Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Morality must counteract corrupt politics


Involvement in the political arena can seem overwhelming these days. Even casting a vote never feels as simple as it should. When we walk into the booth, we are presented with a list of potential representatives to choose from. But their views and intentions are rarely clear, and we are left with a nagging feeling that, despite the sticker and pats on the back for doing our “civic duty,” we really didn’t contribute much of anything at all.

This alienation from the political system is hardly surprising. It seems the U.S. operates on the basis of two overarching institutions, capitalism and democracy, and we spend much more time involved with the former because of its clearer effect on our material realities. Our lives center on our own economic well being, so when it comes time to vote it feels like we’re being asked questions that we’re not really equipped to answer.

Furthermore, the entire political “game” feels foreign. The candidates seem like they come from another world, a realm of corporate donations, political scheming and people pleasing with a concerning lack of emphasis on actual policy or political thought.

But as citizens we are acutely aware that there are real problems, real issues that exist beyond the petty politics. Climate change, for all the recent attention it has received, is still an incredibly pressing concern, with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change forecasting significant temperature rise over the next century Meanwhile, the economic inequality in this country remains morally abhorrent and ever-increasing, having now reached its highest point since before the Great Depression It seems like the sad reality, however, that in the present political culture casting a vote will do little to help.

So how are we to respond? Our constitutional republic has mutated into a self-sufficient political machine incapable of truly serving the interests of the people, with little hope of redemption by the ballot.

What I propose is a political agenda that removes itself entirely from the present system, which rests soundly on human principles of morality to circumnavigate the toxicity of the current political arena. What I propose is “end-game anarchism.”

This political agenda has nothing to do with voting, or campaigning or indeed with interacting with the current system at all. All it involves is the continued promulgation of empathy, compassion and decent moral values to promote the progress of humanity capable of governing itself.

Leftist thinkers and intellectuals have long understood the deficiencies in our capitalist system. The constant competition, the acceptance of the idea that individuals of “higher faculties” deserve material reward, has brought about a society in which a banker can step over a homeless beggar on the streets without a tinge of moral apprehension. Since Karl Marx, countless individuals have recognized the essential injustice of a capitalist society and devoted their lives to changing it.

But their efforts have too often emphasized the need for a “revolution.” Leftists from Lenin to Mao have fomented violence to gain power and seize the modes of production from the capitalists’ hands. They felt that an abrupt transformation was necessary; they viewed “reformism” with mistrust But with such a quick transition, individuals have no time to develop the moral consciousness necessary for a thriving collective society.

Argentine Marxist Che Guevara described, after the Cuban Revolution, the need for the development of a “new man and woman” sharing in a “unified march forward.” But, in that case as in the others, this moral unification had yet to develop when the country turned to communism, and the ensuing socialization of production by the state did not come with the same feelings of choice and liberty that would accompany a collective anarchist society.

Such a society, as utopian and unrealistic as it may seem, could come into existence only after years of moral transformation and ideological change. People would need to turn to the virtue of compassion as the driving force and the ultimate source of happiness in their lives. The idea of “treating others the way you would like to be treated,” that golden rule so often cited and so less often practiced, has served as a spiritual linchpin. But by making it a genuine factor in everyday life, by insisting that it is more important than the capitalistic materialism at the heart of our current society, people would naturally begin to acquire communistic tendencies.

As moral actors we should all work towards this ultimate goal. Sure, we can participate in the present politics as we choose. Despite our feelings of alienation from the system, important decisions are still there to be democratically made. Beyond anything written on a contemporary ballot, we should put our fullest energies in the simple promotion of morality and decency, for human progress lies in the potential for politically-engaged compassion in the hearts of the people.

Benjamin Clabault can be reached at [email protected].

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  • K

    KelsoNov 20, 2014 at 10:40 am

    Nice ideas. His holiness The Dali Lama would be totally on board. The problem is that human nature…that self-centered, materialistic nature that you are editorializing about and that is so pervasive in our world today…. tends to get in the way, making meaningful changes almost impossible. On the positive side, there are…hopefully…enough well-meaning, charitable people (like the Gates family) out there to act as a counterbalance to those that live selfish lives that the playing field will stay somewhat even. Too bad we can’t get a few hundred of those “good guys” in congress. That might make real change possible.

  • Z

    Zac BearsNov 18, 2014 at 1:11 pm

    Human actors acting immorally over a long period of time inherently change the rules of our institutions to favor the powerful. Capitalism in theory is not immoral. American capitalism as practiced during much of U.S. history and today is immoral.

  • C

    CarolNov 17, 2014 at 11:21 pm

    Oh Benjamin, Nana just read your newspaper article. We’re all so proud of our little journalist. Keep up the good work. Call me soon. I have a gift package for you.

  • B

    Ben CNov 17, 2014 at 9:23 pm

    Thank you very much for the thoughtful criticism. I agree 100% that anti-establishment commentators (myself included) tend to bash existing systems as “evil” without acknowledging that it is often human actions and not the institutions themselves that cause the problems.

    With that being said, in the case of capitalism, I think the system creates conditions that often (but not necessarily) promote immoral behavior. In the (admittedly cliche) example of the banker stepping over the homeless man, the banker feels no guilt because he accepts the idea that the system dictates that those deserving of material reward will justly earn it, while others will not.

    But to (kind of) agree with your final point, I think the morality really is by far the most important thing. The theory I was trying to touch on in the column, and I know it’s a little out there, is that, if humanity were to achieve a widespread, transcendent sense of morality, then we would likely naturally lean towards a society of a free communistic nature, because of a natural desire to spread material wealth fairly.

  • S

    Stefan HerlitzNov 17, 2014 at 1:06 am

    Excellent article- I agree with you that people do tend to be lacking in the morality department.

    However, I disagree with the implication that capitalism is itself materialist, corrupt, unjust, or morally deficient. By definition capitalism is a system of free exchange and private property. Capitalism itself is neither moral nor immoral, just or unjust- it just is. What makes a capitalist society moral or immoral is not the existence of capitalism but the influence of immoral people.

    In the presence of compassion, decency, and morality, capitalism is a system of justice and charity. In a capitalist system people are free to spend their time and resources to help others, and a capitalist system fully populated by moral individuals one would invariably see most people willingly helping others, either through donations or volunteerism.

    In the end a communist or socialist system is too easily abused- centralization of power is not always a good thing, but neither is complete laissez-faire. The best choice is a mixed economy populated by moral individuals. We already have the mixed economy, so all we need is the morality.