Journey to the Centre of Life

When I started university, I picked up Karl Marx and read everything. You name it, I read it – except Capital II, I never got around to that one. I soon styled myself as a solidly left-wing kind of person. I hated the current government, I did not respect my boss at all, I voted for standard left-wing politicians. I demonstrated in the streets, the US was evil, and Lenin was just misunderstood. I didn’t go so far as to sign up for the communist party and I would not consider myself a radical, but I certainly had some sympathies.

What attracted me to this day to thinkers like Karl Marx was the answer he provides to the question of why injustice exists in the world. In an increasingly agnostic world, we can’t just use God to explain the way things are – which is a rather horrible place. Everywhere one looks there just seems to be endless suffering and injustice. Marx gives you the answer to this question – capitalism.

So, I progressed through university, reading everything I could get my hands on including a lot of books from all across the political spectrum, but I remained fairly left-wing. I saw injustices in the world and thought this was inherent to a corrupt system of exploitation and I dreamt of a world where things were just easier for myself and everyone around me.

It broke my heart once to see a group of men sleeping in the street, not because they had no job, but because they had to start work at 4.30 in the morning and this was the only way the could be on time because they had no car and public transport doesn’t run at that time. This to me was unjust, and an example of exploitative system. Now I see this as just a bunch of guys trying their best to do what they think is right.

Something that really stuck in my mind though was that things on the left just never seemed to add up. If a socialist system was superior, why were we not at least edging towards it? Surely, even the average person would be able to understand that socialism is far more attractive than exploitative capitalism? Most important of all was the question – why is the other side winning?

To answer these questions, I committed myself to read a lot more of thinkers on the right, but without my left-wing lens. In other words, I wasn’t going to read these texts any less critically, but I was going to approach them differently from what I had previously. Before they were the thinkers that justified capitalist enslavement of mankind through a corrupt political system, now I wanted to assess them for what they had originally intended their texts to be.

My first port of call was Rousseau and his Du Contrat Sociale – and boy was it an eye opener.

Rousseau’s famous line:“man is born free, yet everywhere I see him in chains”resonates with me to this day. Rousseau’s answer for the existence of justice said to me that more fundamentally that exploitation, we are held back by convention.

Then I moved onto the other heavyweights: Hobbes, Locke, Mill and Burke. The collective achievement of these writers showed me the enormous progress western philosophy has taken to lift off the shackles of superstition, deference, and servitude.

I threw in other important writers, especially those who I would describe as confused socialists, Orwell and Camus. It was important for me to understand their relationship with socialism and why they turned their backs on international communism. For me, the story of Camus particularly is the most poignant

when your ideology justifies violence against others it is broken.

I recognise now that left-wing ideology fundamentally does not work. That is not to say right-wing ideology is any better. So, I sit now in the centre. That all changed when I read Schmidt, and now I don’t sit anywhere, I’ve just left the party altogether. Basically, I’m floundering on the floor in crushing cynicism.

So, what are the lessons I have learned so far?

  1. Marx was wrong: capitalism is not coming to roaring conclusion. It’s just not going to happen.
  2. Always be sceptical: no one has the right answer, they have only an answer.
  3. I am free: my life and destiny are entirely my responsibility.
  4. Power should remain within the individual: Governments cannot be trusted – delegating power will invariably lead to worse outcomes for people.
  5. Suffering is a part of the human condition: it is what we do with it that counts.

And what I recommend for people? Two words: Marcus Aurelius.

The Capitalist Appropriation of Feminism

For the past 20 years or so feminism appears to have had two main goals. The first is for equal pay for the same work. The second is for more women to be in positions of power. A third stated aim to decrease the violence and sexual harassment is a third goal that shall not be examined here. The stated aim of feminism is for the advocacy of women on the basis of the equality of the sexes. Over the course of western history, women have been placed in an inferior position socially and economically to men. This has left them at a disadvantage. Feminists advocate therefore for more equality of the sexes in social and economic relations.

The underlying premise of feminism would seem to be that a more gender-equal society would be a more just society. If this is case, feminism in its current form will never result in situation in which society is meaningfully more just despite the equality of the sexes without changing the underlying economic system. The current capitalist economic system that pervades every part of our contemporary life means there will always be exploitation. Contemporary feminists’ aims to place more women in positions of power in political and corporate life means just trading the person holding the whip from a man to a woman.

The oppression and exploitation of women is a symptom of a much larger system of social and economic exploitation – Capitalism. One could treat the symptoms without ever curing the underlying disease. So while feminists fight for women to be on the same level as men in the workplace, at the end of the day, all groups, men, women, black, white, Asian, disabled and able bodied, gay, trans, and straight, all of us live in a system where we struggle to meet out an existence working for a cheque of exchange value at the end of the week or month, with which we can then spend on consumer goods we don’t even need to fill the gaping hole in ourselves where community and a sense of worth once existed. How’s that for a victim complex. We are all victims of a capitalist system.

We could consider also the historical example. Prior to WWII participation in the capitalist work place by women was very low. It was only at the outset of the war, when the men were shipped off to protect their local bourgeoisie from the overseas fascists that women were socially compelled to join the capitalist workplace, joining their male counterparts in the system of wage slavery. Before this they were one stepped removed from the alienating process of capitalist production. This is not to say this is good, or that they did not feel the effects. It just seems ironic that when we fast forward to today it is feminism clamouring to take an equal part in this exploitative system. Fundamentally, and I am probably wrong, but this is bad for both men and women in the long run. Equal pay in an unjust system is not the problem here, it’s the very premise of working in a system of wage slavery which is.

Feminism relies heavily upon Marxism for its theoretical basis. Where Marxists claim it’s the bourgeoisie who oppress workers, feminists claim it is the patriarchy that oppress women and is responsible for many of the world’s injustices. The lazy socialist within me sees the feminist claim not as accurate as the traditional Marxist one. Patriarchy theory isn’t about individuals, it’s about classes, groups. Men and women. Two classes organised into a hierarchy according to sex, with the male group above the female group. Men assumed to be deserving of more control, agency, political power, freedom, and deference than women, as a group. The traditional Marxist on the other hand claims, more accurately I believe, that the world is ordered according to classes and groups, those who own the means of production and those who don’t, it just so happens that those at the top are men. Underlying this structure is the material historicism which claims that change is effected by the conflict between these two classes. Replacing the bourgeoisie with women, I believe, will do nothing to solve the world’s ills.

Lilliane Bettencourt for example is the 11th richest person in the world and the world’s richest women. Thus, it is her who is responsible in large part for the exploitation of workers who mine the minerals used in L’Oréal’s products, and the disgusting animal testing that takes place, all so other women can buy products to make themselves feel beautiful. Gina Rinehart is another immensely wealthy billionaire women who commands immense power. Her lobbying in Australian politics has contributed to slashing of state budgets to help the most vulnerable, all the while receiving huge tax breaks. That isn’t the patriarchy doing this, is just capitalist exploitation.

The issue that troubles me the most is the social discourse surrounding Hillary Clinton. Clinton is using the language of feminism to make herself appear both, as a political outsider and progressive. This is a similar strategy used by Obama in 2008 when he used his rhetoric of change on the face of an African-American as his platform, equating himself by some measure, with the black civil rights in years gone. Neither of Clinton’s claims could be further from the truth. She quite literally spent eight years sleeping in the White House, the epicentre of politics in the United States. Afterwards she was a senator and then the secretary of state. By what definition does she mean she is an outsider? She claims she is an outsider because she is a female. Power like profit holds no qualms with who wields it and absolute power corrupts absolutely. This is not a claim that Hillary is a dictator or anything to that effect. My point is that Clinton cannot claim some moral exclusion on the basis she is a female.

Nor, has she demonstrated she is a progressive. Progressives have overwhelmingly voted for Sanders in the primaries who is running on a platform of free college, free healthcare, and regulation of rampant Wall Street capitalism. Clinton’s idea of progressive is tinkering around the edges. She does not want to touch Wall Street in any way. Recently she felt the political winds change and has come out in support of Sanders’ $15 minimum wage, where formally she supported just $12. She is still against a single payer healthcare system.

By using feminist rhetoric Clinton poses a threat to those who actually want systematic change to happen. She is not a candidate of change. She is through and through a candidate of the status quo. However, Clinton is a symptom of larger forces at work, an example of the existing capitalist order absorbing into its ranks dissidents in order to deliver little change and maintain its own power structure. While Clinton might occupy the halls of political power Hollywood is busy at work commercialising feminism, demonstrated best by the latest Ghostbusters film. It is not the four female leads that make that film terrible – it’s the terrible story, narrative structure, and film techniques which make it horrible. Sony, recognising how bad this film is, chose instead to market the film through the mass media as a feminist crusade. Profits don’t care about gender, and corporations like Song only care about their bottom line. Now that Hollywood has managed to commercialise feminism it means other companies will follow suit. Capitalism has begun to turn dissidence against itself, hijacking it to make a profit, and appropriating feminism into the current capitalist model rendering it inert. Together, the commercialisation of feminism, and the appropriation of feminist rhetoric into the halls of power marks a dangerous new mechanism by which the bourgeoisie can manipulate public opinion against their own self-interest.

Instead of pay disparity, what feminists should really fight for, in my opinion, is for all workers, including themselves, to control the means of production directly. This means creating more horizontal corporate structures of command in the workplace. This, would mean they would be on a more equal footing economically not just with their male counterparts, but with all of their peers, regardless of gender, working together to resolving issues. Politically, this also needs to happen. Having a women in the White House will do nothing to help the women’s cause, or alleviate any of the underlying problems faced by society. More horizontal power structures would also mean greater inclusion of marginalised groups, such as women, in the political decision making process.

I understand that people have different causes that they choose to support. Some people choose to advocate for the environment, some for animal rights, and some others for a more just and equal society. We all have different means of doing so. Some people have chosen gender equality to be theirs. I just feel for many out there, and this is just an opinion, they are fighting for a cause that fundamentally will not create the change they hope it will and is being turned against you. A greater and more corrosive evils exists out there in society that needs to be addressed.

With all that said, Hillary is the better of the bad candidates… #imwithher

Some sources I read but have no bearing whatsoever:

A feminist’s take on what’s wrong with feminism

Hillary Clinton and the Feminism of Exclusion

Marx, the Communist Manifesto,