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Monthly Archives: April 2006

The only two things of which we can be certain.

Praxis is essentially just one of those smarty-pants words for the process of doing, action, practice- practical application. It is something of an opposite to theory, or rather, it is the theory that theory must be applied if it is to ever carry much meaning. For example, anybody can theorize that a particular person is or was the child of god. However, it is not until enough people actually put this theory into practice, i.e. bahave as if this person is god's child, that the theory gains enough meaning to become 'true'.

In some remarkable instances these truths are so widely held that they become those 'inescapable', seductively empirical and all too 'natural facts of life'; they assume an existence outside and over us. What was made by humans comes to dominate humans so that in this instance a handful of creative subjects and generations of progeny enslaved themselves to, commited both acts of violence and compassion out of duty to the mass-figment of christ. Such inversions of subject and object, of society's agents allowing ourselves to be determined by external (although human-made) structures, is what the smarty-pants call reification. Religion in general, and Christians in particular, are one of the easiest examples of this reification concept. And as far as examples go it is really not very compelling, but it is clear.

Political economics and economic 'reality', how a society organizes its reproduction, is a lot like religion. It is a system of 'truths' come 'facts' we accept so often in thought and action as the 'natural' order of things. To use a crude example, the cliche about the only two certainties of life being death and taxes is based upon a reified notion of the state. It presupposes a particular form of state as always and forever existing, like the inevitable sorrow of death. Of course, to see beyond the reified state does one little good, for the state, like the Spanish Inquisition, will come looking for both confession and cash.

Money and the roles we allow it to play, indeed the entire structure we call capitalism is a reification of far greater power, violence, longevity and reach than anything we know of which predates. How many question the money, the market and all their categories? Who questions how it is that things come to carry a price? And yet in the mind it seems there is not much that money can't accomplish, and little some will not do to posess it in abundance. It becomes natural to conceive social reproduction only in terms of needing a 'job' and shopping for entertainment, services, or things (as though enterainment and services aren't things!!), we allow ourselves to believe that only under a system of profiteers, exploiters of our work can society have pop-songs, pubs, ipods, cream cakes, and fruit smelling body scrubs. 

It seldom occurs to us that money, 'in-fact', has no 'real' value at all, or when such a thought is entertained it is all too often finally and quickly silenced as unrealistic, wishful thinking. It is dangerous and subversive thinking, for to question the universal character of the money commodity is to jeaprodize, on the one hand, what may be an otherwise materially comfortable existence as a skilled labor commodity, and on the other hand, to endanger the very mystifications which underpin the 'reality' of the system itself. To use a late example, as more people become aware of the rather arbitrary assignation of price to song; of culture as exploitable property, the ideological edifice of capitalism comes under tension. As people become use to a truly 'free market' (that is non-market- the negation of the market) of songs (to use only one example) it may be that they become more ready to accept free market education, free market housing, free market food, free market pubs, free market mediation channels, and a profusion of voluntary, edifying, and non-exploitative labor. In 'reality' such a restructuring is only a question of social norms, skill development, and methods and tools for the reorganization of social reproduction.        

Economists and those in schools of business are the most extreme example of this reification of capital, for their entire discipline is dominated by a myriad of market functions. It forgets that their market is presupposed; taken as natural and given. Economics loses its transitory and historical character. It forgets that its object of study is entirely and utterly of human construction, and therefore potentially entirely and utterly subject to alteration by our collective will and hand. Economics does not study humans, it studies the creation that dominates humans and then presents it as that which makes us 'free'.

'As in religion one is governed by the products of their own brain, so in capitalist production they are governed by the products of their own hands' (Marx in Fromm: 51).   

The challenge for us as victims of this entire process is to figure out how to re-assert our governance so that the necessaries and luxuries we need and enjoy need not mean an indentured creative servitude in the workplace–a commercially colonized leisure for the lucky end of the global division of labor; any variety of mindless mechanical tasks for the less fortunate many; and of course endemic sickness and defeat for the non-elite rest. From the richest of board members to the poorest of urchins, all in this process have their humanity effaced, and there is no argument worthy of wearing humanist clothes that can justify the indefinite existence of such an economic mode; that cannot argue that we begin here and now to respond to this with praxis.

Praxis. It is through praxis that we organize our will and turn our hands toward change. The type of change we desire will not just happen, for we are its eventual agents. And it is with this in mind that I begin this here blog.    

Fromm, Eric. (1961). Marx’s Concept of Man. Frederick Ungar Publishing:
New York.