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  • Writer's pictureJohan Söderström

The desire for something solid

Updated: Jun 17, 2019

This text tries to briefly outline why commensalism insists that an egalitarian society does not have to abandon private ownership over the means of production. It is a complicated matter rooted in human psychology which is not given any proper analysis here. The text is merely hinting to the problems attached to a solution of that kind.

There is a profound but mostly subconscious sense of alienation in every human being towards the outside world. Not just towards other people, but also the physical reality. This is because the self - the experience of being an independent thinking individual, is at core a linguistic activity. Self-consciousness in itself is a linguistic construction. That is, nothing exists outside the physical reality, but our thoughts create a notion that a linguistic sphere can subsist in itself, independently of a physical manifestation. And that we seem to find ourselves inside it. Not our bodies. But our thoughts, our conscious experiences. This paradox is not a question of whether we exist or not, but rather if our thoughts - our inner selves, does not feel like part of the physical, where does is it in fact reside?

A defining quality of the physical reality is that it is boundless. Look at the problem of measuring a coastline. The length of the line depends on the resolution you choose. The closer you study it, the longer it will be. In fact, there is no limit to how long it is. It extends towards infinity. The same applies in principle to all borders in physical reality. A line drawn on a map must be translated into a physical boundary. The evenness of this border is again dependent on the resolution. But the perfectly straight line - the clear cut, exists only as a mathematical, or linguistic, construction. In the same way that we can imagine that the line, the distinction, exist solely as an idea, separated from the physical, the independent self is perceived as something separated from reality.

The feeling of drifting, being without anchoring, in short - of alienation, creates a desire to transcend the boundary between the self and the physical reality. The desire operates in the subconscious but is nevertheless the driving force behind all human activity beyond pure survival. The transgression expresses itself in two different modes. Compliance to invite the world in, and a willingness to place yourself in the world outside you. Both ways deal with autonomy and power. In the first, the driving force is to emit control, to submit to an external circumstance and to allow it to become part of yourself. In the other, to seize power, to subject areas of the outside world to your own control, to shape it and leave a trace.

Everyone uses both of these strategies to varying degrees and in different areas. Not in a way that one is destructive, and the other is productive. Both are necessary, but both can also have adverse outcomes.

Submitting to something external, becoming part of a broader context, creates a sense of belonging. By making oneself a tool for a larger community, one can create together. There may be a dynamic that produces results that are greater than the sum of the parts. Likewise, it gives meaning and creates bonds, to shape the outside world, to make your own mark, to leave traces. The driving force for exercising power also means shaping, creating and being inventive in a way that provides individual specialities that never would arise without autonomy and a room under your own control. Both methods have a creative dimension.

Based on this, commensalism means that the power behind social relations many times is about submitting to external circumstances. Giving away power instead of taking it is what creates meaning. This means that co-determination in such a context gets an imperative function instead of a liberating. Simultaneously, an essential component for the individual's experience of belonging to the outside world is to have control over their external circumstances. And that this control provides a breeding ground for individual creativity, which is crucial also to society's prosperity and development.

This means that an egalitarian economic system also must provide space for private ownership. It is not the lack of power that enslaves the wage worker. It is the usurpation of labours surplus value that does this.

Similarly, collective owned corporations and planned economies have too little dynamic to be able to meet society's ever-changing needs. It is necessary to take advantage of the diversity and particularity that only individual creativity can provide. And it can only grow under its own name when it has a space on its own.

Collective and state ownership is excellent and necessary. But it cannot be the only form if you want to take into account the underlying mechanisms that govern humanity's complex desires. Commensalism allows for private ownership over the means of production because humans have a need to own, control and shape reality. And we also have a parallel need to submit to agents outside ourselves, to belong by giving away power instead of seizing it. Exploitation does not have to follow these mechanisms. Commensalisms proposal for using all profits from labour to common good secures an egalitarian mode of production without abandoning private ownership.

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