The reality cheques we are all paying
- 10th June 2012
The Adelphi Hotel
A report by on the Philosophy In Pubs Conference
PIPS held their national conference at the Adelphi Hotel over a June
weekend in Liverpool. On the Saturday morning I attended an essay presentation
by Jonny Webb entitled 'Why we Should
Treat People as Commodities'. He began by saying 'I'm an apologist,
I suppose, for treating people as commodities, because I'm an economist.'
The discourse that followed was frighteningly real, as it encapsulated
the corporate context, the system within which we're all trying, and dying,
Mr Webb's words were the result of creative accounting, of the dishonest
and dodgy mathematics we're currently besieged by. This 'Best business
model' was described as a combination of capital and the labour that organisations
seek to purchase 'in the same way as they'd buy machines or desks'. 'If
people are compelled to sell their labour, then that's a ticklish area'
he opined, adding that 'treating people as commodities isn't slavery',
and that 'the model has an overall equilibrium'. It was clear that the
price society pays for this 'commodified' system was off the speaker's
prosaic balance sheet.
In support of the labour market being depersonalised by a separation
between the individual and the labour they perform, he quoted a comment
he'd received when delivering his essay in London, 'It's quite liberating
to view yourself as a commodity, then if you get sacked you're still an
individual'. 'Doctors put aside their emotions when treating patients'
'he continued, 'if they cared about them they wouldn't sleep at night'.
The essayist hadn't cottoned on to the fact that being objective doesn't
mean that you're uncompassionate, that you can follow procedures without
being personal or treating people as commodities.
Mr Webb was certain that in buying the conference PIPS 'didn't care anything
for the people who would be serving them lunch, only the commodified activities
of the serving and the consuming'. He was confident that as members in
the audience, none of us cared about each other. 'We treat our friends
as a commodified value', he went on, 'we have friends we go to the cinema
with, friends who tell good stories, friends who tell good jokes'. To
him, all our relationships are acts of consumerism rather than communication.
A quote from his essay summary on the web states 'Our current civilisation
could not operate without some level of callousness to exist within the
population in everyday exchanges.'
Hip hip hooray for PIPS then, where as members of the audience we all
had a right to reply and people got up to deliver feedback from their
Someone pointed out that by encouraging our children to view education
as a stepping stone to getting on in business, we could well be treating
them as commodities. Unfriending people on Facebook, texting instead of
phoning and privatising the NHS were cited as examples of commodifying
relationships - should we sack our friends or leave people to die when
their value drops below our required level? Another delegate was sure
the presentation supported the very model that has led us to global collapse,
one which doesn't work on any level - the world to politicians is about
war and creates collateral damage.
guy said that Marx wrote about how commodities and markets determine people's
lives in Das Kapital. Throughout the presentation
Mr Webb had shied away from using the word capitalism
and the fact that decisions are made by corporate dictators. The speaker
hadn't used the words work or worker
once. He'd ignored other societies that have existed, particularly those
that produced for use only. Greece is the direct result of commodification,
a system based on production for profit not for need. So, is our only
choice the amount to which we are exploited?
People noticed that the speaker had not challenged power, not referred
to a controlling 1%, not pointed to who makes the policies or that we
commodify because we're subject to rules that other people put in place.
As an audience member who seriously cared had put it, 'If a society will
exploit children and animals, it will exploit anyone and everything'.
Mr Webb said he appreciated some of the more forcefully held views. But
could there be anything more forceful than the system he advocates - a
system that denies more and more people the power to even buy their survival?
In a session where no aggression had been vented, as if to promote self-censorship
an audience member called for the debate to strike a 'polite balance',
seeming to wish to decommission any passion or politics the audience had
demonstrated. There were a couple of minutes left and the delegate used
them to advocate increasing the level of democracy in finance - a troubling
stance given the state of our democracy!
Nevertheless, it was clear that on the 9th of June 2012 in a room at
the back of the Adelphi Hotel, there was a mandate for change, a mandate
for moving away from sociopathic positioning to creating a system where
we're not all customers, one that will serve us as humans - something
that doesn't alienate a species with a natural drive to create and artistic
ideals. The current business model is rife with nepotism, it's a false
meritocracy. There was a call for the democratisation of the means of
production, 'to give this back to the workers'.
It was scary when someone stood up and said they'd struggle to disagree
with anything said in the essay, except is it right and do we have the
power to set up other systems?
I had a conversation with a friend who, like members of the audience,
saw right through Jonny Webb, 'He's insincere, this is a person who's
promoting a system that he knows is advantageous to him - he's like a
bailed out banker'. Well then, if this economist and his ilk are on bail,
they've been sussed and really are banged to rights.
So, if business brains have turned to commodes and insist on continuing
to sell us the shit that got us where we are - is the beginning of the
end of this really here and is it time for action?
Comment left by phil n on 20th June, 2012 at 9:27
I read it in the Nerve office
It was on the pips desk so Ill get back to you
asap - dashing off to the 1st Huyton monthly pips today