“We live in capitalism, its power seems inescapable – but then, so did the divine right of kings.”
Ursula Le Guin, in her speech at the National Book Awards in 2014
There’s this very popular idea in America that anyone can get ahead if they work hard enough. Of course, for many people, no amount of hard work could ever elevate them above their debt and reliance on an hourly wage. But this is a facet of Liberal ideology. American Liberalism (with a Big L) encompasses most of the Democrat and Republican parties; it is a belief in free-market capitalism, individualism, democracy and the necessity of government for “civil society.” While this thinking dominates, many Americans are unaware of its nature as ideology. Instead, it’s just the default, just common sense. It’s what they teach in elementary schools as “American ideals,” the very reason for America’s “greatness.” Really, the only reason this ideology governs America is because it was en vogue at the time of the country’s founding (see: The Enlightenment), and was totally compatible with rich slave owners getting to keep their riches and slaves while not technically being called “kings.”
Without this belief in bootstraps, it would be hard to make the claim that capitalism can coexist with freedom and equality at all. Leftists – and progressive liberals, to a certain extent – are good at swatting away this (Big L) Liberal fantasy. Getting from the dismissal of this idea to the fundamental anarchist ideals of solidarity and mutual aid is an achingly short cognitive step, but it is one that progressive liberals rarely seem to make: Together we can all be strong, but divided, only the few will win. And since nothing exists in a vacuum, “the few” are most likely to come from already privileged groups (white, cis, het, etc.), since that’s how systems of power reproduce themselves.
It is easy (lazy, even) to assume that contemporary social trends – capitalism, individualism – are constants, aspects of human nature itself. Imagine if people thought about solidarity and mutual aid like that. Imagine if people considered it obvious that helping others obviously and naturally helps the self. Capitalism – which creates hierarchies, encourages competition and leaves workers with the “choice” of work or starvation – is so obviously at odds with the anarchist principles of cooperation and solidarity. Capitalist American ideals are not the final, finest evolution of human thought. They’re a pile of bullshit. And America is so, so overdue for another revolution.