Friday, August 31, 2007

(Other-) Worldly Competition

It is possible to think of all individuals as being engaged in the struggle for valued resources, whether these resources be economic, social or cultural.

A strategy of those who have more resources than others and less than some is to contest the valuation of resources to make it appear that the resources that they have more of are actually more valuable than the resources that those who have more resources have more of.

More often than not, it is those who have more economic capital than others but less than some who find themselves in this position. Their natural response then is to ascribe to themselves some other form of distinction which more often than not is defined in direct opposition to a desire for economic capital. They proclaim themselves ascetic whether they be academics who perform the (thankless) social duty of reproducing the dominant classes and laborers for production; the artists who produce for arts sake; or the religious who forsake wealth in order to save souls.

In defining themselves as ascetic, they legitimize their lack of economic capital and think of themselves (and want others to think) as having won the battle (which they themselves defined and against whom no one else cares to compete).


To think that there are different kinds of resources for which people are in competition is to expand the reach of accumulation beyond the economic realm.

Some sectors say that they are beyond worldly concerns and yet in so doing, they have effectively accumulated prestige along the axis they defined which runs along the worldly- other worldly continuum, the other-worldly pole of which would be ascendant in their hierarchy.

This can be said of academics and artists and the religious who legitimize and valorize their position in society precisely by ascribing value to their otherworldliness. And yet in their wanting to ascribe value to themselves, they are accumulative as much as those in the economic sector.

And the accumulation does not stop with their positioning themselves vis-a-vis other fields. Within their field, they too are engaged in struggles over valued resources , which need not be monetary (positions of control, prestige) and in this they participate in the act of accumulation.

Furthermore, if we look at the actions of academics and artists and the religious, they too participate in the act of economic accumulation except that they find ways to justify and hide such accumulation. Academics will complain of the low salary from teaching and yet some will accept consultancies which pay a generous amount. Religious will speak of the poverty of the individual religious who owns next to nothing and yet live in orders which allow them to maintain their social standing.

But since their social position is defined in opposition to the worldly, they cannot explicitly say that they are in the business of economic accumulation. To admit that they desire to accumulate economically is to admit their subordinate position in terms of the market economy and to acknowledge that that is a criteria they choose to live by. And so they accumulate economically while professing something different rhetorically and their economic accumulation remains the subject of whispers far from the public rhetoric.

Contrast this with the economically dominant (especially those with something left to prove) who choose openly to donate to the other-worldly sector in order to enhance their other-worldliness by sacrificing some of their accumulated labor to demonstrate their capacity for other-worldiness (and detachment from worldly values) to obtain the values the other-worldly claim they have.

Next Post: Friday, September 7

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Fear, Second Nature and Accumulation

"Accumulate, accumulate. That is Moses and the prophets! “Industry furnishes the material which saving accumulates.” Therefore, save, save, i.e, reconvert the greatest possible portion of surplus-value, or surplus-product into capital! Accumulation for accumulation’s sake, production for production’s sake".
- Karl Marx, Das Kapital.

Those who have a lot of capital have a lot more capital to lose and that is why they tend to be more conservative. And yet at the same time, because they have more, they have a greater fear that they could lose everything they have and this drives them to need to have more which then leads to a viscious cycle of fear and accumulation.

Even in the absence of competition, most especially in the context of multiple sources of vulnerability (economic, life cycle, social, political, etc.) fear drives those with capital to accumulate more.

There is a second, more potent dimension which explains accumulation by those who have a lot and this is their predisposition to accumulate. This is a more acceptable reason than to admit being afraid and yet these dispositions are at the same time not consciously transformed into action.

Maybe if they were to work out the numbers (especially if money can work for them), they would realize that they need not accumulate more and they even have sufficient hedge against catastrophic events. But they still accumulate because accumulation is “in their blood”.

Their entire environment is their conscience reminding them of the need to accumulate. Their family environment of course is a main influence. Either they grow up in a poor family that has become rich and thus they imbibe the need to avoid a return to poverty, to run away from it, as it were, as fast as they can, as far away (even geographically) as they can). Or they grow up in a rich environment and they fear the fact that they have to find ways to re-create that wealth on their own.

Then they encounter others situated in other families with similar environments directly through schools or indirectly through the media. All these influences, of course, affect us all and we find ourselves embedded in a culture of accumulation whose origins none of us can adequately trace. We then take for granted that the products of accumulation defines a good life, and that the process of accumulation defines a good way of living.

We, the rich more than others, would then consider ourselves less of a person (a loser, a failed man, a wasted life) and living less of a life if we did not accumulate.

Next post: Friday, August 31.

Thursday, August 16, 2007


We identify ourselves consciously by our location at the present and also by our location in our past. But what others see in us (but which they often do not articulate, even to themselves) and what we more often than not do not consciously recognize in ourselves is the likely trajectory that our past and present social location and actions bodes for us in the future.

When others look at us, they get a sense of whether or not we will “go places”. They (think they) can tell our future by the way we carry ourselves (by our accent, by our “presence”, by our ability to interact with them, by our level of comfort with social situations, in the words that we say and the manner that we speak, by the things that we wear) and in doing so they decide (unconsciously) whether or not we are to be taken seriously.

To some extent, our past does not really matter in their assessment of our trajectories unless our deportment places us in locations where we would not be expected, either because we are too high for somebody with such a deportment (in which we would be a puzzle bordering on a mistake) or too low (which is rarely the case but if it were the case, then we would be considered a waste, sayang siya). The past matters only in assessing whether or not they can be comfortable with us.

To some extent, our disposition towards the future matters much more than the past, the question being how we intend to spend the capital we have accumulated in order to accumulate more capital. Those who have little capital are not expected to go very far and oftentimes they are blamed for having little capital to begin with. Those who have more capital are expected to have steeper trajectories and for them to choose not to maximize their capital would be considered foolish in the eyes of the world.

[I remember telling my father, who was at some point a small farmer, a jeepney driver and a gasoline boy that I was considering helping in the agrarian reform effort (inspired by my degree in Development Studies) and he said, Nagpakahirap akong pag-aralin kayo tapos babalik ka lang sa pinanggalingan ko. I eventually ended up teaching and he talked to my sister about me and told her that there's no money in teaching. It is only now that I understand where he was coming from. From his point of view, I was squandering accumulated labor. Parents know (unconsciously) that accumulation is the name of the game (To his credit, I knew I could count on him no matter what I decided to do. I did take Development Studies and I did teach and aside from those small pitiks, he did not really let me hear about it)]

Next Post: Friday, August 24

Friday, August 10, 2007

May ambisyon

Isa sa mga tinitignan ng mga magulang sa mga nanliligaw sa kanilang anak na babae ay kung may ambisyon ang lalaki na nanliligaw. Ang paghahanap ng lalaking may ambisyon ay paghahanap ng isang taong hindi kontento sa kanyang kinatatayuan kung hindi naghahangad ng mas mataas na lugar sa lipunan. (Kaakibat dito siyempre ang paghahangad na kumita ng mas malaki sa hinaharap)

Sa ganitong pamamalakad sa lipunan, hindi katanggap-tanggap ang isang lalaking kontento sa kanyang kinalulugaran lalo na kung ang kanyang kinalulugaran ay hindi naman itinuturing na mataas kung ikumpara sa ibang kinalulugaran. Hindi rin katanggap-tanggap ang lalaking mababa lamang ang hinahangad para sa sarili sapagkat ito'y isang palatandaan ng pagiging kontento. Hindi rin katanggap-tanggap ang isang lalaking mabagal kumilos sa pag-angat ng kanyang katayuan.

Nababatid natin sa ganitong pagpapahalaga sa lalaking may ambisyon ang kaayusan sa lipunan kung saan may kinalulugaran na tinuturing na mas mataas kaysa sa ibang kinalulugaran at nababatid rin natin dito ang pagturing na natural sa isang taong naising umangat ang kanyang katayuan.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Language, the biggest buy-in

Language appears to be the most natural thing in the world, and in that regard it is the biggest taken-for-granted. Anyone who has tried to learn a foreign language knows that there is nothing natural about language. We might be tempted to say "foreign" languages are not natural languages but we must remember that what is to us a natural language is to others a foreign language.

To speak a language is to participate in a particular collective game whose rules are socially constructed. To say that the rules are socially constructed is to say that there is nothing natural about these rules.

At its very base, there is nothing natural about alphabets. Letters (unlike some sounds we make or reproduce) do not faithfully reproduce anything in and of themselves except "A" and "I" but I does not in any way look like any person who utters the word.

Beyond letters, words and sentences are even more complex creatures. English, for instance, betrays this fact more than other languages (German, for instance). It is pointless to ask for example why it is that e comes before i but not before c or why ___'s is possessive unless the word is it's. There really is no rhyme or reason for these rules. People are just taught to accept them.