Dancing Outside Keith Rainere's Cell

Did you see the NXIVM documentary? The one where Mark looks like an asshole who doesn’t know he’s an asshole? JK—that’s all of them. Anyway, for those who haven’t watched, all the NXIVM documentaries detail how this pervert/grifter/malignant narcissist Keith Rainere cribbed a bunch of stuff from Scientology and started a self-help cult. It wound up with abuse and sex trafficking and Keith sleeping with every woman he could get into a room alone with.

But there were a lot of people who acknowledged that the cult had been, at least initially, helpful to them. (the methodology—figure out what in your past made you fucked up so you can stop being fucked up in that way—underlies a lot of therapeutic practice and isn’t, on its own, evil as long as you don’t weaponize people’s trauma against them, which of course NXIVM did).

An important part of the story is how in this, like in most cults, any problem a member has is put back on them. The program is perfect, so if you are having a problem, it’s your own fault.

At the end of one of these documentaries, a few devoted cultists are shown dancing on the sidewalk outside Keith Rainere’s cell in order to bring him joy. They know about the sex trafficking and the abuse and everything else, but they cannot bring themselves to believe that someone who had a positive influence in their lives could actually be terrible.

Which brings me to capitalism. So I’m in a weird position with my class identity—grew up broke and went to rich people’s schools, so I’m uncomfortable everywhere. Or, another way of saying it is I have the cultural capital of a rich person but not the actual capital.

My point here is that I know a lot of people with money. I’m not talking about ultra-rich…but people who don’t struggle financially. People, in other words, for whom the system of American capitalism has worked more or less as it was promised to—in middle age, they’ve sent kids to college, they own homes, they’re not buried under mountains of debt. We should all be so lucky!

But, of course, we’re not.

But, like the folks dancing outside Keith Rainere’s cell, many of these folks seem to have a hard time believing that the system that has so benefited them is actually bad.

They, like all of us, have had a lifetime of indoctrination into the cult of capitalism, but many of them have never had personal experience with the downsides. So, faced with the plethora of problems caused by capitalism, they conclude, as they’re supposed to, that the problem is we’re just not capitalisming hard enough. The program is flawless, so the problem must be with us.

And so they view every possible solution to problems through a capitalist lens. (Sometimes they call this “realism” or “pragmatism.”) Nobody can afford to buy or rent a home: the problem isn’t treating people’s homes as a profit center rather than a place to live! The problem is that we just haven’t built enough of these profit centers!

Climate change sure is a problem! Our problem! But if we just build enough electric cars and buy enough eco-friendly detergent from Instagram hucksters, we’ll solve this thing!

Income inequality seems like it’s getting worse—only social entrepreneurship can solve it! The problem isn’t corporate greed and runaway CEO pay—it’s access! If we can just get people without degrees into the workforce of financial institutions who engage in predatory lending, we’ll solve income inequality!

But the problem isn’t us. It’s the system. The system is working perfectly at what it is designed to do, which is squeeze profit out of everything— from your labor to your home to the planet we share—at the expense of all other considerations.

I know from having been a straight white guy my whole life that it is very difficult on a personal level to come to terms with the fact that systems that have benefited you have actively harmed others. That your personal success and comfort has actually come at the expense of other people’s success and comfort. This is a very uncomfortable thing to sit with.

This, unfortunately, doesn’t make it any less true.

As we figure out how to dig ourselves out of the mess we’re in, there will definitely need to be compromises—but we can’t solve problems until we’re honest about their causes.