The Birth of Capital and Consumerism

Here's the thing:

The late Middle Ages saw the flowering of what's come to be called The Renaissance Period. This was a short period in history where it was possible for a person to access and understand almost all of human knowledge. Not quite experts in any one field, the dedicated ( and wealthy) person who had the desire could gain a working understanding of all literature, art, philosophy, science and technology as it existed at the time.

It saw the rise of the Generalist, the mind that could gaze down upon all of human knowledge from a higher perspective like looking at a map. Connections between unrelated bodies of knowledge could be seen for the first time. patterns previously hidden emerged.

It created a co-mingling of unrelated bodies of knowledge, call it a hybridized understanding. It gave birth to an age of the cross fertilization of theories, practices and technologies unlike any before or since. These- call them the academic aspects of learning- were almost exclusively the domain of the wealthy.
It was here that what we call the Industrial Revolution was born.

Specialization emerged as the hybridized knowledge grew more and more complex. Experts emerged, people who knew all there was to know about one aspect of knowledge or technology but who were mostly ignorant of other areas of endeavor.
But again, this was the realm of kings and popes and the wealthy.

The peasants, the peons, the surfs were by necessity Generalists of a different sort. It was the poor who knew how to build their own house, grow their own food, husband domesticated animals, make their own clothing, understand the changing of the seasons and recognize the subtle signs of a change in the weather.
It was the poor knew how to be self sufficient.

It was also during this time that the function of capital and the process of investment and return as we know it crystallized. Banking became formulated and formalized, structured into institutions rather than the corner money changer. The concept of money itself changed. It became fluid, easily moved with a letter or a note. Debt became a process in and of itself that could be used to create more wealth.

It was The Industrial Revolution that killed the Age of The Generalist, both the wealthy and the poor sort of Generalists.
The Industrial Revolution, arguably created more of a change in human behavior than did the discovery of agriculture.

Industrialization created consumerism.

Now peasants were required- forced- to abandon family farms and a self reliant life style in order to be where manufacturing happens. They had to learn a new and very limited skill set- how to run machines, how to produce single items on a massive scale.
Entire populations were divided and dispersed, some to seek or create specific resources, some to refine those resources, some to create the machinery, some to operate that machinery, some to distribute the product thus created.
Hand in hand with this, banking and finance flourished. There was a profit to made at each step of industrialization. Removing the means to be self sufficient created an ever growing need to produce that which had once been available to all.
Engineered scarcity of the basics needed for life became part and parcel life in an ever more industrialized world. Food, shelter, clothing- everything- now had to be purchased. Labor became a medium of exchange. It was no longer a simple trade or barter of value for value, but became another commodity wherein profit could be extracted.

Specialization forced by industrialization effectively put an end to the Generalist, if only because now all energies were directed at specific, specialized tasks.

This left no time to plant, harvest, make tools, engage in all the daily tasks industrialization had replaced. You no longer made your own bread or clothing because you had no time to do so, you had no land to be self sufficient, and within a few generations most of the knowledge that had been common to humankind for thousands of years was lost.

The loss of self sufficiency created an entirely new kind of debt- the debt of perpetuity- the debt that can never be repaid because all labor is devoted to consumerism.

That was the birth of both consumerism, born of necessity, and capitalism as still practiced today.
And we are still in the capitalist driven Industrial Revolution, with all of it's arguable benefits and inarguable detriments.