Karl Marx – Fulfillment ‎

What is the Meaning and Purpose of Life? | Total Comments: 0 | Total Topics: 45

			When we were making up the list of our subjects for this project, we knew we wanted the ‎name Marx included. The only problem was we weren’t sure which Marx. For a while we ‎went with Groucho, under the impression that he must have said something about the ‎meaning of life. What would a Jewish survey about the meaning of life look like without ‎Groucho Marx on it? We confess, we couldn’t find anything of relevance that Groucho said ‎that fit the topic so we had to go with our second choice, Karl Marx. ‎
‎ ‎
Many will ask, if you couldn’t find anything that fit the bill from Groucho, how on earth did ‎you expect to find anything from Karl? Good question, especially considering that Karl Marx ‎did not believe there was any meaning to life, at least in the ultimate sense that we have been ‎addressing. He was the atheist’s atheist, believing religion to be not only a waste of time, but ‎downright harmful. He was the epitome of a materialist, but not in the sense of wanting ‎wealth and luxury and not caring about anybody else. He did not desire luxury - he was ‎repulsed by wealth and cared deeply about the welfare of others. He simply put very little ‎stock in spiritual activities. To Marx, what really mattered was material productivity – ‎specifically how much control people have over their material well-being. ‎
‎ ‎
Karl Marx was a product of 19th century Germany. He was born in 1818 into a family that had ‎recently converted from Judaism to Lutheranism for economic reasons (fairly common at the ‎time). Marx received a secular education and was as atheist as they come. In the course of his ‎considerable thinking into the economic and social theories of early 19th century German ‎scholars, he drew vast conclusions about society, history, and economy. His ideas have ‎become among the most debated and influential in all of human history. It is probably safe to ‎say that Marx has generated more controversy than any other scholar of the human condition. ‎
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His central theory, from which communism and socialism spring, is that workers are being ‎screwed in the eternal battle for survival. To Marx, survival meant making a living. He viewed ‎history not through the lens of kings and wars and religions, but through the lens of workers ‎and bosses. He considered the system of paying workers wages for their labor, while the ‎ownership of their efforts belongs to those who pay them but did not do the actual work, to ‎be both unfair and unproductive. He saw the capitalist system that had gained enormous ‎power during the previous few centuries, as the cause of this unfairness. It was only with the ‎‎(violent) overthrow of capitalism that the workers of the world, and the world itself, could ‎finally realize their messianic destiny. ‎
‎ ‎
Two of Marx’ works have become classics of western literature. The first, The Communist ‎Manifesto was an open call to violent revolution against the forces of capitalism. The second, ‎Capital, is a virtually unreadable (except by experts or as a required text in a university). One ‎has to really want to read it to get through it. ‎
‎ ‎
However, in some of his earlier writings, notably the so-called Paris Notebooks of 1844, we ‎find some insight into Marx’ view on human nature and fulfillment. In one of these, entitled, ‎‎‘Comments on James Mill’, an economist of the early 19th century we find the following: ‎
‎‘Let us suppose that we had carried out production as human beings. Each of us would ‎have in two ways affirmed himself and the other person. 1) In my production I would have ‎objectified my individuality, its specific character, and therefore enjoyed not only an ‎individual manifestation of my life during the activity, but also when looking at the object I ‎would have the individual pleasure of knowing my personality to be objective, visible to the ‎senses and hence a power beyond all doubt. 2) In your enjoyment or use of my product I ‎would have the direct enjoyment both of being conscious of having satisfied a human need ‎by my work, that is, of having objectified man's essential nature, and of having thus created ‎an object corresponding to the need of another man's essential nature. 3) I would have been ‎for you the mediator between you and the species, and therefore would become recognized ‎and felt by you yourself as a completion of your own essential nature and as a necessary part ‎of yourself, and consequently would know myself to be confirmed both in your thought and ‎your love. 4) In the individual expression of my life I would have directly created your ‎expression of your life, and therefore in my individual activity I would have ‎directly confirmed and realized my true nature, my human nature, my communal nature. Our ‎products would be so many mirrors in which we saw reflected our essential nature.’ ‎

Analysis ‎

It’s pretty tough to get through. Nobody said Marx was an easy read. What it boils down to ‎is Marx spelling out the human advantages of workers using their control of making a ‎livelihood as a means of finding fulfillment in life. Instead of workers being slaves to a ‎system that they have no control over and no sense of accomplishment from the results of ‎their labors, they are given the opportunity to produce as human beings. They can reap the ‎fruits of their own labor and not merely receive a wage for it. Everybody works for the good ‎of everybody else. Nobody works strictly for their own good, and certainly not at the expense ‎of others. That is communism in a nutshell. ‎

We all know that it didn’t work out that way. It was all a bunch of hot air theories that, ‎looking back, appear remarkably naïve. But there was a kernel of truth lurking behind all that ‎dreaming. That kernel can be seen in the above paragraph, in which Marx spells out the very ‎human benefits of workers feeling satisfaction from their work. There are four essential ‎benefits described in the paragraph: ‎
‎1.‎	Individualization – the ability to express one’s individual nature ‎
‎2.‎	Value as a human being – enjoyment that stems from satisfying the basic human needs ‎of both the producer and the user ‎
‎3.‎	Communal contribution – knowing that one has helped another find fulfillment ‎
‎4.‎	Confirmation and realization – experiencing one’s essential nature in life
‎ ‎
It all sounds quite theoretical, but when cut down to simple terms, it zeroes in on our essential ‎human need to feel good about ourselves. We try to do this in individual life, in family life, ‎and in community life, so why shouldn’t we also feel it in our working life. Who does not ‎want to feel good about their job? Who really wants to go to work feeling like it’s a big waste ‎of time that is nothing other than a way to put food on the table? This is really what Marx ‎was shooting for – a method of universal job satisfaction. He rather naively claims that it is ‎primarily through our work that we find fulfillment in life. While this may be true in a limited ‎manner, it is certainly not the only way to feel fulfilled. But we must give him credit for ‎highlighting the human need to feel self-fulfillment. ‎

We all need to feel good about ourselves, to feel that we have accomplished something in our ‎lives. Perhaps this is really a selfish need. Marx, however, takes that need and directs it ‎towards improving society. It is difficult to cut through all the Marxist rhetoric and the ‎negative image that communism has rightly earned, but still one may be able to catch a ‎glimpse at one of its fundamental hidden truths. We need to feel good about ourselves. Is it ‎really so terrible if we achieve that through helping others feel good about themselves? ‎

This may not be what Marx had in mind when he went about fomenting revolution and ‎grinding out his elaborate theories, but who cares? It’s a good idea, so let’s use it. If a ‎carpenter can really feel great because the cabinets that he made for a couple have thrilled ‎them to the core, what more can he ask out of life? If a saleswoman can help customers find ‎the exact right outfit that they were looking for, and in doing so feels like she has served a ‎vital role in human society, we should all be thrilled for her. If a health professional ‎manages to make someone a little healthier, or enable them to live in a little less pain, and the ‎patient can finally feel like a human being again, are they not deserving of praise as a restorer ‎of faith in humanity? These, and countless other examples, are unwittingly living the Marxist ‎dream. Materialism, if we deal with it correctly, can have a touch of spirituality. ‎

Practical ‎

That last line in the paragraph quote from Marx is particularly interesting: ‘Our products ‎would be so many mirrors in which we saw reflected our essential nature.’ While it may be a ‎great idea to identify our essential nature with our careers, it is nevertheless true that what we ‎do in life does reflect, to some degree, our essential nature. It’s probably not the worst idea in ‎the world to take Marx’ observation seriously. To some degree, what we produce in life, ‎whether in the course of a job, or in the course of non-work related activities, says a good ‎deal about who we are. The equation would read something like this: you are what you make. ‎Another, more modern and less Marxist way of expressing that is: you are what you make ‎yourself to be. That is your main product in life, what you make of yourself. This is our ‎chance to make ourselves into who we want to be. It behooves us to produce something that ‎is a credit to ourselves. ‎

But this is not all that line says. It also mentions mirrors. We all want to know what we really ‎look like. A physical mirror can only tell us so much about that important aspect of life. But ‎there are many angles and aspects that are impossible to detect in a simple glass-coated mirror. ‎We need a mirror that sees inside, under the surface of the skin. That mirror is our ‘product’. ‎What we accomplish in life can be a window into the person that we truly are. This does not ‎mean that so-called ‘successful’ people are somehow ‘better’ than ‘unsuccessful’ people. ‎Success and lack of success are not necessarily our true products. They may be nothing more ‎than the luck of the draw. Rather, it is how we have used the tools and the opportunities that ‎we were given - how we acted upon them and how we reacted to the ups and downs of life, ‎that we find our true nature. These are the barometer by which we should judge ourselves, the ‎mirror through which we should study ourselves. ‎

If Marx heard all this he may have screamed to high heaven, saying that we were getting ‎sidetracked from the main cause, which was to ease the plight of the workers and put them ‎into control of their own destiny. That was Marx. Most people don’t buy into that anymore, ‎even if they once did. But most people do buy into the idea of feeling good about ‎themselves. A great way to do that is to look for things in life that bring you fulfillment, for ‎things that make your life feel like it is worthwhile. It may not be the ultimate purpose in life, ‎but it sure makes life have a purpose. ‎

Food for Thought ‎

Why is it that it is so difficult to find fulfillment through work? Why do we always get ‎caught up in the selfish elements of work that we lose sight of the spiritual benefits? ‎



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