Culture and Capitalism.
|image by yvonne forster|
Capitalism is a system that incidentally and deliberately eradicates alternatives to itself. Some of this is due to its economic efficiency, but it also deliberately seeks to eliminate any alternatives. For instance, after being elected David Cameron promised to make life more difficult for travellers and squatters, two of the few alternative lifestyles that still exist in the margins of capitalist Britain, and this was subsequently realised in the Dale Farm eviction and the changes of laws regarding squatting.
The globalisation of the last 20-30 years has been a globalising of neoliberal capitalism – class war masquerading as economics (4). One of the effects of this erasing of alternatives is that capitalism is able to represent itself as “natural” rather than one option among several. If you listen to political debate in the mainstream media it is normally between two positions within a narrow capitalist perspective, the bickering of Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum. Rarely is a non-capitalist perspective heard – capitalism in the cultural mainstream is now a “given”.One of the hallmarks of late capitalism/post modernity is the death of the meta-narrative, the big ideological stories of meaning and purpose, the belief that society/humanity is on a journey, that we were somewhere, are somewhere and are on the way to somewhere better (2). Obviously this demise was not always a bad thing: some meta-narratives justified oppression, imperialism, the nation and the status quo. However the lack of meta-narratives, of a sense of purpose has led to a cultural cynicism that is not due to a sense that things could be better, from an alternative vision but is the result of an often intuitive realisation of the true nature of capitalist politics/economics and a lack of hope/idealism, like continually watching Have I Got News For You, good at “attacking” the powerful but from within the same camp!. Like some of the early punks 21st century mainstream cynicism attacks what ‘is’ without having a clue what it wants to create. For many in the industrialised world late capitalism is experienced as a moribund purposeless ever open shopping mall. Late capitalism has no past, present or future, no direction, it is a competitive system where entities seek to maximise their profits/advantages and defeat rivals, all activity is geared to these two goals. Mainstream capitalist culture is the tarted up result of market forces and the commodification of all things, it cannot help but be bereft of meaning and over arching purpose, it has no idea where it is going, it recycles/repackages the past, stages continual ‘events’ and generally tries to self anesthetise.
For every mainstream film that is angry and trying to communicate hope and vision, like Hunger Games or Elysium, there are a hundred that reaffirm that there is no alternative to the big status quo and to relax/improve your own life/wait for a hero. In this late capitalist culture where objects are ascribed magical life changing qualities and people are reduced to consumers and commodities people spend money they don’t have on things they don’t need and the ideal woman is a pole dancing “Barbie”, an objectified commodity (5). For many the late capitalist/postmodern experience is one of alienation, from themselves, their work, those around them. Forced to live in competition with their fellow workers they feel vulnerable, insecure, precarious, unfulfilled by their roles of producer/consumer. In post industrial work there has been a change, industrial capitalism demanded the workers body but was uninterested in their mind or ‘soul’, their thoughts, relational skills, communication abilities, however post industrial work wants those aspects as well. 21st century work often demands all of the worker leaving her with little to construct a meaningful life outside of work. In industrial work there was a chance to find meaning, community in unions, political/social clubs (1) but often the modern worker is drained of all energies and goes home to watch TV and get ready for tomorrow. No wonder mental health problems continue to rise.
In this situation we need to fight for workers rights, wages, pensions and against government cuts but remember this is all within the capitalist system. Fighting for the best deal for the poor and hard pressed within the existing system is important but simultaneously we must be reminding people that what they are experiencing doesn’t have to be, that capitalism is a system, an economic/political/ social construct maintained by the elite and that there are alternatives worth working towards. We need to enable people to realise that a non capitalist world/model is possible. Many people know intuitively that they are living in an alienating wasteland decorated with shiny technology but have never heard that something else is possible. We need to be organising and communicating, encouraging each other to explore the possibility of living life based on community, co-operation, egalitarianism, so that even if we don’t see the end of capitalism we will have an alternative model for our own lives.
Capitalism is a social world and like all social worlds it needs maintaining, it is not stable and inviolate, it will have an end, we live in the time before that end but anarchists through organisation, education and agitation (N. Chomsky ‘tweet’!) can offer glimmers of what could be, an alternative that offers people community, meaning and value.
Whole article based on (3)
(1) Berardi, F. (2009) The Soul at Work, Semiotext(e), Los Angeles.
(2)Bowman, M., Herbert, D. and Mumm, S. (2001) Religion Today: Tradition, Modernity and Change.The Open University, Milton Keynes.
(3) Fisher. M. (2009), Capitalist Realism: Is There Really No Alternative?, Zero Books, Ropley.
(4) Harvey, D. (2005 ) A Brief History of Neoliberalism, Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York.
(5) Walter. N. (2010) Living Dolls. The Return Of Sexism, Virago Press, London.