Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Commodity fetishist in chief

Somewhat unexpected resonance between Marx, our first shared reading after the MOOC adventure in "Theorizing Religion," and something in Forbes magazine. On his way to decrying the "fetishism of commodities," Marx laments the eclipsing of meaningful "use value" by abstract and inhuman "exchange value." This economic shift alienates people from themselves by making their labor, which would otherwise be central to fully human lives interacting creatively and caringly with other humans and nature, an abstraction worth only as much or as little as some stranger is willing to pay for it. It's the economic base for the wan religiosity of modern Protestantism, with its disembodied souls in some sort of relation with an abstractly sublime deity, their religious lives so private they may be unknown even to themselves (I added that part).

Anyway, it reminds me of some interesting observations made by Forbes writer Randall Lane in framing an interview with the president, which help make clear just how his professional deformation as the kind of wheeler-dealer he is makes him incapable of serving the common good, or even imagining it.

Donald Trump didn't get rich building businesses, despite years of brand-burnishing via The Apprentice and millions of votes from people who craved exactly that experience. Instead, his forte lies in transactions—buying and selling and cutting deals that assure him a win regardless of the outcome for others. The nuance is essential. Entrepreneurs and businesspeople create and run entities that have any number of interested parties—shareholders and customers and employees and partners and hometowns—that in theory all share in success. ... Dealmakers rarely seek that kind of win-win-win-win-win. Whether it's a stock trade, a swap of middle relievers or optioning a real estate parcel, a deal tends to involve just two parties and generally results in one coming out ahead of the other (so much so that a "win-win" is considered a noteworthy aberration).

I'm less inclined to suppose business as usual is hunky dory than Forbes, but this helps explain the tormenter-in-chief's cavalier, when not aggressive, destruction of everything multilateral - he'd rather throw out everything collectively crafted and maintained and replace it with opportunistic short-term bilateral strong-armings called "deals." Nothing else is real for him. (I wonder if this sheds light on the spirituality of his Evangelical base in some way, somehow, too - topic for another day.) Our president is the inhumanity of exchange value personified. We are in deep, deep trouble. Lose-lose-lose-lose-lose.

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