I cherish moments when I stumble upon people who get their mental model of the world across fluently and with clarity. These people often challenge or reinforce my personal ideas and always influence me somehow. Recently I’ve listened to a podcast episode hosted by Russel Brand, where Yanis Varoufakis was the guest and personally I found the conversation full of interesting insights. Their discussion jumped from topics like the state of Europe to the times of Varoufakis as Greek finance minister, the degeneration of capitalism and its institutions, how commodification and alienation of our society and values are turning us into miserable people, detached from humanity and raw material that keeps the current system of capital accumulation alive. There was a particular idea that resonated so much with my view of the world that I started reading Capital by Karl Marx, the minute after I stopped thinking what Varoufakis said. I transcribe it here:
“You know what, this is why I’m still a Marxist in my late 50s. Because Marx described beautifully the epic drama of capitalism. Where you’ve got machines that enhance productivity magnificently, but instead of the machines becoming our slaves, we become their slaves. And that includes the capitalists who own the machines. This remarkable text [Capital], is where Marx poetically explains the meaning of the drama of the capitalist: the capitalist who knows how terrible the life of the workers are and is so desperately keen not to become of them that loses his humanity by squeezing the living day lights out of them [the workers], in order to make sure he is not undercut by his competitors and become one of them. And in the end, the workers become alienated, working before the machines in the production line while the capitalists are there to serve the interest of capital accumulation, without themselves ever being capable of achieving happiness and satisfaction, joy. Marxist critique of capitalism is not one that is unfair or unequal. No. It’s one where every member of humanity is condemn to a sub-standard [?] life, including the capitalists.”
Varoufakis also makes an interesting point about the current “system” and its organic self perpetuation, or the “conspiracy without conspirators” The way I interpreted it is that those in a position of power make decisions that improve their personal success - individually aiming at a local maxima. But as an whole, all of them reinforce a capitalist system that exploits people ruthlessly in order to accumulate capital, many even without realizing that they are part of it. After all, all they’ve done was to maximize a local maxima. This “system” is beyond their control and reinforces itself organically even without making any explicit efforts towards the end tragedy.
There are many other interesting bits in the episode, you can check the rest yourself.