Invisible People

Hi, My name is Bob and I'll be your human face of the capitalist exchange tonight
Hi, My name is Bob and I’ll be your human face of the capitalist exchange tonight

Perhaps one of the most pressing questions for anyone who considers themselves even vaguely on the left, or progressive is the idea of resistance. Capitalism is an ideology intrinsically damaging, repressive and deeply unfair. So how do we resist? How do we articulate an alternative vision for the organisation of society?  This question and all of it’s associated concerns are really only answerable if we begin to appreciate just how ingrained capitalism has made itself and just how many layers of ideological, social and economic protection it has wrapped around itself.

Capitalism functions in such a sophisticated way as to render one’s own awareness of our participation in the exchange and dissemination of capital invisible. There is an entire branch of the modern socio-economic experience dedicated to doing this – whole armies of people are employed by big and small businesses across the globe to render the nature of capitalism as benign and easy to ignore as possible.

The service industry. An industry of service. We’re told to believe that the service industry functions for OUR needs but really the thing being served by this industry is the cloaking and disappearing of capitalism from our view.

How does it happen? It happens because the service industry has made everything so easy. You walk into a restaurant and you’ll be seated, brought drinks waited on and all of the consequences of your choices are hidden from you. You order and it appears without visible preparation and once it’s done it’s removed without you seeing the cleaning that needs to happen. Uniform faces, with bright smiles guide you through a serene world where your own ego is placed primary, and your desires becomes the most vital thing in the world.

As someone who is lucky enough to work, and work in this kind of industry let me state something clearly. Those who we meet when we come into contact with the service and hospitality industry are not real despite how many times they might open with their name. The smiles, the uniforms, the eager to please natures are an inculcated act of their employers, drilled in again and again and again. We all know this of course but the question is why is it necessary? Are people naturally rude to one another? No – not necessarily.  All of this is there for perhaps another wider reason.

You see, the great trend in mainstream social democratic politics has been to acknowledge the problems of capitalism but to claim that capitalism can work for everyone – helping states build schools and infrastructure and helping charities end diseases. There are great problems in the world but capitalism can bring its seemingly infinite resources to bear on the issue.  In essence, we’ve given capitalism a uniform and told it to serve people.

This is why the service industry is such a fascinating theoretical space.  The waiter’s forced and practised smile is a microscopic example of a global perception of capitalism. The restaurant staff who greet you so cheerily at the door are an attempt to hide the truth of capitalism’s nature – that it is, and always has been an example of power dynamics. The smile on your waiters face is meant to reassure you that you and they are equals. Behind the smile lies the inescapable hierarchical nature of the capitalistic exchange, of power through economics and ideology.  Of the have and the have-not.

This isn’t a judgement on the service industry, but a challenge to examine the ways in which capitalism has hidden behind trained smiles. To resist the damaging aspects of capitalist thinking must start with awareness of how seamlessly it functions in nearly every aspect of our lives even if it starts with knowing the waiters name.

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