“I am not a number, I am a free man” Number 6 plaintively cried on The Prisoner. Capitalism, however, has a way of making each of us quantifiable. A statistic. Not a guy with a kid in college. Not a human being with a sense of self worth and pride of achievement. From far above, in houses and penthouses owned by those who climb ladders made of other human beings’ hopes and dreams, those below are just means to an end. I’m sorry Number 6, you are wrong. Freedom is not free and the capital in capitalism is humanity, commodified.
It used to be that on the way to work I’d walk past the homeless in Midtown and wonder what could have brought them here. What could happen to a person to make them invisible—just a statistic waiting to die? What system could reduce a person to a number? Learning to count is, at times, a betrayal of our very humanity. It used to be that hard work was rewarded. It used to be when someone looked our way s/he saw a human being, and not a number. I’m terribly sorry, Number 6, I truly am. We don’t know your name. You are a number. So are we all.
In the aptly named Pirates of the Caribbean series, the second installment complicated the story by introducing the unmoved Englishman Lord Cutler Beckett. Satisfied with nothing less than the control of the world’s oceans—some two-thirds of the planet, he secures the means to reduce all enemies to fish-food with no show of emotion beyond a shallow smile. In At World’s End, as the Flying Dutchman and the Black Pearl bombard the Endeavour, blowing the ship of unbridled capitalism to bits, Lord Beckett, bewildered, significantly climbs down the steps muttering, “It’s just good business.” Aye, but not Aye, aye. (There is a serious difference.) As the Endeavour sinks I think I hear Number 6 from the depths, and I desperately hope he’s right.