Capitalism is the Squid Game

Let’s play a game. “If you don’t like it, you’re free to leave,” is:

  1. A line from Squid Game

  2. What I often hear when I say I’m an anti-Capitalist

Accounting for paraphrasing, the answer is: both.

So… If I’m so critical of Capitalism, why don’t I leave? Spoilers ahead. Do you remember the part in Squid Game where they let everyone leave and go back to their lives?

Option 1: carnage, terror, gore, and the possibility of financial freedom.

Option 2: hopeless dept-solation.

So they return to the game. It’s not that staying in the game is the obvious choice. That’s a matter of personal values. But just because we have a choice doesn’t mean it’s a good one. When both options suck, it’s ok to choose one, and still look for alternatives.

So what are the other options, if we want to “leave Capitalism” today? They would seem to be: move to a “non-Capitalist” country, move to a less Capitalist country, or go off-the-grid and live in a commune. Let’s weigh them.

For our first contestant: The “Non-Capitalist Country.” These are, supposedly, Laos, China, Cuba, and Vietnam. Each of these countries identifies as Communist. Problem 1: what if you’re not a Communist? I’m not. At the moment, our only choices lay on a linear spectrum from Capitalist to Communist, but potential societal structures are infinite. Like the players of Red Light, Green Light, we don’t currently have a lot of options. Problem 2: what if you are a Communist, but you don’t agree with the way these countries are implementing Communist ideology? Sucks for you. Problem 3: the oft-overlooked parameter that the economy is global. Even if a society is claiming to be communist, participation in the global economy means participation in the prevailing paradigm: Capitalism. The Communist identity was an illusion all along. Thanks for playing.

For our next contestant: The “Less-Capitalist Country,” i.e. Scandinavia. Still Capitalist, but more regulated and, supposedly, generating more happiness. This option is only for high-level players who have collected one or more of these: a marriage-level love relationship with a Scandinavian, such unchallenged excellence in their field to warrant a work visa, a passing grasp of the language of their country of choice, and enough money to relocate to one of the most expensive countries in the world. Those few lucky players who collect enough of these to pass Go still have to swallow the pill of lubricated Capitalism and a culture that suppresses the pursuit of individual greatness. Get in line.

Our final contestant: The “Utopian” Commune (probably in Costa Rica).

For the sake of argument, let’s assume this commune is the absolute ideal. This has proven to be a great option for many people. But, remember the whole “global Capitalism” snag? If you want to enjoy technology from the outside world or make a meaningful impact on a large scale, you’re going to have to interact with global culture, production, and the market.

Unless we’re content to while away our lives in blissful obscurity, we have no choice but to participate in Capitalism. And those of us who are speaking out about alternatives to Capitalism, well, we’re in the ring, we have our Jordans on, our cards in hand, and we came to play. We cannot just leave. If we want to make an impact, we have to play to win. It’s absurd to criticize anti-Capitalists for seeking success within Capitalism. The best way to break the game, for now, is to beat it.

We want technology, health care, luxury, individual expression, healthy competition, purpose, fulfillment, equality, diversity, art, science, fun, and entertainment. It’s unfounded and fallacious to believe that Capitalism is the only, or even the best, way to have some of these things. It certainly doesn’t provide us with all of them. We can have them all. Evolving beyond Capitalism does not mean ditching smart phones in exchange for a grey, colorless world where we get our daily ration of rice grains like every dystopian novel. The illusion of the Capitalist Squid Game is that we have only two options: bad or worse, when in reality, the options are infinite, and all we need to unlock them is imagination, optimism, and the courage to challenge the choice we’ve been offered. Meanwhile, game on.

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