I'm not talking about big government, or even something like Democratic Socialism which I also support. No, I am simply interested in a discussion around what would be the opposite of the destructive, soul-crushing, sociopathic tendencies that we see from vulture capitalism? What would that actually look like?
Because when it comes down to a core concept, I think one of the many dark secrets of capitalism (both neoliberal and conservative flavors) is that there is no sense of inspiration. No heart. There is nothing, if you take away the profit motive — only all-encompassing personal greed. Neoliberals love to talk about building a better mousetrap, widgets, the Invisible Hand, all of these things which stem from what we know as classical — or 'competitive' — capitalism. Setting aside the military, if we look at where the money is now, where it comes from, and where it's going, all we see are financial services. All we see is the story of Reddit/WallStreetBets versus Melvin Capital, Obama versus Occupy Wall Street. Hell, I'm old enough to remember the Savings and Loan crisis.
If it wasn't about money, what would it be about? Is it possible that capitalism, and the profit motive, and the increasing monopolistic control of some of the most important sectors of our economy — namely media, finance, energy, even housing, and soon to be, farming as well — have lost sight of what the inspiration was? Because behind the very concept of business, is humanity; the idea of creating a better life for your customers. I'm setting aside, for the moment, the very question who the bad guys are, which is certainly worth a conversation, but peripheral to the point I'm trying to make here: maybe there's a systemic bias. Maybe the very concept of putting profit first is the problem.
And of course that's not a new concept either. I think criticism of the profit motive as a detriment to humanity — that goes pretty far back. Writers, academics, musicians: luminaries like Sinclair Lewis, George Orwell, Christopher Hutchins, Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, Woody Guthrie, even Joseph Pulitzer talked a lot about the importance of protecting the common man, and the poorest among us, from the ravages of untempered market capitalism and 'pornographic' authority. And then, of course, there is the great speech from Eisenhower from the end of his term. Although he was talking very specifically about the American war machine, he could easily be discussing Goldman Sachs. After all, predatory finance is the 21st century's answer to what was once military colonialism. They are not so far apart.
You might say that this has been on our mind, collectively speaking, for close to a hundred years now.
But just today I was rewriting the promotion page that I have here, because CHILLFILTR is in its third year now, and although our operating expenses tend to be in the black every month — offset just barely by the submission fees that we charge — we are still in a position where I personally am not making any money. And if that's the way it has to be, I think I can handle that, at least for now. It took Facebook 5 years to become profitable, and Amazon even longer. So I'm not too worried about that right now. But it does beg the question — what would happen to the world if there were more 'lone ranger' entrepreneurs like me, who have the resources and the personal commitment to create a long-term business model that is based around public good, as opposed to instant profitability?
As I was just writing earlier today, the easiest way to think about CHILLFILTR is as a public service. A bit like a library, or even open-source software. This entire business was set up in order to empower independent musicians who don't have deep pockets, or even the business acumen to build effective promo for themselves. And again, the neoliberal capitalists will say that the market takes care of everything, and that those who fail, deserve to fail. But I don't agree with that. I think anyone who looks around at the world as it is now, any reasonable person, can only conclude that many of the winners in our society did not deserve to win, and inversely that many of the losers in our society did not deserve to lose. And even beyond that — it's the money, or the lack of it, that creates losers. If you agree that everyone deserves to live a life free of hunger, and disease, regardless of personal circumstance (as I do), then it seems pretty clear that the entire world is better off when the least among us do not suffer. Fuck profit, and fuck your brand — how about we just feed people, and keep them warm? How about we build a world where no one has to die from poverty? Because widespread suffering is exactly where capitalism takes us. From the preservation of public commons, to the stewardship of the earth, and even to something as seemingly trivial as creating an equitable media landscape, capitalism is not up to the task. We need something else.
So this is the imbalance that we are addressing at CHILLFILTR, in our very small but perhaps mildly significant way. And I'm proud of that. The other public service that we are offering, in a collective fashion moreso, is as a keeper of record. So that maybe some of the bands and writers that we cover will come and go, and perhaps most of them, over time, will no longer have an active online presence. But if you sent us your song, or if you have accepted an honorarium from us in order to publish your poetry or your story online, then that work will live on inside CHILLFILTR, for as long as I can sustain it — and I'm talking decades, at least. And hopefully before I die, I can strike a deal with some journalism foundation to allow CHILLFILTR to live on, beyond even my lifetime. That's what I'm doing. But where's the profit?
There isn't any. Not yet, in any case. And I'm ok with it. Because I have chosen to put profit last, not first.
Ask yourself: what kind of world would we have if everyone was free to put profit last, and not first? What if no one had to choose between being kind, and being hungry? Between doing the right thing, and the safe thing? What if we never had to worry about hospital bills, or energy bills, or student loans? Think of all the other CHILLFILTRs that would spring up, in every imaginable corner of society. What a glorious world that would be.
Cover photo by Paul Fiedler.
Wall street police photo by Felix Koutchinski.
Photo of Les Jardins D'Etretat by Alesia Kazantceva.