“The story is told from the perspective of the hero who gradually makes the horrifying discovery that all the people around him are not human beings but some kind of automatons…”
Let me indulge in philosopher Slavoj Zizek’s words for a moment and become his ‘hero’ of Marxist philosophy within our own University. “University will be the best time of your life” was relayed to me as fact, the imperative, absolute certainty that everyone agrees to these years being full of excitement and £27,000 well spent. But why is this such a commonly held view?
Introducing Karl Marx. In Marx’s time, the ruling class – the Bourgeoisie, repressed the workers -the Proletariat; he questioned why the Proletariat lived in such a system that exploited them immensely. His answer? Ideology.
“The ideas of the ruling class” says Marx “are the ruling ideas.” In other words, in the structure of society, the most powerful ingrain the values of life into the weaker and “those who lack the means of mental production are on the whole subject to it.” The very stance of the weak places them firmly in a societal role, causing them to worship the ideology of the work ethic, something they know only as good and have never bothered to rise up against it because the ruling class were dominant. This hierarchy, claims Marx, breeds a false consciousness. And this false consciousness, I believe, is firmly present within the majority of students at Lancaster University.
Students have associated University with drinking and getting laid. It seems almost a religious opinion that is disturbingly close to the religion that Marx claimed distracted the Proletariat from the real issues. “Religion is the opium of the masses” he said, though in the case of students, opium is the opium of the masses, as well as alcohol and sex drive.
The first year students living above me are in line with this habit, drinking and shouting almost every night, keeping the skeptical of us awake. Are these really free human beings, or automatons following in line something that is religiously taken as fact by everyone?
If I told these people that they did not need to party to have a good time, they would ignore me and consequently we see a fault in Marx’s logic. These issues cannot be pointed out to the victims; French Marxist Althusser proposes ideology is in fact ingrained subconsciously via signs and symbols. Here, we start to see why students believe so strongly that keeping people awake every night is crucial to their university experience. They are possessed by what Althusser calls “ideological state apparatuses.” These are topics that promote ideology without directly controlling people, for example family values, church or in this case, ‘College Spirit.’
If we take a JCR member to represent the Bourgeoisie, their incessant promotion of party and good times is the opinion of the ruling class which as Marx said, ultimately rules over the course of the university life. Though this really goes back to what I mentioned earlier, everyone saying, before I even started University, that it would be the best time of our lives.
From a young age we are brainwashed by the ‘more powerful’ and so we subconsciously adapt to these ideas. Going with Althusser’s notion of signs and something he calls ‘interpellation’, promotional posters may say ‘YOU will have a great time’ or ‘The club is waiting for YOU.’ By using that pronoun, we feel part of this routine, like the Proletariats feel part of their own society; we have our place. Ideology ‘recruits subjects and individuals.’ It is, says Althusser, naturally in our subconscious to be aboard this trend train; we are united by ideology and until the ruling ideas and promotions change, the freshers upstairs will continue making noise.
I support having a good time, I like to drink and go out, but the issue here is the danger of assuming we need to take intoxicants and have sex to have a good time. Ideology isn’t always bad, but when you can see outside of it at the ‘automatons’ fooling themselves into a harmful lifestyle, not only for themselves but for what they deprive of others, it becomes an issue.
Allow me to conclude on Zizek, who says some know we are in ideology, but ‘we do it anyway.’ He calls these the ‘the cynics.’ Here’s where I and everyone else who sees the farce of university life come in. Zizek sees the cynics as the most dangerous type of ideologist, the ones that know it but go along with anyway. So, being the most dangerous and the hero, perhaps upstairs should reconsider the next time they keep me awake until 4am.
By Keiran Rae
[Image credit: Andrew Becraft]