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on the privilege of alienation

monday 5th september 2022

something which feels spiky and pokes at my brain almost daily at the moment, is the notion of alienation from capital as something which is not a universally given perspective. to flip it on its head - the notion that for many people, it's not an easy or simple move to consider their life as something they have agency over. that their destiny isn't necessarily pre-determined by the role capital would have them play, based on circumstance.

i've been considering the construct of parenthood. as a non-parent i know i can't be authoritative here. i don't have to actually balance these priorities, in the now, but i do know who i am and how me interacts with children - as an equal. i don't know better than any of them. they have wonderful things to say, and if they're experiencing distress i respect it as legitimate. a toddler having a tantrum is a toddler who's perspective of the world currently says their needs aren't met.

perception is everything, and all i know is how i feel, so surely that must track even for the smallest of humans. the senses are merely electrical signals which cause us to hallucinate the Real World, and anyone who is not a child cannot know exactly how they see things as the grace of time makes our childhood fears fuzzy and pale - but at the time it must logically feel as real as the keyboard i'm typing on right now. so i respect them and their perceptions, and no construct of childhood naivety could ever cloud that for me due to my overarching worldview that humans are, quite literally, God.

so, why do so many people insist on ignoring their child's expressed wants, needs, desires and perceptions? and why do so many people put their children through unending trauma in institutionalised education, even when said child attempts to communicate the trauma? and why do so many people insist on insulating their children from the reality of the world through telling them endless fairy tales about how the world is fair, just, rewards hard work, and will be good to them if they just keep their nose down (especially that everything will be fine if they just get good grades in the aforementioned institutions)? why isn't it as simple as saying 'listen to your kids' to prevent a world of unending trauma? what forces are at play here?

recently i've come to realise that it comes down to performance, a signifier-level understanding of the world, and a commitment that if you perform your part under capital (Good Parent) perfectly, capital will reward you. it's a sign that the parent still has some faith in the promises of capitalism, that working hard is always rewarded fairly, and that they want their child to grow up with that belief system too. it's a sign that the parent learned to ignore their own perceptions in order to fulfill their role, and wants to teach their child to do the same. it's the notion that if they just follow the rules, fill their role, everything will be fine. they are in the position of still believing. they are un-alienated from capital, but to be in line with that fairy tale one must be entirely alienated from oneself.

it's possible to apply this framework to pretty much any situation where one puts the needs projected onto their role under capital ahead of their perceptions, needs, wants and desires. consider someone who got married because they were told they should, to someone they barely know but can tolerate well enough. who works a job they would hate if they would let themself feel it, but it pays well enough. who will happily ignore their own discomfort in order to be a good worker.

to someone who is alienated from their role under capital, the story i just described will sound terribly sad. they might ask 'why don't they just quit/leave/stop doing the things that make them sad?'. but to someone who still believes in the capitalist construct, they will see a dilligent follower of capital who is well on their way to being rewarded, who just needs to put in a little more overtime in order to provide a good life for their family, who accepts that it's 'just how it works' and is never likely to change, so they may as well get on with it. who is happy enough, if they keep pushing it down.

when confronting these ideas in radical, leftist, anarchist contexts, it's easy to present the first step as a given. often, literature which deals with imagining better futures presumes that the reader has already done the work to deconstruct their everyday context. that the reader is in a marriage of love, not obligation - that they studied something they loved, not just to get a better paid job. that they're just somehow too stupid to see the easy, simple solution is to just Be Good And Have Good Morals - not that they literally cannot see any other option than to keep being a good little capitalist. the deeper you get into living for capital, the harder it is to even entertain something that promises to break down every single decision you've ever made. the harder it is to accept that you're embedded in a life which you never actually wanted.

this sunk cost means those who believe most wholly in the myth of capital (those who we tend to think of as having the most privileged lives) will tie themselves in knots before doing anything that could possibly, maybe, damage the structure which so far has held out on its promises to them. this is how we get MPs who vote to pump sewage into our waterways, and then complain about the bad smell at the beach. this is how we get systems which consistently vote to shoot themself in the foot, in the service of their image, their role, their signifiers above all actual progress. those decisions are made by those who believe if they just play along well enough, the gods of capital will smile down on them and elevate them to god status themselves. if they were to acknowledge that any of the decisions, policies or moves they made were not in the best interests of anyone's human wants, needs, or desires, it is to acknowledge capital as a false idol. it would start to break down the very fabric of the reality they construct their world from. it would be an unprecedented voluntary ego-death, the likes of which that in popular culture are relegated to mid-life crises and weird uncles that sell their house to go travel the world in a dinghy.

i've long-held my lifelong fatness as my key to freedom. it opened a door for me, via bullying and distress, to consider that i could maybe never fill the role capital wanted me to fill. it opened the door for my consideration of my relationship to gender, womanhood, girlhood, as something arbitrary and not really at all relevant to my life. it let me shed successive shells of construct applied to me, to connect wholly and truly with my real self as i emerged from teenagedom. it wiped the slate clean, and let me look at the world for what it is, to make decisions with my own best interests in mind, not just the ones i was told i should want. i was liberated through alienation, broken free from the capitalist fairy tale.

when considering queerness, it brings into focus the cannibalistic absorption of once-subversive signifiers capital engages in as a matter of rote. capital has expanded to create a role for queers within it, thus the fairytale persists and this is how we got cops at pride. it subsumes all that rallies against it the moment the cause against it has any meaningful 'brand identity'. the moment it can profit from appearing to concede to the opposition through aesthetic pandering alone is the moment that form of opposition is rendered impotent. those signifiers are no longer trustworthy. community must be forged through recognising real actions, not through an identity which could reasonably be assumed in order to infiltrate and subvert the genuine cause. this, to me, is both the origin of and failure of identity politics. arguing about labels, validity, and signifiers is seeking success on capital's terms.

there is a sense in the air right now that a lot of people in the UK are having their belief in capital shaken for maybe the first time. COVID felt like the first domino to fall on such a scale - this isn't fair. a just world would be free from pandemics. an innately capitalist world would have only pandemics which struck down those who dared dissent (not filling their role), but this came for anyone. it sows the seed of doubt. maybe being a good capitalist doesn't protect me? maybe the fairy tale can't fulfil its promises? what else did it lie about?

with the looming energy crisis, i've seen those on all sides, previous staunch supporters of the capitalist construct go back on their previous stance and call for something more human, for putting needs first. if the free market can't protect us from this, what else does it get wrong? this is unfair. this feels like the moment the light can start to shine in through the cracks, revealing the magician's trick as just a tangle of string.