Posts Tagged ‘culture

23
Dec
11

The Feminist Post

I’ll admit, I’ve been avoiding doing this post. Feminism is such a broad, complex, and controversial topic that I know, even as I’m writing this, I’m going to be struggling to cover even the most basic points. Nevertheless, this is a topic I’ve been wanting to touch on for no small amount of time, and with the ever increasing number of feminist issues being brought up and examined in our society, I figured it’d be best to try to tackle a few of the more primary elements of feminism, capitalism, and communism.

 

Now deciding exactly where to start when discussing feminism is difficult- after all, with feminism pertaining to the treatment of women, one would technically have to start at the very beginning of human history. So, for the sake of simplicity, let’s deal with the feminism that we’re all probably most familiar with.

Now I’m assuming we’re all fairly familiar with the basic evolution of the feminist movement that we’re taught in school. In the decades following the end of the American civil war, women get it into their heads that they ought to have the same basic rights as men, most notably, the right to vote. After a long struggle, women achieve this right, and then nothing happens for a long while.

World War II rolls around and, with most of the men off fighting in Europe, Africa, and the Pacific Rim, women took their places in the factories and plants, demonstrating that they were just as capable as those they replaced. To an extent, the workplace opened up for women. Nevertheless, gender rolls remained more or less the same, with women (largely) in the kitchen and men in the office. Not until the 60s and 70s are the issues of gender inequality really addressed, with women at long last (permanently) opening up the workplace, political office, etc. Indeed, so momentous were the achievements of the 60s, 70s (and to an extent 80s) that today the exact direction of the feminist movement is yet unknown.

See, there’s the core problem that I want to discuss here- at least, it’s part of it. It’s the attitudes that people have towards feminism today, be it the tiny but vocal “men are evil” fringe-group of feminism (as much as it pains us, we have to admit that such people do exist) to the anti-feminist ramblings of Pat Robertson and his ilk.

Pat Robertson: Basing his ministry on the hope that God will once again speak through an ass...

But neither of those extremes quite compares to what I believe to be the single greatest threat to the feminist movement: apathy.
The prevalent idea on Feminism seems to be that it has served its purpose, and that modern day feminists are either “female-supremacists” or are focused on minor issues. And that perspective doesn’t seem to be without basis either- from my research and conversations, the majority of feminist activism falls into one of two categories, (1) attacking minute issues of gender inequality or stereotyping or (2) attacking gender inequality in other countries.

 

Not that there’s anything wrong in attacking contemporary gender inequality- after all, inequality, regardless of how small, is still inequality. Take, for example, one of my personal peeves- high heels.

Yeah, I'd like to buy a shoe that's an affront to the laws of physics and basic human anotomy...

Now there’s nothing about the high-heeled shoe that is remotely natural or practical, and yet it’s seen as proper for both the workplace and for formal occasions. Again, nothing- nothing– about this design is useful, in fact, it’s straight up damaging– and that’s just from wearing the things. Try to imagine the equivalent for a man; imagine a shirt that both restricted all major movement and deformed your spine. Despite this flying in the face of reason and basic human dignity, this shoe is marketed to women as an acceptable, nay, essential part of one’s wardrobe.

An issue of women’s rights and dignity? Absolutely. But does it compare really to voting or being able to work the same jobs a man can? Not really.

As for the question of gender inequality in other countries, certainly it does exist and exists on a level on which feminism ought to be involved. The problem here however is the issue of culture. Too often I hear feminists railing on the hijab (head covering worn by Muslim women) without fully understanding the dynamics behind them.

Despite the hijab (or fuller covering) being required in a few countries, the vast majority of Muslim women wear head coverings because the choose to. In certain areas of the world, such things are simply part of the culture, and criticism on this from is shortsighted and patronizing. Indeed, the equivalent would be women from a culture with little to no clothing (certain tribal people in the Amazon, for example) criticizing Western women for wearing shirts.

 

In short, you can see why people have difficulty getting behind the contemporary feminist movement. With the issues being addressed either (comparatively) small or outside of the West (in case you haven’t noticed, I’m focusing here on western feminism- other places in the world have different approaches and issues), feminism and issues of women’s rights really don’t seem all that relevant or important.

 

Now of course, that simply isn’t so.

Granted, while the individual points touched upon by contemporary feminism may seem, when looked at in isolation, “nitpicking”, but let’s add all this up for a moment. You’ve got certain expectations placed upon women by culture to buy and consume and struggle to meet an unattainable lifestyle, be it a standard of beauty, some kind of “perfect” balance between work, family, and self, and so on. Take all of this, every role model presented to women, from the time they’re born on; every hobby or activity meant to be “girlish” or “womanly”; and then compound it with every depiction of female life hurled at us from advertising, television, music, film- you name it. The end result is one warped perception of femininity.

 

Like so

And despite this general issue of the degradation of femininity, I honestly don’t believe that could get behind the contemporary feminist movement either- not for a lack of belief in gender equality, but simply for the fact that the feminist movement, like many movements in society, is stuck treating the symptoms rather than the disease. And what is that disease?

Objectification.

The turning of people into commodities. Perhaps the best way to explain it would be to take a brief look at an offshoot of feminism.

Now I’m not exactly sure what to name this particular perspective- suffice it to say that it’s a brand of “feminism” actually embracing the use of women as sex objects or the like. The basic line of thought is “Hey, if feminism is about empowering women, then what’s more empowering than the ability to use our bodies or our sexuality for our own gain?”. Of course this is completely ridiculous- one could just as easily claim that a black man or woman performing in a minstrel show for money is “empowering”. You can’t sell yourself, you are yourself- at least, that’s how it ought to be. But we live in a capitalist society where anything that can turn a profit will turn a profit, regardless of the effects to human dignity.

And obviously I don’t need to get too into detail about the mentalities that arise out of objectification. For men, women are subhuman- they are, as the word suggests, objects to be had. The Communist Manifesto itself discusses the abuse of women arising from the capitalist system.

“The bourgeois sees his wife a mere instrument of production. He hears that the instruments of production are to be exploited in common, and, naturally, can come to no other conclusion that the lot of being common to all will likewise fall to the women… Our bourgeois, not content with having wives and daughters of their proletarians at their disposal, not to speak of common prostitutes, take the greatest pleasure in seducing each other’s wives. “

And this is merely the male perspective. Consider the effects this mentality has on women, being taught from their infancy that they exist to be used, possessed, and sold.

And it’s not that the contemporary feminist movement is not aware of this issue, however, with capitalism seen as the only option for society, the idea that anything more can be done than superficially building up a counter-culture (hey- that’s still an important element of the movement) is unfortunately not even considered (a sweeping generalization, but you get the idea). At the end of the day, if true gender equality is to be met, then objectification must be destroyed, and objectification is a production of the capitalist system. It seems a great tragedy that still today we have to be told that human beings are not objects to be bought or sold, or to be used to sell cars or cologne or food or clothing. Human beings are not things which can be possessed. Human beings are meant for freedom- in the end, that’s what feminism is truly about: freedom.

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21
Dec
10

It’s [Not] A Wonderful Life

The holidays are here, and whether you participate in them willingly or have them thrust upon you, there’s really no escaping it. The constant blaring of Christmas music (seriously people, do you really think that “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” is such a great song that we can hear it for the thirty-seventh time without going berserk?), the milling crowds of shoppers who’d rather stand in-line for half an hour than just use eBay, the pundits debating (yet again) whether or not there’s a war on Christmas and who’s winning it. And then there’s It’s a Wonderful Life– perhaps the most iconic Christmas movie of all time and the subject of tonight’s post.

 

For those of you who may not have seen the film, allow me to summarize. The film opens up in the vast expanse of space as one angel (named Joseph) tells another angel, (named Clarence) that he’ll be sent to earth to keep a man named George Bailey from killing himself. Clarence is shown the progression of George’s life, in which George repeatedly sacrifices himself for the protection and well-being of others- from leaping into a frozen lake to save his younger brother’s life (causing George to become deaf in one ear as a result), to giving up his dreams of seeing the world to take care of his father’s business, to giving up his and his wife’s honeymoon savings to help local townsfolk. Now despite his hard work and selflessness, nothing really much goes right for George, his trouble’s climaxing when Mr. Potter (a slumlord and the main antagonist in the story) takes advantage of George’s absent-minded uncle and then attempts to sue George’s company for fraud. George, no longer able to take the pressure, drinks heavily, prays tearfully, and then resolves the only solution left to him is to kill himself (getting his family a decent life-insurance payment). Now just before George hurls himself off a bridge into the roaring water below him, Clarence (in human form), appears in the water below, calling for help. George, forgetting suicide (for the moment), leaps in to save Clarence who, after being dragged to safety, reveals he threw himself into the water to keep George from killing himself. Clarence proceeds to show George what life would be like for the town if George had never been born (and it’s not a pretty place), convincing George that his life is worth living. George returns home to find that the townsfolk, having heard of his plight, have rallied together to raise the cash George needed to deposit (prior to Mr. Potter ripping them off).

 

Now despite sounding like one of the most heartwarming stories ever told, It’s a Wonderful Life actually contains some seriously dark truths about our lives and morals depressing enough to have us all want to leap off of bridges.

 

I. Hard Work Does Not Pay Off

One of the myths that Capitalism is built on is that if you work hard enough, you’ll eventually become wealthy (laziness equals poverty). Now we have George Bailey, who has worked hard all of his life, and he’s no wealthier at the beginning of the film than he is at the end. Indeed, he struggles to make ends meet, and Potter ripping him off quite nearly bankrupts him. It’s makes for a very different message, even if the truth is depressing- the moral being “If you work really hard, you might- just might– be able to pay the heating bill on time. How magical would that be?”.

 

II. Honesty, Charity, And Selflessness Will Kill You

George is as close as you get to the physical manifestation of kindness. The guy never takes anything for himself (though he desperately wants to), and is repeatedly shown giving up his dreams of traveling the world to help others out, from chucking out his honeymoon savings to the needy to keeping a pharmacist from accidentally poisoning a kid (getting slapped around at first- the pharmacist’s a mean drunk). What does George get? Near-poverty, nerve-wracking stress, major depressive disorder, and he never travels out of the country. Again, it’s the perfect example of the Capitalist society we live in. Greed, not charity, is rewarded. Deceit, not honesty, selfishness, not self-sacrifice. These are the qualities you need to get ahead in a world where profit comes before people. Mr. Potter is in all ways the complete and utter opposite of George, and he’s the wealthiest and most powerful man in town. The observation here- you better hope morality will build you a mansion in heaven, because it’s not going to get **** on earth.

 

III. Evil Goes Unpunished

The moment you see Potter swipe the $8,000 from Uncle Billy, you’re just waiting for the climax of the film where George, wrapped in an American flag and surfing on a wave of fire, pummels Potter to death with a cinder block. Sadly, it never happens. In fact, nothing happens to Potter. He just get’s away. With 8,000 dollars. Just like that. No prison time, no public shaming, no sternly worded letter- Potter just becomes eight-k richer and that’s the end of it. It’d be like if OJ Simpson got found ‘not guilty’ or if Wall Street got a 700 billion dollar bailout or Nazi scientists got out of war-crimes trials for helping the US against the Soviets… oh wait, that all happened. The moral here is “You know the people without souls? The one’s who are constantly screwing the world over for their own benefit with no regard for the pain, misery, and death they cause? Yeah, they’re gonna keep on doing that.”

 

Like I said, it’s a depressing film- but it’s about Capitalism, so what else can we expect?

19
Dec
10

Films For Communists

In a world where the bearded-Russian “Communist” stereotype is the antagonist in every film made before 1990, I thought it might be time to list a few films where Marxists are (for once) portrayed in good light. Below is a list of mainstream films that deserve to be seen by any Communist:

 

Shadowlands (1993): Despite having only a fleeting reference to Communism near the beginning of the film, it’s refreshing to see a Marxist portrayed with being in the process of torturing some American soldiers or preparing to launch nuclear warheads.

The Edukators/ Die Fetten Jahre Sind Vorbei: While I don’t recall Communism ever being directly addressed in this German film, the movie deals with the various issues and struggles of fighting Capitalism in this era. The film opens with the main characters handing out tracts on sweatshop labor, and follows them as they escalate their responses to social injustice (breaking up the “action” sequences with lively discussions on activism and sequences depicting some of the ills they’re trying to fight against). Again, while Marxism is never directly discussed, it is evident that this is a far-left film.

Pan’s Labyrinth (2006): While I don’t believe there are any explicit uses of the terms “Communist” or “Marxist”, the film takes place during the last years of the Spanish Civil War, in a remote part of the country where a Fascist captain is attempting to destroy the “Red” resistance hiding in the nearby mountains. The film is a fairy-tale and never becomes especially political, however the Communist rebels are shown in a very sympathetic light.

Battle in Seattle (2007): Though the film doesn’t deal with Marxism, it does (excellently) show different perspectives on social activism, from a black bloc Anarchist (embracing violence as a means of protest) to a group of non-violent protesters, to a riot policeman, to a simple bystander, to a news crew, to the mayor of Seattle. If nothing else, it’s a discussion starter not merely for Communists, but for anyone.

Defiance (2008): Set during the holocaust, this film follows the story of the Bielski brothers and their followers, a group of Belorussian Jews who formed a resistance to the Nazi occupation of their country. Throughout the film, the Bielski partisans interact with the Soviet resistance, and while the Soviets are portrayed as being generally arrogant and unhelpful, the film does show them (1) fighting the Nazis (a part of Communist history too often forgotten) and (2) makes reference the official Communist policy of ending antisemitism. In addition to this, it is suggested that one of the members of the Bielski group is an active Socialist, and the partisans adopt a communal form of a living.

Quantum of Solace (2008): Now you’d probably think the last place you’d find Communist-sympathies would be in a James Bond film- after all, the man spent a good 80% of his career foiling Soviet plots (the other 20% being unbelievably picky about his drinks- seriously, how will he even know if it’s been shaken or stirred?). Despite this, Quantum of Solace actually is about as left-wing as Bond’s ever been, as the film deals with politics used by the West to dominate third-world countries. In Haiti, there’s a brief discussion between the two villains about how raising the minimum wage angered foreign corporations, and the Quantum’s plot (the “quantum” being the cabal of tuxedoed bad-guys) is to control the majority of drinking water in Bolivia (a clear reference to the attempt to privatize drinking water in Bolivia back in 1999).

The Baader-Meinhof Complex (2008): I’m a bit at a loss to describe this two-and-a-half hour film detailing the roots, rise, and fall of the RAF (Red Army Faction). While certainly sympathetic to the causes of the characters in the films, the story does not shy away from showing the faults of the RAF- honesty that I believe only serves to strengthen the film’s credibility, even with the left-wing slant. While the previous film’s I’ve mentioned have tended to shy away from explicitly dealing with Marxism, this is made up for (and then some) by The Baader-Meinhof Complex, which constantly brings up the issues of politics, economics, revolution, and culture. While it’s an exhausting film to watch (again, nearly three-hours packed with conflict, history, and so on.), it’s well worth seeing.

Che (2008): In all honesty I was slightly disappointed by Che. For being nearly five-hours long (divided into two episodes), the film really didn’t say much about the justification for the actions of perhaps the most iconic Communist of all time. While the film did artfully chronicle Che’s role in the Cuban Revolution, and his expedition to Bolivia, the film leaves out Che’s actions in Cuba after the revolution (baring a sequence of Che’s trip to the United Nations) and his time in Africa. While the film definitely is sympathetic to Guevara, the film really only deals with Guevara- and not the ideals he fought for. It almost feels like I watched the beginning and the end of a documentary on the man. Even so, it’s still a decent film.

The Trotsky (2009): While the film technically doesn’t deal with Communism, considering the main character believes himself to be the reincarnation of Leon Trotsky, themes of revolution, unionization, and rebellion are hard to get away from. Again, while the film centers on the issue of youth rebellion (apathy vs boredom), the movie is inundated in Marxist slogans, philosophy, and art. Leon Bronstein (the protagonist), constantly quotes Trotsky and other prominent Marxists. Throughout the film, pictures of Che Guevara, Einstein (yes, he was a Socialist), Lenin, and other revolutionaries can be seen on posters and paintings and t-shirts. Now while I am tempted to go on, I’ll save this film for a more in-depth review later- suffice it say for now that The Trotsky is a great movie for Marxists.

 

Please note that this list is by no means complete- any suggestions are welcomed and I hope to have full reviews of these films out soon.

20
Jul
10

A Communist Look Back (and Forward)

It’s been over a year since I first started this blog, and a lot has happened in the world- I think it only appropriate that I write a brief post reviewing the past year and making a few predictions for the next one.

We have the economic crisis (or rather, a series of crises) of such great proportions the public’s faith in Capitalism has been badly shaken. The bailouts, the BP oil spill, the revelation of corruption within the regulatory branches of government- none of these have done much to convince the people that Capitalism has their best interests at heart. Indeed, the loss of faith in the current system has led many to look into alternatives, such as Libertarianism, Socialism, and to an extent, Communism. Despite this, neocolonialism, economic and cultural imperialism continue to spread. The poor and working class of the third world remain largely oppressed. Slavery rates continue to rise. In xenophobic reaction to ever increasing immigration rates, the US and Western Europe has become more hostile to foreigners.

The controversial creation of public healthcare in the US- indicative of widespread dissatisfaction with healthcare under Capitalism (or the lack thereof)- has garnered both enthusiastic support and vehement opposition, most on the far-left have voiced support for the change, but maintain that free, universal healthcare is the only answer.

In short, to say that the past twelve months have brought forth dramatic change would be an exaggeration- at the same time, it is undeniable that have been significant developments in economics and the public views of Capitalism.

Predictions for next year:

1. Continued disillusionment with Capitalism- independent parties will probably gain in popularity.

2. Extreme right-wing reactions in the Republican and Conservative movements will ultimately alienate moderates and undecided voters, resulting in more harm to the GOP/Conservative movement than benefit.

3. Immigration into the US and Western Europe will result in greater hostility towards immigrants, possibly resulting in blatantly anti-immigrant legislation, violence, and the oppression of minorities. Fascists, racists, and extreme right-wing groups will probably be seeing some victories unless this xenophobia is immediately combated.

4.  Austerity measures in some European countries will result (or rather continue to result) in strikes by the working class- some potential for rioting, but no absolute certainty.

Looks like it’s gonna be fun…

06
Jun
10

[Not] Free to Choose

Despite a growing dissatisfaction with Capitalism, there are many who refuse the concept of doing away with the system altogether. Such individuals tend to advocate “happy mediums” between free market Capitalism and state regulation. For example, the 2009 documentary Food, Inc. attempted to expose issues within the American food industry. While the film was highly critical of the some major food corporations in the US and the general way the industry is set up, the film advocated not the abolition of the Capitalist system that has allowed the situation to come to be, but rather the idea that through selective consumption, the food industry will be forced to alter its practices and products. For example, in this new system, one would choose to buy only “green” products, showing corporations that (1) the consumers will no longer buy ecologically harmful products and (2) there’s a profit to be made by selling eco-friendly merchandise.

It’s a painfully flawed system.

First, we must recognize the central role profits play. A product that is eco-friendly, made well, and made by laborers who are being paid decent wages is going to be substantially more expensive than a product that is made with no regard to the environment, the health/well-being of the consumer, and made by sweatshop workers. Products that have the qualities of the former are either too expensive to be profitable (enough) for the corporations producing them or too expensive to be purchasable by the majority of consumers. While there is some degree of public choice involved, overwhelmingly other factors such as the poverty of the consumers make this system impossible to realize.

Second, we must understand that Capitalism is in no way, shape, or form a democratic system. A while back, I had a conversation about Capitalism’s displacement (and to a degree, eradication) of local cultures. The person arguing with me made that claim that if the people of a country didn’t want McDonalds springing up across their nation, they would have only to stop eating there and the McDonalds, seeing no profit, would withdraw. The issue with this is that even if 95% of a population is against there being a product sold, if the remaining 5% buys enough to allow the company to make a profit, they will keep selling.

To recap the situation, product A is bad but cheap, product B is good but expensive, you will probably only be able to afford product A, and even if you manage to purchase product B, your ability to purchase other good products like B will be reduced because B is still expensive. But if you were somehow to rally the public and declare a boycott of product A, the fact that you’ve managed to get 75% of the populace to stop buying A doesn’t mean that A will cease to be a source of revenue. Short of getting a universal ban on product A, there’s not a whole lot you can do.

Now don’t misunderstand this post- I’m not arguing that because you don’t have much choice, you should capitulate to unethical business practices. On the contrary, out of principal, when it is your choice, you ought to spend money on the eco-friendly, fair-trade products rather than harmful or slave-labor products. I’m merely showing that Capitalism cannot be controlled by popular choice. Capitalism cannot be moderated so long as it remains based entirely on the acquisition of capital– and any change to this- the most fundamental aspect of Capitalism- would be an abolition of the Capitalist system altogether.

If you’re not free to choose within Capitalism, maybe you ought to considering choosing something other than Capitalism.

25
Apr
10

Continued BNP Fascism

Linked here is a BBC article describing the BNP’s (British Nationalist Party) continued campaign against immigration. Like most Fascist and nationalist organizations, the BNP is attempting to gain public support through the vilification of a certain group (in this case, immigrants) and the propagation and proliferation of lies about how this group will upset the status quo (a popular BNP claim is that immigrants will somehow destroy British identity and culture). Now it would be remiss of us to immediately discount every theory a Capitalist or Fascist organization brings forward, so let us examine some of the positions held by the BNP.

Major BNP Positions (as stated in the BBC’s “At-a-glance: BNP general election manifesto):

Economics:

Cut public spending on immigration, asylum, EU membership and foreign aid, which the BNP claim accounts for more than £40bn.

Perhaps the only understandable point the BNP has here is its reluctance to be part of the EU. If group doesn’t feel that it is being adequately represented, there’s no reason it should be forced to participate. It’s there, however, that understanding ends. For an immensely wealthy and powerful first world country to wish to cut spending on immigration, asylum, and foreign to less fortunate countries is twisted and unjust- especially considering that many of these countries were once brutally colonized by the British.

Crime and Immigration:

Halt immigration – in particular from Muslim countries – and deport illegal immigrants. Allow legally settled and law-abiding minorities to remain but review citizenship grants awarded since 1997.

Again we have the issues of discrimination and bigotry. The BNP would have an end to immigration despite the fact that many of the countries immigrants originate from were once conquered, colonized, and exploited for centuries. The fact that immigrants are now streaming into the UK in search of better lives isn’t merely a natural phenomena, it’s poetic justice.

Deport foreigners convicted of crimes in Britain, regardless of immigration status, ban the burka and building of mosques. Deport radical Islamist preachers.

It is perhaps here that the Fascist reality of the BNP is most evident. Regulating a specific religion or community (in this case, Islam and the immigrant/Muslim community) Fascists attempt to maintain the traditional social order and status quot.

Review the Police and Criminal Evidence Act to remove unnecessary bureaucracy from police duties.

While there’s nothing wrong with wanting to remove unnecessary bureaucracy, keeping the BNP’s other political stances in mind, one can’t but help be suspicious of this proposal. Fascist and authoritarian regimes can only remain in power with an extensive police force- there’s a fine line between removing bureaucracy and removing accountability.


Social Aspects:

“British concepts” of civility and courteousness to be taught in schools, along with British history and English, Irish, Scots and Welsh culture and tradition.

Ah, what counts as a “British concept”? Do naturalized immigrants influence at all what counts as a cultural concept? Would this be the contemporary concept, or an earlier one? Should it even be the government’s role civility and courteousness?

Free university education to students who have completed community service.

This actually doesn’t sound like such a bad idea- depending on what the BNP defines as “community service”. Are we talking about a month of picking up litter from the sides of roads or years of backbreaking labor poor and proletariat youth will have to undergo as a result of being unable to afford university? Either way, considering the BNP’s other policies, it probably isn’t worth it.


Healthcare:

Cut waiting times and service difficulties by relieving immigration burden upon the NHS.

Last time I checked, a sick Anglo-Saxon’s life isn’t any more valuable than a sick Central Asian’s. The Hippocratic oath doesn’t have limits on race and nationality.


Politics:

Bill of Rights guaranteeing basic civil liberties, repeal 1998 Human Rights Act and withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights.

Considering the attitudes of the BNP, you probably shouldn’t look forward to their concept of “basic civil liberties”.

Other Aspects:

Ensure National Lottery funding spent on projects enhancing British culture. Introduce formal bank holidays marking patron saints days of all UK nations.

Again, since culture is always in a state of flux, proposals that the government should be responsible for instituting a set, state culture seems dictatorial. As far as banks go, I’m sure the workers wouldn’t mind the days off but why should those days mark some saints? What’s that saying about non-Christian religions in Britain?

Please note that in the interests of space, I have not published every position held by the BNP. I do seriously recommend that you study their full list of proposals and positions or even visit their website. Know your enemy.

22
Sep
09

Communism, Capitalism, and Culture

In film and literature, Communist (or at least, Communistic) societies are often portrayed as dark, Spartan places where variety is almost non-existent. Indeed, Communism is sometimes portrayed as espousing complete and utter uniformity- and perhaps this is understandable. After all, Communism does demand a single class where all citizens are equal without exception, and Soviet city-planning and architecture tended to be more than slightly lacking as far as aesthetics go.

However, as has been repeatedly stated throughout this blog, Soviet Russia was not a true Communist country and as far as equality goes, “equality” doesn’t mean “identical”. For the average foundry worker to live in an equal society, the rest of society doesn’t have to be average foundry workers- they must simply have the same rights, responsibilities, and opportunities. Within equality lies endless variety- more so than can ever be achieved in the Capitalist society.

Now this statement may seem to be based on faulty reasoning, after all, if Capitalism presents opportunity for anyone and everyone to sell their own product or service, then there will be an unending fountain of culture, technology, art, music, and so on. Now if Capitalism were only the opportunity of every individual to sell his own product or service, this might be true. In reality, Capitalism doesn’t quite work that way. You see Capitalism based heavily on competition- the struggle for dominance over others. In order to attain Capitalism’s end goal- capital (money)- the individuals selling their products and/or services forced to compete with each other for the customers. In short, if there are two tailors in one town, they are going to be at war with each other for customers. “But surely this would cause their quality to increase, their prices to drop, and the variety of products to expand!” You might retort. Now this is partly true- and only temporarily so at that. As much as the competitors will try to undercut each other’s prices, there is a point they will not drop below to ensure a profit is still made. Eventually, one of the competitors, either through poor planning or just bad luck, is going to lose and the moment that happens, the winning competitor no longer has any reason to keep prices low or variety wide. In a free, Capitalist society, this is what inevitably happens- the weak are killed off and devoured by the strong until eventually, one company reigns supreme and becomes a monopoly. We can see this battle of giants all around us- Pepsi versus Coke, Apple versus Microsoft, Nintendo versus Xbox versus Play Station 3, and so on. Do we actually imagine this to be some sort of dualistic system- that these companies will forever be locked in a fight for dominance? No- eventually, Pepsi is going to fall to Coke or Coke will fall to Pepsi or both of them will be conquered (somehow) by Jones Soda. “But this will never happen- there’s always going to be some fresh competition to challenge the old dinosaurs. Monopolies are impossible.” Really? Just take a look at history- read about Standard Oil and the British East India Company. “Granted,” one might reply “but the consumer still has a basic level of control over the monopolies- if there’s a Pepsi monopoly and Pepsi raises its prices too high, the people can’t be forced to buy Pepsi. In fact, Pepsi is limited to selling its products at the price the public will pay for them.” Very well then, but what about a different kind of monopoly. What about a lumber monopoly, or an oil monopoly? Society is dependent on these resources to function without regressing to the stone age. Even if a single monopoly were to arise that controlled the mining of Coltan (a rare mineral used in cell phones and communication), the world could be brought its knees.

But perhaps I’m getting a little off-track. The point is, after enough expansion, Capitalism can trade variety for cut production-cost profit. “So what if that is true? We don’t have monopolies at this point in time- Capitalism still offers us variety now.” For the sake of space, we’ll skip addressing the issue with concentrating only on the here-and-now and focus on how Capitalism, which, even at a pre-monopoly stage, reduces variety rather than promoting it.

As I was traveling through the US this summer, I was presented with an interesting thought. No matter how many towns and cities I drove through, there were always (to varying degrees) the same stores, restaurants, and hotels. Every hamlet in America now has a Wal-Mart, McDonalds, Starbucks, etc. Granted, it’s not dramatic, but let us keep in mind that this is only in a single country. Lets take a look at the world. Now with distances of over a thousand miles between some of these countries, one would imagine the cultures would be diverse- alas, this is no longer true. Due to the imperialistic march of McDonalds, Starbucks, and other companies, the cultures already present within are suddenly forced to compete with the Western culture these companies represent. Take the cases of Syria and Jordan, for example. Syria has, on the whole, resisted foreign interference in its affairs, and, after pretty much closing its borders to would-be investors such as McDonalds, has managed to retain much of its cultural heritage and traditions. The same cannot be said for its neighbor to the south, Jordan. Jordan has embraced the West and Western companies, such as McDonalds, Papa John’s, and various clothing outlets, have thrived there. If you were to walk down the fashionable area of Amman, it would be hard for you to tell if you were in the Middle East or Southern California. While Jordan does still have a unique culture, that culture has been drowned out by the commercialism of the West. Is this the West’s fault? No- not entirely, anyways. The companies that attempt to exploit foreign markets are spreading Western culture, but doing so only because they themselves are part of Western culture. Quite simply, if you are told it is fashionable to dress in Western clothes (and Western clothes outlets are more than happy to let you have that illusion), then chances are your traditional dress will be forgotten. If local restaurants are forced out of business by fast-food, then chances are the aspect of eating (a form of socializing in almost every culture) will change dramatically. In short, along with expansion of companies is the expansion of the cultures of those companies. As we can see by looking at the world today, rather than promoting diversity, Capitalism destroys it.

But what about Communism? Doesn’t it, like Capitalism, attempt to spread across the globe? Yes, Communism does attempt to encompass the world, but Communism has nothing to gain from a monocultural society. Quite the opposite, Communism can only flourish if variety and diversity are accepted- we can’t expect a society to exist if everyone acts the same way and holds the same values. Indeed, the very lack of corporations telling you what is and is not fashionable or desirable can lead nothing other than a diverse society. In conclusion, don’t be sold on the Capitalist illusion of culture.