“I consume, therefore I am” the radical poster humorously proclaimed, satirizing the more famous philosophical dictum “I think therefore I am”.
But there is no human essence, no defining kernel of fate and determination. We contain multitudes. We can create ourselves.
Under the rule of coercive authority, we have become stunted and shrunken. But we are nevertheless not just consumers. What’s missing in order to form a more accurate picture of what primarily defines a domesticated person today is the other side of consumption: production. “I produce, therefore I am” seems as accurate as “I consume, therefore I am”. In fact the two descriptions, combined together, are nearly the whole personality picture, unfortunately, for the conscripts of capitalist civilization. Each of us is expected to produce and consume, this is what citizens do.
Human the tool-user we are taught. Homo Habilis. Somewhere along the way we lost our abundance of defining characteristics, our multitudes. Are we not dreamers and fornicators as much as we are producers and consumers? But urban civilizations spread their reductionism until all the dreamers and naked savages were taken hostage behind the walls, absorbed into a living hell. From now on, they were told, you must divide your organic lives into measurable units. Dream time will no longer melt into conscious time. From now on you will labor for the Pharaohs and the Kings. Accountants and landlords and priests will rule your world, not grandmothers and shamans and your own imaginations. Whatever skills you have will no longer be used for the family, the clan, the tribe, but will be used to produce commodities for the Market or products for the Empire. The Market became dominant and colonized imperial strengths. Thus today humanity has as its main adversary the Imperialism of the Market. From being wild women of the jungle and wild men of the forest, we eventually became wage slaves in the cities.
And the once free peoples stopped singing as they wove their fishing nets, stopped lying lazily, happily, in their comfortable hammocks, smoking their medicine, telling stories, fornicating. From now on they would chant sad songs as they broke and hauled stone for the hierarchs pyramids, tilled the soil and sent their children to war for the King and Queen or huddled on small reservations, dispossessed. At least until they too became forcibly integrated into urban civilization. And so the uncivilized became the civilized and went out and conquered other free people.
But there was a beginning when work didn’t exist, when play and community were basic ingredients in lives freely chosen, when reciprocity assured equality. A time when ungoverned individuals knew that selling one’s labor for a wage is a form of slavery. And there was resistance to the spreading Empires of the urban hierarchs everywhere they came to impose themselves, to elbow the natives out of their habitats.
Does this make me a mere producer for the market? Is my pottery, the product of my labor and imagination, of my sweat and time, left with any meaning, beyond that of a commodity? Do the ones which I give away, to friends, family and neighbors, for free, escape their place in the capitalist scheme of things? Naturally I hope that somehow there is a separate value, a use-value that transcends its exchange value which gives my work, and therefore a big part of my life, meaning, regardless of whether it is given or sold or even stolen. And the joy in the process must count. Or is all the positive really just self-delusion? Isn’t the whole things just a job?
I ask because I like conversations, because I want all of us to think about our place in the social order.
No one signed their creations, no one left their imprint trying to make a name for themselves, seeking personal immortality or wealth. The creators contributed to the greater good or made offerings so that the gods might smile down on everybody.
But what of the later humble village-based folk traditions, which survived for millennia and in fact still exist in some places today? Could they not offer inspiration, an opportunity to help us leave behind the fame seeking, shallow celebrityism and pretentious claims to intellectual and creative superiority widespread in art milieus? Why not encourage village potters, village weavers ? No need for galleries and curators and lifetimes spent deciphering arcane vocabularies and fetishizing producers of cultural artifacts. No need for anxiety and self-doubt if one isn’t accepted into a sub-cultural scene.
The masters have made it so that living costs money, and money is our congealed labor, our imaginations and life energy spun into commodities. And so I answer my question: indeed even an artisan, like everyone else, is but a component in the reproduction of capitalist social relations, an example of the dictum that: “I produce therefore I am”. But I am ready for a world without commodities, to join with others to terminate this social order so that we can use our creative skills as methods of inquiry and exploration, and voluntarily and joyfully create what is needed and desired by our kin, not what is demanded of us by the Market and Authority.