Reaction to Lessons on Marx (Circa 2013)

Once again, so much of this still resonates today. I enjoyed the anecdote about my old job at the end because I’ve been away at grad school for the last two years, and back to living among typical poor college students again.

The reading and discussion of Karl Marx should be required of every student. It engages critical thinking on many levels. First, we have to put aside our preexisting feelings and sentiments to consider what it was that he was trying to convey. We then map out his theory along with historical evidence and see how alienation and a growing proletariat has already aided revolution in the past. Finally, we find the similarities in current social trends which further support his original theory.  Unfortunately, in most situations, Karl Marx has too strong of a stigma attached to him to be brought into a casual discussion. It’s as if his very name has been conditioned to bring about fear and anger in some type of Pavlovian association over the years.

Karl (note: I was already on a first-name basis with him) was certainly right that class struggles define our histories. I have endless personal examples of how divisive the topic can be. One conversation with a coworker last week reminded how duped they really have us. Basically, the other person argued that people that receive welfare should be drug tested. I think I can stop there because there’s no need to go further when it’s clear that they have no interest in helping those in need, and are pretty quick to buy into unfounded stereotypes. Perhaps, the economic downturn has made us all a little testy, and this anger and uncertainty are easily misplaced.

Reading the Communist Manifesto makes me feel disappointed that it’s not ‘socially acceptable‘ to advocate for radical social change. It also makes it clear that the existing political parties have far fewer, even superficial, differences than I originally thought. With a major election upon us, we will probably see examples of class conflict daily. Some of it will be appeals made to us in speeches from those trying to get our vote, and some of it will be in the form of voter ID laws that are being passed. Sometimes you have to look harder to see it, but it’s definitely there.

Another idea which I found interesting was that of conspicuous consumption and conspicuous leisure. I have a great deal of experience with this given that I have been in the restaurant business for over ten years now. I first worked at a quaint diner, and now I work mainly in restaurants that would be considered by most to be ‘fine-dining’.  It’s funny to watch people from the server’s perspective because their attempts at buying and displaying their status are constant and thinly-veiled. Most patrons jump at the chance to talk about their latest vacation, but they also maintain their aloof composure about it (lest they appear to not vacation regularly because they were ‘too’ excited). They balk when presented with a wine that has a screw top, and ask for their wine to be decanted regardless of whether or not it is a wine that would need to be aerated. I gladly comply with their often strange requests as it is my profession, but as a psychology major it is far more interesting than just another ‘entitled’ customer.


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