Of goals personal and political

Published online 18 September 2007.

This is a short diary about personal goals, and political goals, under capitalism.

In a really antsy mood, while blabbing with a friend on the Internet, I made a list of things I was “waiting for”:

  • — a job doing something I don’t dislike
  • — somebody to respond to all the essays I sent in for publication
  • — a decent party out here in the badlands east of LA (I’m hoping this will happen Saturday)
  • — a community gardens movement in this area
  • — Congress, to stand up to the Bush administration
  • — baby boomers other than Michael Albert (see the article in the most recent ZMag about SDS, sorry, you’ll have to read the whole thing in the paper version) to recognize the virtues of the new crop of student activists
  • — a movement to get the states (or districts or whatever) to quit the No Child Left Behind Act and keep the next generation from becoming test-taking robots
  • — a worldwide movement to wipe out patriarchy and reestablish feminism’s good name
  • — the politicians and the media to recognize a “global, ecologically sustainable society” as the most important overall goal
  • — being able to afford life in northern California again
  • — an ad in the Chronicle of Higher Education for a professorship that actually leads to a job
  • — a Department of Communication in a university (somewhere) that has absorbed even a small portion of the wisdom I’ve gained since graduating with my Ph. D.
  • — to meet someone whom I can imagine as a potential girlfriend
  • — a health insurance plan better than Schwarzenegger’s crime against humanity

Now, some of these look like bluntly political goals; others look like strictly personal goals.  And I’m not, strictly speaking, “waiting for” all of them; some of them I’m actually struggling to get.

But I guess what’s important about them is that they’re MY goals.  Sure, the personal is political… but there’s a key difference btwn. the two — at least the personal, my personal, is mine, whereas the political is typically irrelevant and will disappear in a few years only to be replaced by some or other fabricated pretexts for elite rule.  This, alone, should account for “issues” like “immigration policy” (keeping people in place while granting capital unlimited freedom to roam) and “politicians” such as George W. Bush (who never really stood for anything besides his promises to his backers from Day One).

Other people, of course, have their own political goals.  I’m sure they can make lists like mine, too, only different ones.   My “political” goals (stuff like “death to NCLB,” stuff which in fact comes out of my older frustration in trying to become a public school teacher and my more recent frustration in teaching unprepared college students) are my own, and that other people (as well) have goals of this sort, only they’re different from mine.

Much of the rest of the world (and here I must be careful; there are plenty of dissenters) wants to live in a world with lots of prisons and slums, for instance, and that explains why they build so many of such things.  They consume lots of gasoline and burn lots of coal because they desperately want to live in a world without polar ice caps NOW and this is the quickest way to do it maybe.  They eat lots of tuna fish because mercury poisoning is fun and the seas are better off dead, and so on.

For all the talk about wealth being in people’s set of goals (and commonplace ideology about how it’s “human nature” to be “greedy”), almost all of America chooses to be relatively poor; this explains, for instance, why the richest 1% owns 38% of all wealth.  Maybe most of the wealth-pursuing crowd prefer striving to “making it” in that sense.

If my goals were smarter than theirs, wouldn’t they (with all their brains) have figured it out, and adopted my goals as their own?  How can I claim to have better goals than theirs?  Who would you trust, them or me?  And why?  How can my goals be wiser if so few people are following them?  NCLB for instance: people are actually carrying out NCLB.  Eh?  Action repeats intention: if you hate NCLB but are carrying it out, then what’s your real intention, and what’s your real goal?

*****

Awhile back I was criticized for quoting Marx.  But the quote actually gets to the heart of what I’m after here.  To repeat:

Accumulate, accumulate! That is Moses and the prophets! “Industry furnishes the material which saving accumulates.” [23] Therefore, save, save, i.e, reconvert the greatest possible portion of surplus-value, or surplus-product into capital! Accumulation for accumulation’s sake, production for production’s sake: by this formula classical economy expressed the historical mission of the bourgeoisie, and did not for a single instant deceive itself over the birth-throes of wealth.

Actually, this statement reveals what mincemeat is made of personal goals under the spell of capitalism.  The folks running the show, i.e. the “bourgeoisie” in Marx’s 19th-century terminology, are busy “accumulating” for accumulation’s sake.  Getting wealthy is the mission; it’s the mission of corporations, whose governing boards are chartered to make profits for the wealth of the stockholders.  But it doesn’t really matter what we’re doing, as long as we’re accumulating: that’s what it means when Marx says “Accumulation for accumulation’s sake, production for production’s sake.”  What you do for wealth is something you do for its own sake.  We could be getting wealthy, for instance, at being mercenaries, or embezzlers.  What we make of the world under such a system is of no importance to its participants — it’s what we grab for ourselves that is important.

To use Marx’s terminology, capitalist labor is “alienated.”  If we are working for someone else, what we are in fact doing matters nothing to us, because our employers hire us to do what they want.  We’ve sold the hours of our lives to them; and in return we get an hourly wage.  And that employer-want (see quote above), is determined by “accumulation.”  (In real life, of course, it’s a bit more complicated; but this is the main gist of it.)

To a certain extent, though, we try to make something of ourselves and of the world anyway.  Capitalism has relegated this to a function of “spare time” — but no matter.  So what are you “waiting for,” in the sense of what do you want to see happen?

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