How the market economy demolished traditional family relationships

2017-06-18 19:25

The development of an industrial society comes at the expense of corrupting the psychology of a human being. A metropolis city is a social construct prevalent in almost every capitalist society and it has been sustained through trade. The exchange of value done with the circulation of money has devalued human life. This is from a premise that human life is synonymous with rural livelihood which is characterized by communitarian and relational values.

In the Rozvi political culture in Zimbabwe, leaders were valued according to the love they had for their people and the efforts they made in uniting them. In this context, people valued their interdependence as a community more than their individual independence. For them, the concept of a family went beyond the biological question to include neighbours and the community. Simmel writing in 1903 makes a similar point when describing a small town as being “more slower, more habitual, resting more on feelings and emotional relationships”.

Money creates relationships amongst people that have never met before. Money is the mirror where all human beings see one face regardless of their differences. “Money is concerned only with what is common to all, i.e. with the exchange value which reduces all quality and individuality to a purely quantitative level” Simmel (1903). Marx and Engels complement this view but with a caution that such a transaction comes at a human cost: “the bourgeoisie has resolved personal worth into exchange value, and in place of the numberless indefeasible chartered freedoms, has set up that single, unconscionable freedom – Free Trade. In one word, for exploitation, veiled by religious and political illusions, it has substituted naked, shameless, direct, brutal exploitation”.

The metropolis attach value to the fast life of economics which requires a rich brain and technical education. Instead of a communal society that reacts emotionally, the metropolitan society reacts rationally. Its environment encourages decision making that is least sensitive. It treats human life in a form of numbers that is alienated from its individuality. The value of human life is validated with money, the number of tasks it can complete and the payments it can make. Simmel (1903) conceptualizes this phenomenon as the ‘Blasé attitude’.

The Native population of South Africa was introduced to the migrant labour system in a violent and a unique manner. Before the settlement of Europeans, the Native population had its own traditional way of sustainable living in the form of hunting and subsistence farming. To take Natives to the labour system, the Europeans violently confiscated their land and pushed them into Native reserves. Europeans acquired 87% of the arable land and left the 13% of the Native reserves to be occupied by the Natives. Thus, such land was small for the Natives to continue with the traditional living of hunting and subsistence farming. As a result, Natives relied on Europeans through selling their labour to survive.

This phenomenon is commonly known amongst sociologists as being the proletarianization of the Native population: “the material basis for the formation of a proletarian class was the mass of the population being effectively separated from an independent means of existence and thrust into wage labour” (Hendricks: 2013).

In 1854 the then Governor and High Commissioner for South Africa Sir George Grey changed the lifestyle of Natives by integrating them into a system of exchanging value in goods and money. Grey’s views were implemented: “To open up the country, roads were begun, intended to be useful in times of war as well as of peace. To improve Native agriculture, irrigation furrows were projected. The public works were also used to encourage the Natives to develop European wants. To this end payment was made both in money and rations. Meat, corn, coffee, sugar and tobacco were issued to workers”.

In this context, to encourage the buying of European products, Natives were coerced to wear clothes of Europeans. To encourage the use of money by Natives, taxes and fines were created and made payable in money. It became obligatory for Natives to work for Europeans in exchange for earning money. Gradually, Natives got assimilated into a Western way of living. The interdependence they had with their families and communities from sharing land was replaced by the independent earning of slave wages individually. The value of their human life became validated with money, the number of tasks they could complete and the payments they could make. In other words, Natives were introduced to the Blasé attitude – a mental life of the metropolis.

The peak of the migrant labour system came with the establishment of mining in the Griqua region and Witwatersrand. “Within ten years from the discovery of diamonds in Gruqualand West, the diamond fields had a population, including both European and non-Europeans, of some thirty thousand” (Van der Horst, 1942: 62). The region became centre of attraction for thousands of people worldwide. People from all over the world were coming into the centre in search for a sustainable living. To run itself sustainably, the trading system developed new machinery to meet new global demands. This necessitated a new level of technical education, human capital, and an improved transport system. Gradually, this led to the establishment of new industrial towns and cities such as Johannesburg.

Marx and Engels summarize this quite clearly when they say: “The bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionising the instruments of production, and thereby the relations of production, and with them the whole relations of society …. The need of a constantly expanding market for its products chases the bourgeoisie over the entire surface of the globe. It must nestle everywhere, settle everywhere, establish connexions everywhere …. It compels all nations, on pain of extinction, to adopt the bourgeois mode of production; it compels them to introduce what it calls civilization into their midst, i.e., to become bourgeois themselves. In one word, it creates a world after its own image”.

This social engineering has produced a society administrated by a system of capitalism. A select few at the top of social hierarchy owning means of production violently and corruptly accumulated at the back of the oppressed many. Those with ownership of property and wealth were regarded as the citizens. Citizens, given their privileged social position in the hierarchy of society derived from violence, possessed power and control on how society identified them as recipients of extended citizenship rights. The oppressed Natives, the landless, the coerced labour force, sufferers of proletarianization, were regarded as the subjects of citizens. Capitalism acts as a structural constraint in denying them their status of citizenship and being. They are unable to own the unique creativity, production, and destiny of their labour.

Post-apartheid the system of capitalism has remained intact. Workers earn wages that cannot sustain their living beyond buying food and traveling to work. They rely on self-employment beyond their arranged working hours and accumulate debt to sustain other living expenses such as taking care of their families. The price of their labour is at the lowest and cannot maintain their lives. This makes them unable to enjoy other social benefits that come with citizenship.

The Constitution can guarantee them citizenship rights such as the freedom of residence, movement, and higher education but to name a few. However, their slave wages, their poverty, act as a structural barrier to access those citizenship rights. In this context, the system of capitalism, maintained and reproduced through visible and invisible forms of violence, breaks the connection between labour and citizenship.

In the African context, the purpose of establishing a family is to have children and socialize the entire family in continuous and intergenerational teaching of communitarian and relational values grounded on love. I want to conceptualize this phenomenon as the being the ‘sentimental veil of the family’.

In the post-apartheid South Africa ruled by the system of capitalism, the Blasé attitude has made members of the family value a high standard of living. In the absence of dispossessed land and its wealth, Native families have become dependent on income wages. Since the income wages are low and unable to sustain living beyond buying food and traveling to work, the possibility of having a large family and “unplanned children” gets discouraged. What would have been a family decision informed by emotions to have more children, it gets dejected by a calculated and a cogent choice of planning reproduction around the income wage almanac.

Capitalism deviates a family from being a communal home that reacts emotionally into a metropolitan refinement that reacts rationally. The family environment gets to inspire decision making that is least sensitive. It treats family life in a form of numbers that is alienated from its ‘sentimental veil’.

Family life has been alienated from its ‘sentimental veil’ and reduced into a money relationship. Due to the capitalist system that makes families value a high standard of living, decision-making in the family such as reproduction is based on the expected income the family must have to support such decisions. Hence, capitalism deviates a family from being a communal home that reacts emotionally into a metropolitan refinement that reacts rationally. The family environment gets to inspire decision making that is least sensitive. The market economy has demolished traditional family relationships.

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