Glossary

updated weekly with a new term!

Alienation

In economic terms, Alienation describes Capitalism’s disconnection and distancing from the social relations that create a good or service.

Alienation occurs in many forms, and makes it difficult for a consumer to understand the human and non-human exploitation caused in the creation of a product.

For instance, while Apple is a US corporation, its manufacturing is elsewhere.  Someone who buys an iPhone has no relationship to the poorly-paid Asian workers assembling the item, lives far removed from the lakes of toxic waste created by cell-phone manufacture, and seems to relate only to Apple.  The consumer is alienated from the production of the iPhone, while the workers are alienated from the end use and profit derived from their work (few can afford an iPhone).

Alienation, also, allows a Western consumer to live in ‘green’ and ‘environmentally friendly’ neighborhoods while never confronting the slaughtered species, exploited humans, and razed forests which sustain their privileged position as conscientious consumers.

Paganism’s insistence on interconnectedness and interdependence, then, is a crucial antidote to alienation.  Exploring and insisting upon the connections between our actions and others helps reveal the horrors Capitalism actively hides from us.

Commodification

Literally, to turn something into a commodity, or to abstract it so that it can be bought, sold, and traded.

The process by which something becomes objectified, reduced to an abstraction of itself, and requiring it to be removed from the social relation that produced it.

Any thing which can be bought and sold is a commodity, but Capitalism constantly requires ‘new markets’ and new ways of making money, so things which were historically never subject to sale on markets (land, most importantly) eventually become commodities because of this pressure.  Everything is for sale within Capitalism, and things thought sacred or set-apart from the market often cannot stay that way.

Water’s a great example of this.  Water falls from the sky in the form of rain, wells from the earth, flows in rivers, and settles in lakes and ponds.  It is, in essence, ‘free,’ or readily abundant in Nature.  Now, however, it is something to be bought in bottles at stores.  In order to maintain such an odd or ‘unnatural’ state of affairs, access to water must be limited, and thus aquifers are often sold to private companies, particularly in the southern hemisphere, and the poor have been forbidden from drawing off ancestral wells.

Related terms: Enclosure, Commodity Fetishism, Appropriation.

Enclosure

Claiming something once available to everyone as ‘private’ property, preventing others from using it and thus limiting the access to the ‘means of production.’

A continuing process, first written into the law in England, now found in all aspects of human life.  The Enclosure Acts are considered by most to be the birth of modern Property, and likely the birth of Capitalism itself.  The Clearances (Highland and Lowland) in Scotland were one of the effects of this seizure of land from communities and concentration of wealth into the hands of a few.

Enclosure takes something from everyone and gives it to an individual or group, which is why Anti-Capitalists say “Property is Theft.”  Further Enclosures include modern ‘privatisation’ of public resources, such as water, electric, and other utilities and societal services.

Essentialism

A modern Western belief that there exists something inherent within the being of person which corresponds to their culturally-identified traits. Essentialism is one of the defining characteristics of Western Capitalist thought, possibly derived from the shift towards Materialist and Mechanistic worldviews.

Gender Essentialism is the belief that there is something ‘inherently’ gendered in a human previous to cultural constructions of identity; that is, the possession of a penis or a Y-Chromosome marks a human as Essentially male, while the presence of a vagina or a double X chromosome ‘creates’ a Female.

Racial Essentialism, too, posits something similar; there is something biologically different in a Black person or a white person.  Examples of this are manifold within Capitalist modernity; books such as The Bell Curve, as well as many Social Darwinist projects, asserted there was something different (and usually inferior) in the Black human which made them Black.

Sexual Essentialism: Variants of this ideology show up, unfortunately, in Western Gay Rights political strategy–the notion that a human is ‘born that way’ was a legal strategy to combat institutionalized homophobia; it has now come to mean there is something inherently homosexual in the “gay body.”  This has led to biological deterministic strategies of isolating ‘the gay gene.’

Popular particularly with Christian Fundamentalists, New Right thinkers such as Jack Donovan, some Dianic Witchcraft leaders, Volkisch strands of Heathenism and prevalent, unfortunately, in some Celtic Reconstructionist groups, Essentialism fails by starting with a culturally-constructed notion (Racial, Gender, Sexual identification), selecting data which confirms that notion, and then asserting that these correlations prove the self-evident nature of their position without acknowledging the inherited nature of their certainty (see also Re-inscription).

Essentialism requires the denial and sometimes violent eradication of counter-examples in order to enforce clear lines between peoples; the mixed-race person, the trans*person, the bisexual, the androgyne, the queer and the intersex person each challenge the pure categories required for the Essentialist thinker, and such people often endure intense violence for their existence as counter-example.

Some formerly radical groups (Deep Green Resistance, in particular) have abandoned critiques of Capitalism in order to use variants of Essentialist-thinking, too, resulting in a deeply reactionary stance and horrible harrassment of trans* and queer folks. A good antidote for such thinking is Silvia Federici’s Caliban and the Witch..

 Hegemony

A system of government in which the powerless internalize the logic and demands of the powerful.

In strict political terms, Hegemony described the process by which nations became indirect colonial subjects of a Hegemonic power, policing their own actions and overtly following the dominant power’s political goals to avoid being conquered.

The term also describes the psychological, social, and physical behaviors of conquered subjects of Capital.  No direct rule or threat of force is required for workers to show up to work on time, and obedience to laws (just or unjust) stems not from consent to those laws, but internalized fear of reprisals.

Hegemony explains, also, how we re-inforce discipline in each other, ‘policing’ the behavior of individuals within a community.  For instance, rioting and looting as part of a political manifestation is often reported, criticized, and even punished by otherwise sympathetic observers because of internalized fear-of-reprisals.  Likewise, the barista who gives away coffee for free may be reported by a fellow worker, or a political agitator may be turned-in or actively silenced by their community.

 Privilege

A special right granted to some but not others.  In social justice language, privilege describes power-relations amongst competing groups within the non-ruling classes and tracks the hierarchy of access.

While useful in describing power dynamics, often missed is the nature of privilege itself–that it’s granted, situational, and constructed, rather than innate (see Essentialism).  Likewise, discussions of privilege tend to stand-in for discussions of class.

For instance, straight white men are generally the most privileged, yet a homeless white man has less privilege than a wealthy white lesbian woman; a black man is more likely to be shot and killed by a police officer than a white woman is, yet even he is likely to be ‘privileged’ over an undocumented female immigrant from Mexico who may, in turn, be ‘privileged’ to have economic access that a homeless white man does not.

Both Kyriarchy and Hegemony are often used to describe the entirety of these relations instead, as both acknowledge Capitalist-created class as well as privileged power relationships such as race, gender, and sexuality.   Privilege through this lens becomes a description of how exploited peoples compete with each other for ever-decreasing scraps, re-enacting their exploited conditions onto other exploited peoples and thus re-inforcing the structures which keep Capitalism in place.

 

Re-inscription

Literally, to re-write.  Part of the process of appropriation where something outside of a dominant narrative (and sometimes opposed to that narrative) is pulled in and made part of that narrative–basically, written-over.

For example, revolutionary, anti-authoritarian, and anti-capitalist movements in the late 1960’s in America and Europe, which threatened to topple governments and terrified the powerful, have now been re-inscribed as having been about “Peace” and “Free Love” rather than anything potentially revolutionary.

Similarly, the very radical anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist views of Martin Luther King Jr. get downplayed in order to re-inscribe his actions as non-threatening to the current (and still very racist) order.

Re-inscription is vital to Capitalism.  It’s why “buying and selling” has become synonymous with Capitalism, and why it’s so difficult to imagine historical or future relations outside Capitalism.  Capitalism re-writes our experiences of everyday activities so that it seems to have always existed in some form or another, rather than being a specific (and very recent) historical shift.

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