Whenever you lose someone you care about it makes you think about a lot of things in your life. And the fact that my father spent so much energy thinking about politics, makes my heart ache for our failures in gaining justice for all those causes for which we fight. Whenever my dad began to feel fed up with it all he would just say sometimes 'we need to enjoy being alive.' Indeed, I will always appreciate my father for this advice. It is important just to enjoy the simplest things of life. My dad loved my daughter Cairo so very much, he once told me that seeing her grow up had been the very greatest joy of his whole life. Though he missed her sixth birthday by only a few days, he would have appreciated seeing her joy as the Clown that came to her party turned a balloon into a bunny. These are the little things. These are the joys my father loved to embrace.
When the revolutions of 1848 failed, Karl Marx began, correctly, to believe that Europe was going to go through a quiet conservative period in which the forces of radicalism would be in retreat for many years. He was right. So instead of his normal political activity, Marx began a long period of study that would eventually lead to his monumental work Das Kapital.
I feel a bit like Marx must have felt. We are going through a period in which the right has in some sense gained an ascendancy at least at an abstract level. Certain basic assumptions are lately being made about the 'natural' supremacy of 'markets' and the values that they supposedly promote. Perhaps instead of worrying about the day to day politics which are so frustrating for those of us who are living through hard times, we should be starting a more meaningful discourse about basic values and the big problems with the system itself. I think my father would have appreciated this.
Here is the type of thing I am talking about. The next time you are having an argument with someone who claims to believe in the so-called ''Free-market," ask them if they think that labor should be treated like any other commodity in the market. At first you will probably receive a look of confusion. They won't really know how to answer this question. But keep in mind that this was one of the fundamental principles of many early capitalists. They thought that labor itself was a commodity and that it should be bought and sold like any other commodity. This attitude conveniently reduced human beings to their most basic function in the market. Many so-called free-marketeers will want to react by saying that labor should indeed be treated like other commodities. Anyone should be able to buy and sell labor the whenever and for whatever duration or price they like, so they will assume. But of course any serious exploration of this question will make one quickly realize that we can't treat labor like we treat, say, plastic widgets. We cannot, de facto, buy labor at any price we'd like because of legislated minimum wage laws. But even if some capitalist believes we shouldn't have such laws, there are other more serious problems. When we go shopping for towels we can choose to purchase only white towels. If labor were the same as any other commodity then we should be able to purchase only 'white' labor. Aha! Therein lies the rub. If someone went out to buy only white laborers or male laborers we all know that implies and what would happen. Then ask this capitalist with whom you are having this discussion, 'If people really are commodities why can't they sell themselves into slavery?"
So what does all that mean? Well, it begs such questions as 'what exactly is a commodity' and 'why can't we buy and sell commodities exactly how we would like?" Well the answer is simple and incredibly important. As much as free-marketeers would like us to believe that markets are supreme, the truth is fairly simple, as this question demonstrates, "Our values stand over and above markets, and markets must be held in service to our values rather than the other way around." And when markets fail to serve our values they must be changed or eliminated. Labor must not be treated as a commodity because people must not be treated like commodities. And if our values must be treated as supreme in relation to markets, the capitalist system itself (as most people understand it) must be questioned. A serious and real public discourse must be initiated about these problems before men like Harper take us back to the 'good old days' when children worked in factories. We must take back the discourse on values that the right has tried to colonize. Only then will we begin to win the struggle against modern neo-liberal barbarism.
It is in honor of my father that I will wage a more abstract political fight in the future. Not a struggle for the merely possible or a fight for what is expedient. But a fight for what is right at the most basic level. Harper and his bullies will no longer dehumanize me because our struggle must be for what is most inherently human.