Sunday, July 24, 2005

Under the Cloack of Supercommodity

According to The Old Testament, humankind have condemned to eat the sour fruits of the tree of toil in the earth because they dared to eat the sweet fruits of the tree of knowledge in Heaven: “With labour and toil shalt thou eat thereof all the days of thy life.”(1) But if we follow the verses of postmodern thinkers, we seem to escaped from the grasp of this curse by converting knowledge into the principal force of production. Thus, while we are behind the bars of toil by virtue of tasting knowledge in the first story, some of us are helpless jailbirds through failing to perch on a branch of this ominous tree in the immediate one: Ignorance is Poverty. As a good many thinkers inspired from the “fetishism of commodities” have formulated, there must be religious or sur(plus)religious conjunction between inside and outside of the production cage for the sake of this cursed continuity. At least, there must be a idealistic kernel in the materialistic shell of capitalist production for gloss over knowledge as a force of production. So we must be sorry for Nike because of their lack of knowledge and their primitive methods of production while Ford are wise enough to produce far more complicated commodities with ingenious robots. We have to submit our obeisance in the presence of Ford's magical logic of production in which robots are producing robots in an eternal row. If we venture to retrace the genesis of this row I have a sinking feeling that we will encounter nothing but the specter of absolute knowledge. What a miraculous discovery for the intellectuals cruising a subject for revolution in the era in which the working class has taken off the stage. Whereas knowledge or robots or mass media instruments are not only middle terms or pretexts but the subjects of surplus value production, we can rest our buttocks in front of “telescreens” to be witness to the revolution of exploited robots or comrade cell-phones. But there is no need to reproach this inevitable historical moment if it fails to realize itself in a short time. We can make do with democracy of knowledge and we can vote in the elections of administrative softwares by then: Conservative v2.01 vs. Labour v2.03

I beg your pardon. I am well aware that the process of knowledge is far from being humorous outside of this text. Analogous with the non textual process of production, it is a sweaty and bloody movement in general. Properly, it is a struggle between materialistic tendency of thought in pursuit of its own identity and idealistic twilight of the material world which is lurking on this way. It is the resistance of the concrete to the repressive abstractions, slavering to think it in an abstract way. For instance, it is the battle royal for truth between the awareness of “process of objectification appears in fact as a process of alienation from the standpoint of labour” and the sneaky “appropriation of alien labour from the standpoint of capital.”(2) It is the persistence in the concrete appearance of the surplus-value production ideology against the abstractions conjuring forgeries out of “the ideology of communicational transparency.”(3) In other words, it is the intractable movement of thinking. Let us recall Ludwig Feuerbach's crucial remark: “What is separate in reality should not be identical in thought.”(4) And let us remember the desolate insistence of Lenin while European Social Democrat parties slipping to official patriotic positions in the World War. He was trying to interrupt the movement of false thought pushing to combine things which are separated in reality: socialism and nationalism. At the same time, proper knowledge opposes to the separation of things which are interconnected in reality: Nike and Ford etc.

Recently, a sports page columnist of a Turkish newspaper wrote an article about a soccer player and expressed the creed of a weird sect unconsciously: “He has no superstitions but prays before the match and firstly steps on the pitch with his right foot.” Similarly, what is the wisdom of the commodity production process which has no superstitions in locker room but suddenly doll itself up with supernatural hardwares on the pitch? As Marx portrayed, the relationship between subject and object is plain and simple in the island of Robinson (If we don't count the nonsensical theory of “productive capital” and the famous “fishnet” metaphor). But when the object turns into social object by organization of daily Robinsonian activities and the addition of exchange process, it begins to press in upon its own qualitative borders. “A commodity is therefore a mysterious thing, simply because in it the social character of men's labour appears to them as an objective character stamped upon the product of that labour; because the relation of the producers to the sum total of their own labour is presented to them as a social relation, existing not between themselves, but between the products of their labour.”(5) There begins the tug of war between subject (men) and object (commodity) on the social field: One's loss is the other's gain. Hence, last week in Istanbul, the condition of “poor” man who refused by seven hospitals without inspiring any mercy despite his heart-attack, signifies us that if we want to express ourselves, we have to own some modified objects which will do this in our place since we are not capable to express ourselves as we are deformed subjects. The objectification process designated by Marx has mutated in the current development stage: objectification-subjectification-objectification. The objectification of human labour in the commodity form, the subjectification of commodity as an social entity and the social objectification of human by its loss of area on the social scope. If you take a close look to this process you will notice the strange absence of something: At the end, there is no concept of commodity in the conventional sense. Here come some of the most crucial questions of today: What if the commodity was the victim of a conceptual murder? What if we were carried away by the current of perversion and we have lost the track of the commodity form? And what if the wealth of the capitalist mode of production ain't an "an immense accumulation of commodities"(6) in the conceptual world anymore?

The abolition of intermediary object in a contradiction erases the borderline between the opposites. For example, if you extract humankind from the religious discourse, God and Satan get along quite well. In fact, they vanish immediately without finding enough time to make another bet. So, If you accomplish to extract the private property from the society in the material world or from the society in the intellectual kingdom, you get the abolition of the bourgeoisie and the working class in the material world or in the the intellect. By emphasizing the corporate property relations in the modern society and insisting on the conclusion which indicates the disintegration of private property, you can easily wound the meaning of any effort which seeks the possibilities for abolition of private property in the material world, since there is no concept of private property at all. The abolition of object is the invitation to a shadow fight. If you are in a dominant role or if you have a profitable position inside the hierarchy of a contradiction, all you have to do is to conceal the intermediary object from the inquisitive eyes of the other side of the contradiction. Afterwards begins the dance of your bewildered opposition with the scepters, with the spirit of nonexisting victims, with the the ancient disapprovals has no validity in the intellect anymore and with the dreams of revolution where there is nothing to revolt against. “The Communist Manifesto” of 19th century leaves its readers in front of the palpable enemies. But “Empire”(7) proposes us to see the invisible, to touch the monster sphere (turbocapitalism) which has no surface in the intellectual dimension. (This was the main reason of the selection of “The Manifesto” at the top of the “most harmful books” list by conservatives while “Empire” was absolutely kicked out of the subject). But the “turbocapitalism” (or whatever you call it) has a strange revolutionary aspect. It strives to abolish the private property like Marxism. But It strives to abolish the private property from the intellect or from the language to prevent the abolition of private property from the material life while Marxism points out the activity in the material life for intellectual revolution.

The disappearance of the conventional meaning of commodity is one of the means of this reactionary revolution process. For example, the commodities produced by Nestle or Starbucks generally signify their brand without arousing any image of the women and children from Brazil or Indonesia. At the same time, Ford or Nike produces some kind of culture forms and driving or dressing experiences whose use value is exactly equal to their exchange value. In a recent essay, Alain Badiou sarcastically proposes to ban the religious symbols of Capital: “Isn't the conspicuous symbol of this degrading religion what we can read on pants, sneakers and t-shirts: Nike, Chevignon, Lacoste... Get to work, Chirac. Let's ban the conspicuous symbols of Capital, with no compromises.”(8) Badiou is right about the hyper-symbolist character of the modern religion. But this symbols are also the air holes for escaping from the comprehension of intelligence. Hence, brandisation has explained as decommodification in the sacred texts of business life. This concept manifests the extraction of essential qualities from the commodity. Once a commodity has branded it levitates from the ground of its modest being as a good or service produced for getting profit by the generosity of the market to a being which can be as generous as a profiteer or a market. Contrary to the disclosures of sacred texts, brandisation is not simply an act of distinguishing similar products from different producers. If you regard the subject (men) as an object of God, subjectification of the object (commodity) means that the newborn subject will be regarded as an object of God. So, as long as the object (commodity) between the bourgeoisie and the working class is a divine object, complaints can only be made in the presence of God.

Decommodification signifies the disappearance of ancient and colorless qualities of commodity. The new creature exhibits every entertaining, educational, energizing, illuminating, fiery or beneficial tricks but its essential ones. It is like a bear which can perform every style of dance but forbidden to hibernate in front of the audience. Every package of something consumed by us is demonstrated as a contribution to the cutthroat fight against enormity. It is a kind of lunacy which has crystallized in a speech of a president of the Republic of Turkey, who was the heroic leader of liberalization process in the eighties. He stated that we could prepare a healthy future for younger generations by the income of indirect taxes from consumption of cigarettes and alcohols. So, we could be healthy according as the amount of cigarettes and alcohols that we consumed. This is the basic behavior of supercommodities. We can rescue the princess by only cooperating with the dragon. If we want to lose weight we should fill our stomach with light products as full as possible. If we want to keep a thick distance between AIDS and ourselves we should make love as frequently as we can with ultra-thin condoms. And we can rest peacefully under the statue of liberty as long as someone sweats under the cracking whips.

As I mentioned before, decommodification seeks to fill the cavity among the exchange value and use value. According to Slavoj Zizek, “The logic of exchange-value follows its own path, its own mad dance, irrespective of the real needs of real people.” And reality chases this illusion: “Reality is catching up in the guise of ecological catastrophes, poverty, Third World diseases in collapse of social life, mad cow disease.”(9) But in the decommodification process this pursuit is reversed. Exchange value tries to catch use-value to the zero point, where the utility of an object can only be measured by its price. This conclusion is far beyond the surreal imaginations of Marginalist economists who sought the roots of value beneath the consumption activity. It is a semantic zone beyond the reach of consumption where our old “Dr. Jeykill and Mr. Hyde” can fly hand in hand in the guise of a superman because of the zero gravity. So, what happens in that zone? Every thing flies hither and thither like (but not as masterful as) commodities. In the chaotic emptiness, everyone clashes with the concepts of disorder irregularly. The only things regularly rising and descending are the prices of supercommodities. That is the promised land of Capital where illusion have caught the reality (your real needs etc). Following the movement of prices is the only way to contact with reality because Price is the only reliable tool for mapping our semantic constellation, as it is written on the most stable object (supercommodity) in the sky. But once its price is paid (or when you collide with it inevitably), it begins to scatter endless possibilities. You can not even guess the use-value of a supercommodity because human brain is too inadequate to estimate its functions before they go into action. In a sense, you could have consumed an experience, something attracts men or women, something saves the future of generations, something sets you free, something walks around the blank spaces of your mind, something dives to the subconscious more deeper than psychoanalysts, something halts the pangs of your conscience or actually something which prevents you from contacting to your real needs. The only criterion is left over to judge the utility of a product is its Price.

Karl Marx has clarified vividly how a table “stands on its head, and evolves out of its wooden brain grotesque ideas.”(10) But he did not live long enough to witness their intensified collaboration with the men who already have a wooden brain. He has showed us how the premises and categories of political economy turn inside out by a glance from the standpoint of labour. Then a new generation of philosophy has came with a proposal of a new stance which was neither at the side of labour nor capital. This was an inexcusable mistake. Because capital and labour (the smaller one) are concentric circles which covers the whole social field. So, every single standpoint which is not inside the circle of labour is the standpoint of capital. They have tried to portray the world by standing clear of the ideological traps. But they were like confused Tarzans striving to swing on philosophical vines from one tree to another in a forest where trees are playing puss in the corner. They have witnessed the scrambling pieces of a puzzle that they solved yesterday. The priorities of capital were altering their appearance day by day and they were standing on pitch of capital. For instance, they have not decided the nation state is whether or not good for humanity yet (but work in process). In the evening they claimed that the nation state will be seen as a hobble by the multinationals. In the morning, they gawped at the tango of these two lovers. They have embraced every single fragment they encountered in the unstable space which aforementioned in the preceding paragraph. They have supposed that they could digest reality by swallowing the illusion which has swallowed reality.

The wealth of our society can be seen as an immense accumulation of knowledge from the standpoint of capital. Or you can daydream about a society of information. Or you can be ill-willed enough to regard knowledge as the principal force of production without acknowledging what kind of knowledge you are talking about. (Did not the mathematical knowledge about pyramids kill countless of slaves in ancient Egypt?) But the shell of things becomes transparent when you step inside the circle of labour. CIRCLE OF LABOUR IS THE FIELD WHERE REALITY GOES AFTER THE ILLUSIONARY. Inside the circle, the mask of commodity is ripped off from its face. So, supercommodity (a boloney concept that I fabricated for this article) is conceivable only outside of this circle. It nose-dives if it dares to enter the inside circle as well as other miracles. So, our basic problem is a matter of selection: Should we try to stand on a virtual field where everything seems flying freely in its atmosphere and should we contend with the freedom to fly which likes the freedom of an astronaut who lost his connection with the ship in his space walk? Or should we stand on a field where the reality conquers illusion and accordingly which can be easily accused for being faithful to the laws of nature and should we climb the tree of Marx to eat the fruits of knowledge which can provide us a route for an escape from spurious heaven of capital?

Do we have to be happy with the appearance of Marxism as a corpse from the standpoint of capital? From there, the dead man seems living... the living man seems dead.

July, 2005


(1) The Old Testament-Book of Genesis

(2) Karl Marx-Grundrisse

(3) Lyotard-The Postmodern Condition

(4) Feuerbach-Principles of the Philosophy of the Future

(5) Karl Marx-Capital I

(6) Karl Marx-Capital I

(7) Michael Hardt&Antonio Negri-Empire

(8) Alain Badiou-Behind the Scarfed Law, There is Fear

(9) Slavoj Zizek-Rethinking Marxism

(10) Karl Marx-Capital I