Thursday, January 14, 2010

The religious roots of rebellion

Black Flame: The Revolutionary Class Politics of Anarchism and Syndicalism:

[T]he anarchists ... understood [capitalism] as the transfer of resources from a productive class to a dominant but unproductive one.  Exploitation in the capitalist system took place at work and through the wage system.  The worker was paid a wage that in theory covered one's basic needs.  Yet the actual value produced by the worker at work was always higher than the wage received by the worker; a baking worker, for example, might help produce several hundred loaves of bread per day, but would receive the cash equivalent of perhaps two loaves of bread per day.  The difference went to the capitalist who owned the bakery.

Something I have learned from my religious friends is the importance of ritual. Whenever society is not organized in a way that respects your values, it takes willful repetition to remind oneself of what those values are. They are easy to forget, since daily life is organized in a way that undermines them.

This conflict between identities -- the one you have and the one you are assigned -- is a source of great psychological stress for anyone forced to "deny themselves" on a regular basis. In the face of total dependence on employers for a way to live -- what capitalism always demands -- we need a way to remember ourselves.


Anonymous said...

This is pretty much what Dostoevsky's thrillers and melodramas bring to mind.

d.mantis said...

And what happens when one cannot take the transfer of resources anymore? The american ritual of the entrepreneur is always there like a mirage in the desert.

Be your own boss! Most people have neither the means nor the opportunity to do so. They are kept beholden to people who do not share their economic interests.

If they do become successful, they become a target for a corporation to absorb or crush. That's why I tell my small-buisness-owning brother-in-law to make just enough to pay the bills and get a bear now and then. Otherwise Wal-mart will put a contract out on your ass.

d.mantis said...

On a related note: I saw Wyclef Jean on the teevee talking about how he made it from a tent in Haiti to the projects in Brooklyn to a mansion in some God-damned place. And I like Wyclef, but for Christ's sake, can we please stop kidding our fucking selves that every child born into debilitating poverty can crawl out by their own will?

For the love of all things holy, Wyclef has unique talent that alowed him to elevate himself beyond eating red dirt on the floor of his tent. Nevertheless, I am damned sure he caught a few fucking breaks along the way. Why not preach to end poverty rather then poverty is no obstacle? From where I sit, it is a fucking Great Wall of China obsacle.

Ethan said...

This struck me pretty damn hard. Thank you for that.

One place I run into trouble is that, done wrong, ritual can easily turn into routine, which can then lead right back to and feed into the dehumanizing process. Balancing ritual with spontaneity, which I feel is also essential to "remembering ourselves," can be extremely difficult, especially considering the severely limited amount of time we have during which we are allowed to own ourselves.

d.mantis--I never understand why people don't seem to realize that cases like Jean's are famous because they're rare.

C-Nihilist said...

having come up through public school and vocational school and out into the world a newly minted consumer and producer, it was first necessary to realize and discover myself. (took years 'cause i was a rube!)

since then, it's not hard to remember. the struggle is to remember the importance of taking advantage of the moments of freedom as they come.

d.mantis said...

Ethan - That is exactly my point. Nevertheless, we have been trained to view debilitating poverty through the prism of laziness or personal responsibility. Just as some are programmed to say a certain prayer at a certain time in church; we are being programmed to react certain ways to stimuli that otherwise would cause problems for the privelaged few.

I think of it as a ritual because it is a pattern of behavior that eliminates our responsibilty to face these uncomfortable realities. We react to poverty as we are supposed to and no one has to feel bad about themselves. We can go on knowing that these unfortunate people could help themselves if only they had the drive of Wyclef.

It is the same when one shows the signs of fatigue giving their freedom away for a pay check. The answer is always 'be your own boss', plug back into the system at another position, or get more education (read debt) to do something different. The ritualistic reaction eliminates the discussion about the structural failures of the system itself.

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