect of social conditioning.
Turned away from nature as a bounteous giver of life, the vast majority of those living under the system of industrial capitalism are being trained to view their goods as scarce, as though they were constrained to receive their goods only from the market. At this point in the history of industrial capitalism, the market is a highly artificial construction, and the production that takes place to fuel the market is likewise highly artificial. It is, moreover, so concentrated and monopolized by a few giant corporations that the roots of all production in nature are practically invisible to everybody. Concurrently, the degree to which actual companies violate the observable laws and regularities of nature, in order to maximize profit, is likewise invisible to everybody — as is the degree to which the production process therefore harms the natural environment by exploiting it ruthlessly. In other words, nature as a source of bounty is expelled from the very consciousnesses of people who receive all of their goods from capitalist industry, through the plethora of artificial institutions that constitute the market. The slaves of the capitalist order have lost their sense of abundance.
In ancient pre-industrial societies — which many now would consider poorer than our own — nature was known as a source of abundance. This led many ancient religions to personify the elements of nature, to assign names and characters to them, to address them as persons and even worship them as gods. Mother nature was, to the primitive peoples, someone to whom they could express profound gratitude for the bounty she continually bestowed on them. She was not someone with whom humanity made a transaction; on the contrary, what she gave to men was a gift, given to them of her own accord. Christian, non-pantheistic societies did not abandon this ancient attitude. Nature was the reflection of an all provident God, and her goods were His gift, and a cause of profound gratitude. Nor did Christianity cease to personify nature after the decline of pagan religion. The book of Psalms is full of such personificaton, St. Paul speaks of creation in personal terms, and St. Francis of Assisi did not hesitate to address the elements directly as brother and sister. Nature was still, under God, a deeply personal entity — a society — with which human beings could enjoy a deep sense of solidarity and gratitude.
In our own society, we have assigned the character of person not to the elements of nature, but to the business corporation, who has taken the place of nature as our provider. Yet unlike the ancients, we feel no gratitude towards the corporation; though we classify them legally as persons, they function in our societies more like machines, in which all that is really personal has been suppressed and redirected to the maximization of supposedly productive (which is to say, financial) efficiency. The very idea of a person has been emptied of its content; it is no longer something to which we feel gratitude. This is an inevitable consequence of the universalization of the market relation, which is no more than a relation built upon equal transactions: the person with whom one makes a transaction is no more than a means to an end, a machine that provides an output in return for one’s own input. Moreover, one knows that the other views oneself in exactly the same way, as a means to his own ends. The persons who provide us with our consumer goods do not give of their own accord. Nothing that we have is a gift, and thus we have nothing to show gratitude for.
As a corollary, to the degree that persons interact with us outside the limits of the transaction relation, they interfere with our rights and invade our privacy. It is no wonder that we have so easily fallen to the degeneracy of aborting our unborn children, whom we should see as the most sacred gift of nature, yet whom we are willing to deny even the dignity of personhood in order to justify discarding them. What a world we live in, where we assign personhood to corporations, but not to our own children. Where nothing is a gift in the first place, and all is a transaction, gratitude for life and abundance can exist nowhere.
The culture of capitalism is the culture of scarcity; and consequently, it is the culture of death. Life is not available as a gift in abundance; it must rather be bought at a price, on a market, from a corporation. If it is offered from any other source, as a gift available in abundance, it is unwelcome. This is the ethic, the moral code, that is constantly fed to an unthinking “democratic” population existing under the regime of market capitalism. And it is poisoning and killing them — not only spiritually and intellectually, but physically and literally. This is a moral crisis of unprecedented proportions; but crucially, it is a crisis of a social nature. It is a great deal more than a problem of individuals making the wrong choices for themselves; these individuals are also victims of social structure, a whole political culture, which has long been forced upon them politically by a powerful global elite: the capitalist class. This process has a centuries-long history that, unfortunately, cannot be reversed; but it is not simply unraveling itself automatically, by some invisible hand. It is a political and deliberate process, perpetrated by political powers; and unless those powers are infiltrated by conscientious citizens who aspire to the common good of all, little progress will be made in returning humanity to more human way of life.