The breaking up of the social field is one of the most important side effects of the overreliance on the market structure in capitalism, and requires an indepth analysis of its nature.
The current state of economics that humans find themselves in can be called late capitalism or, more accurately, neoliberalism. Neoliberalism can be described as the active implementation of the logic of the market toward all aspects of the society and enforced by a set of political techniques that goes beyond the traditional actions of the state. Everyone must act as market actors and also must internalize market discipline in their everyday choices and social interactions. The clear result of such a rationality is the breaking up of the social as a separate sphere of human action that would in fact precede any economic system. The transition from the society to the market in neoliberalism creates a drastic shift in human experiences and existence. It therefore begs the question as to whether this taking apart of the social field is necessary or truly warranted.
The breaking up of the social is a movement from the commons and various agoras to the market and various contracts. The commons, such as that of nature and ideas, is open to all people and resists any attempt to divide it up into private realms. Agoras, seen most clearly in the ancient Greek city-states, are direct and particular spaces for trade where specific mediums of exchange are formed. There is no universal equivalence in the multiple agoras as local markets, and they in turn arise because of the plentiful nature of the commons. The agoras are local reterritorializations of the global deterritorialization of the commons. The commons takes precedence in this process, and is not exhausted by the various articulations of agoras. There is always freedom outside of each agora in the case that an agora is too restrictive in its trading practices for participants. The commons is the general background and agoras are the particular expressions. Capitalism takes the commons apart and reconstitutes it into private property which then needs a universal system of a market in order to activate trade. There is an inversion of the relationship between the commons and agoras within the relationship between the market and contracts. The market is the global reterritorialization of the local deterritorializations of contracts. In the same way that the commons has freedom of access, individual contracts have freedom of choice. The main distinction is that the market as an overall structure limits the freedom of these contracts to the extent that each contract must follow the rules of the market when it acts as a type of containment. Each contract can only operate to the degree that it reproduces the market. The market becomes the general background and contracts become particular expressions. In a society independent from the economic, a commons is vital as the open space for freedom where people can organize specific economic actions that would occur in the agora setting. When the commons is foreclosed by the market, the range of free actions and open access is severely limited. Any appearance of freedom in a single contract is boxed in by the rules of the market in order to prevent the emergence of social actions outside of the logic of capitalism.
The economic exchange, which is meant to replace social interaction, exerts a distortion of the reality of what is exchanged. The transformation of use value into exchange value changes the nature of value. Labor is the individual creation of use value, which is a concrete type of value. The market is the collective communication of exchange value, which is a more abstract type of value based on comparing and contrasting various objects that originally had use value. Use value is unique to each object and exchange value is a uniformity among a group of objects. The appearance of exchange value obscures each unique use value in order for there to be trade between participants of objects that must have some sort of equivalence. An analogy that explains this change from use value to exchange value, and the hiding of this use value, is the attempt to communicate aesthetic beauty. Each person has a unique appreciation of beauty, but when this unique experience is told to other people it has to be mediated in such a way as to convey meaning. That requires losing some aspects of that unique appreciation. This is what happens with exchange value, and it is at this point that the market rationality permeates how humans relate to the objects they create and use for their everyday life.
The market rationality not only obscures use value, but emphasizes self interest in order to function. Adam Smith first proposed that if people follow their self interest, then everyone would benefit. The idea of following one’s self interest makes sense in terms of epistemology but not in terms of ethics. In other words, it makes sense for people to follow their self interest because they have the most knowledge of their own interest rather than trying to understand the interest of others. However, absolute self interest as the only criteria for individual choices is not completely necessary since it is possible for small groups to form to determine collective interests. These small groups usually form in the social field, but posing self interest as an ethical goal is part of the breaking up of society. The market claims that self interest is universal, and the market is the sole mediation of individual self interests. Each individual self interest is different. The law, as a product of a society, is the mediation of collective self interest. The collective self interest is the equivalence made from different individual self interests. It is what each human has in common in what they want in a society. The market prevents collective self interests from forming or being understood by participants through the erasure of the social background. The market has a specific relationship to reality that does not exhaust reality. The market acts as a simulation of reality through the process of exchange value. This appearance of a simulation of reality obscures the breaking up of the social. The passive consumption of this simulation also obscures the active participation of individuals and collectives in reality. In other words, as the market posits itself as reality and demands the taking apart of a social structure, there is no real choice offered to humans between the market and the social field. When the market is posed as natural, then there is the appearance of a required conformity that obscures any authentic free choice.
This conformity to the market as the only reality affects the ability to have a range of choices within the market itself. The more restrictive the market, the more choices are offered within the market through the limiting conduit of commodities. The commodification of society is a manifestation of a larger structural alienation that all humans go through in their development. As they grow up and form an identity that is discontinuous from their surrounding reality, humans find themselves needing to rely on the world that they themselves did not have a part in creating, and therefore do not exclusively own. Language is the most cogent example of this alienation, a system that must be used but overall is not the creation of any one human using it. Instead of relying on expressing their desire through the act of creation, humans feel that their desire is a lack within themselves that must be filled by external things. Structural alienation turns authentic desire into inauthentic drive. This drive is toward things that stand in for the whole of reality, and are called the small partial objects of desire which in economic terms becomes commodities. In the market, there is the individual alienation through these small partial objects of desire at the same time as the collective competition of drives. The unique experience of desire obscures the universal phenomenon of desire through creation, and the unique appearance of small partial objects of desire obscures the uniform nature of commodities in the market. The commodification that always occurs in the market when the market does away with a separate society makes it difficult for humans to discover desire as a creative impulse. In fact, their desire is directed toward commodities that appear to be unique but are really all the same temporary satisfaction of a drive.
The greatest illusion of the market is its presentation as the only way for humans to exercise economic freedom, and subsequently political freedom. The social field does not exist in the eyes of the market, so any political action is in turn mediated by the market. This appearance of freedom drives a wedge between the processes of production and consumption that are enacted by the same individuals. In production, there is the subsumption of individual workers by a collective labor classification where workers are mere parts of a functioning whole. On the other hand, there is the subsumption of collective consumption by individual choices where there is a huge audience for commodities but the commodity in question is presented as a free choice. The market creates an equivalence of exchange that will obscure the difference of products made by unique acts of creation by individual workers. At the same time, the difference of acts of consumption will obscure the equivalence of choices where one purchase would be the same as another. The unique character of human work is done away with while the great similarities among commodities are hidden for the sake of individual choices that look like they are free choices.
The political ramifications of the market, and the absence of a society distinct from the market, are vast in the ways that humans are controlled without direct coercion. Capitalism, which is a structure that takes apart preexisting social relationships in order to put them back again as market relationships, must enforce a market rationality as the normal behavior in the economy. This means that capitalism must eventually be accompanied by a set of political techniques that can increase production while decreasing any type of transgression. The breaking up of the social develops a situation of docility and the formation of collective labor creates a simultaneous utility out of people. Individuals and groups are regulated through the demands for a market discipline that all humans must adhere to in order for capitalism to exist as a valid economic system. Rather than these individuals subjected to force as in previous political manifestations, the techniques for regulation preserve life in order for that life to be useful. The political structure serves the economic dogma of the market so that people may internalize a sense of responsibility to be productive workers and loyal consumers within the market system and its rationality. Everyone must be rational and disciplined actors in order to be a part of the normal economic scheme of things. The result is that the market acts as a limit on the efforts of local democracy, and private property acts as a limit on the commons. Both the market and private property trump local democracy and the commons in terms of public policy. All of this reproduces the market as the supposed natural state of things.
This political aspect of the market rationality, and its discipline, brings into the foreground the relationship between subjective experience and objective determination. Humans with free will have the ability to have a subjective experience that is a divergence from the totality of objective determination. However, the market is projected as something that emerges from human action but is independent from human control. It is presented as a force of nature that escapes any attempt to plan an economy in a centralized or decentralized manner. The market thus becomes a containment of subjective experience by objective determination, this determination being the specific determination of the market in regards to social behavior. This objective determination is the formation of the ideology of the market and its appearance as natural and eternal. The subjective experience in question is thereby organized by the ideology of the market. This organization of subjective experience also affects the formation of classes in an economy. It is first necessary to distinguish the difference between subjective class formation and objective class formation. Subjective class formation is when a group of unique individuals come together as a political force for their own group benefit through the resistance to the existing order and the creation of new political and economic structures. This subjective class formation makes use of the social field and creates a new order from this social field through the exercise of free will. Objective class formation is when the identity of the group is imposed from outside of the group by the existing order, and the defined group accepts and reproduces its identity passively. Subjective class formations recognizes the members of the class as human beings, while objective class formations treat these members as objects put to use for a purpose. Therefore, the objective class formation is the epitome of the breaking up of the social field. When the market creates a class system of workers and owners, the workers are the objective class formation and the owners are portrayed as independent free individuals. It is when workers make the effort to have a society that is set apart from the market’s definitions that they can be a subjective class formation. The subjective class formation is when they have the ability to choose other than the market.
Margaret Thatcher once stated that “There is no such thing as society.”. She then proceeded to explain that there are only families that relate to each other through morality and individuals who relate to each other through the market. This is the perfect example of how the erasure of the social fabric in fact limits the possibilities of human action and how those actions interact with others. There is a deep chasm between the atomistic portrayal of people in the market and the close relationships that exist within the family structure, ignoring the fact that capitalism permeates the family unit and shapes its behaviors and attitudes. Overall, one will find that the market holds supremacy in order to demand a rationality and discipline that reduces human freedom to the actions of objects that reproduce the system. In the course of human existence, free agency is the structural rupture of the structural formations of normality. Normality in this sense is the assumptions of reality before the emergence of conscious human free will. This free will always puts this normality in question, and the major issue becomes what will form after the rupture of what is assumed. What human structures are created to provide for human needs. The market, as the quintessential breaking up of the social, is a transcendent structural recuperation that places the tenets of neoliberalism as an absolute truth and the market as an alien machine imposed on people. But there is an alternative where autonomous solidarity can be the immanent structural recuperation. Recognizing the unique characteristics of each individual at the same time as acknowledging the need for collective action to accomplish goals, autonomous solidarity can be the best opposition to the ideology of the market. This new course will require economic democracy and a reintroduction of the commons in order to rebuild the social field as the best venue to fill in the inherent gaps that occur in capitalism but are denied in the market. No centralization of economic planning is needed, but democracy can be a far better decentralized communication of value than the market. Democracy can bridge the gap between individual freedom and collective action, and best reflect the desire of humans than a more abstract construct such as the market. The result would be a free society rather than a mass society that would always conform to the demands of the market.