Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Marx and alienation

James Generic, The Wooden Shoe:

[I]t sometimes enormously angers me how far off the regular workplace functions vs. how organizations I'm involved in work. Basically, at the job, what the boss says goes, damn your opinion or what you think. While in [the Wooden Shoe] collective or [Jobs with Justice], what you think actually matters and I end up being a whole lot more productive in those groups because I'm not trying to get away with shit like I do in my regular job. My loyalty is to those who offer mutual respect and do simple things like help me through tough times, because I'll do the same for them when they're in trouble. As well as having a common fuel that there's something really wrong with the world and you want to change it (or give it a black eye).

I know I'm 27 and I should know that this is simply the way the world works especially in a capitalist economy by now. But damn does it make me angry on a daily basis.  Blatant disrespect and me being wrong no matter what just because I'm not management. Or that all the time everyday someone's trying to get a one-up on ya. It really makes me mad when people play the politics game, sucking up or ambushing you in a meeting with something they could of easily talked to you about one-on-one, but its more advantageous to publicly embarrass you in front of other people.

I know I don't have it that bad. I make $25k a year which is way more than I ever made before and don't have any kids or anything like that. I think one of my biggest pet peeves though, is people assuming I'm stupid, which seems to be built into the boss-worker relationship. So maybe I'm not really meant to live in this world. Its frustrating.

It's useful to consider Marx's notion of alienation. In capitalism, alienation is not so much impoverishment or oppression per se, but rather a kind of impoverishment and oppression which relates to the experience of work. Mr. Generic hits the high notes -- and it would be hard to find a person alive today who is not in some way familiar with them.

For Marx, alienation is the real story behind capitalism, not poverty or repression. Capitalism is obviously capable of generating great wealth, and the coercive force of the state is not deployed in every instance. White collar workers in the West don't have the same problems as sweatshop workers in Asia, for example. But for Marx, alienation is the common thread that binds them all, and which strikes so fundamentally at the potential for human fulfillment in each case.

5 comments:

Enron said...

Which explains why the middle class is so neurotic despite their affluence.

Montag said...

i experience alienation working in the construction business. the buildings i take part in constructing, i seldom take part in using. the company i work for has built a grocery store and a department store that my family and i frequent, but the vast majority of the jobs i've contributed to, i do not then use: office buildings i do not work in, schools my kids do not attend, stores that sell things i cannot afford, and so on. i visited one of the projects we had done to take some photos of the completed building to put up in our office, i was accosted by security and threatened with prosecution for trespassing (in the parking lot of a car rental facility!)

i would feel less alienated building and maintaining homes and businesses in my community, however, having a fairly specialized skill-set, i doubt i could "make a living" at it.

JRB said...

Enron: I've often thought of the remuneration and social status as adding insult to injury: Yes, the Mexicans are doing the heavy lifting, but at least they aren't under any illusion about who they are.

There must be something about celebrating one's own subjugation that puts the self-reflective ill at ease. A lot of the professional experience seems to involve "not thinking too much about it" by various means. Escaping the factory may not be the best assurance against an early end, after all; this is the power of what Marx is talking about.

Montag: You've highlighted an important component of alienation: the experience of separation from what one has produced. It's probably worth noting three others: alienation from one's own nature (as above) in what one produces; alienation from the productive process itself; and alienation from other producers, each of whom have become wholly dependent on their employer, not each other.

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