Archdruid of Ideology

Back in April, I said “there’s no way John Michael Greer has read Karl Marx.”

That’s confirmed today, as the Archdruid writes this howler:

Marxism reached its high-water point in the 1950s and then receded, as the golden promises of Das Kapital gave way to gray bureaucratic inefficiency and, in time, total systemic failure.

ROFL.  What “golden promises” would those be?  Anybody who had actually read Capital would be well aware of the fact that it contains exactly zero promises of any kind.  Seriously.  Take a look.

In reality, of course, Karl Marx was hugely affected by the work of Justus von Liebig, the coiner of “Liebig’s Law,” which points out that ecosystems are only as strong as their weakest links.

The Archdruid of the Ancient Order of Druids, however, can’t be bothered to crack an actual book he doesn’t like for entirely a priori and conventional reasons, despite his claim to value rebellious thought and varied opinions and analyses.

The degree to which even the wildest forms of green thinking remain utterly  captive to conventional American dogma is truly astounding, and not a little scary.

Use-Value: A Critique of Capitalist Bias

marx Chuck Marx opened his magnum opus, Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, by delving into commodities, by which he meant products produced in order to generate monetary profits for those spending the money to have them produced. In his painstaking dissection, Marx hoped to make it clear that, in order to make good democratic sense of capitalism, one has to be careful to maintain a distinction between the capitalist’s and the ordinary citizen’s way of looking, thinking, and talking.

As Marx explained, commodities come into existence in order to enrich capitalists, but, in the process, they must also retain some degree of “use-value,” or usefulness to the end purchaser. Despite capitalists’ ability to create and exploit irrational assessments of usefulness among prospective product purchasers, pure “exchange-value” was not enough to turn the trick. Capitalist products have to be at least somewhat useful to those who would buy them.

Why start with this seemingly arcane and even trite point? I’ve always thought it was Marx’s way of underscoring the importance of seeing just how partial and peculiar the capitalist’s perspective is. Just as capitalists must deliver some kind of use-value in order to get back the exchange-value they crave, so must every citizen trying to fathom the impact of capitalists and capitalism remain conscious of the peculiar motives and biases of those who proffer commodities.

Strange, then, I think, that, despite his discussion of “use-value” and its differing meaning to workers and capitalists, Marx never offered a critique of the word “consumer.”

Perhaps this was because, in Marx’s day, “consumer” was still a specialized term within the equally specialized and (at least before Marx) thoroughly pro-capitalist discipline of political economy. As The Oxford English Dictionary explains, at least among English speakers, the first known use of “consumer” outside economics came only in 1898, in a telling source — The Sears and Roebuck Catalog.

Nevertheless, to consent to calling those whose interest in commodities lies only in their qualities as use-values “consumers” is to replicate rank capitalist bias, to allow an unexamined concept to bury the all-important dual consciousness needed to realistically track the operations and effects of capitalism, to see and label the world through profit-seekers’ self-serving, humanity-shrinking eyes.

People are product users, seekers of use-values. Only a capitalist has any business calling product users “consumers.”

Nevertheless, exactly that practice rages on, with all kinds of compounding addenda, including such hopelessly discombobulating mash-ups as “consumer culture” and “consumer society,” not least among what passes for the political left…

Our Oh-So-Patient Overclass

The mainstream excuse for letting capitalists keep economic surpluses is that they deserve it because of their patience in waiting for a return and foregoing consumption.

That’s always been a massive joke, of course, since surplus-takers have never foregone an ounce of personal luxury.

And, as Frances Wheen suggests, the abstinence theory of private capital was formulated after and against Marx’s emphasis on the taking of unpaid and alienated labor-time as the real core of business fortunes.

But now, we have the chance to see the true object of overclass patience, the one thing these self-congratulating world-wreckers are actually oh-so-willing to wait for.  The blatant reality before us is that our overclass is the ultimate pack of procrastinators.  In our age of dire planetary problems, the investing stratum is quite willing to wait until Hell freezes over before they admit they were wrong, that it is indeed quite possible for the rich to be too rich and powerful, and everybody else too poor and powerless.  A sick, sick system…