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August 1, 2014 7:47 AM   Subscribe

Advice on how to survive late capitalism: "Your life is sold to serve an economy that does not serve your life. You don’t seem to be entertained, Bank-robbin’; your white-hot rage festers. It probably doesn’t help that you live in Brooklyn—this place where in the last ten years rent has spiked 77 percent while real median income has dropped, where the rich (the top 10 percent of earners who, as is well known, control 80 percent of the wealth) and their children live right on top of some of the worst poverty known to this country, while 20 percent of Brooklynites survive somehow below the poverty level, such that the widening income and wealth gap becomes achingly visible here. I could advise you to leave Brooklyn. But I don’t want you to leave Brooklyn."
posted by Snarl Furillo (74 comments total) 116 users marked this as a favorite

 
I thought this dovetailed nicely with this post from Slate Star Codex that I read yesterday...
posted by exit at 8:20 AM on August 1 [14 favorites]


I was meaning to post this to Metafilter as well, as I thought it was a great piece. These lines particularly got at something that I've been feeling lately:
"But I suspect that for most of the members of the upper 10 percent, and even the 1 percent, the real story is different—it is the system that is exploitative, and they have chosen to fight for a position in that system that is the only way to have a kind of personal power that should be everyone’s right. Do you think that if they weren’t so scared of falling into our position, so many people would choose to work in finance, for example, an industry built, in large part, on preying on the debt of others? Employment in that sector is currently the one of the best bets for ensuring one’s basic needs are met, and sending one’s children to college, if they want to go, and getting to live where you most want to live, and traveling to other countries, and getting good health care, without going into debt. It’s not bad to want these things, it’s just that everyone should have them."
It's a bit sad to me that I seem to have been making so many decisions lately from a position of fear. It's something that I've only really felt since coming to the US - I feel there's something the culture, where even if you're doing pretty well, you always feel like you could slip behind and so you tend to become less generous and willing to cut other people slack.
posted by peacheater at 8:31 AM on August 1 [20 favorites]


Do you think that if they weren’t so scared of falling into our position, so many people would choose to work in finance, for example, an industry built, in large part, on preying on the debt of others?

Having worked in finance and dealing with many in the industry...yes, a good chunk would still choose it. I wouldn't say it's the majority, but there really are a good chunk of people for whom it seems earning money is the goal in itself, not for security, and they wouldn't be doing art or exploring or whatever even if they had basic security.
posted by Sangermaine at 8:42 AM on August 1 [5 favorites]


this 100% this, all of this, all the time this.

We need a guaranteed minimum income because we're not free until we're free, if we want to, to tell off not just our boss, but all bosses altogether, and we're not free to do that until we can do it without starving or dying of exposure.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 8:45 AM on August 1 [33 favorites]


Automation is replacing so many jobs that eventually it won't be possible to keep even 50% employment.... hopefully long before then we'll have a minimum income, and all just get on with our lives.
posted by MikeWarot at 8:50 AM on August 1 [5 favorites]


This was a beautifully written peace filled with optimism.
posted by Phredward at 8:52 AM on August 1 [1 favorite]


I wonder sometimes who we have lost to employment in the finance industry—how many great, world-changing climatologists and astrophysicists and doctors and molecular biologists and teachers and composers and househusbands and architects and urban planners. We’ll never know, so long as it is the most lucrative employment for people who are really good at math. How many world-changing social justice lawyers have we lost to corporate law? We’ll never know.

There were several things I liked about this piece but this bit in particular: QFMFT. The amount that I have seen this happen in the past should be an embarrassment to a civilized society.
posted by en forme de poire at 8:55 AM on August 1 [11 favorites]


Phredward: Are you being serious or sarcastic with the optimism? It was beautifully written but nearly reduced me to tears at how hopeless the situation seems and the only advice I actually got from it is, maybe it's better to just keep my head down after all...
posted by BuddhaInABucket at 8:57 AM on August 1 [1 favorite]


And in today's "Guess This Thread's Theme Song" we have "Living In A Box" by Living In A Box off Living In A Box.
posted by octobersurprise at 9:12 AM on August 1 [2 favorites]


Phredward: Are you being serious or sarcastic with the optimism? It was beautifully written but nearly reduced me to tears at how hopeless the situation seems and the only advice I actually got from it is, maybe it's better to just keep my head down after all...

I posted this because I hate consumer capitalism and it makes me really angry, even as I participate in a lot of its products/exploitations, and I'm trying to do some work on unprogramming that part of myself. I found it optimistic because it kept saying that this state of affairs is not okay and it doesn't have to be this way. Sometimes I feel like we all just have to work until we die and there's no escaping, so to me the reminder that this particular economic arrangement is not a law of nature was actually uplifting. Capitalism is not gravity and it doesn't have to suck us all down with it.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 9:16 AM on August 1 [20 favorites]


Wonderful diagnosis, terrible cure. (This is because there is no cure for injustice on the level of individual self-help; dealing with the emotional consequences of injustice isn't the same problem as organizing to fight it. The author certainly knows this, but the form they've adopted can't deal with it, leading them back again and again to therapy dressed up as politics. This is a big, recurrent problem with n+1's recent political turn.)

The stuff about "scapegoating" seems especially confused:
If it is the economy that is unreal, not those who run it—if the rich and the bosses and the managers are human beings who inevitably care for other beings, and who would rather care for other beings than exploit them—then change is possible. Better to direct your white-hot festering rage not toward scapegoating the 1 percent, and staying helpless, but toward finding the best way to describe this again and again, [...] in order to build that solidarity broader than our individual workplaces.
Yeah, structural analysis is important, but you really think hating the wealthy isn't a powerfully politicizing motivating force? "Solidarity" doesn't mean universal humanist goodwill, for fuck's sake; it means building class consciousness.
posted by RogerB at 9:18 AM on August 1 [16 favorites]


This is how the SF Bay area is looking to me now. I'd love to move away, but I have a good job that I couldn't replace if did. On the hand, my rent has gone up every year by more than $100 a month, and it's already pretty high. (sigh).
posted by doctor_negative at 9:22 AM on August 1


When you assume that "the rich and the bosses and the managers are human beings who inevitably care for other beings, and who would rather care for other beings than exploit them," and try to build solidarity based on unity and goodwill, that's when talking heads on Fox News start laughing at you for joining hands and singing Kumbaya.
posted by Faint of Butt at 9:24 AM on August 1 [9 favorites]


Yeah, structural analysis is important, but you really think hating the wealthy isn't a powerfully politicizing motivating force? "Solidarity" doesn't mean universal humanist goodwill, for fuck's sake; it means building class consciousness.

But here is the crucial line in this essay:
In the last few years, I’ve experienced the rare pleasure of good work, teaching freshman composition—a job that is usually contingent and undercompensated in universities but which I do for an institution that values it and compensates it fairly.
Once you've found a place in the economy which seems safe and stable, you will employ every kind of rationalization to sabotage the idea of meaningful change (much less your actions....) Marxist class warfare is between those who exist in precarity (i.e. their labor has been fully commodified) and everyone else. So, the it's not the 1%, it's the 10% or the 25%. It''s declaring war on your family or all of your friends. There isn't any meaningful solidarity between well-paid university instructors and contingent labor, despite heartfelt political affinity and even time served (or sense of identity.)

Which gets back to the "basic income." An idea which is predicated on pretending exploitation is some elaborate fiction, rather than the basic fact of our economy, and a fact that our society will fight and kill to preserve. Who is going to give you a basic income? It's the ultimate bourgeois communism: to each according to their needs... but without any commitment to a struggle that would actually jeopardize the safe place where you are. Are you going to elect someone who is going to give you a basic income? Is some congress going to vote it as a law? Is some technocratic commision going to impose it?

The issue in our economy and society isn't income or money, it's power. Exploitation is a product of power built on a variety of tools and unless you are willing to confront those tools then... you're left writing plaintive essays to be read by other quasi-employed academics.
posted by ennui.bz at 9:39 AM on August 1 [29 favorites]


Capitalism is not gravity and it doesn't have to suck us all down with it.

Right, but what hope do we have that collectively, we can fix capitalism so that it serves us (instead of the other way around) or else give it up as a lost cause and replace it with something better?

Capitalism is slowly killing us and the ecosystem we live in, and yet there is no sign that anyone with meaningful influence, nor enough of us collectively to affect change, have even the slightest interest in doing anything about that.
posted by Foosnark at 9:44 AM on August 1 [6 favorites]


And one thing we have to do is learn to hear what's coming from Fox News1 for what it really is; it's not words with meaning, exactly, it's just the sounds that a predator makes to confuse and disable its prey. We have to learn how to not pretend like what we're hearing is civil discourse in a Habermasian public sphere or whatever, because it's nothing like that. It's just a lion roaring. But maybe if we manage to tune out its roaring we can start organizing our herd to go trample it.

1: and all the other media that's devoted to maintaining our submission to bosses.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 9:44 AM on August 1 [8 favorites]


Once you've found a place in the economy which seems safe and stable, you will employ every kind of rationalization to sabotage the idea of meaningful change (much less your actions....) Marxist class warfare is between those who exist in precarity (i.e. their labor has been fully commodified) and everyone else. So, the it's not the 1%, it's the 10% or the 25%. It''s declaring war on your family or all of your friends. There isn't any meaningful solidarity between well-paid university instructors and contingent labor, despite heartfelt political affinity and even time served (or sense of identity.)

Ughhhhh stop making me feel guilty about the wholesale impossibility of not being a bourgeois asshole, it's bad enough BEING a bourgeois asshole (not as bad as being a CNA, though).
posted by Snarl Furillo at 9:50 AM on August 1 [2 favorites]


that's when talking heads on Fox News start laughing at you for joining hands and singing Kumbaya

I mean I'm already a gay atheist feminist scientist, so it's not like they're not already laughing at/castigating me. Besides, I somehow doubt talking heads on Fox News would feel better about more aggressive class conflict.
posted by en forme de poire at 9:56 AM on August 1 [2 favorites]


(...CNA?)
posted by en forme de poire at 9:57 AM on August 1


We have to learn how to not pretend like what we're hearing is civil discourse in a Habermasian public sphere

Right, but that's part of what ennui.bz is pointing out — there's a very strong material incentive to pretend otherwise once you're at all materially secure or comfortable. A significant fraction of the well-educated, who might otherwise end up as organic intellectuals of the working class or whatever you want to call it, literally get paid to act like the corporate media and the policy-wonk world are serious, rational deliberative bodies with the capacity to fix systemic problems.

And even those who aren't directly compensated for the pretense are often indirectly invested in it, in the fantasy of the public sphere as a component of the myth of meritocracy or the ideology of democracy, like if we can only figure out just the right words for our coterie journal then we'll totally get organized and have solidarity and convince everyone not to listen to Fox and to fix capitalism. It's really important to realize that some of these kinds of leftist politics-talk are actually political posturing, which is a matter of the class interests of intellectuals as opposed to everybody else.
posted by RogerB at 10:03 AM on August 1 [9 favorites]


A certified nurse's aide or assistant- what used to be called, essentially, an orderly- not a special economic term. I forgot it wouldn't be as familiar to people who aren't me; that kind of work has been hard on my mind lately because I just hired one for myself and I have Complicated Feelings about Being A Person With Help.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 10:05 AM on August 1 [2 favorites]


You Can't Tip a Buick: "And one thing we have to do is learn to hear what's coming from Fox News1 for what it really is; it's not words with meaning, exactly, it's just the sounds that a predator makes to confuse and disable its prey. We have to learn how to not pretend like what we're hearing is civil discourse in a Habermasian public sphere or whatever, because it's nothing like that. It's just a lion roaring. But maybe if we manage to tune out its roaring we can start organizing our herd to go trample it."

Please meet Justine Tunney : Why Does Google Employ a Pro-Slavery Lunatic?
posted by boo_radley at 10:07 AM on August 1 [6 favorites]


boo_radley: I guess that's one ray of hope; our current ascending-overlord class is a pack of socially inept fools who don't know enough to lie about what game they're playing. Maybe it's easier to build solidarity when the decadent ruling class is just too awkward to know how to lie.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 10:13 AM on August 1 [4 favorites]


Please meet Justine Tunney : Why Does Google Employ a Pro-Slavery Lunatic?


Isn't she one of these Dork Enlightenment wackadoos? Like whatsisname, Mental Moldybritches or whatever?


I do not like living in a William Gibson present.
posted by stenseng at 10:13 AM on August 1 [6 favorites]


A certified nurse's aide or assistant- what used to be called, essentially, an orderly- not a special economic term. I forgot it wouldn't be as familiar to people who aren't me; that kind of work has been hard on my mind lately because I just hired one for myself and I have Complicated Feelings about Being A Person With Help.

being the booby prize you get (cert. as a CNA) for having a kid and then going back to community college, if you are a woman... which gets into why the liberal panacea of "education" doesn't solve anything. (piketty's duscussion of human capital makes me want to puke.)

Ughhhhh stop making me feel guilty about the wholesale impossibility of not being a bourgeois asshole, it's bad enough BEING a bourgeois asshole

personally, i think the whole "class warfare" thing is one of the problems with marxism. as political economy it's sort of patently defeatist in the way religious eschatology tends to be... but an effective organizing tool.
posted by ennui.bz at 10:19 AM on August 1 [1 favorite]


What a bunch of timid, obsequious, bourgeois assholes we've all turned out to be, eh?

If you need any more well-honed critiques to comfort and distract, I'll be right over here in my little cubicle, playing Candy Crush while I await the clarion call of Revolution...
posted by Chrischris at 10:29 AM on August 1 [5 favorites]


Was mentally cheering and howling in support of that Star Slate Codex essay when I got to VIII. It felt like he was developing the basics of The Culture without having read the books.
posted by Slackermagee at 10:30 AM on August 1


A country built and filed by free or cheap labor will stop at nothing to get it back.
posted by The Whelk at 10:31 AM on August 1 [11 favorites]


You Can't Tip a Buick: “We need a guaranteed minimum income because we're not free until we're free, if we want to, to tell off not just our boss, but all bosses altogether, and we're not free to do that until we can do it without starving or dying of exposure.”
In terms of making an argument for a guaranteed income, it's simpler than that: Either we find a way to guarantee a living to those made redundant by the machinations of the global economy or there will be blood in the streets.
posted by ob1quixote at 10:33 AM on August 1 [2 favorites]


Pfft.

Re guaranteed income: I haven't heard a serious policy proposal around it yet. Until then, there's not much need to take it seriously.
posted by jpe at 10:37 AM on August 1


Either we find a way to guarantee a living to those made redundant by the machinations of the global economy or there will be blood in the streets.

Okay, the American ruling class chooses option B. Now what?

That's the point: there's no rational, dispassionate debate coach to sit in final judgment on who wins this "argument." It ultimately has to be settled by means of power, not deliberation. (The critique of weapons, not the weapons of critique, as a certain someone put it.)
posted by RogerB at 10:40 AM on August 1 [5 favorites]


Yeah. Blood in the streets1 might be a prerequisite for getting power arranged in such a way that we could get a basic income guarantee. Perversely, if we had a power structure that could get us a basic income, we probably wouldn't even need a basic income.

When I'm not waxing apocalyptic about how everything is fucked up and bullshit, I allow myself to think about how much workers have achieved in the western european social democracies, mostly through bourgeois electoral politics rather than alternative means of political action. And those are meaningful successes, even though western european social democracy on the whole is currently under threat of dismantlement through neoliberal "austerity" measures.

1: Or the clear and present threat of blood in the streets, but I don't trust the ruling cohort to recognize clear and present danger right in front of their faces.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 10:45 AM on August 1 [3 favorites]


Okay, the American ruling class chooses option B. Now what?

The American ruling class will undoubtedly choose option B, because it is cheaper and much, much more psychically satisfying to hire a bunch of heavily armed cops and private security, disinvest from the public sector such that more people become more miserable and die sooner and then sit around in their ultra-luxurious communities congratulating themselves on being special and reassuring themselves that they need the cops, prisons, etc in order to protect themselves from the barbarian hordes.

After now more than half my life spent with a fairly good view of these matters, I am still torn between whether elites get more out of the money they get from exploitation or more out of the satisfaction they derive from Not Being One Of The Lazy, Stupid Poors Who Deserve What They Get.
posted by Frowner at 10:49 AM on August 1 [22 favorites]


The other day I was reading Edward O. Wilson On Human Nature and came across this really weird couple of sentences which I still do not quite know what to make of:

There is a convergent principle in political science known as Director's Law, which states that income in a society is distributed to the benefit of the class that controls the government. In the United States this is of course the middle class.

(p. 162 in my copy)
posted by bukvich at 10:52 AM on August 1 [3 favorites]


blood in the streets
I'm asking earnestly, but when has a human society experienced a massive shift in its economic or political systems without blood in the streets?

Even in the cases of an absolute ruler making this sort of shift by decree, I imagine that some people would be massively unhappy about the change, and some of those people would kill and even more of those people would die.

And in a sense, this country already does have guaranteed minimum income (though I don't think anyone would argue that you could live well on it) in the form of SSI, SSDI, welfare, etc... and it seems like the game that capital P Power has been playing since the 80's or maybe even since 1946 has been to see how close to zero that can get without having blood in the streets.

Or maybe this is just the natural life-cycle of a society or an empire, and no one person or group of people can really change it any more than they can change water following the path of least resistance.

That our lives are lived in the context of a civilization where the magnitude and peculiarities of which just happen to be that the consequences of this natural life-cycle are such to render swaths of this planet uninhabitable, is maybe nothing else but unfortunate.

But yeah, this guy should probably try to find an opening teaching freshman composition and that would probably mitigate the white-hot anger for a while.
posted by exit at 11:11 AM on August 1


I can't imagine any scenario in which teaching freshman composition would mitigate white-hot anger.
posted by Faint of Butt at 11:24 AM on August 1 [16 favorites]


And in a sense, this country already does have guaranteed minimum income (though I don't think anyone would argue that you could live well on it) in the form of SSI, SSDI, welfare, etc...

This is no longer true, if it ever was. These programs now basically only serve women with young children and the elderly. If you aren't in either of these two categories, good luck qualifying for the scraps that serve everyone else. And TANF, which has replaced welfare, has a (IIRC) 5 year lifetime limit.

If you need subsidized housing, good luck. You'll be on a waiting list for a decade in a lot of places, if they'll even allow you to apply to be put on the waiting list in the first place. Lots of areas have closed the waiting list entirely due to the wait times.
posted by zug at 11:26 AM on August 1 [16 favorites]


I can't imagine any scenario in which teaching freshman composition would mitigate white-hot anger.

Well, the emotional tone of freshman comp is muted way down from that — more like depressive anhedonia, on the everyday level. White-hot anger has a lot more energy. I don't think it's accidental that we're reading this article in the summer.
posted by RogerB at 11:29 AM on August 1 [1 favorite]


redlining 5 pagers on didion and foucault written by 18 year-olds in groups of 30 three times a year until you mercifully expire to be smothered in earth.
posted by exit at 11:42 AM on August 1 [2 favorites]


Thanks for posting this piece, Snarl Furillo. I'm right there with you in my hatred of consumer capitalism, even as I am forced to participate in it. I've been working on de-programming myself for many years. I agree that it doesn't have to be this way and that there is at least some reason for optimism, although over the years (I'm now 46) I have reluctantly come to the conclusion that for many of us, any 'escape' will be partial at best.
The math I like best says it is within the realm of possibility, with a rearrangement of how taxes are collected and distributed, for every citizen to receive a basic income upon which to survive, which would not be tied to work.
Absolutely. That's the math I like best, too. I've been a strong supporter of basic income ever since I first heard about it in the mid-1990s. It's getting more media attention and attracting more supporters lately, especially as more and more of the middle class falls into the ranks of the precarity with no end in sight.
If this were to be implemented, you could choose not to participate in this construct and still eat. Imagine a world in which your choices about where and how to work were not determined in the context of white-hot rage or crippling fear over the inability to simply feed yourself.
I've been imagining that world - in vivid detail - ever since I was a teenager who hated her job at a fast food restaurant in the 1980s. I've been writing about it online since 1998. (Note: relevant self-link.)
We must extend this solidarity far beyond the bounds of our individual workplaces, if we’re going to change this whole situation...Too often I see people directing their rage against the wealthy, as if they are monsters...Better to direct your white-hot festering rage not toward scapegoating the 1 percent, and staying helpless, but toward finding the best way to describe this again and again, more persuasively, more beautifully, in whatever art or political action or writing or talking you have a gift for—what shitty work is really like, what debt is like, what selling our lives to an unreal and exploitative economy is like—in order to build that solidarity broader than our individual workplaces.
Agreed wholeheartedly. But as the author acknowledges, jobs consume a great deal of time and energy that could otherwise be used for this art or political action or writing or talking:
...perhaps that is one of the worst things about shitty jobs: they make many too tired even to be angry, and too tired to imagine a world where more people could get to do the work they want to do and still eat.
I probably wouldn't even have the time and energy to post this comment right now if I had a "normal" full-time job.

The most hopeful, astute, and inspiring writings I've found on these matters are from Charles Eisenstein and Ethan Miller. Miller's article Occupy, Connect, Create (PDF) is a breath of fresh air, and deserves a close read. It's so good that it deserves to be an FPP. Here's a taste:
Many of us who once relied on the basic economic institutions of our societies--education, employment, healthcare, public infrastructure, retirement, social assistance in times of need--are confronting the brutal reality that such faith is no longer merited. Meanwhile, the "experts" poised to deal with this mess are working in the service of the very institutions that profit from it.

And what if these experts could "fix" our economy? What if we could convince them to "curb the excesses of Wall Street" and get our economic engine "back on track"? This demand would ignore the fact that the very success of the capitalist market economy--the ways in which it has seemingly provided so many with so much in so short a time--is built on violence and plunder. [...]

The sorcery of capitalist economics is precisely to make its own violence invisible, so that it can appear to be nothing but the miraculous liberator of human potential and the progressive deliverer of ever-abundant goods. And there is a disturbingly good reason for us to give in to this illusion: most of us are dependent on the very economy that has systematically exploited us and undermined the health of our communities and our environments. We have come to rely on the very "job creators" (that new euphemism for exploiters) whose project of profiting at our expense we condemn. We have come to need the very economic growth machine that is eating our world and destabilizing our planetary climate in the name of "progress."

We can no longer ignore the immense challenge at the heart of this moment in history: We are trapped in patterns of life on which we have come to depend, but which we must fundamentally transform as a matter of our very survival. How do we acknowledge our dependence, and address the needs that it gives rise to, while also imagining and constructing new forms of freedom? [...]

"The economy" is a way of thinking and experiencing the world in which our power and agency is robbed from us...This economy was constructed by processes of enclosure, where people were forcibly separated from their means of subsistence (land, community, tools and skills) and pushed into dependence on wage-jobs and commodity purchases. [...]

It is not a naïve notion of "dropping out" (as if everyone had the privilege to do this, or the privilege to choose otherwise), or a dreamy hope of evading hard work and struggle. It is, rather, about recognizing that the work of breaking out of our dependence is a necessary site for our creative action. [...]

We must shift from simply asking how we might create more (or better) jobs to asking about how we can progressively create the conditions in which we no longer need them.

...how can we begin to build a world in which the unpaid labor of birthing, parenting, caring for elders, building community, creating art, working for justice, and defending and restoring our ecosystems can be supported as shared social goods? What forms of accounting would make this work and its value publicly visible? [...]

And second, how do we re-common the enclosures that created our dependency on wage-work in the first place? [...] Life beyond "jobs" is not for everyone, and nor does it need to be. But it must become an ever-more available option. [...]

Do we know how to make this possible? Not yet.

But we can say this: It is time to launch the largest explosion of practical experimentation that our society has ever seen.
posted by velvet winter at 11:52 AM on August 1 [23 favorites]


Please meet Justine Tunney : Why Does Google Employ a Pro-Slavery Lunatic?

I lol'd. I lol'd not just because that's so totally nuts, but because it's totally nuts in a way that says, unmistakably, "2014." And many years from now, when our children's children's children have either made Jerusalem in our green and pleasant land or claw for rats in the garbage mounds of the old places, someone may encounter that again and say all over "Oh, 2014, you so nuts."
posted by octobersurprise at 12:42 PM on August 1 [8 favorites]


Either we find a way to guarantee a living to those made redundant by the machinations of the global economy or there will be blood in the streets.

Yes, because all of those times we had blood in the streets it worked out so well for everyone.
posted by Ironmouth at 12:42 PM on August 1 [2 favorites]


Automation has already reduced primary sector employment to under 1%, MikeWarot. And our secondary sector is fading fast. There are two basic approaches to allocating people's time, make them work you consider useful or trust that they'll find useful activities on their own.

We've thur far demonstrated fairly solidly that organizations like governments and corporations are completely incapable of assigning labor usefully. We keep unemployment low by creating fallacious bullshit jobs through avarice, stupidity, etc. and Keynesianism.

It's time for a more laissez-faire economic system in which our survival is not in question and no one feels compelled to work.
posted by jeffburdges at 12:43 PM on August 1 [1 favorite]


Either we find a way to guarantee a living to those made redundant by the machinations of the global economy or there will be blood in the streets.

It's exactly this *we* which is the problem. Obviously, *we* haven't been made redundant if *we* are proposing to make guarantees for *those* people who *have been* (who did it or did it happen by accident or some law of nature?) made redundant.

And the thing is, either *we* are wholly responsible for reducing the livelihoods of all those people *we* are proposing to help, or *we* actually have little power over the forces (or institutions) involved in. so, either you are proposing a strange form of charity where *we* knock someone over in order to help them up, or you are proposing that if *we* invented a perpetual motion machine, than *we* would solve many problems i.e. you are proposing a fantasy.
posted by ennui.bz at 12:55 PM on August 1 [4 favorites]


There are two basic approaches to allocating people's time, make them work you consider useful or trust that they'll find useful activities on their own.

Or we can divert their attention to "social" media and monetize their internal states and relationships. After all, every time you post on Facebook you are performing unpaid labor in the "sharing" economy.
posted by bradbane at 1:12 PM on August 1 [3 favorites]


"Progress is not an illusion, it happens, but it is slow and invariably disappointing. There is always a new tyrant waiting to take over from the old - generally not quite so bad, but still a tyrant. Consequently two viewpoints are always tenable. The one, how can you improve human nature until you have changed the system? The other, what is the use of changing the system before you have improved human nature? They appeal to different individuals, and they probably show a tendency to alternate in point of time. The moralist and the revolutionary are constantly undermining one another. Marx exploded a hundred tons of dynamite beneath the moralist position, and we are still living in the echo of that tremendous crash. But already, somewhere or other, the sappers are at work and fresh dynamite is being tamped in place to blow Marx at the moon. Then Marx, or somebody like him, will come back with yet more dynamite, and so the process continues, to an end we cannot yet foresee. The central problem - how to prevent power from being abused - remains unsolved."

- George Orwell
posted by officer_fred at 1:13 PM on August 1 [9 favorites]


I agree that "blood in the streets" has a pretty neutral-to-poor record across history of actually instantiating regimes that turn out to be less coercive than what they "disrupt" (ha ha). I also think it would probably be easier to get (for example) modern Americans to buy into the idea of basic income than to get a significant number to buy into the idea of armed revolution (especially not the same people who would have been pro-redistribution).
posted by en forme de poire at 1:59 PM on August 1 [1 favorite]


I don't know what's gonna save us or turn us around, but it sure as hell isn't going to be the 14,023rd TLDR essay written by some radical anti-capitalist academic from an Ivy League university, no matter how many social media shares it gets.

The pressure is continuing to build. It needs an outlet, a release. But the academic radical left won't create that release. The American everyperson doesn't want what they're offering. The disenchanted number in the millions. The radical anti-capitalists, marxists, anarchists... combined I doubt they amount to even half a million. And that won't change any time soon.

Until the organizers of dissent and the guardians of dissenting ideology break out of academic group think and obsessions with ideas that are 150 years obsolete, they'll remain ineffectual.

There's plenty of water built up behind the dam, but we'll need a populist movement to break that dam. Sadly, I don't see one on the horizon yet.
posted by MeanwhileBackAtTheRanch at 2:13 PM on August 1 [11 favorites]


I also think it would probably be easier to get (for example) modern Americans to buy into the idea of basic income than to get a significant number to buy into the idea of armed revolution (especially not the same people who would have been pro-redistribution).

the idea being that you take money from people who are working and give it to people who aren't working? if i were a republican I would love to see a basic income scheme pass just so I could run against it. it actually turns Romney's "makers vs. takers" into something approaching reality.

I mean seriously, if you are proposing a broadly redistributive income tax, you are going against the entire political history of the income tax in the 20th century. it's one of the interesting things in Piketty. he points out that it was only the advent of WWI which got an income tax passed at all in France, and only the enormous costs of WWI and WWII which got the income tax rate above the single digits. IMHO, talking about a basic income is like talking about warp drives, it's an idea which is appealing because it contradicts everything we know about the world. It's a diverting fantasy.
posted by ennui.bz at 2:25 PM on August 1 [1 favorite]


I also think it would probably be easier to get (for example) modern Americans to buy into the idea of basic income than to get a significant number to buy into the idea of armed revolution (especially not the same people who would have been pro-redistribution).

Absolutely. The whole "blood in the streets" thing is going to be a little hard to bring about when so many on the American left don't own guns and are often even afraid to touch them. Next power fantasy, please.
posted by MeanwhileBackAtTheRanch at 2:27 PM on August 1 [4 favorites]


By analogy to history I only know because of a movie about it, we could try to think up ways to make voting for freedom seem really, really fun.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 2:41 PM on August 1


Reading this article makes me glad I did leave Brooklyn. Because it was starting to get filled with people whose casual conversation could have been the basis for this article, every day.

If I never meet another person who says "You're just too beautiful and SENSITIVE for this hard, cold world" it will be just fine by me. Not to mention the whole gross "I totally know who you are, you want me to touch your body? I want to touch your body."
posted by corb at 2:56 PM on August 1 [2 favorites]


In terms of making an argument for a guaranteed income, it's simpler than that: Either we find a way to guarantee a living to those made redundant by the machinations of the global economy or there will be blood in the streets.

Man, MetaFilter is full of the silly college-poster revolutionary rage these days.

Yes, because all of those times we had blood in the streets it worked out so well for everyone.

For once I agree with Ironmouth. Revolution is exactly what our capitalistic system has been building for, is hoping for.

Better to let it all slowly wither and die as we work ourselves to death. Then they can only blame themselves.
posted by formless at 3:23 PM on August 1 [1 favorite]


IMHO, talking about a basic income is like talking about warp drives, it's an idea which is appealing because it contradicts everything we know about the world. It's a diverting fantasy.

As opposed to violent revolution?
posted by en forme de poire at 3:37 PM on August 1 [1 favorite]


Isn't she one of these Dork Enlightenment wackadoos? Like whatsisname, Mental Moldybritches or whatever?

His name is Mencius Moldbug, or so they tell me. His real name is Curtis Yarvin. I actually knew him when we were both playing quiz bowl at Brown University. He was smart enough to play quiz bowl, but even then, he had a much higher opinion of his own intelligence than was warranted. He would buzz in at random in this spastic, herky-jerky way that was so distinctive we ended up calling it "yarvinating." It's like his entire body would jolt as if possessed every time he buzzed in on a question. The force of the nerdrage is strong in this one.
posted by jonp72 at 3:51 PM on August 1 [8 favorites]


jonp72, googling Mencius Moldbug (...long silence; staring into the middle distance...) led me to this wonderfully acrid post on Baffler.
posted by en forme de poire at 4:01 PM on August 1


As might be expected of a “DIY ideology . . . designed by geeks for other geeks,” his political treatises are heavily informed by the works of J.R.R. Tolkien and George Lucas.

Holy shit does anyone have some aloe and gauze
posted by en forme de poire at 4:04 PM on August 1 [2 favorites]


I have no idea why this thread is about Moldbug now and not the n+1 essay, but I guess you folks might want to look at previous MeFi discussions of that stuff
posted by RogerB at 4:10 PM on August 1 [1 favorite]


Everything is upside down.

Which is why, as I've stated before, the "trickle down" theory of economics is exactly backwards (and intentionally so). In this natural Economic State, the money flows like water to lakes and oceans. And most of us are in the clouds and will never own a piece of the oceans.

"Under capitalism man exploits man; under socialism the reverse is true."
What do the two systems have in common? They are Economic Systems. So the obvious first step to a better world is to Kill All the Economists. Of every type. Then, (and this is the hard part) develop a human system that creates a quality of life without money - a non-economic system. Everybody assumes that money is a Life Necessity when it's actually a parasite that sucks the life out of everyone and everything. I'm not saying that you COULD live without money in the world as it now exists, but that's not the world I want to live in, and like I said, creating a non-economic non-monetary system is the hard part.
posted by oneswellfoop at 4:25 PM on August 1 [4 favorites]


We're fairly confident that warp drives are impossible because the theory of relativity has been quite well tested. We're likewise confident our current economic model is unsustainable thanks to the theory of thermodynamics.

It's bullshit work that's the problem, not taxation. If you can eliminate enough bullshit work, either by automating it, or by simply cutting it, then our social safety net must expand and taxation issues will sort themselves out.

At worst, if the tax base collapses, and people started actually starving, then we could simply nationalize enough farms and grocery stores to feed everyone by fiat, maybe execute the BoDs of a few companies like Monsanto along the way. Ya know, piecemeal communism might actually work with enough transparency and computers.
posted by jeffburdges at 4:28 PM on August 1 [2 favorites]


This is because there is no cure for injustice on the level of individual self-help; dealing with the emotional consequences of injustice isn't the same problem as organizing to fight it. The author certainly knows this, but the form they've adopted can't deal with it, leading them back again and again to therapy dressed up as politics. This is a big, recurrent problem with n+1's recent political turn.

It's a problem that's a lot bigger than n+1. It seems like kind of a fundamental contradiction common to much revolutionary or left politics in general: the best way to fight oppression for the individual is not always, or usually, to fight to end that oppression; often, it's to join the oppressors, or at least to find some accommodation with them. But when everyone does that, the oppression is perpetuated.

You see this very clearly in union organizing. For the individual worker, trying to organize a union is hugely risky. There are often much safer and less emotionally fraught ways to deal with lousy working conditions: fight your way into management, quit and take another slightly-less-lousy job, steal from the register to supplement your crappy pay. But if everyone gave up on organizing and only looked out for him- or herself, we'd all be worse off. (Well, that's kind of what's happened over the last 30 years and the reason we see articles like this one.)
posted by enn at 4:34 PM on August 1 [1 favorite]


Also, violent revolution is almost useless for actually building anything, especially not subtle economic matters like wealth inequality. You need a creditable but unattributable threat of violence though before establish organizations will participate in reform, ala the Cold War, Civil Rights Movement, etc. We might need "blood in the streets" in some western country before others find the political will to reform.
posted by jeffburdges at 4:40 PM on August 1 [1 favorite]


Yes, because all of those times we had blood in the streets it worked out so well for everyone.

Nah, we're a few escalating cycles of terror then repression away from that still (you know, stinger missiles taking out executive jets,Bezlan-style attacks on private Swiss boarding schools, drones packed with c4 flown into rooftop tech-industry parties--that sort of thing...).
posted by Chrischris at 4:52 PM on August 1


In other words, it's closer to the first hour of The Battle of Algiers, not the closing credits quite yet.
posted by Chrischris at 4:54 PM on August 1 [2 favorites]


But if everyone gave up on organizing and only looked out for him- or herself, we'd all be worse off. (Well, that's kind of what's happened over the last 30 years and the reason we see articles like this one.)

But that's my whole point, yeah. The n+1 crowd is currently making a big thing out of rediscovering leftism and talking the political-economy talk — which I'm basically all for, but they're still often doing it in a naive and/or posturing way, where they take politics as a form of individual self-help or self-invention. And that's a frame that just won't work for real organizing. You can't write an agony-aunt therapy column that will truly convince people they'll be made happier by committing themselves to a grueling struggle; to do that requires public spirit, not just personal pain. There are always going to be easier ways of getting therapy, and more likely ones to work, than joining a union drive or getting arrested at a demonstration — even if it's true that the alienation of late-capitalist social life is the root cause of your pain.
posted by RogerB at 4:55 PM on August 1 [6 favorites]


Yeah violent revolution didn't do jack shit to stop apartheid. Oh no. Never happened. No sir.
posted by wuwei at 5:05 PM on August 1 [3 favorites]


but they're still often doing it in a naive and/or posturing way

Exactly. Little real work, little pragmatism, lots of noise.

Meanwhile real populists doing real work have initiated and/or passed a bunch of municipal minimum wage laws, some of them looking to near-double the previous wage.

It's slowly starting to look like America's progress will be what it has often been in the past: inching towards catching up with European social democracy.

A basic income is a non-starter. But if NYC gets it's organizing together, the minimum wage in Brooklyn could be $20 by 2024, and the tax on income over $500k could steadily escalate.

There are opportunities here. And it's a shame that the very well-spoken and energetic millennial radicals academics are distracting us with fantasies.
posted by MeanwhileBackAtTheRanch at 5:15 PM on August 1 [4 favorites]


I have friends who are lawyers and make $200,000, and other friends who are aspiring artists and make $20,000. I live in a cheap-ish city, so the artists are doing somewhat OK -- you can afford a safe apartment and a car on that budget.

But I don't know a single person who has worked for $200,000 for a few years, saved the money, and retired voluntarily to live on $20,000. It just doesn't seem to happen. I've read about it on blogs like Mr. Money Mustache, but never seen it in person.

Instead, as people earn more, they inevitably spend more. Then they have to keep working to maintain their spending. Breaking the work->spend->work cycle seems almost impossible.

Which is a shame, because as long as you're locked in that cycle, you're not truly free. You can't travel for a long period or be politically outspoken or take a big risk, because you'll put your earnings in jeopardy. If you lose your job you lose your house and your car and then your entire lifestyle is destroyed.

I live in Minneapolis, you can double the numbers for Brooklyn but I bet it's otherwise the same.
posted by miyabo at 5:17 PM on August 1 [2 favorites]


It's possible those people making 200k actually like doing what they do.

Its a choice. You don't have to agree with it anymore than they have to agree with someone who chooses a more bohemian lifestyle.


The math doesn't work on using a super high tax rate bracket to fund something like a basic income. You'd probably need a VAT or something like that.
posted by JPD at 9:44 PM on August 1 [2 favorites]


There are opportunities here. And it's a shame that the very well-spoken and energetic millennial radicals academics are distracting us with fantasies.

Pretty sure these are the same millenial radicals that were getting tear gassed and beaten by the cops just a year ago. I'm not sure I'd call their position purely academic fantasy.
posted by bradbane at 11:26 AM on August 2 [1 favorite]


How late is it? Sometimes it feels like 23.59 o'clock and sometimes it feels like this can go on another 100 years before bang.
posted by ZeroAmbition at 12:18 PM on August 2 [3 favorites]


Pretty sure these are the same millenial radicals that were getting tear gassed and beaten by the cops just a year ago. I'm not sure I'd call their position purely academic fantasy.

I call what happened about a year ago "LARPing the revolution."
posted by MeanwhileBackAtTheRanch at 3:04 PM on August 2 [3 favorites]




I have been working in crap jobs and office jobs that were crap: back to the office layed off several times and now back to the crap but my children are grown and for the most part successful and educated so I am the winner. I know successful businessmen who are happy and unhappy and work alongside people making less then twenty bucks an hour. I have gone back to college earned degrees then lost my good job and back to crap jobs. Fortunately I have the internet and can read articles: such as this which are interesting: Thanks for the post and to all those who are on the merry-go-round: This joint is for you!
posted by Upon Further Review at 7:48 AM on August 5


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