For various reasons, I remember my class in government, taken in the summer of my junior year at Foothill High vividly. It was my first introduction to Marx, and I really liked him. However, the cold-war textbook that contained that first taste wasn’t accurate—or even very smart for that matter. I was asked to leave the classroom when my comments became too passionate regarding Marx’s theory of the alienation of the worker. Concisely stated, it’s this:
- the more the worker produces, the less he has to consume
- the more value he creates, the more worthless he becomes
- the more his product is shaped, the more misshapen the worker
- the more civilized his object, the more barbarous the worker
- the more powerful the work, the more powerless the worker
- the more intelligent the work, the duller the worker and the more he becomes a slave of nature
When a person is disconnected from their labor (i.e. they exchange it for money) things happen. This seemed like common sense to me. The textbook, on the other hand, was proud to say that under capitalism, this never really happens because people are rewarded for their efforts in direct proportion to their worth. This didn’t ring true for me. My father was a 35 year veteran of the oil industry trapped in a place he didn’t want to be. Each night I watched him drink himself senseless. The model “happy worker” of our textbook was a load of crap as far as my experience went. The teacher did not like my candor.
I wasn’t alone in thinking that there were some egregious errors in the book. The companion book we were assigned Teenagers and the Law was one of those “scared straight” kind of things. To drive the point home, a policeman was brought in as a guest speaker. I refused to sit in the same room with a man with a gun. Again, I left and the teacher wasn’t pleased.
The next stage was a tour of the county jail; they wouldn’t let me in with my camera, and I refused to leave it with anyone. So I hung out in the waiting room shooting pictures of my classmates. One of them, whose name escapes me, dressed in his best gangster hat and posed next to the bullet-holes in the stairway. I made it a good time, even if it wasn’t.
My father wasn’t a model worker, and I was not a model student. I was a college drop-out in training. It took only two more years to realize my full potential.