26 January 2010

Quick thoughts before my brain melts

The "noosphere" (sphere of consciousness and culture) was conceived by Teilhard de Chardin as being the third layer of Earth, on top of the biosphere and the geosphere (living things and rocks, basically). But any good Marxist can tell that there's something missing there - the ergosphere, defined as the interaction of consciousness with living matter and rocks, without which the noosphere can't exist. ("Ergo" being Greek for "work" - you could also call it the "econosphere", but that's prone to get confusing.) To put it another way - what you do is who you are, or, your self-concept (or the collective self-concept we call "culture") is based on your interactions with real things including other people, not disembodied and floating in the air.

Humanity's evolution from the apes was fundamentally the result of the creation of the ergosphere - the invention of "work", as defined as "turning an idea in your brain into something existing in the real world". As Marx and Engels noted, this is what makes a crudely hand-chipped stone knife so much more different and interesting than a spider's web or a honeycomb, both of which are far more complex and beautiful. And that's how humans became the dominant species of the planet.

The central fact of capitalist life is alienation, being defined as the separation between your work and your life. Instead of using your brain to change the world, you spend most of your waking hours using your brain and muscles to create commodities (mass-produced interchangable things which can be sold in a market), for which someone else gives you $$$ which you can use to exchange for other commodities. Commodities fill the gap left by the lack of real human interaction - you watch TV or play computer games rather than going out and meeting people, and if you do that, odds on you have to pay for the privilege. But it's much worse now than in Marx's time, because not only material wealth has been commodified, but immaterial wealth, aka culture. Commodities have replaced actual life experience, what makes us human. I hear that in New York you can pay to go to a "cuddle party" these days.

There are nasty, gloating articles by marketing gurus which suggest that capitalism is all-powerful and eternal because it can now commodify any rebellion and make a profit from it, so it is now impossible to go outside the system. But there is one and only one way to go outside the system - workers' self-management, the end of alienation, a return to the primitive joy of the cavedweller chipping his mammoth-hunting spear, only in a collective with shiny modern technology. In other words - not by buying things, but by doing things for their use-value rather than exchange value.

Capitalism can tolerate any amount of propaganda, scatology, pornography, or memetic subversion as long as it's commodified, as long as someone's making money off it (see meditations on Avatar in the previous post). What it can't tolerate is threats to private property, the wage-labour system, and commodity production itself, put into action rather than just talked about. The hidden message of capitalist democracy is "say what you like as long as you do what you're told".

But the big problem is here - how can we survive when the enemy holds the means of production? How can you fight an enemy on whom you rely for your supplies? A new culture can only come about through a new socio-economy, which has to grow within the skin of the old, which is desperately hostile to it. But to do this, we have to live our truth - actually put into practice these ideas as much as possible in the Real World of Horrible Jobs. Being a good and docile worker, and then in your time off being a rabble-rouser and an anarchist, is a fun lifestyle but is not politics or magick.

Modern Western protest politics is built on precisely this kind of work/play opposition - it's far more fun and easy (even tolerated) to march for Palestine or Iraq or the polar bears on the weekend before clocking in at 8:30 on Monday at your widget-shifting job at Amalgamated Bastards. One example of transforming your everyday working life will do more to transform you and the world than all the marches, demos, teach-ins, punk gigs or radical film screenings in the world, because it will be real and not virtual. Similarly, hiving off and starting a commune or a "Transition Town" or similar is avoiding the question of what to do about the Corporate Megabeast, not finding a solution. Robert Fripp suggests that change in the Real World can only come as a result of working within the market without adopting the values of the marketplace. You can argue whether Fripp's got it right or not, but the slogan is a good one.

False choices: (a) do your job and be a rebel in your own time; (b) avoid the struggle by decamping to a safe space that only exists as long as you are no threat. The correct choice: (c) deconstruct capitalism by turning its own rules against it. Perhaps getting them to pay you to make propaganda against them - like Michael Moore or the first person to make a Che Guevara T-shirt - is a good start. Certainly it's doing something, however tiny, on a planetary level, rather than nothing, and one of the sure signs of narcissistic politics is believing that tiny incremental changes in the noosphere are of no importance and if we can't have RRREVOLUTION we won't bother.