Axing Axe’s Axiom


Television’s Billions series’ transcript is technically complex and depicts a level of double-dealing well beyond my experience.

It’s hard to pick when a line is for effect, or is how a real life goes down in that realm.

Either way, for us plebs it’s a feast of revelation – even as the faux pas pass stratospherically by. What would we know?

But when gentle altruist Bob Axelrod gave that blazing speech to his miscreant son’s student body, the hair on my neck bristled. Twice.

First, at such an inspirational epitome of why greed is good. Then with contempt at its sociopathic thrust.

… the goddamn truth about Darwin, scarcity and the world you actually live in. It’s not the warm, swaddled place your Headmaster and your parents have told you about. It’s populated by people like me who will tear you apart.

All too true.

Nature didn’t select me. I selected myself by harnessing my nature.

Axe is saying he overrode nature’s Darwinian inexorability – because he’s a human, not an animal. He has choice. Free will.

But then denies it, describing himself as no more than a force of nature – a mindless predatory animal.

… the school’s code… asked [my son] to go against the DNA which is telling each of you to be greedy, yes, be hungry. Subjugate and conquer. Because that’s who we are. That’s what we are.

So which is it, Bobby?

We who live in comfort and security – you know, the beneficiaries of “western civilisation” still, centuries later, profiting at the expense of our former colonial subjects – have many luxuries for which guilt is the only appropriate emotion. Unless you’re an animal.

A guilty luxury I treasure is armchair pontification about the world’s woes while the other half of it suffers them. Was it ever thus, why is God cruel, where are we going, why are we here, is it really 42… is capitalism the best economic system?

Capitalism harnesses that better than any other economic model on Earth. Everything we have is because of capitalism,” said Axe.

Because someone had an incentive to get up off his ass, to out-invent, to out-earn, yes, and to subjugate others less capable, less intelligent, less ambitious, less lucky – to make those capitalistic dreams come true.

All too true and apparently quite noble – if your vantage is the apex and you’re at ease reclining on a mountain of suffering.

Except for two misconceptions.

First, “everything we have” is, despite growing ridicule of the concept, due completely and only to trickle-down, and not because the system worked to the advantage of all.

Because when your boss, the warlord Attila, and his band of pillaging thugs raided the village next door, you inadvertently got what little he, his Praetorian, and their families in the big tent had left over after gorging themselves on the spoils. Sure, you can better yourself by inventing, making and selling sharper spears, but you’re still gutter trash to Attila, who’ll probably steal the idea because he’s more powerful and almost certainly a lot smarter.

Demand-driven supply. Really? Marketing 101, propaganda, retail chains, and the junk food industry demolish that fable.

Second…

It implies capitalism is an economic system, the mother lode of civilisation, the path to prosperity for all, and the most efficient way to harness human effort. But “capitalism” is no such thing and certainly none of those.

Capitalism, a word that dictionaries struggle to explain by variations on the theme: “An economic system in which the production and distribution of goods depend on invested private capital and profit-making.”

What they dare not say is that capitalism is the harsh transactional interaction of living systems. People didn’t invent capitalism, nature deployed it.

Bobby Axelrod isn’t the arch capitalist, he’s a delusional predator that revels in barbarity. His vaunted “economic system” is nothing more than predatoriness dressed up as sophisticated idolatry that rates the worth of people by how big an arsehole they are, and how many losers they screwed to become that rich arsehole.

Capitalists aren’t humans, they’re merely the most depraved predators of the animal kingdom – because they know their actions benefit them at another’s cost but are proud of that injustice. They’re barely separable from psychopaths, who dress in finery, eat in exclusive restaurants, send their offspring to elite colleges, and deal in murder, slavery, and misery to sustain themselves.

Young Paul Atreides had to prove he was a human and not an animal by overcoming reflexive instinct to leave his hand in a box of pain.

Bobby Axelrod can only prove his humanity by enduring the pain of sharing and equality, by caring for those less fortunate.

Can he subdue his smug superiority to concede that socialism is the human face of political economics and his capitalism is but the law of the jungle overlaid with a malign cruelty?