World Making and Determination: Marx to Weber to Spongebob Squarepants

Marx on World Making and Determination

As we delved further into the writings of Marx the worldmaking theme developed in an interesting way. Before we had observed it in the way humans alter their environment to create their own society, but in with the added readings in capital the means of production the humans invent begin to shape the social world. Marx declares the introduction of machines to be responsible “for shortening the working-time required in the production of a commodity…[and] for lengthening the working-day beyond all bounds set by human nature” (404). He even goes as far to state the control machines have over the worker. The machine no longer serves the worker as he has to match the machine. The machines take over the worker’s life from the start, “to work at a machine, the workman should be taught from childhood, in order that he may learn to adapt his own movements to the uniform and unceasing motion of an automaton” (408). The social world is no longer defined by those who live in it, but by the means of production invented to simplify work.

In addition to being shaped by machines, the form of production in which a worker in a capitalist society engages is determined by capital’s drive to produce more of itself by generating surplus value (Marx 334-336). To this end, capital enforces cooperation and the division of labor (Marx 384-385). In this way, the desire of capital to produce more of itself determines the social form of labor, with the result that “the multiplied productive force, which arises through the cooperation of different individuals as it is determined by the division of labor, appears to these individuals… as an alien force existing outside them” (Marx 161). The “alien force” of capital determines the shape production and therefore society takes, independent of the individual will of the worker. In contrast, Marx posits that “with the communistic regulation of production… the power of the relation of supply and demand is dissolved into nothing, and men get exchange, production, the mode of their natural relation, under their own control again” (Marx 162). Rather than being determined capital’s desire to increase itself – i.e. to suit itself to “the relation of supply and demand” – the communistic regulation of production determines the form of production according to individual free choice and social needs dictated by people rather than by the abstract agency of capital.

 

Marx and Weber on World Making through Ideas

Weber is concerned with religious ideas insofar as they become world-making forces, and produce historical breaks. He is not interested in the conditions of possibility for protestant theology to emerge. He does not suggest any new social structures to which capitalism could give rise, except to say that “No one knows who will live in this cage in the future, or whether at the end of this tremendous development entirely new prophets will arise, or there will be a great rebirth of old ideas and ideals, or, if neither, mechanized petrification, embellished with a sort of convulsive self-importance” (124). Weber’s method of examining cultural ideas as historical agents leads him to a dead end, from which he cannot project what new cultural actors ascetic rationalism will give rise to. He ends up at the iron cage, wherein “victorious capitalism, since it rests on mechanical foundations, needs [religion’s] support no longer” (124).

By contrast, Marx is concerned with economic forces and the tensions that arise from them. (For example, the problem that one must labor to live, but that opportunities to labor diminish w the advancement of machinery). He points to contradictions in capitalism, and sees them as capable of producing critical consciousness. His method therefore foregrounds human actors, as opposed to abstract agents, as participants in the ongoing process of world-making.

In our last post, we discussed how Marx views the material conditions of one’s life and the material nature of one’s production as primary in shaping the social world. Whereas Marx’s discussion of ideas is secondary, arising from the material and social conditions in which individuals find themselves, Weber views ideas as primary, acting as agents that can shape the social world.

Spongebob and the Protestant Ethic: 

In the episode “Graveyard Shift,” a customer approaches the Krusty Krab after it closes:

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Mr. Krabs, the owner of the Krusty Krab, asks the customer “You mean, if we stayed open later, you’d give us your money?” He decides to extend the hours of the workday, so that he can produce absolute surplus-value. He proclaims “Mr. Squidward, [tears up the Closed sign] welcome to the night shift. From now on, the Krusty Krab is open 24 hours a day.”

Squidward doesn’t consider his job as his calling. He hates his job and can’t wait to leave: “8:00! So long, suckers! I’ve got a hot date with a little lady, and her name is Clarinet… I can’t hang out here all night! I’ve got a life.”

Spongebob, on the other hand, is the perfect example of the Protestant ethic. He works because he loves his job. He doesn’t work for self-interest, or money, but because that is his calling in life. He is intrinsically engaged in his job even if it means sacrificing his personal time and/or health to work more.

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While Mr. Krabs acts as the capitalist driven by the economic force of prospective surplus-value, Spongebob happily accepts his place in the iron cage. The fact that Spongebob, in the very first episode of his show, entitled, “Help Wanted,” wakes up ready and excited for work, shows how deep the roots of capitalism are in his life. In a way, Spongebob is “ready” to be exploited by capitalism, and he doesn’t even realize it because his job and what it represents (capitalism) are so embedded in his life.

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6 thoughts on “World Making and Determination: Marx to Weber to Spongebob Squarepants

  1. I thought SpongeBob was an excellent representation of the Protestant Ethic. And even to add on your explanation, he is ready to go to work because he has such a moral obligation and emotional connection to his work. When he gets up late for work, or even when he is asked to stay open all night, we see his excitement, but something that we don’t see is any religious obligation to work. And this is because Weber did claim that as Capitalism develops, the laborers religious connection to work would disappear. So in this way, we see another way in which SpongeBob embodies the Protestant Ethic.

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    1. I agree! I think Spongebob is a great example. I’m reminded of that other episode where they have to deliver a pizza on foot and the whole way he just keeps singing, “The Krusty Krab pizza is the pizza for you and me!” Spongebob’s dedication to and enthusiasm for his job is a theme throughout the whole series, so I’d say the blog post was correct in saying that it serves as his “calling.” Which I find really funny, because I never thought I’d be comparing SOSC reading to Spongebob.

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  2. I wonder if Mr. Krabs is the best example of a capitalist…if I remember the show correctly, he liked to save as much of the money that he made as he possibly could, instead of reinvesting it to make more money. He might be more the ‘miser’ type, or the ‘capitalist gone mad’ as Marx puts it.

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  3. On the topic of Spongebob and machinery, I wonder how he would feel if he had to tend to a machine that did his job for him (maybe this has happened in an episode already, but I don’t have the most extensive Spongebob knowledge). Would Spongebob still take as much joy as he does doing his work manually? Would he realise that he is no longer fulfilling his calling, or would he change his calling to fit his work? I think his reaction to this would show insight into whether he allows himself to be fully exploited by capitalism or whether he has not yet been exploited enough to become disillusioned with capitalist society.

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  4. This was definitely a super fun post to read! The comparison to Spongebob isn’t one that readily comes to mind, but it’s definitely a strong comparison – especially considering it’s intended to be a children’s show (primarily, maybe). Some of the other comments point out some discrepancies with Marxian theory and Spongebob – which is definitely something to be expected. However, I thought you guys did a good job of putting Spongebob in a role of representation for the Protestant ethic that Weber describes. The idea of Spongebob working for work’s sake definitely seems something that is more raised by Weber than it is by Marx – which is what I thought you guys were intending to do anyway. Overall, your post was a really fun take on Marx/Weber’s theories that I really enjoyed reading.

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  5. I don’t think Sponge Bob is the best character to illustrate the Weber’s spirit of capitalism. I have not watched enough Sponge Bob to determine whether or not he, in any time of the tv series, illustrates what you claimed above. However, reading your description of him, it seems like it is Sponge Bob’s pure enjoyment of his job. His extra time at work isn’t a “sacrifice.” It is the same as my passion for cooking except I am not selling the food I cooked. Perhaps Sponge Bob enjoys cooking too and the shop serves as a place for him to enjoy his passion. The main point of Weber is that he claims that protestantism is the motivation behind Capitalism and that people believe that it benefits them as material achievements, an indication of the amount of labor and effort one puts into his work, determines that person’s place in God’s eyes.

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