Wednesday, 10 June 2015

Why the mailbox seems to matter

Consider the mailbox, and every commodity. The importance is what it offers, its specific appeal. It is a kind of psychological work-around in defence of my identity. That’s why commodities are commodities, it’s what makes them desirable as commodities. What matter is what is in them “more than themselves”.

When Karl Marx says of commodities take on theological niceties and mystical whimsies in the first volume of Capital, it's this phenomenon he’s referencing: the phenomenon of “reified belief”.

Stick with me: someone wants to change their mailbox. Indicating they “really believe” in its ability to speak for the person. I think they’re being shallow. I think they’ve been tricked by our stupid culture and by advertisers and the anonymous millions with hands in pockets. In short, I “don’t really believe”.

But that doesn’t matter, because what I miss is that “the reification works even if I don’t believe”. Because we’re not talking here about the material properties of the mailbox, about its dimensions or physical utility. And we're not really talking about the mailbox at all (or about “use-value”), but about the symbol of the mailbox, what it “stands for”. And in this case, whether I buy into its ability to speak for me or not, whether or not I “really believe”. Regardless, its symbolic efficiency is the same.

That’s why my first thought of ––“This is fucked up!”–– doesn’t have the power to change reality. This one ––“I’m fucked up!”–– does have that power.

When I make the first statement, I’ve already accepted the form of the argument. I’m still defining myself through reference to the mailbox, albeit in a negative way. Because what I’m really saying in the first instance is, “Look! Everyone is tricked, they’ve all really believe! But not me; no, I realise that someone, some company or corporation, some government or agency, in short SOME OMNIPOTENT ENTITY has conspired to convince us all that commodities can speak for us!”

When I make the second statement,  I recognise no one has forcibly taken away the power to speak from anyone, but that we’ve all freely given it away of our own accord. We’ve done it unconsciously (disavowal), so that we can hear the message returned to us that we want to hear and pretend like it came from someone else.

The real value of a commodity has nothing to do with the commodity’s actual use, but about the way it’s able to send our own message back to us in an inverted form: I want the commodity to speak for me because (by the inverted virtue of wish-fulfillment) IF it can speak for me, THEREFORE there is a “me” to begin with. That’s the crazy thing: all is existentialist and post-god, but no one realises it.

All over the whole world people are acting and thinking like this at the exactly the same time which gives us our “society” or “the system”. No one really believes it and yet we all do believe in its reality very much. The system is “nowhere dense” but “everywhere present”. A perfectly decentralised structure. The ant-hill I mentioned in previous posts couldn't be more accurate. Why are we going up? Because that's how ant-hill are built. Duh.

And the thing that tops it all off, the really mind-blowing kicker, is the realisation that, when it comes to the “mystery of substitution”, the question of how/why objects are initially given the power to speak for us, this account of things reveals the power to speak was never “ours” to begin with. “Substitution” is actually original and constitutive.

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