Current Affairs Editor Ronan Keohane delves deep into the ramifications of capitalism on affairs of the heart.
In the modern age of globalisation, where free-market capitalism and neoliberalism have been established as dominant ideologies throughout the world, very few things have become exempt from becoming commodified. In recent years we can find many examples of the newfound prices to pay to avail of even one of the deepest interpersonal connections in human life: love. This has become a source of debate amongst many academics. The Frankfurt School, which is a well-known school of social theory and critical philosophy established by German-American thinkers, has reiterated the irreconcilable opposition between the economy and love by stating that when romantic stimulants derived from commercial proposals invade our daily lives, it results in an unwelcome colonisation of the life-world. This life-world in question refers to our immediate experiences shaping both the individual and the world surrounding the individual. This modern manifestation of love in combination with monetary gain within a world riddled with extreme wealth inequality has given rise to various different global trends.
One example of this is the phenomenon of importation of care and love from developing countries into developed countries. This has become a source of concern due to the fact that it widens the existing inequality between developed and developing countries. It occurs when women existing in difficult socio-economic contexts in developing countries leave their homeland in order to work as care workers, most typically child-minders or nannies, in developed countries. Oftentimes, this career decision is not a matter of choice since they are put into a position where they are forced to work abroad and send money home in order to provide for their families in the face of declining living standards exacerbated by environmental hardships which are an inevitable effect brought upon by our current international economic system. Women within these contexts experience significant emotional challenges due to the long-term separation from their families alongside the various difficulties which come along with moving to an entirely new country. Love shown by care-workers towards the people that they are minding is partially naturally cultivated in the host countries however it is combined with other factors which serve to intensify it such as money, ideology and strong emotions of solitude which are the end result of familial separation. The benefits reaped from this situation becomes what is most visually apparent to the comparatively wealthier employers, this has ultimately led to the niche appeal of immigrant care workers working in more affluent countries. The high-esteem generated from the various benefits has been accredited for spiking a marginal increase in demand.
Alongside the evident occurrence of conditions within the economic system driving love out of developing countries into developed countries, we can see how this is a cycle which is continued as a result of the outcomes. This is largely because the objectification of the concept of ‘foreign-imported love’ alone serves to cause the general public to mentally separate this phenomenon from the various conditions within which it is rooted. In turn, this ultimately allows the cycle to continuously repeat itself as the injustices behind the circumstances become increasingly concealed and resultably are never fully addressed or resolved.
Examples of the negative effects of this commodification are not merely limited to the daily realities of people from developing countries. Within the global north, this newfound idea of interpersonal relationships being viewed through a lens of a potential source of consumer motivation helping enable profits has even affected our daily lives and shaped our daily realities.
We have noticed a growing commodification of love worldwide where dating apps such as Tinder, Bumble, OkCupid, Eharmony etc. have taken a strong foothold on this generation. The most popular example of this is tinder, released in 2012, which allows the user to simply swipe left or right in a matter of seconds after viewing a profile consisting of a short biography, a series of photos and a list of interests. Tinder offers various different paid subscriptions which serve to put any willing payer at an advantage over others in the quest for a romantic connection. Criticism has been drawn towards tinder for the addictive and game-style feel of the app alongside feeding into a hook-up culture which has been accredited for causing a number of public health concerns, most prominently facilitating an increase in STDs and increasing feelings of loneliness. The site faced particular scrutiny after it was revealed that there was a “desirability score” which used algorithms to rank profiles offering better dating chances to participants who scored higher.
This type of process ultimately forces the network to become more hierarchical and exclusionary which limits the chances of people who rank lower. This creates a situation where people in these systems may feel more under pressure to ‘market themselves better’ and constantly compare themselves to people possessing more desirable assets which causes lasting feelings of inadequacy and hopelessness. The way in which the algorithm is structured makes this commonplace. These emotions, especially if repeatedly re-enforced, have been known to lead to depression.
Although the correlation may not be immediately apparent, contextualising these factors with regards to the ongoing depression epidemic and Gen Z often being labelled as the ‘lonely generation’, it is easy to see how this commodification contributes toward and exacerbates existing societal problems which are associated with this generation. Whether or not this commodification can be cited as a cause or a correlation is still an ongoing debate.