scientific model

anonymous asked:

Wait... if gender's a social construct, then does that mean being trans is a choice? It sounds like you're saying that being trans is a performance. I can't see how one can be born trans without there being anything innate about the two genders.

“If gender is a social construct, being trans is a choice” makes about as much logical sense as saying “if money is a social construct, being poor is a choice”. Which, you know, money is a social construct. There is no inherent “value” to anything, regardless of when it was based on something tangible like gold or how it is today, based on…I don’t know, the trust of banks or something. I’m not an economist. Point is: monetary value is decided by us, so it’s a social construct, but just because it’s a social construct doesn’t mean it’s not real or doesn’t have real effects. It’s similar with gender: just because we define what it means as a society doesn’t mean it’s not real.

Also, being trans is not a performance. You’re confusing gender and gender presentation. The difference between the two is best exemplified in drag: people who are usually men (and usually even cis men) are presenting as women for the sake of a performance. Their gender remains male, only their gender presentation changes. I’m only saying this here because I’m probably going to use presentation later so I’d rather we be on the same page about what it is.

As for gender in particular, I have two three things to say. And just to be clear: I am a cis person, so I may make mistakes, although I think I have done enough research and listened to enough people to have a solid enough understanding to explain this, which is basically gender 101.

Also, have a cut because it’s a long post.

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4

SCIENTISTS TAKE FIRST TENTATIVE STEPS TO EXPLORE POTENTIAL CLIMATE OF PROXIMA B

The quest to discover whether a planet orbiting our closest neighbouring star, Proxima Centauri (4.2 light-years or 25 trillion miles from Earth), has the potential to support life has taken a new, exhilarating twist.

The planet was only discovered in August 2016, and is thought to be of similar size to Earth, creating the possibility that it could have an ‘Earth-like’ atmosphere. Scientists from the University of Exeter have embarked on their first, tentative steps to explore the potential climate of the exoplanet, known as Proxima B.

Early studies have suggested that the planet is in the habitable zone of its star Proxima Centauri – the region where, given an Earth-like atmosphere and suitable structure, it would receive the right amount of light to sustain liquid water on its surface. Now, the team of astrophysics and meteorology experts have undertaken new research to explore the potential climate of the planet, towards the longer term goal of revealing whether it has the potential to support life.

Using the state-of-the-art Met Office Unified Model, which has been successfully used to study the Earth’s climate for several decades, the team simulated the climate of Proxima B if it were to have a similar atmospheric composition to our own Earth. The team also explored a much simpler atmosphere, comprising nitrogen with traces of carbon dioxide, as well as variations of the planet’s orbit. This allowed them to both compare with, and extend beyond, previous studies.

Crucially, the results of the simulations showed that Proxima B could have the potential to be habitable, and could exist in a remarkably stable climate regime. However, much more work must be done to truly understand whether this planet can support, or indeed does support life of some form.

The research is published in leading scientific journal, Astronomy & Astrophysics, on Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Dr. Ian Boutle, lead author of the paper, explained: “Our research team looked at a number of different scenarios for the planet’s likely orbital configuration using a set of simulations. As well as examining how the climate would behave if the planet was ‘tidally-locked’ (where one day is the same length as one year), we also looked at how an orbit similar to Mercury, which rotates three times on its axis for every two orbits around the Sun (a 3:2 resonance), would affect the environment.”

Dr. James Manners, also an author on the paper added: “One of the main features that distinguishes this planet from Earth is that the light from its star is mostly in the near infrared. These frequencies of light interact much more strongly with water vapour and carbon dioxide in the atmosphere which affects the climate that emerges in our model.”

Using the Met Office software, the Unified Model, the team found that both the tidally-locked and 3:2 resonance configurations result in regions of the planet able to host liquid water. However, the 3:2 resonance example resulted in more substantial areas of the planet falling within this temperature range. Additionally, they found that the expectation of an eccentric orbit, could lead to a further increase in the “habitability” of this world.

Dr. Nathan Mayne, scientific lead on exoplanet modeling at the University of Exeter and an author on the paper added: “With the project we have at Exeter we are trying to not only understand the somewhat bewildering diversity of exoplanets being discovered, but also exploit this to hopefully improve our understanding of how our own climate has and will evolve.”

The University of Exeter has one of the UK’s largest astrophysics groups working in the fields of star formation and exoplanet research. The group focuses on some of the most fundamental problems in modern astronomy, such as when do stars and planets form and how does this happen. The group conduct observations with the world’s leading telescopes and carry out numerical simulations to study young stars, their planet-forming discs, and exoplanets. This research helps to put our Sun and the solar system into context and understand the variety of stars and planetary systems that exist in our galaxy.

Scientists take first tentative steps to explore potential climate of Proxima B

The quest to discover whether a planet orbiting our closest neighboring star, Proxima Centauri (4.2 light years or 25 trillion miles from Earth), has the potential to support life has taken a new, exhilarating twist.

The planet was only discovered in August 2016, and is thought to be of similar size to Earth, creating the possibility that it could have an `Earth-like’ atmosphere. Scientists from the University of Exeter have embarked on their first, tentative steps to explore the potential climate of the exoplanet, known as Proxima B.

Keep reading

Hobbyland was a walkthrough area in Tomorrowland with various booths and activities for guests of all ages. After opening in September 1955, this land-within-a-land provided visitors with scientific model kits to build and purchase, with content ranging from dinosaurs to airplanes to everything in between. Children and adults alike could explore the various booths, and this open area offered a break from the fast-paced or more intense ride experiences in the rest of the land.

Idea

Petition to start a group called “Party Poopers Club” that’s basically people who remind others that Science is a Thing and that you have to actually support your ideas with facts 

Potential Slogans: 
“I ruined so many people’s days” 
“If the truth always ruins your fun, consider that you might just be a really boring person” 
“Accept Reality, it’s hella cool”
“I feel delight by means of the truth” 

Various things that means you are a member of the society: 
- Reminding people that Pluto isn’t a planet 
- Explaining that Human-Caused Climate Change is a thing and it’s bad 
- Yelling that birds are dinosaurs, and dinosaurs have feathers, and Jurassic World is Bad Science 
- Describing in great detail about how GMO’s aren’t actually terrible for your body 
- Screaming about how vaccines do not cause autism 
- Explaining how evolution actually works and yes, we are all evolving 
- Talking about how animals aren’t like people and shouldn’t be anthropomorphized 
- Reminding people that prehistoric animals behaved like animals and were not monsters 
- Explaining how Nanotyrannus, Dracorex, and Stygimoloch aren’t actual things 
- Screaming about how focusing conservation efforts on “cute” organisms completely misses the point 
- Shouting about how gender is a societal construct, not connected to biological sex, which is a scientific model, and that both are not limited to just two options 
- Reminding people that neuroatypical conditions such as OCD and personality disorders are real conditions and that you don’t feel “sooooo schizo” because that’s not how it works 
- Explaining that there is no scientific basis for the idea that any “race” is superior over any other
- Screaming about how accurate representations of prehistoric creatures is really freaking important 
- Shouting that in general it’s better to have data to back up your ideas than just random anecdotes and that pseudoscience is bad

Feel free to add your own causes/facts that mean you are a member of this society. 

Other potential members of the Party Poopers Club include: 

- @palaeofail / @palaeofail-explained
- @why-animals-do-the-thing
- @biologizeable
- @aurusallos
- @bruh-i-nevre-seen-a-cooler-dino
- @fezraptor
- @albertonykus
- @synapsid-taxonomy

Potential Seals/Symbols of this Society: 

Pluto, Smiling like the little shit that it is 
A scientist holding up data/graphs/a paper 
Feathered, accurate Velociraptors 
Earth, on Fire 

Anyways reblog if you’re a proud member of the Party Poopers Club. 

Different ways to think of multiplicity

There are several different ways in which people see, explain and conceptualise multiplicity.

Off the top of my head – and these are just the ones that at least someone in our own system adheres to:

  • medical, scientific, sceptical models, like structural dissociation (“Due to trauma, we developed into several people who later split off even more, instead of naturally integrating our personality like singlet children do”)
  • spiritual and/or religious concepts/beliefs (“I had another life before I chose to come into this system” or even “I was sent to help this system by a higher power”)
  • empirical - “I know I exist – I experience my own personhood and the presence of other system mates therefore multiplicity is real” cogito ergo sum maybe
  • pathologisation of multiplicity (“We are broken, we should not exist as multiples”)
  • denial that multiplicity even exists (“We’re not multiples, we’re just delusional!”)

And of course variations and combinations of those and many people, even system members, don’t have something that can really be called a “concept” of multiplicity.

And I think it’s important to at least acknowledge that these different views exist, even if you think that all multiplicity falls into one of those categories – but actually, I think the first three views of multiplicity (and most likely others that I have forgotten or don’t know about yet) all exist. Some systems were formed and work just like medical models describe, others have spiritual origins, others yet just are. And it’s really rude and disrespectful to push your view on other systems, to say that the way they conceptualise their own existance must be wrong or that only one way of looking at things can be right – yours.

Though of course it is understandable to have your own views and not get or not agree with others’ views. But there’s a difference between that and disrespecting others or invisibilising them.

Have we forgotten some way to think about multiplicity?

anonymous asked:

Do you think that it can ever be morally justified to test on an animal? And if not, since many scientists agree that as of now there are no alternatives, what should we do? Simply not try and find cures?

I do not believe that it is morally justified to exploit animals for human gain, regardless of the context. There are an awful lot of myths surrounding animal testing, so bare with me on this. Firstly, I think that you might be assuming that the only way treatments can be developed is through animal testing. The effective drugs on the market have been tested on animals, but it does not follow that these things have been effective because they have been tested on animals. Here in the UK for example, any new drug must be tested on at least two mammals to be considered fit for market. Now, that does not mean those drugs came about because they were tested on animals, they could be (and in many cases are) the result of much more advanced and less victorian methods of testing drugs.

It is not the case that we treat diseases by testing on animals or we don’t treat them at all. There are a wealth of alternatives like en vitro, test methods and models based on human cell and tissue cultures, computerised patient-drug databases and virtual drug trials, computer models and simulations, stem cell and genetic testing methods, non-invasive imaging techniques such as MRIs and CT Scans, and micro dosing, to name a few. There are many well respected figures in the bio-medical community who do not believe animal testing is in any way helpful anymore. We have undoubtedly gained a great deal from animal testing in the past, but people like Nobel-prize winning biologist Sir Peter Medawar pointed out that we will be at a point where we can dispense with animal research altogether in as few as ten years time, and that was in 1972.

Even ignoring ethical considerations, the animal model of research is deeply flawed, 9 out of 10 drugs that pass animal tests still go on to fail or cause harm in clinical trials on humans. UK based companies like Pharmagene use human tissue exclusively, not out of any ethical considerations, but because they believe that the animal testing model is scientifically redundant. Animals do not get many of the diseases that humans do, so these diseases must be artificially induced. This simply does not give us an accurate measure of how organically caught diseases will respond to treatment, human cell tissue gives us a much more accurate picture. To use cancer as an example, Fran Visco, founder of the National Breast Cancer Coalition said, “Animals don’t reflect the reality of cancer in humans. We cure cancer in animals all the time, but not in people.”  

As for the research methodology, it is widely accepted that animal experiments have serious limitations in that results in humans cannot be extrapolated from results in animals. A mixture of high dosage, artificial introduction of diseases and stress conditions of animals in confinement mean there are simply too many variables to gain reliable results. The cures that work on animals very often do not work in humans. Dr. Richard Klausner, former director of the US National Cancer Institute, points out that: “The history of cancer research has been the history of curing cancer in the mouse. We have cured mice of cancer for decades and it simply didn’t work in human beings.” So what do we actually gain from animal testing? Last year, globally, we killed 115 million animals in scientific experiments, yet the FDA approved only 35 new treatments. 115 million lives, for 35 new drugs? Does that sound like an efficient research model to you? 

Today’s drug companies do the actual research with computer based and stem cell models, and are simply obliged to test on animals once that process has been completed, in many cases slowing down the process rather than helping it. For every research organisation you can name me that is testing on animals, I can link you one that is having equal or superior results using non-animal models. As one researcher puts it, we don’t use animals because it is good science, we use them “because they are cheap, easy to handle and few people care what you do to them.”I think the many people are guilty of a rather obvious confirmation bias when it comes to animal testing, including scientists. They assume because animal research has been done, that animal research is the only way it could have possibly done, with very little possible evidence to back up that claim. Animal testing is inefficient, expensive, out of date and utterly unethical. 

On a personal level, I absolutely do not believe that animal lives have any less inherent value than human lives. People may believe it is perfectly okay for 115 million animals to suffer every year so long as it benefits humans, but we do not have to look very far into our own human history to see truly terrible examples of this cold, utilitarian idea in which it is acceptable for a minority to suffer for the good of the majority. The idea that some lives matter less than others has been responsible for some of the most horrific injustices in human history, and I do not believe this is an ethos that any serious thinker should entertain. I think that at this point, the only thing we still have to learn from animal testing is the depths of cruelty that humans are willing to inflict on sentient beings for our own gain.

I’m revisiting some 3D modeling from last year to make nicer renders. These were two of the first I ever made. I thought I would enjoy 3D, but I ended up loving it. The assignment was to recreate five surgical instruments; they’re pretty inorganic, so that was a good starting point, and they could be used in later surgical illustrations. I got carried away and made 15, and I’d like to keep building my library and maybe redo some of the older ones.

5

As Virginia Hughes noted in a recent piece for National Geographic’s Phenomena blog, the most common depiction of a synapse (that communicating junction between two neurons) is pretty simple:

External image

Signal molecules leave one neuron from that bulby thing, float across a gap, and are picked up by receptors on the other neuron. In this way, information is transmitted from cell to cell … and thinking is possible.

But thanks to a bunch of German scientists - we now have a much more complete and accurate picture. They’ve created the first scientifically accurate 3D model of a synaptic bouton (that bulby bit) complete with every protein and cytoskeletal element.

This effort has been made possible only by a collaboration of specialists in electron microscopy, super-resolution light microscopy (STED), mass spectrometry, and quantitative biochemistry.

says the press release. The model reveals a whole world of neuroscience waiting to be explored. Exciting stuff!

You can access the full video of their 3D model here.

Credit: Benjamin G. Wilhelm, Sunit Mandad, Sven Truckenbrodt, Katharina Kröhnert, Christina Schäfer, Burkhard Rammner, Seong Joo Koo, Gala A. Claßen, Michael Krauss, Volker Haucke, Henning Urlaub, Silvio O. Rizzoli

2

Biopsychological Approach

·     Illness cannot be understood by only examiningthe biological factors
·      Two Primary claims
o   1. Illness is determine by a variety of influences, rather than a single cause
o   2. The causes and effects of illness can be examined  at multiple levels in the life of an individual.
·      Person is both the largest unit of the organism and the smallest unit in society.
·      MAIN IDEA!!
o   Understanding of vocab from passage and writers concerns
o   If answer choice stands out, likely incorrect (unless you know its right)
·      Model = approximation

Social Processes

·      Social Constructionism

o   Adds to the idea of scientific models as representations of reality
o   Beliefs and shared understandings of individuals create social realities.

·      Symbolic Interactionism (small scale interactions)

o   Social determinism of shared realities
o   SMALLER SCALE
§  Interaction b/w individuals and in small groups
o   Through social interaction people develop shared meanings and lables for various symbols
o   EX. ISLAND STORY… two people stranded …

·      Functionalism (societal stability)

o   Factions of society work together to maintain stability.
§  Is a system that consists of different components working together.
§  Act like a homeostatic mechanism à Social Eq
§  Actions of individuals and groups affect society

·      Conflict Theory ( societal change)

o   Society as competing groups that act according to their own self-interest vs. a need for social Eq
o   Social groups naturally come into conflict when there interest collide, society changes over time due to continual competition for resources and power
o   View Larges forces of inequality but leaves out motivations and choices of individuals
o   Views of oppressed from people with more power = change must occur

Culture

·      Culture: all the beliefs, assumptions, object, behaviors, and processes that make up a shared way of life.
o   Individual differences but shared common values, learned behaviors, and approaches to life.

·      Material Culture:

o   Objects involved in a certain way of life, every object that supports and enriches life… what archaeologist dig up.

·      Non-material culture:

o   Non-physical elements of culture.

§  Shared ideas, knowledge, assumptions, values, and beliefs that unify a group.

·      Social norms – expectations that govern acceptable behavior

·      Social group – subset of population that maintains social interactions.

·      Symbolic Culture

o   (type of non-material culture) Elements of culture that hace meaning only in the mind.
o   Based on a shared system of beliefs, meaning tied to symbols determined by social norms and values.
o   Includes meaning associated with rituals
o   Ex. Language

Society, Systems and Structures

·      Society: two or more individuals living together in a community and or sharing elements of culture.

·      Social Institutions: hierarchal systems that bring order to interpersonal interactions à structuring society.

o   1. Government and Economy
§  services, enforcement, distribution of goods and services
o   2. Education
§  formal structuring in childhood and transition to adulthood
o   3. Religion
o   4. Family
o   5. Health and Medicine

·      Demographics: stats that examine nature of population by quantifying subset of that population

o   Age, gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, immigration status.

·      Demographic transition: demographic change due to fertility, mortality and migration rates.

·      Social movement: group of people who share an ideology, work together toward a specific set of goals.

·      Urbanization – increase proportion of people living in urban areas

·      Globalization – increasing amount of interaction and integration on international scale.

Social Inequality

·      Spatial Inequality – unequal access to resources and variable quality of life within a population or geographic distribution

·      Global Inequality – disparities between regions and nations

·      Environmental Justice – the equal treatment of all people regardless of race, gender, or other social grouping with regard to prevention and relief from environmental and health hazards. Ex. Hurricane Katrina.

·      Caste System

o   Inherited, no social mobility, marry within caste, hierarchal

·      Social Class-

o   A system of stratification that groups members of society according to similarities in social standing.

§  Status and power, associated with SES and

o   Privilege  - advantages of power and opportunity

o   Prestige – relative value assigned to something within a particular society.

o   White-collar = upper middle class

o   Blue-collar = working middle class

o   Mobility – up and down

§  Intergeneration mobility – next generation moving up or down in social class.

o   Meritocracy – society in which advancements is based on ability and achievements

o   Cultural Capital – non-monetary social factors that contribute to social mobility, “WHAT you Know”

o   Social Capital – social networks and connections that may confer economic and personal benefits (ex. nepotism). “WHO you Know”

o   Poverty – lack of access à leads to social exclusion from opportunities.

§  1. Absolute Poverty: lack of essential resources such as food, shelter, clothing and hygiene

§  2. Relative poverty: social inequalities in which people are relatively poor compared to other members of the society in which they live in.

·      Health Disparity / Health Inequality

o   Differences in health or health care for groups of people

o   Social class is correlated with health within a society

Social Reproduction - inheritance of social situations

Culture Shock - experiencing things foreign to your cultural norms

Why I Am A Socialist - Part 3: Because Marx Was Right

This one is for anyone curious about what Marx was actually on about (as opposed to the caricatures of his thought that abound), and for those who know already but could do with a bit of a recap/consolidation.

All Marxists are socialists, but not all socialists are Marxists. There are really two definitions of what it means to call yourself a Marxist. On the one hand, you may be affiliated with an orthodox Marxist-Leninist communist party such as are still active in most European countries, and which preach Bolshevik-style armed revolution by the working class. More commonly today, people who call themselves Marxists are socialists who find much of their philosophical inspiration in the political economy of Karl Marx. I am a Marxist of this kind. I think Marx was right about most of the essentials, and that he remains the most important socialist writer, his work being the best theoretical tool available to anyone trying to understand capitalism and move beyond it.

Marx was, above all, a theorist of capitalism, not of socialism. What differentiates Marx from the vast majority of economic writers after him is that he actually took the time to develop a theory of how capitalism itself works. As the economist Yanis Varoufakis (now the Greek Finance Minister) points out, the economics profession after Marx became obsessed with developing ‘scientific’, physics-based mathematical models that became increasingly divorced from the day-to-day reality of capitalism and the social relations which undergird it. For the post-Marxian economic intellectuals, market exchange, free labour markets and ownership of productive assets were not the defining features of a specific economic model called ‘capitalism’, but were instead what define economies per se; the study of anything outside of the basic economic coordinates of capitalism was no longer considered properly economic study. ‘Once we got into that framework of thinking about the economy’ says Varoufakis, ‘capitalism became invisible.’ Marx, of course, did not think capitalism was synonymous with ‘economy’. The theory of capitalism Marx espoused treated it as a very specific constellation of social relations and historical forces which could and should be subject to scrutiny and critique; in insisting upon the necessity of critique, in fact, he was far more loyal to the scientific method than the economists who sought to make of economics a natural science.

Marx’s analysis of capitalism begins with a question: what does it mean to be a capitalist? Capitalist activity is the making of profit; if you are not making profit, you are not a capitalist. Profit is what is left over after you have paid all of the costs associated with producing whatever it is that you sell. If I began a business and only recovered my costs, I would cease my economic activity very quickly, since what is left over after costs are covered must at least cover my own living. This is the absolute lower limit of profit required for a capitalist to continue production; he must be able fund his own consumption from it. It the market, of course, capitalists compete with one another for profits; the real lower limit is the average rate of profit, the rate beneath which one starts to become less competitive, and above which an advantage is gained against one’s competitors. The law that a good chunk of profits must be reinvested productively in order to grow the business and remain competetive (and avoid sinking beneath the average rate of profit), is the iron law of capitalism; it acts upon the capitalist themselves without mercy. Reinvestment, rapid growth and perpetual accumulation are the conditions of economic life upon which capitalism cannot budge, upon which it can make no compromise.

The above explains why profit must be produced, but what does Marx say about how it is produced? Much of mainstream or marginalist pro-capitalist (bourgeoise) economics says that profit is produced in the act of exchange; the seller produces or buys at a particular monetary cost (m) and sells at a larger monetary value (M). The difference between the two is profit, and it is gained in the act of exchange. The intuitive appeal of this construction requires a bit of critical scrutiny to see through. Imagine you decide to build a kitchen table and sell it at a profit. You will incur a number of costs in making the table: timber, tools, nails, perhaps glue, polish and so on. Let’s say these cost you £50 in total. You spend two days making the table and sell it for £100. You now hold in your hand £100 instead of the £50 you had before; where did this additional £50 come from? The question may seem wrong-headed since it is obvious that it came from the wallet of the person who bought the table. But the additional £100 which has made its way from the buyer’s wallet into your hands has been given in exchange for something of equal value, the table, so the buyer does not make a monetary gain. The table itself is the ‘more’ in this equation; it is the thing which did not exist before but which does exist now. All of the money involved already existed. Nothing in the world is ‘increased’ in the movement of banknotes, or even in the ‘movement’ of the table from your workshop to the buyer’s house. What has changed is that there is now a table in the world that wasn’t there before. Exchange did not produce that table, you did, with your labour. Labour, says Marx, is the source of profit.

Marx’s basic point is that profit, and in fact all new wealth and value, is created in the sphere of production, not exchange. This is in many ways staggeringly obvious; production is literally the sphere in which things are made, after all. But in stating that labour is the source of profit, Marx is making the more precise and contentious claim that profit originates with labour and is then expropriated from it by capitalists.

Here is Marx’s version of events: a capitalist begins production by purchasing tools, raw materials and machinery, and then hires workers to use those productive elements to produce a commodity. The combined cost of the non-human and human elements of production is the initial outlay of capital; it is what the capitalist must spend in order to make more money. If the capitalist were simply to re-sell the tools, raw materials and machinery (what Marx calls constant capital) he just bought, he would probably get exactly what he paid for them, maybe a bit less. The only way for him to get more money is for him to employ labour in creating something new. The production of a commodity by labour permits the transmission of the value of the constant capital (tools/machinery etc) into a new commodity, thus preserving their value. But if this was all that labour did, the commodities produced would have no more value than the tools and machinery themselves, leaving the capitalist without profit. Labour, says Marx, produces additional value in the course of production and transmits this value to the commodity on top of the value of the constant capital used up in the process. It is labour which causes a car to be worth more than the sum of the components that comprise it. It is labour which brings a car into existence where before there were only parts.

But what about wages? Sure, labour adds to the value of the constant capital by transforming it into something else, but doesn’t the capitalist repay this in full in the form of wages? He couldn’t even if he wanted to. If the capitalist did indeed repay this debt in full, he would again be bereft of profit. The capitalist is bound by the necessity of making a living and by the iron law of competetive reivestment to pay the worker some fraction of the value of what the worker has produced. This fraction may be small or large, but it can never be as much of the full value gained in the sale of the commodity. This process of employing labour to produce value and then paying them some fraction of it is what Marx called exploitation. Exploitation is not just ‘bad treatment’ of workers, it is the specific manner in which, in the capitalist mode of production, the necessary work of making profits is accomplished. The value which the workers produce above and beyond the value of their own wages is called the surplus, and it is the surplus which the capitalist appropriates, both to fund his own conspicuous consumption and to reinvest towards engagement in the competetive market.

Once we recognise that this is how profits, i.e., the surplus, are produced, we might well ask how things came to be this way, and whether they must be so. Marx’s theory of how capitalism came about is part of his larger theory of history, which is called historical materialism. Historical materialism states that history moves through a series of epochs defined by two basic sets of circumstances. The first is the level of technological, scientific and organisational progress attained at any given moment; Marx calls these accumulated social competencies the forces of production. The second is the basic manner in which social life, and in particular work, is organised throughout society. This includes the question of who works and who does not, who rules or controls the monopoly of violent force known as the state, how work is divided up into different tasks and dispersed throughout the population, and how the fruits of that work are divided up and consumed. All of these different social connections between people Marx calls the relations of production. At any given historical juncture, a given interaction between the forces and relations of production will be predominant. In feudal times, for example, the forces of production had not progressed past the stage of medium-scale collaborative agriculture, and the relations of production involved the yeoman peasantry working half the week on their own land and half the week on the land of the feudal lord.

So, how does one historical moment give way to the next? Marx says that history lurches forward into new epochs when a tension emerges between the forces and the relations of production that eventually becomes too much for the system to bear. As technology and scientific progress marches forward, it becomes ever more difficult, and indeed more economically irrational, for society to hold on to the old relations of production. How, for example, could feudalism have possibly survived the industrial revolution? The revolution in economic life which that era portended was simply incompatible with the social relations of feudalism, based as they were on inferior forces of production and the social relations suitable to those forces. The social relations of capitalism could not possibly have come about without the development of the productive forces to the point at which those relations were capable of becoming generalised, that is, more or less ubiquitous throughout society. What this meant in practice was the large-scale migration of labour from the country to the city, from the farmlands of feudalism to the urban centres of industrial production. Economic and social life was completely transformed in this messy, uneven and violent process, a process which began to establish as ‘normal’ the social relations of contemporary capitalism.

What are the social relations of capitalism, that is, its relations of production? When Marx uses the word capital, also the title of his most famous work, he does not use it in the modern sense of ‘wealth’ or ‘productive assets’. For Marx, capital is itself a social relation, the relation upon which the economic system of capitalism depends. This relation is the relation between the working class and the capitalist class; in a very literal sense, Marx argues that this relation is capitalism. The difference between workers and capitalists, this difference being the essence of their relation, is that capitalists own the means of production, whereas workers do not. The means of production are factories, farms, power plants, mines, oil derricks, tools, machinery and even intellectual property, basically everything which facilitates the production and reproduction of our material lives. In feudalism, workers owned their own means of production (farmland, cattle, tools etc) and were able to reproduce themselves by their use. While they were forced by the feudal relations of production to work part of the week for the consumption of the feudal lord rather than for their own, they could in theory have provided for themselves using nothing but their own property.

In capitalism, workers do not own any means of production, and are therefore utterly reliant upon capitalists to be able to engage in the kind of productive activity that ensures that the supermarket shelves are full, that clothes are made, cars manufactured and so on. The movement from feudalism to capitalism thus entailed the separation of the working class from their means of production, because it is only once labour becomes ‘free’ labour, that is, labour ‘unburdened’ of all productive property, that capitalist social relations may be generalised. After all, who would bother working for a capitalist for a fraction of the value that he produces if he could provide for himself using his own productive property and keep the surplus for a rainy day? The very existence of capitalism is predicated upon the separation of society into two distinct classes, one that owns productive assets and one that does not. The class that does own is always a tiny fraction of the size of the class that does not; if this were not so then capitalist production could not begin, since each capitalist needs a plentiful supply of ‘free’ labour to employ. Since the minority capitalist class appropriates the full surplus, it makes sure to provide itself with a far greater power of consumption than is permitted for the majority of workers. The result is enormous inequality of wealth under capitalism, a circumstance which contributes to the always-brewing crises that plague capitalist production, and well as the resentment of the working class.

Crisis, says Marx, is of a piece with capitalism. Capitalism as a system is exceptionally fragile because it relies for its existence upon a constant circulation of capital through a number of different stages and forms. Marx’s explanation of this circulation process is clunky and long-winded (newcomers to Marx can do no better than reading David Harvey’s A Companion to Marx’s Capital, vol 2 for an insight into how this all works), but suffice it to say that there are innumerable opportunities for the circulation of capital to become blocked, slowed down, redirected and choked off outright. The result is the kind of crisis that we saw in 2007/08 when an increasingly financialised and deregulated flow of capital found itself crippled in its capacity to do its one and only job: to move. Only under capitalism is it possible for there to be such a thing as ‘surplus liquidity’, when banks and rich individuals have so much money that they cannot find enough profitable ways to spend it. Money sits in bank accounts contributing nothing to society even as wages plummet, government budgets are cut leaving the weakest among us without support, and a million useful jobs in our cities and towns go undone. It is hardly an exaggeration to call such an irrational system, so stubbornly insistent on repeating its mistakes, pathological.

Marx’s view was that capitalism’s tendency to fall into crisis meant that it would only be a matter of time before the whole edifice crumbled under the weight of its own contradictions. The ‘death’ of capitalism is predicted by historical materialism in its most simple form since, like every other system, it cannot indefinitely resist being forced to adapt to the tension between its forces and relations of production. Marx’s specific formulation of this inevitable shift towards a post-capitalist society is called, unpoetically, the law of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall. Capital, that being the initial outlay of productive elements the capitalist puts into production, consists of two parts: non-human elements (tools, buildings, energy, machinery etc) called constant capital and human elements (labour) called variable capital. The commodities which these elements produce when combined thus ‘contain’ a certain proportion of constant to variable capital, of value contributed by non-human and by human elements. A hand-crafted chair, for example, contains a greater proportion of human to non-human input than a chair produced on an assembly line with a minimum of human labour. As capitalist competition intensifies, the need for individual capitalists to invest in labour-saving technologies increases, with the result that commodities are increasingly produced with less and less input from human labour.

The dimunation of the human contribution to the final product has a number of effects, some good, some bad. Workers are laid off from increasingly automated jobs, destroying whole communities and ways of life, but at the same time prices generally decrease as the amount of labour embodied in commodities gradually declines. The most dangerous effect however, argues Marx, is that as the human component of production declines, so too does the capacity for capitalists to make a profit. At first glance this seems highly counter-intuitive; how can better, faster, cheaper production result in less profits? Recall that, for Marx, profit is the difference between what the capitalist pays out for constant and variable capital, and the final price that the commodity fetches. This difference is what the capitalist does not pay to workers; it is the difference between the value the workers produce and what they are paid in wages. In the absence of workers to exploit, the capitalist loses his capacity to stretch open a gap between his costs and his revenues. This is precisely what happened to the Japanese manufacturing industry in the late 1980’s. The tremendous economic boom Japan had been enjoying from the fruits of robotizing car manufacture backfired as the profit margin began, almost inexplicably, to decline. The Japanese car manufacturers had not been reading their Marx, and had displaced human labour, the source of profit, from the production equation.

It is a difficult concept to get one’s head around. We are so entranced by the disarmingly obvious fact that automisation means more wealth and productivity with less effort, that we fail to detatch the idea of the creation of wealth from the realisation of profits. In a society in which automisation steadily increased but in which the economy was not run on the basis of profit-making, the increased resulting increases in productivity would be an unambiguous good. Under capitalism, however, such innovations can also beget crises. The last few decades have seen the incredibly destructive growth of ‘outsourcing’ in the developed nations, whereby capital moves overseas to take advantage of cheaper labour than can be aquired in the home market. Outsourcing is not carried out by unscrupulous capitalists who could just as easily remain in their countries of origin; they are suffering real crises of profitability that can only be assuaged by moving to where the costs are lower. Outsourcing reveals an important contradiction within capitalist production; at a certain point it becomes more profitable for a company to go to where labour can be more eggregiously exploited than to invest in further labour-saving technology at home. What this means is that it has become impossible for capital to profitably employ human labour without dramatically reducing wages. What happens when the developing world catches up with the developed and wages level out globally? Capital, Marx’s theory suggests, will have nowhere left to run.

But isn’t it still a bit of a mystery why labour is the sole source of profit, and why increasing labour productivity by investing in labour saving machinery, while profitable for the individual capitalist in the short term, ultimately stymies profitability for capitalism as a whole?

Recall the example of car manufacture; labour is literally responsible for the transformation of the various parts into a finished product that can be sold at a higher price that that fetched by the sum of the parts. But what if robots build the car with a bare minimum of human maintainance and supervision? A robot is just a more complex version of any mechanism or tool which helps to get a job done; it increases the productivity of human labour by decreasing the amount of labour required to produce each unit of a good or service. Robots do not ‘labour’ any more than cogs or steam pistons do. But the real reason why robots do not in themselves create profit is that robots have no control over what they cost; the previous owner or manufacturer of the robot sells it at a price dictated by the market. This price will never exceed the value which the robot is capable of transmitting to the final product without the help of human labour. If you have a robot that can produce £100 worth of car parts per hour without any human input, you would not sell it for anything less than the value of those car parts over the lifetime of the robot; if you did, you would take a loss by not keeping the robot and selling the car parts yourself. Nobody would ever sell the goose that lays the golden eggs. Capitalists do not buy elements of constant capital such as robots, tools and raw materials in the hope that these elements will magically create additional value; they buy them in the knowledge that they will need to use human labour to furnish them with the additional value required to turn a profit.

Labour is utterly unique as a commodity, to the point where many commentators do not think it is correct to call it a commodity at all. What makes labour unique is that it has some measure of conscious control over its own price. Labour unions, for example, are extremely effective at pushing wages up, or at least preventing them from declining. Conversely, in times of economic hardship when capitalists refuse to hire workers to do useful work because profits are too low (another sign of a pathological system), desperate workers may agree to work for less than they need to survive or than is considered a dignified social minimum. No other commodity can impact its price by its own volition because no other commodity has meaningful volition. It is this volition which paves the way for exploitation, and thus profit; workers can decide to accept payment in wages (the ‘price’ of labour) lower than the value which they produce. It is only because labour is capable of acting in this way that capitalists are able to procure more in revenues than they incur in costs. The closer society gets to removing labour entirely from the equation, the closer we get to entirely robotised economy in which all inputs to production simply reproduce or transmit the value inherent in them, the cost of which the capitalist will have already incurred prior to the commencement of production (making profit impossible).

This kind of crisis tendency in capitalism is generally known as overproduction, in that the productivity of human labour is so rapidly accelerated that the very wellspring of profit is cut off at its source. But the notion of a fully robotised economy points towards an parallel model of crisis developed by certain Marxist thinkers (and broadly accepted by non-laissez-faire bourgoise economists like John Maynard Keynes) known as underconsumption. Consider an economy in which robots do all the work. Human beings who do not work are not paid wages, and human beings with no wages cannot purchase any of the goods and services produced by the robotised economy. In such a circumstance, it is blidingly clear that there can be no profit, since there is no circulation of money. A fully robotised economy will resemble the de facto communism of Star Trek, wherein the invention of the ‘replicator’ makes human labour in the production of the necessities of daily life unnecessary. When human beings can produce everything they need for free, they do not work for capitalists, and capitalism comes to end. In a fully robotised economy in which workers no longer earn wages, goods and services will have to be distributed throughout the population by some alternative means than the market, and production itself will have to be directed by signals other than market prices. Production would have to be planned, ideally on a democratic model, such that use-values, the useful attributes of goods and services, were directly distributed to a population who no longer had to work for their survival (and whose survival was not dependent on their work).

We are a long way off a fully robotised economy, of course, but with every displacement of labour from production we edge closer to it. As we do, we see portents of an inevitable future in which human beings, no longer profitably employable and thus no longer being paid wages, cannot afford to purchase the goods which the economy produces. Economists call this the problem of effective demand, wherein workers who have been subject to unemployment and wage repression in the name of increasing productivity find themselves unable to purchase sufficient quantities of goods and services to keep the economy healthy (in Marxian terms: to keep capital moving and evading its contradictions). Eventually, this will reach a point at which we have to move beyond capitalism and embrace a system in which production is carried out not for profit and the circulation of capital but directly in order to meet people’s needs and desires. In recent decades the gaping chasm of effective demand as been plugged up with credit, creating demand out of thin air by bringing consumption forward in time. The result, inevitably, has been the sharpening rather than the alleviation of the problem of effective demand, as the distorted, ponzi-like bubbles that easy credit creates burst and the ‘real’ economy, with its tendencies towards overproduction and underconsumption, asserts itself with a vengeance.

What does all this mean for the average person under capitalism? What is the experience of capitalism like for the vast majority of us who work for a living? Marx uses a specific term for the negative psyhcological and spiritual effects which labouring under a capitalist system have on people: alienation. Alienation is the disquieting sense we have, often subconsciously, that we are not the authors of our own actions under capitalism, and that we are not working under the direction of our own autonomy, in our own interests, or under our own self-management.

We have an ultimate boss, the capitalist, who grows very rich off our labour, and we are given directions in our daily work by managers who are also paid more than us. We have very little, if any, opportunity to self-manage under normal capitalist relations of production; we feel the stark difference between how it feels to be given orders and how it feels to direct our own work in a useful and self-fulfilling way when we pursue our hobbies, work towards realising our passions and engage in voluntary collaborative projects. It cannot escape our attention that the former kind of work, alienated and top-down, is by far the more prevalent in our lives. It also cannot escape our attention that the products we produce in our capitalist jobs are not products that we have chosen to produce, and that we have no say in what happens to them once we have produced them. We are encouraged to think only of doing an acceptable job and receiving our wage, which may or may not be enough for us to live on, and to do our best not to think about how degrading, unsatisfying, boring or even socially harmful the work we are doing is. This contributes to a widespread sense of meaninglessness in people’s lives which, systematically repressed by the ideological forces amassed in support of capitalism (which forever police our psychological lives), often erupt in anti-social and, at moments of great economic pressure, subversive or revolutionary outbursts.

Historically, what has prevented revolutionary upheavals from occuring more regularly or systematically have been two major forces. The first is rising wages, which until the last few decades have occurred in the capitalist mode of production. In order to submit to a social order in which a tiny elite siphon off most of a rapidly growing pile of wealth, people have to see their own incomes increasing, at least insofar as they can see an improvement in their own standards of living over their parents and grandparents. In the developed world this is no longer always the case, and in many regions of the U.S. and Europe young people are struggling to attain even the standards of living of their parents. In the countries worst hit by the global recession, standards of material well-being have been significantly reduced, something relatively new to capitalism that is in danger of becoming the norm. The people of Greece have just elected a party made up primarily of Marxists to try and escape the ill-effects that capitalism is having on their lives. If people do not see their incomes rising, it will become increasingly difficult for the capitalist class to justify the economic system, based upon the exploitation of labour, which currently permits their class to exist.

The second force which keeps people in their place under capitalism Marx called commodity fetishism. Commodity fetishism is a constellation of ubiquitous illusions thrown up by the structure of capitalist production itself. These illusions include the fetishisation of paper and digital money, which appears to have value in and of itself, the obscuring of the source of profits in the exploitation of human labour, the apparent transformation of human labour power into a commodity itself, the commodification of all parts of social life, including those things which were once considered consummate public goods, the ‘spectacle’ of modern life, in which all things are reduced to mere images, fragmented and distracting, the dislocation of all positive meaning into the act of consumption and the resulting degradation of social life, the confusion of utility or use value with monetary or exchange value, and all manner of ideological sleights of hand used to justify the privalege, power, wealth and social status of the capitalist class. All of these illusions begin to unravel at their weakest links during crises. It becomes far more difficult for commodity fetishism to function properly when wages are stagnant or declining, or when the real productive economy reasserts itself in the face of fictional capital and credit, or when that lurking sense of alienation reaches a fever pitch among the dispossesed, discontented and disenchanted of the world.

For Marx, capitalism is cannot be sustained forever. It is difficult beast to slay, but at some point the right mixture of internal contradictions and external agitation will force it to give way to something else. Marx said very little about what socialism or communism would be like, other than that it would not be capitalism. It is for the rest of us, clearly, to discover what a post-capitalist global order is to be like. I will try to explore some of the most compelling visions of a socialist political and economic system in the next entry to this series of posts. The important thing is that if, as I do, you agree with Marx, then you agree that we have no option but to imagine the alternative to capitalism, and this means an alternative to to the market, to fetishism and to the exploitation and alienation of human life and labour.

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Throwing up a test render for a floating pollen scene. Used the Clarendon filter and it looks much better than the original 😂 So I now need to render out a Zdepth pass from Maya and add in some more colour corrections in