Thank you for the well resoned and well written reply.
Let me add two parting thoughts with somewhat of a metaphysical bent to them.
First, I need to stress that you there is something about American values
that may not be commonly understood. It is value for the individual, for
reason and for freedom and independence. In America these are not just
slogans, they really stand for what we value. One aspect of this belief in
the sanctity of the individual leads to universal morality -- if the
individual is sacred, then ALL INDIVIDUALS are sacred.
Of course this ethos didn't originate in America (or with Indians like Pirsig
suggests). It originated in Europe, especially medieval England, and
blossomed during the enlightenment era. At its best, this individualist
streak promotes freedom, moral responsibility and universal love and it
rejects tribalism and separatism and collectivism as deviant. At its worse,
this independence leads to mere selfishness and egotism. We of course see
both the best and worst out of my countrymen.
I have read several places that this enlightenment attitude is oddly
discomforting and alien to many cultures. I don't know if it is true either
in general or in your case, but I suppose it doesn't hurt to make the
question explicit. Interestingly, if this individualist ethos is as alien as
some say, then it supports your position of a danger in capitalism. Without
the correct mind set in developing countries, free enterprise really can be a
selfish case of "screw your neighbor."
The second point is that we must remember that social quality is usually not
a zero sum game. An individual can pick some berries, a team can catch a
rabbit, and 300 million people can build a nation. You mention buying a tee
shirt and feeling guilty. Yet I would add that you could buy a million tee
shirts and it would do no harm to anyone in a poor nation. In fact, if they
helped grow the cotton or make the dye it would most likely help them. There
are of course amounts of non repleneshable and scarce resources. In this
case, taking from them is a zero sum game. However, most wealth in the US
stems not from material, but from knowledge and ideas and division of
labor/expertise and positive sum interactions. The (proper) goal of free
enterprise is not to extend the web of society to exploit others, it is to
extend the web of positive interaction as wide and high as possible for the
self reinforcing benefit of all.
As we all know, energy is conserved. However, information, happiness, health
care, education, creativity, wealth and complexity are not conserved. One
plus one can make a dozen. That is what makes societies of all types so
powerful, and that is what allows free enterprise to explode (in good and bad
ways) with potential.
Thanks for the dialogue, comrade!
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