Categories
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
Categories
Unify Prana Power

Decommodify the Planet

Food, water, ener­gy, and even the air we breathe must be democ­ra­tized. Equi­table access to life-sus­tain­ing resources can no longer wait.

“There was a big high wall there that tried to stop me; Sign was paint­ed, it said pri­vate prop­er­ty; But on the back side it didn’t say noth­ing; This land was made for you and me.” — Woody Guthrie, “This Land Is Your Land”, 1940

Decom­mod­i­fi­ca­tion of the human spir­it is just one step toward cre­at­ing the con­di­tions under which we can lever­age the pow­er of coop­er­a­tion over com­pe­ti­tion. Lib­er­a­tion of one­self is pow­er­ful, but ulti­mate­ly mean­ing­less unless it also coin­cides with col­lec­tive respon­si­bil­i­ty for all the basic ele­ments of a healthy life.

How could it be pos­si­ble for one group to have exclu­sive own­er­ship of any­thing organ­ic on the plan­et? Life was all here long before us and it will remain long after we die. Humans are mere­ly bor­row­ing the world for a lit­tle while and we should behave accord­ing­ly. Each new gen­er­a­tion must assume the role of stew­ards of the Earth. It’s a cat­a­stroph­ic mis­take to assume we are its mas­ter.

Yet, there are many who con­tin­ue this pur­suit of eco­log­i­cal mas­tery. Com­pa­nies like Mon­san­to and Syn­gen­ta tweak the genet­ic mate­r­i­al of seeds and use this as jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for intel­lec­tu­al own­er­ship. Aggres­sive busi­ness prac­tices and suc­cess­ful lob­by­ing help these com­pa­nies become monop­o­lies. They become like impe­ri­al­ist states, sweep­ing across the world and bend­ing agri­cul­tur­al prac­tices to their will. And in their wake we’re left with drink­ing water that’s taint­ed and air that’s pol­lut­ed. Illog­i­cal­ly, it is those who face no direct con­se­quences from the abuse of nat­ur­al resources who are the ones who get to decide their use.

And yet, water uni­fies all peo­ple with Earth. Water con­nects us to the orig­i­nal source of life. Half the water in our bod­ies, oceans, and streams con­tains hydro­gen from the ori­gins of the uni­verse. Water uni­fies the sto­ry of all that is, ever was, and will be. Water reveals the neces­si­ty of a decom­mod­i­fied plan­et. Every­one must be able to drink from this pow­er­ful med­i­cine.

Obser­va­tion of rain­bow trout
“Suprachro­ma­cy”, FIELD
Evi Kale­mi, 2018

We can­not trust the prof­i­teers to take good care of the nat­ur­al resources of our plan­et. Nat­ur­al resource is the great­est wealth there is and must be democ­ra­tized. The tragedy of the com­mons is a hypoth­e­sis that claims that shared use of nat­ur­al resources makes those resources prone to dam­age due to overuse by non-cor­po­rate indi­vid­u­als abus­ing the resource for their ben­e­fit. Though an obvi­ous myth, it has played a use­ful pro­pa­gan­dis­tic role in jus­ti­fy­ing the pri­va­ti­za­tion of land. The cor­po­ra­tions con­trol­ling the land then claim­ing that only through clear­ly-defined own­er­ship can a resource be ade­quate­ly main­tained.  But the cur­rent con­di­tion of the envi­ron­ment has proven this the­o­ry false. Even now, free-mar­ket fun­da­men­tal­ists call for the pri­vate own­er­ship of the very air we breathe as a solu­tion to the ris­ing lev­els of CO₂ with­in its make­up. We deserve far more faith in our own col­lec­tive actions than that.

We envi­sion a soci­ety run on the prin­ci­ples of mutu­al aid, one of unmedi­at­ed and vol­un­tary coop­er­a­tion. We are more than capa­ble of self-reg­u­la­tion. In this new, pro­posed sys­tem that did not reward vio­la­tions of moral­i­ty, self-reg­u­la­tion would become even eas­i­er. In a mutu­al aid soci­ety, any­one who sought to exploit a shared resource for per­son­al enrich­ment would face seri­ous sanc­tions.

De-com­mod­i­fy­ing the plan­et will take time. And it will require enact­ing mass par­tic­i­pa­to­ry democ­ra­cy. But if we can con­fig­ure soci­ety in a way that engages the pop­u­lace, invites every­one in, and ensures that we all feel like mem­bers, then we might very well find our­selves on a path toward the type of utopi­an future we’ve always imag­ined.

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