Not 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)