'When civilizations start to die they go insane'

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THE IMPLOSION OF CAPITALISM:
WELCOME TO THE ASYLUM 

by Chris Hedges
Truthdig, April 30, 2012

When civilizations start to die they go insane. Let the ice sheets in the Arctic melt. Let the temperatures rise. Let the air, soil and water be poisoned. Let the forests die. Let the seas be emptied of life. Let one useless war after another be waged. Let the masses be thrust into extreme poverty and left without jobs while the elites, drunk on hedonism, accumulate vast fortunes through exploitation, speculation, fraud and theft.

Reality, at the end, gets unplugged.

We live in an age when news consists of Snooki’s pregnancy, Hulk Hogan’s sex tape and Kim Kardashian’s denial that she is the naked woman cooking eggs in a photo circulating on the Internet. Politicians, including presidents, appear on late night comedy shows to do gags and they campaign on issues such as creating a moon colony. “[A]t times when the page is turning,” Louis-Ferdinand Celine wrote in “Castle to Castle,” “when History brings all the nuts together, opens its Epic Dance Halls! hats and heads in the whirlwind! Panties overboard!”

The quest by a bankrupt elite in the final days of empire to accumulate greater and greater wealth, as Karl Marx observed, is modern society’s version of primitive fetishism. This quest, as there is less and less to exploit, leads to mounting repression, increased human suffering, a collapse of infrastructure and, finally, collective death.

It is the self-deluded, those on Wall Street or among the political elite, those who entertain and inform us, those who lack the capacity to question the lusts that will ensure our self-annihilation, who are held up as exemplars of intelligence, success and progress.

The World Health Organization calculates that one in four people in the United States suffers from chronic anxiety, a mood disorder or depression—which seems to me to be a normal reaction to our march toward collective suicide. Welcome to the asylum.

When the most basic elements that sustain life are reduced to a cash product, life has no intrinsic value. The extinguishing of “primitive” societies, those that were defined by animism and mysticism, those that celebrated ambiguity and mystery, those that respected the centrality of the human imagination, removed the only ideological counterweight to a self-devouring capitalist ideology.

Those who held on to pre-modern beliefs, such as Native Americans, who structured themselves around a communal life and self-sacrifice rather than hoarding and wage exploitation, could not be accommodated within the ethic of capitalist exploitation, the cult of the self and the lust for imperial expansion. The prosaic was pitted against the allegorical.

And as we race toward the collapse of the planet’s ecosystem we must restore this older vision of life if we are to survive.

The war on the Native Americans, like the wars waged by colonialists around the globe, was waged to eradicate not only a people but a competing ethic. The older form of human community was antithetical and hostile to capitalism, the primacy of the technological state and the demands of empire.

This struggle between belief systems was not lost on Marx. The Ethnological Notebooks of Karl Marx is a series of observations derived from Marx’s reading of works by historians and anthropologists. He took notes about the traditions, practices, social structure, economic systems and beliefs of numerous indigenous cultures targeted for destruction.

Marx noted arcane details about the formation of Native American society, but also that “lands [were] owned by the tribes in common, while tenement-houses [were] owned jointly by their occupants.” He wrote of the Aztecs, “Commune tenure of lands; Life in large households composed of a number of related families.” He went on, “… reasons for believing they practiced communism in living in the household.”Native Americans, especially the Iroquois, provided the governing model for the union of the American colonies, and also proved vital to Marx and Engel’s vision of communism.

Marx, though he placed a naive faith in the power of the state to create his workers’ utopia and discounted important social and cultural forces outside of economics, was acutely aware that something essential to human dignity and independence had been lost with the destruction of pre-modern societies. The Iroquois Council of the Gens, where Indians came together to be heard as ancient Athenians did, was, Marx noted, a “democratic assembly where every adult male and female member had a voice upon all questions brought before it.”

Marx lauded the active participation of women in tribal affairs, writing, “The women [were] allowed to express their wishes and opinions through an orator of their own election. Decision given by the Council. Unanimity was a fundamental law of its action among the Iroquois.” European women on the Continent and in the colonies had no equivalent power.

Rebuilding this older vision of community, one based on cooperation rather than exploitation, will be as important to our survival as changing our patterns of consumption, growing food locally and ending our dependence on fossil fuels. The pre-modern societies of Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse—although they were not always idyllic and performed acts of cruelty including the mutilation, torture and execution of captives—did not subordinate the sacred to the technical. The deities they worshipped were not outside of or separate from nature.

Seventeenth century European philosophy and the Enlightenment, meanwhile, exalted the separation of human beings from the natural world, a belief also embraced by the Bible. The natural world, along with those pre-modern cultures that lived in harmony with it, was seen by the industrial society of the Enlightenment as worthy only of exploitation.Descartes argued, for example, that the fullest exploitation of matter to any use was the duty of humankind.

The wilderness became, in the religious language of the Puritans, satanic. It had to be Christianized and subdued. The implantation of the technical order resulted, as Richard Slotkin writes in “Regeneration Through Violence,” in the primacy of “the western man-on-the-make, the speculator, and the wildcat banker.”

Davy Crockett and, later, George Armstrong Custer, Slotkin notes, became “national heroes by defining national aspiration in terms of so many bears destroyed, so much land preempted, so many trees hacked down, so many Indians and Mexicans dead in the dust.”

The demented project of endless capitalist expansion, profligate consumption, senseless exploitation and industrial growth is now imploding. Corporate hustlers are as blind to the ramifications of their self-destructive fury as were Custer, the gold speculators and the railroad magnates. They seized Indian land, killed off its inhabitants, slaughtered the buffalo herds and cut down the forests.

Their heirs wage war throughout the Middle East, pollute the seas and water systems, foul the air and soil and gamble with commodities as half the globe sinks into abject poverty and misery.

The Book of Revelation defines this single-minded drive for profit as handing over authority to the “beast.”

The conflation of technological advancement with human progress leads to self-worship. Reason makes possible the calculations, science and technological advances of industrial civilization, but reason does not connect us with the forces of life. A society that loses the capacity for the sacred, that lacks the power of human imagination, that cannot practice empathy, ultimately ensures its own destruction.

The Native Americans understood there are powers and forces we can never control and must honor. They knew, as did the ancient Greeks, that hubris is the deadliest curse of the human race. This is a lesson that we will probably have to learn for ourselves at the cost of tremendous suffering.

In William Shakespeare’s “The Tempest,” Prospero is stranded on an island where he becomes the undisputed lord and master. He enslaves the primitive “monster” Caliban. He employs the magical sources of power embodied in the spirit Ariel, who is of fire and air. The forces unleashed in the island’s wilderness, Shakespeare knew, could prompt us to good if we had the capacity for self-control and reverence. But it also could push us toward monstrous evil since there are few constraints to thwart plunder, rape, murder, greed and power. Later, Joseph Conrad, in his portraits of the outposts of empire, also would expose the same intoxication with barbarity.

The anthropologist Lewis Henry Morgan, who in 1846 was “adopted” by the Seneca, one of the tribes belonging to the Iroquois confederation, wrote in “Ancient Society” about social evolution among American Indians. Marx noted approvingly, in his “Ethnological Notebooks,” Morgan’s insistence on the historical and social importance of “imagination, that great faculty so largely contributing to the elevation of mankind.”

Imagination, as the Shakespearean scholar Harold C. Goddard pointed out, “is neither the language of nature nor the language of man, but both at once, the medium of communion between the two. … Imagination is the elemental speech in all senses, the first and the last, of primitive man and of the poets.”

All that concerns itself with beauty and truth, with those forces that have the power to transform us, are being steadily extinguished by our corporate state. Art. Education. Literature. Music. Theater. Dance. Poetry. Philosophy. Religion. Journalism. None of these disciplines are worthy in the corporate state of support or compensation. These are pursuits that, even in our universities, are condemned as impractical.

But it is only through the impractical, through that which can empower our imagination, that we will be rescued as a species.

The prosaic world of news events, the collection of scientific and factual data, stock market statistics and the sterile recording of deeds as history do not permit us to understand the elemental speech of imagination. We will never penetrate the mystery of creation, or the meaning of existence, if we do not recover this older language. Poetry shows a man his soul, Goddard wrote, “as a looking glass does his face.”

And it is our souls that the culture of imperialism, business and technology seeks to crush.

Walter Benjamin argued that capitalism is not only a formation “conditioned by religion,” but is an “essentially religious phenomenon,” albeit one that no longer seeks to connect humans with the mysterious forces of life. Capitalism, as Benjamin observed, called on human societies to embark on a ceaseless and futile quest for money and goods. This quest, he warned, perpetuates a culture dominated by guilt, a sense of inadequacy and self-loathing. It enslaves nearly all its adherents through wages, subservience to the commodity culture and debt peonage.

The suffering visited on Native Americans, once Western expansion was complete, was soon endured by others, in Cuba, the Philippines, Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan.

The final chapter of this sad experiment in human history will see us sacrificed as those on the outer reaches of empire were sacrificed.

There is a kind of justice to this. We profited as a nation from this demented vision, we remained passive and silent when we should have denounced the crimes committed in our name, and now that the game is up we all go down together.

Chris Hedges has reported from more than 50 countries and has worked for The Christian Science Monitor, National Public Radio, The Dallas Morning News and The New York Times, for which he was a foreign correspondent for 15 years.  This article was first published in his weekly column for Truthdig

© 2012 TruthDig.com


31 Responses

  1. jadix May 25, 2012 at 4:37 pm |

    Consumertrap:  So where’s the prob?  “consumer” is just one who consumes.  (car-gas, me-food)  Add  ‘ism’ means it is now an ideology, needs a reason/theory (which is what we are doin’, no?)  And it ain’t the word itself (“a rose by any other name would smell as sweet”)   My too often repeated reason/theory is above in reply today 25 May to Eric L.  (If you can again stand re-reading…) 

    1. ConsumerTrap May 28, 2012 at 4:22 pm |

      Jadix, “consumer” is a word only a capitalist could love.  People are product users.  Consumption, the destruction of a product, is not the aim, and we do lots of work to delay and avoid it. In social science (and humanist/democratic) terms, it is a rather severe, though apparently not yet obvious, form of bias, a conceptual distortion of human action and intent.

      So, why do we call ourselves “consumers”? It is a sponsored mistake, and a serious one at that, since the very term serves to blind us to our own normal behaviors and interests.

      Meanwhile, running around talking about “consumerism” is one way of manufacturing excuses for the real problems, which are capitalism and marketing and the class rule they serve, and the nationalism and militarism on which they also rest.

      1. jadix June 2, 2012 at 3:23 pm |

        Okay Consumertap, let’s duck the word ‘Consumer’ so how about “Material Bribery?”  We have to keep this concept to analyse how capitalism manages to survive.  This Bribery of the home working-class spotted long ago by Cecil Rhodes (prick trampled Africa) and Lenin (first shot at human freedom).  Why else do the 99% still – as yesterday in Ireland – vote for reaction?  Our duty:  to share world wealth fairly by helping organize unions etc. in poor countries (like Engels in Manchester, Joe Hill in USA long ago) and fighting Imperialism (like Ho Chi Min and Che).

        1. ConsumerTrap June 4, 2012 at 10:04 am |

          Jadix, one wonders what you think you’re up to.  Your idea is to try to organize resistance in the richer societies by haranguing people with the message that they are being “materially bribed”?  Good luck with that!

          As for Ireland’s recent vote, what were the alternatives on offer?  It’s not like the European left has anything coherent to suggest.  And again, you talk as if there weren’t 40 percent opposed.

          1. jadix June 16, 2012 at 10:44 am |

            Consumertrap-To just forage and consume is okay it gave us the beauty of swans and peacocks said Darwin and economic activity gives us historical progress said Marx. Problem is the ‘-ism’ bit where it becomes an ideology, an end in itself, grows endlessly for status not real need, leads to fat greed for some and brutal poverty for the rest via Imperialist wars. That ‘ism’ bit we can harangue against (and its climate implications). Yes? Or agree to disagree? And got any better ideas? Have you read Eric’s bits!

  2. ConsumerTrap May 21, 2012 at 12:11 pm |

    Jadix, one obvious answer to Marx’s so-called “prediction” is that the capitalist class is both human history’s most powerful ruling class, and that capitalism was much younger in the nineteenth century than Marx understood.

    Meanwhile, you talk as if “consumption” is the only tool at the disposal of the overclass, to the extent you don’t simply blame it and therefore capitalism on the masses.  You also treat “mass consumption” as one big undifferentiated phenomenon.  When you are talking about “consumer greed,” what exactly do you mean?  Rich people buying BMWs and second homes?  Ordinary people buying bean burritos and toothpaste?  Your blanket denunciations pave right over such important differences.

    As to not blaming the masses, you might not be leaving your readers quite clear about that when you say things like “the electorate are not stupid, they straighforwardly vote to consume.”

    1. jadix May 23, 2012 at 11:53 am |

      Consumertrap:  I tried to define in 1st item consumer greed in regard to a fair share of our total world product for each of our 7 billion people.  the Western “consumerist masses” (me, maybe you?) eat meat much more than our fair share of 2meals/week, have a family car more than 2 days/week, fly more than once/2years, etc.   The Western electorate vote regularly to keep up this unequal consumerism not stupidly but from economic logic as Marx would say.  Risky World Wars, Viet Nam, Hiroshima, Cuba blockade, now Afghanistan, all done to keep the Imperialist system in place because Yes as you said that is the main tool of the overclass: Spiritual Death + Shopping.   And a few bucks to a 3rd world charity or a bit of Marxist writing won’t swing it, the 3rd world must be increasingly encouraged to rise up and say “No More” as Viet Nam tried, and Ireland and the US did long ago. (pity about our ensuing civil wars).   

      1. ConsumerTrap May 23, 2012 at 5:02 pm |

        I don’t know enough about Ireland to pronounce upon it, but it is simply and hugely false to argue that the fundamental priorities of the social order have ever been placed before the U.S. electorate.  They have not and are not and will not be, until there’s a mass movement demanding that access.

        Shit, dude, we don’t even get to vote on whether or not our medical insurance is public or private.  And 25% of the money that runs elections (via ads on commercial TV) emanates from the top 1%, and the figures are probably even more skewed, when institutional donors and lobbying are included.

        As for shares of world wealth, once again, you talk like everybody in collectively rich nations is in the same boat.

        And still no acknowledgment of the bias inherent in the word “consumer.”

        Explanations that obscure more than they reveal are hardly a decent path to a decent future.

  3. Eric Lescarbeau May 21, 2012 at 7:35 am |

    Jeff, unfortunately the article you cite is drawing a broad and ultimately flawed conclusion from a very narrow set of data and it is based on a poor understanding of Marxist theory.  Marx identified two forms of surplus value: absolute surplus value and relative surplus value.  Abolute surplus value can be increased by increasing the length of the working day, increasing the intensity of work, cutting wages, etc.  Relative surplus value can be increased by investing in new means of production (new machines, robots, new software, new computers, etc). 

    Increasing absolute surplus value is physically limited.  Capitalists can only cut wages, increase the intensity of work, lengthen the working day so far before workers start dying.  In some industries the application of new technology to increase relative surplus value is very limited so the only way to increase the level of exploitation is to push up the level of absolute surplus value as far as possible.  These low productivity industries are largely concentrated in poor countries because they allow for the most brutal increase in absolute surplus value and relatively little requirement for investment.  The important thing to see here is that exploitation can be absolutely brutal without necessarily extracting the same amount of relative surplus value.  Investment in new technology and the constant revolutionizing of the means of production is one of the central features of capitalist development and is ultimately a much more powerful way to increase surplus value.  Consequently the gap between wages and surplus value is much greater in countries and industries where the level of investment in constant capital and expansion of relative surplus value is the highest.  Factory workers in a General Motors plant are surrounded by machinery and advanced technology that allow them to produce far more per hour than any worker in the textile industry.  The difference in wages between the two doesn’t even come close to making up the difference.

    I hope this makes it clear why it is wrong to say that workers in rich countries somehow benefit from “superexploitation” of workers in poor countries.  If this were true workers in rich countries would share a common interest with their bosses in continuing the exploitation of workers in poor countries and the argument for international solidarity would be greatly weakened.  Fortunately, this is not the case.  It shows that in fact the highest paid workers in the most productive industries are actually the most exploited and therefore have every reason to unite in solidarity with poor workers in their own countries and internationally.  They certainly don’t experience the brutality or difficult living conditions that poorer workers in their own or other countries experience but they still have a common material interest with them and historically, especially where unionized, these workers have played a key role in working class struggles in every country.

    1. Jeff_White May 22, 2012 at 3:55 pm |

      I recommend to Eric and everyone else this incisive article about the “Labour Aristocracy”: http://www.solidarity-us.org/node/348

      1. Eric Lescarbeau May 23, 2012 at 2:46 pm |

        Jeff the article you posted is a response to a very in-depth and empirically well supported two-part article by Charlie Post.  Here is the link for the first part of the article and you can link from there to the second part.

        http://www.solidarity-us.org/site/node/128

        And here he replies to the response you’ve posted from Steve Bloom as well as dealing with other responses which you can link to from this reply:

        http://www.solidarity-us.org/site/node/490

        On the whole I think it is quite clear that Charlie Post’s arguments are much better researched and supported.  In particular I think his historical assessment of the role of highly paid workers in the major working class struggles and far left parties (including the Bolsheviks in 1917) refutes any notion that imperialist super-profits have somehow been used to buy the complacency of highly paid workers in the advanced capitalist countries.  Indeed their high wages and benefits are a direct result of the struggles they have waged to organize and defend unions. Charlie shows quite clearly how these economic struggles opened the door to anti-imperialist and anti-racist struggles and the development of revolutionary consciousness.

        For a further analysis you could also read Tony Cliff’s “Marxism and Trade Union Struggle: The General Strike of 1926″ where he refutes Lenin’s theory of Labor Aristocracy and demonstrates that far from being inherently more conservative the highest paid workers were in fact at the head of the largest and most important strike in British history.

        1. Jeff_White May 24, 2012 at 11:32 am |

          Post and Bloom disagree on the theory of the Labour Aristocracy as an explanation for the reformist politics of the higher-paid sectors of the working class in imperialist countries, but neither of them agrees with your contention that the latter are more exploited than the poor of the global South.

          Post, for example, accepts that the higher rate of profit the imperialists enjoy in the global South represents “an important counter tendency to declining profits in the United States”, but maintains that they benefit “all workers in the global North – both highly paid and poorly paid workers”, and not just a select aristocracy, although the benefit is uneven.

          What’s inescapable is the fact that increases in labour productivity in the North result in the production of commodities that incorporate less live labour per unit. As the proportion of live labour embodied in a commodity shrinks, compared to the amount of capital used up in its production, there is a tendency for the rate of profit to fall over time. This was noted by Marx. Profit rates, as a percentage return on capital invested, are actually higher where socially-necessary labour contitutes a greater proportion of the price of a commodity, as is generally the case in the global South.

          1. Eric Lescarbeau May 25, 2012 at 1:52 am |

             Higher profit rates do not mean higher rates of exploitation.  You’re confusing two distinct economic terms.  In fact the relationship between profit rate and level of exploitation generally produces the inverse relationship.

            Rate of profit = surplus-value/capital invested (including wages and technology)

            Profit = surplus-value – capital invested in technology

            The tendency of the rate of profit to fall over time means that we can actually expect higher rates of exploitation in industries/nations with a lower rate of profit.  This is because the capital invested in machinery/technological improvements rises while the capital invested in wages falls.  It’s important to understand that the rate of profit is falling on a per unit basis and that the reason capitalists continue to invest in technological advances is because they can produce more units with the same amount of labor time.  They expect their sales to grow by grabbing market share from their competitors and/or because of overall growth in the size of the market.

            What you’re missing in that example you gave is that the Value an American car worker produces in an hour far outstrips what an Indonesian worker in a shoe factory produces in an hour. The Indonesian worker may work harder but the American worker is still producing a lot more per hour (many times more) and thereby generating greater profits than his Indonesian counterpart despite the lower rate of profit.  The reason it is worth it for capitalists to invest in the Indonesian shoe factory is not because the overall profits are greater but because the profits they do get come with proportionally smaller investment, and therefore smaller risk.  The declining rate of profit increases the risk of investing in future rounds of production because the portion of the price that is profit shrinks thus increasing vulnerability to price fluctuations in the market due to forces like supply and demand.

            Coming back to Post’s argument:

            “Prior to 1995 total profits earned by U.S. companies abroad exceeded 4%
            of total U.S. wages only once, in 1979. Foreign profits as a percentage
            of total U.S. wages rose above 5% only in 1997, 2000 and 2002, and rose
            slightly over 6% in 2003. If we hold to our estimate that half of total
            foreign profits are earned from investment in the global South, only
            1-2% of total U.S. wages for most of the nearly 50 years prior to 1995 –
            and only 2-3% of total U.S. wages in the 1990s – could have come from
            profits earned in Africa, Asia and Latin America.”

            So even if a small percentage of the wages of US workers is based on the profits taken from poor countries it is tiny in comparison to the very large differences in productivity and level of exploitation.  None of this is a value judgement on how hard workers in poor countries work or how much they suffer.  They suffer these conditions because the bulk of investment (95% as Post suggests) is put back into the economy of the already rich nations which only serves to further expand the divide between rich and poor.

            I’ve found this discussion quite useful.  I’ve been away from political activism for a number of years so this debate has helped me refresh much of what I had studied previously.  If you want to learn more about Marxist economics there are a number of good books out there.  Here are a few suggestions:

            Zombie Capitalism – Chris Harman
            Wages, Price and Profit – Karl Marx (a good introduction)
            Capital Volume I (the best source but also requires the most study.  Get past the first four chapters and it gets a lot easier)

  4. ConsumerTrap May 16, 2012 at 7:33 pm |

    Okay, jadix has a story and is sticking to it.  Nuff said.  Sorry I tried.

    1. jadix May 18, 2012 at 5:01 pm |

      Well ConsumerTrap ta for your input, wish I was as sure of things as you imply, but I haven’t yet done the maths properly.   But have just heard Chinese wages went up about 20%!  Maybe they are getting sick of struggling to keep us in consumer-clover?   Maybe it is all starting, this is what has caused our current economic crisis?  You can bet that the ruling class bankers and politicians aren’t going to cut their own money, so we ‘commoners’ are now gettting the big cuts as we are getting kicked out of the Maifa consumption-bribed inner circle?  Will we now start to vote/fight for real worldwide justice?  Maybe?    (and thanks Jeff White for support, jadix=male, Ireland)

      1. ConsumerTrap May 19, 2012 at 3:14 pm |

        Jadix, the only thing I was trying to get you to look at was the rotten history and illogic of the label “consumer.”  If you thought about that, you might be less flippant about painting “consumerism” as the heart of the system.   But, again, you seem uninclined to think about that.

        Meanwhile, good luck to you if you really think doing the maths on some kind of formula is going to unlock human history.

        Building the movement we need requires smart politics and careful analysis and explanation.  Insulting your allies for no reason is a very poor first step.

        1. jadix May 21, 2012 at 11:50 am |

          Consumertrap:  I ws not blaming the commoner for causing capitalism.   But why has Marx’s 150 year old forecast that capitalism was coming to its end failed?   Lenin agreed with Cecil Rhodes that some of the wealth stolen by Imperialism has been diverted to keep the home working class quieter than they should be because of their resulting economic benefit.  (Someone in your country (USA?) said “It’s the economy…”)  Here in Ireland fewer people go to church, they now go happily shopping instead…consumer greed replaces superstitious morality, the ‘Bread’ becomes the ‘Circus”    (or can you give us a better reason Marx has failed to now?  And yes I too hate consumer greed)

  5. jadix May 16, 2012 at 2:31 pm |

     Sadly the concept of “Consumerism” is deadly serious.   The Ruling Class ls like a Mafia, hammer one group and payoff the other.  This Ruling Class produces no wealth so they must screw Peter to bribe Paul, hence Imperialism and Consumerism.  But the deadly point is the “referendum” bit:  if people in the West continue to vote to keep the system as it is for Economic reasons (Consumerism) then history will end that (as mentioned before).  But if people’s current voting is essentially determined by the Media then Marxism is dead, the Ruling Class who always control the Media have won.   History is over, we can all go slide into the consumer cesspit while Indian workers struggle and African chldren starve.

  6. ConsumerTrap May 11, 2012 at 2:21 pm |

    I’m not saying jadix is an enemy.  I’m saying jadix is doing the work of the enemy in this area by spouting unexamined nonsense about “consumerism” and blaming the commoners for capitalism.

    As for imaginary referenda, how could anybody know what people would opt for if all options were available?  Is it really your sense that most ordinary people like seeing Third Worlders get screwed?  It’s not mine.

    As Chomsky frequently says, public opinion is way to the left of the options entertained by the political system, on a host of issues.  I’m quite tired of leftists steamrolling right over that fact.  Again, who needs enemies, if that’s going to be our habit?

    A “consumer” is a product user viewed through the eyes of a capitalist, by the way.

  7. ConsumerTrap May 10, 2012 at 2:22 pm |

    JW, why don’t you think jadix is hanging capitalism on the commoners?  That what jadix explicitly says: “the electorate are not stupid, they straighforwardly vote to consume.”

    With friends like these, who needs enemies?

    1. Jeff_White May 10, 2012 at 4:09 pm |

      I wouldn’t be quick to dismiss as an enemy anyone who starts off (a week ago) by referring positively to an article from Monthly Review (an article I have not seen), and by referring to “Consumerism” as one of two prongs of a “dual ruling class weapon” (the other being “Imperialism”). That doesn’t sound at all to me like someone blaming the workers for consumerism.

      Nor can I dispute Jadix’s contention that, in an imaginary referendum in Ireland or the U.S., workers would likely vote against giving up the relative privilege they enjoy as a result of imperialist superexploitation. I assume Jadix is saying that imperialist superexploitation will be ended by the struggle of its victims in the “third world”, rather than by any presumed altruism on the part of the workers in imperialist countries (who themselves are victims of the “ruling class weapon of Consumerism”).     

  8. ConsumerTrap May 9, 2012 at 4:52 pm |

    Jadix, I don’t know about Ireland, but none of what you talk about is exposed to democracy here in the USA.  We have no idea what people would or would not opt for, if all options were on the table. They are not, however.

    Meanwhile, you seem to have missed my point about the word “consumer.”  C’est la vie.  It is one of history’s most successful propaganda words.  Just look at yourself, using it to say ordinary people are responsible for capitalism.

    1. Jeff_White May 10, 2012 at 3:16 am |

      I don’t think Jadix is trying to say ordinary people are responsible for capitalism. (S)he is clearly referring to the fact that the relatively high standard of living of workers in the developed imperialist countries is built upon the superexploitation of workers/peasants in the colonialized world. Imperialism feeds “consumerism” in the metropolis.

      That relatively privileged status will tend to disappear, says Jadix, to the extent that the superexploited win an increasing share of the economic pie. Whether the latter will actually ever happen under imperialist capitalism is, of course, highly debatable.

  9. jadix May 9, 2012 at 12:28 pm |

    Consumerism?  Calculate:  US worker X does 40 hours, gets paid half value of production (other half taken as profit) so X is exploited, paid 20 hours labour equivalent.   The point:  with our golbal economy X can, even with that half pay, buy goods imported from say Asian low wage countries that contain 60 or more hours of sophisticated labour. So when X shops there is a real Consumer Buzz!   Like Capitalist profit, X gets 60+ hours labour value back for 40.   As if every time X goes shopping the cashier hands X a $50 bill.     Referendum?   Would the US vote to end that free money?  Would we in Ireland?   Would we accept only our Fair Share (as in previous comment)?    If not all our fine words are babble.   The media are minor players; the electorate are not stupid, they straighforwardly vote to consume that $50, that extra cake.   Progress?   Low wage countries organizing good unions to get a fair wage.   As this approaches 50% of First World wages the economic basis of Consumerism will die.   Our job?   To support Mother Jones  Joe Hill of the third world.  Then real revolutionary movements can develop.

    1. Eric Lescarbeau May 17, 2012 at 12:17 pm |

       Jadix, this example is misleading.  The level of exploitation in poor countries is in fact significantly lower than in the more “developed” west.  Workers at a general motors assembly plant in Canada or the US get a much smaller fraction of the wealth they produce than workers in poor countries that extract the raw materials that are eventually made into the steel, rubber etc that get made into cars.  Technology is the single most effective way of increasing productivity because it lowers the amount of labor required to produce a single unit.  So fewer workers are required and a small number of workers can produce a larger amount of wealth.  People in third world countries also consume products that come from western countries, albeit in much smaller quantities per individual.  By your model consumers in poor countries are actually getting more “free money” from every product they buy from western countries than western workers are getting from the poor countries when they buy their products.

      This might seem counter-intuitive but this contradiction between rising productivity and increasing exploitation is at the heart of Marx’s analysis of capitalism.  Companies can gain a competitive edge by introducing new technology to increase their productivity but that only lasts as long as the competition doesn’t adopt equivalent technology.  Once a technological advance has become the standard all companies are now faced with a larger investment in technology to get a smaller profit per unit of production.  It is only by expanding their markets and/or driving competitors out of the market that they can hope to maintain profitability.  Pushing the same consumers to consume more is one way of expanding markets. 

      At the same time the process of exploitation for profit alienates workers from the products of their labor.  In one sense consumption can be seen as a desperate effort to regain what we’ve lost.  Of course it is an illusion because we can only spend our wages which are much less than the value of what we create.  And of course what we’ve lost is so much more than just the products of our labor.  We’ve lost control of the labor process, which is our creativity and our connection to the natural world around us.  We’ve also had our relationship with those around us turned into a competition for wages that turns a collective process of production into a process destructive to human nature and social cohesion.  So it should not be surprising that consumption is much greater in countries where the level of exploitation is higher.  As Marx observed the term “re-creation” is no accident.  When we’re not working we are trying to recreate ourselves and consumption is part of that.  This is not to say that the oppression of people in poor countries is any less important but it does show that workers in the rich countries objectively have every reason to reject the hyper-consumerism that is constantly being forced upon them.  And indeed it is really only in these countries that you see green consumerism emerging as a strategy.  A flawed strategy but nonetheless seemingly possible where the level of consumption goes beyond what is needed just for bare survival.

      The profits generated in third world countries in the form of cheap labor and raw materials are important to western nations and corporations because any competitive edge in the race for profit will not be ignored no matter how horrific the results but quantitatively they are proportionally a rather small source of profits.  This is why the bulk of investment continues to be locked into the already rich, “developed” nations.  Workers in rich countries end up being a much better source of profits because they are surrounded by technology and infrastructure.

      1. jadix May 25, 2012 at 4:27 pm |

        My phrase “sopphisticated labour” was unclear.   I meant where the Developing Countries’ labour is as technologically advanced as Western.  For example I in Ireland could buy a computer made in Europe (increasingly rare!) by working 100 hours (containing capitalist profit 50 hours and my pay only 50 hours production).   But I can also buy one made in say India for 40 hours of my wages.  The point:  if I joined the Commies and made a revolution I still would be better off (labour time) buying the Indian computer than buying from Europe- my now-socialist 50 hours labour time could buy a European one for that amount, but I can still pay the Indian worker’s 20 hours plus his capitalist boss’s 20 hours profit which leaves me still with 10 hours “profit” . So there is no incentive to revolt, just incentive to moan and chip at my working conditions and boss’s profit – which is the cause and almost the definition of “Reformism” or “Social  Democracy”  But if Indian wages grew to equal 60 hours of my wages I would then be better off without my capitalist boss:  revolution beckons!
        In Britain some reform acts for the workers started early 19trh century in education, later in suffrage, yet Chartist revolt grew in mid-century, but reformed Corn Laws (cheap imported food) and the Age of Imperialism (q.v. Eric Hobsbawm) extended capitalism.  The 1970’s crisis was solved by Thatcher letting manufacturing go abroad (e.g. previously India had had to send its raw cotton to Manchester and buy back woven sheets etc.)  So it goes, the capitalist Mafia desperately needs Imperialist wealth to try to keep their home working-class relatively quiet and to be military recruits. So Britain first hurt its own food producers to get cheap imported food, then Imperialism brought cheap raw materials, now we have Thatcher’s cheap manufactured goods (Indian computers…)  Britain is now mainly a financial centre.   Maybe that means there are no new sources of cheap goods to solve our present crisis?
        The biggest issue facing our world is why capitalism (which can never solve global warming) is still with us.  Other than the above Imperialist theory I can only think of 3 possibilities:  1.  The discovery of fossil fuel was such a bonanza it kept the social peace (like two warring packs of wolves siddenly coming across a vast field of dead gazelles, they would be quietened for a time! Or I can work in Macdonalds for 3 minutes to buy gas OR I can push my car 2 miles to the shop. (Irish prices)  2.  It is human nature to follow a powerful elite (Note viewing fig’s for recent royal wedding). Along with that is corruption and the jackboot crushing a human face.  The Orwellian view.  3.  The media now is so strong that it can control politicians and working-class political thinking so much that they will act against their real economic interests.
        It must be one or a combo of the 4.  Do we need a new Marx?  Can we sort it out?  OR is our current crisis finally the end of Capitalism?

        1. Eric Lescarbeau May 26, 2012 at 4:38 pm |

           Jadix, your point is so mixed up that I’m having trouble understanding what it is.   

          If I’m correct and you’re saying that cheap products from poor countries constitute some kind of transfer of wages by discounting the consumption of workers in rich countries, that really makes no sense. 

          First of all the same products are sold to consumers in poor and rich countries alike.  The fact that workers in rich countries have more to spend on
          consumption to begin with, as I’ve already shown in the above posts, is a
          result of their own struggles and the fact that the bulk of the world’s
          investment remains locked in the already rich economies.

          Second, and this really should be obvious, the European manufacturer is going to go out of business very quickly if they’re selling their products so dearly, so those competing products aren’t likely even to be in the market for long assuming they are of the same quality (which is a very dubious assumption to be making).  The transfer of manufacturing to poor countries has resulted in many workers  in rich countries getting thrown out of work.  On top of the fact that some workers end up on the dole all other workers feel the downward pressure on their wages as a result of rising unemployment. 

          Thirdly, the threat of closing plants and shifting them to the third world (ie. the spectre of globalization – which is often greatly exaggerated) is often used to force first world workers to accept lower wages.  Products may get cheaper when wages fall but worker’s consumption also falls at the same time.

          And lastly, the race to the bottom that results from competition between different capitals does not only happen between rich and poor countries.  It happens also within poor and within rich countries.  Imperialism is not the cause of this competition but rather the result of it.  For a good introduction to this check out Nickolai Bukharin’s “Imperialism and World Economy” which is in many ways a superior book to Lenin’s “Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism” precisely because it doesn’t rely on the idea of a Labor Aristocracy.

          I think you’d also benefit from reading and studying some of the books I recommended above and the articles that Jeff and I posted.  You’re taking a very impressionist view of things, reacting to the surface appearance of how the economy functions without really examining what goes on beneath.  Marxism is a powerful method but it does require some serious study if you’re going to use it effectively.

  10. ConsumerTrap May 3, 2012 at 1:08 pm |

    No such thing as “consumers” or “consumerism” or “consumer culture,” Jadix.  Those are all euphemisms and excuses for capitalism and its dictatorship over the structure of production and product design.

    Meanwhile, referendum?  Where?  We need a movement first.

  11. jadix May 3, 2012 at 12:14 pm |

      The dual ruling class weapon of Consumerism plus Imperialism (see Monthly Review April 2012 p. 43) remains with us still as the global version of Roman “bread and circuses“ So if we undercut this by sharing out what we actually produce, like any decent family, among our 7 billion what would life be like? A simple calculation: –Food: for each of us: 3 meat or fish servings per week with abundant green vegetables and carbohydrates A daily piece of fruit, a weekly slice of cheese, bar of chocolate and one egg. Food: for each of us: 3 meat or fish servings per week with abundant green vegetables and carbohydrates A daily piece of fruit, a weekly slice of cheese, bar of chocolate and one egg. –Drink: daily 4 cups tea or coffee and one of milk, 1.5 pints beer (or equivalent). 1 cup cocoa per weekDrink: daily 4 cups tea or coffee and one of milk, 1.5 pints beer (or equivalent). 1 cup cocoa per week–Transport per week: Family car 2 days, motorcycle 1/2 day, bicycle 7 days(bus etc. as available). Air: one trip per 2 years–Paper: 4 small newspapers per week, 1 book per month.Paper: 4 small newspapers per week, 1 book per month.Many other items (housing etc.) depend on location. No change of course in teachers, medical staff, firemen, writers, etcThis lifestyle, similar to Cuba’s, would end all hunger, all poverty and cap global warming. Time for a referendum?

  12. Rory Short May 3, 2012 at 11:42 am |

    As
    someone in my 70s I am aware that during my working life I was
    unconsciously locked into the world view that is destroying our
    planet and that Chris Hedges describes here . I say unconsciously
    because I still found all sorts of things that happen in the world
    very troubling, things that I wished to change but, because my world
    view was unconsciously conditioned, without questioning the
    underlying world view which gave rise to them. In the mid-80s
    however, because the corporatism aspect of this world view had not
    yet begun to grip the universities, my inner discomfort caused me to
    move from commerce and industry into academia. By corporatism I mean
    thinking which attempts to monetises everything and then makes
    judgements according to these monetised values and if something
    cannot be monetised then it clearly has no value and can be ignored.
    Unfortunately for future generations of students and academics by the
    late 90’s and early 200s, when I retired, my university had taken on
    corporatism as an ideal to be striven for. As I see it in its correct
    use money reflects values that operate in a particular realm of life,
    to try make money the arbiter in all things is clearly mad.

  13. consciously May 3, 2012 at 7:00 am |

    Capitalism is probably not yet really imploding but rather turning into Totalism: 
    * using money (as one of the appearances perceived as “capitalism”) exists under all “cultures” and “societies” BUT 
    * ruling by money (as using weapons and police to enforce ruling) has lost its attraction. 

    That attraction was mainly due to propaganda talking about unfreedom elsewhere, while since the 1990ies “our own” unfreedom became more obvious under all those “anti”terror” and “security” ideologies. Just treating each other as Human Beings seems to be out of fashion … 

    Well, and if whatever RULING (“power”enforcement”) looses supporters, then it usually turns into TOTALISM. (or tries to turn into, if civil society and civil liberties are not stable enough) 
    We know that more from former totalisms with their various ideologies before 1989, but “our” (formerly) free democratic countries are by no means safe from such developments … 

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