“If the thing is useless, so is the labour contained in it; the labour does not count as labour, and therefore creates no value”
(Karl Marx, CAPITAL)
If we could abolish the system of exchange, what would we do with ourselves? Without monetary reward, labour would be useless. If we didn’t need to do things, why do anything? Wouldn’t the human race simply disappear?
However, even in the exchange system as we have it today, a great deal of activity is carried out without any monetary reward. The writing of this entry, for example, attains no other compensation than that someone will eventually read it. That may never happen, but that fact doesn’t dissuade the author from writing it. People spend hours a day toiling in their gardens with no expectations of monetary reward. Likewise, the time and effort spent in cooking a special meal achieves the only recompense of being able to enjoy a dish that you yourself has prepared, or offered to others. Artists will indulge themselves in complex, difficult activities, even dedicate their entire lives to such activities, without necessarily receiving any reward at all. In short, human beings do not need to be paid in order to motivate them to do things. All that needs to be stimulated is our inherent passion for doing things, for keeping ourselves occupied and free from boredom.
The exchange system of sacrifice and reward is designed to encourage us to surrender ourselves in exchange for a power to buy commodities, but instead of being a possible part of existence, as the exchange ritual originally was set up to be, it has become the essence of our existence. Hence the term homo economicus.
The concept of reward and sacrifice via the exchange of money has become so important it seems to be the essence of reality itself. It dominates lives in a dictatorial way, creating spiritual misery not only for those participating in the sacrifice, but also for those who are forcibly removed from participating in it. It is an absurd system based on a perpetual growth that is unsustainable. Essentially it is a dictatorship and, like all dictatorships, freedom can only be achieved by either: a) blindly conforming to the system (freedom through absolute passivity); b) escaping (freedom by removal); or c) by active dissidence (freedom through discrepancy, insubordination and/or revolt).
Of these three alternatives, the first is paradoxically the most dangerous. Although it may eliminate stress and perhaps even ensure a passive state of contentment, the stress generated by the system’s absurdity and ingrained exploitation of its subjects will grow around the passive citizen creating an increasing level of denial. This will only cause deeper guilt feelings. Conforming is a kind of escapism, inferior to real escape which is an active removal from the system.
Real escape can be positive if it can create a different system existing autonomously outside of the exchange system paradigm. Such attempts can be seen in the creation of grass-roots communities that try to reject consumerism without completely abandoning the exchange system. Traditionally this has been associated with hippy-type, back-to-nature movements, but that image is being transformed by the development of new technologies, especially renewable energy technologies, that can create technology-based counter cultures. What such escapes reveal is the profoundly revolutionary aspect of technology once it is applied creatively. But in order for this revolution to take place the existing paradigm must first be overhauled.
The third option (active dissidence) is the least cohesive alternative, and yet, at the same time the most promising and dynamic. The dissident space works from within the system in a cellular way. As a body it is largely unconscious as it has too many different voices to be heard in a legible way. It seems chaotic and confused, and it is in essence directionless. It is based more on discrepancy than any concrete alternative. It complains about lack of direction rather than offering clear solutions. Nevertheless, its negativity has an eroding effect on the absurd system. Also it reveals the emperor’s nakedness, the system’s lack of possibility in the future, and eventually it will participate in the system’s inevitable collapse.
The main question is: will there be a tangible alternative available when the collapse occurs, or will the system operate as it always has done by pulling itself out of the rubble in a new reinvented form of the same mistakes?