Random Thoughts on the Psychobiology of Capitalism




Our bodies and brains evolved over eons, slowly calibrating to the African savanna on which our ancestors lived and died. Evolutionary psychology postulates that the mind is shaped by pressure to survive and reproduce. Genetics is destiny.

We jealously guard romantic partners and cherish our closest relatives above all others and view strangers with suspicion. We easily acquire language, which is critical for cooperation.

This hard wiring can be to some extent be overridden by culture. Living in a state of nature life becomes nasty, brutish and short, but free of internal conflict. After all the desire to pillage, loot, commit arson, homicide and sexual assault is part of the id..the respository in the mind of unconscious wishes, desires and impulses. Some of these drives like sex and aggression are hard-wired into the brain limbic apparatus. Others such as greed and coveting are culturally acquired.

The former are necessary to the politics of hunting gathering societies in the interest of maintaining control over the land and natural resources. In traditional cultures such as with Aboriginals, conflict was essentially over real estate and commodities. eg…”these are my buffalo and you can’t have them. If you try we will steal, rape your women and burn your tents”-survival and gene dispersal. Traits like xenophobia are hard-wired. We don’t trust foreigners as they are potential survival threats.

Empathy and altruism and its end product benevolence are hard-wired as well in the interest of intragroup survival. The hunter will share his kill with his immediate neighbour who might be a good stone carver but the hunter  anticipates nothing in return though grateful for a new flint arrowhead should it be rewarded. Empathy facilitates cooperation. Intergroup cooperation however through trade is an acquired trait aimed at promoting harmony.

Those in the group who were mentally or physically disabled were dispatched in the interest of survival and adaptive gene fitness. Mercy and rehabilitation are “advanced”cultural acquired skills.

So within the group, survival meant repressing primitive impulses (unless at war) and instilling a sharing ethic. This means that humans are essentially hard-wired to socialism as a socio- political philosophy. The advent of agriculture 10,000 years ago lead to the notions of private property and acquisition of private (unshared) wealth. This facilitated the expression of another id trait -greed. This is unnatural as it is not hard-wired.

The ultimate outcome is the economic system of free market capitalism. This is not to supply needs but wants. After all we can all do fine with one type of beer and one model of car. Wants are endless and lead to envy and conspicuous consumption. Products become societal antidepressants. And capitalists the new therapist. You have a fight with your spouse you can feel better by purchasing a new purse or a watch.

The capitalist who produces the best watch or purse drowns out his competitor. The latter goes bankrupt, his wife has an affair with her boss and his kid steals a bike because someone else has a better one and he is entitled to it.

“The thirst for power and possessions knows no limits. In this system, which tends to devour everything that stands in the way of increased profits, whatever is fragile, like the environment, is defenseless before the interests of a deified market, which become the only rule.”…… Pope Francis

Socialist run economies on the other hand lead to loss of ambition and the production of inferior products-the Lada vs the BMW. This simply suggests the need for balance and that economic and social activity must be based on the virtues of compassion and generosity.

The pope has referred to capitalism as the “dung of evil”, as it brings out the dark side of human nature- greed, envy and narcissism-egoism by any other name. This is not hard wiring but rather cultural “software” created and exported by western cultures and honed to imperfection by the USA.

It is in his job description as Pope to promote altruism and a social conscience. After all Jesus was a Socialist. Bible thumping conservatives conveniently forget that.

The most “civilized” societies are those most in tune with our primordial hard wiring-Denmark, Belgium, France or Holland. They embrace government regulated capitalism as an economic theory. Belgium produces the best beer, France great wines and Holland the finest tulips.

Without fetters, pure free markets are like the law of the jungle, where the strong steal from the weak-Lord of the Flies- back to stone age culture at its most competitive and sociopathic.

Socialism embraced by the aforementioned countries is the antidote and the most congruent with human nature. Capitalism thus becomes socially balanced and altruistic.

Yesterday a patient of mine of the selfie generation, requested a sick note for a work absence. I sent it to her free of charge with no expectation of reward. She wrote back saying I could pocket 25$ from her company but I declined congruent with my altruist anti greed existential position.

The Pope would give his blessing. So would a tribal chieftain.

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One Response to “Random Thoughts on the Psychobiology of Capitalism”

  1. Carole Kocian says:

    Multiculturalism confuses civilized societies. I guarantee that those civilized countries named have the same issues with the influx of refugees in the modern world as the rest of the world had and does have regardless of economic matters.

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