Dear fellow leftist
Whatever else we disagree on, I assume you’re aware that capitalism is the heart of the matter.
In other words, that capitalism is a fundamental structural aspect of the disastrous path that civilization has taken for the last few centuries. The roots go way deeper, of course, and it’s entirely feasible to trace the origins of this entire mess to the basic cultural forms that crystallized when we first became sedentary. Cain killing Abel. But let’s leave that aside for now.
So given that you don’t just pay lip service to the above in furthering your own little lifestyle/identity project, we agree that human societies are subjected to a system for organizing production and consumption that permeates every last aspect of our lives.
Or do we? Kids today barely read anymore. Maybe you think capitalism is just something like a top layer of economic exchange and property relations that facilitates exploitation, which could be replaced while leaving most other things more or less intact.
Nah, man. Capitalism is rot in the bones of this entire social order. Marx saw that clear enough. In his view, capitalism was the inevitable historical manifestation of age-old tendencies inherent to the linear processes of technological development and increasing social complexity. I disagree with this deterministic take, but that’s beside the point.
However you square it, the relations of production and consumption infiltrate everything. It’s a stench that won’t wash out, like if someone died in a car and was left there through July.
And it can really be no other way. You see, without the constant reproduction of these roles and relations that support the interconnected set of complex systems that make up our entire social reality, it would immediately cease to function. If a significant part of the population in any given Western nation simply opted out and took up subsistence farming (or really if they just limited their consumption to the absolute necessities and entered into local networks of exchange), everything would just come crashing down almost immediately. The just-in-time delivery system and the supply chains would last for only a few days. There’s almost no redundancy anywhere.
And the reason this is not going to happen is precisely that the roles, identities and relations are being constantly renewed throughout the human lifeworld. Throughout our experiences, our inculcated aversions, fears, attachments and social interactions, backed by the stick and carrot of economic necessity and avarice, we become actually interwoven with the economic order. One way to conceptualize this is through the lens of ideology, that our understanding of reality and our habituated responses thereto are shaped towards reproducing the desired relations.
Althusser approached this process in terms of the operation of “ideological state apparatuses”, discernible institutions of modern industrial societies whose basic function is to renew and imprint us with these relations of production. But it goes deeper than visible organizations such as the school, the media or the police. It’s in the symbolic realities of our culture, in the hopes and aspirations of the common people, and the ideals they hold out to their descendants.
Our approach to the fundamental issues of meaning and value are circumscribed by capitalism, because it provides us with the building blocks for our thought and imagination.
These basic and inescapable facts of the system’s self-replication have enormous implications.
First of all, they imply that any divergent social structures, movements and enclaves will be either suppressed or functionally integrated. The Situationists of the 50s and 60s termed this integration “recuperation”, which referred to how radical ideas and forms of organization rapidly become appropriated and transformed into harmless noise, preferably marketable. Under capitalism, any novel trend, ideology or social institution will either be suppressed, or harnessed to serve the reproduction of the dominant social order. And the suppression or recuperation is actually organic. It rarely takes any sort of active or concerted effort by repressive institutions, since these basic structural factors just mentioned are constantly acting on everybody involved. Punk just transforms into kitsch. Industrial music becomes New Wave. The 4-chan meme culture of -06 becomes marketable NFTs.
Anyway, I disgress. The issue of the culture industry and its condition in the postmodern situation is a vast chapter in itself.
Secondly, which I want to emphasize, all of this means that any influential set of institutions under capitalism will have been recuperated. Apart from whatever else it does, accomplishes or produces, any such set will function as an ideological auxiliary to the economic order and its reproduction.
This goes for the media. For academia. It goes for the institutions of science, for literature, the arts, the movie industry &c. And the thing is, the left used to be well aware of this, even if only viscerally. It used to be a given that the media always had an ulterior motive with regard to what it reported, whether it was true or not. We had extensive debates ranging for decades pertaining to how Western science was politicized in one direction or the other, and how it should be reformed so as to not fatally undermine any sort of open society.
But now, we’re in the middle of incipient tyranny, and the left is completely enthralled with the corporate media. We face the most significant assault on the lives and liberties of the global working classes for generations, and almost all of you have taken the bait without blinking, imagining that “science” is somehow incarnate in the global marketing apparatus, the news agencies and the major publishing companies, and that the narratives they purvey are either apolitical or “progressive”.
I’m not going to say that Kaczynski was right, but you’re increasingly complicit in all of this. And you need to get back to basics. You need to start thinking about truth.
What it really means, and how fragile and precious it always is.