You can’t have it • 24 April 2009

Good old commodities: iron ore, wheat, petroleum, labor power

These are capitalism’s creation, the stock in trade of markets. On the market, unit of Wyoming petroleum = unit from Kuwait. The commodity is brought in to existence for the reason of sale. Its key qualities are uniformity and exchangeability. Gold from Potosí = gold from Anaconda. Sneaker assembly in Vietnam = sneaker assembly in Mexico. X = X = X.

Commidification is good: it greases the world. Commodification is bad: it denies the differences between places and humans and puts in thrall to the market, only capable of thinking in terms of objects and exchange.

Modern commodities: RAM. Carbon offsets. Human hearts and kidneys. Yoga postures.

All made of the same stuff and therefore transitive. For the getting and the selling.

The yoga industry has come into being because of a massive buy-in to the idea that a yoga posture is a thing.  (It’s also, to a lesser degree, commodified “inner peace” and now sells it in 90 minute units, but that’s another story.) A teacher must advertise herself in the form of some god-awful contortion for all to see because this is the product she has to offer. She has to work on these terms: it's the language everyone speaks. Either you can consume her posture or, better yet, have it for yourself.

Ooooh… arm balance. I want that.

Yeah, you’re smart readers already. You know where this is going.

Commodification is what it is and it works, but there is a lie inside it. On a deep level, postures aren’t transitive. The body itself pushes back against the tide of commodification. Jack’s trikonasana is not Jane’s, neither internally nor insofar as anyone can “consume” it from the outside.

And, beyond that, doing trikonasana a bunch of times might natrally lead you from consuming that experience according to the rationale and valuations of capitalism… to just experiencing the experience.

Most of the teaeching and doing of yoga is locked inside the capitalist mindset. This is how it has to be. It isn't bad: consuming spirituality is still a kind of spirituality. It's oookkayyy: to rage against commodification is self-defeating and unintelligent, itself a denial of the way in which nobody fully escapes capitalism (for now). The capitalist mind is fully formed and sucks everything it touches in to its machine so that it can continue to function and expand. Reification is everywhere. It wants to be the only way, thinks it is the only way.

And yet!

It is in this context—the context so environing that we barely crane our necks to see it—that these Indian guys drop comments about the “purity” of traditional practice. It initially sounds like a rehash of the Puritanism that scares and repels us, but no. Purification is central to any mind-quieting spiritual practice, as Shinzen discusses at length. Purification is sweet and changes the nature of experience. It introduces new degrees of freedom.

Commodification will reduce humans and the planet to meaningless dust if it ever becomes complete. But that will not happen. The roots practices—humanism, environmentalism, traditionalism—are always here to push back, to create islands of “purity” vis-à-vis the logic that wants to dominate. And to offer options for the future.

To resist commodification in yoga is to fight that good fight, which has been in process for millenia and will never be lost. It’s not for everyone, but if you’re going to do traditional practice, recognize that it is a non-commodification practice. It is an island of non-capitalism. Rich, "pure," and not for sale. Not for sale because this yoga resists commodification, is too individal for it, too cool for it.

Because it operates on the logic of liberation, not the logic of get get get.

The paradox is doing non-commodified practice in the form of ashtanga. Because ashtanga, due to its systematic nature, due to the temporary things it makes and unmakes in the progress of a series, mistakes itself as a commodity all of the time. If you do it with your capitalist mind, you want postures, you show off postures, you lust for postures, you conspicuously consume postures for others to watch. Ditto for yoga abs and the nice ass. And the piece of the celeb teachers, the special relationship, you want for yourself. It’s all in the get. And it's in the uncritical participation in turning teachers into CEOs, and not calling them on it or providing some pushback when they act like extreme capitalists.

You don’t have to do traditional practice, but if you do, at least understand its power and participate in that rather than selling it out.

It’s simple: someone else’s posture is not a thing. You can’t have that. And your posture is not a thing. You can’t have that either.