Of Needs and Greed, Reds and Green by William Bowles

Dandelion Salad

by William Bowles
Pacific Free Press
Thursday, 26 July 2007

‘The less you eat, drink, buy books, go to the theater, go dancing, go drinking, think, love, theorize, sing, paint, fence, etc., the more you save and the greater will become that treasure which neither moths nor maggots can consume — your capital. The less you are, the less you give expression to your life, the more you have, the greater is your alienated life … So all passions and all activity are submerged in greed’
— Karl Marx, Notebooks, 1844 (emph. added)

While I writing this I’m listening to the delightful and delectable Bill Evans playing his heart out and I understand totally what the great man is saying, but I am not entirely surprised that some (perhaps many) people don’t understand Marx’s commentary on the destructive power that the accumulation of capital has on the individual. The reason I suspect has to do with how it rules our lives in ways that do not reveal the underlying causes of how the greed of a few powerful men determine the lives of the many, perhaps in part because we think we’d like to be where they are (isn’t this the heart of the fantasy that we’ve been sold)?

‘[H]is melodies became the elixir for the avarice that surrounded him.’ — From sleeve notes by Bob Belden to the Grant Green album ‘Live at the Club Mozambique’ recorded in Detroit in 1971 but not released until 2006. The album by the way, rocks.

The most obvious expression is the fetish of consumption which at first sight seems to be based on the power of advertising and marketing but there are much deeper desires at work here than meet the eye, desires that advertising exploits but does not create.

The problem is that we are literally immersed in a world of commodities almost to the exclusion of everything else, yet judging by the yearnings expressed for the natural world and for a past obliterated by the avalanche of a ficticious future that the possession of commodities promises, the illusion is wearing thin.

Now nobody denies that we need things above and beyond the basics of food, clothes and shelter. We also need books, music, trips to the country, indeed all kinds of things are necessary to living a full life but the question arises as to whether we need them for the sake of possessing them or because they make our lives richer and more fullfilling?

It’s also clear that the possession of things doesn’t necessarily make us ‘happier’ or more fulfilled as human beings, indeed it can be argued that the desire to possess is an addiction that has nothing to do with the intrinsic value of the objects possessed but to do with the expectation that their possession promises to the possessor, a promise that can never be fulfilled except by continued accumulation of yet more things, and judging by the amount of junk that fills people’s homes (most of which never gets used), it’s a treadmill that is awfully difficult to get off once on.

The underlying motivation for the production of things resides elsewhere, in the nature of the economic system itself, where the direction and nature of production is determined by forces which are the result of the inexorable ‘logic’ of capitalism, much of it powered by war or preparing for one.