Project Five Fifths #1: The Rule Of Capital

This post is part of a weekly series from the Founder, exploring all things Project Five Fifths. Follow our work on all social media @Project5Fifths and via our website

On October 16th I launched Project Five Fifths, more than two years after the idea was first conceived. The journey up to this point is a story for another day but here I want us to take a few minutes to pause and reflect on the name and concept behind this Project.

“During the 1787 United States Constitutional Convention, the States agreed to something called the Three-Fifths Compromise. Very simply, this meant that when the population of a state was counted, each slave would count for Three-Fifths of a person.”

The Three-Fifths Compromise is at the core of this project, I remember first hearing about this many years ago during a History class and since then it has never left me. The fact that the lessening of a group of peoples’ humanity was seen as a compromise only increases the concern we should have when learning about this agreement.

Photography by Florence Akano

But beyond just a feeling of concern I feel this reveals something much deeper about the way we value people in society: the rule of capital.

The rule of capital refers to us making a judgement on a persons’ worth, based solely on how valuable they are to us. The fact that many of the arguments in favour of counting enslaved African Americans as whole people were actually from those who owned the most slaves, show that even this position was rooted in self-interest and the gaining of political capital.

The Compromise provided a third way, an agreement that respected the value judgements made by both sides of the debate. An agreement that reinforced the rule of capital.

“in a similar way that this system treated African Americans as less than human, we often find that today, when there’s distance between us and other people, we think of them as less than human.”

Taking this jump from 1787’s North America, to 2017’s United Kingdom might seem to be too much of a stretch. However, I’m not trying to present the two contexts as identical, what I want us to see is that the rule of capital, which allowed people to find this Compromise acceptable, is still very much at work today.

Photography by Florence Akano

I’ve used the word ‘distance’ to refer to people who are socially, economically or geographically far from us. And my fundamental point is that where distance increases, through the lens of capital, a persons’ value decreases.

“why is it that when Muhammad Ali or Michael Jackson died, millions of people around the world shed tears, were that many people close to them economically, no, geographically, mostly not, socially, not really either?”

But I have noticed instances where the distance between people is large, yet the value placed on that person is also large. In the video, I used the examples of Muhammad Ali and Michael Jackson. When you look on the surface, there is so much distance between them and those that value them so highly. So am I wrong in my assumption about the relationship between distance and value?

Well, no.

When I see the value placed on the lives of these ‘distant’ individuals, I see a solution to the problems brought by the rule of capital. I see that when we are invested in someone’s life, when we are able to see them in all their nuance, all their complexities and all their humanity, despite the distance between us and them, we value them.

“The whole point of this Project is to help us share moments of life with people who are distant from us. We’ll be a hub for organisations that work with people whose lives we rarely see, providing a platform for the promotion of their work.”

So this is where Project Five Fifths comes in.

The task of this organisation has always been very simple: to make the lives of distant people clearer. This will be done by working alongside community-based organisations to produce quality media content that magnifies the lives of those they work with. In the hope that by being more invested in these communities, we will also begin to value them more.

Photography by Florence Akano
“So by seeing the joys, challenges and celebrations of these people, we can build a connection with them, having our backs against the ropes with them, celebrating their achievements and mourning their loses, in short, coming to see them as Five-Fifths of a person.”