World Making and Determination: From Smith to Marx to WikiHow

Exchange Driven World Making

Smith defines the drive to exchange to be the natural process that distinguishes humanity from animals. Humans build their world as determined by this law of exchange. Through Smith’s theory of the invisible hand, when humans are acting in their self interest, society still functions as a whole. “He is in this, as in many other cases, led by an invisible hand to promote an end which was no part of his intention” (Smith 485). By acting on their selfish interests humans direct “that industry in such a manner as its produce may be of the greatest value,” (Smith 485). Humans better themselves by producing in order to exchange and in turn this production creates the society they live in.

A global anthropogenic environment:the-globe-at-night-1

(Image source: http://www.zonu.com/fullsize-en/2009-11-06-10879/The-globe-at-night.html)

Marx on World-making

Marx asserts in his economic and philosophic manuscripts of 1844 that humanity’s capacity to reshape nature is a defining feature that fundamentally sets us apart from animals. In conceptualizing humans as “universal” beings, Marx writes, “The universality of man is in practice manifested precisely in the universality which makes all nature his inorganic body…” (Marx 75). By creating cities, roads, houses, clothing, humans adapt not their organic bodies but their inorganic bodies to any environment, modifying and reworking any and all forms of nature. Marx notes that “[a]n animal produces only itself, whilst man reproduces the whole of nature” (Marx 76). By modifying nature in ways that go beyond their own immediate necessities and persist outside of themselves, humans reshape their environment and the physical organization of their societies. In The German Ideology, Marx asserts that the nature of both individuals and nations depends on their physical circumstances and organization (Marx 150). This implies that by remaking the world around them, humans also reshape their social relations and the structure of their societies. The picture Marx presents of a feedback loop in which nature and human society constantly act on and change one another contrasts sharply with Smith’s view, in which the structure of commercial society is static, determined by universal natural laws.

Inorganic nature (tilt-shift miniaturization effect):maxresdefault

(Image source: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WRIK3JYJdaw)

“How” to Build a World:

The concepts of capitalism and communism that Adam Smith and Karl Marx discuss are essentially concepts about world building, in that they address the social hierarchies that serve as the foundation of the world. Considering the technological advances and resources that are available today, it seems that building your own world is entirely possible, but in a different sense than what Smith and Marx had in mind. Take this WikiHow website, for example: How to Start a Religion. Whereas there are hundreds of pages of The Wealth of Nations or Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts that discuss the theories and systems that underlie society and how they came to be, there are resources today that explicitly outline how to bring about a system into being. This reflects the drastic differences in how society is constructed today and the 18th and 19th centuries, for technology, a product of humans, has streamlined the way that people may build the world and an understanding thereof.

The steps for “How to Start a Religion,” include:

  1.       Write a plan.
  2.       Develop a cosmology.
  3.       Select a name for your religion.
  4.       Develop a list of your religion’s core tenets.
  5.       Talk to people about your religion.
  6.       Find a meeting place.
  7.       Read about historical examples.

In a way, this frame of how to start a religion reflects how Marx addressed his views on capitalism and communism. A couple of the reasons listed for wanting to start a religion include “Because you are dissatisfied with ones that currently exist” and “To be critical of other religions.” Marx critiqued capitalism and presented his own theories on communism that he believed were better than capitalism. To Marx, “in creating an objective world by his practical activity, in working-up inorganic nature, man proves himself a conscious species being,” (Marx 76). Humans are human because they create the world around them. It can be argued that the “inorganic nature” is anything that man builds, not limited to just physical constructions, but including conceptual creations (i.e. religion): “it is quite immaterial what consciousness starts to do on its own: …  It is self evident, moreover, that “spectres,” “bonds,” “the higher being,” “concept,” “scruple” are merely the idealistic, spiritual expression,” (Marx 159). While there may not be clearly listed steps as to how one builds the world in Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts, Marx builds his own argument about the foundations on which the world should be built based on his system of communism. Marx seems to be a representation of the steps outlined in the WikiHow page, for he builds his own “religion” (communism).

Inorganic nature (tilt-shift miniaturization effect):

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(Image source: http://smashingtips.com/tilt-shift-photography)

Social Media: Platform for an Unprecedented Form of World-Building

For Marx, world-creation is a physical act that happens in the factory and the laboratory, in the hands of the construction worker and the farmer; it’s not a question of ideological or theoretical development so but of doing work on nature and turning it into objects of labor. Man’s conception of himself and his species-being is shaped by the world of objects that surrounds him, and his sensual interaction with nature, “his human relations to the world—seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, feeling, thinking, being aware, sensing, wanting, acting, loving—in short, all the organs of his individual being, like those organs which are directly social in their form” (87).

The internet presents a totally new format for world-creation; it is neither a purely ideological or theoretical space, nor a physical space that can be interacted with sensually. Social networks like Facebook, Twitter, and blog sites such as WordPress are highly stylized products that deliver their content in a way that reduces the full sensual experience of human life and social interaction to primarily visual and aural delivery through a screen and speakers.

Multiple studies have linked Facebook usage to depressive symptoms. As Forbes Magazine reports,

It turned out that people who logged more Facebook time not only had more depressive symptoms, but that social comparison – in any direction – was the mediator, and for both sexes. In other words, it didn’t matter whether a person was making upward, downward, or neutral social comparison – they were all linked to a greater likelihood for depressive symptoms.

In other words, the depressive symptoms don’t arise from feelings of social inferiority, but just from making social comparisons with others, at all. The rest of the fascinating article can be accessed here.

When scrolling through your Facebook newsfeed is your primary form of social interaction, as opposed to using Messenger to organize a real-life meetup with friends, what sort of social activity is going on? Is it what Marx would call “directly communal activity,” which suggests activity done in the company of others, or the sort of social activity that can take place alone, in private — “Not only is the material of my activity given to me as a social product (as is even the language in which the thinker is active): my own existence is social activity” (86). Or does social media consist of a new kind of social activity, and if so, how can we characterize it?

We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

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Image source: http://www.mommyish.com/2014/03/10/cell-phones-at-dinner/

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2 thoughts on “World Making and Determination: From Smith to Marx to WikiHow

  1. I believe that social media is a new kind of social activity. People`s ideas shared on social media are part of human activity. I do agree that there are depressive symptoms of sitting the whole day on the computer, and not doing any kind of social interaction, but this is an extreme case. As long as, there is part of the social media interaction depends on social interaction, as people are commenting on each other`s posts, then social media is considered to be part of human social activity. Moreover, people go to social media with their total freedom, which means that they are not alienated from themselves and they are interacting with other species being freely, and that is what characterizes the world social media as social activity.

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  2. I thought this blog was a very interesting way to take on Smith and Marx. I completely agree with your stance on Marx and how it relates to the internet and social media. Social comparison often comes in the form of likes, which can be seen as measurement of online approval for whatever one chooses to post. At the same time I like to think of social media as something that has been molded by a generation of people too shy to reach out to people in real life to allow for interactions to cover up their loneliness. This was a really interesting blog and I really liked it!
    -Jason

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