Gratitude

Here is an interview with Derrick Jensen and Robin Wall Kimmerer about gratitude. The excerpt that caught my attention and made me want to read more was this:

“And when we really practice gratitude, it brings forth a sense of enoughness and sufficiency, I think. It makes you feel rich when you’re grateful. You think “Oh my gosh!” You enumerate all these gifts that are around you. And I think in a sense there are practical consequences of that emotion of gratitude; they are that we take less. And when we look at climate change, when we look at the biodiversity crisis, we all know that that is, in a linear way, related to our own consumption. And so if gratitude can be a control or a restraint over our own consumption, gratitude then becomes a really powerful tool for caretaking, for the earth. And so that’s one of the things, I think, that the earth asks of us, is gratitude.”

Kimmerer describes the relationship we should have with the natural environment in terms of gratitude—viewing the things the earth gives us as gifts with intrinsic worth, rather than “resources” to be bought and sold. This perspective is incredibly important and I think that viewing the world this way is necessary for our survival.

I love the way she sees the natural world and I love how she explains greed in terms of a lack of gratitude. Some people turn their whole lives into an endless pursuit of material things, and this vice has gotten out of control to the point where it’s killing our whole planet. What these people need is to really experience the intrinsic value of what they have, instead of trying to always have more. I think the reason they keep wanting more is because they have failed to feel grateful for what they already had.

Kimmerer says this about the importance of paying attention:

“And I think that one of the first places that I always start, especially with my students, is with attention. That in a world that gives us redwoods and mosses and salamanders, we should at least be paying attention to all of those beings and gifts, and to the fact that our lives are utterly dependent on them. And that kind of paying attention is what I think’s needed to bring us to a place of feeling that we live in a world made of gifts, rather than a world made of natural resources.”

Recently I wrote a post about spirituality in which I explained that my personal sense of spirituality is related to the ability to feel awe. I think this is a similar thing that Kimmerer is saying —we need to pay attention to and appreciate the intrinsic value of the things around us, and with this attitude, we realize we are constantly surrounded by gifts.

The way you can feel awe about something is to sit still and focus on the experience of that thing. When I took a mindfulness course, I realized that absolutely everything can be awesome, if I really allow myself to experience it. We did an exercise where we ate a raisin mindfully, and it’s amazing how a simple exercise can be so impactful. I was able to be mindful of the whole experience of holding a box of raisins in my hand and watching my hand as it opened the box, and then I took the time to notice the taste in my mouth instead of just swallowing it right away, and I figured it out—I understood what mindfulness feels like. It wasn’t about the raisin, of course, it was about learning how to pay attention. I actually noticed that day how complex the human hand is, and how not only is it complex how the fingers work to perform tasks, but we can do all sorts of complex things automatically, without our conscious mind even getting involved. I had a good cry that day over the miracle that is my hand, and that exercise really enhanced my ability to see what could be called “miracles” or “gifts” around me. The main things that keep me out of despair are gratitude and awe. Feeling this way has done wonders for my mental health.

To see someone taking this concept and applying it to how to deal with climate change was just beautiful and amazing. I recommend reading or listening to the whole interview—every bit of it is fantastic and important. (Here’s that link again!) This is a concept we have to understand in order to build a sense of spirituality and to understand how to save the world.

The reason this interview was brought to my attention is because our dear comrade Miep has been transcribing interviews that Derrick Jensen does on his show Resistance Radio. Thank you so much Miep—I love the gifts you bring to me!

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In which I answer a reader question and get rather depressing

Reader Yinzadi asked me the following:

Would you consider writing a post about why you’re a statist communist, and not anarcho-communist? I’ve never met a communist/socialist IRL whom I felt comfortable asking that, and with your insightfulness I’d trust your answer as representative more than most people’s. With statist capitalists and anarcho-capitalists the difference seems to always be whether they’re utilitarian or voluntaryist, but I don’t know enough about socialism to know if that holds true across economic philosophies.

This was on my post Personal Freedom, where I talked about how, despite what capitalists claim, communism would actually give us freedom. Apparently what I wrote there makes me a “statist communist.” Interesting!

I think you overestimate me though, Yinzadi. I do consider it a compliment to be referred to as a communist, but I’m still at a beginner level with understanding what communism is. I know that attempts have been made at communism in a few countries already and generally have not succeeded as well as we’d like them to have or have ended completely. I haven’t read anything about any of these countries and I know nothing about what exactly was implemented, why it didn’t work, or how close it was to “real” communism.

I always do respond to reader requests as long as they’re sincerely asked, so I will jot down a few things here, as long as you understand that I’m not an expert on communism.

Generally speaking I have remained undecided as to whether I lean more anarchist or more authoritarian. Sometimes I lean toward one side, and at various times I’ve leaned on both of those sides. It’s really hard to know what would work because I’m limited to only knowing how it is under our current system, and I can’t possibly compare an anarchist communist system to a statist communist system since I haven’t lived them.

What I care about even more than I care about anarchy vs authority is whether or not patriarchy has been eradicated. What’s most important for women is not whether the government is big or small but whether we can live in safety without being held in domestic servitude and sexual slavery. I know from radical feminist writing (Particularly Right Wing Women by Andrea Dworkin) that there is a long history of left-wing men not caring about women’s rights, and from my observations of the so-called “Left” today, I’d say nothing has changed. (I say “so-called Left” because I don’t believe that most of the people who are considered “Left” in North America are actually on the Left. They’re generally just idiotic first-world liberals who don’t realize their politics are pro-capitalist.)

Both an anarchist system and a statist system could potentially be bad for women. As I wrote in my post Personal Freedom, when you give unlimited freedom to men, a lot of them make a choice to abuse and enslave women. If you look at the male-led extremist organizations in various parts of the world today, no matter how much they care about their own freedom, they still believe it’s acceptable to kidnap women and make them sex slaves. Anarchist men in North America (who call themselves anti-fascist but aren’t actually doing what actual anti-fascists do) similarly think that it’s acceptable to be violent toward women and that women’s purpose is to provide them with whatever they want. We can’t trust any sort of men of any political stripe who are fighting for their freedom to fight for women’s freedom, too.

Although it’s a nice idea to have a small government and everybody just get along and do what they’re supposed to do, I fear what men would do to us if there was no organized society and rules and expectations for decent behavior imposed on them. Even in our present civilization with a legal system that supposedly, on paper at least, protects women from harm, it’s still pretty much open season on women, so I certainly wouldn’t want to have less protection that we have now. Which brings me to my next point, which is that even with a state-run legal system, it’s pretty much open season on women, so a state-run system is not going to benefit us either, until we eliminate patriarchy.

There are some things to be said about statist communism, and that is that it provides women with things like an income and daycare, and therefore doesn’t make us dependent on men. Since women can’t spend their full days providing for themselves while pregnant and breastfeeding and caring for small children, we are dependent on somebody, whether a spouse, an extended family, or the state, to provide for our needs while we are producing the next generation. If women are dependent on the state, there is much less likelihood for wife-battering or marital rape because she can just leave if he’s being abusive. The sex trade also wouldn’t exist if women were guaranteed an income. The elimination of domestic violence and prostitution would go a very long way toward making women safer.

It’s an interesting question whether I’m a voluntarist or not. It does seem wrong to me for a government to impose an economic system onto a non-consenting public, so if people don’t want communism, then it becomes morally wrong to impose it. And this is where it’s going to become obvious that I’m part “doomer.”

Theoretically, I think if people understood that communism means fairness and equality, then they would be for it, and as soon as someone realized that they have more than they need while others don’t have enough, they would be willing to share, and as soon as someone in the first world realized that we are destroying the environment and exploiting other countries with our lifestyle, they would be prepared to willingly change their lifestyle, and that people would be willing to let go of their greed and work together for the greater good, even though it may not be fun. I think all these things are perfectly reasonable, and quite easy to understand, and also necessary for our very survival, but the problem is a really large number of people (maybe most people) are more concerned about their own immediate comfort, don’t think that greed is morally wrong, and don’t care about the greater good. This brings us to a philosophical question: is it morally right to impose the greater good onto an unwilling population that prefers to be greedy? I’m not going to answer that, I just wish this wasn’t the question we had to ask. I wish this wasn’t a question at all because I wish that people intrinsically wanted to do the right thing. The fact that people don’t want to do the right thing leaves me in despair and leaves me wondering why I ever bother with anything.

I believe that culture is part of what shapes our personalities, and we live in a culture that specifically promotes and rewards the vices of greed and self-centeredness. One in fact must exploit others in order to survive under capitalism, because the system is designed to run on exploitation. So we have vast numbers of people who believe that exploitation is not only acceptable but unavoidable and necessary, and, in a way, they’re right, because if they weren’t exploiting anybody they’d be earning no money, and if exploitation ended, the whole system would go down. However, if a whole generation grew up in a system that provided for everyone’s needs fairly and without exploitation, then I believe most of them would not believe in exploiting others and would find the idea of exploitation abhorrent.

The question becomes: how do we get there from here? I don’t know, and I don’t think anybody does, because the problem is unfathomably large, but one thing I know is that it won’t be calm or peaceful. Since humans are too stupid to cognitively realize what needs to be done and decide to do it, and since we’re trained to value greed and self-centeredness, we’re not going to end capitalism, and it’s going to reach its natural end when there’s no more natural resources to exploit, there’s no more suitable land to grow food on, and all the humans are left to kill each over the last remaining resources. I think this process has begun already. If there are any survivors, they will be indigenous populations living off the land in remote areas.

Last year I read the Deep Green Resistance book, and it’s meant to be a call to action, and it’s not meant to promote doomerism, but what it did to me is induce depression and despair. I think I’ll always be in despair because there is no real Left and everybody is doing nothing but navel gazing and avoiding solving any real problems. North Americans keep electing conservative politicians because our primary concern is keeping all the money in the hands of the rich and not sharing.

What would my utopia look like then, if human beings could survive the fall of capitalism and if we could create a better civilization? When I imagine a utopia I don’t necessarily even think about statism versus anarchism, because what I think about is what should be produced and how, and what values humans should have. We should only produce what we need to be healthy and happy, and we should produce it in a way that provides for everyone equally and doesn’t destroy the environment. What humans realistically need to produce is just enough food to keep us full, and houses big enough to shelter us and clothing that can keep us warm, and tools to help us with the processes that we need to perform. Then we need things related to health care, transportation, culture, etc. We should value being ecological, fair and humane. We should not value pride, showing off, and “looking rich.” The concept of looking rich should not exist. We should gain happiness from the basic things that human beings derive happiness from: spending quality time with our loved ones, eating together, seeing our children grow up, creating culture, and enjoying the beauty of nature.

We should design a system that requires these positive values to make it run, and that minimizes human vice. Our system should provide for our needs without destroying the environment. Whatever system can do this is a good system. I don’t know how to do this, but I do know that the question of how to create a better system should be the foremost concern of humanity right now, not dumb shit like what the Kardashian family is up to these days. I also know that we have enough research and knowledge already, as a species, to figure out how to create such a system, and we could do it, if we weren’t so stupid and greedy.

Sorry if that was depressing!

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.

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.

The marketing of gender roles

Photographer JeongMee Yoon did an excellent photo project where she photographed children with their toys and accessories to show how striking the pink and blue contrast is between girls’ and boys’ things. It’s called The Pink and Blue project and you can see it here.

blue and pink

Yoon writes an excellent analysis of what is happening in these photos on her site:

“My current work, The Pink and Blue Projects are the topic of my thesis. This project explores the trends in cultural preferences and the differences in the tastes of children (and their parents) from diverse cultures, ethnic groups as well as gender socialization and identity. The work also raises other issues, such as the relationship between gender and consumerism, urbanization, the globalization of consumerism and the new capitalism.

The Pink and Blue Projects were initiated by my five-year-old daughter, who loves the color pink so much that she wanted to wear only pink clothes and play with only pink toys and objects. I discovered that my daughter’s case was not unusual. In the United States, South Korea and elsewhere, most young girls love pink clothing, accessories and toys. This phenomenon is widespread among children of various ethnic groups regardless of their cultural backgrounds. Perhaps it is the influence of pervasive commercial advertisements aimed at little girls and their parents, such as the universally popular Barbie and Hello Kitty merchandise that has developed into a modern trend. Girls train subconsciously and unconsciously to wear the color pink in order to look feminine.”

She goes on from there and also analyzes the change in colours during the 20th century. Before World War II, the colours were pink for boys and blue for girls. It’s obvious these colours are an arbitrary social construction and not an innate preference when you consider that the colours used to be exactly the opposite. She also talks about how the manufacturers of children’s toys teach girls to develop an interest in makeup, beauty and domestic chores and teach boys to develop an interest in science, robots and industry.

Her analysis is spot-on. She identifies that gender roles are being taught by marketing and consumer products, which are coming from globalized capitalism, and that they are successfully teaching young people their “gender,” right from the early years. She identifies that many children will grow out of wanting everything pink or blue as they get older, although a few of them keep this preference.

This all seems very obvious to me. As I write this blog post I’m thinking that I’m really not saying anything new and I’m probably beating a dead horse. But there are people out there who think that a little girl’s love for pink is an innate preference that has nothing to do with socialization, and that a little girl’s love for blue and science/sports toys makes her innately a boy. These people have obviously had their brains completely swallowed up by marketing. Any adult should have the media literacy skills to realize when they’re being marketed to, and to resist the messages coming from capitalism to buy more stuff. Responsible adults should know that buying stuff is not the key to happiness and that marketers will sell you a pack of lies to get you to buy their stuff. It seems to me this is really basic knowledge that everyone needs to exist in the world. The fact that people cannot see through a marketing campaign and cannot name it as capitalist propaganda designed to sell stuff means that neo-liberalism and capitalism are indeed winning. (Of course, we already knew that.) I try to analyze culture a lot on this blog, because that’s one of the things we have to do as lefties is analyze the culture that capitalism is creating. Step one in fighting back is analyzing the situation. Unfortunately, we never seem to get beyond step one, because so many people are invested in the notion of consumer choice as a path to liberation.

Children’s play doesn’t actually have to involve consumer products. I can’t believe that even needs explaining, but it does. There are tons of games and activities that don’t require any stuff at all, like tag, hide-and-go-seek, climbing a tree, or looking for insects in the yard. There are many games to be played with ordinary household objects, like building forts, or playing “school” or “house.” Kids have excellent imaginations and can turn anything into anything. A cardboard box can be a space ship that you can use to travel through space, and a couch can be a pirate ship under siege. Tables and chairs can be buildings and a living room can be an entire city. The fewer consumer products kids are playing with, the better. Consumer products kill the imagination because they tell you exactly how you should play.

I still have some photos of when I was ten and we had the best day ever flooding the backyard garden. It was a warm day in early spring and there was nothing planted yet, and we were allowed to put water in the dirt pile to make mud. We built little islands out of mud and brought out plastic toy boats and we drove the boats through the muddy water around the islands. Two girls and two boys did this and we had a great time and got all muddy. It would have been incomprehensible to me to call this a “boys’ activity.” It’s just an activity.

These kids with their rigid gender roles and “innate” love of certain consumer products would really benefit from being allowed to go outside and play.

In which I theorize on the word “grounded”

This is a post about the word “grounded” and what it means to me. In general use, grounded means mature and sensible, but I think about it in a complex way that encompasses various social issues, and I think this concept can explain a lot of human behavior. This post jumps around a bit, because I have chosen several seemingly unrelated examples of ungroundedness to illustrate. I hope it makes some sense.

The two definitions of “grounded” that are of interest here are:

  • Of or pertaining to an electrical conductor which is connected to earth;
  • Mature, sensible with well-considered priorities.

The definition of grounded that refers to people is “a mature and sensible person.” The other definition here is only meant to refer to electricity, but I think that it applies to people as well because people can be connected or disconnected from the Earth, too. When I say “connected to the Earth” I mean that in a few metaphorical ways in addition to a connection to the natural environment. I think about groundedness as a connection to the material world in general, as opposed to the world of ideas and imagination, and a connection to the body and the self, as opposed to the feeling of disembodiment—awareness that we are living creatures with bodies, and not merely thoughts and ideas. These two definitions—mature/sensible and connection to the material world—overlap with each other, because a person who is connected to the material world will behave in a mature and sensible way, and a person who is mature and sensible will feel connection to the material world.

People become ungrounded for very different reasons. One of them is too much reliance on modern technology and man-made systems, which makes us forget about the natural world and that we belong to it. We are entirely dependent on the system we live in that is based on overconsumption of natural resources, particularly fossil fuels, and if this system were to be ruined, which is likely to happen, many of us would not survive. Many of us would have no idea how to even find food if there was no grocery store to drive to. We have far more awareness of brand names of food products than of plants and animals that live on our local land.

People also become ungrounded because of physical and emotional trauma—the results of trauma make us disassociate from our bodies and feel like our physical self is no longer real, or that it’s something we cannot live in or relate to.

Privileged people become ungrounded due to being in positions of power at the top of the hierarchies men have built. When someone has enormous power over others, he loses his ability to be mature and sensible and to recognize limitations.

These are all very different situations, but they all lead to ungroundedness or disconnection.

Our social system, culture and economy are quite ungrounded, in the sense that they ignore the limitations of the natural world, and are based on lots of abstract ideas and imaginary thinking. Our economy is based on consuming our resources as fast as possible and the daft idea of endless growth and expansion on a finite planet. Our social hierarchy (economic class system, male supremacy and white supremacy) ensures that there are always people in positions of power over others and they become drunk with power and behave totally irresponsibly, causing trauma in their subordinates. We humans have created a system that causes most of us to become mentally ill, whether from it’s a result of disconnection, too much power, or trauma.

In his book When Corporations Rule the World, David Korten uses an episode of Star Trek to illustrate how people in power become disconnected.

“The Cloud Minders,” episode 74 of the popular science fiction television series Star Trek, took place on the planet Ardana. First aired on February 28, 1969, it depicted a planet whose rulers devoted their lives to the arts in a beautiful and peaceful city, Stratos, suspended high above the planet’s desolate surface. Down below, the inhabitants of the planet’s surface, the Troglytes, worked in misery and violence in the planet’s mines to earn the interplanetary exchange credits used to import from other planets the luxuries the rulers enjoyed on Stratos. In this modern allegory, an entire planet had been colonized by rulers who successfully detached and isolated themselves from the people and the localities of the planet’s surface on whose toil their luxuries depended. The imagery of this Star Trek episode has stuck vividly in my mind. How like our own world it is, where the truly rich and powerful work in beautifully appointed executive suites in tall office towers; travel to meetings by limousine and helicopter; jet between continents high above the clouds, pampered with the finest wines by an attentive crew; and live in protected estates, affluent suburbs, and penthouse suites amid art, beauty, and a protected environment. They are as insulated from the lives of the ordinary people of our planet as those who lived on Stratos were insulated from the lives of the Troglytes. They too are living in a world of illusion, dependent on draining the world of its resources and so isolated from reality that they know not what they do, nor how else to live.” P. 103–104

This quote demonstrates beautifully how the privileged people in this world construct a hierarchy that elevates them above ordinary people and keeps them up and out of the toils of daily life. Using their power, they force the less fortunate to work for them and they live in a sort of imaginary world where there is no work, only pleasure. This leads to them being disconnected from the earth and from reality. The ruling class on our planet pay no attention whatsoever to the depletion of resources and to the coming end of fossil fuels and capitalism. They just cannot see limits because they are disconnected from the material world of the earthly environment; they only see their own fantasies.

Korten also describes the history of currency to demonstrate how our economy slowly left the material world and entered the world of the imagination. Long ago people traded things of similar value because they needed other things. Later they began to exchange items as mediums of exchange in transactions, such as precious metals and stones. Eventually they kept their precious metals locked up and simply exchanged pieces of paper with the amount of gold marked on them. This currency became the cash we know today. However, most of our transactions now occur on computer screens through the means of online banking. In the financial world, entire companies and careers are based on numbers on computer screens, not actual things. As Korten remarks,

“Each day, half a million to a million people arise as dawn reaches their part of the world, turn on their computers, and leave the real world of people, things, and nature to immerse themselves in playing the world’s most lucrative computer game: the money game. As their computers come on-line, they enter a world of cyberspace constructed of numbers that represent money and complex rules by which the money can be converted into a seemingly infinite variety of forms, each with its own distinctive risks and reproductive qualities. Through their interactions, the players engage in competitive transactions aimed at acquiring for their own accounts the money that other players hold. Players can also pyramid the amount of money in play by borrowing from one another and bidding up prices. They can also purchase a great variety of exotic financial instruments that allow them to leverage their own funds without actually borrowing. It is played like a game. But the consequences are real.” P185.

The fake numbers held in the computer screens of these bankers are not actual things of value. Everyone in the world couldn’t withdraw their bank accounts at the same time because there isn’t enough gold in the world to turn the “dollars” that exist on computer screens into real-life gold pieces. These dollars are not real. It seems to me that we could wipe out corporate finance completely just using some effective computer viruses. We could erase the records of the debt that is holding the working class hostage. These days, the ruling class are controlling a lot of us through finance rather than direct violence. No bloody revolution needed in this technological age—just take away the computer games of the ruling class and what do they have then? With no record of what we owe them, they would not be able to collect. They remind me of teenage boys addicted to video games, spending their entire lives in basements in front of computers because the world of the game is real to them but the real world is not. Capitalists are ungrounded, meaning they are disconnected from the Earth and from reality, and they are unable to make mature and sensible decisions. They will extract resources from the Earth to sell them in order to raise the numbers on their computer screens until there is nothing left to extract. They cannot see the insanity of caring more about a fake number on a screen than about the planet that sustains their physical body and their very lives.

Another form of ungroundedness (disconnection) I want to talk about is the social media sickness I’m seeing in youth. Social media sickness is what I call it when a person becomes addicted to social media and texting to the point where the online world seems like real life and the real world is neglected or does not seem real. Some things that happen to youth addicted to social media and internet use are:

  • Inability to concentrate on real-life activities due to constantly checking their smart phone or Facebook or Twitter for new messages, and feeling unable to put it away because they might miss something important online. And then, as a result, missing important things in real life.
  • Being unable to go to sleep because they might “miss something” that happens on social media. Leaving their phone on all night by their bedside and waking up to start texting during the night, and never getting enough sleep.
  • When a parent tries to remove a smart phone from their child’s hands, and the child screams as if her actual arms are being ripped off. She fights to the death to hold onto her phone no matter what the consequences will be.
  • Being distant, rude, irritable, anxious and overly tired.
  • Being in codependent relationships with anonymous people on the Internet that feel like real, close friends. Belief that they are responsible for meeting the emotional needs of anonymous people online and that if their computer time is taken away others will suffer.
  • When a parent tries to hide the smart phone away, the child does everything in his power to steal it back, even if it means breaking rules and getting in trouble.
  • Engaging in strange behaviours or using drugs in order to cope with the stress that she is feeling due to things that have happened on social media with people they don’t even know in real life.
  • A sudden strong belief in a way of thinking that they found online even if it makes no sense in real life.

Notice the similarity between addiction to the virtual world in youth and the reliance on a fantasy-based economic and social system in adults? In both cases, a human-made technology becomes the only thing that is real and we live entirely in the virtual world to the detriment of our health. (Full disclosure: I am addicted to social media myself, and display some of these behaviours. I never said I was perfect!)

The solution is a mixture of “go outside and play” and change the culture so that we no longer make people ungrounded. Everyone needs to face facts. There are only so many resources on our planet, and we are burning through them at lightning speed. There is only so much oil and gas and after that we will have no choice but to switch to other forms of energy. Our world is full of garbage and toxins that we keep producing and we are all being poisoned.  Men are fighting endless pointless wars and killing each other for no good reason. Human beings have collectively lost our minds. We should be using the remaining oil and gas resources we have to create the infrastructure to start harnessing energy from the wind and sun, so that when the oil and gas runs out we are prepared. But it looks like the way things are going we’ll completely run out of oil and gas and be in a big emergency before we actually change anything. We need to stop giving in to the demands of unaccountable and ungrounded rulers who make terrible decisions that negatively affect us all.

What we are seeing in transgenderism is a lot of ungroundedness. Some people (male autogynephiles) are in positions of privilege where they can declare their fantasies a reality and force everyone else to play along. Other people in transgenderism are ungrounded because of trauma and feeling disembodied and are looking for ways to cope. And other people in transgenderism have social media sickness and will believe daft nonsense on the Internet because that seems more real than the material world.

When humans are ungrounded, what we need to do is return to the material world, return to nature, and reconnect with our bodies. Some things to do if you are ungrounded:

  • Turn off your computer and GO OUTSIDE. Do not bring your smart phone. Observe the season and the weather and notice the physical world around you.
  • Meditation, yoga, or exercise to reconnect with your body.
  • Therapy for trauma or for reconnection with the self.
  • Volunteer in your community. Join organizations and meet people and do things.
  • Go on a long hike, or camping, or anything outdoors, or do some gardening.
  • Learn about the history of your area or your people, and learn about the plants and animals indigenous to your area.
  • Consider how people did things before the invention of the technology that you are dependent on, and consider how you will do things once we cannot rely on fossil fuels anymore.
  • Learn outdoor survival skills and making your own things.
  • Do any activities that don’t require technology.

These suggestions will help members of the proletariat become more grounded, but they will not work for the upper-class elite who are controlling the planet. They have no interest in coming back down here with the rest of us, they’re having a great time up in their cloud and they can only be grounded if we pull them down by taking their power away. By seeing their bullshit for what it is and refusing to obey. By overthrowing the white supremacist capitalist patriarchy. Vive la revolution!

P.S. I have been holding onto this post for weeks without publishing it, because no matter how many times I revise it, I still don’t think I’ve written it in a way that makes sense. I sure hope this is understandable and doesn’t sound daft.