Exploitation and Ideology

This is partly in response to Bumpkins' initial post, but it warrants an autonomous blog entry insofar as many thinkers we will be reading this semester deal in Marxian (or Marxian informed) terminology. Without getting into what I think would amount to a wholly unproductive debate about whether capitalism, unlike other economic systems, actually rewards merit and hard work, I want to underscore that "exploitation" is a technical term: it refers to an economic model in which labor is extracted from workers in exchange for a wage that is, by definition, less than the value of the worker's productive capacity (thus, profit). Fair enough. The point is that it's not, in fact, a viable critique of Marx to simply emphasize that wage-laborers receive pay for their work; this fact is actually foundational to Marxist analysis. "Exploitation" signifies, *without* value judgment, a particular kind of economic relationship.

Bumpkins' other point of contention is that under capitalism "no one forces you to do anything" and therefore, "destiny does not determine your position." This conclusion is perfectly coherent, but it definitely fits under the umbrella of what Althusser would call "an imaginary understanding of our relationship to the actual means of production." Louis would understand such a non-coercive conceptualization of capitalism as part and parcel of ideology: it is a "story," of sorts, that we tell ourselves in order to understand our role within the context of larger structures of production. The point of his ISA article is precisely that we should be cautious, to say the least, in taking such stories for granted. In fact, we should probably interrogate the hell out of them - where and how did we learn that capitalism is synonymous with freedom? Which institutions took part in this interpellation process? How does such an understanding of production behoove those institutions? Etc. Though whether or not Althusser conceives of any capacity for legitimate transformation, I have no idea...

Althusser's passage becomes very grim when he concludes that we have always been interpellated subjects and have never escaped the ideology produced by our current system.

You are right. He does not necessarily a pose a method for us to question our institutions. This reminds me of Michael Foucault who wrote on the regime of truth (the beliefs of the current system). He proposes a few ways to escape it:

1) You must resist the system mentally. You must refuse to believe in the system and therefore resist being subjectivized.

2) He places much importance within the body as he believes that the body demonstrates one's beliefs. For example, if you believe in God, you do not only mentally believe in Him, but maybe you pray, go to church/temple/mosque, etc. Your actions determine what you believe in and what systems you are a part of.

This is obviously a brief and simple explanation of his work that does not do justice to him. I just wanted to show that escaping the system is not completely hopeless (which Althusser made it out to be)

I agree with your invocation of Foucault; in fact, I think F and A are essentially articulating the same set of claims (particularly concerning the question of singular v. multiple, confinement v. dispersion, etc.). But you're right: Foucault lays out some methods for resistance that is missing from Althusser. I personally like Foucault's notion of subverstion through bodily acts. I also like where people like Judith Butler have taken it with respect to socialized outcomes like gender.

Whenever I read about culture or politics or law as being an ISA or some bigger system that surround our every move, I immediately think of The Matrix. I have done it in every politics, philosophy, and sociology class I have taken at Pomona. I think move to the Cypher seen in the restaurant with agent smith when Agent Smith offers to put Cypher back in the matrix:

"Ignorance is Bliss"

Since I can't remove myself from the Matrix, I have to take a different approach to this particular problem of ISAs. My solution has been to milk / beat the system of ISAs. I don't see any particular way to change the current system, so why not just dominate it instead?

Basically my argument goes something like this:
I grant that I have an "imaginary understanding of [my] relationship to the actual means of production". I can obtain a reasonable state of consistent happiness within that system. My understanding of the relationship is irrelevant as long as I am happy.

"Ignorance is Bliss"

I apologize for being a nerd...

'Fun is a medicinal bath. The pleasure industry never fails to prescribe it. It makes laughter the instrument of fraud practised on happiness...In the false society laughter is a disease which has attacked happiness and is drawing it into its worthless totality' (A&H, 140-141)

Happiness understood merely as the talent to suppress questions, to evade despair largely by ignoring it, is probably already not happiness - at least on A&H's account.

These guys obviously never got married.

Edit

I meant to say how did these guys get married.

'Moreover, the German capital, Berlin, was also home of chemist Margarethe ('Gretel') Karplus (1902-1993), whom Adorno would marry in London in 1937' (wikipedia.org)