Search results for "marx "

Anachronistic workers

Author: joe

Wednesday, 15 December, 2010 - 22:59

Someone asks, who are the workers? In so asking they suggest my Marxist reference to 'the worker' is anachronistic, or that by workers I must mean the 'chavs', or the immigrants who routinely take up the most menial jobs in society (and therefore could not possibly benefit from a Higher Education system).

Paradoxically, many people rebut polemics against the Coalition government's spending cuts, or criticise 'whinging' protesters, by demanding that they should get a job and stop relying on those who WORK! (The word is usually capitalised, thereby denoting what a RADICAL POLITICAL ACTION going to work really is).

The good honest worker, that mythical hero we all become when we think of how we sacrifice our precious free time to pay our way. All we must do is work, and the world around us magically transforms into a place of merit and recognition, advancement and reward, or a benign adventureland in which the vulnerable can finally sip from the luxurious cup of welfare.

The sign-system mobilised by such appeals to work carry the implication that the harder we work, the more deserving we are, and the better off we will be. He who works longest reaps the most reward. It feels almost insulting to point out the obvious fact - how can it be necessary to point it out!? - that it is generally those who work longest who earn the least, that value is transferred from the worker (whose labour value is diminished) to the commodity (whose fetishisation 'magically' creates value), and that those with the luxury of capital make a profit from those without it? It's Marxism 101, and I'd tire of teaching it if it were not so fucking fundamental to understanding the inequality in society.

Categories: marxism 101, work, labour,
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Draft review notes #3

Author: joe

Saturday, 12 September, 2009 - 15:17

[Some contextual notes for my PhD, regarding the status of participatory media in academia and industry]

So the everyday is always written off: the mass produce trash culture without quality; they fail to rise up and revolt and against the elites; and they are deceived by machinations against which they have no real defence.

A key characteristic of the critiques of the everyday is their insistance on the schism between the real and the ideal, or between appearance and reality. Marxist thought constantly seeks to portray the common man as a duped fool, a donkey of a man suffering under false consciousness: if only we could make him see the world as it truly is, without the miasma of ideology to cloud and befuddle his judgement and ability to act, then he might rise up and take for himself the world that is truly his.

The critique of propaganda and ideology also hinges on the notion that the popular consciousness cannot adequately grasp the real forces, determining events behind the scenes, hidden from view, available only to the most critically engaged and forensically committed minds. Chomsky's line is exemplary of this - his work is largely characterised by 'exposures' of hidden motives and explanatory forces which most other people fail to notice, presumably because they either choose to ignore the evidence or are too taken up in the ideological hegemony to be able to transcend the deceit.

The paragon of this mode of critique is Habermas, who seems determined to project an image of a utopian world - the world as it might be - which can only be reached by the most stringently impossible means. Citizens must be competent, capable, engaged, critically objective and rational, yet willing to listen to and understand other subjective views. The object of this rational-critical discourse is a endpoint at which disagreements will have been ironed out, intersubjectivities achieved - and presumably we will all just sit around gazing at each other in a stupor of silence since we'll have no differences to speak of or dialectical positions to bother articulating.

At the heart of Habermas' vision of rational progress to some humanistic utopia is Enlightenment: the rejection of tradition and any authority that is handed down, seen as so much dogma, in favour of rationally justifiable positions and truths which are available to us to produce without reference to the tyranny of conservatism and prejudice. What an attractive notion - the worldview of science itself, which takes no article on faith, but only on falsifiable and empirical merit!

I find it almost irresistable - the restive rejection of the chains of the past, and the embrace of a world made of iron ration and reason... and yet, yet... why must we constantly fall for this notion that the world is or should be other than it is? What is it about the way of the world that we must always feel it is inadequate? Why must we diagnose the life of the everyday world as somehow being wrong?

Categories: reality, appearance, idealism, Habermas, ration, reason, utopia, Chomsky, Marx, media, phd, politics, propaganda, ideology, revolution,
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Draft review notes #2

Author: joe

Wednesday, 02 September, 2009 - 21:45

[Some contextual notes for my PhD, regarding the status of participatory media in academia and industry]

So much for the pressure to conserve industry interests: capital ensures 'quality' and disseminates self-perpetuating ideological discourses, while the vernacular and the demotic voices are marginalised and reminded of their powerlessness. It isn't novel to diagnose the manipulative and ideological nature of the propaganda mechanisms which capital-oriented discourses mobilise, nor to articulate the ugly underlying fact that the economic capital base underlies and mutually reinforces the ideological superstructure of the persuasive agenda. Much of the substance of those liberal-arts-based media studies degrees which are chastised by the industry for being frivolous and out of touch (because they aren't authentically in touch with industry 'practice'), or misleading and duplicitous (because they hypocritically sell themselves as routes into industry), are often built around reworkings of these Chomskian or Marxist critiques of society, industry, and government.

Even so, Lenin's tantalising question 'what is to be done' is seldom asked in any kind of forceful way since the money follows political neutrality and technocracy. Discourses of academic detachment and objectivity are put in the service of the advancement of natural sciences or technological innovation, which not only have the convenient habit of disclaiming political interest or historical contingency, but of knowing full well that committing to an overtly apolitical or compliant agenda will both attract and perpetuate future funding.

It has always seemed to me that the grand tasks of 'fighting the superstructure' or 'fighting the base' are far too nebulous and mountainous tasks for the individual to countenance - I absolutely identify with Ulrich Beck's description of modern life as tragic in the sense that the world seems to be too big for any one of us to change it. How might one become a revolutionary? What could that possibly mean at a time when I barely have time to charge my laptop let alone charge my political consciousness? It is one thing to make the argument when the opportunity arises: it is another to be a revolutionary.

That question that so dogs Marxists: why does the common man and woman not rise up and take back what has been confiscated from them? Perhaps the thought that they must, later on today, go home and cook dinner; or that the freedom one has to buy contentment in the form of a iPhone or a hairdo might not be wholly delusional after all; perhaps the simple graspable facts of living are more immediate and more real than the abstract ideals to which revolutionaries must sacrifice their lives. What are these poor addled consumers to do?

Categories: Chomsky, Marx, media, politics, propaganda, ideology, academia, revolution, what-is-to-be-done,
Comments: 2

Splitting the infinite

Author: joe

Monday, 09 July, 2007 - 22:48

Marx's appropriation of Hegel's dialectic was actually a reinvention. Thesis, antithesis and synthesis suited Marx's optimistic faith in the common man's ability to see reason, throw off the shackles and enjoy the fruits of the inevitable succession of progress.

Hegel, conversely, is mostly, to me, beyond comprehension, but his notion of dialectic I think is something more complex and deeper than the popular characterisation (no doubt Marx's too, but this is a blog, not a dissertation).

My personal reinvention of the Hegelian dialectic is as a fundamental diagnosis of the nature of human conception. The mind is a knife, and analysis splits the object of our contemplation into entities in a way that fools us into thinking we have concrete understanding, where in fact we only see the shadows in the cave. To comprehend the butterfly, we pin it and dissect it, asserting our mastery; in fact we have mastered dead flesh and traces - what is no longer a butterfly. To understand, we destroy.

Of course, the converse is equally true. In our mastery of the butterfly we have created more things than were previously in the world. We name thoraxes and epidermal membranes; we create intersubjectivities between each other as we share our new insights. We pattern the Lepidoptera, note consistencies and variations, engender entire fields of pursuit, and lifetimes spent chasing the fugitive knowledge of Fritillaries. We produce a meta-butterfly, an ur-insect. To understand, we create.

The dialectic - we destroy, we create - is pure perspective, commentary on the consequence of thought. Paradoxically opposed, mutually exclusive, in binary opposition, cleft halves of the whole. Each conceptual position we take deceives us into trusting its reasonableness, but a further examination reveals not only that it is merely an exclusion of the opposing position but also that both positions are, in fact, the same. My denouncement of you as evil is simply my fear that you are good. My definition of myself is also a definition of (absolutely) everything else. My simplification of complexity is nothing more or less than an augmentation of that complexity.

Categories: Marx, Hegel, dialectic, paradox, working-through,
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Capital and The Trap

Author: joe

Sunday, 18 March, 2007 - 22:31

Is Adam Curtis secretly a Marxist of the purest form, who believes like Marx that the political economy determines the cultural values that circulate in society? His portrayal of the relationship between democracy and the free-market (what Marx might call the 'base') and their effect on society (what Marx might call the 'superstructure') is pure determinism. At times he seems to imply that the influence of a few back-room economists on the policy of Clinton inevitably lead to cultural changes which the rest of us cannot escape. Is he in danger of reproducing the classic Marxist mistake of assuming that people are stupid?

Is Curtis a neo-conservative marketeer who criticises the target-driven culture of the last 10 years because it has not worked, or a neo-socialist who believes in regulatory intervention? We will never know because he equates the intervention of target-setting with the no-holds-barred free market. Just because a target is set without law or regulation does not mean it is not a political intervention.

Is Curtis an anti-science luddite, who only partially read arguments for the selfish gene in order to criticise those models for being deterministic? Certainly, he appears to imply that Maynard-Smith and Dawkins merely think that organisms are machines for genes. Had he read Dawkins' book The Extended Phenotype, (published 5 years before the date of the clip of Dawkins used in the film) he would have been familiar with that biologist's well-argued retraction of the robot metaphor. Indeed he would have understood that the 'machines for genes' discourse leads to a new understanding of collaboration (between single-celled organisms, into eukaryotic cells, into larger, multi-celled organisms, and between organisms into a symbiosis or ecology) which is not only characterised by the reach of the gene.

However, the attentive viewer who is led down some of these cul-de-sacs will be relieved to learn that, on the contrary, Curtis may not believe any of these things.

The frustrating thing about this film was the ellipsis: while watching I find myself railing against the partiality and elliptical nature of the argument, only to discover the twist later in which balance is at least partly restored. At the end, Curtis dramatically announces that, actually, economists and geneticists alike might have revisited some of the deterministic theories they produced, and now think that the world may be more complex. Maybe Curtis will do the same?

Without trying to pre-empt the outcome of Curtis' argument in next week's third and final part, I nevertheless have an eery feeling that we will hear about emergent complexity, possibly related to evolutionary-stable-states, which will redeem aspects of game theory, and thereby rescue mankind from its current narrative status - the disequilibrium of being a determined gene machine; maybe we'll hear about, far from the market as a mechanism of a kind of social natural selection, actually there is an unequal competition between corporations with power and markets of consumers with none; we may even learn that democracy and the free market are not the same thing. Shock, horror. I can only hope that he will complicate his argument further by conceding that our social relationships and ideas of freedom are not merely inevitably determined by economic policy, and that superstructural mechanisms, made out of things like his own film, contribute to the 'emergent complexity' of cultural life.

It's rather disingenuous of Curtis to narrativise the debate in this way: it creates a story, yes, but it does a disservice to his argument, and the protagonists in it. For all that I sympathise with the points of view he seems to put forward - that free markets aren't the solution to the world's problems, that pharmaceutcals medicalise the world in order to profit, that people are not machines - there are better ways to make the case than to set up straw-men for later demolition.

Categories: adam-curtis, freedom, genetics, game-theory, political-economy, marxism, market, humanity,
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