Reification is A Word That is Useful... And Important!

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Late last night, after having spent a considerable amount of time trying to reformat my latest writing A ≠ A: Capitalism, Symbols, and the Conditioning of Human Nature. The whole thing took a good bit longer than I expected, including this latest formating headache. I thought to myself, “why the hell did I spend so much time doing this?” Considering the dire state of things, why is a piece of writing that aims to tackle this abstract concept of reification important at all? This blog post is an attempt to articulate its importance concisely. Tell me if you think I’m full of shit, I can take it ;)... seriously send me an email!

 

Reification is a word we should all get familiar with. It is a quick way to describe a process that is all pervasive in our society, in which symbols, abstractions, and myths get mistaken for the things they represent. It describes an extremely oppressive and limiting lack of reflection.

 

You might ask, “why the fuck should I care about some abstract shit when black people are out here getting killed by police, and folks from Latin America are fleeing horrendous conditions only to get detained at the US border, folks in rural appalachia are starving, etc. etc.”

 

Fair question!

 

Reification is at the heart of the continuation of all oppressive characteristics of our society. Since the dawn of agriculture, reification (in various forms) has been at the heart of how power structures kept control over their populations and the resources that population produced. In pre-industrial agricultural societies this mostly meant convincing people that some divine being bestowed a king and his government with the authority to rule. This is a form of reification in which the myth of divinity takes the place of the reality that a king is just duping his population into giving him their food surplus to do with what he pleases. This type of thing still goes on, but since the dawn of capitalism we have been in a much more complex situation (see Georg Lukacs' essay Reification and the Consciousness of the Proletariat). Reification happens both as the necessary result of widespread consumerism and, as in the previous example involving the king and his bullshit, also as manufactured ideology.

 

It is necessary for power structures to obscure the relationship between myths, symbols, and abstractions, and the things they are supposed to represent. Without this, capitalists would not be able to make money (i.e.commodity fetishism and consumerism), soldiers would not fight the ruling classes’ wars, and common folks of different races, and gender and sexual identities would easily able to build solidarity towards the opposition of the ruling classes. It would be a nightmare for those in power! Reification is the byproduct, fuel, and glue that holds together our white-supremacist, capitalist, patriarchal society. We have to accurately label it, so we can fight it.

 

It's also important to remember, we can create and perpetuate the bullshit too! As artists and activists, if we become dogmatic, or start to mystify the root causes of oppression, we too create and fall into our own reification traps. The ruling classes want this to happen. Falling into these traps, we do their work of suppressing our own movements, while simultaneously fooling ourselves into thinking that our resistance is thriving.

 

Ok. So. This is why this is an important word. If we do not have a name for such a slippery and pervasive thing, we will not be able to fight and protect ourselves against it.

 

SO ONCE MORE, TOGETHER, WITH FEELING!

 

***REIFICATION***

 

Ah, that feels better. Though, I’m still filled to the brim with anxiety. But, I don’t think that will ever subside under these conditions. Of course I am very privileged, but… well as I used to say often in high school: THIS SHIT IS FUCKED!

 

Most of my work, in one way or another, deals with the relationship between symbols and the things they represent. For a more in depth view of how reification functions, you can check out my most recent writing here: elinamay.org/a-a

<3

-E

Conditioning and its Effects on Communication and Organizing

I had a great conversation today with some lefty pals about the effects of ideology on our organizing and communication. That is to say, it is not enough to have a correct analysis of dominant modes of domination, we must also understand and continually struggle against the weaponization of our unconscious minds, and the way in which the ruling classes manipulate movements for their own benefit. This manifests itself differently depending on personal background and the particular activist layer that one is a part of, but I think that there are some commonalities we can see across the board. The main one I see is the way in which identity functions as a generator for meaning. This applies not only to identities that we are born with, but probably more insidiously with identities that we assume. Taking on the identity of a particular political philosophy can potentially be just as limiting as it is empowering. That is, action is taken not according to critical thought, but according to what a given political identity is supposed to do. In this way feelings of empowerment come from negating an other (that which is not in your assumed political philosophy). This feeling of empowerment is an illusion. This should be particularly clear in the wake of the current issues surrounding Facebook and the role that artificial intelligence is playing in aiding in this weaponization of the unconscious.

Steve Bannon and Tina Fey : White Supremacy and Spectacle

[written in the wake of Tina Fey's 'sheet caking' SNL bit]

During the turn of the last century industrial production advanced to such a degree that, for the first time ever, the owners of these industries had to deal with the volume of production outpacing consumption. The quest for profit drove the owning class to, instead of slowing down production, condition the population to consume products and services based on want instead of need. And thus the public relations industry was born out of an alliance between the owning class, the political class, and the elite artist/media class. This machine mass produces culture that aims to shape the desires of the public, to channel their desires, and therefore actions, into activities that serve the interest of the ruling classes: what to buy, how to interact with other people, who to vote for, how to feel politically, etc... aka consumerism, aka The Manufacturing of Consent, aka the The Society of the Spectacle. 

The idea of the clebrity is integral to this process. They serve the above described process in two ways: 1) they [re]produce cultural symbols that are designed to grab people’s attention and stimulate their emotions. Once in a state of heightened stimulation the consumer of the artistic product is vulnerable and open to influence. This is by design, as the PR industry grew out of the study of psychology (the father of modern PR is Edward Bernays who is Sigmund Freud’s nephew). 2) They act as a symbol of freedom and validation of the bootstraps/work ethic myth. But, their freedom is a kind of slavery. In order for them to maintain their place in society they are doomed to reproduce symbols that serve the ruling classes for the rest of their lives (or as long as they want to maintain their status). Some artists receive notoriety outside of this model, particularly those opperating in the wake of the new deal when there was considerably more economic freedom in this country. Under these cultural and economic conditions, the mainstream political realm becomes a kind of a theater of the absurd in which objective reality is put through a meat grinder of impoverished political discourse. That is to say, much like mainstream art and entertainment, politics becomes a circus of personality.

So, the fact that we (the big we), ecouraged by the media, put so much weight on the political opinions of entertainers and also obsess over every little detail about the actions of our farcical president and his reality show of a cabinet, is fucked. Both of these things are distractions. In light of recent events I think it's necessary to say that both Steve Bannon and Tina Fey produce diversionary culture that benefits from, and further feeds modes of social relationship that uphold the ruling classes: the former pedaling white-supremacy, an older and much cruder form of violence, and the latter pedaling milk-toast liberalism and consumerism, newer and more refined forms of violence that operate on less easily perceptible levels. But Bannon and Trump have dipped into the more subtle world of theater as well, as it seems as if they  are conducting their political games according to the playbook of Vladimir Putin’s former First Deputy Chief Vladislav Surkov. Surkov is notorious for his use of disorienting theatrics in  order to maintain political power. In 2013 The Economist described his style as such:

“As the political mastermind for Vladimir Putin for most of the 2000s, Mr Surkov engineered a system of make-believe that worked devilishly well in the real world. Russia was a land of imitation political parties, stage-managed media and fake social movements, undergirded by the post-modern sense that nothing was genuine. Mr Surkov called his creation “sovereign democracy,” a term whose vagueness revealed its flexibility. It kept the surface of Russia’s managed political system calm until December 2011, when opposition to Mr Putin’s rule broke into the open.”

Opinions and critiques about her comedy style aside, she is a classic sell out who has made absurd amounts of money through her ad campaign with American Express. I can’t seem to find a specific figure, but I have faith in everyone faculties to infer. And, in case anyone needs reminded, American Express is an unregulated, non-democratic shadow financial institution whose owners make money off of the economic enslavement of it’s customers. If we want to live in a truly free society, institutions like these will need to be nationalised and democratically controlled. Furthermore, it is the very socioeconomic structure of fame that is at the heart of the problem. Albeit much less superficially offensive than Bannon's style, Fey and artist’s like her perpetuate and are rewarded by a system that operates according to a similar strategy of turning make-believe into reality. Maybe she doesn’t know any better or maybe she doesn’t care, but either way she’s part of a much larger trick that should be struggled against in all of its forms.