What is the value of expression?: Conformity, Capitalism, and Community

Unfortunately, capitalism commodifies everything and everyone and imposes conformity with or without consent across all “imagined communities”: Society assigns all texts subjective economic values. Including expressions. All subjectively. 

Expressions in the form of creating, discovering, thinking, or writing, for example. 

And people have to, in mainstream, contemporary society at least, figure out ways to succeed (and profit!) in a system created above, below, and around the control of any visible sources and understood by no one.

Who What determines, for example, that this painting is worth $1,000,000.00 and this painting is worth $450.00? Is it fair, ethical for us to enjoy such expressions and similar ones without “paying” for them, given the economic system we have? Or is it more fair and ethical to resist such ahuman forces and its corrupting influences? 

How did it develop that most bloggers, including myself, are not paid? I have discovered that people don’t realize that people blog and make popular YouTube videos for the love of expressing and reaching others alone. Once I got a really angry, strange message from someone accusing me of blogging and wanting people to visit my webpage to make lots of money. Similar to grassroots activism or protests in the streets, society has generally decided that human expressions are worth $0. Indeed, blogging costs money. The domain name, server space, ad-free content, and maintenance for my websites all cost real money. 

Because of this, to be involved in any of the creative endeavors (including teaching), is to be something of a rebel, as we’re forced to survive in spite of, not because of, capitalism.

And with the wide-spread availability of the Internet and all of its resources to generate user-created media, more and more people use their time and energy to express — express in the form of blogs, songs, YouTube videos, etc. Such expressions range from the purely educational and informational to pranks to games and much more. Shouldn’t such expressions be compensated? People are using their talents to inform and entertain others in ways free of traditional media forces. Perhaps, our collective community should decide to create a new WPA-like program en masse. Some services like Patreon basically service this purpose. For example, I give $1 each month to CrashCourse, and several dollars to Wikipedia. They have thousands of excellent videos that cover history, government, economics, biology, psychology – they are tackling more areas everyday it seems. But services like Patreon, similar to my PayPal set up, are purely voluntary – creators are not guaranteed any income.   

Given the nature of contemporary capitalism and the “rich getting richer” even expressions distributed in the mainstream are not compensated. People are regularly shocked that a $15-$30-$50 academic book will yield the author maybe $1. Maybe. Musicians too don’t make money selling their songs.

Life, especially the most human of human efforts, should not be about money, of course, but people have to get their ideas out (indeed, one of the costs of my blog besides everyday maintenance is occasional ads on Facebook, Twitter, and StumbleUpon in hopes of “marketing” myself and sharing information that I firmly believe people need to have access to and need to know) and have to survive – life after all is expensive.

So, what is the value of resisting conformity…of expressing? The amount says much about our community’s most sincerely-held values.  

This blog is written as both a thought piece and as a PSA of sorts that people who blog on their own websites or even websites like the HuffingtonPost are not paid. Writing and thinking take time and “are expensive.” Websites have their costs too. Nothing is “free” in capitalism. Please do consider making some kind of donation to some kind of grassroots creative pursuit of your choice. It’s not possible for all of us to contribute and “pay for” everything we use, but we can all do something. Even if it is a “like” or a “good job” or sharing an favorite article or video with a friend. If you would like to donate to a really awesome cause consider Aaron Alon’s film project Bully. He’s raised over $2,000 in the past week. You can donate here.

Andrew Joseph Pegoda