Friday, March 18, 2011

We are obligated to each other, not the demands of power

Inside Higher Ed:

[Q]uoting Marxist theory should be seen ... not as an endorsement of all things Marx. "I see it as one lens through which we can observe and look at the world we are trying to understand," especially with regard to issues of social class. "I'm not saying it's the only way or the best way, but it's a way, and those theories do have something to offer," he said.

For example, all this week I have been thinking about how, in the face of one social catastrophe after another, my daily routine remains the same: Get up, go to work, come home, do what I need to do to repeat it all over again tomorrow -- none of which is directed in any way toward addressing what is happening to people in Japan or Libya or Ivory Coast; or for that matter, in my own neighborhood. So much personal commitment going toward somebody else's priorities, so markedly different than my own, because the basis of my livelihood is spelled out in their terms. As it stands now, society would collapse if everyone decided to take a month off to do what is right, obligating ourselves to others on the basis of need, not power. Subsequently, it is never done -- and so we watch as things get worse.

Thanks to Beth E.

4 comments:

Rachel said...

Thank you. It's nice to know others feel the same way, at least.

Todd S. said...

I agree with Rachel. This bit: So much personal commitment going toward somebody else's priorities, so markedly different than my own, because the basis of my livelihood is spelled out in their terms. puts my own thoughts of the past few months into words. And is the primary reason I'm taking my leave of my employer to find something that better aligns with my own priorities and beliefs.

Ben There said...

Don't judge yourself too harshly JRB. As you know, the need to for food, clothing, and shelter for one's self is a pretty compelling priority! It is unfortunate that in order to satisfy these necessities (a personal priority if there ever was one) we have to spend so much of our time and energy towards someone else's priorities. But, this is the way society is structured, and while I'm convinced there is a viable alternative, I'm not exactly sure what it is or how to go about achieving it.

Beth said...

Your dialectic could be sharper here. Our obligations to each other are not merely ideal or sentimental obligations, but often consist precisely in the provision, preparation and installation of needful commodities in one another's lives. In so far as the cycle of consumption our bodies and homes must continue, and cannot continue in any other space and time but the here and now, in the context provided by our society's economic and political system, discharging our obligations to one another requires discharging obligations to power (by which I mean an abstraction derived from the system of production.) Our obligations to one another are thoroughly intermeshed with our obligations to the demands of power. Love is not only eating and living. It is also providing food and maintaining a residence. Appealing to the sentiment that we are obliged to one another rather than to the demands of power is a misunderstanding of power.

I quibble because I care.