Saving and the Self

In his “Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts” of 1844, Karl Marx wrote:

The less you eat, drink, and read books;
the less you go to the theater,
the dance hall, the public-house;
the less you think, love, theorize,
sing, paint, fence, etc.,
the more you save your capital:
the greater becomes your treasure
which neither moths nor dust will devour.
The less you are, the more you have;
the less you express your own life,
the greater is your alienated life:
the greater is the store
for your estranged being.

My twenty-year-old self clipped that passage and tucked it away in a folder. I think it impressed me at the time that he was able to put his finger on a psychological reality that was true, even if it really didn’t extend to his (deeply flawed) economic or political analysis.

The reference to the moth, regardless if it was intentional, echoes a passage from James 5:

Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you. Your riches have rotted and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver have corroded, and their corrosion will be evidence against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure in the last days. Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, are crying out against you, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. You have lived on the earth in luxury and in self-indulgence. You have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered the righteous person. He does not resist you.

And James may be calling to mind the passage from Matthew 6:19-21:

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Marx is not talking about commodities or acquisitive action; rather, he’s talking about experiences and participation. He’s talking a life in community with others. The quotation serves as a nice check on one’s priorities.

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