Uber Everywhere, Even to Realize your Species Being

With the proliferation of Uber in developing markets, we see an interesting alternative for lower-income individuals to work their way out of debt. Sharika Nair tells the story of Nandini, a woman from India who had a story very typical of lower-middle class people that fell into times of hardship. She had a dream to become a doctor, but was unable to go to college for financial reasons. The alternative to going to college in lower-middle class India is to get married, which is exactly what Nandini did: she was married to a temple priest with a salary just as meager as the one that was unable to send her to school. Not for the first time in her life was she was forced to do a life-activity that she would not have chosen.

Furthermore, she was burdened by having to take financial care of her sister’s wedding, an endeavour which often leaves even the most solidly middle-class Indian family riddled with debt. At this point, Nandini’s story could have turned out to be another black mark in India’s history books: she would be forced to go into a job that she was decent at– had “dexterity” with, as Smith would put it–but did not love. Unfortunately, this outcome is much more common than we can hope, as women across India often take jobs as clothes washers, servants, and full-time babysitters to help out with the family’s finances.

 

As seen in The Wealth of Nations, Smith believes that humans are motivated by self-interest. In their best self-interests, they proceed to specialize in labour, as stated by Smith in the quotation below:

“First, the improvement of the dexterity of the workman necessarily increases the quantity of the work he can perform; and the division of labour, by reducing every man’s business to some one simple operation, and by making this operation the sole employment of his life; necessarily increases very much the dexterity of the workman.” (Smith, 8)

“Dexterity” allows a workman to increase “the quantity of work he can perform,” which means that he can earn more at one job by being skilled at it. This reduces his business to “one simple operation” that he is good at. By this we can see that in Smith’s world, man cannot choose his labour as he is driven by self-interest to choose the job that he is most dexterous and skilled at. Reflected in Nandini’s (and the generic lower-middle-class Indian woman’s) story as the necessity to first become a housewife and then potentially take on cooking and cleaning duties for others, self-interest did indeed drive the actions of many women in pre-Uber India. Nandini herself took contracts for painting and home-work in her locality.

 

Marx, however, believes that a particular labor activity is chosen by an individual when the individual recognizes her species being. He elaborates in Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts:

“It is just in the working-up of the objective world, therefore, that man first really proves himself to be a species being. This production is his active species life. Through and because of this production, nature appears as his work and his reality. The object of labour is, therefore, the objectification of man’s species life: for he duplicates himself not only, as in consciousness, intellectually, but also actively, in reality, and therefore he contemplates himself in a world that he has created” (Marx, 76)

As a result of the labour that man chooses, “nature appears as his work and his reality,” and this labour is also “his active species life.”  “The object of labour” is the “objectification of man’s species life” which “proves himself to be a species being,” that which is defined by being able to have consciousness and to have the freedom to choose whatever he does. To Marx, being a human and a species being means that a human individual chooses their labour.

 

Uber offered a way out for Nandini. She started off as a driver before becoming a part of the Uber Dost (Hindi for “friend”) platform, which offered cash incentives for referring other drivers. Her type-A personality made it so that she loved finding people to refer, and she set up an office and hired four others, turning her referral endeavours into a full-fledged business. She chose the activity that she wanted to do, and because of Uber’s presence, it was possible for her to recognize her species being. With the money earned from her business, Nandini paid off her loans and plans to send her daughter to college, thus ensuring that her daughter would not suffer the Smithian fate of being forced down a labor path that she did not enjoy. Instead, her story reflected Marx’s theory of human choice.

uber
Nandini pictured alongside her Uber employees.

While she went into the business with the goal of paying her debts, the important takeaway is that she chose to refer for Uber and chart her own path rather than follow an established one. She was not certain that she’d be good at it, since there was no story of any woman like her who had done this before; rather, she chose to do it because she wanted to.

 

We welcome your comments and thoughts below!

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9 thoughts on “Uber Everywhere, Even to Realize your Species Being

  1. This was super interesting! There’s also an interesting link with the invisible hand here – Nandini had economic circumstances that pushed her into this platform due to money problems. This would be an interesting thing to explore. Super nice story too!

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  2. One of the things that I liked about this blog is how simple it is. The story really applies Marx`s idea about species being and it builds a bridge between Adam Smith and Marx as at first she was driven by her self-interest and then she found her species being. I also admire how you guys applied these concepts through one coherent story. Good job!

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  3. One of the things that I liked about this blog is how simple it is. The story really applies Marx`s idea about species being and it builds a bridge between Adam Smith and Marx as at first she was driven by her self-interest and then she found her species being. I also admire how you guys applied these concepts through one coherent story. Good job!

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  4. I really like that this article/post also lends itself to the idea of humans reproducing the whole of nature. And while this is a slight departure from Marx’s initial meaning, I think Nandini’s idea to improve her surrounding environment for benefit through her labor speaks to human universality. Although she does not literally change her ecosystem, she did change the social structure of her surroundings, which is a really fascinating modernization of the effects of being aware of the species-being. Great blog post!

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  5. Arguing that Nandini is realizing her species being by working for Uber is very interesting; however, I’m not fully convinced. She labors for Uber – she is assigned specific tasks – and, in return, she is allocated a wage that will allow her to subsist. In addition, she must continue laboring for Uber in order to survive. Nandini cannot labor for Uber one day, fish the next day, and paint the day after that. So, although she enjoys her job, she is still a laborer, who is alienated from her own labor, and who functions within the system of capitalism.

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  6. I think it’s important to note that while she may have “chosen” to refer Uber, there were incentives and arguably a much greater gain for Uber than for Nandini. Additionally, it’s interesting to argue that Nandini realized her species-being by choosing to refer it, because technically her desired species-being was to become a doctor, which she never realized. I do like your take on her working to promote Uber so that she can pay off her debts, but more importantly send her daughter to college to realize her own species-being. I think that’s a very admirable thing for Nandini to do with her life, considering it wasn’t her first choice, but in sacrificing Nandini’s SB, she’s paving the way and providing an opportunity for someone else to realize theirs.

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  7. This is an interesting post! I am still a little confused about how Nandini truly “chose to refer for Uber and chart her own path rather than follow an established one” when she was still motivated by self interest to have a job to be able to support herself. I see that she created a new option for herself and others, but I do not see how, in terms of acting on her species being, what she did is was different than another job that she could have held in pre-Uber India.
    -Seychelle

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  8. To the original posters: I’m interested in the part of the post where you say that Marx argues “being a human and a species being means that a human individual chooses their labour.” What if one were to choose a single form of labor, specialize exclusively in it, learn no other skills, and pursue that one skill for one’s entire life. This would be effectively identical to the situation of the “detail worker,” but chosen voluntarily. Does the voluntary choice alone make this compatible with species being even if someone does not develop the capacity to produce universally? What implications does this have for Nandini’s story?

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  9. To ejmyles: I think you make an important point by noting that Nandini was unable to pursue her dream of becoming a doctor, and in particular that she was prevented from doing so by the fact that she could not afford to go to college. I think that choosing one’s labor freely entails not only having free choice among the skills for which one is prepared but also having developed the preparation and ability to produce universally, and higher education prepares people to produce more universally.

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