Monday, May 26, 2008

Humanity As A Commodity

As some of you may have noticed, I started another blog simply focused on paraphrasing and reflecting on Karl Marx's Capital. The value of that analysis has only grown more clear to me over the past 15 years since I first grappled with it, but I've also become very concerned with how to reconcile the clarity of Marx's analysis with the rapidly changing world we live in today. In more than one place, both he and Engels described today's world (at the end of Wage, Labor & Capital and Utopian and Scientific Socialism, for instance), and the big picture remains remarkably accurate. But the advances of technology have upped the stakes so high that we need to analyze the specifics that couldn't have been foreseen 150 years ago. Laborless production is foreseen in Marx, but the ability of the market to function with as much as we have was all but unimaginable. Anyway, I found the following article from the People's Tribune to be particularly thought-provoking in terms of this work. --Danny

We’re NOT For Sale!

Protesting plans for water privatization in Detroit.PHOTO/MICHIGAN WELFARE RIGHTS

By Steven Miller

Every time Humanity reaches a critical juncture, the nature of property starts to destabilize and transform. All forms of property are transforming today, including personal, public and private property (1). One form of property—corporate property, the most toxic form of private property—is beginning to devour all the others. Global corporations now dwarf the economies of virtually every country.

Personal property, in the form of homes, for example, is disintegrating in the Mortgage crisis. National wealth, in the form of the vast infrastructures, from ports to public universities to telecommunications that were built in the last 50 years, is being turned over to corporations worldwide. Even the US government has been mostly privatized since 2001. Public space and therefore public access is vanishing, even as income is polarizing faster than ever before in human history.

Up through the 20th Century, most human relationships flowed from our sense of community and culture, our recognition of our common humanity. Now the process of Globalization, under corporate domination, is systematically dissolving all previous social relations and commodifying every aspect of everyday life and what it means to be human.

All the traditional ways that people have used to define themselves are being altered by corporations. These concepts include the ideas of nationality, citizenship, race, class, language, health, human rights, gender, career, family and virtually every relationship between human beings. Every human need is being driven into the marketplace to be bought and sold. Then our humanity is sold back to us at a profit.

Jeremy Rifkin describes the process this way: “Imagine a world where virtually every activity outside the confines of family relations is a paid-for experience, a world where traditional reciprocal obligations and expectations mediated by feelings of faith, empathy, and solidarity are replaced by contractual relations in the form of paid memberships, subscriptions, admission charges, retainers and fees.” (2)The future of global capitalism is that each individual is a lone production unit in a pay-as-you-go global marketplace where everyone is an atomized consumer. Then you get to pay to experience life; the more you pay, the better it is! No more human or inalienable rights here.

However there is a fly in this ointment. When the vast majority is bankrupted and dispossessed, who is left to be a consumer?Corporate power over human affairs flows from the simple fact that they claim technology as their private property. Then they proclaim that no one can have access unless they can pay for it. Demanding the right to exploit and profit from human misery, corporations are now creating billions of sick and miserable humans just as they are creating a planet riddled with escalating environmental disasters.

The technology to produce true human abundance now exists, but it is owned by the wrong class of people. In fact the only guarantee today of personal property is to guarantee public property and abolish corporate private property.The US is putting $2.5 billion a week into privatizing Iraq. Imagine what would happen if we spent $2.5 billion a week on ending hunger and homelessness, creating free health care, providing education so that every single human on earth could realize their true creative potential? This is what a cooperative society means.

The profound world-historic step that confronts humanity today demands, among other things, that human beings once again alter our self-concept beyond all measure! Corporations are certainly working to change it their way. Let’s just finish the job and do it right. Just as people fought for centuries not to be slaves, we can fight not to be commodities. Humans can be so much better than this.

(1)Many observers discuss the current transformations of property as well as the implications for human access and for society:

Mike Davis. Planet of Slums

Naomi Klein. The Shock Doctrine

Jeremy Rifkin. The Age of Access

William I. Robinson, A Theory of Global Capitalism

Dan Schiller. How To Think About Information

Gary Teeple. Globalization and the Decline of Social Reform

(2) Rfikin, p 9


Private Beach said...

No matter how much governments proclaim that the fall of the Soviet Union means the idea of socialism is dead and "we're all middle class now" (or invisible?), the idea of "fair shares for all" is simply too powerful not to be continually resurrected. But while this ensures that Marx remains relevant, don't rely solely on him for solutions today. Even in his own day, other thinkers posited less authoritariian visions of the road to a classless society. You need to also read people like Kropotkin, and more recently Murray Bookchin, to get a balanced picture.

Danny Alexander said...

Read lots of anarchists....thanks. I'm interested in the changing nature of commodities here.