Of Marx, Mice, and Men

I wish we could revisit the issues Marx identified and talk about the need to address them without getting into an argument about whether or not Communism, Socialism, or Capitalism is the right answer to structuring society. The alienation Marx talks about – a human cog in an industrial machine struggling with the loss of autonomy or ownership that is part and parcel of being a cog, wither sentient or not – is both profoundly pervasive and represents a massive waste of human potential.

It isn’t just factory workers that experience this break between their sense of self-determination and the reality of their working life. As the factory model of production has been applied to office work, your “knowledge” workers are dealing with the same sense of alienation and isolation that Marx identified in the proletariat.

How many of the people in your little world love their jobs? I bet not many. Personally, I know one – an ESL teacher for adults. Everyone else I know who is working for someone else is pretty much miserable.

One of my favorite tidbits about antidepressants (and one I’ve probably mentioned here before) is how mice are used in the first trials to see if an antidepressant has a chance of being effective. Mice hate water. Researchers give the compound and a placebo to the mice. Placebo mice give up quickly. The mice given an effective compound swim for longer. Gives the term “dead in the water” a whole new meaning.

Basically, antidepressants are there to help us do stuff we hate to do for longer – to keep swimming when we most want to give up.

As long as there is money to be made by molding human beings into cogs, I suppose it is going to go on much as before. I mean really, it’s good money for the entities that already have it. We willingly get addicted to credit cards and rewards before payment, then feel like we’re trapped by our burden of debt. Add the anti-depressants in to the mix and you have generation after generation of self-lobotomized people moving piles of paper from one side of their desk to the other. People who would rather consume than create because they don’t know how to create anymore.

I really wish I could believe in a grand puppet master cracking his knuckles, swimming in his gold, and orchestrating it all. Unfortunately, I think we’ve all been very busy with our evolutionary programming for conformity, our hunter-gatherer hunger for more stuff, and our desire for immediate gratification. No one had to herd us into the slaughterhouse: we went willingly. And this time there isn’t much popular support for a revolution for we did it to ourselves. As much as we hate what we’ve become and what we have to do to get by, we envy those who are reaping the benefits of this massive societal agreement.

The trouble is that no one knows what else to do. We don’t want to go back to the ways we kept busy when we were unaffiliated tribes, scraping hides for clothing, grinding our own corn, and riding out every day to hunt for dinner.

Um. Wait. Riding out every day sounds like it would be pretty okay.

Never mind. The point stands. Where we’ve been doesn’t sound like a good plan. Since there is very little that is brand new, what does that leave us with? I don’t think the cottage industries represented on etsy are 100% viable for all the people that want to be the next wedding dress designer/swanky panty maker/etc. The real cost of producing those goods make them out of reach to the numbers of people that would be required to sustain the volume of wold-be creators.

Clearly, I’m not the leading expert on what next. I’m just not sure how much longer we’re going to pretend that what we’ve got is the right answer.

Of Marx, Mice, and Men

One thought on “Of Marx, Mice, and Men

  1. Entrope,

    This comment was on a TED thread last week for “would Communism at its best beat Capitalism:

    May 11 2013: The problem with Communism is it crumples fairly easily when one Capatilist comes along (maybe it takes a few decades). Supporting something so inherantly weak is troublesome…..sure you can get a fair bit of passive support, but it will always miss the mark. The progenitors ideals have some appeal, but any “system” has unintended consequences…..it’s hard to say what “best communism” would look like. It might be stifling from excessive equality control.

    I think a better question than “does well developed Communism trump Capatilistism” is what could kick both of their asses (and smack Socialism around for fun while at it)? It seems much more interesting to accept the failure of various ideologies and look beyond them not to something that could take over, but rather something to emerge out of all these misteps. Will our species find a balance? I am encouraged by the fact that something like 90 % of us have the ridiculous carrot of prosperity pulled so convincingly from our grasp. Now if we could somehow skip the inevitable next big thing that everyone will grasp for and instead calmly wait until most of us “get it.” Maybe the next big thing is patience 🙂



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