communists in situ

leberwurst proletariat

Month: August, 2016

Against Happiness

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The Happiness Industry by William Davies review – why capitalism has turned us into narcissists by Terry Eagleton

In our own time, the concept of happiness has moved from the private sphere to the public one. As William Davies reports in this fascinating study, a growing number of corporations employ chief happiness officers, while Google has a “jolly good fellow” to keep the company’s spirits up. Maybe the Bank of England should consider hiring a jester. Specialist happiness consultants advise those who have been forcibly displaced from their homes on how to move on emotionally. Two years ago, British Airways trialled a “happiness blanket”, which turns from red to blue as the passenger becomes more relaxed so that your level of contentment is visible to the flight attendants. A new drug, Wellbutrin, promises to alleviate major depressive symptoms occurring after the loss of a loved one. It is supposed to work so effectively that the American Psychiatric Association has ruled that to be unhappy for more than two weeks after the death of another human being can be considered a mental illness. Bereavement is a risk to one’s psychological well-being. . .

What Davies recognises is that capitalism has now in a sense incorporated its own critique. What the system used to regard with suspicion – feeling, friendship, creativity, moral responsibility – have all now been co-opted for the purpose of maximising profits. One commentator has even argued the case for giving products away free, so as to form a closer bond with the customer. Some employers have taken to representing pay increases they give to their staff as a gift, in the hope of extracting gratitude and thus greater effort from them. It seems that there is nothing that can’t be instrumentalised. Yet the whole point of happiness is that it is an end in itself, rather than a means to power, wealth and status. For a tradition of ethical thought from Aristotle and Aquinas to Hegel and Marx, human self-fulfilment springs from the practice of virtue, and this happens purely for its own sake. How to be happy is the chief issue that ethics addresses, but “Why be happy?” is not a question it can answer

Is mindfulness making us ill? by Dawn Foster

Mindfulness, the practice of sitting still and focusing on your breath and thoughts, has surged in popularity over the last few years, with a boom in apps, online courses, books and articles extolling its virtues. It can be done alone or with a guide (digital or human), and with so much hand-wringing about our frenetic, time-poor lifestyles and information overload, it seems to offer a wholesome solution: a quiet port in the storm and an opportunity for self-examination. The Headspace app, which offers 10-minute guided meditations on your smartphone, has more than three million users worldwide and is worth over £25m. Meanwhile, publishers have rushed to put out workbooks and guides to line the wellness shelves in bookshops.

Large organisations such as Google, Apple, Sony, Ikea, the Department of Health and Transport for London have adopted mindfulness or meditation as part of their employee packages, claiming it leads to a happier workforce, increased productivity and fewer sick days. But could such a one-size-fits-all solution backfire in unexpected ways?

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Lesser Known Trolley Problem Variations

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#Trolley Problem Memes

The Time Traveler

There’s an out of control trolley speeding towards a worker. You have the ability to pull a lever and change the trolley’s path so it hits a different worker. The different worker is actually the first worker ten minutes from now.

The Cancer Caper

There’s an out of control trolley speeding towards four workers. Three of them are cannibalistic serial killers. One of them is a brilliant cancer researcher. You have the ability to pull a lever and change the trolley’s path so it hits just one person. She is a brilliant cannibalistic serial killing cancer researcher who only kills lesser cancer researchers. 14% of these researchers are Nazi-sympathizers, and 25% don’t use turning signals when they drive. Speaking of which, in this world, Hitler is still alive, but he’s dying of cancer.

The Suicide Note

There’s an out of control trolley speeding towards a worker. You have the ability to pull a lever and change the trolley’s path so it hits a different worker. The first worker has an intended suicide note in his back pocket but it’s in the handwriting of the second worker. The second worker wears a T-shirt that says PLEASE HITME WITH A TROLLEY, but the shirt is borrowed from the first worker.

The Ethics Teacher

There’s an out of control trolley speeding towards four workers. You are on your way to teach an ethics class and this accident will make you extremely late. You have the ability to pull a lever and change the trolley’s path so it hits just one person. This will make you slightly less late to your class.

The Latte

There’s an out of control trolley speeding towards five workers. You’re in a nearby café, sipping on a latte, and don’t notice. The workers die.

The Dicks

There’s an out of control trolley speeding towards two workers. They’re massive dicks. You have the ability to pull a lever and change the trolley’s path so it hits just one person. He’s an even bigger dick.

The Business Ethics Version

There’s an out of control trolley speeding towards three workers. You have the ability to pull a lever and change the trolley’s path so it hits a teenager instead. At a minimum, the three workers’ families will receive a $20,000 insurance payoff each, and the families will no doubt sue the company, which in this scenario you represent. The trolley driver seemed to die instantly from a freak aneurism, so your company might not be faulted for negligence under the FELA and might come out okay. The teenager’s parents, on the other hand, make a total of $175,000 a year, and can afford a pretty decent lawyer.

The Real Stinker

There’s an out of control trolley speeding towards four workers. You have the ability to pull a lever and change the trolley’s path so it hits just one worker instead. But get this: that one worker? It’s your fucking mom. Bet you weren’t expecting that shit, were you?

The Surrealist Version

There’s an out of control trolley speeding towards four workers. You have the ability to pull off your head and turn it into a Chinese lantern. Your head floats into the sky until it takes the place of the sun. You look down upon the planet. It is as small as the eye of a moth. The moth flies away.

The Meta-Ethical Problem

There’s an out of control trolley speeding towards Immanuel Kant. You have the ability to pull a lever and change the trolley’s path so it hits Jeremy Bentham instead. Jeremy Bentham clutches the only existing copy of Kant’s Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals. Kant holds the only existing copy of Bentham’s The Principles of Morals and Legislation. Both of them are shouting at you that they have recently started to reconsider their ethical stances.


by Kyle York

 

Shit’s Going Down

milwaukee

Originally posted to It’s Going Down

This week brought another uprising against the police, after a police officer shot and killed a 23 year old man, Sylville K. Smith, in the Sherman Park neighborhood of Milwaukee. The uprising, which saw right-wing Governor Scott Walker call-in the national guard to sit standby in case the riots escalated, happened against the backdrop of continued rampant police killings and the growing social degradation of poor and working people in the United States. This is the second time in two years that Walker has called in the National Guard to deal with protests against the police and the fourth alongside Ferguson and Baltimore in the US.

But these rebellions point to deeper tensions caused by the systems of domination inherent within industrial capitalism and white supremacy, which is policed and protected by this government. In the case of just Milwaukee, Niles Niemuth wrote:

Milwaukee has been devastated by decades of deindustrialization and financialization, which has produced the highest levels of inequality since the 1920s. The factories that provided decent wages and benefits for tens of thousands of workers have all but disappeared.

The city lost three-quarters of its industrial jobs between 1960 and the 2010. The disappearance of manufacturing employment had a particular impact on black male workers in the city. From 1970 to 2010, the employment rate for black men aged 16 to 64 in the metro Milwaukee region fell precipitously, from 73.4 percent to only 44.7 percent.

The city’s overall poverty rate in 2014 was 29 percent, nearly double the national rate. Children and youth aged 18 and under were the worst affected, with more than 42 percent growing up poor. More than 43 percent of the population in the Sherman Park neighborhood lives below the poverty line.

At the same time, despite continuous slumps in US productivity, the rich just keep getting richer. As Andre Damon wrote:

In 2015, the International Monetary Fund noted in its annual report that the decline of business investment is at the heart of the failure of the global economy to recover from the 2008 crisis, despite the flooding of financial markets with cheap credit.

Major corporations are hoarding trillions of dollars in cash, which they are not investing in production or research and development. Instead, they are using it to buy back stocks, increase dividends, and carry out mergers and acquisitions, all of which increase the payouts of Wall Street CEOs and shareholders.

As a result, stock markets around the world are at or near record highs, corporate profits are surging, and the wealth of the top 0.1 percent in the United States and internationally continues to soar at the expense of the working class.

But while it is becoming more and more clear that the only solution the elites have to continued immiseration and poverty that is endemic in capitalism is simply more repression and police, the very system of industrial resource extraction and production that is making a few elites so rich is also threatening all life on this planet. This summer, scientists have recorded the hottest months ever in June and July.

At the same time, the South was hit by disastrous floods that destroyed homes and left many homeless as Obama vacationed at Martha’s Vineyard and thousands were crammed together in shelters and curfews were put into place to stop people without food or water from looting. In many ways, all of these instances should be seen as signs of not only the kind of system we live under, but the trajectory it is hurling us towards. While the rich and powerful drink wine in tranquility, our homes are washed away, we work harder and harder for less and less, and an ever growing police presence watches our every move and taxes, harasses, and kills us without cause. Meanwhile in the background, the military is at the ready should a rebellion pop off.

But a rebellion is growing, and one that cannot be contained or smothered by either the police or the military, or the attempts of politicians, activist bureaucrats, or media pundits to stop people from fighting for and creating a world worth living in.

In that spirit, let’s get to the news. 

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Telling the Truth about Class (Tamás)

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by G.M. Tamas

One of the central questions of social theory has been the relationship between class and knowledge, and this has also been a crucial question in the history of socialism. Differences between people – acting and knowing subjects – may inuence our view of the possibility of valid cognition. If there are irreconcilable discrepancies between people’s positions, going perhaps as far as incommensurability, then unied and rational knowledge resulting from a reasoned dialogue among persons is patently impossible. The Humean notion of ‘passions’, the Nietzschean notions of ‘resentment’ and ‘genealogy’, allude to the possible inuence of such an incommensurability upon our ability to discover truth.

Class may be regarded as a problem either in epistemology or in the philosophy of history, but I think that this separation is unwarranted, since if we separate epistemology and philosophy of history (which is parallel to other such separations characteristic of bourgeois society itself) we cannot possibly avoid the rigidly-posed conundrum known as relativism. In speak­ing about class (and truth, and class and truth) we are the heirs of two socialist intellectual traditions, profoundly at variance with one another, although often intertwined politically and emotionally. I hope to show that, up to a point, such fusion and confusion is inevitable.

All versions of socialist endeavour can and should be classied into two principal kinds, one inaugurated by Rousseau, the other by Marx. The two have opposite visions of the social subject in need of liberation, and these visions have determined everything from rareed epistemological posi­tions concerning language and consciousness to social and political attitudes concerning wealth, culture, equality, sexuality and much else. It must be said at the outset that many, perhaps most socialists who have sincerely believed they were Marxists, have in fact been Rousseauists. Freud has eloquently described resistances to psychoanalysis; intuitive resistance to Marxism is no less widespread, even among socialists. It is emotionally and intellectually difcult to be a Marxist since it goes against the grain of moral indignation which is, of course, the main reason people become socialists.

One of the greatest historians of the Left, E.P. Thompson, has synthe­sized what can be best said of class in the tradition of Rousseauian socialism which believes itself to be Marxian.1 The Making of the English Working Class is universally – and rightly – recognized to be a masterpiece. Its beauty, moral force and conceptual elegance originate in a few strikingly unusual articles of faith: (1) that the working class is a worthy cultural competitor of the ruling class; (2) that the Lebenswelt of the working class is socially and morally superior to that of its exploiters; (3) that regardless of the outcome of the class struggle, the autonomy and separateness of the working class is an intrinsic social value; (4) that the class itself is constituted by the autopoiesis of its rebellious political culture, including its re-interpretation of various tradi­tions, as well as by technology, wage labour, commodity production and the rest. Whereas Karl Marx and Marxism aim at the abolition of the proletariat, Thompson aims at the apotheosis and triumphant survival of the proletariat.

Thompson’s Rousseauian brand of Marxism triggered a sustained critique by Perry Anderson, one that is now half-forgotten but still extremely impor­tant. Although his terms are quite different from mine, Anderson sought to show that Thompson’s conviction that he was a Marxist was erroneous.2Thompson had participated in a number of movements and intellectual adventures inspired by Marxism, and his delity to radical socialism – under twentieth-century circumstances – meant loyalty to Marxism’s revolution­ary legacy. But Thompson had to ignore the Faustian-demonic encomium of capitalism inherent in Marx, and so he had to oppose ‘critical theory’, and then theory tout court.3 Anderson later described this decomposition of ‘Western Marxism’ – away from class to ‘the people’ – in conceptual terms,4 a diagnosis that has been proved right by events since.

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On the “woman question” (Dauvé)

Ghada Amer, Diagonals in Red, 2000

by Gilles Dauvé

If, as Marx wrote in 1844, taking a cue from Fourier, the relationship between the sexes enables us to judge humankind’s “whole level of development”, with this relationship we can also judge the level of development of the revolutionary movement. According to this criterion, past insurrections have done rather poorly, as they have usually let masculine domination prevail.

When faced with this undisputable fact, most radical thought rarely rises up to the challenge. (1)

In the past, anarchism did not treat this issue as a specific one: emancipating the human species would emancipate women as well as men. Lately, since the 1970s and the growth of a feminist movement,  many anarchist groups have come to regard women as an important (and long overlooked) oppressed category which must be added to the list of major potentially revolutionary categories.

As for the Marxists, they often start with the perfectly valid assumption that the “woman question” part can only be solved via the “proletarian” whole, and with the equally valid necessity of differentiating between bourgeois women and proletarian women, but they end up dissolving the woman question in the class question. The trouble is, without this part, the whole does not exist. (2)

Unlike most anarchists and Marxists, we think women’s emancipation is not a mere consequence of general human emancipation: it is one of its indispensable key components.

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How sickly seem all growing things

writings of chris wright

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The Total Capital-Consumption Cycle

This is kind of my take on the total capital-consumption cycle as I see it relating to race, class and gender. I’m not enamored of images and picture thinking in general, but sometimes they are productive.  This was inspired by reading Roswitha Scholz on value-dissociation.


The Abolition of Labor

Communism is nothing if it is not the entering of all of humanity into the realm of freedom, of freely disposed time to do or not do as one pleases.  This does not eliminate the realm of necessity, but reduces it to a subordinate, non-determinate position in the relation of between it and freedom.  This is impossible if the majority of time of a human life are spent doing work for an alien power, as a slave, a serf, a worker, a taxed peasant, regardless of whether that alien power is a lord or a master or the abstraction of capital.  Only when necessary labor by human beings is reduced to a minimum of human time and the work freely chosen engages the mental, physical, and emotional faculties of a person can we reasonably imagine actual freedom for all of humanity, as opposed to the abstract freedom of exchange and democracy.  It is also the unity in difference of the realm of necessity and the realm of freedom, rather than merely the victory of one aspect over the other (the fantasy of Utopian Socialism) or the enforced domination of one over the other (society of direct domination) or the collapsing of one into the other (capitalism) . . .[continue]


“Use-Value” and “Useful” in Capital

What kind of labor contributes to valorization? Is it the kind of labor that produces a commodity as a material thing, as is seemingly implied in the first chapters of Capital? This is, after all, what many critics of Marx argue, that he has a self-contradictory notion of value and labor in this section. However, before Marx completed Volume 1, we know that in his notebooks published as Theories of Surplus-Value, Marx has a famous and under-appreciated discussion of what makes labor valorizing in his discussion of the labor of a clown. Marx’s humor and fine sense of irony, much like Hegel’s, is rarely appreciated, so the joke is generally missed (as are all the jokes in Capital, especially in footnotes, as Nichole Pepperell has brilliantly written on in her dissertation and her excellent Uncomfortable Science blog.) Marx distinguishes between two ways in which the clown might labor. In the first, the clown sells his labor to a family and then goes about his clowning for them. This is explicitly not capitalist labor or value-producing, this is just a service. However, if the clown is employed by a capital(ist), is payed a wage because he/she sells his/her labor as a commodity, and has his/her clown services (the product of his/her labor) sold as a commodity to customers, we have entered the realm of the value-form, of value-producing labor, The product of labor need not be a material thing, but can be a service, a material relation if you will, because what determines the validity of the labor is its usefulness for the capital as a commodity it can sell and its usefulness for the consumer, in this case, enjoyment or entertainment…[continue]


What’s the deal with Marx’s Capital?

Capital is, as its subtitle says, a critique of political economy and this has several implications.  Firstly, Marx is not trying to explain capital or capitalist society as a rational, coherent, consistent system.  Secondly, he is not abstracting from capital’s actual functioning in order to produce a model.  Finally, he is not trying to provide a more accurate theory that fixes the limitations of classical political economy associated with Smith, Ricardo, Petty, Quesnay, etc.  As a critique of political economy, Marx produced a book that treats even classical political economy as a necessarily failed attempt to provide a rational, consistent, coherent account of a system and a society that in his view is fundamentally irrational, inconsistent and incoherent.  Marxists, generally a confused lot more interested in the workers’ movement than in the critique of political economy, take Marx’s work to be a proof of the necessary collapse of capital and a critique of capital by labor.  In that story, capital and the capitalist class are evil and labor and the working class are good.  Capital ends up being a book about the good guys and the bad guys in the class struggle.  However, this point of view has a lot of problems, not the least of which is that Marx’s own notion of life beyond capital, beyond class society, is a life not determined by labor, but determined by freely disposable time.  Marx’s critique of political economy is therefore a critique of all of its elements, of capital and labor, of money and the means of production… [continue]

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From the Frankfurt School to Value-Form Analysis (Reichelt)

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The preoccupation with problems of capital-analysis began relatively early. We wanted to know in the first place what ‘reification’ (Verdinglichung) really is. At that time in the mid-sixties we systematically plagued Horkheimer with these things. We wanted to know how they are interpreted in the framework of the Frankfurt Theory since the Frankfurt Theory built explicitly on them – and discovered after all, that after three sentences long silences set in, and that basically there was very little to learn from these theoreticians. Finally, we decided to think these questions through ourselves and – this can now be said in the present company – had to conclude that the omission of these moments itself had to be conceived as to a certain extent symptomatic with regard to the critique of this ‘Critical Theory’. This becomes evident when one pursues it further, if one may extrapolate, with Habermas. One could perhaps put forward the thesis that the Habermasian theory, which after all arose in a close connection with the Frankfurt theory, is to be designated as dialectical theory which can only develop dialectical theory formally, since it falls back to the standpoint of the bourgeois subject.

Precisely that, however, is already implicitly criticised, I would suggest, in Marx’s form-analysis, i.e. in the value-form analysis, money-form analysis and in the dialectical presentation of the categories of political economy. This implies that something like ‘dialectical theory’ as method extracted from these contents cannot be explicated. This, however, has always been the thesis of the Frankfurt theory. When one for example reads the writings of Alfred Schmidt, it is striking that he says that the dialectical method cannot be explicated in isolation from the contents. When one ties him down, however: Tell us, why don’t you, what is so special about these contents, show us the dialectical method with these contents themselves, e.g. with certain dialectical transitions in Capital: normally he gives it a miss, or at least to date that has been the case. He was not in the position to develop the dialectical method in Capital himself. To date, no one (1) in Frankfurt has tried this, as far as I can see. To Habermas, these matters are totally alien, today more than ever, one would have to say. (2)

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