Consider the often-told fable of the blind men who encounter an elephant. One man swings the elephant’s trunk and proclaims that the creature must be a snake. Another pats the elephant’s ear and insists that the creature is wide and flat and not at all like a snake. A third man feels his way around the elephant’s leg and announces that the other two are deluded; the creature is obviously a tree.
The point of the story is that no one can understand the world in isolation. Each of us can know only a fragment of life. We can argue over who has the correct interpretation, or we can pool our experiences to create a clearer picture.
Capitalism blocks cooperative consultation and problem-solving. To stay in power, the ruling class must keep the rest of us divided and unsure of what is real.
The primary division is the deepest – the horizontal class divide between the tiny capitalist class and the majority who labor to serve them. Hundreds of vertical cuts slice humanity into nations that compete economically and militarily. Within each nation, the class-divided population is chopped vertically into multiple segments based on ‘race,’ gender, age, language, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, politics, geographic location, abilities, and so on. A range of ideologies re-enforce these divisions: racism, nationalism, sexism, homophobia, etc.
These divisions violate our social nature. The human brain evolved to function in connection with other brains. The infant mind depends on the adult mind to teach it how to organize thoughts, feelings, and behaviours. Cooperation has been the key to human development, as each generation passes their experience to the next. By blocking cooperation, capitalism blocks human development and endangers our survival.
In the course of my work as a psychotherapist, I have listened to hundreds of people tell me what they think and feel behind their everyday masks. Together, we have struggled to uncover the meaning of their experiences.
Access to hundreds of peoples’ experiences has helped me to distinguish what is unique and personal from what is common and social. My patients benefit from this understanding because they tend to believe that their problems are unique and their own fault. Neither is true.
Most people want and need the same things, and they are being deprived of what they need by the same social forces. A tiny minority benefit from the way things are, and the vast majority suffer.
By sharing our experiences and emphasizing what we have in common, we will not only gain a better understanding of the world, we can use our collective power to change it.