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Alienation and Boredom of the Modern Era from the Point of View of Marx, Durkheim and Weber

Alienation and Boredom of the Modern Era from the Point of View of Marx, Durkheim and Weber

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Alienation from Marx’s Perspective

Alienation is a central concept in Marx’s writings, particularly in his analysis of capitalism and its impact on individuals. With the advent of capitalism, the feudal order was replaced by new rules and methods of production. This transformation gave rise to various issues, one of which was the alienation of individuals within the bourgeoisie. In the capitalist system, the worker, despite being the creator of goods and capital, does not possess or benefit from the wealth produced. Instead, the worker gradually becomes poorer while the goods and capital become separate entities, independent of the worker. Marx highlights this phenomenon, stating that as the worker produces more and the quantity and power of their products increase, their own poverty deepens. The value of goods rises as the value of human beings decreases. The worker not only produces goods but also produces themselves as commodities, in direct proportion to their production of goods in general. This means that the object produced by the worker, the product of their labor, becomes something foreign and independent of the worker. The product embodies the labor and becomes a material object, representing the objectification of work. However, in the realm of political economy, this realization of work appears to the worker as a loss of reality, objectification as a loss of the object, and subservience to it. The worker becomes separated or alienated from the product they have produced.

Marx argues that the process of producing goods under capitalism leads to the alienation of the worker from their own work and its products. As the worker produces more, they become increasingly separated from the fruits of their labor. The surplus value created by the worker’s labor, which used to be part of their own work, is now controlled by the capitalist. At the end of the production process, the worker not only fails to become richer but actually becomes poorer. The capital, in the form of surplus value and products, is in the hands of the capitalist, while the worker is left deprived and disconnected from the wealth they helped create. Marx further explains that the relationship between wealth and work is an exchange relationship, where the worker’s labor is exchanged for a certain amount of objectified labor. However, this exchange results in the worker producing products that become independent of them and dominate the worker. Although the capital is the product of labor, the worker’s own work becomes capital in the production process. The material conditions of work, including tools and materials, are the result of the worker’s labor, but they are also considered capital. This capital, as an external and independent force, rules over the living labor force and is not owned by the worker. This alienation of the worker begins when they create something that is not their own, and it is placed before them as an entity independent of them. The worker becomes a mere necessity in order to satisfy their needs, even though they are the creator of the commodities and capital. The worker sees their own activity in the production process as pushing away from them, a reality that does not belong to them. They become reliant on the products of their labor that, despite being created by their own hands, belong to someone else. The worker’s work lacks ownership, and the realities of commodities and capital become foreign to them.

Durkheim and the subject of anomie

Durkheim, a French thinker of the 18th century, was deeply influenced by the social crises and post-World War II conditions in France. He belonged to the positivist school of thought and believed that social issues have their own independent realities. Durkheim emphasized the importance of social and moral cohesion in society to prevent chaos. He identified two types of cohesion: mechanical cohesion, found in traditional societies with little division of labor, where common experiences and ideas create social unity; and organic cohesion, arising from the specialization of tasks and interdependence in advanced societies. Durkheim saw the rapid changes of the modern world as a cause of social problems, leading to a decline in moral values and social disintegration. He introduced the concept of anomie, where individuals no longer respect societal norms, leading to disorder, crime, and deviance. Durkheim associated anomie with the weakening of collective spirit and the liberation of individuals from societal control. Anomie occurs when moral authority does not correspond to the changing material conditions of life, causing a mismatch between people’s roles and talents. Anomie has two aspects: firstly, the anomic conditions that arise from rapid change and a lack of alignment between moral values and new material conditions, and secondly, the expansion of individualism, which can lead to unlimited desires and social abnormalities. Durkheim considered anomie to be a form of evil and anarchy that threatens the continuity and order necessary for societal survival.

Max Weber and rationalization

Weber’s sociology revolves around the concept of rationalization, which encompasses two types of rationality: means rationality and value rationality. However, Kalberg expands on this by identifying additional types of rationality. Practical rationality involves viewing worldly activity based on expedient and selfish interests, focusing on effective solutions to immediate problems. Theoretical rationality involves abstract cognitive processes and the effort to control reality through concepts. Fundamental rationality directly regulates actions based on a set of values, while formal rationality, considered the most important by Weber, involves calculating means and goals according to general rules and regulations. Weber sees capitalism and bureaucracy as significant forces driving rationalization. Both originate from similar sources and promote rational action and the advancement of rationalization in the Western world. Weber emphasizes the concentration of material means in the hands of those in power, leading to increased rationalization in various domains such as the factory and bureaucratic state machinery. Rationalization, resulting from scientific specialization and technical differentiation unique to Western civilization, involves organizing life for greater efficiency and effectiveness through a detailed understanding of human-tool-environment relationships. It represents a pragmatic development driven by technical genius, enabling increased control over the external world.

Weber argues that rationalization is a distinct characteristic of Western civilization, lacking any metaphysical force that guides its development towards a predetermined goal. This rationalization has led to a loss of belief in unseen forces and a disenchanted world, leaving a void in the human soul. The progress of science and technology has made reality appear sad, tasteless, and utilitarian, resulting in the modern world’s emphasis on knowledge, rationality, and disillusionment. Weber suggests two possible responses to this situation. One is to return to the religious calm of the past, while the other is to confront fate with courage, particularly in the face of mundane struggles. The modern world is characterized by the division of different realms subject to specific laws, with rational knowledge and mastery of nature separated from mysterious and mystical experiences. The expansion of rationality in society has led to a system of dependencies and obedience to institutions, creating an “iron cage” where means have become ends and institutions dominate individuals. Weber expresses disappointment with this situation and proposes either the emergence of new prophets or a resignation to the existing state of affairs. In this disenchanted world, suffering has become a product of rationalism and rationalization. The ethical interpretation of spreading happiness becomes more challenging as primitive concepts like witchcraft become obsolete. The criterion of good and bad is determined by the ruling class rather than a moral framework, leading to a sense of injustice. Death, stripped of meaning, renders civilized life meaningless. Weber highlights the profound consequences of rationalization and rationalism, emphasizing the need for ethical considerations in the face of suffering and the struggle to find meaning in the modern world.

Conclusion:

By examining the mentioned materials and analyzing them, it can be said that Marx, Durkheim, and Weber all considered the world we live in to have fundamental crises, and believed that modern civilization has had unfortunate consequences for mankind. Each of them has pointed out various aspects of this crisis in their reviews and attributed the origin of these anomalies to various phenomena, but they share the opinion that our world today is involved in widespread and increasing crises. The difference is in finding the cause of these crises. As we have seen, Marx considered the bourgeoisie and the laws governing it to be the cause of the crisis in today’s world and called one of these consequences of alienation, which is rendered by the capitalist production process and creates class conflicts. On the other hand, Weber mentions the division of labor as the cause of the crisis, which causes anomie and causes social anomalies, and in his research, Weber concludes that the crisis of modern human civilization is rationalism, which has plagued modern humans. Both Marx and Durkheim considered the division of labor to be important in their investigations, but they looked at it with a different approach. Unlike Marx, although Weber is a critic of capitalism, he mentions rational capitalism in his writings, which he does not negate, and unlike Marx, he does not consider economic and production relations to be the cause of the formation of the bourgeoisie, but considers the origin in the religious beliefs of a group of Protestants that caused the formation of capitalism. He has examined this topic in the book Spirit of Capitalism and Protestant Ethics.

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