THE MARKET IS A UNIVERSAL TOTALITARIAN RELIGION
Why not consume beyond the market?
By Maria Wolflingseder
[This article is translated from the German on the World Wide Web, http://www.streifzuege.org/druck/str_autor_woelf_0703_marktreligion.html
. Dr. Maria Wolflingseder, b. 1958 in Salzburg, Austria studied pedagogy and psychology in Vienna and is the editor of the journal Streifzuge.]
Consumerism or consuming comes from the Italian consumo or consumare and means consumption (especially food). In our capitalist market economy, hardly anything is consumed without being purchased. Shopping seems to us the most natural thing of the world. As we must breathe, eat and drink, we must also shop to survive. Still shopping is by no means an affair decreed by nature.
COMMODIFICATION OF GOODS IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN THE GOODS THEMSELVES
What is consuming? What do we do when we shop? Shopping is not a direct form of giving and taking. We acquire a good or service by means of money. Thus the market comes between goods and me. Shopping is exchanging money for an article. Consumers are concerned with practical value while producers focus on the exchange value paid by the customer. To producers and buyers, the product as such does not make a difference – whether nuclear bombs or baby strollers. Production as cheap as possible and attracting as many customers as possible is crucial.
The social standardization of shopping extends to more and more products and services. Signs of life and natural resources that were not commercialized in the past are increasingly pressed in a commodity form: air pollution quotas, patenting all human, plant and animal genes and human origins. Satisfaction of interpersonal needs is also increasingly exchanged for money. The market of psycho- and body-therapies, flirt- and grief seminars, partner-procurements, companionship agencies, child pornography and child prostitution has exploded.
This means firstly whoever has money can buy everything offered. Secondly, more and more human needs are only satisfied by purchasing a legal title or fulfilling a purchase agreement. Thirdly, needs that cannot be satisfied with goods remain unfulfilled.
The system of buying and selling is maintained even when it seems absurd from a human standpoint. For example, tons of food are destroyed instead of given away. This completely corresponds to the logic of money. The prices must be kept high.
Thus shopping or money is more important than the goods at hand in our society! Money and profit are even more important than the conditions serving the well-being of people or the animal- and plant world. Money or the pressure to commodification (gaining profit or surplus value) and the market have a cultic dimension. Money in itself is nothing. I cannot eat it or cover myself with it. It has only a very trifling thermal value. Money cannot represent itself, only something else. Nevertheless all our acting permanently circles around “the one thing,” money. It has become a fetish or idol to which we must pay tribute, an essential magic potion to satisfy our needs.
Since commodification, the making-into-money of all our goods and acts, is more important than these goods and acts themselves, we never know where we stand or whether there’s anything to it. Is a product or service really something good? Its main purpose is to bring money to the seller. A whole economic branch promises us the blue of the sky. Commercials, advertising brochures, spams, advertising messages and inserts clog all channels, mailboxes, house entrances and human cells.
We know products must be produced cheaply and are seldom environmentally- and humanly-friendly. We also know they are seldom durable since they must soon be re-purchased. But do we understand that all kinds of damages are welcome occasions for further commodification andf profit production, for example, production of problematic packaging material and their – often dubious – recycling, health dangers and their attempted amends, noise production and production of noise-protection measures. This means the causes of damages and dangers are not repaired because profit can still be made from tinkering with the aftereffects. The highest principle in our market economy is multiplying money and gaining profit, not producing what is rational and necessary for humanity. This requires endless growth and engenders ever-stronger competition. The main criterion is what can sell and make the most money.
All the Internet job offers are not based on goods but on dubious promises of earning money and not selling anything. Even on the stock exchange, the majority of all businesses are only “air” businesses, “pyramid schemes.” This development is nothing abnormal but the logical consequence of the blind pressures to merciless commodification. Smuggling, the slave trade, arms trade and organ trade are not the wicked counterparts of good legal businesses but only their consistent continuation – where the boundaries are always flowing.
THE NEW UNIVERSAL FORM OF BEWITCHMENT
Money replaces God and has become our new religion, a universal totalitarian religion that never existed before! We cannot avoid the pressure of having to sell our labor power and buy essentials.
The market expanded in the 18th century and began to “flaunt itself around.” Conditions have reversed in incredible ways. “While a secular state forms around the market, the market itself stops being merely profane and has an existential or cultic dimension. The market is not only a trading center for goods but becomes the central socialization force. The market rises to the authority that decides over the weal and woe, meaning and nonsense and existence and non-existence of human life. The market accepts and rejects life like a Calvinist god. The market promises nothing but itself. Its `highest good’ is the boom season.” (the evangelical theologian and philosopher Christoph Turcke: “The market gives and the market takes away” in: Literaturen 12/2005).
The followers of conventional religions know their own religiosity and confess it. Members of the goods- and money church have a different story. The theocracy of goods and money permanently penetrates our daily conduct so we are not even conscious of this process any more. The Christian reign of God was not of this world. In contrast, the market theocracy makes this world into the world to come. The cult of money and goods overshadows all its predecessors in strangeness and absurdity. Production of wealth in goods was subject to the end-in-itself of profit production and its appendage. Goods are not manufactured to satisfy needs. Needs that are able to pay are occasions for money-making. Thus the everyday reproduction of people is transformed into an unending fetish service. Absurd metaphysical notions and rites of the world to come like money-making and the legal system are regarded as entirely self-evident and unquestionable, as social gifts of nature.
Commodity logic is a total social form, a subject- and thought form and not only a crude economic logic. Modern democratic consciousness reflects a commodity-oriented thinking that no longer recognizes it sown limits and therefore only imagines solutions of social abuses on the basis of money and commodification.
Instead of worshipping the fetish commodification and the market, we must demystify the cult and focus attention on concrete wealth. Wealth in capitalist society always exists in two forms: material wealth (food, housing, clothing etc.) and money-wealth. However material wealth doers not have its own right to exist. Material wealth only has a right to exist as abstract money wealth when it becomes a commodity. Providing enough goods and services for everybody is not a problem today for the first time in history. Only changing them in commodities, profit and money is a problem. That is the logical result of uncoupling wealth production from labor. In other words, less and less human effort is needed to produce the wealth of goods. Machines do the work better and cheaper. People become jobless and have little money at their disposal. They cannot buy the abundance of goods. Thus money or the pressure to have money is an obstacle between them and their provisions.
For most, a personal production and distribution of goods, i.e. a direct appropriation without buying and exchange, is inconceivable. Still that is the only way to make possible a good life for all people. What is the origin of the panic fear about thinking beyond the deadly logic of the capitalist system?
LITERATURE: Gaston Valdivia: Zeitverschwendung Marktwirtschaft – On the Most Absurd Mode of Production From Time Immemorial, in: DEAD MEN WORKING!