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A thought inspired by the news that another friend has recently lost a job they had and even loved. One concept from Buddhism that I find particularly applicable to capitalism is the concept of anicca or inconstancy. Jobs arise and cease, and with them people's livelihoods. Even jobs that people have loved at employers who were "different." One minute they’re there, and the next they’ve gone. I’ve lost count of how many jobs have arisen and also ceased for friends and family, with a few leaving a them with enough to take their time to look for the next perfect fit. But often, the loss of a job leaves many in a financial and existential limbo. No income coming in, but the bills never stop. And when you invest a lot of time and energy into what you do and then one day find yourself redundant, you're often left with a hole in your life as well as your bank account.
And that's the way capitalism works. At every moment, things are by their nature inconstant, including our jobs, which wouldn't be so terrible if so much didn't depend on the income we get from those jobs, not to mention anything we've personally invested into them and the people we’ve worked with. And then we're forced, once again, to compete with a bunch of other people searching for the same jobs and the incomes that they provide. I've been laid off multiple times myself because of "the economy" and the lack of need for my wage labour. And in many people's lives, including my own, this causes what the Buddha called dukkha or unsatisfactoriness or suffering, whether it comes about due to the change itself arising from our attachment to the job and the people we work with, the privation caused by the lack of financial means to support ourselves and our families, or a combination of both.
Some see this as a good lesson in life: things come and go, so don't get attached. But conversely, capitalism compels us to care about, and invest so much of our sense of self-worth into, our jobs, from identifying with our employers and their interests to dedicating money and time into special education for certain jobs. In addition, we spend so much time with the same people doing the same activities day after day, increasing our knowledge and skill and habitualizing them, that it's only normal that we eventually tie our identities to our jobs and become attached to these people, places, and actions.
Buddhism teaches that to become liberated from suffering, we have to first try and stop contributing to the root causes and ultimately learn to let go of our craving and attachment. And much of that is a mental practice involving mindfulness, self-reflection, and seeing things inconstancy as not 'me' or 'mine' or worthy of grasping in order to release our minds from their grasp. But I also think there is a material component to this as well. In terms of ourselves as individuals, we must learn to let go of habits and actions that cause harm to ourselves and others, habits and actions arising out of greed, hatred, and delusion. And when it comes to the suffering of capitalism, I think we need to let go of the structural causes for that suffering, i.e., how capitalism functions and the social relations underlying it, because those habits and actions and institutional structures arise in large part out of systemic greed and are causing harm to ourselves and others. So for our own good, we must let them go.