Personal Thoughts | August 2015 | Materialists should not blame individuals for their being, as their consciousness arises from their material conditions, but we should not forget radical freedom.

Nothing is more important than the struggle. The mass media of contemporary culture has been criticised since the 18th century yet it continues to be saturated with pointless distractions, reactionary propaganda and the monster of infotainment. Of course, we who seek revolution cannot be fighting for the intellectual vanguard all the time- even Zižek is known to play videogames- and you’ll quickly become alienated, in the more common sense meaning of the word, from your friends, if you keep reminding them during nights out, that there is no such thing as ethical consumption in capitalist society.

In the past few years, it seems that most people are becoming more and more aware of the lies and spying of modern government yet they are distracted by bourgeois ideas about “free speech”- online this translates to the freedom to offend people by spouting hateful crap. Nevertheless, there are massive problems with priorities. Going beyond the more obvious things like celebrity idolisation we have masses of people barking about the progress in the US because gays finally have been given legal permission to enter the bourgeois, patriarchal institution of marriage while the president continues to allow the torture of domestic prisoners and orders the killing of many more brown people than even W Bush. OK OK, the step towards universal healthcare was pretty decent.

I think many people like to think that because we were taught about propaganda in school that maybe it doesn’t happen as much nowadays, or we would know it when we saw it, but the truth is the propaganda wars have never stopped. The technology of propaganda has gotten even more advanced and harder to spot but it is everywhere. While regular breaks are well and good, we should keep in mind that we are so privileged as to be able to take them. We should never forget that nothing is more important than the class struggle.

As much as I am critical of bourgeois life and try to remind myself that our freedom is built on slavery, I also feel I must say that I am not completely blaming individuals for producing this mess, whether greedy capitalists, criminal lumpenproletarians or those vast sections of the working masses that have given in to defeatism, live in wilful ignorance or believe in bourgeois propaganda that essentially says “if you work hard enough, you can be bourgeois too”.

Our freedom is built on slavery, not just historically in the way our collective ancestry has pillaged the world, not just in the orthodox Marxist sense that the wage system is just a new form of slavery, but also because many of our basic needs, some of which were at one point considered luxuries, are imported from countries that are not free. As I have said before, there is no ethical consumption in capitalism and despite the risk of lessening its sobering effects, I repeat the example of Chinese slaves producing many of our electronics, the factories in which they work have nets in stairwells and out of the windows of their accommodation complexes which disable them from escaping via suicide.

The blame game is something I feel we should try to avoid when we can for the simple reason that one of the most beautiful truths of dialectical materialism is the realisation that consciousness is a product of material conditions- not the other way around. What this means, as most modern psychologists would agree (although the extent to which is disputed), is that our personality, ego or whatever you wish to call the driving force of each individual is shaped and formed as a result of the environment in which we develop.

So following this, we see that capitalists are greedy because, as a behaviourist would put it, they are constantly given positive reinforcement to continue their behaviour. Also, there is a humanist sympathy following from this when we realise that we would probably do the same thing if we were in the same position. Moreover, it must be painful to spend time looking at the other side of the world oppressed, perhaps not always directly, but definitely by your position in the ruling class, so unless you are a sociopath it would be reasonable to, in the behaviourist sense again, be punished by the path to class consciousness. Even further, the bourgeois propaganda machine is extremely effective at producing the kind of news media that reinforces their usually conservative beliefs.

The lumpenproletariat also deserve some sympathy as it is also a product of the contradictions inherent to capitalist society. It has often arisen from the ranks of the most oppressed in society, those chronically unemployed and marginalised to the point at which criminality becomes their last choice in order to sustain themselves. The black market for illicit substances, for the most part operated by the lumpenproletariat, is something I would like to discuss in more detail but it is a clear example of why most Marxists consider them counter-revolutionary or enemies of the working masses- they profit and sustain themselves by, like the bourgeoisie, exploiting the proletariat.

For those working masses I accused of defeatism, those who fall for the propaganda of ideas like “The American Dream™”, risking coming across as parentalist, I think we should also feel sympathy. In our post-modern precarious positions, we are too busy, anxious or heavy with debt to find the time or energy in which to think deeply on the problems we collectively face. Most of us have no time to think on the periodic, inevitable crises of capitalism, the obvious signs of a system with fundamental flaws and contradictions.

In psychological thought, there is movement towards a theory that discounts free will as illusory, something perhaps more orthodox Marxists would agree with as following from the deterministic economic base produces the social, political, cultural superstructure; but I am more led to agree with theories of ego depletion or limited free choice. This more compatibilist approach to free will I am perhaps biased towards after reading existentialist thought, particularly about radical indeterminism of Jean Paul Sartre. I think this attitude permits us more optimism in that we can believe in Voltaire’s saying “L’homme est libre au moment qu’il veut l’être (Man is free at the moment he chooses to be)”. Of course, we take into account that there are limitations to our freedom- we have the freedom of choice, the freedom to enter somewhat free markets and, for the most part, freedom of expression- but the point is the same and to deny that although our will is limited, it can be exercised, strengthened and made more free. Denial of radical freedom is bad faith.

It is not solely up to us in our privileged place of comfort in the academic world, but it is nonetheless, in my beliefs, one of the duties we inherit, to take seriously the meaning of the final aphorism by Marx in his timeless “Theses on Feuerbach”. We should seek not just to understand/interpret the world- the point is to change it.


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