Marx and Perpetual Anxiety

Society

Recently, I feel as if I’ve come across a plethora of things related to Karl Marx. There was this piece in the New York Times using Marx’s ideas to analyze the current situation in Egypt. There was this documentary, which led to me searching for and finding this BBC documentary. There was also this humorous Twitter account and this equally humorous Tumblr account. And, finally, there was this piece attempting to better explain Marx and the use of dialectics in his writings. I read this final blog post at the airport before boarding a flight. Capturing my interest, I decided to reread my e-book copy of The Communist Manifesto instead of paying for in-flight Wi-Fi. Despite mainstream, uneducated opinion, one must not forget just how brilliant Marx was when it came to analyzing capitalism. Considering he was writing some 150 years ago, it’s simply amazing just how frighteningly accurate much of his dissection of our free market economic system was, and how relevant it still is today.

Anyway, as I was rereading the text, one sentence stood out to me that had not previously:

Constant revolutionizing of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones.

You see, I had many other sentences and paragraphs highlighted throughout the text, but not this collection of words. Why these stuck out this time around, I’m not really sure. But, immediately, my synapses started firing and my mind was off to the races. Why is this sentence particularly important, you might ask? Well, to me, it’s because it fits so well with today’s world. That is, capitalism, and it’s constantly changing nature, help fuel human anxiety.

I once heard somewhere that if you are feeling anxious, you are living in the future. This directly relates to what Marx is saying in this sentence. He notes that capitalism has built into it the need for constant innovation, or “revolutionizing,” as he put it. This, of course, is driven by the fact that capitalists are always looking for new ways to increase profits. Using new technology, finding cheaper sources of labor, etc., capitalists are constantly looking for ways to increase their profits. This usually has a negative impact on workers lower down the corporate ladder. That’s because, when capitalists decide to “revolutionize” by, say, incorporating new technology, they usually replace human laborers. This saves the capitalists money that they would usually have to pay the worker, while at the same time leaving the worker unemployed. The same goes for when a capitalist finds a cheaper source of labor. Workers in India or China will work for pennies on the dollar compared to Americans, so it’s a no-brainer to move production overseas. Once again, the capitalists turn a bigger monetary gain, and the workers draw the short end of the stick.

Even if we move away from the workplace, we can see how this constant need for innovation and the drive to increase profit can increase anxiety amongst most human beings in their normal, everyday lives. Take the crash of the financial market back in 2008, for instance. Banks and Wall Street lobbied Congress for years to get rid of regulation in order to turn a bigger profit. Politicians obliged them, which led to catastrophic practices like subprime lending and credit default swaps, both of which played key parts in the financial crisis we found ourselves in (and are still digging ourselves out of today). As a result, many Americans found themselves losing one or more of their homes, their jobs, or their nest eggs. Being that we are all tied into the financial system (whether we like it or not), we are all at the mercy of how it operates. When the economy is riding high and everybody is making lots of money, we tend to be on cloud nine. But when that bubble bursts, like it did in 2008, many people start having to face the anxieties and stressors that come with not having enough money to pay the bills.

So, why does this matter? Because it affirms just how big a part our economic system plays in the wellbeing of our everyday lives. We are so fully enmeshed into the system, that its every move can have a huge impact on our lives. The decisions that ordinary, everyday people make, have little to no impact on those in power. Meanwhile, almost every single decision made by those in power, affects the day-to-day life of most of the world. Marx understood this, and captured it rather eloquently in one sentence. I know that this is a unique way to approach the topic of anxiety, but it’s a fascinating one to me. In hindsight, it’s amazing how well much of Marx’s writings still apply today. He may have died 130 years ago, but his thoughts and ideas live on and remain extremely important even today.

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