Questioner: Do you think that capitalism is at the root of the problems we face today? If yes, what can the individual do? For example, at societal level, income inequality has kept on increasing; at the economical level, greed drives many business decisions; at the individual level, we are put in a race to achieve more levels in monetary gains, and this extends also to how we deal with education, housing, travel, and healthcare, which are very expensive nowadays. So, I want your opinion on this. Do you think that capitalism is the core issue to be addressed, and how should we go about it?
Acharya Prashant: It’s not as if human beings are alright within themselves and pure of intention, simple and innocent beings, and then somehow an alien system called capitalism invades them and victimizes them. But somehow that’s how a lot of us would like to think, because this line of thought places the blame of our present condition on something alien to us. So, we are then happily able to justify being what we are and claim innocence.
Where does capitalism come from? If we say capitalism is to be blamed for our situation as it is, where does this economic and social system come from? It comes from the mind of man. It comes from our own tendencies. Capitalism is just a way of organization of the economy. What does it say? It says that private individuals will have the right to function economically as they please and that they will have the freedom to earn profits, and supply and demand will determine the market prices, and the government would not interfere in such matters.
Now, you are giving somebody the right to do economic activity as per his choice. Per se, how can this be blamed for the mess we are in? Let’s say you give the right of production and the right of ownership of capital and resources to some other entity, like the government, which we think of as an alternate system. You give the ownership of resources not to private entities but to the collective entity called the government—will that really change things? Because if the mind of the human being is corrupted, then so will be the mind of the government.
I am someone who has been given the right to operate freely and produce and sell as I please. What will I produce? How will I sell? How will I entice my prospective consumer to buy? That depends on the direction of my mind and the center I am operating from. If the center I am operating from is itself animalistic, then I will want to earn profits for myself, whatever be the social cost. I will say, I might be selling something very useless and also quite dangerous, and if I have to manipulate the customer’s mind to get my thing sold, I will do that.
You let the government have control of goods and services, and the corrupt mind is found there as well; there the corrupt mind will manifest itself in some other form. We know the kind of corruption that prevailed in the erstwhile USSR. We know what went on behind the iron curtain. We know why economic activity had to collapse, and why the collapse of economic activity was one of the reasons behind the disintegration of that country.
So, if we are rotten from within, that rottenness will show up irrespective of the economic system, philosophical system, political system, social system we choose for ourselves. No system will have the power to redeem us because we are the fathers of all our systems. Systems come from us; we don’t come from our systems.
So, the point the systems come from, the source, that has to be cleansed. But that involves something very challenging: that involves challenging the very ego of the human being. And all that we see around ourselves is nothing but the game of the ego, the fundamental existential self. The game is on for the sustenance, furtherance, and protection of the ego. The ego will not want the game to shape up in a way that challenges the existence of the player itself. The game exists for the pleasure of the player; the player is the ego. But if you want to play the game in a way that the player runs the risk of annihilation, then the player refuses to play the game. But that is what we need today. Otherwise, all that we are staring at is a massive destruction of the kind we have never historically witnessed.
So, it’s not about a debate between philosophies; it’s not capitalism versus socialism; it’s not any ism versus any other ism. It’s fundamentally about self-knowledge. Do we know who we are? Once we realize who we are, our trust on the products of our thought will reduce, and then we will be a little cautious of seeking solutions in systems of thought. You can come up with newer and newer systems of thought, place your faith in them, and hope that the new system, the seemingly innovative system, will redeem you. Unfortunately, it won’t because of the simple reason that we are reiterating: it is all coming from the same center, it is all coming from the same place. So, a new system may offer a glimpse of redemption, it may entertain us and make us optimistic for a while, but these are all false beginnings. They offer a promise that does not last.
The change that we need is inward—and it sounds clichéd, I know; it has been repeated so many times. It has been repeated many times but it has never been executed, so let’s not just dismiss it as another cliché. We need an education system in which the child is very clearly, openly, rather ruthlessly helped to face his/her animalistic, prakṛtik nature. When we realize that our fundamental tendencies are all very gross, very primitive, and therefore we are not to place our deepest confidence on ourselves, then we will develop a certain humility and try to look for solutions beyond what our animalistic tendencies and the subsequent thoughts propose to us. Without that, I don’t really see a solution.
All that we think of as solutions are nothing but extensions of systems that are already prevalent in the jungle. It’s just that we have the added power of intellect as a privileged species, so the same things that operate in the jungle get ornamented with intellect and operate in our cities and countries. That does not make them fundamentally any different from what we see out there in the jungle. And if we really want something that is subtle, nuanced, sophisticated, sublime, then we will have to look at another source within us that will give rise to something else. Operating from the same source, we cannot get a different output, a different result.