COMMON RUIN

“Ars longa, vita brevis”

The Frivolous Trends and Commodities of Late Capitalism: or, Aesthetic Reasons for Endorsing a Communist Mode of Production

Ethical objections to economic exploitation and artificial (e.g., class) authority,[1] in conjunction with an adherence to the materialist conception of history, are the principal sources of my communist political philosophy. A secondary source of disaffection with capitalism, however, is aesthetic in nature. At times, these relatively superficial concerns I harbor can feel just as salient as my moral considerations, so I’ve decided to share a few of them with you.

As the title suggests, this post will list (in no particular order) a few of the most repellent trends and commodities capitalism has generated in my lifetime. Perhaps they will solidify your opposition to this detestable mode of production—or contribute to your establishing such an opposition, depending on where you currently stand.

Hurl1.) “TWERKING”

Nothing bears the indelible stamp of our lowly origin quite like this spectacle. Women lacking any sense of self-respect, essentially emulating primitive mating calls—their dirty nalgas colliding into one another at high velocity, all for the male gaze. If not for the music industry glorifying this primal behavior for purposes of profit, I think it’s safe to assume the act would have perished long ago in whatever urban cesspool spawned it in the first place. It will nevertheless be interesting to observe how much longer this novel form of objectification will endure in popular culture.

NGO2.) NGOs

The institutional form most favored by self-righteous idealists (and apolitical drifters), incapable of understanding the structural sources of the injustices they wish to ameliorate. These were the kids whose parents insisted their elementary schools admitted them into their little “gifted” programs—erroneously assuming they possessed an above average fluid intelligence—whose later gestures in these enterprises will do precisely nothing to significantly improve the world .

The Peace Corps is where this sort used to agglomerate, but evidently they’ve moved on to bigger and worse endeavors.

Adult men and women camping outside an Apple Store in order to be the first to purchase the latest iPhone.

Adult men and women camping outside an Apple Store in order to be among the first to obtain a phone.

3.) “SMART” PHONES

Don’t misunderstand me, it’s certainly impressive most of a computer’s functions can now be performed on a small, handheld device also capable of making phone calls. Repellent, however, is the absolute fetish society has made out of purchasing the latest version Apple releases each year, which is trivially different from the preceding model (to say nothing of the undue praise the utterly unremarkable, degenerate entrepreneurs and engineers in Silicon Valley receive). People of modest incomes will brave the elements for days on end, and waste hundreds of dollars, just to buy one of these toys solely for their utility in status signaling. It’s conspicuous consumption at its absolute worst.

The phones may be “smart,” but their owners, more often than not, are anything but.

Cinnabun Cereal4.) EXCESSIVE VARIETY

If this image doesn’t immediately invoke shock, disgust, and/or embarrassment in you, you’re the living embodiment of the ideal consumer advertising agencies have been carefully cultivating for decades.

It’s not only the increasingly unhealthy foods being marketed to the population that is so distressing, but the ridiculous number of brands and superfluous variations of the same product on shelves. Honestly, how many toothpaste companies or flavors of cereal does humanity require? And is it truly an infringement upon our liberty to set a limit, as capitalist ideologues often say in response to the suggestion?

One Direction Fans

5.) TWEENS

Another abominable concoction of advertising agencies commissioned to expand opportunities for capital accumulation. Children are no longer permitted to lead a relatively carefree existence for their first few years on this planet. Instead, they must be concerned about the status their clothing and accessory choices convey among their peers, and they’re also expected to navigate the psychological complexities of objectification, because profit can be obtained by companies in the process.[2]

Bourgeois economists often cite the fact entrepreneurs in a capitalist economy can enter the market with relative ease to peddle their wares as a chief source of capitalism’s “dynamism.” And while that may well be the case, it would be dishonest to omit the immense waste of resources this exercise also contributes to. What’s more, the firms which succeed in the competitive struggle of the marketplace don’t necessarily do so because they provide consumers with what they desire. Billions of dollars are invested every year to engineer the aforementioned trends and artificially instill in consumers a desire for these commodities. But even granting the dubious assumption these trends and products derive from our human nature, at least communism wouldn’t reward people with exorbitant incomes for producing them. In fact, since remuneration would be socially determined, nations could draft legislation which only rewarded those exceptional individuals who contribute to innovations which truly improve the human condition (e.g., life saving technologies) with incomes above the social average. And economic planning would provide the space for society to deliberate on how its means of production and labor power are utilized, which has the potential to lead to more rational forms of consumption being adopted.

There are, of course, hundreds (if not thousands) of other products and trends I could critique, but I’ve exhausted the time I currently have to devote to the subject. I might continue the list on a future post.

Notes:
[1] Saul Newman aptly describes the distinction figures like Mikhail Bakunin made between “natural” and “artificial authority” in From Bakunin to Lacan: Anti-Authoritarianism and the Dislocation of Power (Lanham: Lexington Books, 2007), pp. 38-41. Simply put, the former is derived from intrinsic—and, consequently, inescapable—natural laws which shape various aspects of human nature, while the latter is extrinsically imposed by individuals and institutions exploiting asymmetries of power in society.
[2] To gain an appreciation of how distorting this commercial construct is, view the 2008 Media Education Foundation documentary film Consuming Kids: The Commercialization of Childhood. Online: http://www.mediaed.org/cgi-bin/commerce.cgi?preadd=action&key=134

My Final Word on “Cultural Marxism”

...As it's commonly portrayed.

…As it’s commonly presented.

**NOTE 1/22: This paper has undergone several revisions since it was originally posted, so if you downloaded it previously, please consider doing so again**

Given the varied response my blog post “On the Myth of Cultural Marxism” elicited from reactionaries and revolutionaries alike in 2014, I thought it appropriate to begin the new year with a paper elaborating my thoughts on the controversial subject. It retains aspects of the blog post, but I have refined my thesis and construct it in a less polemical fashion. The paper, entitled “The Origins and Ideological Function of Cultural Marxism,” is not intended as an exhaustive refutation of the conspiracy, but should instead be read as one man’s contribution to the broader project of debunking the myth.

As with all my work, it can either be downloaded here or on my academia.edu profile. Feedback is always welcome.

ABSTRACT:
As a consequence of the right’s elitist conception of history, conspiracy theories abound in conservative historiography and social analyses when events develop in a manner contrary to their economic and/or cultural preferences. This is especially so on the fringes of the right, among its various fascistic and religious fundamentalist sects. Whether it be a cabal of malicious Zionists seeking to subvert gentile societies in order to achieve racial hegemony, or secular humanists unwittingly fulfilling the antichrist’s unholy objectives through the promotion of non-religious educational curricula, conservative sociology is fundamentally based upon autonomous human agents directing the course of history. This applies equally to when society happens to be in accord with the values conservatives espouse; the institutional hierarchy is thought to be occupied by men of principle in these instances. Thus it is predictable that conspiratorial narratives would be fabricated in an effort to explain why the contemporary West has come to exemplify certain values and behaviors antithetical to those favored by cultural conservatives. The specific conspiracy theory this paper is intended to address is that of “cultural Marxism,” which has been gaining momentum among segments of the far right over the past decade.

The Extermination of Homo Consumericus

Let's not permit this dreadful byproduct of capital to remain with us for long...

Let’s not permit this dreadful epiphenomenon of capital to remain with us for much longer.

What better occasions remarks on the problem of homo consumericus than the holiday season? As a worker forced to endure this madness, I share with you my thoughts.

Since the triumph of the capitalist mode of production in the eighteenth century, communist theoreticians and ordinary workingmen and women alike have justifiably condemned the demeaning character of bourgeois social relations. Then, as now, the central injustice of the system lies in the exploitation of labor by the capitalist class. The alienation wrought by impersonal market forces is also frequently cited as a source of grievance by class conscious working people, as it should be. But there is yet another facet of capitalism worthy of censure; one just as dehumanizing and pernicious. I’m here referring to the issue of menial service sector labor. Admittedly, service labor[1] precedes the capitalist epoch by millenia, but capital has transformed this line of work into something utterly unbearable to engage in. Those who have had the misfortune of being employed in the service sector for an appreciable amount of time are undoubtedly aware of the myriad objections one could level at it, but they bear elaboration for whatever néophytes or relatively privileged workers may be reading.

Imagine, if you will, spending (conservatively) 30 percent[2] of your finite time on this planet catering—in the most cheerful and hospitable manner you can possibly muster—to the desires of unappreciative strangers in order to acquire your daily bread. Individuals who view you solely as a means to an end; an expendable instrument in the pursuit of their consumptive gratification. Worse, this experience is to take place during the best years of your life, at your cognitive and physical apex. So, in addition to being in a position of servitude to property owners and their managerial representatives, you occupy a role wherein absolute obedience to individuals who know the least about what your labor entails (i.e., customers) is obligatory. With the exception of chattel slavery, indentured servitude, and sweatshop employment—which are confined to the periphery of the geopolitical order today—I defy anyone to propose a more humiliating and disempowering form of labor.

Even under capitalism a significant percentage of proletarians in the United States could once take pride in their work. Not only did trade unions (yellow though the were) shield them from some of the excesses of managerial oversight, but productive workers utilized their minds and muscles to produce tangible, useful products. Labor of that sort instills in the individuals performing it a genuine sense of purpose. Compare that to the tedious process of placing novelty items on a shelf in a high turnover firm or preparing lattes for impatient, rotund customers, which typifies the working day for so many of us. Taylorist management techniques and market alienation clearly exacerbate the problems exhibited in the service sector, but I can’t help but think that even within the context of a self-managed, planned communist commonwealth, society should take measures to reduce, if not entirely eliminate, this drudgery from human existence.

Everyone enjoys dining at a restaurant on occasion, but they don’t see the man in the kitchen accidentally impaling a digit with the cutlery customers used to shove steak into their foul orifices, or the chef burning himself on the steaming pans he used when preparing that entrée. If the thought did enter their minds, they would regard it as unfortunate but not their problem. ‘Why should I be forced to adjust my preferences just because they didn’t value their education as much as I did?’ is the meritocratic rhetorical question these pathetic lifeforms often pose to justify their relative privilege. God forbid they should have to learn how to prepare their favorite food or beverages, or have to contemplate, in advance, what they wish to consume. Such a practice might, in some sense, cultivate them, and we mustn’t allow that..

Homo consumericus is a sociological subspecies of mankind, so obsessed by the pleasure of consumption that he has little regard for his fellow man’s conditions of labor. He emerged through a process of artificial selection induced by the law of value. His extermination, though indispensable for securing dignity in labor, is not inevitable, even under socialism. If the inhumane nature of service labor, outlined above, is to be surmounted, society must consciously prohibit the forms of production, distribution, and consumption which sustain him. Such is my appeal.

NOTES:
[1] By which I exclude slavery and indentured servitude, which are better placed in a separate category of coerced labor.
[2] During our adult years in late capitalist America 1/3 of our day is spent working, another 1/3 sleeping, and the final 1/3 engaged in other activities—much of which is related to work in some capacity anyway, e.g., commuting to our jobs, washing our work clothes, and/or venting to our family and friends about issues at the workplace.

Close Encounters with the Conspiracist Mind

The outright garbage some people are willing to entertain is staggering..

Yes, some people have been convinced this is actually occurring.

I try to keep abreast of the latest conspiracy theories circulating on the internet because I consider them especially pernicious manifestations of false consciousness. It’s seldom I encounter individuals disseminating them in public, though.

This all changed the other day at work, when an older customer approached me to inquire as to whether the store I work for carried DVDs of an obscure television program from the 1960s, the name of which eludes me. Of course we didn’t and I informed him accordingly, and usually that’s where my interactions with customers cease. This gentleman, however, seemed intent on having a conversation. He mentioned that he saw we carried Das Boot and asked if I knew how many languages the film has been dubbed in. I told him I had no idea, but, considering the popularity of the film, I conjectured at least the major Western European languages were covered. Somehow this brought us to a conversation about how the Chinese are currently involved in pirating most of the United States’ films and how “awful” this illegal activity is. I remarked that, although China has reverted to capitalism, the Central Politburo of the Communist Party doesn’t seem too keen on respecting intellectual property rights, or at least those of foreign companies. I find ideological inconsistencies of this sort slightly humorous and expected he would too, but he refused to concede that China is currently practicing capitalism, which immediately signaled to me that I was dealing with some species of conservative. Being that I was at work, I couldn’t argue my case too forcefully, so we ended up having to agree to disagree on that particular issue.

Perhaps owing to my apparent knowledge of these subjects, the man was eager to converse further. Chinese “communism” naturally led into a discussion of Russia and the history of the former Soviet Union. The man shared a few amusing anecdotes about Vladimir Putin which, in his opinion, demonstrated that Putin remains a “KGB thug at heart” who the United States’ military should ideally eliminate from the world stage. “But our country hasn’t had the testicular fortitude to doing anything like that since Reagan,” he muttered. His fondness for American imperialism disqualified him from conventional propertarian status, which further piqued my curiosity as to exactly what category of conservative I was dealing with. “Neo-con?” I wondered to myself.

From Putin we drifted into a discussion about Stalin. As I expected, the Holodomor[1] and the dubious death figures compiled in Stéphane Courtois’s (ed.) The Black Book of Communism: Crimes, Terror, Repression (Cambridge: Havard University Press, 1999) were mentioned. I had neither the ability (again, as a consequence of being at work) nor the desire to contest these matters, so I allowed the man to prattle on about the myriad Soviet atrocities. I did, however, evoke the suppression of the Kronstadt Soviet and the Ukrainian Free Territory in an attempt to balance the conversation somewhat, but it fell on def ears. Only the casualties suffered by the White Army and Kulaks seemed to matter to this individual. Surprisingly, and to his credit, the man never faulted communism’s alleged incompatibility with ‘human nature’ for the suffering experienced in the Soviet Union.

“Yes, but what of Hitler? He was also a genocidal dictator, but of the right,” I eventually interrupted—I felt an urge to cut short his anti-socialist tirade by citing an example of bourgeois barbarism; I figured his response to this remark would also determine whether he harbored fascistic sympathies, therewith revealing the source of his conservatism. “Hitler was a Satanist,” the man responded. (I attributed this ludicrous statement to the common error people commit in conflating Paganism with Satanism.) “He was vaguely interested in Paganism, and publicly identified as a Christian,” I chuckled, “but his personal conversations[2] confirm that he was secular.” “No,” said the conservative. “He literally worshiped Satan and it’s rumored he could actually summon his spirit. The evidence of this has been suppressed since the end of the Second World War.” At this point it became obvious I was conversing with a religious conspiracy theorist of the highest order. Part of me wanted to end the conversation right there, because it’s futile engaging in debate with someone with no appreciation for basic standards of logic and evidence. But another part of me was intrigued. I wanted to find out how he came to espouse such utterly ridiculous views.

“Every radical political movement since the Enlightenment has been orchestrated by Satan himself, from the Jacobins to the Bolsheviks. The entire world is governed by Satanists today, and the Democratic and Republican parties are controlled by them too,” the zealot proclaimed. He went on to explain how the only way to prevent humanity from descending into savage depravity is to ground all of our personal decisions and social institutions in the teachings of Jesus Christ. “The United States is the last country in the world that has maintained its Christian faith despite the onslaught of modernity and it’s up to us to ensure Satan’s politicians don’t succeed in their attempts to destroy the Church.” I wondered at this moment whether Bakunin was on to something when he said “if God really existed, it would be necessary to abolish him.”[3] Surely any deity that requires of its creation a suspension of critical inquiry and unhesitating submission is unworthy of respect, let alone worship. But I think Terry Eagleton’s challenge to this line of reasoning is essentially sound,[4] i.e., that the problem is not with the idea of god or even with Christianity per se; the problem is fundamentalism. And this man was a fundamentalist, if ever there was one.

My patience had been exhausted so I finally just had to ask outright how he came to these bizarre conclusions. He cited a couple of arcane texts authored by paranoid, evangelical charlatans and Alex Jones’s 2000 documentary film, Dark Secrets: Inside Bohemian Grove. As it happens, I had seen the documentary when I was in high school. It basically consists of grainy footage of a chubby megalomaniac commenting on the unusual, paganesque rituals he observed while infiltrating one of the bourgeoisie’s social clubs in the redwood forest of northern California. Is it strange? Certainly. Evidence of Satanic influence among the power elite? Hardly. Fraternal societies and private clubs have been a hallmark of elite life from time immemorial. This is nothing out of the ordinary. So, rather than interpreting the Bohemian Club as evidence of esoteric Satanism, a more sensible inference is that politicians utilize Christianity cynically, in order to secure votes, which is why they have no scruples about participating in pseudo-pagan rituals every so often in their private lives.

The customer spoke glowingly of Alex Jones. “He’s one of the only men brave enough to fight for us.” “Us?” I thought. As he continued, I imagined the man in a dark room, huddled around his computer screen, clutching his bible while listening to Jones scream about “chem trails” and the Illuminati’s sinister plot to establish a “New World Order,” and I felt pity. Why is it that reasonably intelligent people, like this man, can be so credulous? What is it about conspiracy theories that appeal so strongly to this segment of the population, i.e., retired and semi-retired American males? On that subject, I have a few thoughts. I have been developing a theory I call ersatz significatio, which I hope to devote more attention to in the months and years ahead. Simply put, my hypothesis is the following: just as consumerism is the compensation capitalism offers the proletariat in exchange for a life of alienated labor, conspiracy theories and the survivalist ethos they prompt offer older people a sense of purpose after their role in value production has passed. The limited consumption older working class and petit-bourgeois men have the ability to engage in cannot occupy the increased leisure time retirement offers, and often conspiracy theories can fill that void, in addition to imbuing in these men a sense of meaning. They are fighting to secure ‘liberty for posterity,’ and so forth—while not disrupting capitalist property relations or its attendant system of commodity production.

NOTES:
[1] See Mark B. Tauger, “The 1932 Harvest and the Famine of 1933,” Slavic Review, Vol. 50, No. 1, pp. 70-89 (1991) for a critique of the standard narrative of the Soviet government engineering the famine in order to discipline disobedient Ukrainian peasants.
[2] As recorded by Martin Bormann, et al. in Hitler’s Table Talk, 1941-1944: His Private Conversations (New York: Enigma Books, 2000).
[3] Mikhail Bakunin, God and the State (New York: Cosimo Books, 2008), p. 28.
[4] See, for example, the arguments in Terry Eagleton, Reason, Faith, and Revolution: Reflections on the God Debate (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2010).

Another Summer Passes

Inebriated one fine summer day.

Utterly intoxicated one fine summer afternoon.

Summer has officially come to a close, although you would hardly realize it if you were to venture outside in Florida. The humidity remains stifling, insects are ubiquitous, and the heat is oppressive. Autumn is not recognizable in this state until mid to late November at the earliest, and even then it is only in terms of a slightly lower temperature. Many Floridians, myself included, think of the beautiful fall foliage and temperate conditions the rest of the country experiences this time of year with great envy. So, if you are fortunate enough to reside in a state with marked seasonal changes, do not take it for granted. Roll in the leaves with a loved one, drink hot apple cider, visit a pumpkin patch, all that fun stuff.

The high points of my summer included going to my nephew’s preschool graduation, visiting my sister—after not seeing her in quite a while, having the pleasure of introducing St. Augustine to my lovely girlfriend, and spending time with my family. I was not able to do much, but the little I did was very fulfilling.

As insensitive as it may sound, among the low points this summer was not experiencing another hurricane. I have been yearning for one to strike this state for the last several years, only to be consistently disappointed. It is not the destruction that I take pleasure in, but rather the mass hysteria and disarray I find enjoyable; the extreme weather is also wonderfully exciting. (And before someone accuses me of exemplifying white male privilege, or what have you, let me assure my audience that I have endured hurricanes in relatively poor dwellings throughout my life; it is not as though my desire is a consequence of living in sturdy, expensive infrastructure.) Watching the ominous dark clouds spin in from the coast while feeling the wind gusts progressively intensify is uniquely exhilarating.

Another disappointment was the Scottish referendum to exit the Unite Kingdom being defeated due to the fear mongering tactics of Westminster. John Maclean was surely rolling in his grave at the despicable outcome of September 18th.

Economic conditions failed to unfold as I predicted they would, but I feel my hypothesis, while falsified in terms of the timeline I provided, remains sound nonetheless. The underlying cause of the crisis, i.e., a declining rate of profit, has not been addressed, nor do I think it would be politically viable to destroy capital on the scale necessary to return to a period of economic growth. Keynesian policies will continue to kick the proverbial can down the road, but a precipitous decline is inevitable.

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