Marx decreed religion the opiate of the masses, this moment in time can wake us all from our modern day coma – naloxone for the masses (this was my original title, naloxone is the name of the drug used to reverse opiate overdoses. The brand name most commonly known is Narcan. Keep in mind the lulling effects of opiates and consider what kind of coma we have been in.)
The Celtics should be playing the in NBA Championships right around now. This is critical to the uprisings, protests, riots and public outrage. But I need Marxist theory to better explain it. I was lucky to be taught Marx by Marxists. At this moment I don’t have the energy to go reread and assess the parts of Marx I need, but if you know Marx please add comments. (and for those language sticklers who sometimes read my pieces I do not have time right now to go back to check for grammatical and syntax errors)
Why are the numbers of participants and actions swelling across the world? Consider this range of circumstances due to COVID:
COVID has forced people in their homes for 2+ months – the domestic space
- people have watched their money decrease, their jobs become insignificant, no need to spend money on non-essentials
- people have become less vain about their appearances able to wear comfortable clothes instead of business uniforms needing to be dry cleaned and cared for
- people have been able to sleep and eat without the daily rush of getting to a job
- the pop-culture messaging has focused on the value of family and small intimate social circles
COVID has forced people in their homes for 2+ months – institutions fail
- the government has been unable to provide a reasonable sense of safety and protect which is at the core of the democratic social contract
- the media cannot be distracted with puff pieces or fear-mongering without connecting to bigger topics
- businesses have dismissed their employees with little validation that their labor has value
- no advancement in our professions, no conferences or awards to strive towards
- people cannot attend religious gatherings
COVID has forced people in their homes for 2+ months – the psychological affect
- the pandemic has forced people to confront their notions of mortality – we will all die but what does that mean
- contemplations of our death having any value – seeing mass graves and bodies callously disposed of without any ceremony and celebration reminds people that we all end as worm food
- the obvious inequality of healthcare and safety for Black and Brown communities and poor people
- time spent discussing these larger questions with loved ones
- boredom. protests may be the only event to see others and socialize.
COVID has forced people in their homes for 2+ months – the opiate withdrawal
- no must-see tv, no big events to stay home for, no blockbusters at the cinema, no celebrity gossip
- no sporting events that fans must stay home for
- no nights out at the bar or club thus no hang-overs, social drama, or romantic intrigue
- no new fashions to keep up with, no limited-time releases of special items, no limited edition buying pressure
- no money to spend on these things even if they were available
Why are the numbers of participants and actions swelling across the world? Consider this range of non-COVID circumstances:
The genius of Black Lives Matter –
- The simplicity of the message – Black Lives Matter – carries forth the tradition of synthesizing the violation of Black people’s humanity to one undeniable argument; I Am A Man, A Man Was Lynched Today, Black is Beautiful…
- “I Can’t Breathe” and the killing of children strikes the hearts of even the most selfish
- Repetition and consistency of the message to hammer through the density of whiteness that was created so that white people would see their interests as different and removed from those of people of color
- Organizers and intellectuals of the BLM movement staying omnipresent in the popular culture landscape with books, news interviews, celebrity endorsements, social media presence, etc.
- Non-engagement with divisions – a decentralized movement is much harder to corrupt (i.e. the FBI sending letters to create and amplify antagonisms between leaders of the Civil Rights Movement etc.); remaining flexible about the involvement of white people in parts of the movement (SNCC’s decree to eject all white members hurt feelings and interrupted the momentum);
- the mirror effect – recognizing the struggle for dignity and human rights of other disenfranchised groups: LGBTIAQ and Trans communities, immigrants, people differently abled and disabled etc.
- Peer pressure – people who wished they had done more during the Ferguson uprisings and the multiple events that rippled out
The Failure of whiteness
- the pure and incontestable stupidity and evilness of 45 in the whitehouse
- quakes along the faultlines of democracy since Gore concedes the 2000 election
- academic work to dismantle the western centered notions of value
- more people defining their identity as white, in contrast to whiteness being the elephant in the room
- poor white people being shown in popular culture, books examining their lived realities, Obamacare providing basic needs to poor white people
- the housing crisis revealing that corporations may align themselves with whiteness, but being white won’t protect a person from capitalism
Ancestral Knowledge/Patience of Elders
- people have been in this struggle for a long time and for each moment a younger generation refuels the fires for justice, they are there to share wisdom, strategies, and love
- organizing strategies are not new, and many mistakes can be avoided by studying the past
- the spirit of resistance is built into the DNA in the same way that trauma can mark it
- the middle-age folks who have now pursued careers as lawyers, nurses, social workers, teachers, writers, journalists can come out into the streets; their skills are useful
- cycles are present in our lives, in ferns and conch shells, mathematics, and history…
Marx wrote about the wave of revolutions that swept Europe in 1848; one of the most quoted parts “religion is the opiate of the masses” identifies that the institutions of religion, in this context the Christian church, intoxicated people to ignore their earthly needs which allowed those in power to further exploit the workers. The French Revolution lost the loyalty of the peasants when the big city secularists tried to reorganize the calendar, rename the days of the week and thus eliminate the cherished day of rest and worship – Sundays. Religion declares our earthly lives simple a board game to test our moral fortitude with the winners promised eternal life. So if your days are full of drudgery and physical exhaustion all to gain profits for the masters of industry, God can still reward you.
Today the opiate of the masses is the worlds of fashion, professional sports, media, social media and all the other distractions. The reward is no longer eternal life in heaven, replaced with an aspirational mission to achieve the life of the famous and wealthy – to wear the same brands, drive the same cars, party with the same aesthetics, replicate their photos, mimic their speech, and spend enough money to feel similar to the feelings of complete joy they project in public.
Beyond the role of religion, Marx identifies how it is the so-called “middle class” that acts as a buffer to protect the upper bourgeoisie from the rage of the workers. Furthermore, it provides an aspirational dynamic for each group to prioritize their individual advancement over the needs of the masses. So it is critical that those in power maintain a subdued and content middle class so that they see their interests aligned with the upper-class even though their lived realities are much more similar to that working class. So in this moment with 40 million unemployment claims and people having the time to realize that their labor is not necessary but rather a way to keep them busy; that the massive capitalists’ structures simply needs customers – not for people to have any dignity or ownership of our own time and energy.
So yes this is the moment to get into the streets, to harness the power we gain by coming together and to understand that Black folks have always been fighting for all of our humanity, to save our souls now on this earth. The demands for basic respect is to save us all from participating in the dehumanizing impact of being a person who ignores the humanity of others.