A short critique of identity

I like to focus on the impact of capitalism on personal mental health. To be sure, it’s a massive, massive topic. The impact on capitalism (or the world you grew up in) on personal mental health is so incomprehensibly large you might as well ask what the impact on a nail would be if you hit it with a hammer the size of Texas. There isn’t even a definition of what capitalism is, aside from the business cycle itself. But there are cultural mainstays that if they do not cause capitalism, they have accompanied capitalism in developed countries. So if you are in the United States and are interested in capitalism’s impact on personal mental health, please keep on reading my critique of identity.

In capitalism, it often feels like you’re on your own. Being an individual seems to be the daily life of people living under capitalism. This insistence on being an individual, a self-made man, is a double-edged sword. On one hand, you are allowed to claim all of your achievements as a result of your own sense of self, but on the other hand all of your failures and shortcomings are yours as well. It’s within this context that the self-help and mental health industry positions itself: helping individuals fight their demons alone. Good mental health is living happily as an individual. Bad mental health is dissatisfaction from living as an individual. But this is how you help people, on the scale of individuals.

But we are not individuals, or if we are the term needs to surrender a lot of the power associated to it. We are people born into situations. Suburbanite parents on the hill say of young African-American boys “Well if I was born in the ghetto I would refuse to sell drugs.” No, you wouldn’t, because you wouldn’t be you then. The very act of saying “I” invokes your entire upbringing. Your very identity is constructed out of society. Society furnishes you with the raw materials out of which you make yourself. The proof of this is that we all identify with the word “I” but none of us invented it. We had to be taught it. At best, “I” refers to a mixture of your will and the larger environment, a compromise between the world you were born into and your desires for yourself that would have come true had it not been for the world. At worst, “I” is an amputation, a denial of the world that they exist in. This is where people like to play the same game as those suburbanite parents did: they like to imagine themselves as divorced from their circumstances, and able to jump into anyone’s life at anyone’s moment to cast judgment, like Agent Smith in the Matrix or something. This type of finger pointing has no bearing to actual reality: people aren’t moved by ethics, they’re moved by food. Matter of fact, food is people’s primary requirement. People need food. People don’t need ethics but they do need food.

Reworking what “I” means is a very important task to both revolutionary thought and personal sanity, and even here I didn’t go deep enough into how problematic the concept of “I” is. But for now, be assured that the world is not resting on YOUR shoulders. Take care of yourselves, lefties.

Advertisements

My take on Commodity Fetishism

Marx’s concept of Commodity Fetishism has to be one of the most spectacular mindfucks I’ve ever experienced in my life, simply because of how basic and  everyday commodities (or in basic terms, shit that’s for sale) are. It’s always nice to discover something new, and it’s especially nice to realize you’ve been thinking a certain way without even realizing it. It’s like what Zizek says about unknown-knowns: it’s the things that you don’t know that you do know that keep you trapped. When understood, you walk away with this inverted understanding of daily capitalist life, as all of your upbringing under capitalist society is put on its head. It’s one of my favorite mindfucks.

Let’s say you need a new pair of shoes, and you go to the shoemaker. The shoemaker knows you. He knows you, your personal tastes, your whole family, your family’s personal tastes what you’ll need the shoes for, what the latest trends are, what materials the shoes are made out of, how all of these things will influence your social standing, the way that you walk, what other people will think about your shoes, etc. And not only does he know all of those things, but he knows how each of those things will influence the other things he knows, for example how the use of a certain type of material will influence the way that you walk, what your parents will think about the style of shoe, you get the point. He is an absolute master of his trade. He promises you to take all of these things into consideration when making your shoes, and he does. He gives you the best damn shoes you’ve ever seen. In order to make sure that he can continue to do this type of work in the future, what do you give him?

Let’s just now shift over to a capitalist universe. The shoemaker is still there, you’re still there, and you’re just about to give him something so that he can continue to do this work for other people. What do you give him? Cash. Simple answer, cash. And then you walk away. Does this seem strange to you at all? If the answer is no, then we need to explain the process of creation better.

In order to make the shoes, the shoemaker draws resources from the environment, draws inspiration from his years of experience living in society, assembles the resources in a culturally appealing way, and hands them to you. By giving him money you’re not returning any of those things to him, not directly at least. The money isn’t inspiration, the money isn’t the years it took get his trade down. It’s entirely unconnected and unrelated from the process of creation itself. He could buy the leather and rubber with the money you gave him. That would mean he would have to go to another leather and rubber master, give them more of these slips of paper that are also disconnected from their work in order to get what he needs. And here we come across one profound realization of Karl Marx: everywhere where man takes cash, man experiences alienation from life itself.

And just to bring the alienation point home, I’d like to engage in an exercise with you right now and ask you to look around wherever it is you’re reading and try to guess the price value of the objects around you if they were suddenly sold in a tag sale. You can imagine it. That bowl will go for a dollar each, that pair of shoes for five dollars, you get the idea. There’s nothing “one-like” about a bowl, or “five-like” about about a pair of shoes. The shoes and the bowls just exist, and we imagine “one” or “five” and then implant our ideas of what they might be worth onto those items. Again, there’s nothing one-like or five-like about these items.

Y’all ready for this? This is where Marx tells you that capitalist society is just as insane and strange as all of those “primitive” people of the world capitalist society takes a dump on. Marx says where else in the world do we see behavior like this, where man puts value onto an object and suddenly that object really does appear to have those values? The Third World, bitches! He cites an example of a tribe who, when their child gets sick, they put them in front of a totem pole, and by the belief that they actually put the child in front of a god and asked the god for forgiveness, the child becomes healed. Just as blocks of inanimate wood become gods, green slips of paper and cotton becomes an invisible life force that unites all objects. And that’s why it’s called commodity fetishism, because ordinary objects are taking on religious qualities.

And after all of this, you can nice and neatly wrap up this whole system of thought into two words: false consciousness. As long as we genuinely believe that objects have numerical value and that money is the holder of that value, we are not thinking freely.

Adventure Time, Anti-Capitalism and Post Apocalyptic Realities

It’s 5:41 in the morning, and I’m inspired to write this by two things: 1) A very smart PBS short on how BMO is a third wave feminist, and 2) a very scary dream I just had.

In the dream I had I had gotten to where I was by a time machine, only twenty years or so in the past (hmm.). There was a concentration camp, armed brutality, public executions, I had to get out of there. It was snowing everywhere, intolerable blizzard conditions. Still I managed to sneak out, somehow they weren’t bothered by me leaving. I strike it out on my own, trying to find food or life in this place frozen over. All the houses I see no one’s there, no power. This is really a post-apocalyptic wasteland. Civilization and order now cower in the face of terrible and monstrous non-human conditions. Eventually I see a house with a few plants growing in the garage. I enter and there’s a nice elderly lady telling me everything about how the water table in Hawaii has risen in this post-apocalytic world and just in general how to survive using plants. I start searching through her things for something to eat, I put some rice in a tubberware with some beans and just start to eat it raw, and she says something like “Rice without water? Oh, it’s been some time before that’s ever worked! Come to the kitchen and I’ll get you some water,” and I hold off because I don’t trust her, and I tell her that. She then says “You were right not to trust me,” unzips her parka layer by layer to display a frozen heart frozen through her clothes. The winter-magic turned her into an ice-demon. I woke up after that and started writing shortly after, glad to return to my corrupt, twisted, but still entirely orderly world.

What does this have to do with Adventure Time? Adventure Time also takes place in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. The show is about a boy and his magical talking dog friend as they spend their days acting like knights of ages past; going on quests, doing good deeds for princesses, killing bad guys, etc. The world of Adventure Time is a pseudo-feudal world with some twists that just don’t come from the past. All of the people are made out of candy. The main Princess of the land knows string theory and quantum physics. New forms of life appear that have never existed before, talking bubbles, animated, genderless gaming systems, Jake the Dog can stretch to an infinite size. The twist that explains all of this is that the world 1000 years ago as we know it destroyed itself in a nuclear holocaust the people of Adventure Time call “The Mushroom War”. While Finn the Human and Jake the Dog go on their quests and adventures you can always see the past bits of civilization in the background, tanks, shopping bags, computers, sometimes animated into new creatures like Junk Spirits, sometimes not. It is a brand new world built right on top of this one.

A phrase that’s been associated with post-marxist philosopher Slavoj Zizek is the phrase “It’s easier to imagine the end of the world than it is to imagine the end of capitalism.” Capitalism is much much more than just a system to distribute junk. It’s a system for organizing ideas. Capitalism, or I should say Capitalist Realism, defines what is possible and what isn’t. With the destruction of the world in Adventure Time and in my dream, new forms of enchanted reality can come in to fill the void. New ways of imagining reality, not just our dogmatically scientific way of understanding phenomenon that only treat as real things it can prove.

I don’t know where I was going with this. That dream I had was absolutely scary as fuck.

2ndary edit: Just found this.

3rd edit:  Updated links for Mark Fisher’s Capitalist Realism.

6 Myths about the economy

6 Myths about the economy

It’s not the article I would write, but hey, I’d reblog it.

Addendums:

2) The author didn’t tackle the issue of sheer hours wealthy work vs workers. All of what he said about how workers are working more than ever is the case but it’s not the same thing as original claim that the wealthy don’t stop working. I find that this is true, I remember one moment during the Mitt Romney leaked tapes when a wealthy person stepped forward and said that he kills himself working and is proud of it. Srsly. This is a sad thing because no one is happy under capitalism. I really doubt if a top banker could really take a month long break from work despite how much money they make. The Rockefellers probably have someone to watch their investments for them, but it’s still a full time job. But does Jamie Dimon work harder than a mom with two jobs trying to make ends meet? I don’t think this is a useful question, at best it’s “Worker’s Pride those fatcats don’t do anything!” and at worse it’s “Money should go to the people who work hardest!” and that type of economic cheerleading is far removed from the reality of the economy, which is what we’re trying to change after all.

5 & 6 – Oh boy we are going to ripping this one apart in a later issue. 

Sociopathic Economic Underpinning, Huh?

Sure, let’s roll with this.

Money does not give two shits or a damn about you. People with money don’t give two shits or a damn about you. If you have five dollars in your hand and are faced with a whole world that relies on money, there will come a time when this world socializes you, and then you will not give two shits or a damn what happens to people when money becomes the lifeblood of life.

“What the fuck is this guy saying” you are probably asking yourself. Hold the fuck on to your baseball hats ’cause I’m taking you for a ride.

You may enter the world with good intentions. You may have been the happiest baby in the world. But by the first breath you take you require money. Your life is forfeit unless someone can cover your money expenses. A society where anyone can be homeless by not having enough of these green rectangular cotton-paper blends. From the day you are born there is a bulls-eye on your head and you will spend your whole life keeping the monster at bay. Do you realize how cruel the very premise of our society is? Let’s put a price on everything and make the first condition of life to make money!

Get that. Get that concept. In a capitalist society, in order to do ANYTHING AT ALL, you must first make money before that. If you would like to have a first kiss from Sara Jane under the bleachers of a High School Football game, your parents have to have enough money that you can spend that time. Even a good intentioned person can’t feed the homeless forever until he starts to feel the pain of poverty soon. You CANNOT do anything for long under capitalism unless it brings you more and more money. These callous, mathematical rules of society dull our hearts to the suffering of others. You can’t do ANYTHING in this society without facing its price tag.

Even a good man must put aside the lives of the people he cares about to make enough money under Capitalism.

The concept of money as governing feature of society is cruel, uncaring to suffering, and makes people only concerned with making more money. Any other instances where people can “make a buck while doing good” will only last as long as that remains profitable, which is a function of millions of people blindly dispensing dollars.

Money is a monster.

Misanthropic Anthropology

The benefit of being rejected by society is that you can see it for what it is. This begins the search for answers.

This is my blog on critical theory and societal change. Many a good people in my generation have eaten shit in their lives. I would want to turn that discontent with a dysfunctional society into a search for a better one. Nothing happens in society without its social-economic-political context. Child abuse, depression, schizophrenia, bulimia, alcoholism, addictions, all have a place in the discussion of the nature of 21st century capitalism.

All who have been abused, all who are abused, are welcome here in the collaborative project of improving society. Unrecognized value is a theme that I come back to often.

Capitalism plays a large role in my critique of society. Before you can do anything in this society, before you can take care of the poor, feed the hungry, bond with someone, improve the welfare of society, you have to be financially viable. That improving society must play second fiddle to a series of callous rules feels like madness to me, and anyone who doesn’t want to get rid of capitalism has to accept a psychopathic system that rules their lives. There’s just a lot of problems that can’t be solved in a world governed by money.  And no matter what you’ve been through, the fact that it happened under capitalism doesn’t exactly show how great capitalism is, now don’t it?

I guess that’s my mission statement. I’m just going to post what I think.