Tuesday, July 4, 2017

The Great Capitalism vs Communism Debate (revisited)

It appears that the Umno home ministry has come up with a new political strategy. It wants to associate the Chinese-dominated Democratic Action Party (DAP) with the creeping return of communism.

Indeed, this vile strategy is laced with the usual Umno brand of racist arsenic. It seeks to create - or, rather, resurrect - the illusion that all Chinese are actual or potential communists. Which is patently an infantile, stupid and shallow notion easily rebutted.

Russia and Cuba are known to be communist nations - yet there aren't too many Chinese to be found in either country. Of course, this has never occurred to the rabidly racist editors of Utusan Malaysia, Umno's propaganda rag.

Communism as a political ideology transcends race - just like its Siamese twin, capitalism.

Being infantile, stupid and shallow is par for the course when it comes to Umno politics. To anyone outside Umno it must be clear as crystal that Umno isn't really interested in anything apart from ferociously clinging onto the political dominance the party has enjoyed - or, rather, abused - since 1957. Nothing else matters to Umno: certainly not issues of justice, human rights, fair play, accountable government, and democratic space (without which no healthy mental, moral or social development can occur).

The most intelligent contribution to the capitalism versus communism debate I ever came across was from a most unlikely source: I read it in a 1976 book by Osho (then known as Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh) titled I Am The Gate.

I can't find the book in my library. Someone must have pinched it "by accident," as often happens with so-called friends who solemnly swear they will return my books and then disappear from my event horizon for years, until I've forgotten those books once existed within easy reach. So I shall have to paraphrase instead of quote Osho verbatim. What he said on the subject immediately struck a chord and has remained permanently embedded in my memory.

Communism and capitalism are actually two ends of the same stick, Osho said.

They are two extremes of a pendulum's swing, the apparent beginning and end of what is essentially a connected circle, the in- and out-breath of the respiration cycle. How so?

Let's say that capitalism involves the accumulation of energy, experience and expertise. We shall call it the inhalation phase.

It must be followed by an exhalation phase wherein the accumulated capital (in this case the intake of air) is redistributed to all parts of the body via the lungs, while carbon dioxide is released as exhaust, so that the plant kingdom can breathe. Isn't it extraordinary that the plants then exhale oxygen which animals (including humans) vitally need?

Well, says Osho, breathing out - redistributing and sharing - may be regarded as the communist phase of the breathing cycle. It usually follows a capitalist phase, simply because we must have some something before we can attempt share anything with anyone.


What happens when you attempt to hold your breath indefinitely without exhaling? You die. Same effect applies if you breathe out and don't bother breathing in again. In effect, there really is no conflict or contradiction between these ideologies.

Capitalism recognizes that genius - the curiosity to explore and the capacity to innovate - resides in individuals, never the collective. Therefore, the unquantifiable value of the human individual must always be honored - because each of us has the unlimited potential to creatively contribute to the whole. Classic examples of capitalists would be Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, Walt Disney, Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, and Mark Zuckerberg.

Communism recognizes that experience, expertise, knowledge and wisdom - which constitute our real capital - have to be shared as widely as possible. Otherwise the accumulated capital will turn toxic and kill the hoarder. Anything of genuine value - say a loaf of bread - has to be shared and consumed before it becomes moldy and therefore potentially hazardous to health.

Same goes for fuel, whether you're talking about huge tanks of petrol or a massive woodpile. Those who hoard fuel are only endangering themselves. Would you be able to sleep peacefully knowing there's a stack of 50-gallon tanks of flammable substance right under your bed? And if you accumulate a 10-year supply of firewood and keep it carefully hidden from your neighbors shivering in the cold, what happens a few years down the line is you'll discover termites have eaten their way through most of your fuel stockpile and have now digested your roofbeams. Don't be too surprised if the entire roof crashes down on your head while you're fast asleep.

How about those who hoard cash? Well, if you stash a few billion US dollars under your floorboards, chances are you'll find the currency notes are worth less than 10% of their original value after an unforeseen depreciation triggered by a financial meltdown like the one that happened less than a year ago.

The moment you understand the simple truth of what Osho stated, you'll realize that capitalism and communism are natural expressions of dynamic cyclical processes - like wet and dry seasons, hot and cold spells, day and night, inhalation and exhalation, expansion and contraction.

In other words, we are all at different times capitalists as well as communists.

So what's the problem? The confusion often arises when capitalism is equated with democracy, and communism with totalitarianism.

I can't imagine what would make a sane and rational human being opt for tyranny over freedom - but the amazing fact is, some do. I hear people opine that they prefer a strong leader who will govern with an iron hand. Leaders who tend towards egalitarianism and democratic ideals are regarded as weak and wishy-washy.

Perhaps those who choose despotic and authoritarian over democratic and accountable government are the ones who feel lost without a parental figure to guide them. Often, their loyalty to even the cruelest, harshest leader makes them identify the state as a father figure. The fear of losing their patriarchal deity turns them aggressive. Like a bird in captivity that has gotten accustomed to its confinement, they might even peck your eyes out if you attempt to open their cage door so they can experience freedom.

So what do we do? Well, we can either leave them to die in their (mental) cages... or wear protective glasses when undoing the latch on the cage door... just in case the bird panics and turns vicious... or starts calling you silly names like Sylvester.

[First posted 7 June 2009, reposted 5 February 2014]
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