"The Christian must discover in contemplation, and in the giving of his life, those symbolic actions which will ignite the people's faith to resist injustice with their whole lives, lives coming together as a united force of truth and thus releasing the liberating power of the God within them." - James Douglass, Contemplation and Resistance.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Fetishism of Commodities

The best way to understand this idea and its power is by considering a product such as a Nike tennis shoe. In some societies, teenagers have killed for a Nike. No one dies for not having a Nike, but having one fills a psychological need so powerful that it can sweep away moral inhibitions, even those regarding human life. There seems to be a mysterious and infinite being behind this commodity which promises profound personal fulfillment. Nike is not a tennis shoe, but a life model, as the publicity agent puts it.

So what is this mysterious being who can command human sacrifice? A fetish is an inanimate object such as a tree, a stone, a statue etc. that has been given human properties. It has become infused with a supernatural personality and often commands worship and sacrifice. A commodity is a manufactured object such as a tennis shoe, but its distinguishing characteristic is that it is produced for the purpose of getting something else, profit, rather than fulfilling a real human need, though it may do that as well.

Now when the teenager seeks for a Nike, he is not actually seeking an efficient and comfortable shoe, he is seeking a relationship with a power outside himself. He knows that in order to have a chance of being accepted by the right gang, the tennis shoe is the condition of possibility. But the tennis shoe would not be the passport to acceptance unless it had an aura about it that spelled success, achievement, a life model. Those who don't attain to this aura have failed in some essential and mysterious way.

Hopefully, I've managed to communicate an idea that lies at the heart of our economic system and has profound religious overtones. Such is the fascination that keeps the tremendous talents that we have potentially, the talent to create harmonious ecologies, to bring out the human potentialities of technology, to create a world centered on the fulfillment of human need locked tightly behind the walls of fantasy. Here we rot in the capitalist Disneyland while the life that sustains withers and dies in the onslaught unleashed by our lack of responsibility and infinite appetite for self-indulgence.

No comments: