Archives for posts with tag: Capitalism

In my life I have worked with those who suffer from addiction, and I have also worked in retail. From these experiences, I have noticed something about the way these two demographics, addicts and customers, interact with those paid to deal with them. Anyone who has worked in retail can tell you that customers are the absolute worst, and addicts notoriously bear the not entirely unearned stigma of being untrustworthy and catastrophically self-centred. There are always outliers and exceptions, but working within the generalities for now will help identify the trend that I’m hoping to produce here, so bear with me.

Addicts lie. Not just to people who work with them, obviously, but to family members, friends, anyone. The fundamental motive behind these lies is shame. The addict is fully aware of their behaviour and lifestyle, and the guilt and shame is often overwhelming. They know stealing from their parents is wrong; they lie because they can’t bear being judged for it. They know that leaving a detox facility to go use defeats their deep, powerful desire for sobriety and normalcy, but they lie about their ultimate destination because they’re ashamed of their weakness. The reason that the Anonymous program demands honesty is so that the addict can uncover their shame, lay it bare, and witness a community that accepts them regardless. This is the process of recovery.

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Just say no

The addict lies because they fear the human capacity for judgement. Even the more malicious lies, such as the ones for personal gain, recognize the victim’s critical thinking skills that need to be overcome. Every lie, every betrayal, the mask of the addict, is made entirely in reaction to the human.

Contrast this behaviour to the untruths of the customer. The customer doesn’t necessarily lie, but the traditional pleasantries of, “I’m fine; how are you?” “Have a good day!” are the superficial banalities that reveal nothing of authentic value. Hence, an untruth. These untruths do not exist as a recognition of the human, but as an attempt to supersede it. They gloss over the human to expedite the exchange of the product. The honest addict reveals their shame; the honest customer makes curt demands and doesn’t bother to look you in the eye. The consumer’s untruths are made in reaction to the employee as only a facet of the product being sold.

Participation within capitalism, the act of consumerism, requires a dullness in our humanity unseen in any other form of addiction. The dealers and corporate pimps of the consumer marketplace have a greater understanding of predation than those in the Downtown Eastside. Addicts are looking to fill a void, and filling that void with honest, human recovery might alleviate the drive to consume. Customer service must therefore be performed with a plastic sincerity lest the consumer have a genuine interaction that makes them realize their purchase gives them nothing of real worth.

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It is not even the product that delivers the endorphins, but the act of purchasing itself. At that point we are still blind to its irrelevance to our lives

The customer, driven by advertising that manufactures an internal void and delivers only an empty promise to fill it back up again, has no time anyway for things beyond pleasantries. They must commute, work, consume, and then obliterate anything else that remains with distractions. Busyness is a virtue. Distractions are our culture. Humanity is evaporating from one blowout sale to the next, and there is no time to even notice. It’s myopic self-destruction on a global scale, and all that is left to do is wait anxiously for the overdose.

I guess that’s why I’m happier being lied to by drug addicts.

Perhaps you’ve heard it said that taxes are theft. We work hard for our income, and the government just comes right in and takes the money that we earned without our consent! That’s stealing! The government steals. Now, the government can legally do many things that private individuals cannot do. It can confine and relocate people against their will. It can kidnap children. It can even commit violence if it deems it necessary for a safe society. However, the one thing people cannot abide over any other crime is theft. Nobody cares about foster kids, criminals, and immigrants, and so state intervention only matters where my finances are concerned!

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Big Government when it comes to people I don’t like; small government when it comes to me

One of the more prominent libertarian thinkers that popularized the concept of illicit taxation is Robert Nozick in his book Anarchy, State, and Utopia (so titled because libertarianism, as an extreme reduction of state, is inherently anarchistic). Nozick presents a thought experiment which I will paraphrase in order to use really simple maths. You work 40 hours a week, making $100 an hour. You’re doing all right. That’s $4000 a week, but the government decides that it’s going to tax you 10% of your earnings, and takes away $400. What this essentially means is that for the last four hours of your work week, you’re working for free under the authority of the government. The higher the taxes, the more unpaid working hours. This isn’t just theft, it’s slavery! Maybe this is why people just fuck about on Friday afternoons, as a means of sticking it to the The Man for having to endure slavery wages just before the weekend.

While there are certainly problems with this argument, we’ll leave it as is for now.

Let’s turn to the feudal system. The peasant produces $4000 worth of goods, and has to pay his lord $400 each week. Similar to the slavery tax system illustrated above. Now, let’s mix it up a bit. The peasant is still producing $4000 worth of goods, but instead of paying the lord taxes, the lord collects the $4000, and pays the peasant $3600 for his labour. Ha! Ridiculous, right? Okay, let’s be a bit more realistic.

The peasant is still producing $4000 worth of goods, but instead of paying the lord taxes, the lord collects the $4000, and pays the peasant $400 for his labour.

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If that. Isn’t it nice having a say in how taxation will affect the community? Democracy sure is great. I wonder if such a concept has ever been imagined in the second scenario?

If the peasant’s labour really only costs $400 a week, then the extra $3600 is what famed beard-haver Karl Marx called surplus value: money that is added on to the cost of production basically so the person (or minority of people) who own that production can continue to grow their wealth without having to actually do anything. In a word, profit. This money, more or less equivalent to the stolen taxes of our initial example, does not go to community projects, however, but to the pockets of a private owner.

The issue that people are going to take with my examples is likely going to be that of consent. So you might think, well, I didn’t agree to no social contract, why should I abide by it and pay these exorbitant taxes!? And you’re right, that is a legitimate criticism of the social contract theory. Abide by the social contract under which you are born or go to jail is not a meaningful choice in any sense. Social contracts are not inherently just, and resistance against them may be legitimate. Universal acquiescence is no form of morality.

What about our second peasant who is paid wages instead of owning his own labour and paying taxes? Nozick and other libertarians would say that they agreed to this contract with the lord, and if they don’t like it, they could quit and get another job as like a blacksmith or something. Nozick says that not getting a livable wage is like being rejected by the prettiest girl at the dance. Everyone wants to date the prom queen, but if that doesn’t work out, you just keep going down the list of available women until finally you get to the partner that is manipulative and abusive, and you stay with them because nobody wants to die alone. Again, this is a paraphrase of his argument, but he literally says that since it’s fair for women to reject us (he’s big into hetero masculinity), it’s fair for companies to reject us from livable conditions too. Kind of important to consider this the next time the libertarians in the alt-right talk about being entitled to women’s bodies.

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Or the liberal media, apparently

Nozick’s argument makes all kinds of terrible assumptions. For example, ownership is often inherited or influenced by nepotism, even entrepreneurs typically come from already wealthy families, which would be the equivalent of the prom queen being passed down through the generations of prom kings rather than through any merit-based wooing process; women don’t have a systematic incentive to be abusive and manipulative the way profit-driven companies do; and nobody’s child will starve if their parent can’t get a date. If the dating system is rigged so that the suitor has only the most abysmal options available, and they’ll die if they don’t pick one, then the metaphor might be more appropriate. It would also make those dating shows that much more interesting to watch.

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But this time, if you’re voted off, you can’t afford your kid’s desperate medical operation

If we acknowledge that the “choice” between accepting the social contract or jail is not a choice, then it follows that the “choice” between accepting tyrannical labour conditions or death is not much of a choice either. If taxation is theft, it’s not much of a stretch to use the same argument against surplus value. Both involve others profiting off of labour in which they take no part.

Except, in order for a community to function as a community, participation in its maintenance is required. Communities are a collective. It’s not something that’s debatable. Taxation is a fairly straightforward and simple measure to extract funding for that maintenance, and income tax is a fairly equitable way of going about it. Universal acquiescence is certainly dumb, but thinking for two seconds about how a community works and what that would require very quickly reveals the need for public options funded by the collective.

The theft of the ownership class has no other motive beyond personal gain. If you had to choose between one theft or the other, why are we so quick to pounce on taxes instead of the exploitation of labour? Denouncing the community while advocating greed is the whispered maxim of capitalists.

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Maybe not so much whispered as shouted from the rooftops. Remember when unbridled avarice was considered a bad thing?

Or you could abandon both forms of theft and embrace true anarchism. Not the anarcho-capitalism of modern libertarianism, but left libertarianism. Libertarian socialism. Anarchy. Take it for a spin. See how you feel.

You ever notice how incredibly stupid the idea of individualism is? It’s essentially saying, “I’m going to make it on my own in this crazy world, and I’m going to do it wholly dependent on literally everyone around me.” We depend on our bus drivers to get us from point A to point B, and if we drive, we depend on our car manufacturer to provide that same function. We depend on our grocers to sell us food, who in turn depend on wholesalers, truck drivers, farmers, and so on, in order for them to get the food to sell us in the first place. We depend on strangers on the street to not stab us for no reason as we go about our day. We depend on our roommates to cover their share of rent. We depend on our actors to provide us entertainment. We depend on our athletes to provide vicarious exercise for our slovenly lifestyles.

But wait, you might say! I make my own money, and I use that money to induce others to perform those tasks for me! I am independent! But alas, no, you’re not. You depend on someone to pay you. It is perfectly conceivable to imagine a world where your employer decides not to pay you, or pays you insufficiently for what you’re worth, and then you become dependent on lawyers, judges, and the legal system in order to obtain redress. It’s also quite reasonable to suppose that there could be those you induce to take your money who do not then provide their service at all, or do an insufficient job. I suppose you could say that you could induce fair labour treatment using only the threat of the violence you personally could commit, but I can’t imagine a society like that ever thriving.

We depend on loved ones for comfort. We depend on our mentors for guidance. We depend on strangers for security. Like I said, we depend on literally everyone around us for literally everything we do. Others too depend on us in turn. You can’t criticize collectivism on the basis that it eliminates human individuality because human society is a collective. It can’t function otherwise! Certainly people are individuals with their own unique traits, but they exist in a collective within which they depend on others for absolutely everything. Individuality only serves to add colour and diversity within the collective, but it cannot possibly act as a substitute or civilization would crumble into dust.

So why do people so ravenously defend this ludicrous idea? Well, if you look at every movie, you’ll see a lone figure who abides by (his) own rules because society could not exist without (him) to keep it afloat. Sometimes it will be a small group, but generally even then there will be one (male) who stands above the rest who is the most individual of them all. We see it as social progress when that one individual is black, or female, or even a black female, though there are those who decry even that, as God forbid a woman be a lone heroine who stands outside the common rules of society to show how inadequate they are. Now I kind of want Hollywood to remake a bunch of John Wayne movies with a female protagonist. Sure it’s hypocritical of me because I’m calling it individualist propaganda in this very paragraph, but just imagine how many people it would piss off. Totally worth it.

It’s why we focus on Martin Luther King Jr. alone, despite the massive community organizing that propped him up. The Civil Rights movement wasn’t an individual, it was a collective (a movement is, by definition, a collective), but that is a narrative rarely heard. Gandhi had millions of people alongside of him, and he didn’t do all that work on his own. We love our generals, despite them being completely worthless without a collective surrounding them functioning smoothly and efficiently.

This leads us to our next question: why would nearly every piece of media perpetuate asinine individualist propaganda that doesn’t make any sense when given two seconds of casual thought? The answer, as always, is capitalism. People will be less inclined to complain if we can blame them as individuals for not pulling up their bootstraps hard enough to get out of poverty, even though, again by definition, the collective is responsible for that very situation. If we disconnect people from the intrinsic connection of human community, they won’t band together in support of that very community. Keep people distanced from one another, and they’ll be more likely to connect to things rather than to each other.

If we recognized the basic structure of civil society as a collective, we would be guided toward a more democratic method of organizing the mechanisms within it. Compassion would replace greed, as greed is individual whereas compassion necessitates an other. Communities would be measured by the success of the whole, not the success of its smallest minority. I’m not advocating a Utopian ideal, just an inclination toward a more natural social order.

Post-script: There will be those who criticize collectivism as willing to sacrifice the individual for the sake of the group. You have to keep in mind that we already do sacrifice individuals for the sake of the group; it’s called the justice system. We put people in jail who disrupt civil order. It’s not uncontroversial. The bigger concern, from what I’ve witnessed in individualist philosophies, is the willingness to sacrifice groups for the sake of the individual.