If I made a laundry list of the influences that shaped my gut level impulses about intellectual and cultural stuff, punk rock and marxism would be really close to the top.

There’s a lot of good things to say about all that, but here’s some down sides, the way that there’s sometimes been a stultifying dynamic for me in all this. I spent a good many years tripping over my own feet musically, in the sense that I often didn’t listen to anything that wasn’t punk and I had this sense of needing to attain a level of authorization in order to like music. I was a big fan of punk. I wanted to know all about it, and all about the bands and sub-sub-subgenres I liked. From my experiences with all that I had a pretty detailed knowledge of what now seem to me like trivial matters (“so he’s the singer for this band, earlier he played guitar in that band, he later played bass and did backup vocal for this other band” coupled with a vocabulary for describing music that is both overly complicated and strangely lacking in explanatory or descriptive power). As I got more into other music – thankfully, finally, and really pretty recently – I initially tripped over these impulses, and still do sometimes. Ultimately all that stuff was and is at best a way to express or to feel my appreciation for music and to feel excited about new music (wow, there’s so much to find out!) and to help me seek out more music that I’ll like. The bad version is when it becomes – as it used to all the time and sometimes still does – like an obligation, so that I can’t feel comfortable without having already acquired that information (damn it, there’s so much to find out!).

Marxism was the same. For any intellectual or political question I wanted to know how it related to the Marx(isms) I was aware of and excited about at the time. As with music I’ve gotten a good deal more mature and set aside the worst of these impulses but they’re not entirely gone. I can think and care about things without Marx/ism of course (and I do have other landmarks I use, and I’m capable of thinking without any of the things I recognize consciously as landmarks [I’m sure that there are landmarks or terrain qualities that I’m not consciously aware of but that I couldn’t think without]), but much of the time I’m most comfortable when I can situate things this way. This is particularly so when it comes to things I’m working on -writing and making stuff, I mean. With things I’m doing I especially like to situate my work sort of within the table of contents of volume one of Capital.

All that’s really just prefatory digression (I started thinking of this post having in mind the idea in the next sentence or so, then the first line of this post, this is often the case, I get an idea then I back up and track my way sideways [or walking backwards?] to that idea; that’s fun and occasionally useful but it makes it hard to feel much forward motion). What I really want to say is that I think I’ve figured out one way to situate my recentish concerns (with disability, accidents, workplace injuries, workmen’s compensation and employment liability law, and all that jazz) in relation to v1 of Capital. Marx says in chapter 6 of v1 that “there enters into the determination of the value of labour-power a historical and moral element.” I’m interested in understanding some of those historical and moral elements, including the role of the state and of law (and reasoning processes and bodies of knowledge involved in both) in the determination of the value of labor power. This includes determinations of what counts as labor/labor power at all, the segmenting of workers’ bodies in a fashion analogous to the segmenting of workers’ life time (determination of the value of lost limbs and so forth), and the segmentation of labor markets. This sounds very abstract to me, but part of what I find interesting in all this is the combination of aggregating and segmenting, or how gathering people up into one category fits in with slotting people into positions on a hierarchy. If pretty much all people are labor power then people can be rated according to a (monetary?) scale of the value of their labor power. Or, if people can be rendered (functionally?) equivalent in substance but not in magnitude then they can be ranked quantitatively (which really involves qualitative differences).


Trying again… it’s about different value schemes which overlap each other and intertwine and shape social practices. So, legal ideas of causation, responsibility, fault, liability and analogous (but sometimes conflicting) moral and ethical notions held by different constituencies (notably, workers vs owners vs judges), and juries as a vehicle for the latter to interact with and sometimes overcome the former. Also, the role of money in all this – money payments as equivalents vs needs. The second is about the need to have money to meet other needs (a meta-need?) in a capitalist society, the need to have access to money to purchase mean of subsistence. Cash settlements and awards motivated by concerns to replace lost wages can be about subsistence but can also be about equivalents, trading like for like. I’ve already mentioned elsewhere judge rating disabled people as in a sense equivalent to able bodied people but still less – ratios of equivalents a la ‘a one armed man is worth half what a two-armed man is worth’; there’s also the issue of payments for pain and suffering by juries – is that an exchange of equivalents or is it a sort of non-equalizing attempt at offering some compensation? (Is that even sensical?) Or (and also?) is it punishment to employers? Look into legal standards of quid pro quo and ideas of ‘making whole’; also what’s the order here in terms of terms and logics – from law to markets or vice versa or something else entirely? That is, do these terms and ways of thinking start somewhere and spread or do they appear together or perhaps evolve independently?