Music is often a gateway drug for me to entertain certain (otherwise) malformed intellectual thoughts. And because I have a blog, I can post about them with little sense of shame or restraint.
Case in point, Ministry’s “Work for Love”.
Ministry is one of the more curious bands from the 20th/21st Century. They started in the New Wave tradition during the 80s and then quickly (de)evolved into an Industrial Metal group by the early 90s—two genres of music most people might find rather disparate. Quite frankly, they were ahead of NIN by a few years. They were one of those bands that contributed to, but missed out on, the historical contingency of their scene. Some may call them “ahead of their time” … I wouldn’t, but some may.
That’s not what I want to talk about, though. They wrote this song (off their first album) “Work for Love” and it has really stuck with me. Not necessarily for the song, per se, but what it conjures within me.
It is a fine toe-tapper about one man’s attempts to woo a woman. The steps he goes through to win her love are compared to the rigmarole one goes through to obtain and maintain a new job: he fills out paperwork, supplies a resume, interviews for it, works overtime to prove himself. This analogy got me thinking about our modern-day pursuit of love. And more precisely about it in an age of capitalism.
Now, I wanna preface the rest of this extempore think piece by acknowledging, in general, there are many elements that affect relationships, our search for them, and our concepts of love and whatnot. But one not nearly discussed as much as I’d like to see it (even in leftist circles) is the effect capitalist hegemony has on our love lives (or lack thereof).
In a world that puts such emphasis on exchange-value, individuals’ behaviors and mindsets become overwhelmed by a sense of worth. This sense in a capitalist society hinges on their individual contribution to capital. Are they doing their part to generate more profit? More accumulation? If not, they must not be a very “productive” member of society. With so much focus on capital accumulation, generating profits, growing business, making money, etc. etc. it’s no wonder the first two questions one tends to get asked in the United States are: Who are you? and What do you do? Depending on the answer to Question No. 2 and the other person(s), the rest of the conversation may or may not run so smoothly.
This commodification of human agency has a direct impact on the psyche of every person and can be spotted in all aspects of human life. Dating, relationships, concepts on love are no different.
The toxic sense of worth and its impact on how we perceive ourselves and others in relationships can be perhaps best-experienced on any of the wide selection of dating sites out there on the Internet. On these digital landscapes, which further alienate people into their hyper-specialized hovels, algorithms ask you to analyze and promote yourself, to demonstrate in so many words and images who you are and what value you bring to the table. The whole process is meant to showcase your individuality or… personality, but it only succeeds in further stripping your humanity away by dividing you into vast sub-categories only to be reconfigured into your online avatar. You are no longer human. You are a height and a weight with likes and dislikes who is funny and smart and good-looking but not too much of those things as to be intimidating or “unobtainable.”
This binariazation dehumanizes you and prepares you for the second stage: you and your ersatz profile enter into “the free-love market” as both customer and commodity. You judge and are judged based on the standards of a market-driven consumer society. Being a can of soup is bad enough, but what is worse is understanding that the large “variety” of potential partners has nothing to do with them and everything to do with what the sites’ algorithms say who you are. So if we are all cans of soup in the eyes of the market, then what is it about us that is endearing or our relationships that make them worthwhile?
Adding insult to injury, none of this was set up in the name of love, but profit. That two strangers may end up meeting and enjoying each other’s company (let alone fall in love!) is of absolutely no consequence to the creators of Match, OK Cupid, Tinder, Bumble, etc. etc. That you are on it is all that matters. You being on it drives profit for them. Your work to find love is generating free labor to them to increase their bottom line! (Incidentally, this is the case for Google, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc. etc. YOU are the one driving the insane capital surpluses of these companies.)
Mind you, capitalism has and will continue to destroy peoples’ lives (including the quest for a meaningful relationship) without the aid of dating websites. And people have and will continue to have issues when it comes to dating with or without it. However, what capitalism does so effectively (and these “networking” sites exacerbate) is further the erosion of social-building scenarios and environments pivotal to human happiness, replacing instead with privatization, individualization, and alienation from one another into all these situations where we see each other as either competitor, tool, or product.
So ask yourself, when every aspect of your life can be tarnished by capitalism (even the search and experience of love): is it worth it?