Why Swimming Pools Should Take A Relaxed And Tolerant Attitude To Nude Swimming In ‘Adults-Only’ Sessions

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My body not as hot as this lady’s – but we need to assert to right for fat sods like me too

I have taken to nude swimming in my local leisure centre and think that others, if they want to, shouldn’t be shy.  It creates a sense of freedom both bodily and mentally, and is an exhilarating experience.  Writing in the Daily Mail, Quentin Letts, who has a private pool, said, “There’s no greater joy than skinny dipping.”

 

There is no law in the lands of England of Wales that prohibit public nudity, although one can experience harassment from ignorant authorities who are unaware the law acknowledges that the human body, in and of itself, is not indecent or obscene, and they might try to ‘ASBO’ you, though it rarely stands up in court.  But when ‘the naked Rambler’ Stephen Gough travelled to Scotland to pursue his chosen lifestyle, he ended up spending 10 years in jail.  So too in Northern Ireland, where the winning of peace hasn’t meant the winning of liberty, the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) has threatened skinny dippers with 2 years in jail.

 

At least however, the PSNI use the argument that “children might be present.”  This is a valid argument not because children have inalienable natural rights never to see an adult nude, but because their parents may not wish it.  Parents who wish to steer their child in a certain direction – e.g. away from nudity – should be respected for their will and others should be sensitive to this aspect of parental autonomy.  But this blog is about challenging a climate of fear – not necessarily a legal enforcement, but a moralistic one – that prohibits the free expression of nudity in a situation where no child is allowed to be present, i.e. swimming sessions that are billed as ‘adults only.’

 

With butterflies in my stomach to the verge of feeling sick, the first time I tried this, I slipped my trunks off on the 32nd of 40 lengths and placed them under my towel by the side whilst still being in the water.  I swam the remaining 8 lengths totally naked.  I was highly nervous because of the social climate of repression nowadays, but perhaps I need not have been.  The pool’s policy has no section about nudity, no-one complained, although I did receive a look of disdain from a lifeguard accompanied by a knowing smile.  The truth is there was little they could do about it in an ‘adults-only’ session where everyone there has previously seen a naked body.  Furthermore, just doing breast stroke, only my buttocks could have been visibly exposed, and even then, only to the lifeguard sitting up high, not to the other swimmers whose eye level isn’t much higher than the water level.  Nevertheless, I was breaching a serious modern taboo, and for everyone to experience liberation which is just as much bodily as mental, the assumptions need to be questioned.

 

Firstly, it is not about sex.  Public masturbation can rightfully get you 14 days in jail in England because that really is an obscene act to present to others.  But simply being nude in a public place can just be seen as an act of free expression without the intention to shock or offend.  If you think the sight of a naked human body is inherently offensive, indecent, or obscene, then you might as well accept an alien invasion that would ban us for it.  To see things in this way, you are saying human beings should find the human body offensive, indecent, or obscene, a notion that expresses the height of alienation and repression.  It is also clearly not about sex because it is very difficult for a man to get an erection in chlorinated water and similarly for women: vaginal lubrication decreases in these circumstances.

 

Secondly, it is also not abnormal to desire the freedom to swim nude.  For most of history, including most of the 20th century, it was the norm, although sadly mostly only for men, not both sexes.  Swimming pools up to the 1970s often demanded it because swim-suit material was often woollen and unhygienic – threats to the pool itself.  But as clothing tech progressed, the arguments over hygiene and security of the pool waned.  What was left was a pretty paltry notion that ‘swimming nude is character building.’  The notion here was that the heavily militarised society required this as a kind of ‘team-building’ exercise right from the Army down to the Boy Scouts: kinship and bondsman ship was to be served by swimming nude together.  If only ‘character-building’ had meant ‘expressing freedom,’ ‘right to enjoy life,’ ‘to combat repression,’ then we might be in a better situation today.  Furthermore, even in Western countries such as Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark, and Canada, nude swimming is acceptable if not obligatory.  So, the current situation of fear in England is certainly not ‘natural.’

 

Adults should be able to swim nude in adults-only sessions at a local swimming pool rather than have to face cold dirty rivers, lakes, or seas, as an article in The Guardian compromised.  If we have social tolerance over this issue, we will find that many other liberties and the dignity of mankind, partly based on the dignity of the human body, will fall into place.

 

Thirdly, it is worth stressing that contemporary taboos over public nudity co-exist with increasingly sexualised TV and internet porn.  This can mislead people into thinking we are freer today.  But observing something through the remoteness of an electronic medium is far from experiencing it in actual life.  The two trends – sexual TV in for example, ‘The Game of Thrones’, can co-exist with an increasing repression in society.  It is the latter trend that really is harmful to people.  If you consider the exponential rise of eating disorders and general dissatisfaction with one’s own body, you will see that modern body-shaming which is intensely expressed in the taboo over swimming nude has a lot to answer for causing real harm to individuals.

 

Finally, there may be a broadside against my position from a minority of some feminists.  They might say “we just don’t want to see men’s wibbly bits.”  However, we don’t normally expect to go through life not seeing things we might not like, be it homelessness or an immigration-enforcement riot van.  Moreover, the struggle against alienation ought to involve women just as much as men, if not more so, given their historically higher level of repression.  Women have fought tooth and nail to dress how they want without certain stereotype-ideas being applied by men, including the infamous ‘burning the bra’ protests.  This battle persists to this day.  An Ontario woman recently won the right to bare breasts in a swimming pool – Canadian law was already lax, but there were attempts to upset it.  Men and women should be able to admire each other’s bodies without that ever being necessarily a sexual thing, as it isn’t usually in a swimming pool, as discussed earlier.  Men or women who lack clothing in a swimming pool are not ‘asking for it’ just as much as a woman who dresses provocatively in the town isn’t ‘asking for it’ – that pathetic apology went out in the ‘80’s.  It is about human beauty and freedom, rather than a sexual fetish.  The real existent fetishes are on TV and on the internet, and perhaps to undermine those things, we need naked-equality in circumstances where no child is present.

 

Addendum: the empire strikes back 😦 Tonight after doing 16 lengths in the buff in an ‘adults-only’ session, an angry female pool manager came out and said “We don’t allow naked swimming”. As far as I am aware none of the other pool users had complained – she’d probably spotted it on the CCTV as the lifeguard didn’t give much of a shit either. I said, “I wasn’t aware there was a policy – I’ve checked the internet.” She said “All the councils have agreed on this – NO NAKED SWIMMING!” I was about to say, “Isn’t that a bit Kafka-esque to not even tell us the policy exists and rely on social taboo for enforcement?” but I thought I’d better cool things down rather than be barred from my local pool. So I said, “Oh sorry – I’ve lived in Germany the past 2 years where it’s perfectly normal. OK, I won’t do it again, it’s not a problem.”

There we go, another little avenue of pleasure closes down. But the war has just begun.

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How ‘Islamic State’ Got The Wrong End Of The Stick

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Terror has targeted an Ariana Grande (pictured) concert in Manchester and now struck pedestrians on London Bridge

 

Nothing expresses more the dangers of superficiality than the new terrorism.  The picture that is emerging from terrorism in modern European cities is that the perpetrators really hate people enjoying themselves, be it at a music concert or interacting in shopping districts.  What seems to unite the manifold forms of the new terror – be it ‘Islamic’ or ‘right-wing and white’ – is a massive hatred of Western-style consumerism.  The hatred of consumerism however is not confined to reacting terrorists.  It permeates society in forms such as environmentalism and left-wing redistributionism.  It is there in conservative-traditionalist railings against mass society, particularly when the working class are told they are irresponsible for wanting bigger televisions.  The obsession with ‘consumer choice’ is also there in libertarian critiques of the reactionaries – all they do is endorse as ‘free’ what the reactionaries ‘hate.’  Hence, the only debate in society we seem to be seeing is about ‘celebrating our way of life’ versus ‘hating our way of life,’ where our ‘way of life’ is only defined in relation to consumption.  This narrow debate is likely to prolong the existence of the new terror despite obviously the majority feeling rightly angered about it.

 

In order to transcend the parameters of the narrow debate, and hopefully unite humanity in a more progressive positive direction rather than this all-round barbarism, it is necessary to understand that consumption is relatively unproblematic.  It is true that the law of value holds sway over all consumer transactions – to that extent, commodity exchange is not *entirely* free, i.e. volition doesn’t rule.  Nevertheless, consumption is pretty much the only civilising aspect of market society.  Through consumption, points of contact are made between otherwise atomised individuals.  The mediation of the commodity is simply the way in which society is glued together – and it is just about the only way society is glued together nowadays.  So, it is wrong to hate consumption – it is the best thing about capitalism, and the only way in which society prevents itself from deteriorating into a kind of ‘Mad Max’ scenario.  At the same time, it is wrong to celebrate consumption as the only mark of ‘freedom,’ because it is essentially a passive rather than active thing: it doesn’t concern the way we act, just the way we enjoy society’s bounty after we have acted.

 

So, the focus of concern really needs to shift onto the realm of production.  If all the reactionaries railing against consumption (or celebrating it) would only look at the realm of production, it would shake things up immensely, and cure the malaise that is now giving rise to the horror of the new terror.  It is in the sphere of production that people truly aren’t free – from the negative experience of the alarm clock in the morning to the iron discipline deployed by managers at work, doing things you hate for a boss you despise, the sheer lack of creativity, initiative and ingenuity in the office or factory – it is really these things that cause people to loathe the society in which they live.  But because of the dogma of ‘there is no alternative,’ the sphere of production remains relatively uncontested, and thus disappears from view.  Consequently, the alienation in society which has its root in the estranged and unfree sphere of production reappears as a criticism (or celebration, depending which side of the fence one is on) of consumption.  It is thoroughly misguided and becoming downright dangerous, yet it can be understood as what happens when everyone agrees that the capitalist mode of production is not itself up for discussion.  The law of value should belong only to the sphere of consumption (for the time being), not the sphere of production.  When value relations determine the way we produce, i.e. the way we live, then it becomes far too coercive to enjoy life.  Workers have to fight for the option of being in full control of the workplace so they govern what gets done, how it is done, and according to whatever timescale.  This self-emancipation of labour will make humanity far happier and thus erode the basis for irrationalism in all its forms, including the terrorist form.

Capitalism and The Borg

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Star Trek Voyager’s Seven of Nine: Being liberated from the Collective corresponds to making a theoretical break with the priorities of bourgeois society such that she can now explore her humanity

Star Trek’s ‘The Borg’ are a good metaphor for understanding some fundamental aspects of social relations under capitalism.  This does not mean people are like drones, quite the reverse.  Breakdowns in the metaphor occur because our limited existences created by the capitalist mode of production are distortions upon human nature rather than its total annulment.  And people’s massive discomfort with this state of affairs means they seek liberation from the Borg Collective which doesn’t happen with the Trek drones unless they are temporarily disconnected from the Hive Mind.  In reading this blog, you are temporarily disconnected from the Hive Mind (chiefly the opinion of authorities), and I will set out arguments through which you may come to achieve full humanity.

The Borg expand through assimilating humanoid life-forms in the galaxy and beyond, rather like the expansion of the world market gobbling everything up.  In the assimilation process, your individuality is crushed and you are made to serve the Collective (society).  The Borg are incredibly successful because they are efficient and constantly perfecting technology to further their programme of expanse.  What the Borg fail to assimilate, they physically destroy.  The Borg represent the ideal dream of how capitalism attempts to remould society, yet the ways in which the Borg are successful come at a terrible cost: the crushing of individuality and the end of the liberty of the individual.

In contrast, the humans in Star Trek are free, their internal conflicts are resolved usually through discussion rather than force.  The Borg on the other hand suffer no internal conflict, they are already ‘as one.’  But how do the humans in Trek become free?  Why do they volunteer to do things rather than nothing at all?  Because labour has become life’s prime want.

Under capitalism, labour is coerced out of the individual, disguised as a ‘free exchange.’  Yet the worker quickly comes to understand the selling of their labour power was anything but free.  They had nothing else to sell, nothing else to live from.  In work, there is an obsession with ‘increasing productivity,’ work is experienced as uncreative doldrums, it is unrewarding, undertaken under tight supervision (including by CCTV), the products of labour are owned by someone else (the capitalist), there are poor bonds with other workers, and there is no rational set of ideas why we are all doing this in the first place.  Work is reduced to the means to the end of survival in a dog-eat-dog world.  It is not something desired by the individual, no-one goes to work looking forward to it and with a whistle in their heart.

Labour becomes life’s prime want by removing all these inhibitions to its unleashing.  We shouldn’t have to ‘sell’ our capacity to work – means of production should be free to utilise by all.  The obsession with being ‘productive’ needs to be cancelled out – how productive you are ought to depend on your own will.  Rather than production seemingly for production’s own sake, the worker now chooses when and what to produce according to personal will, hence it becomes creative and rewarding, and there is no-one to take the product from you without your consent (e.g. as a part of consciously determined human relations).  There is no supervision, except perhaps in an advisory capacity.  The free worker now enjoys good quality bonds with his fellows, giving rise to coherent ideas why we do what we do.

With labour now as life’s prime want, capitalist society now looks shameful and embarrassing.  It was Borg-like because it prioritised efficiency and productivity over individual liberty and choice.  What’s worse the fake left-wing politicians of capitalist society must now feel incredibly embarrassed – all they did was to take capitalist slogans and suggest their programmes could do it better, as opposed to operating on the terrain of critique, thus developing a superior notion of human moral value.

Capitalism is Borg-like, but the individual worker even under this system is never quite like a drone.  Rather in a society where all sides have accepted ‘there is no alternative to the Borg,’ the individual worker’s aspirations become expressed through religious or fetishistic forms.  Thus 75% of Americans are still religious in the 21st century.  25% are also on some form of psychiatric medication or another.  These aspects are not the main problem, they are symptoms of the problem, like flowers growing on the chains.  They would be superseded with genuine humanised spirituality and a deeper sense of our social interconnections after we take action to remove the chains.  By contrast, the Borg regarded in this way are a poor metaphor for the human condition under capitalism because they have no delusions.  Ironically it seems it is the capacity to be delusional that is a big thing currently separating us from a race of advanced machines.  It is better to be a human with delusions than a robot without them.  Furthermore, unlike the Borg, we have strong interpersonal contacts such as a family life and enriching down-time.  It is only when considered in the sphere of work which takes up most of our waking lives that the human condition under capitalism can be considered Borg-like.  So, let’s widen the distinction between humanity and the Borg further in the interests of full liberation by changing the way we work.  We shouldn’t have to live as a poor advertisement of ourselves.

 

 

Arguing for Communism: Adding Substance To The Idea

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Communism is not about forcing a false equality on people dominated by the kind of centralised state that existed in places such as the USSR.  Those regimes never escaped capitalism.  The main problem with capitalism is that it strips work – our life activity – of its creativity and potentially rewarding character.  It traps the individual into a mundane monotonous rut where work is experienced as degrading, rhythmic, and exploitative.  Producers are reduced to the level of appendages to machines without powers of thought or a myriad of talents to be cultivated and developed for their own betterment, or the enrichment of society.

Clearly however, the impetus of market relations has transformed the world for the better in material terms.  In pre-capitalist societies, work often shares some of the aforementioned characteristics.  One is a ‘carpenter’, a ‘baker’, a ‘butcher’, or whatever, as many surnames that are derived from professions attest.  A fixed role in life was often defining to the individual, as it remains under capitalism.  But the massive expansion of productive powers that has taken place under capitalism through the development of among other things, machinery, provides a potential basis for radical social transformation and the total liberation of the individual.

It is often difficult to see how our globalized economy *could* be stripped of the degrading character of work so that we have our cake and eat it – i.e., to combine high standards of living with a liberated workforce.  But it’s not impossible.  The trick is to understand that commodity production is not the same thing as production-for-others.

Commodity production is production exclusively for a market and your product is owned and sold by capitalists and their chain of command.  You do not know where your product is going, who it will be used by, or see any satisfaction in that relation.  You simply produce blindly, and worse still, your managers will seek to get the maximum out of you in return for a wage that makes the whole process highly coercive.  The level of the wage is itself determined by what you need to reproduce your existence for the next working week, at a rate acceptable to society.  It does not reflect how much you produce or how much effort was expended.  The class relation concealed behind the wage – i.e., that you work for the capitalist class, means the surplus product is appropriated by them.  This surplus value has held steady – bearing in mind ups and downs – at around a third of the total you have produced.  It is as if for every meal you cook, a burglar invades your house and takes a third.

The problem of the lacklustre relation of specifically commodity production to human liberation however, would also hold even if there was no capitalist class and all producers were small businessmen or women.  The same drudgery and tedium of being fixed in a role would persist, only you now pay yourself rather than are technically exploited.  Besides, such a society is impossible to conceive, since in order to grow, a small businessman or woman would need to deploy their capital in employing others, hence class relations would emanate from this.  So how does society escape the rut whilst maintaining (or even improving) the physical standard of living that high-tech capitalism has provided?

Production-for-others need not mean production for the market with all the negative consequences that entails.  In a communally organised economy, the local community agrees through participatory democracy what needs to be done and the conversant individual decides to do it.  This idea is not as far-fetched as might first appear to those whose only experience is within the confines of the market.  Tribal societies that were once the dominant arrangement used this method all the time.  With varying degrees of conscious control, they would sit around the campfire of an evening and work these things out.  You didn’t have production for production’s sake, i.e. a brutalising state of affairs where the individual has no say and therefore experiences his or her life activity as alien to him or herself.  Rather, production just took place to meet the needs of others.  The length of the working day in these situations was usually far shorter since the surplus product was enjoyed by the collective rather than privately expropriated.  And work was rewarding because you knew why you were doing it, knew who it was for, and had strong bonds with these people.  Nevertheless, this is not to glorify tribal societies.  There were usually hierarchies and technology levels were so low that lifespans were shorter and ridden with physical maladies.

But to extract what was positive about tribal societies and square that with our high-tech physically decent standards of living today, is a real possibility now that has become more immanent with the development of communication technologies.  Thanks to things like the internet and smart phones, it would now be possible to have an economy that is consciously planned by those doing the work in direct accordance with the needs of society as agreed by local participatory democracy.  The compensation for your time expended at work would be something like a certificate that guarantees you access to society’s bounty.  Not every certificate would be equal at this point.  In order to incentivise highly skilled work such as brain surgery or work that continues to be dull such as shovelling faeces, the quantity of goods you can get would be greater.  You could be writing articles one week for a lower level of reward than someone who is shovelling faeces, yet alternate those roles or do something entirely different the next week according to the agreements reached by the participatory democracy.  The faeces-shoveller of course would be able to acquire his Ferrari quicker.  So, at this lower phase of communism, individuals are not yet equal in material terms, though they are equal in terms of political power.  Moreover, it is worth noting that in this scenario, society is now totally incentivised to increase its technological level.  In order that it doesn’t have to devote too many resources for both the highly skilled work or the dull work, society becomes obliged to develop smart robotics and other machinery that can annul the drudge.  Insodoing, the new society is adopting a new economic law concerning an ever-increasing amount of liberation of the worker, freeing him or her to develop their creative powers and basically live the life of Riley.  The capitalist law of value has essentially collapsed, providing the ground for the evolution of a post-money system.  This is an entirely different mode of production to capitalism, and a vastly superior one at that.  The starting point for the new society in relation to its emergence from capitalism, is the demand that the means of production become socially rather than privately owned.

 

Free Speech in Crisis: Gazza, Trump, and Alienated Morality

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Former football legend Paul Gascoigne tells a racist joke at a theatre, is ordered by the courts to pay £2,500 in fines, gets publicly shamed, and will struggle to tour again (who would allow the gig?)

A tape mysteriously “emerges” in the media of Presidential nominee Donald Trump in private bragging chauvinistically about groping women.  The subsequent Presidential campaign gets thrown off any political issues and becomes a competition of sleaziness where each side lowers the bar and attempts to demonise the other.  Trump is just as guilty of this as Hillary Clinton as he raises the issues of husband Bill’s lewd conduct in office and lawyer Hillary’s defence of him.

Both these cases speak to a crisis of free speech.  But it is not what you think it is.  This crisis of free speech isn’t quite about censorship.  Neither Gazza nor Trump has suffered state-imposed penalties to the extent it impinges their lives.  The thing that is impinging their lives is a form of moral condemnation.

Yet moral condemnation is not always a bad thing.  Any community needs morals to survive, and when those morals are transgressed, it is correct for the community to pull people up.  If Gazza or Trump were simply told they were being backward and needed re-education to come up to scratch with twenty-first century society, then Gazza wouldn’t need to be publicly shamed and fined, nor the Presidential competition would need to be distracted around personal failings.

What has happened is that our fragmented society which has been atomising exponentially for many years now has such a flimsy grasp of morality that in order to express a moral belief, it throws everything against the transgressing individual: fines, public shaming, court appearances, you name it.  This isn’t a morality that is assured of itself, but one that is witch-hunting its enemies.

In our age, where it is difficult for anyone to achieve power and wealth in society, people have resorted to moral condemnation as a way of gaining one-upmanship.  This squalid competition for virtue sees careers ruined over ‘unwitting’ mistakes, ‘unintended’ racism, or any privately expressed view (what Trump called ‘locker room banter’).

The way to stop this madness is NOT to demand “the right to be offensive.”  Neither Gazza nor Trump’s ‘rights’ have been seriously corroded by any of this, that is their rights in relation to the state, which is the only meaning rights have.  Furthermore, demanding we are able to hear Gazza or Trump’s unsuppressed views is only an invitation that everyone can be as offensive as they like, regardless of social harmony.  Speech is a part of the world – indeed it is the most direct way we perceive society, so being gratuitously offensive is only going to lead to the experience of harm (not physical, but suffering in the mind).  There is no point in calling for the right to be offensive – the characters we are talking about really are yesterday’s figures and should not be put on a pedestal where we all passively sit by and relish how they have these ‘rights’.

The damage which is being done however to the public and private spheres through the form of moral condemnation as one-upmanship, is that society further atomises and everyone becomes scared to open their mouths.  What’s needed to combat this isn’t a free-for-all of everyone venting spleen, but a new kind of society, one where moral transgressions are treated as bad things, yes, but also treated gently and sympathetically.  Everyone makes mistakes now and then, and the community does have to pull us up on them.  But the community shouldn’t lose sight of its own maturity and vision for a healthy society in doing so, nor should it attempt to wreck people’s livelihoods.  Instead you should just calmly and sympathetically explain to the transgressor why they are wrong so they can become better people rather than just repressing them in a different way.

The situation today is that our morality has gotten loose of a broader vision of how we want to live, it has developed its own legs, and metaphorically like the Death Star, is casually blowing up planets and ships at random.  Moral condemnation is prancing around without any sense of purpose to why we want morality to be like this.  Instead of human beings communally relating to one another and helping each other, we have let our own morality become detached from ourselves and it has become more policeman, than sage.  To regain control of morality we have to take a helicopter view of society, realise where we are going wrong, and change things through mature considered debate.  A good first step in this direction would be to accept apologies.

On ‘Estranged Labour’ and ‘Sustainable Development’

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The idea of ‘estranged labour’ simply refers to the character of work undertaken for someone else, under the pressure of coercion or force, and especially when the product of labour is acquired by your enemy.  Labour under such conditions has to take on an ‘estranged’ character because it is not something pleasurable or creative, it is endured as a chore.  With estranged labour, work is just a ‘means to an end’ – physical survival and reproduction of the next generation of labourers, and it is only after the working day is finished that the worker perceives his life begins, yes for those few hours of watching TV then falling asleep.  This is our lives.

Estranged labour has been justified by the ruling class under capitalism in a number of ways.  They’re never honest about it.  The true motive for their imposition of estranged labour on the rest of the population is just to expand capital, the ruling classes’ own alien boss.  If this was made transparent to everyone it is doubtful how long the system could last.  However, they conjure myths about what you are working for, some idea of the ‘greater good’.  In the past this has been ‘for Empire!’ or ‘for the Nation!’  Today, the justification is that we work for the ‘environment!’  Sadly, the only challenges to this symptom of estranged labour comes from people who just want to substitute one excuse for another – their new excuse is we should work for ‘Growth Growth Growth!’  To tackle estranged labour requires a far bolder critique, one which would situate necessary labour in terms of what people need, and reduce necessary labour time to the bare minimum for satisfaction of needs as technology develops (it’s already developed quite a bit, as I’m sure you’re aware!)

So firstly, the justification for estranged labour in terms of the ‘environment!’  Today we are told we are on the verge of environmental apocalypse (a lie), and that people must work to produce wealth that can be used to mitigate climate disasters, stem overpopulation (apparently Africans by virtue of their poverty reproduce too much), to fund expensive green energy projects that would be considered non-cost effective in more rational times, and in other ways to ‘preserve nature’.  This lie for why we produce is bolstered by publicly funded ‘science’ that is open to question, and also structurally reinforced by rules on recycling your waste and monitoring your energy usage, as well as the fact we are bombarded with environmentalist messages all the time in the media.  All of this is loosely banded together under the banner of ‘sustainable development’.  There are critics of this, but as I shall argue later, they are even worse.

This situation, where the ostensible aim of production is for nature, is similar to ancient societies that thought they were working for the gods.  As Karl Marx wrote of this:

“To be sure, in the earliest times the principal production (for example, the building of temples, etc., in Egypt, India and Mexico) appears to be in the service of the gods, and the product belongs to the gods.  However, the gods on their own were never the lords of labor.  No more was nature.” (‘Estranged Labour’, Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts, 1844)

The gods, since they don’t exist, were never really the driving force for these labours, it was man’s own activity itself, just existing in an alienated form.  And this alienated form emanated from the fact that you had divisions in society, e.g. with the Pharaoh on top doling out orders.  When man isn’t free, you get a society of estranged labour.  Society sustains this set up through the conjuring of myths.  Today, with production for nature, the same thing is occurring.  The great chasm between the capitalist with immense power at his disposal versus the atomised worker creates a new estranged labour and is sustained by the conjuring of the myth your work benefits ‘the planet’.

Hard environmentalists have criticised this situation because they think we are producing too much and still raping Goddess Gaia.  But because no-one wants to regress to the stone age, their ideas aren’t taken seriously.  A far more significant critique of sustainable development is that it is not progressive enough, with ‘progress’ here defined as mankind dominating nature even more, producing more.  This attack on sustainable development that comes from both right and left political quarters holds that deifying nature comes at the expense of expanding the market and stifles growth.  There is nothing humanist about this critique and do not be deceived by the occasions in which human needs are sometimes employed in the discourse to disguise the truth.  The fact is you will still be suffering from estranged labour (because you work for the alien power capital), it is just that the justification for your hard work replaces ‘nature’ with ‘growth for growth’s sake’.

Marx continues: “And what a contradiction it would be if, the more man subjugated nature by his labor [whilst simultaneously deifying her] and the more miracles of the gods were rendered superfluous by the miracles of industry, the more man were to renounce the joy of production and the enjoyment of the product to please these powers.”

Here we have a clear indictment against the 21st century.  Through estranged labour, we do not enjoy work in the slightest because it is not undertaken as part of a communal project, furthermore we cannot fully enjoy the products of labour.  Witness today’s frenzies for calorie counting all foodstuffs, paying a penance to Gaia through recycling as if we have to apologise for consuming the products of our own labour, and the whole hoohar that we must reduce our carbon footprint – i.e. consume less, in an age where we have achieved a great plenty of goods to consume.  From estranged labour flows estranged consumption – at no stage of life do we actually fully enjoy any of it.

There is a solution to all this which doesn’t fit the environmentalist critique (produce less) or the bourgeois-deviant critique (produce more).  We need to change the social relations of production so that we all become equal partners in the production process.  With equality, we can freely associate as autonomous beings, uncoercively producing as and when necessary (which doesn’t mean producing more), developing technology to make our lot even easier, and fully, sensuously enjoy what we produce with no estranged-based guilt trips.

The Centrality of the Concept of “Alienated Labour” to the Theory of Human Liberation

 

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Raya Dunayevskaya (1910-1987)

The patient reports certain symptoms

“Marx’s vision was one of total freedom.  He was concerned with the freedom of humanity and, against that, the inevitable misery and waste of life which characterizes contemporary society.”

  • Raya Dunayevskaya, Marxism and Freedom, p.53

Two world wars later, the continued nuclear threat, ongoing barbarism around the world, the dull monotonous grind of work, and democracy in peril, yes it’s fair to say that contemporary society is characterised by misery and waste of life, just as it was in Marx’s day.  What has changed since then are new political realities.  Public discourse today is preoccupied with issues such as environmentalism, euthanasia and therapy, to name but three issues.  Nowadays if a worker started complaining about the state of the world they are more likely to be packed off to a counselling session where you are told, quite literally, “Don’t worry about things you cannot control.”  Any concerns about the wider world are no longer taken seriously, such is the democratic deficit.

Does this make Marx redundant?  In this blogger’s opinion, it does not.  The issues that preoccupy society, although distracting from the way in which the masses might change the world, ought to be seen as only symptoms of the continued problem of alienated labour that Marx was the first to elucidate.  We can go into the ins and outs of environmentalism, euthanasia and therapy until the cows come home.  Many experts are.  But the real solution to these issues is not to be found in endless debates about them on their own terms, but in recognising them as just the latest reflections in the human brain of alienated labour, with the added twist of what has come to be referred to as a ‘post-political epoch’.

Let’s take those three examples of topical issues in turn.  Environmentalism: the central message is to lower your carbon footprint and crazed gestures such as recycling and smart meters are coming in to create compliance.  But this is a meek existence.  It locates meaning in garbage and electrical consumption, things that should not be of concern to anyone.  It is a symptom of alienated labour in that things are depicted as beyond human control (when they are not).  Humanity has to revel in a self-imposed downtrodden condition rather than conquering the galaxy – precisely the condition workers find themselves in trapped under capitalism.  Regarding euthanasia, it appears we are nothing more than lumps of flesh waiting to be put in the ground.  Euthanasia advocates use of the language of ‘choice’ without meaning that term in any coherent way.  Should we let a 17 year old who has just split with his partner have euthanasia because they are depressed?  Of course not, most euthanasia advocates would agree.  But they would say what of the terminally ill or severely disabled?  Then it isn’t about choice, but about disposing of inconvenient problems.  No wonder disability advocates demonstrated outside Parliament when the Bill was being discussed.  They said “we want to live, not die”, and “we need help to live, not help to die.”   Quite right.  To have a state policy of bumping off inconvenient humans is abhorrent.  This is symptomatic of alienated labour in the way it makes a fetish out of miserable, unfree life and proposes death as the only solution.  Regarding therapy, psychiatrists have now expanded the definitions of mental illness to encompass virtually any emotion or character trait.  These anti-humanists want everyone on the couch, the better to rule their lives in miniscule detail.  The human subject is therefore not self-determining, but vulnerable and alienated.

Now, what would we make of a doctor who, instead of diagnosing an illness, merely addressed certain symptoms, occasionally and vaguely.  The failure to not only ignore treating the illness but not even diagnose it, or abjectly refuse to try to diagnose it, would make them a poor pharmacist, let alone a terrible doctor.  This is the case with those who discuss those three issues without digging beneath the surface to see what they are indicative of.

Of course, at this stage, it might be objected that I’m barking up the wrong tree.  To see Marxist-identified reasons lurking behind these issues is to ignore the fact that this is the new political reality and one cannot contribute to the further development of mankind unless we confront them in all their detail now and ignore what I madly think they are ‘symptomatic’ of.

Certainly they are a new political reality that must be overcome for human autonomy to begin to flourish, but it is key to this overcoming that the new political reality is recognised as a myriad of symptoms of an underlying problem: alienated labour.  Undiagnosed, alienated labour will just get worse and worse such that in my previous blog I wrote about an embryonic idea in the USA that there are now ‘airborne glutens’ that can trigger horrible reactions in coeliacs, therefore requiring that taking sandwiches to work should be banned.  How bad do things have to get before we wise up and confront the core of the problem – alienated labour?  If we fail to do this, worse and worse crazy symptoms will present themselves over time, mystifying the integral problem even more.

It is a case of what computer scientists call “GIGO” – Garbage In, Garbage Out.  If you’re worried about the garbage content of contemporary ideology, look at what is fuelling it, and to do that, you have to look at the character of our daily lives.

So what is alienated labour?  To that I now turn.

The patient receives a diagnosis

Life is experienced as miserable and human lives are clearly being wasted in factories for production’s own sake.  In one’s couple of hours of free time, we only vegetate in front of ‘Game of Thrones’ looking at someone’s flaccid wiener because our minds have been so ruined by capitalist production, that’s all we can do.  What was the point of the human race?  What was the point of those historical giants such as Aristotle, Shakespeare, Goethe, Darwin, JK Rowling, if we’re just going to waste our lives like this?  It doesn’t occur out of choice, it occurs out of compulsion: capitalism has us over a barrel, and the only road to freedom is to overthrow it.

Dunayevskaya, understanding Marx, says:

“[The labor of the worker subject to the power of capital] is still labor, but it turns out to be an alien power because the labor process which extracts his labor from him is a process that has transformed the machine into an accumulated dead weight resting upon him, the living worker….  Labor under capitalism is the very specific function of a man working at machines to which he becomes a mere appendage.  His labor, therefore, is not the self-activity, the creative function it was under primitive communism where, in mastering nature, man had also developed his own natural capacities and talents.  Labor in the factory is alienated labor. ” (p.56)

Rather than other people’s labour in the creating of machinery ostensibly to assist the worker, the machine appears as something horrible, something one is slave to.  This is because the whole experience of going to work under capitalism is unfree.  At work you cannot escape your fate because you are under the supervision of a hierarchy of officers and sergeants.  It transforms the labour process into something horrible to be endured rather than an expression of creativity to make products to satisfy the needs of one’s fellow man.  Machinery hasn’t shortened the working day (although class struggle has a little), it is just used to pump more blood out of you.

Furthermore, the more one works, the more one is subject to the domination of the very thing that is oppressing him: capital.  Alienated labour creates more and more capital, and your wages only exist to keep you going at a socially acceptable level in order to extract more labour from you the very next day, the next day, and the next day after that, and evermore.  Your wages also ensure you are able to reproduce the next generation of labourers.  The more you work, the poorer you become in relation to the mass of capital that is now dominating the entire globe.

This is the objective basis for much of life’s misery, and it gives rise to miserabilism in our ideology – the way we think.  Our diagnosis of what is wrong in our heads has therefore led us to look at what is wrong in our real, material lives.  Looking at what is wrong at the heart of reality will now lead us to some radical treatment options.

 

The patient is recommended a certain treatment

We will now look at three treatment options.  The first two don’t work, and been proven so historically.  The third is the most radical, and our best hope.

  • Redistribution of wealth. This has been proposed by the Pope of all people.  Good luck convincing your paymaster of that from your position of bondage, but it won’t work anyway.  The central problem causing your misery is alienated labour.  Will a few extra quid make that go away?  Of course not, you are still in the factory.  The only way redistribution of wealth could possibly tackle alienated labour is if everyone became a billionaire and didn’t have to work, but then nothing would get done.  If nothing’s being produced, there’s nothing to consume.  Your billion would become worthless.  And so you return to bondage.
  • Voting for a socialist. No socialist politician has ever done away with alienated labour, indeed it’s not the kind of thing that can happen from on-high.  In the USSR, the bureaucratic regime actually intensified alienated labour with camps all over the place.  A left-of-centre politician such as Jeremy Corbyn’s beefiest concern is to nationalise the railways.  So what?  What difference does it make to the alienated workers if their master is a Fat Controller or Jeremy Corbyn, the character of their work will still be the same.  (I for one am for the abolition of train drivers and station staff as I think the whole thing will be automated in the future).  But worse still, what do we gain with a ‘socialist’ government?  The workers are still in the factories, indeed that is the condition of the faux socialist’s rule, no matter how principled they are.
  • Overthrow capitalism. We need to be clear about what we mean by this.  Firstly it is necessary to grasp that the capitalist system is based on having two main classes – the capitalists who are propertied, and the proletariat who are propertyless.  (By property we’re not interested in TV’s, cars, etc., but the big stuff – ownership of the means of production).  The only way the proletariat can survive in this situation is to sell their labour to a capitalist, but as we have seen this only leads to alienation and a furthering of the initial class divide.  This has led some Marxists in the past to claim “the abolition of private property” is the answer, and structuring a communist regime around this principle.  Sadly, this is not a radical enough demand.  What happened in the USSR with this approach was the state came to resemble a giant capitalist – alienated labour still existed under this ‘socialised’ property arrangement, indeed it got worse.  But if we understand private property as a consequence of alienated labour, a different solution presents itself.  Private property is itself the form taken by the products of labour at a historical point where man is not yet in control of himself.  It is not enough to abolish private property and then magically all problems vanish.  The ongoing quest is for man to gain full control of himself and organise new relations of production, relations that are freely determined by confident individuals who only work because they value the human race, yet mutually decide to reduce the necessary length of the working day to a minimum.  Therefore, private property isn’t an inevitable consequence of any labour – the idea that every object needs an owner is specific to our times, not forever – private property is a consequence of specifically alienated labour.  It is a defect in the current character of the labour process (chiefly that it is policed) that produces private property.  Only workers that are objectively degraded as a proletarian class rather than members of a freely associating human race, can produce the alienated form of private property.  As Dunayevskaya says:

“Private property arises not because the products of labor are alienated from the laborers.  That is only the consequence of the fact that his very activity is an alien activity…When the division of labour…has reached the monstrous proportions where all science, all intellect, all skill goes into the machine, while the labor of man becomes a simple, monotonous grind, then the labor of man can produce nothing but its opposite, capital.  All concrete labours have been reduced to one abstract, congealed mass.  Dead, accumulated, materialized labor now turns to oppress the living labourer.  This mastery of dead over living labor is a class relationship.” (p.56)

Therefore, the abolition of private property has to co-exist with an abolition of all objective class divisions and humanity re-emerging in a free, unfettered, and equal condition.  Dunayevskaya goes on:

“’Not until the transcendence of this mediation (abolition of private property) which is nevertheless a necessary presupposition does there arise positive Humanism, beginning from itself,’” said Marx.  In a word, another transcendence, after the abolition of private property is needed to achieve a truly new, human society which differs from private property not alone as an ‘economic system,’ but as a different way of life altogether.  It is as free individuals developing all their natural and acquired talents that we first leap from what Marx called the pre-history of humanity into its true history, the ‘leap from necessity to freedom.’”  (p.58)

And

“For Marx the abolition of private property was a means toward the abolition of alienated labor, not an end in itself…He never tired from stressing that what is of primary importance is not the form of property, but the mode of production.”  (p.61)

To overcome alienated labour, workers will have to politically associate with one another in the common goal of trying to overcome their subjugation, with the desire to fundamentally change the entire way in which work is conducted.  That will similarly alter the entire lives of everyone on the planet for the better, and fundamentally change the character of society, perfecting the human race itself.