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Narratives of Modern Day Capitalism


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“My eyes wander in search of the Truth

But all I see are the towers

And the window ‘pains’ and the ground

But never the human race

And never the finish line”


The Seedings

At the nascent stage of my politik ideals discovery, I remember reading about Marxist thought and concepts. I was awed by these concepts, how beautifully they were explained and what kind of ‘perspectacles’. Marx had adopted to see the capitalistic world as it unfolded. It has been 5 years since I was first introduced to these concepts but somehow these concepts have stuck with me and they are more alive than ever this time. From my own  perspectacles, I see them unfolding in all aspects of life.


In this article I will touch upon key Marxist concepts inclusive of alienation, capitalism and commodification as seen in the modern world. Further I will deep dive how these concepts are still a viable model for capitalism especially through narrative building that keeps the engines of the great capitalist machinery in motion. 


The Capitalist structure in Modern day

Marx had talked about capitalistic society as consisting of various layers or structures. He talked about the base being the economic structure and all the other structures ; atop this foundation as the superstructures. These superstructures consisted of political, social and religious structures, influenced by the economic structure which in turn being controlled by the bourgeois class. The narratives that are fused in by the bourgeois class in the economic structure flows into these superstructures. Whatever serves the bourgeoisie class; those narratives percolate throughout the whole structure. Power flows like capillaries and as Foucault rightly compared knowledge with power, concluded that those in control of knowledge wield power over those who labour as well as determine the economic, social and political outcomes of that system. The example used by Foucault to support his ascending analysis of power is madness. In Madness and Civilisation Foucault highlights how madmen were excluded due to the fact that their idleness posed a threat to bourgeois society where labor was the most significant value”


In the contemporary age,  due to knowledge being easily accessible, narrative building has also become more subtle. On an overt glance they are seemingly curated to actually serve the working class by rewarding them, basic income/wages for their compliance and obedience.


However the hard reality is that while running in this hamster wheel, one has a rare chance to actually come out of it. The wheel of fortune that the Bourgeoisie otherwise displays as a narrative and a silver lining  that can lead to attain a fortune like theirs by consistent churning day in and day out is essentially a myth. There are far more narratives that modern age capitalism has  interpellated us to keep on ‘churning’ as the Bourgeoisie  would term it, only to benefit them and not the greater good.


Consumerism as a Narrative 

Andy Warhol, the famous visual artist and a leading figure in the pop art movement displayed the essence of consumerism by painting a can of Campbell soup cans.

“Campbell’s Canned Soup is one of Warhol’s earliest fine art works to be critically acclaimed. Sometimes referred to as 32 Campbell’s Soup Cans; the artwork is a collection of 32 individual canvases, measuring 20 by 16 inches.Warhol’s artistic process reflects mass production in a consumerist society. In Campbell’s Canned Soup and other works, Warhol “acted like a machine” , in that he repeated his can 32 times, not for any aesthetic or artistic reason, but solely because there were 32 flavours. In this, he mirrors the Campbell Soup Company’s production line (Warhol, Bluttal, & Phaidon Press, 2006). His artwork was produced on a mass scale, reflecting the mass-production necessary to support a consumerist society, each step in producing his artwork corresponded to a mechanised process in a production line” .


Thus akin to the consumerist idea as displayed by the Campbell soup paintings by Andy Warhol, we see how he also described the idea of consumerism as essentially linked with the marxist idea of the capitalistic structure. The economic base resulted in mass production of goods by the working class day in and day out following that monotony in order to fulfill the desires of the bourgeoisie and basic needs of the proletariat.


The proletariat however are shown these as not needs but luxuries and desires. If they keep on ‘churning’ and serving the great capitalist machinery their own social positioning would change and grant them access to social standing within the society. That one day they would actually have the chance to master the wheel of fortune themselves! Which of course is an illusionary narrative.  


Here consumerism and materialism is sold as a narrative and as a ‘positive reinforcement for the working class to be content and happy with. But in all this frenzy and rat race, a lot more often, individuals tend to part ways from themselves and see themselves being alienated. 


Concept of Alienation and Narrative Building 

Marx's notion of alienation, born from the capitalist system, originally applied to the proletariat's detachment from their work, its products, and ultimately themselves. However, in the modern age, a new form of alienation has emerged—one cloaked in the guise of heightened consumerism and social status, where even labour becomes commodified. This contemporary alienation extends beyond the workplace, seeping into every facet of life. It numbs our sense of humanity, prompting us to overlook societal injustices while prioritizing materialism and social validation. We find ourselves feigning concern while our true emotions remain suppressed and our attention diverted towards pursuits of power and security.


The advent of technology and social media further exacerbates this alienation, blurring the lines between personal and public spaces. In this digital age, conformity is the norm, and individuality is often sacrificed at the altar of social acceptance. What were once intimate corners of our lives are now laid bare for public consumption, perpetuating a facade of connectivity while fostering deeper detachment.


Thus, even the concept of alienation itself becomes obscured in our contemporary landscape. Its overt manifestations are often mistaken for covert occurrences, leaving us disillusioned and disconnected from our own sense of reality. In this environment, authenticity becomes a rarity, overshadowed by the relentless pursuit of external validation and conformity.

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Technology and Capitalism : Social Media Narratives 

The intersection of technology and capitalism, particularly through the lens of social media, has catalyzed the dominance of capitalistic narratives, often prioritizing profit over genuine societal progress. Consider  the development of Internet-based technologies for collecting and analyzing behavioral data, which are used by firms such as Facebook and Google to predict and control human behavior for commercial ends to numerous harmful psychological and social consequences. Thus by technological development, there is subversion of economic imperatives of capital thereby changing the productive potential of humanity into an uncontrollable force.” Thus Social media in today’s day and age has become personal but under the scrutiny of public eyes. Sartre’s “The Critique of Dialectical Reason” describes objectification as a “process in which we produce an external reality that reflects our activity back to us in the form of worked matter that prescribes certain social imperatives, obligations and resistances.”  However, within the confines of capitalism, this objectification isn't merely about being seen but about being commodified, alienated, and sold.Capitalism, in its relentless pursuit of profit, dismantles natural barriers and reconfigures human relationships solely into social and economic transactions. This commodification extends to social media, where the façade of meaningful connections often conceals a market-driven agenda. 


Despite the rhetoric of fostering genuine interaction, what ultimately gains traction on these platforms is what sells, devoid of genuine human connection or vulnerability. Moreover, within this alternate reality of social media, crafting and disseminating narratives becomes alarmingly facile. Marx's insight into the economic foundation of society, upon which various superstructures like religion and culture are built, elucidates how any narrative aligning with profit motives tends to dominate, regardless of its veracity.


Consciously challenging my Narrative

While it may seem contradictory, I find it valuable to challenge my own arguments, as experiences and reflections often lead to nuanced perspectives. As a neutral observer, I acknowledge the complexity of the capitalist system within which I operate. Working diligently within this machinery, I contribute to its functioning, meeting targets and reaping the rewards in the form of income.


This income, in turn, grants me a degree of freedom and comfort, allowing me to pursue various aspects of life that bring me fulfillment. Within my job, I also find opportunities for personal growth and learning, which, while benefiting the larger capitalist structure, also enrich my own skill set and understanding.


Reflecting on the broader context, I recognize that as individuals, we are but small particles in the vast universe. Just as in the physical realm, where survival often entails serving a larger ecosystem or community, the human experience within capitalism reflects a similar dynamic. However, it's essential to question whether the sharp divides and inequalities present in human society are inherent or constructed.


Considering our place in the animal kingdom or the broader universe, one might argue for a more egalitarian existence. Yet, it is the unique complexities of human society, driven by power dynamics and economic structures, that have perpetuated disparities between those who control and those who labor.


In essence, while acknowledging the benefits and comforts afforded by my participation in the capitalist system, I remain mindful of the broader implications and inequalities inherent within it. This nuanced perspective encourages ongoing reflection and critical engagement with the systems that shape our lives.


“I was a spectator to an event which was a space of my first home (Politik ideals)

This time I came from another space the real world 

And a humanitarian narrative floated and mocked me right in front of my visage 

Because once I was indirectly part of that narrative and I could do next to nothing”


 


By Columnist Anushka Gaur


Works Cited 

Introduction to Karl Marx, Module on Stages of Development, https://www.cla.purdue.edu/academic/english/theory/marxism/modules/marxstages.html. Accessed 12 May 2024.


O'Brien, Natasha. “Power, Knowledge, Right – Michel Foucault | The Written Word.” The Written Word, https://natashaob.wordpress.com/philosophy/power-knowledge-right-michel-foucault/. Accessed 12 May 2024.


Ashton, Sam. “Consumerism Explored Through Campbell's Canned Soup – Daniel Beetham.” Daniel Beetham, 10 November 2015, https://danielbeetham.com/essay/consumerism-explored-campbells-canned-soup. Accessed 12 May 2024.


“Capitalism and alienation: Towards a Marxist theory of alienation for the 21st century” European Journal of Social Theory vol. 25 no. 3, SAGE Publishing, June 2021, pp. 440–57


Sartre, Jean. Critique of Dialectical Reason Vol 1, Verso London. New York,2004 


 


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