Wednesday, November 26, 2003

brief outline/reflection on Marxism (via a selective reading of Marxism: Philosophy and Economics and the Marx-Engels Reader).

my purpose for this: having just read through Zizek’s The Fagile Absolute, I realized that I knew very little about Marxism, or Marxist cultural analysis, so I thought that I ought to learn a little bit, providing myself with a tool to understand “where” we culturally—this “where” being the cultural line intersecting with the “when” of our religious tradition positioning our identity. (see my posts on media/cultural studies below for this-and really I need to explain this better) anyway…I think Marxism will be one tool among many we attempt to de-westernize the Church here in America, which has to lead through a critique of capitalism, so that we can live in, but not of, capitalism.

helpful: 1) Theory of ideology/oppression can lead to ridiculous conclusion, but is a helpful way of understanding the world. Christians are constantly doing ideology critique of culture (i.e. looking for sin, pointing toward the true “spiritual” understanding of history, claiming certain practices as idolatrous.) 2) As a critique of capitalism- we too often assume that capitalism is God’s gift to humanity, but capitalism forms us into certain kinds of people with desire/passion/inclination which are opposed to God’s Kingdom. So we need this critique. But Marxism has the same anthropology and telos as Capitalism, it is really just parasitic, not able to move beyond capitalism. But more on that with Zizek. Only the church can over-come, or properly augment capitalism. 3) Marxism opens our eye to class conflict as relationship, rather then just through wealth. 4) Marxism thinks historically, from past to future, helping us move beyond an ahistorical modern perspective. (although of course there are many others who help us do this.)
flaws: 1) law of progress through revolution too modernist. The dialectical approach seeing metamorphic change in culture for the better is destroyed in Leninism. 2) While flaunting a communalism, it is only for the purposes of “actualized the potential” of every individual. Therefore Marx is an individualism, just like Nietzsche and Keirkegaard. 3) Collectivized industry stifles technological “innovation” and innovation leads toward the betterment of masses, which is the goal of Communism, so it goal (the actualization of individuals) is contradicted by its means (collectivized industry). oops…4) Marxist anthropology is based in pleasure seeking of individualists.
directions: 1) how can Marxism address a post-industrial society with a financial/creative/service economy? 2) I need to look more into the coupling of Marxism and psycho-analysis as a tool of ideology critique.(again leads back to Zizek) 3) Look into the shift from ‘alienated’ laborer to ‘alienated’ consumer (this will lead through Baudrillard).

Existentialist: Marx wrote just after Kierkegaard and Dostoyevsky, and just before Nietzsche. I mention these authors/thinkers b/c Marx is very existential in his outlook, i.e. the existing individual is the point of reference, particularly the laborer. This is especially seen is his “Thesis on Feuerbach” where he briefly positions himself between idealism (Hegel) and his retooled materialism. “The chief defect of all hitherto existing materialism…is that the thing, reality, sensuousness, is conceived only in the form of the object or of contemplation, but not as human sensuous activity, practice, not as subjectively.” This sounds similar to Kierkegaards ‘truth is subjectivety’ and the general “existentialist” concern to overthrow the privileged position of contemplation, replacing it with involvement/practice as the place of truth.

The method of investigation is “dialectical.” The world is conceived as a complex process, not as a complex grouping of things to look at. This method never looks at the “appearance” of things, but their “essence”, b/c the appearance lacks the understanding of what came before, and where the process is going. (An acorn can’t be properly comprehended without reference to the oak). Or as Thomas Sowell comments, “The dialectical approach rejects uncritical acceptance of existing empirical appearances, and seeks instead the inner pattern from which these appearances derive and evolve.”

This methodology lead into the buzz word “ideology” because ideologies keep people fixed on the appearances, rather than the essence. So there could be the ideology that “technology makes our lives better.” But this is a myth because really the whole pursuit of technology is make production more efficient and faster, so that produce can be made faster, and therefore cheap, which will lead toward more profits. But this increase efficiency is not passed onto the laborer (instead of working 8 hour, you can just work 6 everday). Rather, we are all expected to work the same amount of hours, just producing more. So really, technology doesn’t make our lives better, or more leisurely, just fast and fast. Anyway, that’s what a Marxist might say. The point is that “ideologies” legitimize the rule class’s control/power. This Marxist theme has been coupled with Nietzsche’s will to power, and generalized to just about every situation these days. Recently this theme of uncovering the hidden meaning of history/culture, and it’s hidden ideologies, has been linked with psycho-analysis for the obvious similarities of trying to uncover/lay bare the unconscious. I’ll probably get back to this linking when I read through Zizek again.

A very useful distinction: use-value and exchange-value. use-value is inherent in an object, or product; a chair for sitting in, a light for reading by. They have uses for man connected to their physical properties, such that if they lost them, they would no longer be useful (i.e. if a chair lost a leg, it would be use-less). exchange-value is only a “relationship” between objects or produces, i.e. what can it be equally exchange for? (50 light bulbs for one chair). So, an apartment building has a use-value to all who live there, it is their house and home. But to the landlord it only has exchange-value, a means of income. So if he can increase his income but jacking up the rent or by evacuating the building and selling it, then he will, not matter what the effect to the use-value. (example taken from Urban Fortunes: A Political Economy of Place). This might have implication for how we evaluate our practices in church: is what we do actually useful, or does it just have some sort of exchange-value. Is discipleship happening which is useful, or just an exchanged of pleasantries to make us feel better?

(if you made all the way to the bottom the you are awesome or totally crazy, and you are certainly someone who I should engage a comment)

Now I feel somewhat ready for "is God a capitalist?". and I probably won't post until after that.

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