Unify Prana Power

Decommodify Humanity

Com­mod­i­fi­ca­tion dehu­man­izes. We are more than the prof­it we gen­er­ate. Con­trol dri­ve, but not one another.

“We are not objects, you and I. We are not apps, we are not code, we are not com­modi­ties. Noth­ing that we are can tru­ly be bought or sold, and we are more impor­tant than things.” — Caveat Magister

Cap­i­tal­ism is a crafty, greedy sys­tem. Its need for growth com­pels it to take up as much space as pos­si­ble. It is such a vast, hun­gry force that it often spills over into are­nas of social inter­ac­tion. Capitalism’s flex­i­bil­i­ty allows it to adapt to rad­i­cal­ly chang­ing cir­cum­stances, quick­ly find­ing ways to sus­tain itself, no dif­fer­ent than a virus or a parasite.

Cap­i­tal­ism is a mind­set and phi­los­o­phy, increas­ing­ly influ­enc­ing all streams of human expe­ri­ence. Eco­nom­ic con­di­tions become ever-present medi­a­tors in dai­ly inter­ac­tions, influ­enc­ing our most pri­mal moments. Even access to basic ameni­ties, like pub­lic toi­lets, is often restrict­ed on the basis of ones’ abil­i­ty to pay. The entire human exis­tence is becom­ing swamped with the lan­guage of commodities.

For many, the option of “opt­ing out” of this ever-present eco­nom­ic sys­tem is not avail­able. The real­i­ties of human orga­ni­za­tion in the first quar­ter of the 21st cen­tu­ry dic­tate that our most basic pro­tec­tive need for shel­ter must be paid for. This alone thrusts us head­first into the machin­ery of the free-mar­ket econ­o­my if we wish to survive.

This arrange­ment throws us into a per­ma­nent state of con­flict with one anoth­er. On one lev­el, there’s our com­pe­ti­tion against one anoth­er for a finite num­ber of paid posi­tions. In lean times, scarci­ty rears its ugly head and the stakes for win­ning or los­ing inten­si­fy. Anoth­er form of con­flict occurs between us and our own instincts. Enor­mous num­bers of peo­ple are cur­rent­ly employed in posi­tions of great tedi­um. Any sat­is­fac­tion they might derive from the work itself is fleet­ing. Many work­ers may even be sub­ject to dra­con­ian pun­ish­ments, or arbi­trary and dehu­man­iz­ing rules. Only the most extreme of cir­cum­stances of pover­ty could pos­si­bly com­pel them to remain com­mit­ted to such an endeav­or. But it is pre­cise­ly these extreme cir­cum­stances that dri­ve these dis­ad­van­taged work­ers to give up so much of their own self just to be able to main­tain the very base lev­el of their exis­tence. Dis­uni­ty can occur with­in us as indi­vid­u­als, as much as between groups.

“Angel for Primer”, George Jasper Stone + Cross­lu­cid, 2019
Franck V., 2018

The com­mod­i­fi­ca­tion of human work is a reduc­tion of a core facet of being. The per­for­mance of work can cre­ate a sense of mean­ing and authen­tic­i­ty. It can imbue an indi­vid­ual with a feel­ing of pur­pose. How­ev­er, under the vices of cap­i­tal­ism, these ele­ments of work are so often lost. 

Often, the work most inte­gral to the main­te­nance of the well-being of a soci­ety is ter­mi­nal­ly under appre­ci­at­ed. Teach­ers, nurs­es, and oth­ers on the front lines of social care are usu­al­ly under­paid. In con­trast, bankers and oil exec­u­tives are rich­ly reward­ed for their abil­i­ty to extract wealth from an increas­ing­ly frag­ile plan­et. The appar­ent con­tra­dic­tion here is, in real­i­ty, not a con­tra­dic­tion at all. It reveals a basic truth of the pre­dom­i­nant eco­nom­ic sys­tem. High­ly-extrac­tive behav­ior is per­mit­ted and reward­ed, while con­tribu­tive action for the com­mon good is large­ly under­val­ued. Through this unspo­ken pol­i­cy, the rel­a­tive impor­tance of dif­fer­ent types of work is mud­dled and we attribute high sta­tus to types of work that do not deserve such reverence.

The anx­i­ety that per­me­ates the com­mod­i­fi­ca­tion of self is felt by all. Rather than per­form­ing self-direct­ed work for the sim­ple val­ue of self-expres­sion, we instead exchange labor for cash. For most peo­ple, not very much cash either. This cre­ates mass unful­fill­ment and an over­all soci­etal malaise. Over thou­sands of years, philoso­phers have exam­ined the routes by which the best human life can be lived. We may not yet know the answer, but there are cer­tain­ly bet­ter alter­na­tives than our cur­rent paradigm.

For a start, there’s no need for all of us to be work­ing so much. We can incor­po­rate more nat­ur­al, exchange-based arrange­ments in our inter­per­son­al rela­tion­ships and grad­u­al­ly exper­i­ment with enabling that kind of mutu­al­ism in more areas of life. Basic needs, like hous­ing, should be guar­an­teed to all peo­ple to pro­tect them from des­per­a­tion, and there­by exploita­tion. The need to per­form some kind of work will always be nec­es­sary. We should look beyond the cur­rent sad state of affairs we have accept­ed as the new norm and look to demand more mean­ing­ful devel­op­ment from our workplaces.

Jan Kolar, 2019
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