09 January, 2012

Capitalism and Supernanny lessons

In a TV show called Supernanny, Jo Frost visits troubled parents and teaches them how to get their kids back in order. Usually, as you would expect of reality TV drama, the situations look hopeless at first, but the Supernanny intervention gives the parents the tools they need to gain control of the situation at home. And then they lived happily ever after.

The would-be reality of the show aside, most of the episodes focus on pretty much the same issues: the mother or father is unable to discipline the kids, resulting in total chaos and mayhem at home. The kids punch the parents, beat each other up, throw stuff etc. The parents look like an ambushed pack of new recruits – they have no idea what they’re doing and what they should do. The remedy is always the same: teaching the parents to say NO to their child. No, you can’t do that. No, that’s wrong. No, you can’t have that.

What are the parallels for our society? It seems to me that capitalism is one of the few truly global phenomena in our world. Capitalism is the system of distributing resources so that we can survive. Sounds like a mother to me. Our world, too, seems not too unlike a Supernanny visit to Crawley: the peace and quiet is continuously pierced by screams of “But I WANT that!” The demands never end. 

In Supernanny the solution is to teach the parents to discipline the kids. In our system that would be to teach the “mother” – capitalism – to tell us no at some point. The problem here lies at the heart of capitalism. It is a philosophy of saying yes always, when there’s enough wanting. If enough people in the world want purple apples, we’re soon enough going to have purple apples.

The solution in this case could be analogous to the Supernanny show: teach the parent to say no. In our case, that would be teaching capitalism to say no. To say no, when we want too much or wrong things.
Now, I don’t know how to do that. A start could be including actual environmental costs in the cost of products. But to take such schemes further would be very complicated. As an example, think of a burger. To an overweight person that burger is less of a good choice than to a balanced-weight person. But to reflect this in the pricing seems impossible. There are infinite variables to take into account.

Unfortunately, we have no Supernanny to call on. There’s nobody to help us from the outside. There’s only us, and we have to take care of this mess ourselves.

Therefore, another alternative solution would be that we, the child in this situation, develop and learn to have more sensible wants. We could try do develop out of the phase in which we feel jealous of everything somebody else has and we don’t.  We could try to learn to want “the right things”. That means wanting to want, or meta-wanting. But then again, I don’t know how to do that either. Dammit.