Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Wobbly times number 139

 Commodification is the process whereby our lives become synonymous with the production of cheapness dedicated to achieving market share. The essence of the concept of commodification lies in the process of turning the living into the dead, a 'thing'. A commodified Earth is a thing to be owned and exploited. A commodified worker is appears as a thing whose productive power is to be bought for wages in exchange for the product of work, soon to become a commodity for sale on the market in order to make profit. A commodified world is an upside-down world of bought and sold private property. Overturning the commodification of the world is turning the world right-side up; at the same time, it is the social revolution.

Zappa's vision didn't go beyond the rule of Capital. He was definitely opposed to what he saw as a leitmotif of modernity, 'cheapnis'. His was a kind of sardonic cry for quality in the age of mechanical reproduction.Unfortunately, Frank couldn't see that commodification and capitalism were joined at the hip.

We start with the commodity, this specific social form of the product, as the foundation and prerequisite of capitalist production.  We take individual products and analyse those distinctions of form which they have as commodities, which stamp them as commodities.  In earlier modes of production—preceding the capitalist mode of production—a large part of the output never enters into circulation, is never placed on the market, is not produced as commodities, and does not become commodities.  On the other hand, at that time a large part of the products which enter into production are not commodities and do not enter into the process as commodities.  The transformation of products into commodities only occurs in individual cases, is limited only to the surplus of products, etc., or only to individual spheres of production (manufactured products), etc.  A whole range of products neither enter into the process as articles to be sold, nor arise from it as such.  Nevertheless, the prerequisite, the starting-point, of the formation of capital and of capitalist production is the development of the product into a commodity, commodity circulation and consequently money circulation within certain limits, and consequently trade developed to a certain degree.  It is as such a prerequisite that we treat the commodity, since we proceed from it as the simplest element in capitalist production.  On the other hand, the product, the result of capitalist production, is the commodity.  What appears as its element is later revealed to be its own product.  Only on the basis of capitalist production does the commodity become the general form of the product and the more this production develops, the more do the products in the form of commodities enter into the process as ingredients.  The commodity, as it emerges in capitalist production, is different from the commodity taken as the element, the starting-point of capitalist production.  We are no longer faced with the individual commodity, the individual product.  The individual commodity, the individual product, manifests itself not only as a real product but also as a commodity, as a part both really and conceptually of production as a whole.  Each individual commodity represents a definite portion of capital and of the surplus-value created by it.

Karl Marx, Theories of Surplus Value, Marx 1861-3, Chapter 20

"At the origin of industrial society, based on the primacy and autonomy of commodities, of things, we find a contrary impulse to place what is essential - what causes one to tremble with fear and delight- outside the world of activity, the world of things.  But however this is shown it does not controvert the fact that in general a capitalist society reduces what is human to the conditions of a thing (of a commodity)."  

Georges Bataille, ACCURSED SHARE vol.I page 129

The reign of commodities is allowed because the subject becomes mystified as to the origin of the object : Wage-labour is not aware that it creates Capital.  Quite the contrary: it is generally believed that Capital creates wealth and provides jobs to wage-labour.  This is what Marx was writing about in the section in CAPITAL volume I on 'the fetishism of commodities' , the sort of 'camera obscura' world view taken as the norm under the rule of Capital and what Georg Lukacs was referring to when he used the term 'reification' and identified it as the mind trick whereby the subject>object relation was reversed.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Wobbly times number 138

"Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them." Henry David Thoreau

"Darkness thus surrounds two worlds that are distinct but always associated. The same horror banishes the sexual function and excretion to the same darkness."  Georges Bataille

How I see what causes so many neuroses in class society.

Remember the capitalist dictum: 'Find a need and fill it'.  

What humans need is more fucking with birth control pills and condoms i.e. we don't need an expansion of the population. Lack of fucking causes so many neuroses. It also creates needs which are filled in with the commodification of human relations i.e. pornography, generalised advertising and prostitution to name but a few. 

Humans are more like promiscuous apes, chimps and bonobos than monogamous apes like gibbons or alpha male, once a year mating gorillas.  Gibbons split off on the ape line 22 million years ago and also have sex about once a year.  Gorillas and orangutans split a few million years later.  The last of the apes to split off and the ones closest to humans genetically are the chimps and bonobos.  Chimps and bonobos are naturally promiscuous. Male chimps have the largest balls in the ape family. Gorilla balls are the smallest. Human males fit in between, still they are only a tenth the size of chimps and bonobos.  I contend that humans are as naturally promiscuous as our closest relatives in the animal kingdom are because of the size of the gonads. Larger gonad size, larger production of sperm. Female chimps usually have more than one male's sperm in their vagina. Male gorillas use body size to gather larger amounts of females under their control as they have less sperm and need more recipients. Evolution is funny that way. Humans can be mostly monogamous. It's an effort though as divorce statistics and the sale of sexual gratification attest. 

As the old saying goes, "Variety is the spice of life".  Our evolutionary history gives lie to the notion that humans are by nature, monogamous or alpha-male polygamous.  Within the official ideological cauldron of patriarchal forms of marriage lies a roiling mass of social and psychological distress e.g. infidelity, divorce, one parent families and the blues.

The human race has had thousands of years of problems with monogamy, historical proof positive that we are not monogamous animals by nature but that we are forced onto this Procrustean bed by class dominated society's patriarchal legal, moral and cultural norms.

"The pathology known as "hysteria" was named over two thousand years ago as a condition that affected women and had something to do with the willful difficulties of the uterus. Already in the times of Galen, a doctor who lived around the time of Jesus, medical experts recommended a "massage" of the genital area of women suffering from this malady, which relieved the symptoms and restored the women to health. It was commonly known from that time forward that hysteria was related to female sexual satisfaction although different societies responded to this problem in quite varying ways.

"The 19th century saw a great rise in the disease to the point of it being a near epidemic, at least among middle- and upper-class women. This was undoubtedly related to the heavily repressed sexuality of the era as well as to what Barbara Ehrenreich and Deirdre English describe as the masculinization of industrial society (For Her Own Good: 150 Years of the Experts' Advice to Women. Anchor Books, 1978). In a world in which a reasonably wealthy woman's role is purely sexual and where sexuality is solely the realm of men, the greatest taboo was the idea that traditional coitus might not in and of itself satisfy the demands of women's sexual needs. Although many doctors of the time observed that over half of their female patients were not satisfied by their marital duties, they also were able, with a straight face, to declare this majority "abnormal" and in need of medical treatment.

"As in ancient times, treatment for hysteria consisted generally of manual manipulation of the womb area to provoke a "hysterical crisis" in which the woman convulsed and moaned and was relieved of her tension to the point of even being somnolent. In this way, women's sexual needs were deemed to be an illness and without ever using the word "orgasm" doctors of the time made a fine living with women patients who returned frequently for treatments.

"These treatments were so common and were consuming so much of the time of doctors that this actually led to the invention and perfection of the vibrator. The first vibrators were huge, expensive machines sold only to doctor's offices (and came with names like "The Chattanooga"). With this modern technology the time to treat a hysterical patient dropped from one hour to ten minutes, allowing the doctor to see many more patients in the same time. Needless to say, the medical establishment was quite enthusiastic.

"As the end of the century neared and more and more homes were connected to electricity, the technology of orgasm came into the home in the form of small, inexpensive vibrators. For the first time this technology was in the hands of the women themselves, but all mention of these machines carefully avoided mention of sex or orgasm. Instead advertisements gave glowing reports of rosy cheeks and youthful energy.

"Something, however, happened between the beginning of the 20th century and the 1920's, because suddenly the vibrator disappears as a product; the ads are gone from women's magazines and the manufacture of the products themselves seems to drop off. One possible reason, reports Maines, is that some early pornographic films from the 1920's show the vibrator as a sexual tool. This connection of the vibrator with sexuality made it impossible for women of the time to continue the charade that they were "just relieving tension," and the vibrator disappeared from the home.
The vibrator as sexual technology returned in the 1970's during the era of sexual liberation. In 1976, sexual therapist Joanie Blank opened the first store dedicated to vending vibrators in a women-centered, sex-positive environment, and which she called "Good Vibrations.""
K. Coyle

As for men, Wikipedia says, "As a general rule, an animal's penis is proportional to its body size, but this varies greatly between species – even between closely related species. For example, an adult gorilla's erect penis is about 4 cm (1.5 in) in length; an adult chimpanzee, significantly smaller (in body size) than a gorilla, has a penis size about double that of the gorilla. In comparison, the human penis is larger than that of any other primate, both in proportion to body size and in absolute terms."  I argue that these anatomical, evolutionary, adaptive characteristics are the material reasons why monogamy, polygamy, private propety and the political State are obsolete, indeed they are all contributors to multiple neuroses (including the sadistic tendencies/acts of cruelty passing for mutual erotic pleasure) we see displayed on a daily basis  and much unhappiness amongst/between humans.  The social psychology which class society generates  is one of submission the many and dominance by the few, the powerful, the class with authority to rule.

Women and men are anatomically evolved to fuck a lot. Just like bonobos and chimps, we don't have sex just to reproduce. Reproductive competition, when it comes, comes between the various males' sperm in the wombs of women who have chosen many partners.  The female womb itself is naturally attuned to selecting which sperm get through and are most likely to impregnate an egg.  Women, female chimps and bonobos (unlike say, the monogamous gibbons or harem-like gorilla females) don't 'advertise their fertility; they have what is  known as hidden estrus, making them ALWAYS ready to engage in sexual intercourse and indeed for tens of thousands of years before the advent of agriculture and animal husbandry, there was no human monogamy nor is there monogamy among chimps and bonobos. Children were considered to be part of one big family in hunter/gatherer groups.  There was simply no need to know exactly who the father was. 

I don't advocate mindless promiscuity. I advocate conscious knowledge of how we humans are anatomically constructed; how we've adapted over tens of thousands of years so that we can survive. What I'm saying is that the cultural constructs which flow out of the agricultural revolution beginning around 8,000 BCE are having negative effects on social relations between human beings, in particular between men and women. The need to be able to identify the male's offspring in order to reliably pass on the wealth the males have accumulated in patriarchal societies has bent human social psychology and made so many of us neurotic, unhappy, violent, bored and feeling unfulfilled. Monogamy and polygamy may have proven necessary social structures of civilisation when civilisation was necessarily based on the maintenance of class rule, private property and the political State; but is now proving an irrational, unnatural imposition on humanity.  

Since the dawn of patriarchy (some say around 10,000 years ago), we've been acculturated (mostlly through priestly admonitions from the legitimsed authorities of class society) into accepting monogamy as being natural and anything else as being 'sinful', wrong, low, primitive, barbaric etc.  However, as I've indicated, men and women in pre-class, pre-monagamous society couldn't tell whom a child was fathered by and paleo anthropolical studies demonstrate that most pre-agricultural societies were based on egalitarian power relations, within matriarchally oriented tribes.  Why matriarchy? Because only the mother could always be known; paternity was ambiguous at best.  Polyandry was more the norm than the exception.

Thus, monogamy/polygamy comes about as the patriarchal solution for being able tell which kids should get the male's property/wealth...most of these inheritors being males anyway and most of the property belonging to father males in the first place. Historically, males owned most of the wealth in class societies' version of civilisation.  In prehistoric society, what there was of wealth, was held in common in politically egalitarian, extended collective familial arrangements.  The need for the political State to legitimate and enforce class society's social relations of power and the unequal division of wealth by threat of violence is/was largely driven by the very unnatural, patriarchally driven forms of marrage: monogamy and polygamy.  Polyandry died out with the advent of class divided civilisation i.e. after the invention of agriculture and animal husbandry. After the creation of systems of surplus wealth creation, exploitive modes of production were set up by ruling classes which had the purpose of taking wealth and by extension, political power  from the producers of wealth: the slaves, the peasants and the workers.

Marriage is a cultural tradition which flows into the legal structures of class ruled societies. Publicly recognised, lawful relationships between men and women have been like that since patriarchy was found to be a necessary link in controlling property and inheritance of same after agriculture and animal husbandry were developed circa 8,000 BCE.  The mode of producing a surplus of wealth above and beyond personal need of the few is a foundation stone of class dominated civilsation and when conditions have been developed where it becomes possible for society as a whole to enjoy wealth beyond need, the material foundation stone of classless civilisation has been laid. It is when Capital as a social relation becomes recognised for what it is, a fetter on the freedom of the overwhelsming majority of individuals, that the rational bases of class society's foundations begin erode. 

It's perfectly possible (not easy though) to change cultural traditions i.e. recognising gay marriage by educating, agitating and organising within the culture; however, the class who rules will not change over implementing these measures. In the modern era, that's the capitalists and their buddies in the landlord class. Cultural change is what is happening now. Supporting cultural traditions is what social conservatives tend to do. For instance, I support marriage between as many people who want to be married to each other (gay or straight).  I even support monogamy as choice.  Why not? 

 Legalise polyandry now! That would be my personal slogan. However, I realise that this is a cultural change most people would not support at this point in history. La luta continua.  I do think that the whole cultural rumbling and grumbling about gay marriage contributes to the general historical transition social relations are undergoing nowadays, the transition from the monogamous (and polygamous) family, private property and the class dominated political State towards a free association of human beings who hold the social product of their labour in common and administer their collective wealth in grassroots, democratic ways, leaving their personal lives as a matter for individuals to design for themselves. Monogamy for most humans will ever lead to, "leading lives of quiet desperation" for the biological-evolutionary truth is that humans have an urge to satisfy their sexual needs within the variety of others they find around themselves. Thus, class dominated civilisation has become a fetter on freedom, an outmoded necessity worthy of sublation.

"The power of accurate observation is commonly called cynicism by those who have not got it." G.B Shaw