06 February 2016
A couple of years removed from the formal sphere of academic theory I find myself frequently contemplating the day to day manifestations of anger and depression of many in my social circles. Regardless of what class analysis would point towards, I don't really see frustration directed towards the wealthy elite, that is, the appropriators of the surplus are not the target of the youngest working generation's frustrations. It would seem that those becoming insanely wealthy off of appropriating labor are at most an abstract concept that exist elsewhere, and can't really be fought. For most of the working class, the wealthy elite have become, at best, an object of scorn. There seems to be a general (if unspoken) consensus among many of my peers that there is no point in fighting against something that cannot really be changed. Just a few years after the occupy movement the "1%" have become non-relevant to most people as a place to manifest discontent as we search for meaning in our day to day lives.
Throughout history a person who is unsure of the source of their next meal will not fight for the well-being of their fellows, they will fight to find dinner. A better life is an abstract concept when faced with a major obstacle (such as subsistence calorie intake), trumped by the immediate need... The major obstacle for most American workers is not material survival, but rather relevance and meaning. The average working American does not rile against the abstract concept of a wealthy elite stealing their surplus labor, rather they fight for meaning in their day to day processes. These manifestations, albeit often misplaced, can be witnessed in attitudes towards the role of labor in life. Most Americans do not want to be defined by their work (which historically has been very different), instead most of us fight to leave their work "at work" whenever possible. Modern wealth and production gains have replaced physical needs with the need for meaning in labor. Or when meaning is not perceived as possible, the intentional stripping of all meaning out of labor.
Meaning, and therefore fulfillment, will not necessarily be found in the tasks preformed as wage labor (although that remains a common desire), but if not defined by our labor then defined where? If meaning does not come from the labor preformed for a wage, then the meaning of laboring to build a better life/standard of living for one's self and loved ones becomes an option. Sadly in modern capitalism both of these forms of meaning is generally lacking for a majority of those who are forced to labor without ownership of the means of production.
When survival is not really in question, but material meaning (growth of standard of living) beyond surviving paycheck to paycheck is unobtainable for most, what is left for the average working person? The work itself is generally viewed as something to be forgotten as quickly as possible after the wage is earned.... If society is not ready to change the system of production to one of non-exploitative labor perhaps smaller changes towards greater individual control in the work place?
I witness people, day to day, becoming more depressed, if not economically, certainly in spirit, by the perceived notion that change is not possible, and that they just "do as they are told" for fear of losing the ability to reproduce their own labor. From the first days of industrial capitalism to the present people have been working to earn enough to survive to get back to work.....Perhaps now that basic physical needs are easily met for most workers the point has been overlooked that other needs of the working class are not even on the radar.
The plight of the worker in modern American capitalism is not one of physical starvation but rather a starvation of power and control. The youngest working generation only knows of the middle class as a concept from history and reacts by treating their lack of relevance (in the work place and in society) by medicating themselves (or allowing their anger to build without any concrete direction).
American society may be a long way from a class based revolution, but I see more class consciousness in the generation just entering the labor force in statements such as "do I really want to go out again tonight? What's the point? " than I have ever witnessed in my own generation. I don't know if mass worker ownership will appear suddenly. However, I have witnessed small amounts of empowerment and hope in worker self management processes. These processes are not widespread and even where they exist are not presumably not that entrenched or strong but they do have potential. Convince a young worker to sacrifice for a communist revolution? Never happen. Convince a young worker in a capitalist enterprise that they deserve more of a say in the direction of their enterprise as well as their own day to day? Might actually be something the masses are ready to embrace?
Disenchanted? Sure. Find a Marxist who isn't? Hopeful? Always.