John Ruskin and the Illusion of Value

A post of mine on the subject of labour, money, and the question of value has just been posted over on The Kitchen Table. Within it, in conversation with Ruskin, Mill, and Marx, I discuss what value is and how our misperceptions of value radically and dangerously distort our society.

Our society is often described as a ‘materialistic’ society. However, we must recognize just how hostile our society is to matter in its notion of value, which both alienates value from matter and seeks to render all matter homogeneous and conformable to abstract value, power, and knowledge. Our society is built upon alienation, abstraction, and extraction from matter. We extract power, knowledge, and value from matter and abstract ourselves from its binding particularity. Matter is to be broken down and departicularized for the sake of our autonomous power. This is what defines reality for us today.

This hostility to the concreteness and particularity of matter isn’t just true in the case of money. It can also be seen in the way that we regard power as a homogeneous reality to be extracted and abstracted from the particularity of the material world. It can be seen in our modes of mass production and digital replication. It can be seen in our scientific posture towards reality that reduces reality to universal laws acting upon indistinguishable particles, purged of the particular or local meanings or qualities that render them salient to us. It can be seen in the way people are trained to be self-effaced, fungible, and optimized raw human material for labour. It can be seen in the way that the market steadily dissolves particularities of culture and persons to create homogenized markets. It can be seen in the way that the particularity of personal skill is replaced by universal abstract processes. It can be seen in the replacement of the deep wisdom that arises from lengthy enculturation with the study of detached technique.

Read the whole piece here.

About Alastair Roberts

Alastair Roberts (PhD, Durham University) writes in the areas of biblical theology and ethics, but frequently trespasses beyond these bounds. He participates in the weekly Mere Fidelity podcast, blogs at Alastair’s Adversaria, and tweets at @zugzwanged.
This entry was posted in Culture, Economics, Ethics, Guest Post, Philosophy, Politics, Sex and Sexuality, Society. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to John Ruskin and the Illusion of Value

  1. Physiocrat1 says:

    Do you think the move towards fiat paper money away from commodity money, in particular the circulation of gold and silver coins, has increased, decreased or made no difference to the abstracting quality of money?

    • Almost certainly increased it. That said, it is important to recognize the degree to which even ‘commodity money’ rests upon the ‘fiat’ of government and is abstracting in character.

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