When an object becomes a commodity its use value is subordinated to its exchange value. An object's exchange value is the rate at which it can be exchanged for other objects. A commodity must enter into formal relations of equivalence with other commodities. Money facilitates commodification because it serves as a universal economic equivalent to express the value of all other commodities. In this sense alone, money becomes the measure of all things. Equivalence thus means that the quantitative value of things becomes dominant, to the neglect of that which is individual, personal and specific.
The principle of equivalence makes it necessary to construct standardized units to facilitate the comparison of items which would otherwise be incommensurate. The extension of the commodity form reduces objects to their comparable characteristics. In the process, individuals and their social relations are removed from their specific contexts and placed within a universalized, standardized framework. Thus reduced to numbers, human beings become treated as objects, impersonal entities, only serially related to other people.
Impersonalism does not mean the submergence of individuality so much as its redefinition. Individuals come to "relate with indifference without recognizing their history of mutual dependence" (Bologh, 1979:132).
The reciprocal and all-sided independence of individuals who are indifferent to one another forms their social connection. The social bond is expressed in exchange value by means of which alone each individual's own activity or his product becomes an activity and a product for him; he must produce a general product-exchange value, or the latter isolated from itself and individualized-money. The individual carries his social power, as well as his bond with society, in his product (Marx, 1973:157).
As social beings, commodified individuals find their individuality in the mass-produced goods they make. They find their uniqueness in how much they resemble others rather than in how different they are from them. They are promised individuality through the consumption of mass-produced commodities and in the practice of collectively organized labor. Theirs is a pseudo-individuality, the kind of specious individuality contained in the message conveyed by Madison Avenue, that "the market thinks of you personally, it prepares for you personally specially personalized items " (Lefebvre, 1971:107).