Editorial Note: The Truth stated before that we publish articles written by non-members of our collective and this is one of them. We would publish an article authored by a non-member on the basis of quality, interest, and other factors but above all, on social content. The subject of alienation is not covered enough and adequately despite being among us in our daily lives so we decided to publish it. We hope you will enjoy reading it as much as we enjoy sharing it with you.
Alienation: It's not just in your head.
By Ivonaldo Leite
Psychologists today use the term "alienation" when referring to an extraordinary variety of psychological disorders including loss of self, anxiety states, anomie, despair, depersonalization, rootless ness, apathy, loneliness, atomization, powerlessness, isolation, pessimism, the lost of beliefs, values and hope. This psychological perspective, however, is limited from a theoretical point of view considering that the process of human history has become more-and-more complex and extensive. As a result of this extension, in development and complexity one finds several consequences one of which is alienation.
Primitive society was simple and small; its members were linked with a common bond and a community life in which the social principle was "each for all and all for each." They were united by religion and traditional bonds without scope for separation, individualism or alienation. As the size of society grew and population increased the patterns of life multiplied and social organization became more complex, social relationships became impersonalized, and human life in general alienated. So an analysis on alienation demands more than a simple psychological description of individual human behaviour, since its origin is not related to the natural human condition but rather imposed by outside destructive elements.
Alienation as a social phenomenon
Alienation is the process in which the personal and primary relationships become loose. Therefore, the individual may find himself or herself isolated and feeling that society or the group of which he/she is a member of is not so much his/her own and comes to believe that it can't fulfil his/her expectations and/or ambitions as a person and leaves it. As a social phenomenon, alienation is mainly constituted by characteristics like powerlessness, meaninglessness, isolation, and self-estrangement. These characteristics are responsible for the loss of individual autonomy according to the following approaches by well known alienation theorist's professionals:
1. Powerlessness may be defined as the expectancy or probability that an individual's own behaviour cannot determine the outcome or reinforcement he/she seeks and is the main symptom of alienation among workers in capitalist societies. In capitalist economies the owner of capital have an absolute control over the means of production while on the other hand, the worker is forced to sell his/her labour in exchange for a salary which is similar in principle to the prostitute selling her body for money to the customer. Therefore, the workers have no means and/or power in the field of production through his/her labour though they are responsible for the progress of mills, factories, industries, or enterprises they can't call their own. The capitalists monopolize the right to decide in every case and their decisions stand as rules or laws for workers to obey and comply with, and it is in this context that alienation appears and performs its role affecting the human condition in negative and unnatural ways. Karl Marx's description of this situation was: "alienation appears not merely in the result but also in the process of production within the productive activity itself." If the product of labour is alienation production itself must be active alienation and in turn the alienation of the object of labour merely summarizes the alienation in the work activity itself.
2. Meaninglessness is a consequence of the increase of functional rationality and decrease of substantial rationality. As society succeeds in fulfilling most needs of its members by means of better technology, functional rationality increases and the skill is not required anymore for the fulfilment of various needs. This decreases the capacity of actual substantial rationality of individuals. In other words, with the increase complexity in social organization the rationality of the individual becomes meaningless from the functional viewpoint and thus the individual becomes a stranger within society. As a matter of fact, humans are social animals that have many social needs that must be met according to our own nature. In less developed societies they have to utilize reason, skill and understanding to fulfil their needs through the available means, but as society develops, so do the means for the fulfilment of human needs until a stage arrived at where the means themselves become so much more organized and powerful that they fulfil individual needs without any occasions for the use of wisdom, reason or understanding. This leads to the feeling that individual's decision, understanding, or reasoning has no relevance in society.
3. Isolation is the aspect of alienation in which the individual feels separated from society or culture. The feeling of meaninglessness reduces the individual's attachment to society since whatever is meaningless is also powerless. The condition of isolation signifies powerlessness of the individual in the social context as he/she looses the power to select among available alternatives and for some even life itself also becomes meaningless. As the feeling of meaninglessness becomes deep-rooted in the individual he/she is isolated from the group, society, or life itself and may even commit suicide. This has occurred many times in today's society and without anyone providing an adequate explanation on the true source that caused the suicide.
4. Self-estrangement is a mode of experience in which the person experiences himself or herself as an "alien." Self-estrangement may be measured by the degree of dependence of the given behaviour upon an anticipated future reward. For instance, the worker labours not for the love of work but for the salary but since he/she does not have control over the product of labour, process of production, and managerial activities, he/she becomes estranged and too often not fully understanding why.
Capitalist economy and alienation
As you have read above, alienation is a social phenomenon. Hence it is an error to describe it as a mere psychological individual manifestation. Basically, the cause of alienation is deep-rooted in the nature of the capitalist economy as it rises in that field and then reaches and dominates every other institutional sphere. In capitalism human beings are devalued in direct proportion to the increase of production and become a mere commodity of the capitalist for his benefit. According to Karl Marx, this fact expresses merely that the object which labour produces - labour's product - confronts it as something alien, as a power independent of the producer. The product of labour is labour which has been congealed in an object that has come to be material and hence the objectification of labour itself. In other words, labour's realization is its own objectification. In the conditions dealt with the political economy this realization of labour appears as loss of reality for the worker, and objectification as a loss of the object and bondage plus appropriation as estrangement as alienation. The alienation of the worker in the product means not only that labour becomes an object and an external existence, but that exists outside of the worker independently as something alien and also becomes a power on its own confronting him/her. It means that the life which the worker has conferred on the object confronts the individual worker as something hostile and alien. So while the worker puts his/her life into the object, it becomes an instrument of alienation and the worker inevitably becomes a slave to it. In fact the worker does not create for him/her but for the capitalist and in turn for the whole of capitalism. While the worker labours for beauty, luxury, intelligence and creativity for the capitalist, he/she gets deformity, misery and idiocy in return. The alienation of labour can be summarized according to Marx in the following way:
First, under conditions of alienation the fact of labour is external to the worker, that is, it does not belong to his/her essential being as a person; that in the work, therefore, the worker does not affirm his/her identity, doesn't feel content, does not develop freely physical and mental energy but instead mortifies his/her body, mind and spirit, and therefore, the worker feels outside of the work and by this feels also outside of himself or herself. The worker is at home when not working and when working he/she is not at home thus labour is therefore, not voluntary but coerced; it is forced labour. It is not the satisfaction of a need but merely a means to satisfy external needs. Its alien character emerges clearly in the fact that as soon as no physical or other compulsion exists, labour is shunned like the plague. External labour in which humans alienate themselves is a labour of self-service or mortification. The external character of labour for the worker appears in the fact that is not his/her own, but some else's that it does not belong to the worker, that in it he/she belongs not to themselves but to another. Just as in religion the spontaneous activity of the human imagination, the human brain and heart operates independently of the individual, that is, it operates on the individual as an alien, divine or diabolic activity in the same way the worker's activity is not a spontaneous one as it belongs to another. It is the loss of self.
Second, there are two hostile powers leading to the alienation of workers. They are the capitalists, the capitalist system and its market situation. While the former is a human power the later is an inhuman power. The capitalist will decide what the worker will make and how it will be made. An individual worker's labour is not the expression of one's personality, interest or creative power. In fact, it is an alien product produced at a cost to the worker and against his/her will. After the product is created with the labour of the worker it belongs to the capitalist and can be disposed of in the manner the capitalist sees fit. Consequently, the product is an alien, hostile, powerful and independent object, an instrument from the worker's exploitation by the capitalist who is the lord of this object. Besides the human power, another hostile power is the inhuman power of the market place by which the worker becomes dependent on its fluctuations in market prices and the movement of capital.
Alienation and anomie
It is necessary to distinguish between anomie and alienation since the former is sometimes understood as being the later. It is in this perspective that alienation is described as a mere psychological manifestation affecting only individuals rather than to all workers as a "class" in capitalist societies.
Historically, the term "anomie" was used for the first time by French Sociologist Emile Durkheim. According to him, anomie is an abnormal human condition resulting from a failure of the collective moral order in restraining overweening ambitions, greed, and aspirations. According to Durkheim, the social structure becomes pathological when it adversely influences the individual development making him/her an abnormal person, narrow, egoist, selfish, and adverse to prevalent social norms and values. He attributes anomie to the breakdown of regulatory norms.
The concept of anomie discussed by Emile Durkheim has been further elaborated by also Sociologist Robert Merton. In his view, when the unbalanced condition of social structure put pressure upon the individual and he/she behaves contrary to social expectations, this is anomie. Thus anomie is the condition that results from a conflict between cultural aims and institutional means resulting in anti-social behaviour expressed in many different forms.
Although Durkheim and Merton have treated anomie as a structural phenomenon, it remains for them a psychological concept. As Robert McIver affirms, anomie signifies the state of mind of one who has been pulled up by his/her moral roots and no longer has any standards, but only disconnected urges that don't have any sense of continuity, folk, or obligation. The anomic human has become, he affirms, spiritually sterile and responsive only to him/her and responsible to no one else and denies the values of others in the social midst. His or her only faith is the philosophy of denial living on the thin of sensation with no future and no past.
Economic exploitation for the sake of profits and inhuman working conditions lead inevitably to the alienation of men and women. In the workplace the feeling of alienation means that the individual has lost control over the process of production. This is particularly due to extreme specialization and bureaucratization as work is no longer a creative activity in which the worker feels self-expression but instead feels a mechanical function. The commodity produced by the labour of the worker is not an expression of individual craftsmanship, since it became impersonal in mass production. The commodity produced by the worker is intended for remote markets and the worker understands that he/she has lost total control over it.
Due to the unnatural state of alienation the human becomes one-sided. Within the capitalist system all methods for raising the social productiveness of labour are brought about at the cost of the individual worker, and all means for the development of production transform themselves into modes of domination and exploitation of the producer. They mutilate the worker into a fragment of a human; degrade him/her to the level of an appendage in a machine and it is within this degrading context, that the so-called "political power" appears as merely an organized force of one "class" of humans oppressing another for its own benefit. This is the true nature of capitalism's "class" society euphemistically called "democracy" to blur what is in reality modern brutal slavery. Political power is embodied in the State in this system as an instrument of economic exploitation and the consolidation of capitalism's interest. This is the true identification of economic and political power. Finally, alienation causes dehumanization when the person does not feel that he/she is a full human with everything the condition entails as free to act and live. Capitalism is therefore incompatible with human nature.
The Truth's Contribution
Alienation produced by the nature of capitalism is a common phenomenon in present day society manifested in different ways and in all spheres of life. In a passage of his writing, the author makes a link between alienation and self-estrangement to anti-social behaviour in a variety of forms, as an expression of resentment towards either specific persons or against society as a whole often with tragic results. Extremely heinous crimes are committed by individuals who have reached higher levels of desperation under the influence of alienation with great tragically outcomes, while the true source of their destructive criminal behaviour as a revengeful action against an imposed unnatural condition is never addressed properly, in order to protect the culprit capitalism under the "principle" that its interest is above everything else including human life.
Alienation produced by capitalism has virtually destroyed the natural gift of solidarity embedded in human nature and replaced it with individualism as most common people don't practice solidarity among other workers. Alienated workers lacking class consciousness have become unnaturally selfish, egocentric, arrogant, unkind, unmoved by the misery of the wretched poor caused by capitalism, and would shun and even reject another worker on the basis of lacking material possessions. Solidarity as an integral element of the human condition naturally creates unity so important and necessary to solve problems affecting the common interest. The capitalists understand this quite well and seek to neutralize its development by creating a state of consciousness based on individualism among workers. The problem with this for the workers, however, is that in order to sustain individualism he/she must belong ideologically and materialistically to the capitalist ruling class to justify it. Hence, any worker acting as if he/she belongs to the privileged class by promoting the capitalist ideology doesn't make any sense. Solidarity and unity among common people are prerequisites in any political context favourable to the interest of the working class majority. Badly needed real changes will not come through the empty promises of politicians seeking office by getting elected after you vote for them. The true interest of the working class can only be protected and maintained by the workers themselves, and not by politicians from any political party who in reality only represent the interest of the elite class, despite their sophisticated rhetoric when campaigning just to get your vote. So how do we get solidarity and unity? The first step is to get rid of alienation that hinders people from coming together and welcome your fellow worker into your midst unconditionally to speak with him/her as an equal regardless of skin colour, language, origin, ancestry, nationality, and other factors that have been traditionally used by the common enemy to divide and control us. The United States [U.S.] is a deeply divided "class" society by many factors, but the main one is the "race" factor that will not be changed by laws or politics, because it is an established perverted and unnatural element in the human psych of U.S. society.
The 1960s offered an opportunity for real status quo change that was missed for different reasons, including the timely and effective ruling class move to neutralize the anti-system generation wave that was eventually subdued mainly by unbridled sex and drugs. The biggest and most effective tool the 1960s generation was carrying out huge demonstrations against government policies including the racist war against the people of Viet Nam. Anyone from the 1960s generation reading this, would agree with us that mass protesting was what really forced the government to first admit its military defeat in Viet Nam, and later to end the war completely. Mass protesting worked then but will not work now and the only alternative according to objective reality is an organized multiracial mass revolutionary movement involving millions that can only become reality through an organic unity among white, black, and brown.
This urgent social need to seriously challenge the powers that be is an important task that has been overdue since the 1960s and should not be postpone any further. For more than fifty years the great majority have been allowing a small minority to decide what to do with our lives and future by voting for a candidate every four years while telling us that this is how "democracy" works, but as we know now, that claim is no longer credible and a real change is only possible through a mass organized people's revolution. Protesting while carrying banners, creating websites, sending tweets and other related activity, will not change absolutely anything and not doing what must be done will only increase the danger of fascism development. Getting rid of alienation by starting to talk with people regardless of "race," is an individual responsibility and the first step towards the solution of a historical problem of the U.S. as society that must be resolved according to objective reality.