From Nina Paley.
Most of us want to extend ourselves into the world around us. We want to be more loved, more recognized, more admired, get more money, more knowledge, more status, more sex, or whatever else. We have a desire to grasp the world and extend ourselves in it, accomplish ourselves, and find our place in society. This is what I mean by extension.
This is fine as long as it serves a personal purpose and does not become an overriding impulse, for example by causing us to emotionally hurt or physically hurt others. Then we say a person has gone “too far” or that they are “too competitive” (never mind that competition is innately harmful, since that’s not really the topic of my entry).
Unfortunately, we live in an economic system where there is no “too far.” Capitalism is predicated on constant, unchecked, unending growth. There is an end point to any singular act of production (the purchase of the object or service, thus providing a profit to the owners of the means of production), but there is no end point to the economy itself, no value being served, no inherent limit, only profit-seeking.
I know the capitalists would readily retort that the economy serves the purpose of meeting people’s needs. But this doesn’t reflect reality. The driving force of our economic units, the corporation, is profit, not human needs. If a corporation can make money fulfilling human needs, then it will do so. If it can make money by killing people or stealing their land, then it will do so. The only thing you can predict about any corporation is that, like any other runaway structure such as organized religion or government, even the “good” it does is intended to reinforce its control over society and the appearance of its necessity to social order.
The runaway train is a great metaphor for capitalism. Central planners are in charge of each car but not of the train as a whole, which is out of anyone’s control. Instead, we’re constantly concerned with some useless metric of how fast we’re going (compare with the GDP or consumer spending), and we start panicking when the train starts going slower, despite the fact that going slower is the only thing that can save us!
Sadly, unlike most people, corporations go “too far” with amazing regularity. They defraud their customers and routinely lie to them (so much that now we expect it), they steal land and wealth, they slave-drive people in sweatshops (sometimes to the point of suicide), and a few of them even assassinate people and hire their own private armies. Why? Because a corporation is not a person (legal bullshit notwithstanding) and has no moral compass. It is composed of people who have moral principles, but those principles have been co-opted to serve profit, because they are sociopaths, are trying to extend themselves as best they can, or because they’re “just doing their job.”
Another metaphor is very helpful when understanding capitalism, and that is the metaphor of rape. We already speak metaphorically about “raping the environment” and “raping foreign cultures,” so this is pretty intuitive. Why do we call them metaphorical rapes? Not to downplay the terror of actual rape, but because they are violent acts (mostly psychologically, but also physically) which violate that which is intimate to natural beings or human beings.
In neo-liberalism, the first world countries are the masculine and the third world countries (at least, those being raped at the moment) are the feminine. Corporations penetrate new labor markets and manipulate capital flows within themselves to engender new profits (while engaging in “market penetration”). Workers are exactly as expendable as spermatozoa or ova, mere biological machines designed to fulfill a task and die.
Using this metaphor, we can make sense of some otherwise strange dynamics. Take foreign aid, for example. Liberals of all countries laud foreign aid as a wonderful thing even though it’s well known that the money goes to dictatorial governments and that foreign aid often hampers development and the well-being of the poor. But it makes a lot more sense if we translate it into gender terms: the male has the obligation to provide resources to the female in exchange for her submission, and in that case there is no concern of hampering or dictatorial intent. Sex tourism also seems to mimic the rape dynamic, insofar as sex tourism destinations are all third world countries.
The way we compulsively seek to pave over nature and imprison it within enclosed areas or cages is also part of the rape dynamic. Women, after all, are said to psychologically represent Mother Nature and her “virgin” beauty, as well as the animal world. We treat the environment like our own fucktoy because we treat women like fucktoys, we try to contain and exert total control over nature in the same way that men have tried to contain and exert total control over women.
Whether metaphorical or real, sex and rape are ways by which humans try to extend themselves. Procreation is a big part of that. Having children is the most potent way people know to not only extend themselves but ensure their own (imagined) immortality. Sadly, like the other forms of extension I’ve talked about, it implies exploiting the suffering of innocent human beings.
Procreation goes hand to hand with capitalism, and is likewise unchecked. There is no meme in the culture on how life is an imposition, on how we should think on whether any new lives are really needed or not, on how we should think on whether we can give those children a life that is as best as can be expected, or on the incredible risks we impose on those new lives. These points of reflection simply do not exist. For the most part, people have as many children as they want, without thought to consequences. Children are a form of property and therefore worthy of being accumulated.
This form of extension can take many forms in the mind of the parents. Some parents believe that simply having a “bloodline,” their DNA or family name perpetuated, is enough to count as an extension of themselves. Others believe that in order to be an extension of themselves, the children must have their values, or must accomplish what they wanted to accomplish when they were younger, or must have children themselves. The former are bound to be satisfied by sheer procreation; the latter are bound to be disappointed, because they are rooting their happiness in the actions of another person.
In the end, extension is all very subjective, no matter what kind you’re looking at. It is not, after all, the body or the mind themselves that are being physically expanded, but forms of power, and power is contingent upon the rules of the game it’s used in. We want to ground our lives into something eternal, something absolute, but all we have are uncertainties.
This seems to be the intellectual paradox that all true believers run into: they become true believers in the hopes that they’ve found the absolute truth, but they end up both having to constantly deal in relativism and having to constantly deny that they are dealing in relativism in order to maintain their delusion. True believers are exposed to more and more information which refutes their beliefs, so they have to defend their position at a more and more fundamental level, which has the inadvertent side-effect of revealing the relativism at the core of their doctrine (that everything is contingent on God, that social order is contingent on the intent of the power elite, that the life-system is produced by an unintelligent process, that men are superior to women based on ever-changing social roles, etc).
Great post. And here I was thinking I was the only one who was finding analogies between procreation and capitalism :)
No, they all participate to the same mania. And in a future entry I also talk about the fact that natalists ignore two sides of the procreation triangle (the woman and the child), reducing it to (prototypically male) elitist greed. It’s basically the unbridled desire for expansion unmoored from its natural counterweights. Like how capitalism lets the individual live eir greed without counter-balancing that with their duty to the society which created their sense of self and sustains their work.
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