12 Aug 2012

The Sorcerer's Apprentice - a metaphor for capitalism

International globalised capitalism is a system that humanity has created and, like the broom in The Sorcerer's Apprentice, it is out of control. We have created a tool to work for us and now we cannot stop it from destroying our environment. Here is the wikipedia entry for The Sorcerer's Apprentice (Der Zauberlehrling, poem by Goethe).

The poem begins as an old sorcerer departs his workshop, leaving his apprentice with chores to perform. Tired of fetching water by pail, the apprentice enchants a broom to do the work for him — using magic in which he is not yet fully trained. The floor is soon awash with water, and the apprentice realizes that he cannot stop the broom because he does not know how.

Not knowing how to control the enchanted broom, the apprentice splits it in two with an axe, but each of the pieces becomes a new broom and takes up a pail and continues fetching water, now at twice the speed. When all seems lost, the old sorcerer returns, quickly breaks the spell and saves the day. The poem finishes with the old sorcerer's statement that powerful spirits should only be called by the master himself.

Capitalism is a system that puts short-term profit and greed above all other values. The present-day symptoms include widespread corruption: expenses scandals, phone-hacking, Libor-fixing among, respectively, elected politicians, the media and police and the banks. It is not enough to tackle the symptoms. If we don’t dismantle capitalism it will destroy us.

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