The transition to a capitalist mode of production meant that “acquisition [became] the ultimate purpose of life” (Federici, pg. 135). So naturally, anything standing in the way of the ultimate acquisition of capital and resources had to be stripped away. The worker’s body was one such thing-turned-commodity that had to be acquired in order to “transform the individual’s power into labour power” (Federici, pg. 133) to acquire more commodities. Thus the limits of the body had to be swept away in order to acquire as much as possible. No longer can work be limited by the setting sun, the seasonal cycles, or just by how tired one is. The body must become something easily controlled and disciplined, a machine.
So around this time, the 15th and 16th century, a new focus on the study of the body as a machine came about, two major thinkers in this field being Rene Descartes and Thomas Hobbes. Descartes studied the body from the viewpoint of “[its] potential for work and contribution to discipline” (Federici, pg. 138). Descartes was essentially on a quest to prove that the body was a machine only capable of involuntary actions that could maybe be controlled. Essentially, that man has no soul.
An important aspect of Descartes’ studies was the dissection of animals and the study of their organs. “Every morning he went to the butcher to observe the quartering of the beasts” and performed many vivisections under the belief that “destitute of Reason, … the animals he dissected could not feel any pain” (Fedirici, pg. 148).
Under this new bourgeois ethic that centered so heavily on the control and commodification of the body, we see the degradation and commodification of the animal’s body as well. The body of the animal essentially becomes an analogue for a human’s body. Henry Power, a follower of Descartes, even wrote that “the great multitude of men resembles rather Descartes’ automata, … and only as a metaphor can be called men” (Fedrici, pg. 152). Humans and animals were seen as nothing more than machines to be tinkered with in order to find methods of control and to acquire as much resources from them as possible.
So the commodification of both a human’s and an animal’s body are inextricably tied to the disciplinary power of the new bourgeois state. Their struggles for freedom and the decommodification of their bodies is one and the same. We can’t have a world where animals’ bodies are thought of as more than just resources or machines until we get rid of the bourgeois ethics that makes humans view their bodies in the same light.
Federici, S. (2014). Caliban and the witch. Brooklyn, NY: Autonomedia.