Thursday, September 20, 2012

Is the profit motive completely "bad"?

The orthodox religious traditions in the West would keep the individual as the center of life experience. Capitalism is a radical rejection of this principle, in that the dynamic of the profit motive has nothing to do with people. The profit motive moves the center of life experience outside of the individual. In this sense, capitalism has transformed us from holistic individuals of past ages into... something else.

Donna Haraway proposes that the machine that drives capitalism has made us all into “cyborgs,” “fabricated hybrids of machine and organism.” She elaborates on what this might mean:
“Unlike the hopes of Frankenstein's monster, the cyborg does not expect its father to save it through a restoration of the garden; that is, through the fabrication of a heterosexual mate, through its completion in a finished whole, a city and cosmos. The cyborg does not dream of community on the model of the organic family, this time without the oedipal project. The cyborg would not recognize the Garden of Eden; it is not made of mud and cannot dream of returning to dust... Cyborgs are not reverent; they do not re-member the cosmos. They are wary of holism, but needy for connection- they seem to have a natural feel for united front politics, but without the vanguard party. The main trouble with cyborgs, of course, is that they are the illegitimate offspring of militarism and patriarchal capitalism, not to mention state socialism. But illegitimate offspring are often exceedingly unfaithful to their origins. Their fathers, after all, are inessential.”

She also characterizes cyborgs as “committed to partiality, irony, intimacy, and perversity... [and] no longer structured by the polarity of public and private.”

It is the intersection of the public and private spheres of life that most interests me. I believe what’s “bad” about our economy is not the profit motive itself, but the way we define profit and property in general as being exclusively personal or totally public, with little to no space in between.

I wrote in this earlier note on Facebook:
Individually-owned private property distorts the concept of private life, which properly refers to the land and tools of a group, such as the local community, tribe, or clan--not to single family units or individuals. Defining “private property” to mean “individually-owned” degrades private life, which is dynamic and rooted in culture, into the statistical, legalistic category of "personal".

Does the profit motive dissociate us from our intuition and force us into rationalizations? Yes, of course it does. And of course this is bad. But does it recenter human experience to be outside of the individual? Yes, and this is good.

As far as where we go from here... co-ops are the future. They are what cyborgs would do.


  1. "The powerful dynamic of profit maximization in the context of global competition... has nothing to do with people. It is of an entirely different order. It is the logic of our reality, the logic or truth we are in (regardless of whether we are no more than the bewildered victims of this process or, as managers in industry or the like, active participants in, and contributors to, it)... It is the real movement of the soul; it is the soul's life, which is logical life." - Wolfgang Giegerich

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