Personal Freedom

Reading about how neoliberalism is a strategy of protecting capitalism from those of us who want a collectivist government made me start thinking about the concept of personal freedom. People who are against communism and “big government” see it as a threat to individual liberty. They think they should be allowed to live their lives as they please and the government should stay out of it. They see the free market as the proper economic system and believe that the government is stealing from them by taking taxes and inappropriately controlling them by setting laws. Personal freedom for them means seeing themselves as an individual who only cares about their own needs and perhaps their immediate family’s needs, but who has no reason to care about strangers.

During the McCarthy era there was a lot of propaganda against Communism so that Americans would think it was an evil system. This cold-war era cartoon available on YouTube presents Communism as a devious man trying to trick Americans into signing away their freedom and the freedom of their children and grandchildren.

In Transgender Warriors, Leslie Feinberg writes:

“Being different in the 1950s was no small matter. McCarthy’s anti-communist witch hunts were in full frenzy. Like most children, I caught snippets of adult conversations. So I was terrified that communists were hiding under my bed and might grab my ankles at night. I heard that people who were labeled “reds” would discover their names and addresses listed in local newspapers, be fired from their jobs, and be forced to pack up their families and move away. What was their crime? I couldn’t make out the adults’ whispers. But the lesson seeped down: keep your mouth shut; don’t rock the boat.”(p4-5)

Feinberg later became a communist herself, once she found out what communism actually was. Her last words were “Remember me as a revolutionary communist.” But when she was a kid, she learned to think that communists were scary monsters under her bed.

I don’t have the same idea of what personal freedom is as the anti-communist types. Because I see human beings as interdependent, not only with each other but with nature, I don’t see us as needing freedom from responsibility toward each other. We do, in fact, need each other. We need each other’s company because we are social animals, and we need each other’s expertise since we each are skilled at different things the community needs. It’s a very rare human who can truly be a hermit and not depend on anyone. Being a hermit is a great risk. If you are hurt, there is no one around to help you. If you broke your leg while hunting for food, for example, you’d have to walk back home on it and mend your own broken leg. What a misery! Most of us prefer to be in a society surrounded by other people.

I don’t think that being responsible for the people around us is an undue burden. It brings us joy to be responsible for others, because it makes us feel useful and gives us a purpose. I would expect that most parents get a sense of purpose and a feeling of joy from their kids needing them. Why then do people hate so much when their community needs them? Someone who can’t get any joy from helping others is someone I would describe as an asshole. Sure, there’s always assholes, but we shouldn’t design our economic system around their vices, we should design it to encourage positive values.

Personal freedom to me doesn’t mean freedom from the constraints of living in a society, it means freedom to be yourself within society. People should have the freedom to control how they use their own bodies, who they associate with, what they believe, and what they do with their free time. People should not be subject to being arbitrarily imprisoned or to cruel and unusual punishment. I agree with the basic freedoms given to citizens of a democracy.

Some people who hate socialism get really nutty about what they believe it is. I remember a guy years ago arguing on a comment thread that socialists wanted to steal his toothbrush and use it whenever they wanted. I don’t know where he got this idea from and I think he was a looney tune. No, I don’t think people are required to share their toothbrushes, or any of their personal belongings. I also agree that people have the right to own a small plot of land on which to build their house. The things that people should not be allowed to personally own are entire empires. A person should not be permitted to be the exclusive owner of the fruits of their whole community’s labor.

The limits to human freedom come partially from the fact that we are living animals, and therefore we have obligations we must take care of in order to survive. We must prepare food, clothing and shelter, no matter what else we may decide to do. If we have children, we must take care of them. We must educate the young and we must take care of the sick and dying. This means that no matter what economic system is in place, humans have to work. Under capitalism, I have to get up every day and work for capitalism, and in return I get a wage, and I spend it buying products from other capitalists (paying rent, buying food, etc.) Under communism, I’d have to get up every day and work for the state in return for a set amount of either wages or “stuff.” As a worker, my life wouldn’t honestly change that much either way. In neither of these systems do I have the opportunity to just fart around all day—the obligation to work would still be there.

However, there are many benefits to workers that come from communism. Fair wages and work conditions, equality among citizens, less exploitation and domination, and a guaranteed income. Under capitalism, workers can be subject to exploitation and poverty, and may experience prolonged unemployment during which they can’t meet their basic needs. When people can’t meet their basic needs, they do NOT have personal freedom. Communism gives us freedom from poverty.

The people who lose what they see as their “personal freedom” under communism are the rich. Under communism, the rich no longer have the means to exploit others and can no longer hoard tons of extra money and belongings while other people go without. They can no longer spend their days in leisure and indulgence while others do the work for them, because they become ordinary citizens who must do work. They believe that this robs them of their personal freedom.

I don’t think the “right” to hoard material things or the “right” to exploit others are rights that people need. These are anti-social behaviors that represent a moral failing on the part of that person, and constitute an attack on the personal freedom of others. Equality among people is what gives us personal freedom. Without equality, some people aren’t free.

Some anti-communists argue that the only human motivation is greed, and that without the possibility of getting rich, people would have no motivation to do any work. I think this is a load of bullshit. Humans are motivated to provide for their basic needs such as food, clothing, and shelter, and will always be willing to do the work required to meet these needs. As living animals, we can’t not provide for ourselves. Humans are also motivated to care for the young and the sick, because as social animals we care for our communities. We are also motivated to design and innovate so that we can have better lives. The desire for science, tools, and culture will never cease. Further, when humans use money as a form of motivation that creates a fetishization of money where people want money just for the sake of money. Although this does lead to superficial gratification for the rich it doesn’t lead to true happiness, and it certainly doesn’t lead to happiness for the poor who have been robbed of their share. Money as a source of motivation should be either reduced or eliminated altogether, and this will certainly not turn people into layabouts who refuse to get out of bed. Just for the record, if anyone does want to just sit around and let everyone do the work for them, I think they deserve a kick in the ass and they shouldn’t be allowed to continue that way.

When people are allowed to do just anything they want, some people decide to exploit others. We therefore have to design a society that discourages this tendency. When men are allowed to do whatever they want, some of them decide to abuse women. Women don’t benefit from complete libertarianism. If there is no law and order whatsoever, then it’s open season on women.

Because we are physically limited while pregnant and breastfeeding, we are dependent on our communities for some of our needs. Men have already demonstrated for hundreds of years that when they find themselves with a woman dependent on them they abuse their power. They’ve also demonstrated that they’re not above raping women and girls, either women they know or women who are strangers to them, or capturing them and using them as sexual slaves. When men have complete freedom to do whatever they want, women lose our own freedom. For women to have personal freedom, we must have the freedom from being raped, enslaved, dominated, beaten, and forcibly impregnated.

Personal freedom sounds good, but it’s not as simple as “anybody do what they want.” Freedom comes with responsibility, and freedom for one cannot mean oppression for another. I believe that an economic system that ensures equality would provide freedom, not take it away.

Maybe people can’t think any other way

In Deep Green Resistance, Chapter 7, Aric McBay writes about the psychology of resistance. One of the first studies he discusses is this one.

“In the 1950s, psychologist Solomon Asch conducted a series of experiments into social effects on perception. Asch set out to prove that when faced with a crystal-clear, objective question, a person’s judgment should not be affected by others.

Experimental subjects were brought into a room one at a time with people posing as participants: the experimenter’s confederates. They were shown a set of lines: a “reference” line, and several comparison lines of varying length, one of which matched the reference line. The experimenter asked the participants to call out which line matched. They did this twelve times with twelve different figures. The trick was that the fake subjects—the experimenter’s confederates—lied. They were instructed ahead of time to choose a line which was very clearly too long or too short.

After five false participants had stated their choice, the genuine participants would state their choice. The results of the experiment were completely the opposite of what Asch had expected. In more than half of the trials the subjects went along with the consensus, even though the correct answer was obvious. Some 25 percent of the participants refused to conform in every trial, but 75 percent of the participants gave the consensus answer at least once. Interviewing the participants afterward, Asch found that most people saw the lines correctly, but felt that since the rest of the group was in consensus, they themselves must be wrong. Some knew that the group was wrong, but went along with it anyway to avoid standing out. And some insisted, after the experiment had completed, that they actually saw the lines the same way as the rest of the group.” (p279-280).

The significance of this study for the authors of Deep Green Resistance was that most people are not psychologically suited for resistance. This study also illuminates how otherwise intelligent people can go around insisting that the penis is female. This is now the consensus in Liberal circles, and because it’s the consensus they either can’t or won’t believe anything else.

I was reminded of this study when I read an article recommended to me by commenter Liberationislife on this post. She was explaining to me that it’s not ideology that determines the relations of production, but the relations of production that determine ideology. She recommended this article to me, and I found it fascinating and informative but also difficult to wrap my head around. I have gone back to it every so often to read it again. It seems to me like this article is not just explaining historical materialism, but also Life, the Universe, and Everything.

Here are some quotes that relate to the fact that the relations of production determine ideology, from the article What is Historical Materialism? by Alan Woods:

“The notion that the development of the productive forces is the basis upon which all social development depends is really such a self-evident truth that it is really surprising that some people still question it. It does not require much intelligence to understand that before men and women can develop art, science, religion or philosophy, they must first have food to eat, clothes to wear and houses to live in. All these things must be produced by someone, somehow. And it is equally obvious that the viability of any given socio-economic system will ultimately be determined by its ability to do this.”

“In the social production which men carry on they enter into definite relations that are indispensable and independent of their will; these relations of production correspond to a definite stage of development of their material powers of production… The mode of production in material life determines the general character of the social, political and spiritual processes of life. It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but, on the contrary, their social existence (which) determines their consciousness.”

“The materialist conception of history starts from the proposition that the production of the means to support human life and, next to production, the exchange of things produced, is the basis of all social structure; that in every society that has appeared in history, the manner in which wealth is distributed and society divided into classes or orders is dependent upon what is produced, how it is produced, and how the products are exchanged. From this point of view, the final causes of all social changes and political revolutions are to be sought, not in men’s brains, not in men’s better insights into eternal truth and justice, but in changes in the modes of production and exchange.”

This all makes me think that you actually cannot change the relations of production using ideology. It only changes due to processes of evolution. Of course, if all workers in the world adopted socialist ideology, we could change the relations of production relatively quickly. But if the method of production is actually what determines how we think, then how do we get most people to start thinking in another way?

I am always frustrated about how many people seem unable to think in any way besides Individual Empowerment and Choice™. But I’m starting to understand now that they’re psychologically unable to think any other way. Because our mode of production right now is neoliberal capitalism, that’s the only way people know how to think.

From the book Neoliberalism: A Very Short Introduction by Manfred B Steger & Ravi K Roy, here are some quotes about neoliberalism:

“Neoliberalism is a rather broad and general concept referring to an economic model or ‘paradigm’ that rose to prominence in the 1980s.” (p11)

“The view that people are isolated individuals whose actions reflect mostly their material self-interests.” (p2-3)

“The self-regulating market as the main engine powering the individual’s rational pursuit of wealth” (p2)

“The state is to refrain from interfering with the economic activities of self-interested citizens” (p3)

“rooted in competitiveness, self-interest, and decentralization, celebrates individual empowerment” P12)

Also, the authors note that the man who wrote the first founding principles of neoliberalism was Friedrich August von Hayek who, along with his intellectual associates, was “vowing to stem what they saw as the ‘rising tide of collectivism’ – be it Marxism or even less radical forms of state-centred planning” (p15).

Two prominent neoliberal politicians, Reagan and Thatcher, both dismantled the social safety net, destroyed unions, and lowered taxes on the rich, in order to eliminate the steps that had been previously taken toward collectivist government.

Neoliberalism is an ideology, an economic system and a set of government policies. The ideology is promoted through the media constantly.

Neoliberals “saturate the public discourse with idealized images of a consumerist, free-market world. Skilfully interacting with the media to sell their preferred version of a single global marketplace to the public, they portray globalizing markets in a positive light as an indispensable tool for the realization of a better world. Such market visions of globalization pervade public opinion and political choices in many parts of the world.” (p11)

Capitalism has been in place for quite a while (I’m not sure how long actually) and neoliberalism, which is a specific manifestation of capitalism, has been around for the last thirty years. That means that all millennials today grew up in neoliberal capitalism and it has been the economic system for their entire lives. It really shows.

People of any age can believe in the ideology of neoliberalism, and I think that older people are just as likely to believe in it as millennials. An important characteristic of the belief in neoliberal ideology is the inability to think of people as a collective or a class. The authors of Neoliberalism did actually note that neoliberalism deliberately sets out to oppose Marxism (quoted above). It has unfortunately worked very well. When I explain to people that although yes, people have individual rights, that’s not where my analysis ends and that’s not the end goal of my activism, they don’t always seem to get it.

I’m a bit clearer about why this happens now. Neoliberalism is shaping the way we think right from a young age, and it’s the economic system that is producing our material needs, and people are unable to think outside of this system. Those of us who do think outside the system just appear strange, misguided, or nonsensical to those who have bought into it.

This raises the question—how do we get people to think differently? And what mode of production will happen next, and what kind of ideology will it bring, when capitalism falls? That is if the entire planet hasn’t been destroyed of course.

Video: Chris Hedges interviews Maya Dillard Smith and Mary Lou Singleton

This is an excellent video on the transgender issue. Chris Hedges is a real leftist (read: not a neoliberal) who understands radical feminism. He interviewed two women active in the feminist fight against trans politics: lawyer Maya Dillard Smith, who wants to balance everyone’s rights and is concerned about the lack of due process in legal changes being made in recent years, and Mary Lou Singleton, a radical feminist midwife active in the women’s liberation movement. I particularly enjoyed when Smith explained the difference between separate bathrooms for blacks and whites versus separate bathrooms for women and men. They have discussed the issue from an anti-capitalist perspective, which I really appreciate.

How to make a PC ‘queer’ party

Today in “What Does the Word Queer Mean, Anyway?” is this article by homosexual male transwoman Rose Dommu, entitled “A Party Has to Be More Than Gay to Qualify as “Queer.”

As you can see from the title, the article is about how to make your queer parties more queer. I am always fascinated by the ways in which today’s SJW liberals use the word queer, and this article provides lots of notable examples. Here are some quotes that reveal what “queer” means to this writer.

“The meaning of queer has evolved over time, resulting in a generational divide in how people perceive its meaning. Starting in the early 1900s, “queer” was used as a synonym—and slur—for “gay.” In the 70s, the word was reclaimed by LGBTQ activists and intellectuals in their fight for gay rights—hence, the still-popular chant, “We’re here, we’re queer, get used to it.”

So the author is aware that “queer” first existed as an insult used against homosexuals—I’m relieved to know that, because some “queer” writers don’t seem to be aware of that. However, he uses some more modern meanings too.

“In a 2016 New York Times Magazine article called “When Everyone Can Be ‘Queer,’ Is Anyone?”, writer Jenna Wortham detangled the nebulous definitions and political connotations surrounding the term, explaining how it came to be reclaimed by the LGBTQ community from a pejorative to its current status as a self-applied term of empowerment. Queerness, she wrote, derives its radical power from its inclusivity. “But that inclusivity,” she continued, “offers a false promise of equality that does not translate to the lived reality of most queer people.”

Ha! I’ve asked myself the same question. Now that queer has become so vague a term that anybody can call themselves that, the word has become meaningless. It’s the equivalent of “trendy” or “edgy,” basically. The queer cult likes to erase the meanings of words, something they consider to be revolutionary, but which I consider to be unhelpful, because we actually need meaningful words in order to communicate.

Anyway, here is the first modern meaning of “queer” demonstrated in this article: “a self-applied term of empowerment.” Yes, “queer” is a label that people apply to themselves to gain something—usually cool points that can be cashed in among liberal friends. Sometimes calling yourself “queer” can even get you material benefits, like giving you an edge when running for a political position or career position in a liberal establishment.

“Empowerment” is a term that comes from the media-led third wave “feminist” backlash against actual feminism. Empowerment™ is a feel-good lifestyle product you can buy from the companies that market it. The thing itself could be anything that capitalism sells—makeup, clothing, plastic surgeries, sexy photos, etc, but the advertising campaign surrounding the thing gives it an aura of Empowerment™. (This consumer product should not be confused with actual power, which is something one cannot earn by purchasing products.) Calling yourself “queer,” in liberal circles, can get you the same vaguely defined Empowerment™ feeling.

“Queerness derives its radical power from its inclusivity.” This is a word salad. Power is the ability to exercise control or influence. You don’t get power from “inclusivity.” I’m not sure what “radical power” would even mean. This is one of those phrases that people just write because the words look pretty when sitting next to each other like that. It doesn’t actually mean anything.

“Part of what’s driving the term’s adoption by the LGBTQ community is a pushback against the rigid ideas and definitions of sexuality that were prominent in the gay rights movement for so long. Essentially, “queer” has transcended sexual orientations like “gay” or “straight,” and become a self-identifier for those who choose to live in opposition to social norms of sex and gender.”

This is interesting because he actually comes out and admits that “queer” has nothing to do with being lesbian or gay anymore. It’s something anyone can claim if they think they’re being subversive in some way. The heterosexuals with green hair who think they’re “queer” don’t seem to consider that it might be homophobic to call themselves by a word that was historically used to insult gays and lesbians in order to seem cool.

“You don’t choose to be gay, but I believe that you do choose to be queer. That choice—to reject heteronormative, patriarchal standards—is the root of queerness. Not all gay people are queer, and the inverse is just as true.”

So being “queer” means making a choice to support a certain brand of politics. One can “reject heteronormativity” while being a heterosexual in a heterosexual relationship. Sadly, there is no detail offered here about how that could be possible. If it’s by switching gender roles among the man and the woman, so that she earns the money and he takes care of the kids, then what I have to say about that is that we used to call that feminist back in the day when feminism wasn’t passé. If it’s by “identifying” as not being heterosexual despite actually being heterosexual, then that’s a load of horse shit.

“Queerness is the intersection of the political and personal, a way to quantify how the personal becomes political. It informs who we vote for, who we socialize with, the music we listen to, and the art and media we consume.”

Indeed. He’s just proving all my points for me. Queerness is a consumer lifestyle choice involving choosing to consume certain things. Consuming the right things brings us Empowerment™. Listen, kids: late-stage capitalism has sold you the idea that choosing consumer choices and buying shit will bring you Empowerment™ on purpose so that they could sell you products. This isn’t a liberation movement, it’s a successful marketing scheme.

(I just want to thank Twisty Faster here because I’m totally just repeating everything she taught me back in the day when she was blogging.)

“But when you apply the idea of queerness to nightlife, things can get dicey. You can’t simply call a party “queer”; there’s actual work you have to do make a space welcoming, inclusive, and safe for queer people. Calling something “queer”—or using any number of queer buzzwords or aesthetic identifiers in your party promo—comes with a certain level of responsibility to live up to what the term encompasses. And there is no place where that tension is more visible than in nightlife.”

“Queer” is about aesthetic identifiers—a group of artistic signals conveying the brand of politics you have. It’s an artistic style, a decoration scheme. It’s rainbow-coloured crap made in China bought from the dollar store, destined for the landfill after the party is over. Liberation through consumption!

“How can a party claim to be “queer” if the lineup isn’t diverse, the cover is too high, there isn’t accessibility for those who are differently abled, or it takes place in a club where the staff and security might antagonize people of color or gender non-conforming individuals? LGBTQ nightlife is still primarily dominated by white cisgender gay men, so how can a party be queer when it’s exclusive of the whole rainbow?”

Okay…I agree that community events should be accessible. But it almost sounds like “queer” is being used to mean “good party planning.”

“And when it comes to nightlife, the major difference between a party being “gay” or “queer” comes down to choices as well.”

There it is again: “queer” = “good party planning.”

This is his ultimate conclusion:

“The bottom line is that queer women, trans people, people of color, people with disabilities, people who are neurodivergent, and people without access to capital or privilege—we’re at these parties. We’re paying the cover—OK, I’m not, I’m always on the list—we’re buying drinks, and we’re in the party photos. We’re not tokens or aberrations; we’re part of the community. That means we should be represented on the lineup, too—otherwise, nightlife will never be “queer.”

So, the customers who are the consumers of a “queer” product deserve to be catered to by the sellers of that product. True—that’s one of the laws of the marketplace—market to your customer.

The thing about the “queer” community is it’s not a liberation movement. If it was a liberation movement, then it would be doing the tiring, unglamorous, and thankless work of finding housing, medical care and a stable income for those people who have disabilities, who are from racial minorities, who are without access to capital, etc. But instead they’re just demanding that these communities be marketed to and represented in marketing campaigns.

Sheila Jeffreys explained in Unpacking Queer Politics that the revolutionary gestures made by practitioners of “queer” politics amount to acts of “transgression.” Transgression means going against traditional social customs in terms of sexual behavior or dress. Therefore homosexual behavior is “queer,” but so are antisocial and dysfunctional behaviors such as public sex and sexual abuse. Both healthy homosexual relations and abusive heterosexual relations can be considered equivalent in terms of their ability to transgress and therefore both “queer,” which is a politics that equates homosexuals with sex offenders, without any consideration for the inherent homophobia in this position. Wearing the clothing and appearance of the opposite sex is a transgression, but practitioners require traditional social customs to be intact in order for their transgressions to be shocking. If we were to actually eliminate sex role stereotypes, then their transgressions wouldn’t be transgressions anymore, so they actually have no interest in challenging traditional gender roles, because that would ruin their fun. Jeffreys calls “queer” politics a form of “night club activism.” As we see in this article, “queer” politics can be practiced simply by planning a good party.

Now that I’ve thoroughly demolished queer politics, let’s take a look at what we learn about this author from this article.

“I get a lot of flack for being vocally opposed to this kind of femme and trans erasure in nightlife. But as a trans woman, I often feel like if I don’t speak up, who else will? Sometimes, when I vocalize some kind of criticism about a supposedly “queer” party being too male-centered, I even face a backlash from members of the LGBTQ community. Often, someone will say, “Well, two years ago, you were a gay man, so who are you to talk?”

“Yet, for decades, a majority of trans women like myself have actualized their identities through gay communities, often within the space of LGBTQ nightclubs. For many of us who first identify as gay men and then go on to transition, our gay and queer social circles function as family, social group, and dating pool all at once. Once we transition, those bonds are the same, but the way we experience them is irrevocably altered. We still want to go dance with our sisters, but we don’t always feel welcome in the same way.”

“Recently, I went to a gay male-centered sex party at a queer after-hours spot to celebrate a friend’s birthday, and within an hour, my friends had abandoned me to play in the darkroom—a space where I felt not only unnecessary, but unwelcome. Going from being a fag to a fag hag is a fucking trip, man.”

I’m just going to rephrase some of this in my straight-to-the-point language. This is a gay man who has had the same group of gay male friends who party together over a period of several years, and recently he has decided to disregard the facts of human anatomy and call himself a ‘woman.’ His gay male friends still all know he is a gay male, but now they’re supposed to call him by female pronouns. Understandably, not all of them are buying this.

He says he actualized his transwoman identity through the queer community, and that other gay men do this too. He completely misses the fact that it’s a tragedy that the queer community encourages homosexuals to view themselves as something else.

This is a man who is complaining that parties that he is able to attend are too male-focused. Even though these parties are literally for men like him, he does not feel adequately included since they don’t specifically cater to his silly and nonsensical identity.

Can I just mention here that if you are spending lots of your energy worrying about how well people are including you at a party, then you probably are not experiencing much real difficulty in life.

He attended a gay male sex party, which goes to show that he still knows he is a gay male and doesn’t take his identity as a ‘woman’ very seriously. Even though he is a gay male who knows he is a gay male, he found gay sex play in a back room ‘unnecessary’ and felt that he was ‘unwelcome’ there, because of his ‘identity.’

I agree with him on one thing. He is definitely ‘tripping.’

I am sad to see the way ‘queer’ politics separates lesbians from lesbian communities and separates gay men from gay male communities. I am angry to see how ‘queer’ politics erases the facts of human anatomy and therefore our ability to organize for liberation for groups such as women and sexual minorities such as lesbians and gays.

It’s time for lesbians and gays everywhere to resist queer politics. Leave that for the heterosexuals with green hair who think they’re cool. What we need is lesbian and gay community, and radical, liberation politics to fight back against women’s oppression and economic class oppression.

Alienation

As you know, I am slowly learning Marxist theory. One aspect of Marxist theory that caught my attention this spring is the concept of alienation. I’m going to try to explain it in my own words, using a situation that happened to me recently as an example.

I have to put a disclaimer here—I am only a beginner at Marxist theory and you should definitely not consider me an expert! Marxist theory is a huge topic to learn and I’ve only taken a few steps so far. I expect I will continue learning it throughout the course of my life.

From the Marxists.org glossary:

“Alienation is the process whereby people become foreign to the world they are living in.”

The Wikipedia page for Marx’s theory of alienation lists four types of alienation:

  • Alienation of the worker from their product
  • Alienation of the worker from the act of production
  • Alienation of the worker from their Gattungswesen (species-essence)
  • Alienation of the worker from other workers

So workers become “foreign to the world they are living in” by being alienated from the means of production, from the products they make, from their species-essence, and from each other.

In the Marxists.org glossary, these paragraphs explain how a person could produce without becoming alienated.

“If the workers related to their product as an expression of their own essence and recognized themselves in their product and were recognized by others in their work, then this was not the basis for alienation; on the contrary, this was the only genuinely human relation.

“Let us suppose that we had carried out production as human beings. Each of us would have in two ways affirmed himself and the other person. 1) In my production I would have objectified my individuality, its specific character, and therefore enjoyed not only an individual manifestation of my life during the activity, but also when looking at the object I would have the individual pleasure of knowing my personality to be objective, visible to the senses and hence a power beyond all doubt. 2) In your enjoyment or use of my product I would have the direct enjoyment both of being conscious of having satisfied a human need by my work, that is, of having objectified man’s essential nature, and of having thus created an object corresponding to the need of another man’s essential nature. … Our products would be so many mirrors in which we saw reflected our essential nature.”

“Alienation can be overcome by restoring the truly human relationship to the labour process, by people working in order to meet people’s needs, working as an expression of their own human nature, not just to earn a living.”

When we can produce things that we need because we need them, for ourselves and for our communities, in a self-directed way and using our own talents, we are connected to what we produce and can experience satisfaction and pleasure from our work.

Under capitalism, workers cannot choose what to produce, instead we must produce what capitalists tell us to. What capitalists decide to produce doesn’t depend on what is needed by humans, other animals, and the environment, it depends on what is profitable for them to produce.

(In case anyone is going to argue— yes, some of the things that capitalism produces are things we actually need. However, in many cases we don’t need something and they use marketing to convince us that we do.)

I really liked Wikipedia’s list of four ways that people are alienated. Here I have described them in my own words.

1 Workers are alienated from their products because we don’t choose what products we produce and we don’t own them. We don’t even choose how they are produced—the way we make them is determined by those who own the means of production. We are simply selling our labor and obeying orders, so we are not necessarily using our own creativity and inventiveness in creating things. The things we create don’t reflect ourselves, they reflect the owners.

2 Workers perform labor under a system of coercion. The only way we can survive is by selling our labor, and the way we labor is externally controlled. The labor we do has no intrinsic worth to us because it’s only being done for the wages we receive.

3 The bit about Gattungswesen (species-essence) is a bit beyond my comprehension, but I’ll give it a shot. Humans are self-aware and conceive of ourselves as subjects and the things we produce as objects, while a non-human animal also engages in self-sustaining activities but without our level of awareness of itself as a subject. Since the objects we produce are reflections of ourselves, when we cannot produce objects of our own accord we are deprived of the ability to represent ourselves, and are thus deprived of our species-essence. (And if you want a better explanation, ask someone who knows Marxist theory better than I do!)

4 Workers are alienated from each other because we are trained to see ourselves as free agents in competition with each other instead of as teammates with common interests in a class struggle. (And I have to add my own comment here: when fake leftists insist that we have tons of free choice and agency, without actually doing anything in the real world to give us more power, what they’re doing is erasing the reality of class struggle and preventing us from eliminating oppression. They’re doing exactly the opposite of being a leftist—they are anti-left and pro-oppression.)

So let’s use an example to illustrate a point. Recently a friend of mine altered some clothes for me, and this experience gave me a concrete example of connection and disconnection to the act of production.

Workers who sew clothing for a living are alienated from the clothing they produce because they do not produce what they need to wear or even what their communities need to wear, they produce whatever their boss tells them to and the clothing they make is owned by their boss. It will get sold in other countries to people they will never meet and they will never earn the profit from it. They will only get small wages for their labor. The clothing they produce is not a reflection of who they are and is meaningless to them.

Workers do not control how clothing is produced. They cannot create their own hours or use their own creativity in their labor. They cannot control what fabric to use, where the fabric comes from, what patterns to use, or what pieces to sew and when. The act of production therefore is meaningless and cannot bring any joy as an activity.

Consumers who buy clothing are ignorant of the conditions under which it was produced. We don’t know where the materials came from, how they were made, who sewed the clothing, what it was like for them sewing it, or how it was transported to us. All we see is a product in a store. We never see the landfill the garments go into after we’re done using them. The clothing is therefore hardly meaningful to us at all.

Contrast this with what happened the other day when my friend altered some clothes for me.

The producer (her) used her own intelligence and skill to make something. She got to produce something that reflected her unique talents and skills and be recognized for her ability. She got to feel proud of what she is capable of making. She got to experience the satisfaction of creating something that was directly needed by someone she knows and who expressed appreciation for what she made.

The consumer (me) got to see the work and skill that went into an article of clothing that I wear, making the product meaningful to me. I experienced being cared for by someone who wanted to spend her time making something for me. I now have items of clothing that remind me of a positive experience with a friend, and therefore make me happy whenever I wear them in a way that store-bought clothes cannot.

This allowed me a little glimpse of what Marxist theory teaches: Alienation can be overcome by restoring the truly human relationship to the labour process, by people working in order to meet people’s needs, working as an expression of their own human nature, not just to earn a living.

I noticed that after this experience I felt both friendship and community. Even though we were doing work, it was not an experience of oppression, but an experience of positive human interaction and expression.

Socialists aren’t trying to eliminate the need for people to do work, (which would be impossible—obviously humans need to produce things in order to survive), we’re trying to eliminate the enslavement of workers so that we can do meaningful and self-directed work, enjoy our work, and express our humanity. Work outside a system of capitalism could be something positive, meaningful, and life-affirming.

I believe the Marxist theory of alienation is a good way to conceptualize why so many people are miserable and engaging in addictions, hopeless searching for meaning, magical thinking, and dysfunctional behavior. When you are alienated from the things you do every day and feeling bored and unfulfilled and unable to be the author of your own life, (and also unable to explain the source of your misery), you look for quick pick-me-ups and treats (like sugar, drugs, etc) and you engage in defense mechanisms and behave in ways that bring a sense of power or control over your life, however superficial that sense of power may be. You’re also susceptible to falling into belief systems and cults that offer false solutions to your problems. Capitalism itself offers us false solutions to problems constantly: marketing campaigns teach us that the key to happiness is purchasing the correct products. However, purchasing products in not actually a way to achieve happiness. I think the solution to many people’s mental illnesses (not ALL mental illnesses) is genuine human connection and human experience, such as meaningful, self-directed work and play, doing things that have intrinsic value rather than just external rewards, caring for others, and doing positive things for the community.

Yet another ‘New Left’, just as neoliberal as the last one

Today I read yet another article by a faux-leftist neoliberal waxing poetic about how a “New Left” is being born because of the Trump presidency and the Women’s March and it will be a bigger, better Left that actually does something and there will be movement! and resistance! and unity! and blah, blah, blah. I’m not going to link to it because you don’t even need to read it. You’ve read it plenty of times already. Every time the Left loses there is another article like this that says we are going to learn from our past mistakes and we are going to do better and next time we will win. And it includes all the liberal/leftist buzzwords du jour. This one was no different.

The Left doesn’t actually get “reborn” every time a right-wing politician wins or every time someone creates a hashtag or writes a thinkpiece. The people who value equality, social justice and the environment value these things all the time, regardless of who is in power or what is happening. The same people will just continue with what they were doing. There is no magical rising of the phoenix from the ashes, it’s just business as usual. (Or maybe I should say ‘anti-business’ as usual.)

No one who has been in power since I’ve been alive has been on the Left. The true Left was systematically destroyed decades ago, and what has existed since then has mostly been a feeble attempt to make capitalism slightly friendlier, without actually overthrowing it. Some people would argue that this actually serves capitalism, because as long as it’s the “slightly friendlier” version or as long as people believe it is, we all remain complacent and don’t take any radical action against it. (And by the way, only people in rich countries are in a position to think that capitalism can be at all friendlier. We aren’t the ones working in sweatshops that collapse while we’re in them or have suicide nets surrounding them.)

Leftists who write thinkpieces like to act as though we need something new to invigorate leftism. Some new movement or idea or new hashtag or slogan. But we don’t need anything new, what we need is something quite old. We need class consciousness, material analysis, and direct action. What passes for the Left these days is neoliberalism, but that is not what the Left is.

Faux-left thinkpieces lately have been calling for more “intersectionality” and this would be a good thing if they actually meant intersectionality. This word used to refer to an analysis of women’s oppression that took into account how race and class intersected to affect how different groups of women are oppressed. This was a necessary analysis since white women’s and upper class women’s experiences don’t represent everyone else’s but this group has historically gotten the most attention within feminism. However, the concept of intersectionality has been twisted to the point of being unrecognizable. The way it is being used today is effectively a call to include the interests of pimps and of men with a sexual fetish for cross-dressing to be centered within feminism. This is obviously anti-feminist, but because the pimp lobby and the autogynephile rights lobby have cloaked themselves in apparently-feminist outfits and no one can be bothered to do any actual research or thinking, they just play right along.

After the women’s march last weekend, neoliberal faux-leftists started claiming that the references to female body parts at the women’s march meant that we are not “intersectional” enough. What this means is that women are not supposed to talk about our oppression as women anymore, because this upsets men who wish they were women, and their views have to be included in feminism in order to make it “intersectional.” Telling women we cannot talk about our oppression as women is not intersectionality, it’s anti-feminism.

President Shitface has already “signed an executive order banning international NGOs from providing abortion services or offering information about abortions if they receive US funding.” This type of anti-abortion policy affects those of us who are biologically female, regardless of how we identify. Female biology matters, and those who have it are considered second-class citizens in a patriarchy. Transgender politics may seem “intersectional” by liberals, but they obscure the reality of sex-based oppression on which the feminist movement is based.

The way to rebuild the broken left is not to dig ourselves farther into the hole of neoliberal bullshit, it’s to get back to our roots. The left is the political position that brings us class consciousness. Women are a class of people oppressed because of our sex, and that is fundamental to understanding feminism. The working class are a class of people oppressed by capitalism, and this is fundamental in understanding the labor movement. We shouldn’t include the interests of men in feminism any more than we should include the interests of the rich in the labor movement.

Neoliberal politics where everyone is an individual agent choosing choices is a pro-capitalist ideology—this is the ideology that prevents class consciousness from developing and promotes consumer spending. This is not the Left, it is a backlash against the Left. The new identity politics where anyone can “identify” as anything they want is not a material analysis of oppression, it’s a way of obscuring the material analysis of oppression. It’s useful for people to name where they are socially located in a system of oppression: by their sex, race, class, sexual orientation, or disability status, because these social locations have material consequences that we can measure. But when people start “identifying as” something other than what they actually are that is a misuse of identity politics and a misunderstanding of how oppression works.

More neoliberal bullshit will keep moving us backwards. The faux left has nothing to offer oppressed people, it only has something to offer people who enjoy taking on “identities” and who like bashing feminists. The way to fix the left is to go old-school. We have the exact same task in front of us that we’ve always had. We have to teach class consciousness and material analysis of oppression, we have to educate about the effects of climate change and end stage capitalism, we have to take power away from the powerful and end capitalism and imperialism. We have to create a human society with positive values that is sustainable and doesn’t rely on fossil fuels. This has been the task of the Left for decades already. (Ideally, of course, it should be the task of all humans, since we’re all going down when our ship sinks, even the rich.)

It’s an overwhelmingly huge task to end capitalism, and maybe that’s why we are sitting around doing stupid stuff like having “pronoun circles,” because that makes us feel like we’re doing something, even though we’re too overwhelmed to do what we are actually supposed to be doing. Any impossibly large task has to be broken down into smaller tasks in order to be achievable. It also requires large numbers of people on board. People who care about social justice and the environment should organize task forces to solve achievable goals, and should do what they are capable of within a larger culture of resistance.

The faux-leftists calling for more “intersectionality” in the neoliberal sense as a way to improve the Left are embarrassingly off the mark. Neoliberalism is what’s holding us back from doing what we need to do. It’s what we need to get rid of in order to move forward.

French police “exhausted,” ask unions to hold off

The strike continues in France. I first wrote about it here.

From the Telegraph:

“France’s main police union on Tuesday pleaded with workers to put off a national day of demonstrations on Thursday against a controversial labour law saying they are too “exhausted” to cope with protests on top of dealing with the Euro and terror threats.

The plea came as workers unions opposed to the labour law categorically rejected government demands that any demonstration on Thursday in Paris must be “static” after previous marches through the French capital ended in violent standoffs with police and vandalism.

Stuck in the middle of the standoff between the government and the hardline CGT union and its allies, France’s main police union Alliance said officers were in desperate need of respite.

“We’re asking for this demonstration to be postponed, along with any other static protests as our colleagues are on all fronts and are exhausted, worn out, and tired,” said Frédéric Lagache, Alliance deputy secretary general.

“They find these demonstrations all the harder to bear as they are repetitive and very violent,” he said. According to several police unions, some 200 officers were injured in demonstrations on June 14. Police chiefs put the number at 28.”

This is how you do left-wing activism, folks. You strengthen unions, you strengthen class consciousness and solidarity among the working class, you protest violently when the ruling class tries to take away your rights, you shut down major institutions, you disrupt capitalism, you protest for so long that the police can’t control you anymore. And then you win. We should be paying lots more attention to this situation. This is a model of what activism we should be doing elsewhere. The U.S.A is completely controlled by industries that create private wealth for a tiny number of individuals who extract resources from the planet and its people and cause widespread poverty, illness, and environmental destruction. We absolutely need to be fighting back. We’ll know we’re doing it right when the ruling class is scared of us.

Those who are promoting individual solutions to problems based on consumerism and “choosing choices” are not on the left, they are promoting neoliberalism and capitalism, some of the most destructive forces on the planet, which is hurting the very people they’re trying to help.

We’ll be liberated from oppression when we are no longer controlled by an elite group of capitalists who plunder everything they can find, and when we can create our own culture based on a fair and just economy that protects the living planet and treats humans and non-human animals with respect and dignity. The revolution will only happen after we stop navel-gazing and act on adult maturity and responsibility to carefully plan strategies that will work, and execute our plans with full commitment.