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Commodity wars

Submitted by on August 10, 2011 – 8:26 pm4 Comments

man on the floor while riot police walks awayThe riots of the last few days have, for me, highlighted one of the most fundamental psychological distortions of living in our all-consuming consumer society. It’s something that Karl Marx predicted would happen as the production line factory system developed. And even more so in an economy like the UK where very little production of material goods takes place.

The thing Marx predicted was something he called ‘commodity fetishism’. This is where people overly covet material possessions. This is the result, Marx claimed, of people’s removal from producing goods and everyday items. In the past, Marx argued, people made many of the things they needed themselves or they were very close to other people who did make various things. They saw pots being created and understood the process at some level, they wove or knitted hats and jumpers. They made cakes and bread, grew their own vegetables, made their own wine and beer. Replaced their own watch batteries, made their own curtains or cushion-covers.

Over time we have become more and more removed from the production of material items. At the same time we have much less control over what is being produced. There used to be a general sense for example that drug production was in response to the need to make people well. Or that house building was done because families needed homes. But increasingly, as we know, production is carried out purely for profit not for need.

The impact, of these various and different influences, is to garble people’s perception of ordinary everyday items. People idolise material things above all else, even above physical violence against a fellow human being.

What we saw in the riots was a war of ownership. Both sides had something in common, they both worship material possessions. One side said if you conform and do what you are told you will get your reward, a new pair of trainers or a trip to Disney Land. If you don’t conform or you are poor or ill or for whatever reason you are outside of the mainstream then you don’t get the precious material goods. If you don’t have access to these precious things, you won’t be left alone to dwell on your material impoverishment, you will be constantly bombarded with images, advertisements and peer pressure to own just a little of the adored commodity.

We idolise and promote material commodity ownership and we wonder why people desire these things so much that they are prepared to risk physical harm and confinement.

One of the most shocking things about the riots was the way very law abiding, so called peaceful people were willing to see and accept the extreme violence towards unarmed people.

While I was wandering around the riotous streets of Manchester I saw two types of aggressive behaviour, one was violence towards property and the other, violence towards people. The first was perpetrated by unarmed people dressed in the main in jeans and cotton tops. The other was carried out by armed, body-armour clad, crash-helmet, shield-carrying police.

I personally saw one young man, not wearing a hoodie or face-mask, beaten about the head by a policeman in full riot gear. As I bent down to help I was driven off by the police, when I tried to phone for an ambulance I was forced off my phone by the police. Only when the police had gone was I able to return to the injured person and get help. This is a scene that will not be played repeatedly on your TV screens. I wonder why?


  • midjmo says:

    Excellent piece again Nav.

    I have listened today to people calling for the government to reverse cuts to the police force in the light of this week’s shenanigans.

    No calls for the government to reverse its ideological and border-line criminal cuts to public services, youth and community groups, libraries, leisure facilities or anything else, however.

    That argument sums up the problems we are facing – people would rather see more police belting people than better facilities and community investment, which would actually solve the issues better than a ‘clip round the ear’ ever could.

    It’s a really sad country to be in at the moment. Not just because many of our cities have been damaged, but because people can’t get their head out of their facebooks and twitters and flat screen TVs to actually address the issues that lead to this kind of behaviour.

    Get a grip people.

  • Kdog says:

    K Dog has unfortunately had his black belt stolen by looters and his teeth are now adorning the neck of one of his beloved ‘chav scum’.

    We apologise to his fans, but he will be out of action for a while.

  • midjmo says:

    This is nicked from the comments section of a national newspaper:


    So let me get this clear now……………….

    Everybody agrees people should respect the law and be nice to other people.

    But the politicians fiddle expenses. ( which is illegal. )

    And journalists hack phones. ( which is illegal.)

    And police appear to be reluctant to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

    ( which winds people up. )

    and take bribes from journalists ( which is illegal )

    And now loads of ordinary people are looting from shops. ( which is illegal.)

    And other loads of ordinary people are forming vigilante gangs. ( which is illegal, isn’t it?)

    And kids on Facebook are inciting riots by typing stuff ( which is apparently illegal )

    And tabloid readers posting comments to shoot the looters ( which apparently isn’t illegal at all , but is almost exactly the same as the kid on Facebook )

    And I’m trying to follow it all on Twitter ( which is bound to be illegal soon )

    So now we’ve got politicians AND journalists AND police AND criminals AND kids AND adults running about all over the place every night trying to show who is the toughest of the bunch.

    And some people think it might be a really great idea to add to all the confusion by adding rubber bullets, water cannons and God knows what else, because shooting bullets at people always calms them down.

    What’s left for tonight? Are the Buddhists sending off for their Amazon baseball bats yet?

    And if those fecking politicians spend all day tomorrow asking each other to agree that their side is condemning riots more than the other side, I vote we put a media ban on politicians appearing on TV until this all settles down, because they’re only going to make it worse by talking more bollocks instead of sorting things out like they are paid to do.

  • Kdog says:

    I didn’t think you fine left wing Manchester folk would censor someone just because they oppose your views. I feel like a marginalised underclass! I’m off to nick some trainers. Laters, keep up the good work.

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