04 January 2009

Pajamas, Bipolar Disorder and Capitalism

I want to know when I’ll have things together again. I’m entirely useless in December: it takes me quite a while to get over being away for Thanksgiving. That whole process is hampered by my knowing that I’m going away again in three weeks. Then I go away again, act surly around my family and come home full of woe.

Now that I’ve been back for seven days (really? that many already?) I’m starting to feel settled in again. I am looking forward to getting back to a real schedule with school and work and church. That’s the main difficulty with going away. I get jogged out of my routine and then the bipolar disorder gets the upper hand and I forget how to get dressed and eat and sleep, which rather gets in the way of doing anything at all.

Worrying about staying on top of things has me thinking. I’m not good at it. I do best in a well-worn rut, so I’ve been running around trying to make mine a little deeper before school starts. Some of the things I’m trying to get under control are reasonable and unequivocally good for me like eating and not wearing my pajamas all day and sleeping. Others I wonder about. They seem to be concessions to capitalism and, though they are often taken to be innate to human nature, I’m not sure that they are.

I worry about this because I live in capitalism. I don’t know whether I’m against it or not: at the moment, I’m just trying to figure out how to live in it. We tend to accept capitalism as an objective fact but to me it appears instantiated in history, crafted by human theory and a not entirely predictable force in the shape of the world. Unfortunately, I don’t seem to fit very well into the social structures capitalism has created. I’m not the only who doesn’t fit into the current ideal of human being that modern capitalisms require. Nuns don’t, for example, and neither do various of the disabled, nor certain criminals. Nor do lottery players and inheritance beneficiaries: they’re after money not tied to their own labor. But all these people still exist and it seems worthwhile to theorize capitalisms that might include them and include me.

One aspect of modern capitalism that seems worth exploring in this light is our collective concern with time. We have bound time and work together in such a way that their meanings have significantly altered. If we look back to John Locke’s Second Treatise*, we will see that he identifies ownership and by extension tradability and value with mixing one’s labor with the material world. Time, except that labor must pass in its duration, does not enter into the value of work as a sufficient component. The specialization of skills, the usefulness of the finished product, does. What happened that we are now fixated on forty hours a week as a valuation of labor? Can we have an economy such that individuals can have control over their labor rather than the other way around?

Attempts at answers will be found in the next post.

* “. . .every man has a property in his own person: this no body has any right to but himself. The labour of his body, and the work of his hands, we may say, are properly his. Whatsoever then he removes out of the state that nature hath provided, and left it in, he hath mixed his labour with, and joined to it something that is his own, and thereby makes it his property.” John Locke, Second Treatise of Government, italics his. Quoted from page 19 of the 1980 Hackett edition, C.B. Macpherson, editor.

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