A smoking skull

HOUDINI Magazine

Erik Houdini

Commodity Fetishism and the Dehumanizing Logic of Neoliberal Capitalism

Imagine for a moment, you're scrolling through a social media platform and you come across a comment that stops you in your tracks. It's brutally honest, jarring in its cruelty, and a chilling reflection of the darkest facets of capitalism. You may want to look away, but you shouldn't. This comment is an extraordinary illustration of what Karl Marx called "commodity fetishism", wherein relations between people are mediated through objects, allowing systemic exploitation to be conveniently masked and excused. It's a potent example of the anti-human hyper-individualism fostered by neoliberal capitalism. Here it is:

Reddit Comment

Anonymous Redditor said:

“I'm fine with exploiting 3rd world countries if it means I have cheaper goods.

So, you know those "blood diamonds" child slave labor dig up? Well, I don't like diamonds but I like my iPhone and electric cars a lot. I'm fine if there's material in these objects that were compiled via slave labor or labor exploitation if it means I have cheaper goods. Common concerns I imagine will come up include;

  • Think of their humanity! If I don't personally meet them, their feelings mean zero to me.
  • What if you were in their position! If I was, I probably wouldn't be able to do anything. I rolled a 6 and they rolled a 1 when the gameboard was getting set. No one should feel bad about being lucky.
  • Slave labor/exploitation is wrong! Not saying it's not, but fixing that wrong is not my obligation or business. It's dreadful that it happens, but that summer heat in FL is also dreadful and I don't control that either.

Are you shocked? You shouldn't be. This comment represents an internalization of capitalist logic so pervasive that it's often invisible, permeating our subconcious minds. Like a mortician, it's time we dissect its elements to understand how deep the rot goes. Let's dissect this shocking Reddit comment, line-by-line to unmask the roots of capitalist ideology that sustain such a disturbing worldview. This is not merely an exercise in vilifying an individual, but a lens through which to scrutinize the socio-economic structures that produce such individuals in the first place.

The Introductory Sentence: Unveiling the Beast

"I'm fine with exploiting 3rd world countries if it means I have cheaper goods."

When I first read this, my gut reaction was that whoever posted this has a special affinity for malevolence, a kind of unapologetic admission that screams, "Look, this is who I am; I'm evil and I know it." But let's put aside the revulsion for a moment and dig deeper. Because as easy as it is to vilify this person as some sort of sadistic capitalist footsoldier, the reality is far more unsettling: this commenter is a symptom, not the cause. What we have here is not merely an individual gone awry, but an encapsulation of the dehumanization of capitalist ideology—a system that molds its participants into rationalizing away their own humanity for the sake of a transaction.

The sheer brazenness of this comment shines a glaring light on the commodification of human life under capitalism. It's a textbook example of what Marx described as commodity fetishism—the mystifying process through which the labor that goes into products is erased, and commodities are instead seen to possess a value independent of the human cost involved in their production. The sense of detachment this commenter feels from the exploited laborer in a far-off land isn't accidental; it's a meticulously engineered result of capitalism's inherent alienation.

This is no ordinary 'mask-off' moment; it is an X-ray image of capitalism’s diseased soul. Here, social realities are so distorted that people feel completely detached from the chains of production that bind the global proletariat. We are so disconnected from the actual labor that produces the goods we consume, the labor is abstracted, and we are desensitized to the human suffering that our consumption necessitates.

In a weird way, this comment offers a startlingly candid look into the commodified conscience of modern consumerism. The poster isn't necessarily evil in a vacuum; they are shaped by, and are reflecting, an evil system. Yet, let us not use this as an alibi; it's not about exonerating individuals but about diagnosing systemic rot. And folks, the diagnosis doesn't look good.

Detached Humanity: The Egoistic Bubble

"If I don't personally meet them, their feelings mean zero to me."

The audacity, right? Let's pull no punches: this is egoism on steroids. Here we have the distillation of neoliberal filth: "If I don't personally meet them, their feelings mean zero to me." This isn't just detachment; it's a full-blown retreat into an egoistic shell where the individual exists in a morally isolated vacuum.

This is how deep the rot goes, folks. It's a worldview that bastardizes the whole essence of what it means to be human, all to serve the dark gods of capitalism. Think about it—the internet, social media, the device you're reading this on, all of it comes together in this vast global labor network. And here we have someone, likely benefiting the most from this global exploitation, saying they don't care because they can't see it.

You want to talk about coping mechanisms? This is peak cope. I'm instantly reminded of those "Back the Blue" folks who think police brutality is an "other people" problem—until their own kids are the ones staring down the barrel. Reminds me of the famous piece, "The Only Moral Abortion Is My Abortion," where moral conviction flips the moment it becomes personal. Why? Because it's easier to live in a bubble. It's easier to take the gains while ignoring the blood, sweat, and tears that make it possible.

But this is where we've ended up, in a culture where human beings can be reduced to units in a spreadsheet, where their humanity is dismissed because one guy lucked out in the geographical lottery. Well, let me tell you something—the sun might not care about us, but unlike the heat in Florida, this exploitation is man-made. It can be changed, but not if we keep embracing this soul-destroying individualism.

Fatalistic Acceptance: Capitalism as a Dice Game

"If I was, I probably wouldn't be able to do anything. I rolled a 6 and they rolled a 1 when the game board was getting set."

Ah, fatalism—the lifeboat of the intellectually bankrupt. So now, capitalism has been reduced to a game of Dungeons & Dragons, where rolling the dice determines who gets to exploit whom. This is the "Marvelification" of politics, folks. Yeah, that's right, we've turned the excruciating inequalities, the colonial legacies, and the soul-crushing exploitation into a comic book tale. 'Who needs a material analysis of history when you can just be Iron Man or, better yet, Thanos?' seems to be the new neoliberal mantra.

Picture this: our greasy keyboard warrior, having just wolfed down their DoorDash, watching footage of Congolese children mining cobalt for their Tesla. And they're thinking, "Well, you win some, you lose some. Better luck next life, kiddo!" It's as if they've digested every warped tenet of Ayn Randian Neoliberalism and spat it out in a form even that ghoul would find vulgar. There's zero material analysis, a blatant refusal to connect the dots in a system purpose-built on exploitation. Their worldview is, to put it bluntly, a farce. They're the quintessential example of what it means to be an enabler of capitalist sadism.

They're also a damn coward. Because to acknowledge the meat grinder that is capitalism would mean they'd have to do something about it. And that's the thing, isn't it? This Dungeons & Dragons metaphor is nothing but a feeble attempt to shirk responsibility. Don't be fooled. This isn't philosophy; it's an escape hatch. Only once we confront reality can we change it. So, let's not indulge in denialism, let's not give in to these fantasies of fatalism. It's high time to rip off the band-aid and face the rotting wound beneath. Once you realize the reality you live in, you have two choices, cowardice, or courage. And it's clear what choice this reddit poster has made.

Moral Apathy: Disavowing Responsibility—A Web of Delusions

"Slave labor/exploitation is wrong! Not saying it's not, but fixing that wrong is not my obligation or business."

Here's where the circle of absurdity closes in on itself, completing a perfect orbit of wilful ignorance and moral apathy. The commenter concedes—oh, how generous!—that exploitation is, indeed, wrong. But do something about it? Nah, that's someone else's job. If you were wondering what the human manifestation of Žižek's 'cynical ideology' looks like, congratulations—you've just witnessed it.

This is not merely an individual failing; it's the inevitable endpoint of a deeply insidious neoliberal propaganda machine. The same machine that churns out laughable narratives like "socialism is when no iPhone" or the worn-out trope of "you criticize society, yet you live in it." You see, these aren't merely bad arguments. They're calculated ideological traps. By painting a caricature of anti-capitalist positions, they present false dichotomies that are intended to stifle any form of systemic critique.

This is the narrative scaffold that props up the capitalist pyramid scheme—the comforting lie that tells you it's all natural. Ah, nature, where some are destined to be the King Leopolds, lording over colonial empires, and others are the Congolese children, getting their hands chopped off because they didn't meet the rubber quota. I'm going to include that gut-wrenching picture of a father looking at the severed hand and foot of his own daughter in this article, not for shock value, but as a brutal reminder that we're not just dealing with abstract numbers and economic theories here. We're talking about human lives torn asunder by a system that our keyboard warrior so eagerly defends, all because he's not at the very bottom of this pyramid.

[Colonial Belgian Congo: A Slave Father Gazing at His Daughter's Severed Hand and Foot, 1904]
He hadn’t made his rubber quota for the day so the Belgian-appointed overseers had cut off his daughter’s hand and foot. Her name was Boali. She was five years old. Then they killed her. But they weren’t finished. Then they killed his wife too. And because that didn’t seem quite cruel enough, quite strong enough to make their case, they cannibalized both Boali and her mother.

Don't let the superficiality of their argument fool you; it's purposefully insidious. They may not be the King Leopold at the top, but they're content with not being at the bottom. And that's enough for them to rationalize their moral abdication. They'd rather dwell in a self-created maze of contradictions than confront the monstrous reality of their complicity. It's a calculated escapism, a cowardly retreat from the very fabric of social responsibility. It's not merely a lack of understanding; it's an outright denial of the human condition, a forfeiture of any claim to ethical existence.

Heat and Humanity: The Ultimate Fallacy—From Naturalism to Commodity Fetishism

"It's dreadful that it happens, but that summer heat in FL is also dreadful and I don't control that either."

In this chilling climax of denial, the commenter, whether knowingly or not, performs an astonishing feat of ideological gymnastics. They equate the systemic blight of human exploitation with the uncontrollable climate of Florida—implying both are inevitable phenomena over which we, as individuals, hold no sway. Welcome to the twisted world of capitalist realism, a term coined by Mark Fisher in his seminal work "Capitalist Realism," where capitalism is heralded as the only "natural" system.

But let's pause and dissect this. Capitalism is not some immutable law of nature. No, it's a system built on commodity fetishism, the perception of social relationships not as relationships between people but as relationships between commodities and money, as elucidated by Marx himself. In layman's terms? We've got a society so obsessed with "things" that we forget the "human cost" that comes attached with every product, every click, every swipe of a credit card. This ignorance is willful, and this willful ignorance is systemic.

This commenter is a living embodiment of a society that has commodified not just labor, but humanity itself. And for all their chest-thumping bravado, they too are a cog in the wheel. When the time comes—when the inevitable crisis of capitalism triggers layoffs, when the touted "AI revolution" sends droves into unemployment—they'll find their tune swiftly changing. For the "techbros," the champions of "logic over empathy," the reality check will be a brutal one.

It's not just a sad case of one individual's moral failure; it's the amplification of the rot at the core of capitalist systems. The ultimate tragedy is that even those like our commenter, who bask in the illusion of benefitting from the system, are not exempt from its ultimate exploitation. They too are victims of neoliberal capitalism's greatest con: that the system serves the many and not just the few. They too will one day realize that their apathy, rooted in a warped sense of individualism, serves not their own interests but those of a capitalist system that will discard them when they're no longer profitable.

We must hold a mirror to these deeply unsettling views, not just to challenge them but to dismantle the pillars they stand upon. We can't afford the luxury of despair or the sin of apathy. Remember, if capitalism has commodified our humanity, then our fight against it is nothing short of reclaiming that very humanity.

An Unyielding Charge to Act: The Clock Ticks, The World Burns

We're at the brink, folks—climate change accelerates, economic disparities widen, and the contradictions within capitalism reach ever greater heights. The poster in question may be willing to compare the atrocities of capitalism to the heat of a Florida summer, but what about you? When the dystopian reality we're barreling towards becomes undeniable, will you say you tried to do something about it, or will you be haunted by the regret of apathy?

Look at that famous picture of the Congolese child, hands severed for failing to meet rubber quotas in the name of King Leopold's colonial enterprise. Disturbing, isn't it? Now consider this—imperialism, the highest form of capitalism, still thrives. Our electronic devices, assembled in oppressive conditions, are today's rubber. The faces have changed, but the exploitation remains the same. Don't believe me? Watch this video of children mining in the Congo.

To my fellow citizens of the imperial core, hear me out. Adopting a third-worldist stance while sipping coffee sourced from exploited lands is not radicalism; it's escapism. If we claim to stand against the imperialist machine, our actions must match our rhetoric. Apathy is not an option. Skepticism is a luxury we can no longer afford.

So, is this the world you want to leave behind? A world where systemic suffering is dismissed as a mere game of Yatzhee? Where we justify our comfort and privilege by numbing our empathy, masking our indifference with sickeningly poor metaphors?

Regardless of your ideological shade of left—Marxist, Leninist, Maoist, Anarchist, An-Com, or any variant in between—our shared struggle against capitalist exploitation and imperialist plunder unites us. The challenges we face are monumental, but they're not insurmountable. So what are we going to do about it? Are we prepared to shoulder the burden of change, or will we descend further into the soul-crushing abyss of neoliberalism?

The ball is in your court. Join a union, participate in mutual aid networks, organize your community, speak your mind, spread the message of the movement, attend protests, push for policy changes, educate, agitate, organize! We owe it to the countless lives crushed under the capitalist juggernaut. Failure to act, failure to stir the pot, is not just a denial of responsibility—it's a denial of our humanity.

This is our call to arms, a call echoing across history, across barriers, across souls. Will you answer it? The clock is ticking. Remember, in trying to stop revolution, the capitalists are cupping water; the harder they squeeze, the more water escapes.