A Capital Heritage

In my car to and from work, I happen to be listening to an audiobook on culinary history.  The author is a wealthy and well-educated woman who lives in the New York City area and who worked in the past as a living historian at a colonial era farm in Massachusetts, and it is somewhat irritating to hear her talk about the joys of eating eel and of spending large amounts of money for heritage turkeys and generally behaving like a snobby elitist who looks down on those who must eat those foods, whether rustic or processed, that are accessible to the hoi polloi at a low price point as she writes about the way in which the foods we buy mark us off as belonging to a privileged elite or not.  As someone who reads a fair amount when it comes to food [1], it is fairly obvious that there is a great deal that relates to matters of social prestige relating to food.  Most of the time, in our current world, people focus on heritage brands and organic foods raised locally and sustainably as a matter of class by which those who have money can demonstrate themselves as morally superior to poor people who lack the same options.

Although the capital that people use to purchase items and refuse to purchase others on moral grounds is obvious to recognize as capital, it is not the only capital that matters, nor is it the most important kind of capital.  Those people who purchase ethically grown and sourced items depend on the prior existence of those who ethically grow and source the items that they wish to purchase.  If we want to purchase free range chickens or beef that is free from bovine growth hormones or clothing that is made by people who are paid fair wages, to give but a few examples of worthy social causes that cost money in order to build up a sort of moral capital, there must already be people who raise free range chickens, herd cattle without loading them full of hormones, and who work or hire others to work at a fair wage to make apparel.  No matter how desirable an object is of exchange for the capital that we possess, including heritage goods that express the best of what was made in the past in the present, there must be people who have the skills and the inclination to create those goods in exchange for our legal tender.  If we lacked the money to pay for those goods that it cost on the market or there was a lack of people willing to provide such goods and services for sale, we would be forced to do the work ourselves if we wanted it done at all.

Yet it is obvious to most of us, even those of us of the widest interests, that there is far more that we want done than we can do ourselves.  As much as we may curse the overspecialization of our world, that specialization exists in large part because none of us can do everything well.  A particularly talented person, for example, may be a world-class reader and writer, skilled with trivia, possessed of a good memory and skills at singing, playing a musical instrument, and engaging in some sports with a degree of talent and competence.  That person may even be able to teach others in a variety of subjects and be a capable data scientist as well.  At some point, though, there will be something that needs to be done, like fixing a car or growing enough food for one’s meals, that is beyond our skills and we will depend on the skills of others in order to provide that which we need.  This is why we have jobs in the first place, that we may purchase that which we need but cannot do for ourselves from others who can do these things far better and at far lower cost in time than we could do, who in turn use what we pay them in order to purchase other things that they need but cannot provide as well, and so on and so forth.

Yet there exist many people who have skills, even flamboyant levels of skills, and yet have little market for such skills as they possess.  There may be so much supply of talented sopranos, for example, relative to those who are highly trained altos in singing, that some people will live far better than others.  There may also be a lack of information held, such that people who had highly marketable skills may not know how to market what they possess, while others may have a need and not know where they needed to go to get that need fulfilled in a way that would be mutually beneficial to all parties involved.  Being a node and passing along information and communication to others in a world where information often languishes where it is not used and where communication is a difficult matter for most of us to deal with builds a type of capital as well, namely the social capital that allows for the more efficient and effective operation of life, so that we may do those things that we do best and that give us the best reward for our labors.  In order to act in the best ways, we need to know a great deal, which means that those who provide us with that knowledge do us a great favor and are themselves worthy of great praise and appreciation in the way that they better the lives of others by serving to banish the world of at least some of its ignorance and darkness.

We live in a world that is full of capital that we do not often recognize.  Many of us have built up a certain store of unrealized capital in the works that we have created, or the activities that we can do, that are not always sufficiently appreciated or remunerated.  Likewise, we may build up capital by bringing people together and serving as nodes of information and exchange by virtue of the knowledge that we possess about people, leveraging our social capital for the service of others.  In a sense, there are many ways for us to build up a capital heritage, whether we wish to spend that on enjoying the company of others and in celebrating their successes in life and love or whether we wish to obtain some Devon cattle to make rich buttermilk or old fashioned turkeys free of ghastly genetic engineering.  We are responsible for that which we obtain through the capital that we have, but we have far more capital than often meets the eye, or the bank account, and we would do well both to show an appreciation to the giver of gifts for the capital that we have been given, and to be quicker to appreciate others for capital that they have, even if they are not always aware of it themselves.  How are to make this world a better place except by bringing what is hidden into the light, so that it may be recognized?

[1] See, for example:







About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in American History, Christianity, History, Musings and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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