The Alienated Consciousness, Homo Economicus and Capitalism

Norman O. Brown, a brilliant American scholar and social philosopher:

alienation workThe alienated consciousness is correlative with a money economy. Its root is the compulsion to work. This compulsion to work subordinates man to things, producing at the same time confusion in the valuation of things and devaluation of the human body. It reduces the drives of the human being to greed and competition… The desire for money takes the place of all genuinely human needs. Thus the apparent accumulation of wealth is really the impoverishment of human nature, and its appropriate morality is the renunciation of human nature and desires – asceticism. The effect is to substitute an abstraction, Homo Economicus, for the concrete totality of human nature, and thus to dehumanize human nature. In this dehumanized human nature man loses contact with his own body, more specifically with his senses, with sensuality and with the pleasure-principle. And this dehumanized human nature produces an inhuman consciousness, whose only currency is abstractions divorced from real life – the industrious, coolly rational, economic, prosaic mind. Capitalism has made us so stupid and one-sided that objects exist for us only if we can possess them or if they have utility.” (Brown 1959: 237-8)

This  incisive and pensive paragraph is from Life Against Death: The Psychoanalytical Meaning of Historyone of the influential intellectual books of the 20th century, a radical analysis and critique of the work of Sigmund Freud, by a remarkable American thinker and social philosopher Norman O. Brown.

The penetrating picture embedded in this post is “Chorus” (1998), an artwork  by a British artist and political painter John Keane, whose subjects concern pressing social and militaristic issues. Enlarge it and mull over.

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