Saturday, March 2, 2013

We Are More Than Capital

A religious sister tells us of her childhood visits to a close relative who later became an actor. Those visits, she recalls, were fun-filled times. 

However, years later after he had become a famous actor the connection with family and relatives ended. When he married, all the entertainment celebrities were there, but the family was not. His family, understandably, was upset, but they ceased seeing him as part of the family, she said. He was now seen more as 'capital' (a source for personal profit).

According to the sister, capital should not only be seen as money but as contacts, capabilities, qualifications, trust, power, prestige, honor, attention and the like. When one of these begins to increase, the others also increase. These activities and states of mind are all capital, according to the French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu, who considered cultural and social activities and values as capital in much the same way as we view economic capital. Both influence society and have their affect on our tastes and lifestyles. 

The actor, once he became successful, began to amass wealth, contacts and honors, which allowed him to have some influence in society and to live in an area were the elite of society congregate. He was no longer the person, the sister said, that lived with his family and related with others. Which prompted her to ask herself the questions: Who am I?  What do I consume? Both questions, she suggests, have similar answers. Our tastes and our ability to discern truth from error, she believes, may often depend on the things we possess and  consume, which then give rise to our values and world view.

She mentions a number of scholars who have described most of us as having turned ourselves into commodities being sold in the various markets of society. Our success then becomes dependent on how successful we are in marketing ourselves. Are we concerned, she asks, on exactly how to package ourselves to more easily sell  ourselves? The social networking world especially, she is suggesting, have turned their members into capital--selling them to advertisers, for a price.

However, the principle problem that lies behind this use of the consumer, as she sees it, is that the person I am,  that God has made me to be  becomes changed and distorted by what we possess and consume. Using a line picked up from a poet that "we are all originals and we die copies," she urges us not to catch the 'desire for riches disease', and succumb to the mass hypnosis  of society and lose who we are.

But who am I? Really?  What is my identity?  How do other people see me? God made me according to his image.  He wanted us to cultivate and take care of this earth. And sister hopes that we will always keep this identity we have been given. Each of us is an original and should not  give it up for any copy, no matter how temporarily alluring and economically profitable it may be.

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