Socialism and Self-Care
January 11, 2019 10:47 AM   Subscribe

“This does not at all mean that Marxists oppose self-improvement and self-care as such. There is nothing wrong with many of the activities suggested by either subculture, nor would socialism be a world without individual care and development. On the contrary, we oppose capitalism, in part, because it directly disincentivizes self-enrichment, encouraging the accumulation of capital or higher wages above everything else. Under capitalism, an individual who chooses to prioritize their hobbies and social well-being runs the risk of being “outcompeted” by those more willing to subordinate those needs to the logic of profit motive.” Self-Improvement and Self-Care: Survival Tactics of Late Capitalism
posted by The Whelk (35 comments total) 44 users marked this as a favorite
 
Guessing Instapots are a no-go.
posted by Celsius1414 at 11:49 AM on January 11 [10 favorites]


So, I went into this article fully expecting this to be yet another datapoint in a cycle of how media talks about mental health where specific clinical practices are decontextualized, popularized, commercialized, and then the commercial is treated as the authentic. This article tries to get around that with:
Out of this crisis of alienation and mental health, two parallel trends have emerged: self-improvement and self-care (considered here as subcultures, and not to be confused simply with the concepts themselves).
I think that goes a fair bit here, although the concept of "culture" is kind of fuzzy. Am I a part of that culture because I tooted about disengaging from social-media grinding sometime last month? Is that Audre Lorde, who proposed self-care as a feminist practice grounded in trying to survive in spite of disproportionate demands on black women to provide household, psychological, and religious labor? The article is a wee bit vague on that front.
This subculture suggests measures such as splurging, treating yourself, adjusting your diet and exercise habits, drinking water, seeking therapy, meditating, living holistically, and thinking positively as solutions to the rising rates of depression and anxiety.
Which is quite a diverse list. We start with two forms of consumerism. The next four are things are are suggested as self-care because they're frequently neglected by people having acute episodes of mental illness. "Living holistically," is too vague to discuss. "Thinking positively" needs further definition since it can be anything from calendar affirmations to serious discussion about how to cope with negative intrusive thoughts.

"... as solutions to the rising rates of depression and anxiety," is a head-scratcher here. Honestly I've never read the claim that drinking water is a solution to clinical depression, anxiety, or PTSD (another unaddressed elephant in this piece.) Some of that is raised later with:
Certainly, such methods should be employed by anyone who finds them useful as a way of temporarily coping with life under capitalism, but we should not be content with simply “coping” forever.
Which is the "no-shit Sherlock" statement. At this point, I have to remind myself that this isn't talking about black feminism that points out the risks of burnout due to demands for unpaid labor, nor is it talking about queer psychology that points out that dead queers neither vote or revolt. This is about some vaguely defined "culture." But since that distinction is poorly defined and neither feminist nor queer concepts of self-care are even mentioned in spite of being FOUNDATIONAL to this discussion, I suspect that jump is left open for the reader.
posted by GenderNullPointerException at 12:01 PM on January 11 [16 favorites]


I agree with GenderNullPointerException that the ideas here beg for some unpacking and detail; however, I also feel the articulation of differentiating self-improvement and self-care as cultural phenomena vs. as activities is a point that is basic yet elegant and important. I would like to see this thought built upon, as I think it could help the self-care discourse break out of the backlash/backlash-backlash pattern that it often gets really mired in.
posted by dusty potato at 12:24 PM on January 11 [3 favorites]


[W]e oppose capitalism, in part, because it directly disincentivizes self-enrichment

It is important to remember that socialism is about creating conditions that allow individuals to enrich themselves spiritually, intellectually and indeed materially.
posted by No Robots at 12:31 PM on January 11 [3 favorites]


The aligning of "self-improvement" (read: the embracing of toxic masculinity seen frequently in particular among men "red-pilling" their lives) and "self care" as two maladaptive responses to a toxic macroculture is... certainly an interesting choice. There are similarities, but at the same time, I'm not sure that either group of people is focusing only inwardly. For example, MRA-types and other folks explicitly prioritize imposing their own values forcibly on others, often via legislative structural tactics. And despite being a liberal myself, and having my own complex feelings about self care, I'm not sure that it exists to the exclusion of care for others outside of a co-opting advertising culture.

And I'm very not sure that "self-care" is a subculture unto itself in the way that I agree that "self-improvement" subcultures are. Are people coalescing around their striving to give each other more access to the kinds of ideas we see marketed as self care? Are the kinds of people who feel strongly about self care also prioritizing it as their explicit common goal and socializing around it as a basic precept? Most of the folks I see talking about the importance of self care outside of the marketing and people talking about the marketing of it are trying to encourage a form of renewal that often presents itself in a way that makes care of others easier than care of the self; self care, then, in these subcultural conversations, becomes a way to manage stress by encouraging other people to relax and let go of their own responsibilities.

I am also curious at the vaguely fleshed-out exhortation to engage in collective solutions to a toxic post-capitalism everything-is-horrifying macrosociety in the same breath as the author acknowledges that in this current society, many people are mentally exhausted and alienated from their bodies and their lives. When a person has little perceived control on their environment, the urge to control something still exists--and so control turns inwards, in the vain hope that if you can at least perfectly control yourself, you might be able to navigate a chaotic and terrifying environment.

With respect to collective action, the risks often feel a hell of a lot more salient than the rewards. If you want people to engage in risks to the self for a collective betterment, and these people are already living in an environment with high perceived risks all around them and minimal reward, you have to do something to help strengthen the social environment first so that the risks are shared among many people. Self-care culture, insofar as I have seen it exist--usually among women and queer people--is literally about that--encouraging people to step back and relax, because friends and colleagues will take up the work until you can return with a renewal of energy.

Perhaps I'm just strung the hell out, though. I've been working (or at least expecting myself to work) for the past eleven days, with one day in the middle there eaten up with travel rather than work instead. I confess that I have a lot of criticism for critics of self care: how do you combat the belief that many of us have been trained to clutch to our breasts, that care for ourselves happens only after we have cared for others? If others are not caring for us in return, what do we do? What can we do?
posted by sciatrix at 12:38 PM on January 11 [13 favorites]


Socialism opposes capitalism? Really?
Oh dear, someone better inform the Europeans. They do both at the same time!
posted by Goofyy at 12:51 PM on January 11 [7 favorites]


Uh, no, they don't--you can think of capitalism as an unfettered ability of the free market to decide on outcomes based on maximal profit margins and socialism as a decision to deliberately curtail the activity of the free market in order to return the best outcomes for citizens rather than the best outcomes for profit margins.

I think you are thinking of communism, possibly.
posted by sciatrix at 12:53 PM on January 11 [1 favorite]


Elements of two different things being capable of integration with each other does not necessarily mean that the things themselves are not opposed.
posted by dusty potato at 12:59 PM on January 11 [4 favorites]


I feel like there's a fair bit of punching-down going on in these stories. I've been trying to move away from "you're doing it wrong" to looking at the roles of mass-marketing stakeholders. Goop throws a lot more weight than 20-somethings tweeting about bath bombs, so I think it's important to make some clear distinctions between Goop or Disney's ideas about "self-care" and what kids are tweeting about these days.

Also, the complex realities of racial (often state-sponsored) and gender violence needs to be brought into these discussions. This is an area where I think mainstream Marxists often fall short on.
posted by GenderNullPointerException at 1:02 PM on January 11 [9 favorites]


For example, liberal secularism and Christian dominionism are in clear opposition, yet the US government contains strong elements of both.
posted by dusty potato at 1:02 PM on January 11 [4 favorites]


I've never read the claim that drinking water is a solution to clinical depression, anxiety, or PTSD

Not so much directly, but "On the third day, when the body has shifted over to ketosis as a primary source of fuel, the brain begins to have enough fuel but it is a different fuel. How you feel and how your brain works on that fuel are markedly different." There's no shortage of claims that switching to drinking purified water, either instead of coffee/soda/milk/etc, or as a short-term instead of all calorie consumption, is great for both physical and mental health. ("Skip breakfast; drink water; relieve depression.")

The article's got some good points: that a lot of the "enrich your mind and spirit" approaches to problems are yet another method of pushing solutions onto individuals rather than communities. The pitch is almost always "learn mindfulness and you will be happier and more productive," not "learn mindfulness and you will be better connected, feel more a part of your family, have stronger friendships." And the listicle articles are usually phrased as "take this handful of steps to start your Self Care Spiritual Awakening Plan" which do not include a mention of "discuss with the people close to you how you can better focus on who you wish to become."
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 1:09 PM on January 11 [4 favorites]


Hadn't seen this Marx quote before:
The less you eat, drink and read books; the less you go to the theater, the dance hall, the public house; the less you think, love, theorize, sing, paint, fence, etc., the more you save; the greater becomes your treasure which neither moths nor dust will devour—your capital. The less you are, the more you have; the less you express your own life, the greater is your alienated life—the greater is the store of your estranged being.
posted by Iridic at 1:11 PM on January 11 [76 favorites]


what's the context for that quote because yikes
posted by prize bull octorok at 1:13 PM on January 11 [1 favorite]


^As indicated in the article, it is from Economic & Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844. Marx is mocking the asceticism that accompanies bourgeois capitalism.
posted by No Robots at 1:19 PM on January 11 [13 favorites]


The pitch is almost always "learn mindfulness and you will be happier and more productive," not "learn mindfulness and you will be better connected, feel more a part of your family, have stronger friendships."

Sure, but is the problem that self-care is being pitched that way, or that people are receptive to that pitch? I mean, the reason every new self-improvement fad is sold as "be more productive" is that people, for a bunch of reasons, want to be more productive. The pressure to do more isn't coming from the pitch, although maybe it's exacerbated, but it's pre-existing.

In part this is due to no-shit economic precarity: people are trying to figure out how to be more productive, in the sense of making more money with their limited labor, because they're barely making enough selling their labor right now to live, and probably not near enough to retire on.

For people who are not actually in precarious circumstances, then the cultural critique is more valid: there is a treadmill-esque aspect to American culture where it's difficult to say "yeah, I'm actually good, I don't need to figure out how to make 10% more money this year" even if you are doing okay. Doing so is "leaving money on the table" or something.

But that cultural critique is probably going to rub a lot of people who are engaging in 'productivity hacks' out of perceived economic necessity the wrong way, I suspect.
posted by Kadin2048 at 1:22 PM on January 11 [4 favorites]


When I think "more productive," I'm not trying to do more at work. I'm thinking about how to get shit done at home.

I wake at 7am, leave for work at 8am, get home at 6pm, prepare dinner and finish eating by 7pm. That leaves me exhausted, with only 4 hours until the 11pm bedtime I try to adhere to.

I just can't muster the motivation to keep the house as clean as I'd like. To work on the household projects I'd like to do. To work on art. To exercise. I need to work on my motivation and discipline to do more in my evenings, not more for my employer.
posted by explosion at 1:34 PM on January 11 [11 favorites]


can think of capitalism as

I like to think of capitalism as a tool, a technology by which capital is applied to enable the generation of new wealth. I lend you my shovel, you give me some of your potatoes, everyone's happy. It can exist happily within other economic structures, in a regulated, rational form.

I like to think of Capitalism as the Hyekian/Thatcherite laissez-fair dystopian nightmare where nobody has any rights or identity except in relation to the amount of capital they control.
posted by klanawa at 1:35 PM on January 11 [8 favorites]


Here's a free pattern so you can crochet your own Lenin cap, and do self-care and socialism at the same time!
posted by rikschell at 1:55 PM on January 11 [1 favorite]


I'm with klanawa -- there is sometimes an awful lot inherent in the decision to capitalize (or not) the first letter of a word. Capitalism absolutely fails as ideology (and yeah, we're in the midst of one of its great failures), but as a means toward getting stuff done on vast and complicated level, capitalism is one of the best tools we've ever had.
posted by philip-random at 2:19 PM on January 11


I lend you my shovel, you give me some of your potatoes

That's not capitalism. That's just trade. Markets and trade can exist without (and pre-date) capitalism.
posted by asnider at 2:36 PM on January 11 [4 favorites]


What if I have more shovels than I can personally use? It's a metaphor but it absolutely is capitalism.
posted by klanawa at 2:37 PM on January 11 [1 favorite]


A better read that explains basic economic terms clearly and engagingly is Economics for Everyone by Jim Stanford.
posted by eviemath at 2:56 PM on January 11 [2 favorites]


Guessing Instapots are a no-go.

[Pssst! They're Canadian. If you buy one Trudeau will appear shirtless in your kitchen every time you release pressure manually.]
posted by srboisvert at 3:45 PM on January 11 [8 favorites]


What if I have more shovels than I can personally use? It's a metaphor but it absolutely is capitalism.

Think about what the 'capital' in capitalism may mean.
posted by codacorolla at 3:54 PM on January 11 [1 favorite]


It is important to remember that socialism is about creating conditions that allow individuals to enrich themselves spiritually, intellectually and indeed materially.

I lend you my shovel, you give me some of your potatoes

That's not capitalism. That's just trade. Markets and trade can exist without (and pre-date) capitalism.

What if I have more shovels than I can personally use? It's a metaphor but it absolutely is capitalism.

I think it's worth remembering that the least useful (and for most intelligent listeners, least persuasive) part of any argument is the part where one or both sides try to redefine all the terms so that their side is just defined as "all good stuff" and the other side as "all bad stuff". I'm not saying we're there yet, but there seems to be a bit of a trend in that direction.

Socialism and capitalism are generally defined as ways of organizing economies, large- or small- scale. Whether the first proves to be better at allowing "individuals to enrich themselves spiritually, intellectually and indeed materially" than the latter, or whether the latter proves a better or more equitable way of distributing shovels than the former, comes down to evaluating the real-world evidence. A task which is made rather harder when the two things under examination have been redefined in ways that allow any inconvenient actual real-world examples to be handwaved away.
posted by AdamCSnider at 3:57 PM on January 11 [11 favorites]


On the other hand, I may be overracting here - I just spent my lunch break today arguing with someone who simply defined Christianity's goals as "perfect brotherhood on Earth" and then demanded that I explain what kind of monster could possibly be against the imposition of such principles nation- and ultimately world-wide, so the importance of definitions in argument is a bit more on my mind today than usual.
posted by AdamCSnider at 4:02 PM on January 11 [4 favorites]


everyone's happy
Yup, definitely sounds like the capitalism I've been reading about
posted by entropone at 4:47 PM on January 11 [5 favorites]


Trudeau will appear shirtless in your kitchen every time you release pressure manually

I see what you did there
posted by the_blizz at 6:17 AM on January 12 [1 favorite]


I see what you did there

As will Justin, reportedly.
posted by Celsius1414 at 6:33 AM on January 12 [1 favorite]


Marx is mocking the asceticism that accompanies bourgeois capitalism.

One of the curious things about modern everyday leftists is how much asceticism is held as a virtue. I've found it quite a point of pride at how little consumption they'll paint themselves as needing. Humblebragging of going without the larger dwelling, the car, the ostentatious/frivolous property, the social markers that say you're doing well. It comes across to me how much this kind of "doing without" leftism resembles a kind of weird secular puritanism.

Perhaps it matters if asceticism is adopted (presumably) voluntarily, vs foisted upon by capitalism. Does that make a difference? If so, what kind of difference is that? Is making a show of your consumption different than making a show of your lack of consumption? Wanting vs not wanting as a matter of attitude?
posted by 2N2222 at 8:03 AM on January 12 [4 favorites]


I think that's an interesting question 2N2222, and I would say that displays for the sake of displays (whether asceticism, consumption, etc.) are generally empty gestures that lack any deeper meaning other than what they purport to show.

I choose to live a quasi asceticism because I've read over and over that Americans consume the equivalent of 3 or more Earths worth of resources (most recently, here), and therefore my choice and ability to consume less is a direct result of that knowledge/data.
posted by nikoniko at 10:32 AM on January 12 [1 favorite]


I have questions about that, too, because while I don't care about show for the sake of show, I really yearn sometimes for the small luxuries that whisper security to me, or expensive goods that say I'll last, or the comfort of not having to live on the edge. I wonder about the linked piece's equation of the luxuries of self care with people turning away from community and systemic change.

Also, I was raised Catholic. Trust me when I say that asceticism in the service of the greater good can be every bit the joyless competitive show piece as even the most ostentatious McMansion.
posted by sciatrix at 11:55 AM on January 12 [4 favorites]


While there can be good reasons for principled asceticism (such as those nikoniko mentions), I think one of the reasons a showy version of it tends to pop up in a lot of different cultures/subcultures is because it is a relatively easy way to show off - instead of having to do something, you just have to refrain from doing something, and usually you can find something to refrain from that you didn't particularly want to do anyway and then talk it up.

One of the curious things about modern everyday leftists is how much asceticism is held as a virtue. I've found it quite a point of pride at how little consumption they'll paint themselves as needing. Humblebragging of going without the larger dwelling, the car, the ostentatious/frivolous property, the social markers that say you're doing well. It comes across to me how much this kind of "doing without" leftism resembles a kind of weird secular puritanism.

Heck, I sometimes kind of do this without noticing it. I can recall recently telling my parents how I thought that living in an apartment was a more sensible choice than owning a house - except that owning a house is nowhere near a possibility for me anyway, so I was clearly, if unconsciously, making a necessity out to be a virtuous decision on my part. I think a lot of Left-leaning younger people are (like younger people generally) in tough financial situations where they're doing without stuff anyway, and maybe they end up putting a positive spin on it just because. It's not necessarily that they're choosing to wear a hair shirt. Maybe it's a way to feel like they have more agency than they in fact have.
posted by AdamCSnider at 3:03 PM on January 12 [9 favorites]


Is this something I'd need to own a factory to understand?
posted by rum-soaked space hobo at 3:15 PM on January 12 [3 favorites]


Stop your activism and go get therapy
I mean we are doing inter-generational work. There’s a question I’ve been stewing in for some time: how do we set ourselves up to do this work for 500 years?
posted by GenderNullPointerException at 7:24 AM on January 15


« Older Learning to Be Present While Fighting for Your...   |   Let Everybody Sing Newer »


You are not currently logged in. Log in or create a new account to post comments.