First and foremost, I’d like to establish that this is just purely my interpretation of this song as song interpretations tend to be highly subjective. With that being said, I think this song strongly represents Karl Marx’s theory of Alienation in Capitalist societies. It is pretty difficult to briefly summarize this theory but the big picture Marx was trying to paint was that social Alienation or estrangement of people from their aspects of human nature is a result of living in a society stratified into social classes.
According to Marx, there are four types of Alienation; Alienation of the worker from the work (product of labor), Alienation of the worker from working (the act of producing), Alienation of the worker from himself, and Alienation of the worker from other workers. Now, this theory is so complex and relevant in today’s society that you could probably write a book about it. I’m only going to focus on what this song addresses, Alienation of the worker from himself, from Gattungswesen or human nature.
Again, Marx was such a great social theorist/philosopher that I would probably have to write a long essay here to explain in detail just this one component of Alienation so I will try my best to hit the main points in order to summarize this concept of detachment from human nature as concisely as possible.
Marx believed that humans are capable of shaping their nature to a certain extent. He argues that nature is man’s inorganic body; man lives on nature, meaning that nature is actually his body, until deceased. He says that man’s spiritual and physical being is linked to nature, meaning that nature is linked to itself, since man is a part of nature. So, in estranging man from nature, meaning himself, his life activity, it turns the life of the species into a means of individual life. The object of labor, therefore, is the objectification of man’s species life. Estranging man from the object of his production, estranges him from his species life, his real species objectivity, or his essential nature. I understand that this explanation of Alienation is still abstract, but it is pretty difficult to articulate this concept in any other way especially since our minds are a product of this estranged society.
This song, I think, is a perfect example of man’s estrangement from his true species being. Some of the lyrics are pretty straight forward in making this point:
– “I was born in a factory.”
– “Human nature was installed in me. Well I did what’s right, but naturally it wasn’t natural. Still not my fault, no.”
– “Well I spoke in binary.”
– “Stasis is what you got, like a rickshaw getting pulled around by another rickshaw.”
There is one stanza in this song that stands out for me, “Things rang of stories Greek, I didn’t want it! You gave me deity, it was you.” I feel as if this really epitomizes Marx’s Alienation theory and the extent it can reach. Isaac Brock, the song writer, is saying that technology is a tool for us to use, rather than something greater than ourselves. His metaphor use here is beautiful, comparing our infatuation with technology to the ancient Greek culture and the devotion of their lives to their deity.
I love Modest Mouse. Isaac Brock is one of the best song writers to me as his metaphors and general themes are very interesting. If you enjoyed this song, I strongly urge you to check out their other stuff.