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

Ariana-Grande
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.

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Capitalism and The Borg

seven of nine
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.