Friday, October 28, 2016

Capitalism and Pleasure

Adam Smith (Scottish National Gallery, given by J.H. Romanes l945)
Is capitalism based on the deferral of pleasure? This was an issue that Max Weber was dealing with in The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. If you believe in predestination which was one of the tenets of Protestantism than the difference between the saved and the damned would be demonstrated by their adherence to values of frugality and saving. But forget the religion, if you're a true capitalist you expend effort in order to build your wealth. Those who believe in seizing the day (carpe diem) indulge the pleasure principle at the expense of their principal. While the sybarite might, with his or her Dionysian spirit, delight in wine, woman and song, the capitalist who's more reason bound and Apollonian, to invoke Nietzsche’s famous duality, actually experiences pain at the loss of his potential wealth. The outflow of capital registers as a diminution of spirit. The anorexia of Kafka’s Hungerkunstler (Hunger Artist) is a perversion of the Protestant ethic. It’s capitalism in extremis to the extent that self-deprivation eventually leads to suicide. The legal philosopher Ronald Dworkin pointed out that self-sacrifice is no longer a form of good if it results in doing harm to the self. So it is with the emetic notion of grace. A true capitalist is not an anorexic since his deferral of pleasure is predicated on the notion of future bliss. While the capitalist defers pleasure, he or she does so in the spirit of anticipation. However, the pleasure that results is more like gestation to the extent that by saving he or she derives satisfaction not from the possibilities of enjoying what money can buy, but in seeing his or her nest egg grow.

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