Marx conceived alienation (Entfremdung in German, which literally means “estrangement”), as referring to the separation of things that naturally belong together. This is equivalent to putting an antagonism between things that are properly in harmony. In the concept’s most important use, it refers to the social alienation of people from aspects of their human nature.
Our ‘four key ideas’ and alienation
First we look at alienation in the context of our four key ideas:
1. Economic overreach and alienation
In the section on economic overreach we described how economic linkages had come to extend beyond community linkages. For example the purchase of products produced far away with different cultures and legal and governance settings.
Consumers often find themselves confronted by products whose price they know but about which they know very little else. They are then unable to make decisions about purchases on anything except a capitalistic basis. Their natural impulse to make economic decisions on a range of issues including ethical ones is repressed.
Thus they are alienated from aspects of their human nature. This knocks on to negative ethical outcomes whether environmental or social (for example for workers).
2. Behaviour and structure, and alienation
It is proposed here that alienation is largely a structural feature. Therefore attempts to tackle it through behavioural approaches would not be effective. Approaches such as contemporary ethical consumerism are not capable of adequately addressing the vast number of ethical elements attached to our buying choices.
3. Cooperatition and alienation
We suggest that unchecked competition tends progressively (through the race-to-the-bottom) to alienate actors from ethical principles, as financial competitive pressures accumulate.
4. Big society and alienation
Where regulatory power is possessed by the state this represents alienation of the issues that the regulation represents away from consumers, businesses and the population.
Ethonomics and alienation
The aim of this Ethonomics project is to ensure that environmental and social issues are fully integrated into business life and, indeed, into the life of all sectors within society.
It is this integration of ethics and economics that will bring about ‘de-alienation’. This will allow those in business and elsewhere the freedom to consider all appropriate factors in ‘ethonomic’ decision-making. In this way they will be able to be in touch with all aspects of their human nature and benefit from enhanced psychological well-being.
This is not possible where ethical input is reserved predominantly for regulation. Tackling the problem of alienation would align the aims of business, society and government, and also restore trust in business, since decision-making motivations there will be seen as properly balanced.
Next we look at ethonomics and development.