|On Alienation: A Very Short Course
The German philosopher Hegel, and Karl Marx, deepened the study of alienation
(separation, estrangement, apart-ness), which began long before them. Plato,
Aristotle, and many, many others have posed the question: Why are people
pitted against one another?
Hegel addressed this question by setting up a metaphor: The Master and the Slave. It is not hard to develop a series of questions around this relationship like:
What does the Master want?
Why do people need priests, churches, and icons?
What is it that is really god?
How might people reach god without the barriers between god and them?
Marx sought to apply Hegel's questions to daily life, especially what
he saw as the key factor of daily life, work, and the social relations
that people establish when the engage with nature in the struggle to produce,
and reproduce. Marx took up Hegel and suggested that the reason people
are alienated from one another and from their work and creativity, in capitalist
society, is because they do not own the means of production, the machines,
factories, and workplaces where they must go in order to work to live.
Marx said people are alienated when they do not control the process
of production, when they do not control the products of their labor. Alienation,
rooted in the individual ownership of what are really social means of production,
causes people to be in a constant state of anxiety about employment, income,
health, etc., denies them the chance to be fully free and creative in the
most important sphere of their lives: work. Alienation pits people against
one another at the outset in the struggle for jobs. Finally, the more that
people engage in alienated work, which they must do to live, the more they
enrich the people who do own the means of production, and impoverish themselves.
Because they are alienated, because what they see at the end of the
day is the importance of commodities for sale, and not the importance of
collective labor creating value, working people tend to focus on their
relationships with things, as much or more than their relations with people.
At the same time, capitalists, who DO own the means of production, the
banks, and land, are equally trapped. There is nothing they can do to offer,
over time, free and creative jobs to the work force. Work sucks. Because
the must compete, capitalists must use tactics like work speed-ups, battles
for a longer work day, stripping the workers of control over the work place
by replacing the workers' minds with the minds of the boss, and wage cuts.
All this is the source of class struggle which was at the heart of Marx's
analysis as well.
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