Friday, November 20, 2015

Commodification...

is sometimes defined as the changing of social relating into one of an exchange or the buying and selling of feelings. Wikipedia says it is the changing of goods and/or services and/or ideas and/or anything else that isn't usually considered to be a commodity into such a form. Ok...so what's a commodity? Wikipedia says it is "...a substantially fungible marketable item produced to satisfy wants or needs." Hmmm...what the heck is "fungible"...one definition is that it means the property or essence of goods that are capable of being substituted in place of one another.

So...commodification is making something not usually considered to be able to be bought or sold into a something that can be bought or sold. Commodification is closely related to privatization...which essentially means transferring from public control or ownership to private or individual ownership something that's been commodified.
In the book titled A Brief History of Neoliberalism, the author writes: "Commodification presumes the existence of property rights over processes, things and social relations, that a price can be put on them, and that they can be traded subject to legal contract. The market is presumed to work as an appropriate guide -- an ethic -- for all human action." p. 165

Yikes!

We are in deep doo doo. This article might assist in heightening your alarm...if what you're reading hasn't already done so. You're currently getting slammed with all kinds of phenomena related to commodification because of the year end frenzy of buying and selling that has become synonymous with the "holiday" season.

The market as a guide for all human action? Wow. There's a seriously profound demeaning ugliness in that idea. Look around...you can see what happens when such ideas are put into action all over the place.

The source for the above cartoon is here. Apologies for the "leather" reference.

My last years of participation in 'formal' employment put me in a job wherein I had to attend many meetings. I began to notice that the folks who were often given the most attention were those who talked a lot and who sounded like they knew what they were talking about...even when they didn't. Their ideas and notions sounded plausible...and seemed to make sense...unless you really really thought about how people actually behaved and the implications of what they were promoting. These snazzy sounding notions sort of glided over or ignored the sticky parts.

It seemed as if these "good talkers" (and many who listened) were entranced by their words and ideas and they had lost sight of the fact that words and ideas are not living beings or the behavior of living beings or mother Earth and words or ideas don't necessarily correspond accurately to what they purport to reflect nor does the 'logic' of the words or ideas always correspond to reality. But...they sure sounded sensible and/or 'good'.

I had mostly always been a little uneasy with eloquence...not that humans who aren't eloquent can't be full of crap...but crap wrapped up in eloquence is often more difficult to recognize. I appreciate well written things and well spoken folks...but. I've noticed many of us (and me too sometimes) get trapped by that fallacy of confusing a map with the territory. Territory is reality...maps may or may not accurately correspond to that territory. Just because a map looks good doesn't necessarily mean it is true. Symbols are not the things they represent...words are symbols and using language puts you at risk of reifying the symbol and thereby distorting or ignoring reality.

When we use words like "market" we tend to flatten or ignore or invisible the activities that are required for such things to exist. Just like when you go to the supermarket and buy lettuce...the human labor and activities required to prepare the soil, plant the lettuce, water the plants, harvest and package and transport the lettuce are all made invisible. All you see is the end result of a large number of activities which may or may not have included child labor, inadequate wages, toxic chemicals, stolen land...and often that end result is wrapped up in a shiny package and offered to you as a "bargain".

And you buy it because it's "cheap" or you just wanted it. Congratulations...you just provided support to environmental destruction, child or enslaved human labor, exploitation of women, the racialization of objects and people (and your implicit thinking patterns), war and militarization, and on and on and on.

You just sided with the ideological argument that "markets" should guide your behavior and thinking and feeling...and it was easy...nor did you even realize you were engaged in an argument, did you? 

This process of invisibling makes supporting the monstrous destruction of mother Earth and her living beings "normal". Commodification, privatization, markets, profit...words that mask complex and often destructive activities (and unspoken ideological arguments)...be afraid...be very afraid.  
 





 




 

4 comments:

Have Gone Vegan said...

I'll never look at lettuce again in the same way. ;) But it's true, we really don't see anything but the end product. We don't see what, in effect, we're "buying into" when we make so many of our purchases. And as a person who's often had to be frugal, getting something "cheap" still tends to be second nature, even when I should know better.

The market as an ethical guide? Don't think so. And yes, we need to be very afraid.

Oh, and this line, "I began to notice that the folks who were often given the most attention were those who talked a lot and who sounded like they knew what they were talking about...even when they didn't." made me laugh, and brought back many memories. ;)

veganelder said...

Thank you for commenting HGV. Indeed..."cheap" is sort of a magical word...very well designed to get us to focus on the short term versus the long term...to think only about ourselves versus what might be the larger picture. In fact, as I think about it, "cheap" is a terrific device to get us to participate in making harm invisible. Sort of cool in a malevolent and insidious way. It's a spooky society we're in, eh?

I'm glad some memories and laughter happened. I often attended meetings and would have a quiet version of the Twilight Zone theme playing in my head. It was eerie and scary...sort of like our social systems. :-)

A.F.W said...

Great point about "invisible harm."

As a species, our inability to perceive the hidden costs of our decisions is one of humanity's biggest limitations.

Out of sight, out of mind. If you don't see the suffering, then it's ok. Businesses go to great lengths to keep us ignorant, and we tend not to ask too many questions because it's such a bargain!

veganelder said...

Thank you for your comment AFW. Invisibling is a potent weapon that drives destruction and oppression...you're exactly right in that. Well said.