Marx on Social Construction

It would be hard to find a person when asked if they attribute their development as a political, personal, moral, and religious individual to the society they live in. It seems all too common that people seek to rebel and repress mainstream culture as a sort of oppressing evil that is to be removed from their life; however, it is equally hard to deny these aspects of life as influential and shaping in a person’s construct.

In the German Ideology Marx and Engels argue, “The phantoms formed in the human brain, too, are necessary sublimations of man’s material premises. Morality, religion, metaphysics, and all the rest of ideology… no longer seem to be independent… Consciousness does not determine life, but life determines consciousness”. This argument might inspire a revolting reaction to disprove this notion; however, it is easy and clear to see the connections the argument makes to real world situations in every day life. Is it not true that Americans are more apt to eat a certain food? Worship a certain religion? Subscribe to a democratic ideology in politics, whether conservative or liberal? Although the existence of the mainstream and subcultures remain in every society, the mainstream of America is much more closely tied to the subculture of America than it is any culture of traditional China; although admittedly, recent trends in the 20th century could provide argument otherwise in the case of China.

We all spend time in a private sphere separated from people, we turn off the television to separate from the news, we turn off our phone so we can’t be reached; but, unless we remove from our life our home, our belongings and as The German Ideology would argue material possessions we are no more removed than what we were before. If we retreat to a room with a lazy boy and books written by contemporaries of our time, we are still in a place of societal construct. Even if we retreat to wilderness, do we not seek to remove confusion in order to gain clarity of our current lives? If so, we are still spending our time pondering the societal constructs of religion, the economy, justice, freedom; all things that are left without meaning if not assigned meaning by society. What is justice if we do not consent to a legal system? It is hard to believe that a ban on a substance such as marijuana could logistically exist if every person protested the ban. The reason the economy in its current state, with the world trade organization, trade laws, tariffs, taxes, financial institutions, etc., is not because these are institutions which existed in nature; they are things constructed by man and once established are rarely met by a large enough dissenting populace to completely eliminate the institution altogether.

This is where it becomes easier to see the development of cultural studies and the result of human development not as natural but as bound by constructions of individual humans themselves. Although, I would not take a bold enough stance to make the argument that Marx and Engels do that suggests society forgot these institutions were created on the grounds of production and when production is removed from the cycle we were left with ideas with seemingly no origin; I would argue that “The Culture Industry” as Horleheimer and Adorno would call it is a legit and moving device that once set in motion plays a significant role in the development of political, religious, economic, and virtually every other discussion in our lives. If this is not the case there is little left to explain phenomena such as regional differences in the world regarding these same very issues; in fact it may be impossible to claim that culture, in some form, does not the driving force that creates a hegemonic society that is specific per region.