“The New Spirit of Capitalism”: Market of causes

If you have ever had a chance to sit on the banks of the Yellow River in China, you perhaps might be able to make some curious connection between the images in this issue and the text that accompanies it…or maybe I’m just being overly eccentric here, and plain subjective. Maybe I should just try and explain the connection I derived, and leave it to you to arrive at yours…

The river is also called the cradle of civilization in China and it carries within itself all the mud, the silt, the loess that comes in its path, rejecting nothing, devouring so much that walls of mud form beneath its waters and it keeps flooding, and each time it floods, the peasants form more dams around it, and it floods even more, and the water never runs back into the river, because the river bed grows higher than the surrounding lands, and then the mouth of the river shifts each time…reaching the sea, from all kinds of directions…it’s a crazy, neurotic, anxiety-ridden set of dynamics, and in some strange, counter-intuitive, paranoid sort of way, it reminds me of everything that surrounds us today – this insatiable hunger to consume everything that falls our way – and then puking it all out, turning everything into this yellow bile and mucus laden zilch – love into pornography, colors into shade cards, every dream into a labeled jar, every desire into a sinister technology, every kind of empathy into a soft drink commercial, every kind of boredom into some paranoid activity of gnawing into each other’s flesh, every wound into a genetically manipulated, hybrid Frankenstein like creature, every communication into short spurts of ionized ejaculation, every open space into a toilet filled with mannequins, every tear into wasted pee…and then when we suddenly get horrified of the ugly mess that we have made, we build more walls, more dikes, to contain ourselves, and constantly try to shift our historicity – in search of meaning, in search of our lost humanity, but we fail miserably each time, in our greed to consume all that’s out there – from the cherries on trees to the ‘Cherry-Guevara’ ice cream – “The revolutionary struggle of the cherries was squashed as they were trapped between two layers of chocolate. May their memory live in your mouth”!

The yellow river metaphor is just an atmospheric evocation, arising out of my own need to imagine myself sitting at the bank of some Chinese river (another inexplicable post modern symptom). However, let me try to lay bare, what kind of river we are actually trying to negotiate in this issue, – it’s the river of the so called, “New Spirit of Capitalism” about which Slavoj Zizek, in his book, ‘First as tragedy, then as farce’ writes, “From the 1970s onwards, a new figure emerged: capitalism began to abandon the hierarchical Fordist structure in the production process and in its place developed a network-based form of organization founded on employee initiative and autonomy in the workplace. In such ways, capitalism is transformed and legitimized as an egalitarian project: accentuating auto-poetic interaction and spontaneous self organization, it has even usurped the far Left’s rhetoric of workers’ self-management, turning it from an anti-capitalist slogan into a capitalist one. …At the level of consumption, this new spirit is that of so-called “cultural capitalism”: we primarily buy commodities neither on account of their utility nor as status symbols; we consume them in order to render our lives pleasurable and meaningful…Consumption is supposed to sustain the quality of life, its time should be “quality time” – not the time of alienation, of imitating models imposed by society, but of the sensuous play of experience, and of caring for others, through becoming involved in charity or ecology etc.”

Here’s a small slice of what the “New spirit of capitalism” or cultural imperialism or the free-market looks like today- We have socially responsible multiplex cinema, activist film-stars, charitable corporates, high-end brands celebrating queer tendencies, coffee shop chains feeding hungry African children, organic food companies restoring the balance of nature, packets of chips bridging the evenings from candle light protests to candle light dinners, multi-national sports corporations spearheading anti-racism campaigns; alongside we have massive private budgets for doctors who can split our sex organs in two to give us double pleasure, and web sites to make us “fall in love” without the need for actually “falling”, and we have no public budget for minimum healthcare and primary education; and we have an absurd socio-political notion of happiness, whereby it can be measured as gross national happiness, just as we measure GDP, and through all of this we have t-shirts and bumper stickers for every darn emotion and counter-emotion that we might have felt in our life time and every darn hero or anti hero our civilization might have produced…

And if we look hard and close enough, capitalism is the new revolution against capitalism.

The essays inside try hard to picture the world and the times in a truly critical way, but in our extreme ideological closure, they might only have been partly successful in doing so. Hopefully, they are enough to realize the urgent need for a truly alternative world.

Pritha Kejriwal is the founder and editor of Kindle Magazine. Under her leadership the magazine has established itself as one of the leading torch-bearers of alternative journalism in the country, having won several awards, including the United Nations supported Laadli Award for gender sensitivity and the Aasra Award for excellence in media. She is also a poet, whose works have been published in various national and international journals. She is currently working on two collections of poetry, soon to be published.

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