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John Zaixin Zhang

 
 
 

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Tyson on Marxism  

2009-02-27 18:09:48|  分类: +短篇小说第二课 |  标签: |举报 |字号 订阅

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Tyson, Lois. Critical Theory Today: A User-Friendly Guide. New York: Garland, 1999.

Ideology

52-3

       “For Marxism, an ideology is a belief system, that is, a product of cultural conditioning. For example, capitalism, communism, Marxism, patriotism, religion, ethical systems, humanism, environmentalism, astrology, and karate are all ideologies. The critical theories we will study in this book are all ideologies. Even our assumption that nature behaves accordi[53]ing to the laws of science is an ideology. However, although almost any experience or field of study we can think of has an ideological component, not all ideologies are equally productive or desirable. Undesirable ideologies promote repressive political agendas and, in order to ensure their acceptance among the citizenry, pass themselves off as natural ways of seeing the world instead of acknowledging themselves as ideologies. ‘It’s natural for men to hold leadership positions because their biological superiority renders them more physically, intellectually, and emotionally capable than women’ is a sexist ideology that sells itself as a function of nature, rather than a product of cultural belief. ‘Every family wants to own its own home on its own land’ is a capitalist ideology that sells itself as natural by pointing, for example, to the fact that almost all Americans want to own their own property, without acknowledging that this desire is created in us by the capitalist culture in which we live. Many Native American nations, in contrast, don’t believe that land is something that can be owned. For them, it’s like trying to own the air we breathe.”

53

       “By posing as natural ways of seeing the world, repressive ideologies prevent us from understanding the material/historical conditions in which we live because they refuse to acknowledge that those conditions have any bearing on the way we see the world. Marxism, a non-repressive ideology, acknowledges that it is an ideology. Marxism works to make us constantly aware of all the ways in which we are products of material/historical circumstances and of the repressive ideologies that serve to blind us to this fact in order to keep us subservient to the ruling power system. Although Marxist theorists differ in their estimation of the degree to which we are ‘programmed’ by ideologies, all agree that the most successful ideologies are not recognized as ideologies but are thought to be natural ways of seeing the world by the people who subscribe to them. Thus, although we could argue that the economic interests of middle-class America would best be served by a political alliance with the poor in order to attain a more equitable distribution of America’s enormous wealth among the middle and lower classes, in political matters the middle class generally sides with the wealthy against the poor.”

53-4

       “To cite one simple example, the middle class tends to resent the poor because so much middle-class tax money goes to government programs to help the poor. However, the middle class fails to realize two important socioeconomic realities: (1) that it is the wealthy in positions of power who decide who pays the most taxes and how the money will be spent (in other words, it is the wealthy who make the middle class support the poor), and (2) that the poor receive but a small portion of the funds ear-[54]marked for them because so much of it goes, through kickbacks and ‘creative’ bookkeeping, into the pockets of the wealthy who control our social services and the middle-class employees who administer them. What is the ideology that blinds the middle class to the socioeconomic inequities in contemporary America? In large part, the middle class is blinded by their belief in the American dream, which tells them that financial success is simply the product of initiative and hard work. Therefore, if some people are poor, it is because they are shiftless and lazy.”

54

       “… And like all ideologies that support the socioeconomic inequities of capitalist countries like ours—that is, countries in which the means of production (natural, financial, and human resources) are privately owned and in which those who own them inevitably become the dominant class—the American dream blinds us to the enormities of its own failure, past and present: the genocide of Native Americans, the enslavement of Africans, the virtual enslavement of indentured servants, the abuses suffered by immigrant populations, the widening economic gulf between America’s rich and poor, the growing ranks of the homeless and hungry, the enduring socio-economic barriers against women and people of color, and the like. In other words, the success of the American dream—the acquisition of a wealthy lifestyle for a few—rests on the misery of the many. And it is the power of ideology, of our belief in the naturalness and fairness of this dream, that has blinded us to the harsh realities it masks.”

55

       “Some of us might want to pause at this point to ask, ‘But isn’t the American dream an ideal? Although our ideals may fail in practice, shouldn’t we continue to aspire to them? Should we abandon, for example, the ideal that human life is sacred just because we sometimes fail to live up to it?’ For Marxism, when an ideal functions to mask its own failure, it is a false ideal, or false consciousness, whose real purpose is to promote the interests of those in power. In the case of the American dream, then, the question for Marxist analysis is, ‘How does the American dream enlist the support of all Americans, even of those who fail to achieve it, in promoting the interests of those in power?’

       “The answer, at least in part, is the that the American dream, much like the state lotteries or the big-bucks sweepstakes that are its latest incarnation, opens the possibility that anyone can win, and, like gambling addicts, we cling to that possibility. In fact, the less financial security we have, the more we need something to hope for. The American dream also tells us what we want to hear: that we are all ‘as good as’ the wealthiest among us. It’s not supposed to matter that the wealthy don’t think I’m as good as they are as long as I believe it’s true. And it’s not supposed to matter that ‘as good as’ doesn’t mean entitled to the same health care, material comforts, or social privileges, including the privilege of hiring the best lawyers should the need arise. In my need to ‘feel good about myself,’ especially if my life is burdened with financial worries, I will cling to the ego gratification offered by the American dream. Analogously, if I want to avoid the guilt that accompanies my acquisition of a large fortune while so many of my fellow citizens can barely eke out a living, I will be comforted by the assurance I receive from the American dream that I deserve whatever wealthy I have the initiative to amass. Indeed, the power of the American dream to mask material/historical reality is such that it can invoke an America for whom class doesn’t matter and plunk that ideology down right in the middle of an America whose class system is too complex for me to map, beyond the rough outline provided earlier.”

55-6

       “From a Marxist perspective, the role of ideology in maintaining those in power is so important that we should briefly examine a few more examples so that we can see how it works. Classism, for example, is an ideology that equates one’s value as a human being with the social class to which one belongs: the higher one’s social class, the better one is assumed to be because quality is ‘in the blood,’ that is, inborn. From a classist perspective, people at the top of the social scale are naturally superior to those below them: more intelligent, more responsible, more trustworthy, more ethical, and so on. People at the bottom of the social scale, it follows, are naturally [56] shiftless, lazy, and irresponsible. Therefore, it is only right and natural that those from the highest social class should hold all the positions of power and leadership because they are naturally suited to such roles and are the only ones who can be trusted to perform them properly.”

       “Patriotism is an ideology that keeps poor people fighting wars against poor people from other countries (one way or another, sufficient money can generally keep one out of the armed forces during war time or, at least, out of the combat units) while the rich on both sides rake in the profits of war-time economy. Because it leads the poor to see themselves as members of a nation, separate from other nations, rather than as members of a world-wide oppressed class, opposed to all privileged classes including those from their own country, patriotism prevents the poor from banding together to improve their condition globally.”

       …

       “Rugged individualism, which, as we have seen, is a cornerstone of the American dream, is an ideology that keeps the focus on ‘me’ instead of on ‘us,’ thus working against class action and giving us the illusion that we make our own decisions and are not significantly influenced by ideology. Consumerism, or shop-’till-you-drop-ism, is another cornerstone of the American dream. Consumerism is an ideology that says I’m only as good as what I buy. Thus, it simultaneously fulfills two ideological purposes: it gives me the illusion that I can be ‘as good as’ the wealthy if I can purchase what they purchase or a reasonable facsimile thereof, albeit on credit, and it fills the coffers of the wealthy who manufacture and sell the consumer products I buy and who reap the 15-20 percent interest on my credit-card purchases.”

 

Human Behavior and Commodity

58

       “Because factory workers produced such large quantities of products, none of which bore their name or any other mark of their individual contribution, Marx observed that they became dissociated not only from the products they produced but from their own labor as well, and he noted the debilitating effects of what he called alienated labor on the laborer and on the society as a whole.”

       “Similarly, Marx’s concern over the rise of capitalist economy (in which an object’s value is translated into a monetary ‘equivalent’ and determined solely in terms of its relationship to a monetary market) and its replacement of barter economy (in which labor or goods can be exchanged for other labor or goods, depending upon the abilities and needs of the individuals involved in the exchange) was a concern for the effects of capitalism on human values. The focus of many later Marxists on the ways in which ideology is transmitted through popular culture and operates in our emotional lives is thus compatible with Marx’s own interest in human behavior and experience.”

58-9

       “Of course, many Marxist insights into human behavior involve the damaging effects of capitalism on human psychology, and those damaging effects often appear in our relationship to the commodity. For Marxism, a commodity’s value lies not in what it can do (use value) but in the money or other commodities for which it can be traded (exchange value) or in the social status it confers on its owner (sign-exchange value). An object becomes a commodity only when it has exchange value or sign-exchange value, and both forms of value are determined by the society in which the object is exchanged. For example, if I read a book for pleasure [59] or for information, or even if I use it to prop up a table leg, the book has use value. If I sell that same book, it has exchange value. If I leave that book out on my coffee gable to impress my date, it has sign-exchange value. Commodification is the act of relating to objects or persons in terms of their exchange value or sign-exchange value. I commodify a work of art when I buy it as a financial investment, that is, with the intention of selling it for more money, or when I buy it to impress other people with my refined tastes. If I purchase and display costly goods or services excessively in order to impress people with my wealthy, I am guilty of conspicuous consumption, as when I buy a full-length, white mink coat (or even a pair of $100 designer sunglasses), not just for the object’s usefulness or beauty but in order to show the world how much money I have.”

59

       “Finally, I commodify human beings when I structure my relations with them to promote my own advancement financially or socially. Most of us know what it means to treat a person like an object (for example, a sex object). An object becomes a commodity, however, only when it has exchange value or sign-exchange value. Do I choose my dates based on how much money I think they will spend on me (their exchange value) or how much I think they will impress my friends (their sign-exchange value)? If so, then I’m commodifying them.”

       “From a Marxist perspective, because the survival of capitalism, which is a market economy, depends on consumerism, it promotes sign-exchange value as our primary mode of relating to the world around us. What could be better for a capitalist economy than for its members to be unable to ‘feel good about themselves’ unless they acquire a fashionable ‘look’ that can be maintained only by the continual purchase of new clothing, new cosmetic products, and new cosmetic services? In other words, in economic terms, it’s in capitalism’s best interests to promote whatever personal insecurities will motivate us to buy consumer goods. (Are my teeth not white enough? Should my hair be blonder? Should my muscles bulge more? Is my breath fresh enough?) And because the kinds of personal insecurities that make us buy consumer products are produced by comparing ourselves with other people (Are my teeth as white as his? Is my hair as blond as hers?), competition is promoted not just among companies who want to sell products but among people who feel they must ‘sell’ themselves in order to be popular or successful.”

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