In the following paragraphs, I will try to persuade you that everyone ought to invest their time and effort in studying capitalism.

By “everyone,” I do mean every single individual. I think that anyone who is able to learn about capitalism should be doing just that, but I also think that this is particularly important for college students. Notice what I am not saying: I am not saying that only a particular group of students should learn about capitalism while all the remaining students should be exempt from it. That is not what I believe. What I actually believe is that every single college student needs to study capitalism in some shape or form. No exceptions.

As a college student, you already understand that learning is your first and most important job. What I am trying to tell you is that a critical part of this job is that you learn as much as you can about capitalism. You may be wondering what I mean by this and why am I saying it. I will answer both of these questions below.

Let me first explain what I do not mean. I do not mean that there is some new requirement that you have to fulfill for graduation. I don’t mean that there is a new major called capitalism, or that there is a particular course that will teach you everything you need to know about capitalism. I definitely don’t mean that there is a department of capitalism hidden in some obscure corner of the campus. What I am saying, rather, is that in addition to everything else you are learning, there is one subject of immense importance that you must study, but which may never have appeared on your mental radar until a couple of minutes ago. If this is indeed the first time you’re hearing about the need to study capitalism, rest assured that this isn’t due to your own negligence. Nobody can blame you if you didn’t know. In all likelihood, no one ever told you that you were supposed to learn about capitalism as part of your college education. But now that someone has, consider yourself informed. Once you know, you cannot go back to not-knowing.

If there is no department, course, or major associated with the study of capitalism, how are you supposed to learn about this subject? Here’s one way to think about this question. You take certain courses because they’re part of the core curriculum, or you take them because they’re required for your major, or you take them because the topic is really interesting. In other words, sometimes it’s the college that decides what you should learn and at other times you are the person making the choice. There are, however, important things that you should learn as part of your college education, even though they aren’t explicitly mentioned anywhere in the course catalog. There is no course that’s specifically designed to teach you how to become an adult, or how to think, or how to learn, or how to bounce back from adversity. Yet, you know that you’re somehow supposed to learn all of that, since elements of such learning are scattered in virtually all of your courses and extracurricular activities. It’s your job to be on the lookout for these elements, to recognize them whenever you encounter them, and to keep putting them together until a coherent picture emerges in your mind. That is more or less the type of learning I am referring to when I say that every college student should study capitalism. And in case you happen to find actual courses that may directly contribute to this goal, consider yourself lucky.

Let me emphasize again that studying capitalism is not optional for you, nor does it have anything to do with your inclination or aptitude. It doesn’t matter if you think you aren’t interested in capitalism or that your major has nothing to do with this subject. It also doesn’t matter whether you love capitalism with all your heart, soul, and mind, or whether you hate and despise it. Your feelings, I am sorry to inform you, have no bearing on whether or not you ought to be studying capitalism. Everyone has to study capitalism, regardless of what they think, believe, or feel about the subject.

Suppose you are really fond of capitalism. Do you still need to study it? Yes. Being really fond of capitalism is actually a very good reason for studying capitalism. When you’re in love with someone, don’t you want to know all about that person? The same goes for capitalism. If you think that capitalism is the most awesome and the most wonderful thing that humankind has ever invented, you must show your love by learning all about its majesty and beauty. On the other hand, hating capitalism is not an acceptable excuse for ignoring the study of capitalism. If you think that capitalism is evil, that it is the most awful thing ever to have been concocted by humankind, then it is your duty to learn how it works and what makes it so vile and dangerous. Sun Tzu said, “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.” It follows that people who want to fight capitalism must start by learning as much about the enemy as they can.

But what if you are neutral? What if you have no particular opinion about capitalism? This could be due to the fact that you’ve never bothered to think about capitalism, which probably means that there is a big hole in your social awareness. If that’s the case, then I can’t emphasize just how crucial it is that you start filling that hole as soon as possible. Capitalism is too pervasive for you to remain ignorant about and still be able to find your way in the world. If you don’t understand how capitalism functions, you don’t understand how society works.

Whether you love it, hate it, or are indifferent to it, capitalism is not something you want to ignore. It helps to remember that capitalism is not just about the economy, as many people erroneously believe. Rather, it’s something that permeates the very fabric of our social, political, and cultural lives, for better or for worse. Some say that capitalism is hard to define, but it is simply a word we use to describe the way in which people have been organizing society and its affairs for the last few centuries.

Capitalism is a synonym for the modern world. Capitalism is the title of the book in which we are all characters, whether we like our part or not. Capitalism is the name of the game in which we’re all players, whether we enjoy the action or not. Capitalism is the set of rules that determines who wins and who loses; it even defines the meaning of success and failure. Wherever we are and whatever we are doing, we are almost always immersed in capitalism. For the vast majority of people who are alive today, it’s very hard to escape the force field of capitalism, except in small ways and for brief periods of time. Capitalism is the most potent of all the factors that shape our public and private existence; it even directs much of our values, thoughts, ambitions, desires, and dreams. Capitalism is the world in which we live and move and have our being. To ignore capitalism is to remain ignorant of the world the way it actually is.

Learning about capitalism is a vital need of yours, regardless of why you’re in college. Perhaps you are in college because you want to find yourself and understand the world. But your understanding of the world will remain defective and deficient if the study of capitalism isn’t a major part of your learning agenda. To the extent that capitalism shapes people at an individual level, even your self-knowledge will remain incomplete if you can’t discern capitalism’s influence within your own self. Or perhaps you’re in college not for the usual reasons but because you want to change the world for the better. If that is what moves you, how do you plan on making a difference in society if you are unaware of capitalism’s role in shaping that society? If you do not understand capitalism, it is like you are looking at the world through a glass darkly. So long as you cannot see what’s on the other side of the window, you can neither influence the affairs of the world nor become responsibly engaged in it.

Perhaps you think I am exaggerating. Maybe I am. Or maybe I am just telling it like it is. How would know the difference if you have not studied capitalism yourself? Whether I am inflating the facts or being completely accurate doesn’t change anything. Either way, you need to do whatever is necessary to educate yourself about capitalism—even if it is just to prove me wrong. But you should also consider the possibility that I could be right. If capitalism is in fact as pervasive and as influential as I say it is, how could you afford to not study it in depth? Would you describe a person as thoughtful and informed who has little or no awareness of how capitalism shapes our world? I wouldn’t.

Let me know if I you’d like to continue this discussion. I would love to hear from you.

Ahmed Afzaal
afzaal@cord.edu

Contributing Writer

This article was contributed to The Concordian by an outside writer. Questions and comments on this article should be directed to concord@cord.edu.

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