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“The Death of Marat” by Jacques-Louis David.

Art is a complex phenomenon that has frequented philosophic circles since the days of Socrates. Scrambling to pinpoint a concise definition, thinkers have attempted to encapsulate objective meanings of aesthetics in an effort to fully understand what constitutes ‘beauty.’

The issue is that art has no distinguishable intrinsic value of its own; it as good as the audience deems it to be. Whether the audience is a group of commoners or a collection of art critics, works of artistic value have to substantiate their worth through harsh criticism — only thereafter falling into the category of real praiseworthy ‘art.’ This interpretation of art is valid in many respects, but it must also be realized that art must serve a function. It is certainly not purely subjective, since it derives its status from collective admiration, and it must portray an universally relevant idea, to capture the audience.

My goal here is not to differentiate between what is ‘art,’ and what is not, as that is an exercise in futility, and entertaining that point is relatively useless. Rather, the question should be phrased: “What constitutes good or proper works of art?”

“Want it? Enter” by Vladimir Mayakovsky.

The struggle for humanization involves articulating our consciousness, our fears and dispositions, into a medium that is accessible and unifying. This medium is art. Art should portray an ecumenical sentiment and should be a statement on the environment we inhabit. Rather than uselessly capture the banality of alienated industrial life, its function is to distance ourselves from mechanization and uniformity. It should introduce spontaneity, commentary, and subtle discontent where our own lives do not. Art should function as a medium in which we use to escape alienation. By association, this means that art is, by definition, antithetical to restraint and modern conditioning. It seeks to escape it, to realize human potentiality outside the bounds of current mechanisms. By need rather than choice, it must function outside these bounds because it expresses, by its very nature, an ideal. A work that is produced within the confines of modern production would hardly be revealing, since it would be restricted to only portraying feelings that are already realized. The struggle is to bring out conditions that elevate these sentiments, which requires working outside the confines of modern alienated labor and life, to highlight the potential of bettering our current condition and status. It is by this token, true ‘art’ is not conservative — it is, by necessity, progressive in its idealism and commentary. The Greeks, perhaps the first real admirers of beauty, understood this quite well, creating sculptures and paintings of the ‘perfect’ form and physique. They were attempting to capture an ideal distant of their own lives, and thus were in the tradition of real artistry.

However, there are social means that pervert and downgrade art and bring it back into the restrictive confines of bourgeois industrial life. Profit, as a general rule, distorts its true function. Art cannot act as an escape if it crafted within the model of mass-production. It loses its individuality, the heart of its meaning, if it is created in bulk by groups driven by monetary gain. It also loses its ability to depict anything outside the contemporary, becoming a self-congratulatory trivial blanket statement that praises the lifestyle it is a part of, rather than criticizing and dissociating itself from it. The problems of artistry is heavily intertwined with the general struggle of humanization. It is a core component of reflection. The function it assumes, and how well it communicates it, is what differentiates the good from the bad, the masterworks from the mediocre.  Serving as an escape from alienation, art takes on a crucial form in human development. Without it, out inner emotions would be bound to the present, with no way of articulating what we wish to become. It is in this way art is an important realization of what it means to be “human,” and a stimulus for progressive insight and change — be it in the mind or in action.

Writings on the different kinds of exchange can be traced back to Classical Antiquity. The Greeks were fascinated with markets, especially the ethical implications of such transactions, and soon began to formulate their  own opinions on the emerging markets in ancient Greece. Aristotle, especially, devoted some of his writing to understanding its complexity. He observed four types of exchanges in the developing market of Ancient Greece:

1.     C –> C ; where C = commodity

Better known as bartering, Aristotle had little issue with this mechanism of exchange in the market. He found it to be the most “natural” out of all exchanges, but saw major drawbacks in its inability in dealing with surpluses and deficiencies properly. The reason for exchange, from Aristotle’s understanding, was because an individual viewed the seller’s surpluses as being of higher value than his or her own surpluses, thus creating a transaction of equal value. He based the need for exchange around the concept of “use value” or “true value,” which a commodity holds if it is necessary for one’s life, household, or even community. He equated value with necessity. Therefore, Aristotle’s reasons for exchange can be seen as one of the early precursors the the subjective theory of value, since it acknowledges different use values for different households — based on their respective surpluses.

2.     C –> M –> C ; where M = Medium of exchange (i.e money)

The most prevalent method of exchange today — Aristotle was ambivalent to it. He found money to be necessary in establishing a common comparable measurement for all commodities in the market, however he also felt it facilitated the next two forms of exchange (3 & 4).  This particular transaction is very similar to barter in that the purpose of it is consumption. The use-value for each receiving end of the transaction is virtually the same, therefore the exchange is equal, with money serving as simply ameans, rather than as an end. Important to note also, is that Aristotle did not see money as a representation of value or wealth; it was a representation of want by agreement. Keep this in mind, because this is the one of the foundations for his criticism of the next two transactions.

The economy of Ancient Greece is useful to bear in mind when trying to understand Aristotle’s  analysis of markets. The majority of the work in Ancient Greek society was done by slave labor, mostly agricultural work, and many of the commodities on the market were products of individual artisans. Therefore, the full value was realized in its exchange of another commodity because the artisan’s sweat and work was fully accounted for in the transaction — the artisan kept all of what he produced, including his surpluses, and traded it likewise for a commodity of relatively equal value.

3.    M –> C –> Mp ; where Mp = M prime or M + profit

This mechanism of the market Aristotle found to be ethically problematic and abominable. He calls this retail trade and the issue, he felt, was that money served as a starting and end point of a transaction, rather than a medium of exchange. He also felt this violated the principle that market transactions should serve the needs of thehousehold, rather than succumbing to endless exchanges to increase profit. Aristotle did not consider this to be true wealth because the end goal is a greater quantity of money; it is simply a representation of exchange value in moneyed form — because it is purely qualitative, it lacks a limit, which was present in the first two kinds of market transactions. He believed there was no natural restrain on this form of transaction because the market exchange, in and of itself, was not entirely equal. In the first two methods of exchange, trade was limited to commodities that were produced by, presumably, individuals – therefore the starting point required an exertion of labor, and the transaction itself was virtually equal in its entirety. Because the starting point of this transaction, “M,” lacks that necessary productive capacity and because the individual is acquiring more of the same item he started with there is fundamentally no restriction on how much profit can be acquired — and the need to acquire more is intensified. Frankly, the major difference lies in that the first two transactions were to consume, this particular one is to accumulate.

4.      M –> Mp 

This market behavior is usually grouped with the third one shown, but Aristotle groups it differently because “C” is absent. He calls this usury, and the most unnatural of all market exchanges. He considered the reason for loans to be exploitative in that the giver of the loan was demanding higher returns than what was handed out — abusing the situation of the receiver of the loan.

Granted, there are issues with Aristotle’s understanding of basic market functions. The fourth market mechanism, in particular, is lacking in analysis — it fails to understand that that the interest payed back is a portion of the new productive potential that was created by that loan (i.e what it was put to use for, invested in, etc). Requesting a loan does not necessarily mean an individual is in distress, but since Aristotle was primary concerned with ethics, it is easy to see why he made that assumption. Aristotle’s fascination with ethics is also the driving reason he criticizes the moneyed interests driving the marketplace. His bare-boned economic analysis as an ethicist, albeit lacking in much empirical reasoning, does bring an important aspect of the market to light — the market is amoral. This is crucial. It is precisely due to this amorality, and because the market lacks any moral mechanisms and requirements, that the market sometimes succumbs to moneyed excesses of the socially damaging kind.

*** 
– Much of the information mentioned can be found in this article titled “Aristotle and Economics”
– More information on Plato’s and Aristotle’s economic views can be found here.

Work is difficult to define. In the modern mindset, it has become synonymous with economic productivity — a primary cornerstone to progressing society: a kind of necessary evil.

Fundamentally, however, work does not implicitly have a negative connotation. Contrary to its function in today’s modern context, work is not objectively a burden nor a pleasure; It simply is. Work is indeed a necessity, that much is true, but must work be pursued and viewed as solely a negative aspect of one’s lifestyle and be downgraded to the point of dissatisfaction, hatred, and dissuasion? Yugoslav Marxist-humanist Mihailo Marković, in his philosophical work titled “From Affluence to Praxis” addresses this dilemma:

“Work is a neutral concept. It refers to an activity which is a necessary condition of human survival and development in any type of society” [65].

The indispensable nature of “work” is crucial to the praxis of Marxism. The elimination of the “free rider” issue is a paramount dilemma, and has to be properly discussed before goods are allocated accordingly. Specifically speaking, this requires a clear correlation between work done and goods received to be able to function fairly; however, the proper criteria and definition of work must be defined for such concepts to be handled.

The initial question that must be answered is — what is work, and how is it different from labor? Marković makes a stark distinction:

“In labor the worker uses only those abilities and skills which he can sell, which are needed in the process of commodity production… [Work] is the permanent exchange of matter with nature” [63].

“[Work] is the self-realization and satisfaction of human needs… [labor] might be maximization of income, or increase of power” [66].

Perhaps most importantly, work is a natural concept. It is not, by nature, exploitative nor negative. Only in the current mechanisms of the market, is “work” (better said as labor) defined by its productive forces — by its potential to produce more capital and profit. Realistically speaking, virtually all action that progresses the social being is work once this chained view of labor is broken. Leisure, which is seen as an valueless in economic terms, is indeed a form of work. It is used as an outlet to break from the routine of labor that is a commonplace in today’s age of modernity; an attempt to free oneself from the objectification of what he does.

The largest obstacle to the realization of pure work, the fullest self-realization and satisfaction of human needs, is the alienating nature of today’s labor. Marković defines it quite well:

“Alienated labor is the activity in the process of which man fails to be what he is, that is, fails to actualize his potential capacities and to satisfy his basic needs. Marx distinguished the following four dimensions of this type of alienation: (a) One loses control over produced commodities. The blind forces of market enslave man isnterad of being ruled by him. (b) In his struggle for more property and power man becomes estranged from his fellow man. Exploitation, envy, mistrust, competition, and conflict cominuate relationships among individuals. (c) Instead of employing his capacities in creative, stimulating work, man becomes an appendage of the machine, a iving tool, a mere object. (d) As no opportunity has been offered to him to fulfill his potential abilities, to develop and satisfy various higher-level needs, his whole life remains poor, one-sided, animal-like, his existence remains far below the real possibilities of his being” [63]. 

Although poetic in its definition, it is fundamentally true. Is it not human to become more inclined to work, if one feels involved in the final product? Is one not more inclined to work if he feels it is necessary for the community, which he has clearly learned, through praxis, that it likewise benefits him as well? The struggle, then, is to liberate work from being a status of wealth and power. Rather, it should be seen as a necessity for human conditioning and improvement. “Work” is not simply a commodity to be used and exhausted, to be stripped of creative spirit; it is has definite aesthetic qualities. If one realizes the beauty in work, the individual is more inclined to work to reach the means that was once outside its productive sphere. Work would develop beyond being a collection of one-sided mundane tasks for indefinite periods of time; it would serve as a necessary form of expression of one’s abilities and talents.

***
Labor’s Struggle for Supremacy by Eugene V Debs.
The Right to be Lazy by Paul Lafargue
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