Alienation of the Worker & Speciesism

In this paper, I will argue that the capitalist mode of production leads to the destruction of the worker due to utilitarianism, hierarchized value, speciesism, alienation, class relations, and oppressive conceptual frameworks work to change the workers’ basic nature which leads to a separation of the worker from humanity and ultimately the death of the worker. As the separation of the worker from humanity progresses workers become more akin to animals and animals become more akin to workers. Ultimately, the death and replacement of a worker with be treated the same as an object, equivalent to a machine on a factory floor which may need to be replaced after breaking down.

Karl Marx argues that labor causes alienation from society and creates poverty in the worker. The capitalist mode of production functions by using valorization to remove more value than was initially invested in the labor. Valorization is defined as the process whereby value is extracted from the worker through intensive and extensive exploitation. Marx argues that as the worker produces more labor and wealth, his own wealth diminishes while the bourgeoisie gains increasing wealth. The bourgeoisie is the capitalist class who own most of society’s wealth and means of production. Marx explains his position on page 71 in Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844 “The worker becomes all the poorer the more wealth he produces, the more his production increases in power and range. The worker becomes an ever cheaper commodity the more commodities he creates. With the increasing value of the world of things proceeds in direct proportion the devaluation of the world of men. Labor produces not only commodities; it produces itself and the worker as a commodity — and does so in the proportion in which it produces commodities generally.”. There is an inverse relationship between the “increasing value of the world of things” and the “devaluation of the world of men”, the cycle can only be broken if the workers realize that they are causing their own suffering. Marx employs a strategy of categorizing the “world of things” and the “world of men” Marx later employs this same strategy to control the argument by defining “animal functions” and human functions.

Surplus-value is the difference between the amount of money received when a product is sold minus the cost of production that the bourgeoisie paid to produce the product. The worker creates surplus-value from their labor which the bourgeoisie profits off of by owning the means of production. Labor is not just in itself an action but is also a commodity which can be traded and de-valued between the owners of production. A worker with no skills is akin to a machine on an assembly line which lacks anima. Anima in a philosophical context is a human’s soul or consciousness. The worker does not possess any special skills or traits that are unique to the worker and the skills that the worker does possess can be applied elsewhere to the capitalists’ means of production, so the worker is reliant on the bourgeoisie for survival. As the workers’ labor increases there is more labor available and so the value of labor decreases. The worker’s labor must increase to satisfy the worker’s basic needs. Labor is performed by the worker because it is required for survival and is not performed for enjoyment. As a result, the worker can no longer afford to spend time doing activities that develop their physical and mental energy for their self-enjoyment. Marx elaborates on this position on page 74 in Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844 by saying “As a result, therefore, man (the worker) no longer feels himself to be freely active in any but his animal functions — eating, drinking, procreating, or at most in his dwelling and in dressing-up, etc.; and in his human functions he no longer feels himself to be anything but an animal. What is animal becomes human and what is human becomes animal.”. Marx separates the behaviors of animals and humans into two categories. The two categories are human functions and “animal functions”. “Animal functions” are limited to those of “eating, drinking, procreating, or at most in his dwelling and in dressing-up, etc.”.

Rather animals work to survive and lack the ability for self-enjoyment. Human functions are behaviors that result in self-enjoyment and pleasure which allow workers to plan for the future. Unlike “animal functions” these human functions do not offer any increased advantages in the worker’s chances for survival. By describing the behaviors into two categories Marx separates the term ‘animal functions’ in order to define the basic behaviors that all animals perform.

Humans perform their own unique behaviors in addition to “animal functions”. But Marx says that the worker is no longer “freely active” to perform those human functions. As labor increases then the worker becomes less able to enjoy meaningful relationships. The worker is now entirely confined to his labor and as a result experiences a deficit in satisfaction. Thereby the worker as explained by Marx no longer function as a human; but now his functions are more akin to that of an animal. So, therefore we can deduce that the workers are no longer humans but now animals. Workers are now less than animals as they cannot even work for their own enjoyment and lack a basic sense of reasoning as animals do. Now that animals experience more satisfaction, intelligence, and enjoyment then the workers we can assume that animals now have more meaningful relationships then the workers do.

Just as we see this degradation of the workers we can turn to the Philosopher Peter Singer in order to show that there is a more general oppressive structure of logic at work. It is always this oppression of the little guy, the hierarchical position of the worker and the bourgeoisie which creates this hierarchical framework of value according to the capacity at which it can experience meaningful relationships which is ultimately what determines the value of a life. A hierarchical framework means that one has a better position in society, as humans are higher than animals and so the bourgeoisie are higher than the worker.

On page 20 and 21 in Animal Liberation, Singer argues that the lack of ability to experience meaningful relationships and plan for the future can be used as grounds to justify the killing of a particular animal. Speciesism is a form of discrimination based on species membership. Speciesism involves treating the members of one species as morally greater than members of other species even when their interests are equivalent. Singer goes on to say that “I conclude, then, that a rejection of speciesism does not imply that all lives are of equal worth… It is not arbitrary to hold that the life of a self-aware being, capable of abstract thought, of planning for the future, complex acts of communication, and so on, is more valuable than the life of a being without these capacities… The same is true when we consider other species… To give just one reason for this difference, to take the life of a being who has been hoping, planning, and working for some future goal is to deprive that being of the fulfillment of all those efforts; to take the life of a being with a mental capacity below the level needed to grasp that one is a being with a future-much less make plans for the future-cannot involve this particular kind of loss.”. Singer explains in this quote that a being who has been “hoping, planning, and working for some future goal” would experience a loss that another being simply could not imagine. A worker who can no longer experience meaningful relationships falls to the level of an animal.

Workers are now to be judged as similar to animals when considering their interest as cognitive abilities have declined in the worker. Singer explains on pages 10 and 11 in Animal Liberation that we should consider the interest of other animals whenever feasible. “This defense claims that we are never guilty of neglecting the interests of other animals for one breathtakingly simple reason: they have no interests. Nonhuman animals have no interests, according to this view, because they are not capable of suffering. By this is not meant merely that they are not capable of suffering in all the ways that human beings are-for instance, that a calf is not capable of suffering from the knowledge that it will be killed in six months time. That modest claim is, no doubt, true; but it does not clear humans of the charge of speciesism, since it allows that animals may suffer in other ways-for instance, by being given electric shocks, or being kept in small, cramped cages.” Although, the interest of animals and humans may not be the same they are equable in their importance. Animals are unable to grasp many human concepts including time “…that a calf is not capable of suffering from the knowledge that it will be killed in six months time.” so when considering the treatment of animals Singer argues that animals are different in due to a natural difference in their hierarchical position of cognitive processing abilities. This establishes a place for animals on the hierarchical order of nature. Singer argues that animals do have interests because suffering even “electric shocks” at the smallest level are excessive. By employing Singer’s utilitarianism logic that the killing of an animal is acceptable only when another animal will experience more meaningful relations then the animal killed so we can see that Singer is working to reduce suffering. Utilitarianism is defined as the philosophical doctrine that an action is right insofar as it promotes happiness, and that the greatest happiness for the greatest number should be the guiding principle of our behavior. In the same way that we justify killing animals, we kill off the lonely worker whose ability to experience meaningful relationships has diminished as production has increased. The question must therefore be asked does wealth equate with human worth? This logic may be utilized by the bourgeoisie to justify that the killing of a lonely worker and so the lower classes must therefore be deserving of this treatment. Ultimately, the death and replacement of a worker will be treated the same as an object, equivalent to a machine on a factory floor which may need to be replaced after breaking down. This is a radically immoral relationship to not just humans but, also to animals, because of their less hierarchical category the bourgeoisie are on the path to treating workers the same way.

While no one wants to or argues for sadistically hurting animals or workers Singer argues that this is the natural hierarchy that society has dictated. In other words, might is right. While greater strength is not a moral justification for the treatment of animals and workers it is an explanation for the behavior of the bourgeoisie class. Singer is ambiguous about the experimentation of animals as seen on page 40 in Animal Liberation “Among the tens of millions of experiments performed, only a few can possibly be regarded as contributing to important medical research… All this can happen only because of our prejudice against taking seriously the suffering of a being who is not a member of our own species. Typically, defenders of experiments on animals do not deny that animals suffer. They cannot deny the animals’ suffering, because they need to stress the similarities between humans and other animals in order to claim that their experiments may have some relevance for human purposes.”. As Singer argues in “only a few can possibly be regarded as contributing to important medical research” so that animal experimentation is not justifiable because most animal experiments produce benefits that are insufficient to justify the animal suffering that results. Singer even goes so far as to use utilitarianism as an explanation that experimentation is only justified when the benefits for the many outweigh the risks taken by the few. Utilitarianism is applied to the concept of a social hierarchy as Singer explains that animals should be experimented on when humans will benefit.

As shown before humans dominate animals. Singer is trying to reduce the suffering of the animal so Singer could not possibly be in favor of any of the bourgeoisie treatment towards the worker. Don’t treat humans as objects and don’t allow suffering of any kind to occur.

In conclusion, the treatment of the workers by the bourgeoisie will lead to the destruction of the workers as more and more degradation occurs as the workers experience increased valorization. Degradation of the worker’s quality of life will lead to a decrease in satisfaction and a decrease in the ability of the workers to experience meaningful relationships. The worker then begins to embody the qualities of an animal as degradation continues. Next, workers are equated to animals. Then, workers are equated to objects as Singer’s use of utilitarianism justifies that the killing of the worker to end it’ suffering which leads to a socially constructed hierarchical framework. Ultimately, the death and replacement of a worker will be treated the same as an object, equivalent to a machine on a factory floor which may need to be replaced after breaking down. This is a radically immoral relationship not only to humans but, also to animals, because of their less hierarchical category the bourgeoisie are on the path to treating workers the same way as animals. In the end Singer argues that reducing suffering is the only way to reduce the degradation of animals and thereby the suffering of the workers.




Son, Brother, Eagle Scout, Tar Heel, Runner, Social Scientist

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Heywood Williams-Tracy

Heywood Williams-Tracy

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