How Is Capitalism Like a Religion?

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© 2007-2019 by Zack Smith. All rights reserved.

How capitalism functions like a religion

Capitalism is not a religion, but there are two broad ways in which it religion-like.

  1. It encourages blind belief, blind acceptable of certain values, and it discourages critical thinking.
  2. It molds and influences social and political structures.

An example of blind belief includes unjustified respect for CEOs and other high-level executives. Another is blind belief in the free market, which all evidence shows is not free; indeed it is rigged and the major players operate a corporate cartel, in which directors of companies sit on the boards of multiple companies and are able to coordinate activities.

An example of how capitalism influences societal structures is that it establishes a kind of caste system in some places, where high-paid corporate workers enjoy a range of benefits and preferential treatment and are treated as valued, but those who work for subcontractors, in small businesses or independently are given very little and are treated as undeserving and disposable. Nearer the bottom are the unemployed, and at the very bottom are the homeless.

Inside the corporation:

Corporate Caste System (most important at top)
Full-timers (loyalists)
Foreign offshore staff
Disposable contractors and consultants

In society:

Corporate Caste System (most important at top)
Corporate workers
Independent contractors
Small-business workers

How the services and structures of capitalism resemble those of religions

  • Advertisement: In its modern form it appeals to subconscious needs. Produces are meant to be personally meaningful. In the same way, religious texts are meant to be personally meaningful. To this end, they hack the mind, exploits its defects to gain an unmerited parasitic attachment.
  • Shopping is like making a sacrament. While shopping is inevitable in any market system, the capitalism religion makes it into something personally poignant, because
    • it affirms the buyer's personal value and worth by virtue of her participating in the market
    • it affirms the buyer's presence in and connection to the real world, as represented by the market (as opposed to real things that are monetarily free, like mountains)
    • it asserts the buyer's relevance, when she is buying the fresh new junk not the stale and pointless old junk.
  • Shopping is like an expression of faith in the notion that the system is always making the world better because the proof is that products are always getting better. (Or are they?) Each purchase expresses faith in the system.
  • A purchase: It connects to personal needs (e.g. for attention) and is an expression of personal aspirations (e.g. to be the prettiest) with the system:
    • To be richer
    • To be prettier
    • To be more active
    • To have more fun and better fun
  • Recycling: While urgently necessary to save the environment, recycling expresses a lack of faith in the system. It is strongly opposed by some who see it as an attack on Market Faith, an attempt at exposing the dirty truth, but recycling is merely ignored by the faithful masses as a waste of time. (Some old-fashioned idolaters may assume perhaps that Jesus is my janitor and he will clean the world when he returns.)
  • Human sacrifice: The homeless are the human sacrifices to the capitalist religion -- offerings to the god of profit.
    • They are eagerly sacrificed by those who are functionaries of the system and who therefore believe in the meritocracy -- city administrators, the police etc.
    • The homeless serve to reinforce the false narrative of promised success of the capitalist religion. In order for the public to believe we live in a real meritocracy, instead of the fake and rigged one we actually live in, there has to be hard consequences for the people who are designated as losers: those who have no merit or who refuse to work hard. Never mind that being homeless is proven to be a far harder experience than being housed, or that homelessness is deliberately made almost impossible to escape.
    • Homelessness is made difficult to withstand and escape on purpose to keep the majority in line. Their example serves to keep the 99% in line and fearing the money god. You must believe in the 1-percent's values of greed and insatiable consumption which lead to debt slavery and obesity... or else.
    • Because homeless people are not enthusiastic devotees of the capitalist religion, they are assumed to be either insane or addicted to drugs. They are heretics essentially. Every day is like being slowly burned at the stake i.e. the suffering of the homeless is an implicit harsh penance: an Auto da Fé.
  • The human sacrifice of the homeless goads people into conforming. They are a visible sign of what happens to you if you do not conform. It requires:
    1. A horrible sacrifice
    2. A fear, terror, or guilt
    3. Resulting conformity.
  • For comparison:
    1. In Christianity: Jesus was the human sacrifice nailed to a cross by Romans and he experienced a brief Hell on Earth before waking up injured in a cave; believers are guilted into conforming because they have original sin which Jesus paid for. (The exchange rate is astronomical.)
    2. In Islam: gays, atheists, apostates, non-Muslims and sex slaves are its human sacrifices and made to experience Hell on Earth, so that nonconformists are terrorized into conforming and they keep their many doubts to themselves such as wait, how can a mass murderer be a prophet.
    3. In Capitalism: the homeless are sacrificed publicly and made to experience Hell on Earth and degradation, to disgust and frighten people into conforming. They are made examples of.
    4. In pseudo-Communist China, the Falun Gong are the public sacrifices according to the 5% Rule, which dictates harming a minority to make the majority stay in line.
  • Capitalism makes people do crazy things: to each other, to the environment, to themselves.
    • In the market religion, self-modification is seen as affording a competitve advantage, hence:
      • Fake breasts
      • Fake lips
      • Fake butt
      • Fake eyebrows like Angry Birds'.
    • Self-medicating using Adderall to gain a competitve advantage is common on college campuses even though it's proven to offer no advantage on average.
  • Capitalism makes people think crazy thoughts: such that insanity becomes normalized.
    1. Consider the crazy idea that unlimited growth is possible on a finite planet. 100% illogical.
    2. Psychopathy among CEOs is allegedly common (see The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson).
    3. The primary designated crazy people i.e. Homeless, serve are convenient scapegoats
    4. to wear the Emblem of Shame so that others doesn't need to. Everyone can point to them and say they are the crazy ones, not me! Thus the common person projects his craziness onto them. This is another inhumane sacrifice of the homeless by the faithful masses to permit living in a crazy way.
  • To buy something is to obtain proof of life within the capitalist system, and proof of faith. (Testify, believer!) Only the dead do not shop. Only the heretics refuse to.
  • A person without meaning in her life, living an Empty Life, living isolated, may buy too much and this is dysfunction is common both among the affluent and the debt-strapped poor.
  • Hoarding: This is the curious accumulation of mostly worthless artifacts each of which carries a subtle meaning affirming the supremacy of capitalist religion:
    • Most artifacts are mass-produced.
    • Most are plastic, made to be disliked and disposed of.
    • Most are cheaply made to fall apart.
    • Most are made overseas.
  • Omnipotence: According to Harvey Cox writing in The Atlantic (The Market as God; March 1999), the Market is God and its pervasive power is that of converting anything in Creation into commodities.
  • Rival gods: The holy Market (Market is God) no longer allows you to believe that there are rival gods. In this way it is similar to Islam and other totalizing cults. There was only ever one god, the Market, and to say otherwise is both stupid and blasphemous.
  • Rival belief systems: Socialism? Puh! Only an atheist would believe in that nonsense. The supremacy of the capitalism religion is proven by its status as the preeminent world-dominating mind parasite.
  • First Cause: In the beginning there was only the Market, and it was pure and Free. But then came the devilish and all-too-human Regulator who fettered and constricted it. This was mankind's First Sin.
  • Holy books: Just as religious fanatics extract useful quotes and invent wild interpretations from their holy books to justify absurd opinions and even heinous acts, so do economists and capitalists with their core thinkers' works. : Adam Smith (Wealth of Nations) and David Ricardo (Principles of Political Economy and Taxation), not to mention modern economics researchers, are used as sources for cherry-picked quotations to justify absurd opinions (e.g. Supply-side economics and even heinous economic acts (e.g. Greek austerity). : When the works of intellectuals are too deep to contemplate, capitalists turn to purile ideas from Ayn Rand.
  • In the holy market everything can be bought and sold. Even illness and suffering are profitable: You have to pay for your cure in the market. Socialist healthcare is blasphemy!
  • Omniscience: The market naturally decides the correct prices of all things -- it decides all -- because it is omniscient. We mere mortal humans are not and we therefore cannot understand the magical ways of the all-knowing market. Not surprisingly all mention of price fixing and rigged markets can be dispelled with such theological talk.

  • The Righteous: Social Darwinism is the moral system of capitalism.
    • Those with talents are rewarded.
    • Those without talents are punished.
    • But it is a false meritocracy because capitalism manufactures losers in order to prove the successful earned their success.
    • Capitalism degenerates to crony capitalism with its ever-increasing corruption.
  • The movie theater: It functions like a church. Its purpose is to instill the values of capitalism.
  • The TV: It functions like a private altar. You sacrifice your own life upon it.
  • Economists: The (Neoclassical) economists serve as the high priests of capitalism. They may not know their own scripture well (Wealth of Nations etc. but they preach they gospel of the 1 Percent and guide the larger policies.
  • Economic Hitmen: (As described by John Perkins) These are equivalent to the Christian Crusaders or Muslim Rashidun. Whereas those were armies and pillagers the Economic Hitmen conquer with unpayable debts.
  • Stock brokers: These are akin to the Masons of medieval Europe. They are essential workers doing the work of maintaining the infrastructure of finance.
  • Bankers and speculators: Like stock brokers they work on the infrastructure of finance but they are corrosive to the system. They seek to expand their empires. In this way they are akin to caliphates. They operate on a level above mere corporations just as caliphates operate above sects.
  • Blasphemy: To share what you own is offensive if not criminal. It is an attack on the system.
  • Not quite blasphemy: To give away your labor or possessions is considered crazy.
  • A brand is like a denomination or sect: You are captured by it.
    • You belong to the Apple sect or the Samsung sect.
    • The Microsoft sect is deem satanic by some.
  • Messiah: Every cult has its cult leader or prophet. He or she has a story and a vision.
    • Steve Jobs was the messiah of the Apple cult. (Watch BBC's documentary Secrets of the Superbrands.)
    • Elon Musk is the messiah of the Tesla cult.
  • Wealth: This is akin to inherent religious righteousness. The rich deserve their abundance.
  • Poverty: This is akin to inherent religious unrighteousness. The poor deserve their suffering.
  • Shopping malls: These are similar to cathedrals and are attended by throngs of the faithful (consumers).
  • Investment by others in your business: This is deemed a blessing from above. Your fate and fortunes are tied up in whether you are lucky enough to be so blessed. But beware! Some investors are devils in disguise, who trick you into giving away your business.
  • Investment by others in your business make you holier: Those who lack it are forsaken: cut off and doomed. They were judged meritless. Your startup has Angels who bequeath you with sainthood (for maybe 6 months until you fail).
  • Foreign investment: A country that lacks foreign investment is deemed a poor and pitiful backwater, not even a banana republic. Elites can kiss up to Wall Street, but they never get their act together. This justifies eventual military intervention which is akin to forceful religious conversion.
  • The Devil: There are many devils in the capitalist religion.
    • The devil that causes people to complain about pollution.
    • The devil that makes people insist on regulation of businesses.
    • The devil that drives people crazy and want to make things instead of buy them ready-made.
    • The devil that makes people want to be homeless (yes, homelessness is a choice).
    • The Socialist devil who must be attacked continually and every year e.g. as in the Cuban embargo.
  • The relatively new Postmodernist Capitalism Cult has its own devils:
    • The nationalist.
    • The heterosexual white male.
    • The free-speech advocate.
    • The anti-corporate crusader.
    • Those who claim there are only two genders.
    • The deviant companies that don't cave in to Outrage Mobs.
  • God Complex: In an inflated bubble market, narcissistic traders look into the mirror and decide they are not only geniuses for their lucky guesses and manipulations, but actually god-like. They do not recognize that any fool can get rich in an inflating bubble, because their narcissism blocks out any realistic thoughts.

What psychological functions does capitalism-religion support?

Faced with a wide diversity of human experiences, anthropologists struggle with these questions:

  • How do we even define a religion?
  • What does religion do for a society and for the individual?
  • How does religion operate within a society including how does it promote and protect itself?
  • What harms does religion cause?

The answers to these questions are as relevant to capitalism as they are to any religion.

False hope and meaning

For individuals who are living largely empty lives, working at disheartening jobs so that others can become rich while they remain relatively poor, the lure of capitalism is that anyone can get rich, anyone can own a McMansion, anyone can become respected i.e. by the myraid fools who equate wealth with importance and substance.

False pride

Some proponents of capitalism, it seems, become highly irrational if not unhinged by their rhetoric and greed with the end result of transforming into zealots. They suffer from a false belief that capitalist ideology is somehow superior to all others, especially in the jaundiced Wall Street variant, which espouses the notion that greed is good. But capitalism inevitably degrades to crony capitalism, manifesting corruption at the highest levels, becoming corrosive to democracy and enormously destructive to people and the environment, not unlike Soviet communism.

False knowledge

It is a very rare capitalist who has read Adam Smith, David Ricardo or any other major thinker, nor who truly understands economics. This is in part due to misinformation campaigns and miseducation in the form of Neoclassical economics. This does not stop proponents of capitalism from claiming, as the religious do, that We have the right information and interpretation, not you.

False wisdom

As with many religious people, proponents of capitalism avoid thinking for themselves, and especially avoid critical thinking. They rely on the wisdom of others, who in the capitalist system are not priests but rather pundits, CEOs and corporate yes-men who offer a stream of outright lies, easy rationales and illogical thinking that they pass off as respectable opinions and even wisdom.

False righteousness

Proponents of capitalism insist they are morally right, despite plentiful evidence that enormous harm is done by capitalism everyday to humans and to the environment, which virtually no proponents want to recognize, or seek to remedy, and indeed some vigorously oppose remedies for the wrongs of capitalists, while blaming the victims.

Worry suppression

Just as how religion provides believers a great deal of cause for worry, so does capitalism. Each provides many mechanisms and vigorous punditry to help people suppress their worries and to continue believing blindly.

Justification of violence and harm

While capitalism is presented as benign, the fixation on money definitely causes much harm to many people and causes soul damage for its proponents, who rationalize harming other people e.g. in major ways:

  • Invading a country militarily in order to impose debts (read Confessions of an Economic Hitman)
  • killing union leaders
  • Imprisoning people for minor intellectual property violations
  • Demanding huge too big to fail payments
  • Privatizing prisons and filling them just to maximize profits
  • Money laundering by big banks

And minor ways:

  • Layoffs
  • Outsourcing: The new alcoholism. Each new warm body is to the outsourcer what free booze is to the alcoholic.
  • Ageism: As in Logan's Run, the old people are eliminated.
  • Wage cuts, the race to the bottom in wages and quality.
  • Firing injured people
  • Pollution

The perpetrators may attribute to their victims a willingness, understanding and acceptance of harsh outcomes that they often do not have, or they may just write them off as collateral damage.

Justification of irresponsible behavior e.g. pollution

If the world is just a holding area before you go to the afterlife, why not pollute it? Jesus is our janitor.

Religions provide a made-up story about the world that makes it OK. The capitalism religion simply pushes all concerns under the rug. All that matters is money and status. Pollution will be washed away into the ocean and only be a concern in the distant future.