Thursday, January 28, 2010

Bourgeoisie: word for the year

I am no defender of Marx. In the parlance of “how’s that workin’ for ya,” it hasn’t worked anywhere. His overwhelming mistake was in the motivation of people -- from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs is not motivation to have more abilities than needs. And look at me even, and even in my state now which I think is a pretty productive, one of the reasons I was very opposed to the idea of Hillary becoming president was that I could see her coming to me and saying, hey, you have a degree in social work, you have to move to the city and use it, do the work of the state. Social work was dismal as it was and that would have only made it so much worse. No thanks.

The truth is, I’m not a student of Marx, or of economic theories in general. However, some of my thinking on the subject seems to be in line with some of Marx’s thinking. Like the alienation of the worker from his product. As a society now, we’re so far removed from our product that the whole d*mn country no longer produces anything real, and so almost no one is connected by work to his product because there isn’t a product to be connected to. Throwing bits and bytes around isn’t real, derivatives aren’t real, humanistic feel good groups are not real, even art is not real (more on that later). None of this “not-real-ness” means these things aren’t or can’t be valuable but they aren’t in the realm of “needs” and therefore also not in the realm of “abilities”.

Buying labor by the hour is simply another form of slavery. Marx talked about it in terms of the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. The bourgeoisie had a very negative connotation in his thought, exploitative, but in the social structures he was familiar with, it was basically what we’d call the middle class today. In this country we’ve come to almost deify the middle class -- so much so that people who make $20K/yr and people who make $250K/yr all consider themselves to be “middle class”. But basically, if you are selling your labor, you are proletariat; and if you are buying someone else’s labor, you are bourgeoisie. In this country, there is pretty much no one who doesn’t do more buying of labor than selling of it (especially if you take into consideration the “real-ness” of the labor selling vs. the labor buying).

There is this thing, you see, the difference in value-in-use and value-in exchange -- that water is very valuable in use but not in exchange, and a diamond is not very useful but very valuable in exchange. I have chosen personally to deliberately place more value on things that are valuable-in-use and to largely disdain those things that are only valuable-in-exchange. Valuable-in-use essentially feeds people, keeps them warm, allows them their lives with which to do as they please. Valuable-in-exchange essentially exploits people, steals from them, asks them to look outside themselves and their own abilities for value. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is what I mean when I differentiate between real work from non-real work. And, as I said, it is even worse in the US because most people don’t even have a product to be alienated from.

Obama said in last night’s speech, and I quote: “As hard as it may be, as uncomfortable and contentious as the debates may become, it's time to get serious about fixing the problems that are hampering our growth.” He used some term that included “grow” eleven times, and at least six of those times he was talking about the economy or jobs growing. Jobs jobs jobs growth growth growth is all either side spouts.

Growth is the problem people. The jobs are slavery, the growth is cancer. Our standard of living is the problem. We have to get smaller, rein in our ambitions, learn contentment, the value of satiety, the meaning of enough; the environment needs that, social justice demands that, combating terrorism requires it. Do you fear mountain top removal or the possibility of another massive terrorist attack? Do you care about sweatshops in Indonesia or the children of Haiti? Then less consumption (that is, a lower standard of living, less traveling, doing without in general and reveling in the abundance of that) is the only thing that will help any of them.

So what then of art? What then of music, of fine food, of literature? There may be a few musicians and artists and authors who are so outstandingly good that, without coercion, with little exploitation of others, they might be fed and kept warm through the exchange of their art. But better is the tradition that we all materially support ourselves with our direct use of goods, and also all engage in our own form of artistry. When the artistry is not paid, it is not corrupted. When it is engaged in by everyone, it is appreciated by everyone.

It is hopeless of course because in the end it requires that people get really honest. Health care reform means many things but at bottom it does mean less health care. And it means financially poorer doctors. And fewer scans. And a LOT less drugs. Weird people are gonna have to be let be weird instead of being medicated into submission. Restless legs may have to remain restless. Many diseases will actually be cured by this, like MRSA. Ironically there will be a lot less anxiety when people have something real to worry about. People who are lazy, or unlucky, or stupid, may actually be hungry, and may actually see their children go hungry. People who would rather consume than secure for their family the means of production, well, I won’t cry for you Argentina.

We have to remember who we are. If we could do that as a country, we really could lead the world. To peace. To abundance. To cooperation.


Jenny said...

You know, I think you're one of the few people in the first world these days who could write that with complete credibility, because you're doing it. (And doing a good job at it to, to see your tribe)

I very much agree we're as a species not cut out for the industrial-era life. It is dehumanizing, cutting us off from the instincts and rhythms of millennia. So I totally agree with your diagnosis of the problem (and your economic analysis, for that matter).

That said, I'm more inclined to think the way out is through. I don't want to give up the fruits of modern medicine, comparatively inexpensive power, or much of the rest of these engines of creation we've built. I do want them smaller, less intrusive, and virtually invisible. I do want a more bucolic existence for anyone who chooses it. But I don't want to have to look a disfigured child or maimed accident victim in what's left of their eyes and say they have to just live with it - embrace the suck - because we turned our back on the technologies that could have cured them.

The other side of that of course is that human desires have always grown to just exceed what was available - so I think it will always require a conscious act to step back into simplicity. As you've done so well.

And even in that simplicity, there remains the buffer of the surrounding technological world, with its trauma centers, its trade, and ultimately even its army to keep the roughest shocks of once-upon-a-time subsistence living at bay.

Thank you for your writing - I greatly enjoy it.

(and the harp's beautiful)

CG said...

oh, so THAT'S who you are! I looked up your blog the other day from a link here and was like, she's so familiar . . . .

And I don't want to entirely give up the fruits of technologies either. I love antibiotics (used responsibly), and the knowledge of handwashing, but modern medicine can't touch chronic disease (because it is lifestyle disease).

And as far as modern things I love, I do love me some internet!

And you are entirely correct that there is a buffer of the modern world. I have written before about how it is interaction with it that produces most stress for me, but there is also buffer there -- hunger in America really doesn't exist, so if my entire crop fails (which rather happened except for the potatoes last year), I still do not face hunger.

But there isn't now and there won't ever be again cheap energy. Figuring out how to live now, before a crash in supply, or in economy because of rise in energy cost, is important. We saw energy prices go up, demand go down (with the economy shrinking with it), and prices go down. Now we're on the way back up. It can cycle several times. But which thing will crash next and will it be the thing that will devastate you? How will you live? How will your children eat? These are my questions to people and yet they go past me like I'm invisible with their fingers in their ears saying la-la-la.

And I said in here, we're all in this country bourgeoisie. Every freaking one of us.

annetteinalaska said...

We got ourselves into this; we'll get ourselves out of it. Or not. That's pretty much it.

CG said...

I'm thinking not Annette. I'm thinking some people will live and some people won't. And I think that is hopeful. I think the founding fathers thought beyond themselves and that that's why the Constitution is about something and ought to be upheld, not evolved into socialism. I think that people who don't think beyond themselves end up in dire straights.

annetteinalaska said...

Exactly. That's where the "or not" came in.

Jenny said...

yup - hi!!

And I'm sorry.. I probably wasn't clear. When I say "cheap energy" I wasn't talking within a timeframe of decades, but rather centuries. A drive to town may be a matter of three (paper) dollars worth of gas or ten, but either way it's still something most people can - and will - do without a second thought.

Compared to the farmer of a century ago for whom a ten mile trek to town by horse cart was a production. We can be in shirt sleeves in our homes in the dead of winter, and take a hot bath every night. That's what I mean by cheap energy.

And honestly, I'm pretty darn optimistic about it getting radically cheaper in the future. Fission plants might have been a no-go, but the eggheads are making awesome strides towards fusion, while others are already learning to grow microbes that consume carbon and excrete - for all practical purposes - gasoline. And that's just the tip of the iceberg.

So yeah, I'm very optimistic about the future... long term. Next couple decades? Could be a nightmare. For very much the reasons you name.

CG said...

I really think a long term waaaay lower energy (where a 10 mile trip to town is way more difficult than $3 or $10 or $100) IS a hopeful future. Way more hopeful that gasoline shitting microbes.

I'm optimistic too, just in a different way. I think it will be great.

Wendy said...

My thinking is very much in line with yours. I don't believe that "things" will "turn around" in this country, and I don't believe that technology will save us. Neither do I believe we are all doomed to a future of wallowing in misery.

Being a "producer" is very empowering, and so is the belief that I have control over my future - if only in how I allow it to affect my outlook. With more of us adopting a "less is more" attitude, the transition to a "less" future, will hopfully, be less tumultous and violent.

Thank you, once again, for sharing your incredible wisdom and insight. I wish our "leaders" had half.

Snowbrush said...

I agreed with most of what you said until your conclusions about health care reform. I know many bloggers in many countries, and they tend to be healthier than we are, and they're not lying in bed all night with their legs jitterbugging.

As to "value-in-exchange," it often has the advantage of being tidily and lastingly storable. There is that to be said, but your objections to it are all true as well.

Continued growth--bad indeed. But how to stand still, to maintain, as it were? I don't know.

CG said...

Less health care would, in the whole, be a good thing. Like less HFCS would be a good thing.

Value in use can store too -- canned goods, grains, tools, raw materials.

But to have sustainability and stability, we won't be standing still. That's what the modern paradigm would have you believe it meant to not grow but that isn't what it means at all!

Alecto said...

God, that was wonderful! I'm just catching up. I know there's another but I can't get to that site at work.