Tag Archive: ideology

Some rough ideas I’m working on. Thanks to Bob Whitney for “provoking” them.

If labor determines the value of a commodity, it follows that a commodity-based economy necessarily leads to the exploitation of labor for the greatest value possible. If demand determines the value of a commodity, however, it SHOULD follow that the set value (price) of a commodity is decided by the buyer. The contradictory relationship between buyer and seller mirrors that between labor and capital, and undermines any contention that demand creates value; rather, demand for a lower price allows the buyer to SHARE IN the value produced by labor. That is, the buyer shares in the benefits of exploitation of labor with the cheaper price afforded by greater and greater exploitation. It is THIS demand–for a lower price–that has the greatest impact on determining the use-value of variable capital, i.e. to what extent the capitalist is willing to exploit the worker, which in turn affects the price of the commodity.

Secondly, the emphasis on demand as the origin of value in a society, rather than labor, reflects an ideology of WANT, i.e. demand, as the sole good (virtue) in a society, from which the value of that society originates and grows, and de-emphasizes the role or importance of labor in creating both the value and the physical manifestations of society as we know it. “If nobody wanted a school to be built, we wouldn’t build it.” This places the value of labor outside of the purview of the capitalist and within the supposed mandates of “the people.” Therefore, the capitalist does a “public good” by building the school, and the laborers inhibit that good by demanding fair wages and working conditions.

The ideology of demand glorifies wanting and vilifies work, such that one must only want in America in order to be a good person, and one should avoid having to work to fulfill one’s wants. And those who do work clearly just don’t want enough.

This is a short position paper I wrote for my Pursuits of English class at Montclair State University. It critiques Roland Barthes’ extreme fixation on the audience in his classic essay, “Death of the Author.” I hope it is clear enough.

Barthes: Enabling Market Architecture

Roland Barthes’ anti-author stance enables a view of the reader as the ultimate arbiter of  the use-value of any text. While perhaps successfully attempting to counter capitalism’s emphasis on the author and the commodification (i.e. private ownership) of ideas, Barthes’ monomaniacal focus on the demand (as in supply and demand) of the reader creates a mirror image of the original capitalism problem. Instead of the author-as-individual articulating the needs of society through artistic critique–in order that those needs be addressed through discourse–the owners of the means of production (media magnates who control scores of publishing houses, film production companies, television stations, et cetera) are empowered to entice “society” to articulate the “needs” of the “author-as-machine,” in order for that author to not starve to death, impoverished. Of course, the author’s starvation is the last concern of the magnate, for it is the fulfillment of society’s demand–and the customer is always right–that maintains a steady stream of capital.

“The customer is always right,” is exactly the attitude that Barthes espouses in passages such as, “a text’s unity lies not in its origin but in its destination. Yet this destination cannot any longer be personal: the reader is without history, biography, psychology; he is simply that someone who holds together in a single field all the traces by which the written text is constituted.” The “reader” has no specific identity; the “reader” is both anyone and no one. It falls to the im-”personal” imperatives of the marketer, then, to determine who the readers are and what they want. And what they are determined to want decides not only the task of the author but the tenability of the author’s employment as an author.

The “unity” of a text, a quality which I take as synonymous with and inclusive of “cogency,” “relatability,” “coherence,” and ultimately, “value,” is dependent on the tastes of the reader, and without these qualifiers–all of which are dependent on cultural conventions–the text lacks “unity,” and therefore lacks “value” from either an artistic or capitalist standpoint.

This is the basis of consumerism: a culture of broad-based marketing to as many people as possible, starting with financially privileged white males, ages 18-39, but ultimately fulfilling the cultural expectations of whatever strata of society have proven themselves commercially exploitable. For example, by reflecting the conventionalized expectations of African-American audiences, Black Entertainment Television (BET) maintains a steady market for products aimed at African-American audiences. Such marketing to a specific segment of society only becomes a viable and worthwhile investment when members of that segment prove themselves a financially capable target market (often made so with myriad predatory banking practices, among other exploitation, prior to any demonstrable entrance into the middle classes).

This step in capitalism is the only point at which a racial minority or other marginalized group is recognized in the Hegelian sense as a true segment of Human Society. The mentality is, “Yay, I’m a genuine human being now because I’m being marketed to and can make a bunch of white rich people richer.” Yet such demand is only maintained by meeting the conventionalized expectations of the assumed readers of that segment, or put differently, by identifying a stereotype that favors the existing power structures–racial, gender, sexual orientation, religious, and above all, consumerist, upon which the power of the owners of the means of production is based–refining and rearticulating the characteristics of that stereotype over time, and succeeding in marketing it to the newly recognized, financially viable target market.

In other words, overemphasis on the reader reduces human freedom to the right to be on a focus group, reduces ideas to commodities owned and manipulated by corporations, and reduces the artist herself to another monopolized component of the means of production (artist-as-machine).

note: this is not written in my usual tone. It is just the tone that came to me at the moment I had the idea, which was while I was at a soul-music concert in New York a few days ago.

Like so many endeavors, we cannot force the people to relinquish what they know to be pleasurable, to deny them pleasure as they know it, because to do so would introduce an element of “soul-repression,” i.e. repression of those aspects of daily life that are thought to constitute expression of the soul: wanton sensuality, materialistic pursuits like cars and houses, dotage on the family, self-destructive habits like alcohol and idleness, and mindless mass entertainment that serves to perpetuate racism, gender roles, class differences, and other stratifications between exploited groups. But within the grind of their daily lives, these components persist as “simple pleasures,” between the periods of grudging work and involuntary routine, where their “soul” is allowed to briefly manifest itself before being subjected to yet another day of working for a boss.

Such an aesthetic can only be approximated, it cannot be matched, by the implication of socialist revolution, because so many aspects of that aesthetic are based on dynamics of inequality.

Does this suggest some noble character of inequality, one that we must endeavor to preserve in whole or in part within the messaging, actions, and involvement of the revolution? No. But we must remember that to singlehandedly and quite out of hand dismiss the societally agreed upon aesthetic value of inequality will, in effect, create an inequality between ourselves and the masses, and undermine our pretense to the value of presumed equality with the masses and an understanding of their needs. This, of course, assumes such are some of the shared values of the revolutionary party, values that we espouse and to which we cleave: kinship with the worker.

Before any change of aesthetic can take place, we must first successfully convey the injustice of the conditions that lead to inequality,  i.e. exploitation and expropriation of social surplus product, and reveal them as commonplace modalities of the ruling ideology. This illustration, made vividly and in the interest of class empowerment, will gradually lead to the automatic severance of any association between these conditions and fulfillment of the “soul” among the working class.