Academic journal article Theory in Action

Indigenous Ways of Living vs. the Human Commodity or Perhaps You Should Burn Your PhD?

Academic journal article Theory in Action

Indigenous Ways of Living vs. the Human Commodity or Perhaps You Should Burn Your PhD?

Article excerpt


This paper attempts to show how presumed oppositional elements in society actually function as bulwarks of the economy and the dominant culture. It begins with a brief account of the dramatic change brought about by the emergence of the State in human societies and then sketches the historical commoditization of human beings through the Industrial Revolution and through Colonization. The rest of the paper seeks to show why Indigenous perspectives offer a total opposition to modern society and its conception of 'knowledge,' and why theorists of Decolonization have failed to explore this critical and irreconcilable dynamic.


The European bourgeois revolutions which institutionalized capitalism are often viewed as the turning point in history which not only made possible boundless innovation and wealth but also increasingly trapped human beings in a system where they became commodities - an object like any other object which can be used to generate surplus value, or wealth. The mode of production which we call capitalism is the form of domination which dehumanizes human beings to a greater extent than any previous form of systemic domination.

Capitalism has certainly been refined and perfected over the years, but the rise of the capitalist mode of production is far more complex than is sometimes imagined. Jairus Banaji explores this complexity in his book, Theory as Histoiy, (2010). Here we discover that differing modes of production, such as the slave mode, or the feudal mode can exist symbiotically with the capitalist mode, because the capitalist mode of production is not determined by the condition of the producers of surplus value - whether they are slaves or peasants or hired labor - but the very fact that surplus value is extracted and used to finance the reproduction of further surplus value. Using this analysis we can see that capitalism has existed in a partial and emergent form from the time of the Roman Empire at the very least.

Banaji's painstaking and brilliant analysis, however, leaves us with another question. If capitalism has had such a long gestation period then just what is it that kicked off this gestation?

It seems that this decisive moment in the history of humankind was the failure of human beings to prevent the establishment of division and domination within their societies. This moment is the point where primitive societies become civilized, when societies without history enter history. It is the moment when societies which have resisted the formation of the State for millennia, fall victim to this formation. It occurred in various societies three to five thousand years ago in the Middle East. It has occurred in societies that have fallen victim to colonization, and it has yet to occur in the last uncontacted tribes of the Amazonian rainforest and elsewhere ( As Piene Clashes wrote in 1974:

"Only one structural, cataclysmic upheaval is capable of transfonning primitive society, destroying it in the process: the mutation that causes to rise up within that society, or from outside it, the thing whose very absence defines primitive society - hierarchical authority, the power relation, the subjugation of men - in a word, the State." (Clashes 1989, p203)

This revolution is not the technical transformation described as the Neolithic revolution, for societies were able to shift from 'hunting and gathering' to agriculture and back again and there is now much evidence that both 'systems' are able to exist simultaneously. This would weaken the economically deterministic hypothesis that agriculture is a progressive phase winch must destroy 'hunting and gathering.' We have been led to believe that those societies described as 'hunter-gatherer' have not discovered agriculture, and therefore exist in a less developed state. But the anthropological and archeological evidence now contradict this theory of progress. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.