Jericho – Not even the end of the world can kill Capitalism!

jericho.jpgNot long ago, I enjoyed watching the first season of the TV series Jericho. It wasn’t fabulous viewing, chiefly because it descended to the realm of post-apocalyptic soap opera, but there was another side to the story that I found fascinating. I don’t think everyone notices this (and I’m not even certain the writers see their show in this light!) so I want to draw attention to it. To me, Jericho is a story about the failure of capitalism.

Capitalism: an economic system in which investment in and ownership of the means of production, distribution, and exchange of wealth is made and maintained chiefly by private individuals or corporations, esp. as contrasted to cooperatively or state-owned means of wealth.

This is the way we live today. Life is about the pursuit of wealth. I devote enough time to that pursuit as a means of survival: to enable me to keep a roof over my head and to buy those things that make life liveable. I could probably have a high-flying IT career if I put my mind to it, but instead I chose to do a job I enjoy, regardless of the lesser wage. I’ve got some perspective. But not everyone does. Some people devote their entire lives to the accumulation of wealth. And it’s no wonder. It’s essentially what school teaches us to do: get as qualified as possible, so you can get the best job you can, so you can make as much money as you can. When you’re a kid, and you spend six hours a day, five days a week, under the pressure of that mentality, most of us end up buying into it. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for education, but education with a little wisdom thrown in would be better.

The reason I like post-apocalyptic fiction so much is because we get to sweep away all the things we hate about present society and start again. Never mind that all the good things get swept away, too. I get a kick out of radical change. In Jericho, the USA is devastated by a nuclear attack. Some towns survive unscathed; Jericho is one such. Initially, the townsfolk get together under the guidance of the mayor. The US government no longer exists. Life is thrown into such disarray that the only course of action that makes sense is neighbour helping neighbour. But what’s really interesting about Jericho is that few of the people buy into it. They’re so infected with capitalistic thinking that not even the end of the world can bring them to their senses. First, there’s the old lady who runs the store. Suddenly, everyone needs what she’s got, so she uses it as an opportunity to drastically raise the prices. Later, a teenage boy inherits the store, and is fierce about retaining personal ownership of it. His girlfriend think he’s so cool because he kicks ass to stay on top of his rights. Likewise, one of the farmers is determined that he still owns all the of the grain in his fields, and any decision to share it will be made by him. When refugees arrive, they are all housed together uncomfortably in one building. It takes the townsfolk so long to allow the refugees to live in the empty homes in town, out of some ridiculous loyalty to the owners who are most likely lying dead in another part of the country. Things really heat up when Jericho has to have dealings with its neighbouring town. A willingness to share resouces and help one another is put aside in favour of an “if I do this for you, what are you going to do for me” attitude. Jericho withholds what the other town desperately needs, and the end result is war.

I found it amusing watching the people of Jericho blindly clinging to the self-centred ethics they were accustomed to and seeing it fail them at every turn. I have to ask myself whether this “message” was deliberately put into the series, or whether the writers were simply writing what they considered to be normal, decent behaviour. I honestly don’t know! Regardless, the message is there.

The thing is, this is probably how the human race would behave in those circumstances. It’s all me, me, me. Life revolving around accumulation and ownership, which is daft when you consider that the only things that are of any use to us are the things we can make use of while we’re alive. You can take nothing with you when you die.

I’m always impressed with how things were done in the 1st century Church:

All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts. (Acts 2:44-46)

There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need. (Acts 4:34-35)

That’s a far cry to today’s Church, isn’t it? People arrive on Sunday morning, sit down and listen to a sermon, then leave and disconnect themselves completely from the lives of everyone else there until the following Sunday. If someone in the Church suddenly lost their home, I wouldn’t be surprised if everyone else offered no more assistance that an apathetic, “Sorry.” Will the Church ever be like it was in the beginning? Probably not. But at least if some of us realise how utterly infected we are by the fallout of capitalist life – greed, in other words – then it’s a step in the right direction.

Do not wear yourself out to get rich; have the wisdom to show restraint. Cast but a glance at riches, and they are gone, for they will surely sprout wings and fly off to the sky like an eagle. (Proverbs 23:4-5)

11 thoughts on “Jericho – Not even the end of the world can kill Capitalism!

  1. I love Apocalyptic fiction for the same reasons, start anew, get rid of the parts of society that don’t work etc. Haven’t seen this show yet though.

    But as for the point about Capitalism – not sure if this makes any sense,…… men are naturally territorial and protective of what is theirs. Why does anyone create anything if not for some sort of reward, be it financial, emotional or physical etc. Otherwise why bother? If I grow crops, I grow enough presumably to feed myself, my livestock and possibly trade for other necessary supplies. Money is just another form of reward, the result of an act of trade.

    In theory if we forget the money side of things you trade one service in return for another under a barter system. If you grew crops which help prolong your existence and guarantee your survival, you are perfectly entitled to some form of reward – it doesn’t have to be money. You could provide grain for flour and someone could provide the elements to go into a sandwhich….. of if you feed someone, they could help you grow more by working on your land, or do building work on your house etc. If you don’t yet know how much you need, are you going to share with others who are needy and risk depleting your stocks?

    I guess the point is not to get too hung up on Capitalism etc. But think of it as survival. After a recent apocalyptic event, are people going to be easily able to throw off the shackles of past behaviours and beliefs and swiftly take on a new lifestyle and belief system? It may be expressed as Capitalistic sentiments, but the deeper cause may be a need for survival.

  2. Oh and don’t hold too much stock in the Church from a historical perspective. I know your point was about belief and ideals within a certain era… but we know of wars fought under the cover of religious differences yet the winnders profited from the lands and objects confiscated under those conflicts. The Missionary was often used to convert indiginous peoples to christianity, so as to hold greater sway with the establised order, often for a political / financial gain. The Church was the biggest landowner for many years in Britain and they still reap the benefit of those investments. Obviously that is down to corruption with an established religion, but it explains why your view may not entirely be a popular one.

  3. Chris

    Lee, I think your comments show a certain lack of historical perspective. Money was originally used simply as a means to facilitate the barter economy and interchange of goods. Only after the Reformation did the philosophy of money as an end in itself become prevalent through the unhindered spread of usury throughout Europe. In fact, the Reformation was largely fueled by the greed of those in positions of power who saw their opportunity to loot the Catholic Church for all they could.

    Yes yes, the Catholic Church was rife with corruption, power-hungry psychos, and had vast riches with which it suppressed and manipulated the poor, blah, blah, blah, and a million other inaccurate anti-Catholic sentiments. But the bottom line is this: the Catholic Church has always declared usury as a moral evil, and their perspective on the matter was the only thing keeping unbridled greed in check. After the Reformation, this all came tumbling down, and Protestant society gave birth to the modern banking system, that money-sucking vampire nowadays chewing into everyone’s neck. You can also thank post-Reformation era Protestants for modern industrialized society, out of which came the working class, and many many other social ills and injustices.

    Darryl’s comments about the Church in the first century contrasted with what we see today are very justified. The truth is that the Church (by which I mean the Catholic Church, not the nebulous, ethereal, doctrinally decadent “church” believed in by Protestants) has never stopped professing those first-century beliefs, but it is merely her children who fail to live up to those beliefs.

  4. Lee

    Granted you have a more educated historical perspective, and I enjoyed reading your comment, but it appears that you take my comments as Anti-Catholicism and biased in favour of the Protestant Society. It’s just the way it reads. If that’s the case, you’re very wrong. And it also seems like you wanted to bang your own drum in favour of one camp over another.

    I am against all organised religions equally – but that was merely accidental and not part of the argument. I made no distinction between any form of the Church – lumping Protestant in with Catholic.

  5. Quoting Lee: “Why does anyone create anything if not for some sort of reward, be it financial, emotional or physical etc. Otherwise why bother?”

    To answer that question, consider that there are rare individuals who devote their lives to the welfare of others, to the point of giving up well-paying jobs to work overseas in the Third World, or some similar sacrifice. You could argue that they are giving up a physical benefit for an emotional benefit: the satisfaction of doing good. But I don’t think that’s necessarily the true motivating factor.

    In recent times I have been waking up to the fact that nothing you do for yourself is worth a damn in the final analysis. The only things that count are the marks you make in the lives of others: investing your time and energy in things that are outside your own self-centred interests.

    That’s where real meaning in life comes from, and I’m only scratching the surface of what I could do. At least it means that when someone asks for my help, my first thought is no longer “What’s in it for me?” but “Another opportunity to do something that matters.”

    We are capable of living lives that are not capitalistic. The reason we have to embrace a degree of capitalism is because we’re living in a society where that’s the way everyone lives. To be 100% alruistic would leave you homeless and starving. Nor is it good to fully embrace capitalist thinking. Too many people do. When you’re rich, how rich is rich enough? How many rich people ever say, “Enough. I’ll stop now”?

  6. I don’t know this series, I thought it was about the little acknowledged Robert Lindsay vehicle they occasionally repeat on satellite TV.

    Personally I think people are often inherently selfish due to insecurities. People who make lots of selfless acts of charity are usually, in my experience, stronger people who have no need to dedicate their lives to building personal walls to keep the world out. Many Christians are like this, their faith being merely another security blanket. Christians for what suits them alone.

    I think the sooner people can admit to being afraid the quicker they’ll learn to cope with it.

    Group hug everyone!

  7. Lee

    “You could argue that they are giving up a physical benefit for an emotional benefit: the satisfaction of doing good.” –

    Darryl – that is a perfectly valid point, but you have to realise that on the whole, this usually arrives when people already have worked out to survive – how to provide for themselves. People who devote their lives to doing good often get foodstuffs from others (such as Shaolin Monks receiving food from other villagers, volunteers recieving funds or sponsorship from an organisation or Missionaries receiving funds from the Church that usually – but not always – instructed them to be in that area). And yes once you have worked out how to get just enough to live on, you can look at more altruistic values. Some even put the cause of others first to their own detriment. But in the scheme of things, when you look at the numbers, how many of us do that?

    If you bring religion into the equation I would be surprised if people were not more altruistic. But it isn’t always the case – and I am speaking from a limited but very personal experience here.

    I really do the like the sound of your ideal vision of an altruistic Christian society, I just can’t see it – being a natural cynic and agnostic.

  8. I can’t see it, either. I’m coming at this more from a personal stance. It’s all about striving to become the man I know I should be.

    I’ve had a bad experience, too. Several years ago, I went away on a missionary trip for a month, with a bus-load of Christian teenagers. My anticipation on how great a spiritual experience it was going to be was quelled by the self-centredness of so many people. I quickly became infected with a “look out for myself” mentality on that trip, because it was clear that there was no atmosphere of mutual dependence on each other. Altruism is impossible if you’re the only one in the room doing it. I suppose I was naive about teenagers, but I just expected a little more, because they were Christians.

  9. Gordy Crozier

    Young people are an interesting bunch to work with. They can be a source of great encouragement and can be alturistic. But they can be egocentric beyond belief and can find it so hard to see how their actions are affecting others or that other people have a right to exist and have other opinions. THey can some of the most selfish beings on earth and Christian young people especially can be so hard to work with. They can give you all the right answers and all the right phrases but just not see how it fits into their lives and how it requires a response from them. Its the challange and the frustration of them. I’m a youth worker and i have done a lot of youth work in my church so i’m not just pulling this out of no where. Mission teams themselves are the weirdest things in the world, they can either be awesome experiences or make you want to frog worship. I have experienced both and the most unlikely of them have turned out to be the best of them and ones that should been great turned out to put me off them for life.

    I think being a Christian would be so much easier without other people.

  10. mikeq

    Just a quick post, series 2 of jericho is on itv4(i think) from monday. only six or seven episodes so far. I remembered you posted about this series a while back, so I thought you might want to know; if you don’t know already of course.

  11. Thanks for the heads-up, Mike. I would have missed this otherwise. I’m so taken up with reading non-fiction these days (although some might call it fiction) that I don’t watch TV anywhere nearly as much as I used to.

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