How Is Capitalism Like a Religion?

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© 2007-2018 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 functions like a religion.

  1. In the ways that it encourages blind belief and discourages critical thinking.
  2. In the ways that 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
Small-business workers

How the services and structures of capitalism resemble those of religions

  • Advertisement: In its modern form it appeals to subconscious needs. It is meant to be personally meaningful. In the same way, religious texts are meant to be personally meaningful.
  • Shopping is like making a sacrament. While shopping is inevitable in any market system, it is made into something personally meaningful, like an expression of faith in the precept of buying because products always getting better.
  • A purchase: It connects a personal meaning to the holy market and expresses faith in the system.
  • A purchase: It connects personal needs and is an express of personal aspirations within the system: To be richer, prettier, etc.
  • Recycling: While urgently necessary recycling expresses a lack of faith in the system. It is strongly opposed by some but merely ignored by the faithful masses.
  • Human sacrifice: The homeless are the human sacrifices to the capitalist religion -- offerings to the god of profit.
    • They are sacrificed by those who are functionaries of the religion and 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 meritocracy 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 a far harder experience than being housed, or that homelessness is deliberately made almost impossible to escape.
    • Their example serves to keep the 99% in line and believing in the money god, much as how wannabe prophets were crucified 2000 years ago. Believe in the 1-percent's values of greed leading to debt or else. Homeless people are the heretics essentially. Every day is like being slowly burned at the stake.
  • The human sacrifice of the homeless goads people into conforming. 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 who experienced a brief Hell on Earth; believers are guilted into conforming.
    2. In Islam: gays, atheists, apostates and sex slaves are the human sacrifices and made to experience Hell on Earth, so that nonconformists are terrorized into conforming.
    3. In Capitalism: the homeless are sacrificed publicly and made to experience Hell on Earth and degradation, to disgust and frighten people into conforming.
  • Capitalism makes people do crazy things: to each other, to the environment, to themselves. Capitalism makes people think crazy thoughts: like the idea that unlimited growth is possible on a finite planet. : Homeless people serve are convenient scapegoats. Everyone can point to them and say they are the crazy ones, not me. In this way they are sacrificed in order to permit the masses to continue living in a crazy way. The common person projects his craziness onto them.
  • To buy something is to give proof of your life/ within the capitalist system. Only the dead do not shop. A person without meaning in their life may buy too much.
  • Hoarding: This is the accumulation of artifacts each of which has a meaning intimately tied to capitalism.
    • Most artifacts are mass-produced.
    • Most are plastic.
    • Most are cheaply made.
    • 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 coverting anything in Creation into commodities.
  • Rival gods: The holy Market (Market is God) no longer allows you to believe that there are rival gods. There was only ever one god, the Market, and to say otherwise is both stupid and blasphemous. : Socialism? Puh! Only an atheist would believe in that nonsense.
  • First Cause: In the beginning there was 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: It is a blessing from above. Your fate and fortunes are tied up in whether you are lucky enough to be so blessed.
  • Investment: Those who lack it are forsaken: cut off and doomed. They were judged meritless.
  • Investment: A country that lacks foreign investment is deemed poor and pitiful. This justifies eventual military intervention which is disrespectful and 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 Socialist devil who must be attacked continually and every year e.g. as in the Cuban embargo.
    • The devil that makes people want/ to be homeless is one (it is a choice).
  • 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
  • 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
  • ageism
  • wage cuts
  • 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.