Critics (rescue me, because I am one too)

Many historians like to criticize capitalism. They criticize not only the exploitation, but also how it has come to dominate our cultural and symbolic lives. Others like to critique the state and its attempts to manage populations and impose social control (or, with no sense of irony, to criticize its failure to live up to responsibilities of social intervention).

The problem is that nearly all of these critiques accept the basic world-view of materialism and rationalism that is so fundamental to the power and justification of capitalism and the modern state in the first place. In this world view, a meaningful life will be attained through social order, management, development, physical health, material accumulation, career advancement, physical comfort, and rational choices based on awareness of our basic biological nature. A failure to achieve happiness through these methods shows only that we have failed to properly understand and execute the methods–that we are losers.

The critics often shift the blame for our problems from our own failings to “them” and their capitalist institutions. But they leave the basic goals of life intact–material accumulation, development, stability and avoiding death and discomfort. Alternatives views are stigmatized as flaky New Age mysticism, quackery, fundamentalism, utopianism, decadence or mental imbalance (although “traditional cultures” are often given more slack). But once we reform the state, end oppression, save the earth, or achieve justice, create community, encourage human empowerment or appreciate diversity, what do we do with it? Will we still just be looking for the latest new restaurant, remodeling the kitchen, losing weight, avoiding death, upgrading our phones, and making sure our kids get into a good college so they can replicate the entire cycle?

Choose Life. Choose a job. Choose a career. Choose a family. Choose a fucking big television, choose washing machines, cars, compact disc players and electrical tin openers. Choose good health, low cholesterol, and dental insurance. Choose fixed interest mortgage repayments. Choose a starter home. Choose your friends. Choose leisurewear and matching luggage. Choose a three-piece suit on hire purchase in a range of fucking fabrics. Choose DIY and wondering who the fuck you are on Sunday morning. Choose sitting on that couch watching mind-numbing, spirit-crushing game shows, stuffing fucking junk food into your mouth. Choose rotting away at the end of it all, pissing your last in a miserable home, nothing more than an embarrassment to the selfish, fucked up brats you spawned to replace yourselves. Choose your future. Choose life… But why would I want to do a thing like that? I chose not to choose life. I chose somethin’ else. And the reasons? There are no reasons. Who needs reasons when you’ve got heroin?

                                                                       –Irvine Welsh, Trainspotting


Posted on September 4, 2011, in Academic History, The Big Questions and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.


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