Human financial product
or read on substack: https://censorine.substack.com/p/human-financial-product
My baby will be six months at the end of June and I’ve been majorly struggling with body image issues since then and throughout my pregnancy. For a long time, especially when I was younger, it was easy to understand, intellectually, how my body was simply “my private property” and how I alone was (or at least supposed to be) the sole owner of it. It was as if my body were an isolated mechanism set apart, yet still in some minor ways, dependent and adapted to the more significant human and terrestrial system. Ultimately, I was responsible for my body, and if I wanted to improve the world at large, I would have to improve my body. “Be the change you want to see in the world,” as they say… Sometimes, I still catch subtle arguments proposing that a human body is private property, yet through the kaleidoscope of time, I’ve come to understand that the only ways in which we are capable of relating to ourselves, and each other, are entirely driven and shaped by the political economy in which we live. A woman’s body is simply one of the more salient productions of social market forces.
What drives the necessity to believe that a body is private property reflects the larger political shift of power from the public to the private. The more unequal this divide becomes, the stronger will be the sense that bodies (and minds) are private property. We need to see ourselves as private property and to treat others as if they are private islands commanded by a sole proprietor, to empower the sphere of the private, which in turn, corrodes the solidarity of a dynamic and forceful public. A strong public is a threat to private wealth accumulation and private power. Private power is inherently undemocratic, inherently unequal, inherently opaque, and exists entirely to maximize profits, wherever those profits may be (in the current economic system, at least). In order for private enterprise to continue operating outside of public accountability and accumulating extraordinary amounts of wealth, it must entrench its basis for existing by proliferating psychological justifications that elevate private ownership above collective, public responsibility. We must internalize the market in order to maintain it.
To illustrate this, I will (shamefully) instrumentalize woman’s bodies and give a clear explanation of how individuals are organized by their financial production and economic value. All bodies, in fact, are public property. Bodies are dependent on food, water, and air, which we all share. In fact, we all belong to each other. Because women’s bodies are so publicized and exposed and are more like “public utilities” (because of the assumption of reproduction), it makes women, as a class, fertile ground for market shaping and dynamics to play out. Misogyny and objectification are integral parts of whatever economic organization we currently have. I’ll call it market fundamentalism/neoliberalism. And, while it is blurry to distinguish the boundaries between cultural influences shaping attitudes and psychological forces shaping culture, I tend to believe that there is a somewhat equal relationship between culture and individuals, economic production, and political economy, with political economy shaping the social world a bit more strongly. Trickle-down brainwashing.
Bodies in market fundamentalism are ranked and ordered by potential economic value. Because of racism, ableism, and sexism, bodies that are considered less economically viable are treated more poorly. The less economic value a person can generate, the less of a human they are deemed to be. The “most human” are white men, as they are the ones who, in this economic organization, tend to generate the most value. Women, on the other hand, are generally owned. Men position themselves as the masters and owners who can maximize the value of a woman through breeding, money, and sex.
In order to illustrate this a bit more vulgarly, I will reference some recent tweets:
If simply living wasn’t enough for you, I hope you can see how these simple statements and descriptions make explicit the industrial-scale dehumanization of women. Women are rendered into mere tools wielded by men. And, depending on the man’s economic class, he will be expected to use a different set of tools. This is a crude display of the notion that men are private owners, while women are public commodities.
Putting aside the fact that these vulgar illustrations condense the psychic sludge that supports misogyny and gender inequality, we need to delve into an even uglier area: sex. Simply put: women are decorations of men, and when upper-class, rich men want to fuck, they are expected to buy their fuck, while simultaneously maintaining ownership over their wives (“trophy displays of wealth”). Women, in this class, are expected to, and will, outsource their domestic sex labor to the underclass. This has a long history of racism and colonialism attached to it, but in basic terms, the transactional nature reflects the way “developed” nations (the wealthy) outsource their dirty and polluting (sex) labor to “less developed” (poor and vulnerable) nations. Upper-class women are expected to groom and maintain their bodies in ways that display the antithesis of labor. They are expected to “work” on their body for the sole purpose of reflecting male status. A woman’s body is the body of work of a man. A woman’s body is a financial product to be traded and owned by men.
I honestly really hate to talk like this. I hate that the world is like this. I’m currently struggling with my body, so I want the reader to also keep that in mind…
This is why you’ll see a lot of overweight women discuss how they get hit on much more while being fat or chubby as opposed to being thin. A curvy woman is hypersexualized because she is considered more “available.” A fat woman is communicating multiple low-status and low-productivity signifiers. To be a fat woman is to display that you don’t “have time” to maintain a “body,” that you “don’t care” about “health,” that you “can’t afford” to eat “healthy food.” Worse, it translates into chaos and an inability to execute “discipline” and “self-control.” These are market terms. “Undisciplined” women who have no “self-control” are risky investments that may cause a status (financial) loss to a man. In other words, a volatile business is a risky investment because it may cause financial loss to the investor.
Fat also signals openness for male ownership, since a wealthy, rich man is expected to provide a luxurious, tranquil environment for his wife, in which she is expected to maintain her high status and austere body. Fat women personify the generic, unowned woman who is available to the public. Fat storage also communicates bodily resource accumulation and fertility, which again signals availability at a biological level. A woman at a healthy weight will have more fat reserves taken to nourish a developing fetus. Reproduction is, itself, a “public” affair, in that, to reproduce is to manufacture another human being, who will engage, profit from, and exploit systems in society. Reproduction is low class because of its attachment to the public and its perception of being easily available through the filthiest of dirty acts—sex. Which is why it is meant to be outsourced to the fat, available, preyed-upon underclass. This creates two Janus-faced markets: one for hypersexualized sex labor and another for androgynous upper-class ‘kept’ women [there are many blatant racist codes embedded into these market segments]. This dichotomy also helps push the development of artificial wombs and the industrialization of private surrogates, which are other ways the “profane” public can be cleansed through privatization and buying out.
In order to see women this way, it obviously requires dehumanization. It also requires dehumanization of men, in order for them to be “superior human/private owners.” I want to add again that dehumanization is occurring towards all people, on different scales, and some are dehumanized in far worse ways than others. This all-around dehumanization is the psychological foundation for exploitation, coercion, & environmental destruction. This dehumanization is accelerating as market fundamentalism reaches a crisis point that will either descend into full-blown fascism or a re-invigoration of democratic values and public unity.
While the dehumanization of women is salient and easier to describe, the same psychic programming is operating across the board. I cannot get into the mechanism for each instance of objectification of the other, as there are so many. What’s important to keep in mind is that we mirror the dehumanization of ourselves as economic products as we dehumanize ourselves socially and psychologically, to benefit the private market. We privatize each other. We render each other “pwnd.” By doing this, we degrade and diminish the accessible, available public, which all people have a right to be part of and are part of. By elevating ownership of bodies based on their economic productivity, we create the demand for markets to extract that value. We strengthen the structuring of society and human lives based on their economic production.
A problem occurs when the privatization of human beings spins out of control and creates an imbalance between private and public ownership. In market terms, we need to be both owners of our bodies, privately, and shareholders invested in each other. Once human beings are rendered into private, enclosed areas of private extraction, there is a total retreat of human rights and protection. What’s happening now is that the private sector has entrenched itself so deeply and cannibalized the public so wholly, that it is not only incapable of providing any real social or public good, but it has almost completely obliterated any sense of public consciousness. This is exactly what it needs to continue maximizing profits, as we can clearly see in the grotesque display of the Apple Goggles.
The Apple Goggles, in particular, signal the reach of a catastrophic nadir of failure for the private industry. Between Mark Zuckerberg’s Metaverse and the Apple Goggles, what we have is a doubling-down on isolation, surveillance, and biometric extraction. Social media and the “attention economy” have shown that social isolation, targeted advertising, digital profiling, consumer analytics, real-time eye tracking, etc., etc, are gigantically profitable. These massive tech companies are determined to continue ever-invasive physical and psychological extraction. They have not only privatized “the public forum,” but they are looking to privatize the experience of emotions (algorithm control), and, ultimately, own the entire individual construction of reality. By this I mean, the Apple Goggleswill use five different cameras to monitor the dilation of your pupils as you watch a 30-second ad and infer brain activity to map out your consciousness, which they will now privately own and do whatever they want with.
The current economic model is intrinsically coercive, and frankly, rapist. It profits by creating an unbelievable power imbalance where opaque corporations can simulate your brain processes and curate niche media and personalized algorithms designed to appeal to you specifically, while you think you’re just checking the news. It benefits the weaker, more vulnerable, disenfranchised, and alone we all are. It exploits weaknesses in ourselves that we aren’t necessarily aware of and to which we have not consented. It works by taking maximum advantage of those desperate for homes, clothes, and food, and exploits their labor, to the limit, for the benefit of companies that fund the dismantling of worker protection, the right to fair pair, healthcare, and a whole slew of other fundamental labor protections which are meant to curtail the abuses of the private sector and protect rights of individuals. You work for Uber, and Uber lobbies to undo labor rights and regulations for livery drivers. You work for Amazon, because all the shops closed down because people can only afford to buy from Amazon because they work at Amazon and can’t afford to shop anywhere but Amazon.
Meanwhile, the climate is disintegrating. Immigration and climate refugees need safety. Lifespans, across the world, have fallen. We have endured a global pandemic. We do not have time to escape into VR while the planet increasingly becomes inhospitable to human life. We have lived through decades of market fundamentalism and it has given us unimaginable inequality, unimaginable reduction in the quality of human life, unimaginable levels of disdain and contempt for ourselves and others. We have internalized the gluttonous mechanisms of an unhinged private market and it is time to reign it in.
Only a healthy, vital public can counteract the pitiable absurdity of the private. The private has now shown itself to be incapable of genuine innovation or responsive to public crises (without the help and guiding hand of the government, re: vaccines). While the planet grows hotter and hotter, the tech industry is selling even more surveillance and pathetic toys of childish escapism. They are cowards intent on short-term, private gain over long-term public prosperity. They refuse to engage with hard problems because of their short-sightedness and need for easy, saleable products with quick, easy ROIs. The stupidity of the private sector encourages talented individuals to spend their time producing LLMs and digital profiling algorithms instead of engineering new solutions to reverse climate damage or advance medical equipment and disease prevention. Multiple private industries are focused more on maintaining the current market than on taking a risk and developing new hardware technologies. People need jobs and they need well-paying jobs. If those well-paying jobs are found in oil extraction and vr avatar development, then that’s where people will go. We’ve given the private sector enough time, and they’ve humiliated our trust. We need a strong public government to intervene and reign in private industry insanity. Democratic governments represent people, and we are all exposed to the existential threat of climate destruction. If the private sector is intent on developing goggles and chatbots, it’s time the government intervenes on behalf of the citizens and the public interest. We need a public voice that places demands on the private sector and has it “work for people rather than for profits.” We need to harness the private industry to go to war against irreversible climate damage for the public good of all. I personally believe that we need the government to encourage and sponsor private investment in wartime-scale r&d into climate damage reversal, new medicine, modern agriculture, and therapeutics available to all, rather than just some. We have so many more pressing social and environmental issues to care for than to waste millions in surveillance escapist dystopia.
In fact, if we do not revitalize the public, I fear we are headed towards a neofascist reaction to the crisis of neoliberalism. Between neomonarchist eugenicist billionaires intent on becoming modern-day Genghis Khan’s who spread their “superior” DNA, ecofascists, genocidal right-wingers, ai human replacements, working people inundated with depopulation conspiracism—the shroud of mass death hangs over the public human psyche. We must remember that we are not mere subjects. We are not mere pawns controlled by algorithms, controlled by capital, controlled by the moon and stars. We are capable of deliberation, and introspection; we are capable of communication, we are capable of disagreement, negotiation, and compromise.
In order to regain some public power, we can, at the very least, begin to reframe the way we view one another. We need to be more careful in how we speak about one other and really be sure we’re not reproducing mental models that justify surveillance, policing, and market dehumanization. We need to re-humanize and re-socialize one another, rather than rendering commodities to be traded out of ourselves. We do not need to be submitted to one dystopic future where the rich reside in their sovereign enclaves and the poor are left to gig-work and influence their way into perpetual precarity. There is an alternative to authoritarianism, and it is a new kind of democracy that we must rediscover, in ourselves and in everyone around us. 😌
We must stop degrading each other and instead allow people to be nebulous, without market categories, allow people to exist for no reason, and allow people the freedom to live without the demand for economic productivity. We must stop punishing the unproductive, and instead protect all human lives, which must coincide with protecting all terrestrial lives. Together, we have a public voice that is stronger than the private world of murmurs and clandestine agreements, and we must all find it, together, in each other, again.
Please vote for me!