Too Busy to Resist

“For ages, the rich and their sycophants have written in praise of ‘honest toil’, have praised the simple life, have professed a religion which teaches that the poor are much more likely to go to heaven than the rich, and in general have tried to make manual workers believe that there is some special nobility about altering the position of matter in space, just as men tried to make women believe that they derived some special nobility from their sexual enslavement.”

– Bertrand Russell, “In Praise of Idleness,” 1932

 

When I get really busy the first thing to go is usually the housework. I can only put this off for so long though, because I don’t live alone, and because sooner or later we’re going to run out of dishes – the housework is never really cancelled, it’s just delayed. After that are the political demonstrations, conferences, general assemblies, and other open invitation events that I like to attend, but often don’t. Next are the personal social engagements: the parties, the invitations to hang out, that sort of thing. Then there are my volunteer commitments, the things I’m organizing or helping out with, but that I might be able to offload onto someone else. Last is my work, which, as a student, includes assignments, papers, critical readings (i.e. the ones I can’t skip or pretend to have read), and so on.

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A while ago I sat down and thought about this list, and about how the things that are the most important to me, are often the first things to go. I thought about how often we’re pushed to give up on our opportunities to learn from one another, and connect, and organize, and discuss the “big picture,” in favour of checking off another thing on our to-do list, or taking on an unpaid internship, or working overtime, or filling out another application, and how troubling this is when I think about the broad, social implications. I think there is an (ironically) widely shared sentiment that we live in a society that is increasingly alienating, isolating, and individualizing us to the point that we don’t even have a real understanding of what it means to live together, on one planet. A lot of these fears get projected onto social media, mobile phones, and the Internet, which are alternately viewed as either the source of or the cure for all our social ills, but I think it runs deeper than that.

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About a year ago I read an essay by Roy Rosenzweig called “The Rise of the Saloon,” which talks about the effect of industrialization on the ability of workers to socialize during work, and the emergence of leisure time in the late 19th and early 20th century. As people moved from farms and workshops to industrial factories, they were forced, in the name of efficiency and profit, into more structured working regimens that were better suited to the monotonous rhythm of the machines, putting an end to the casual drinking, gambling, storytelling, singing, and debating that had characterized their previous places of work. The crackdown on workplace drinking however, and the tightening of other disciplinary measures, also made working conditions more intolerable. As a result, employees began resisting en masse, demanding shorter working days and higher pay. As working time and leisure time became increasingly distinct, new industries formed to fill the gaps. Where drinking was at first a largely informal affair carried out at work or in kitchen barrooms run mostly by working-class women, new regulations on the sale and distribution of alcohol pushed people out of their homes, and into the new saloons, which became the only establishments where alcohol could be reliably acquired. In effect this allowed the upper classes, the people who owned the factories and the saloons, and who wrote the legislation, to recuperate the money that they had ceded to their employees in the form of increased pay. Having fought so hard to acquire (or rather recover) some small amount of free time, workers were now compelled to spend that time consuming alcohol and other commodities.

This essay, I think, perfectly captures some of the dynamics that are still at work today. The pressure to enjoy ourselves, to spend what little free time we have on “leisure activities,” most of which cost us money (bars, luxury vacation packages, spas, amusement parks, IMAX movies, shopping sprees, videogames, conventions, concerts, the list of pay-to-play entertainment options goes on and on), goes hand in hand with the pressure to feel pride in how busy we are, and to feel shame any time we feel we’re “slacking off.” From this point of view, leisure is just another task we need to squeeze into our calendars.

polyp_cartoon_rat_raceI work in academia, and while it’s definitely not the worst working environment, it’s certainly one in which everyone feels constant pressure to be more productive, more “passionate,” and thus busier, than everyone else around them. It’s a rat race, and it’s terrible for us—it hurts our work, our mental health, our families, our friends, and our society. Of all the things that tend to fall through on a regular basis, it’s the collaborations with people and organizations outside our institutions or departments, because socializing and connecting with one another is not considered to be a productive use of time in and of itself. Unless you can put it on your CV, meetings are a waste, conferences are a waste, conversations are a waste, non-academic writing like this blog post are a waste, self-expression is a waste, it’s all a waste. Not everyone actually believes this (most probably don’t), but almost everyone acts as if it were true, because our careers depend on us playing along. This is how ideology works in the end—it’s not about what we think, it’s about what we actually do, how we perform, how we act with one another.

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Little known fact: graduate students tend to be obsessed with their productivity, or lack thereof.

The first thing to go when we run short on time is the one thing that actually makes social change possible. And the busier we get, the less effectively we’ll be able to organize. Organization for social change takes time: time when we aren’t working for others, time when we can imagine something other than the next deadline, time to care for ourselves and others, time to discover how we all fit together, time to be productive on our own terms, as opposed to somebody else’s.

This is why I think the labour movement is so important. Because when we work, and how we work, affect everything else. The 15Now campaign, to take just one example, isn’t just about underpaid employees finally making a living wage. It’s about a whole lot of people suddenly having a little more time and freedom to think about something other than how they’re going to eat that night, or which bill they’re going to pay off, or when they’ll get evicted. It’s about all that human potential, which we’re currently squandering on the altar of the “bottom line,” because everything that happens under capitalism, so the dictate goes, should happen only so long as someone, somewhere, is profiting.

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To quote, once again, Bertrand Russell’s “In Praise of Idleness”:

“I shall not dwell upon the fact that, in all modern societies outside the USSR, many people escape even this minimum amount of work, namely all those who inherit money and all those who marry money. I do not think the fact that these people are allowed to be idle is nearly so harmful as the fact that wage-earners are expected to overwork or starve.

If the ordinary wage-earner worked four hours a day, there would be enough for everybody and no unemployment — assuming a certain very moderate amount of sensible organization. This idea shocks the well-to-do, because they are convinced that the poor would not know how to use so much leisure…

The wise use of leisure, it must be conceded, is a product of civilization and education. A man who has worked long hours all his life will become bored if he becomes suddenly idle. But without a considerable amount of leisure a man is cut off from many of the best things. There is no longer any reason why the bulk of the population should suffer this deprivation; only a foolish asceticism, usually vicarious, makes us continue to insist on work in excessive quantities now that the need no longer exists.”

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If this was true in 1932, it is even truer today with the current advances in automation and computing. The question is, who is benefiting from this automation, and what will happen as more and more people are replaced by machines? Why are so many of us spending all of our time working in bullshit jobs that seem to serve no purpose beyond generating a profit for a few wealthy investors (not to mention certain sectors, such as the arms industry, that actually cause widespread harm)? If things continue along their current path, it seems we are heading for a world in which mass unemployment, and mass starvation, are the norm. Without adequate mechanisms for the redistribution of wealth, unemployment, rather than granting us some much-needed free time, becomes a death sentence, or at the very least a burden, as we compete with one another to find another job, not because we want to work, but because our survival depends on it. If the power of the labour movement lies in the ability of workers to withhold their labour, to refuse to work, what happens when that labour no longer holds any value to the people in power?

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This is the real threat of the doctrine of work: that we will end out working ourselves into obsolescence. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be part of a system that puts profit over people when we reach that point.

Perhaps we’ll never reach it, but I think it’s worthwhile, at the very least, fighting for the time and space to imagine, and produce, alternatives.

Too Busy to Resist

The Importance of Solidarity

There’s been a lot of talk lately about how kids these days (i.e. the millennials) are self-absorbed and need to learn to empathize with others, an accusation that has also been levied against the rich (albeit with more scientific backing). However I want to argue that a critical politics based on social solidarity is what we (meaning those of us on the political Left) are really after, and what many of the calls for “empathy” lack.

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Social solidarity means social cohesion based on interdependence, which, in our current, globalized societies, is a global interdependence. This idea is encapsulated by the phrase, “Workers of the world, unite!” — a call for solidarity amongst the vast majority of people that must sell their labour to survive (including those who are struggling with unemployment). While we all have different bosses, and work under very different conditions, our fates are bound together: a gain or loss in the standards of living and rights for one group affects all others, especially if those changes occur at the bottom of the ladder. Because we have very little power as individuals, the success and failure of these struggles is dependent on our ability to stick together and support one another, while still being conscious of the differences in power and privilege that divide us. The 8 hour work day, weekends, paid parental leave, pensions, public health care, universal suffrage, desegregation policies, employment equity, and other important historical gains won by labour unions and mass movements around the world are proof positive of the importance of social solidarity.

Social solidarity relies on critical thought and political action. While empathy usually leads us to nod our head in understanding, and sometimes prompts us to blindly accept what we’ve been told about the situation because we happen to connect to an individual or group emotionally, a critical politics pushes us to ask questions about where those feelings and experiences come from. A lot of human beings can empathize with anything, including an IKEA lamp, if it’s presented to them in the right light, but a critical politics based on social solidarity is what drives us to do something with those feelings.

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By Stephanie McMillan

Before I go any further, I should point out that I’m not trying to downplay the importance of interpersonal connections, or make a “reason over emotion” kind of argument (as if it were actually possible to divide the two). Empathy can certainly help enhance our sense of social solidarity, but what makes the latter especially useful is that it isn’t dependent on the former. You can stand by someone and support them even if you’re totally unable to understand, on an emotional or experiential level, what they’ve been through or how they’re feeling, and that’s a powerful (and I would say necessary) thing if we’re actually going to change our lives for the better.

Wisconsin

Not convinced yet? Here are a few other perks:

  1. It encourages us to think of politics as more than just a career choice, or a subject that ought to be left to the “experts.” Politics is not just something that happens in parliament; it also happens in the streets, in the lessons we teach to our children, in the relationships, organizations, and objects we build, in the things we read, watch, and play, and in our most mundane conversations.

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    “I think the two-party system is working just fine. Besides, buying a third one would be a bookkeeping nightmare.”
  2. It connects us to a rich history of struggle. There is so much more to learn from the past than what we’ve been taught in school, and some of the most thrilling, inspiring, and heart-wrenching tales come from the parts we never hear about. Listen to the story of the POUM and its demise during the Spanish Civil War, read about Rosa Luxembourg and the German Revolution, learn about the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo whose children were “disappeared” during the Argentinian Dirty War, or watch a documentary about the Brookside Strike.spanish_civil_war_poster
  3. Based on this history you will learn to see how different forms of injustice and discrimination, such as (neo)colonialism, classism, racism, sexism, and ableism, as well the abuse of our natural environment, are interconnected. This means that even if you don’t have much (or even any) experience with a particular form of oppression, you can still appreciate how each of our respective struggles are intertwined and, ultimately, interdependent.
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  4. It’s all about the big picture. While empathy tends to highlight the individual, a politics based on social solidarity focuses on the system as a whole. It recognizes that people are, more often than not, constrained to play a particular role within that system, and that punishing a person for the part they’ve played may be much less effective than challenging the system itself. This does not mean that we fail to hold people responsible for their actions–only that we think carefully about when and why we’re doing so, and consider whether it contributes to the broader changes that need to be made. For example, will blaming union members for striking solve the problems that led them to strike in the first place? What changes when we try to identify with their position, instead of the position of the people that have been inconvenienced by the strike, or their employers? While the media will often try to direct our empathy towards one group rather than another, we should always consider the political motives and assumptions that underlie these attempts to manipulate our emotions, and assume that there is more to the story than we’re being told, no matter how “right” it feels. Empathy may lead you to help someone in need, which is wonderful, but a critical politics will give you a clear and consistent reason for doing so.
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  5. We can do away with universalizing conceptions of “human nature” and morality. Empathy is a nice, feel-good concept, but by assuming that everyone has it, or needs it, or ought to have it, we unintentionally discriminate against those people that have difficulty identifying and matching emotions in others. Just because someone has trouble empathizing doesn’t mean they’re a bad person, and vice versa. You may be able to empathize with mens’ rights activists (MRAs), but if doing so means you also adopt their hatred of women, and particularly feminists, no one is better off because of it. There will always be limits to our empathy, but so long as our actions express a commitment to improving our collective well-being, that shouldn’t matter.

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Empathy is a good start, and something worth cultivating when we can. But it’s not enough on its own to get all of us up that hill. For that, we need a plan.

The Importance of Solidarity

GamerGate and the Right

For the last month and a half, most of what I have read, watched, or listened to on the Internet has been either directly or indirectly related to GamerGate.

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If you haven’t been following the chain of events, GamerGate started in late August when Eron Gjoni released a blog post alleging that his former girlfriend, game developer Zoe Quinn, had slept with a journalist in return for positive coverage of her free interactive fiction game, Depression Quest (this was later proven to be false). This resulted in a sustained harassment campaign targeting Quinn, as well as her family, friends, and supporters, and inspired the creation of the GamerGate hashtag on Twitter. The stated purpose of the hashtag was to raise awareness about corruption and ethics in game journalism, but it also served as a marshaling ground for people who had a bone to pick with “feminist ideologues.” Other feminist critics and game developers were targeted, many of whom had already been subjected to both online and offline harassment, including Anita Sarkeesian, Mattie Brice, Jenn Frank, and Brianna Wu. Supporters of GamerGate have repeatedly tried to distance themselves from the harassment, doxxing, and threats, but thanks in part to the disorganized and decentralized nature of the “movement,” they have had little success thus far. As many critics of GamerGate have pointed out, GamerGaters have largely focused on the activities of small indie developers and critics, rather than large companies, which are far more likely to have access to the resources necessary to influence and manipulate the gaming press, though some supporters have succeeded in pressuring advertisers to pull their ads from websites that have published articles criticizing the movement.

gg_sjwlistAside from a public discussion I hosted about a month ago, this is the first time I’ve sat down to write something that maybe will be seen by more than one or two people. I feel a bit badly for not speaking up earlier, not so much because I feel I have something especially important to say that hasn’t already been contributed by somebody else, but because I think that numbers matter. It’s part of how we measure “public opinion,” but it’s also a way of resisting the silencing tactics used by some of the more vocal (and violent) anti-feminist supporters of GamerGate. No one is obligated to read this, but the very fact that it exists is my way of saying “You may have succeeded in scaring the shit out of me, but I’m not going to back down.”

Still, it’s hard to know where to start. The impact on the gaming community I’m a part of has been tangible, but I also think it has, and will have, impacts far outside of that. This is because GamerGate is part of several broader trends, the most obvious of which is the polarization that follows in the wake of (or occurs as part of) economic, political, and cultural crises. By crisis I mean a sudden shift in the status quo, which occurs in any unsustainable system, and leads to a struggle over a limited supply of material and symbolic resources. Think of a house of cards, or a Jenga game, and the inevitable collapse. It’s the dramatic release of tensions that have been built up over a period of time, as a result of contradictions or oppositions that can’t be reconciled: the very act of playing the game and expanding the system, of adding cards or pulling out and restacking blocks, increases the instability of the system as a whole, until eventually it can no longer expand, and something has to give. In Jenga, this marks the end of the game, but in reality, life goes on, and people are forced to deal with the (often unpleasant) consequences of the collapse.

Capitalism, particularly in its current form, is a highly unstable, and ultimately unsustainable system based on private property and the endless pursuit of profit. Overall profit goes in one direction, from those who have less wealth (the employees) to those who have more (the investors), and this produces ever-greater inequalities. However the rich can only get so rich before people, infrastructure, economies, and other things that depend on the continuous circulation and redistribution of wealth, start to give way. The 2008 financial crisis is the product of the instability created by the push for endless growth (of markets and fortunes) in a finite world. The effects of this crisis are still being felt today, and it is partly because of this that we’ve seen waves of large-scale protests and conflicts emerging in countries around the world: Tunisia, Greece, China, Turkey, Venezuela, Brazil, Ukraine, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Iceland, Egypt, the United States, Syria, Canada, Spain, Libya, Portugal, and the list goes on.

(At this point you’re probably wondering what all this has to do with GamerGate, but bear with me, I’m getting there).

 

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In a crisis it becomes increasingly difficult to maintain a “middle ground,” as people are pressured to identify with one side of the conflict or another. As time goes on and the conflicts continue, both of these sides will tend to diverge, separating themselves from both the representatives of the old status quo (the liberals, centrists, and moderates, who present themselves as the “natural,” “normal,” and “neutral” middle ground), and the other side. This is what I mean by polarization. Historically, these two “sides” are what we call the Left and the Right. The Left is egalitarian and progressive, while the Right is hierarchical and reactionary.

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Often the Right adopts surface-level terminology and symbolism from the Left, as was the case with the “National Socialists” or Nazi party, which can fool people into supporting them, something that would be difficult if fascists were honest and open about their real motives. While the Left is pushing for greater inclusivity and equality, the Right is focused on protecting their turf from “outsiders.” This turf can be a nation, or it can be a medium like videogames. The outsiders can be Muslims, or Jews, or they can be feminists and “cultural Marxists” (a recycling of the term cultural Bolshevism, which was widely used by the Nazis during the Third Reich). Often this is wrapped up in language that emphasizes purity versus corruption, tradition versus change, strength versus weakness, order versus chaos. Class is almost never mentioned. Instead, the focus is on race, ethnicity, ability, gender, “merit,” sexuality, and ideology. In right-wing ideology, employees and bosses, rich and poor, are united against a common enemy.

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“Bolshevism without a Mask,” a 1937 anti-Bolshevik Nazi propaganda poster.

The goal of the Right is to eliminate “difference” in order to return to an imaginary, and heavily idealized past, a past where the power and privilege of the dominant race was unthreatened and unquestioned, a past where men were “real men” and women knew their place, a past that was morally, racially, and culturally “pure.” Everything and anything that is wrong with the current state of society can then be blamed on the outsiders, the invaders who have infiltrated your turf and who are responsible for its decline. All of your problems, all of your insecurities, all of your fears, can be channeled into hatred of the Other. This is called scapegoating, and it provides a simple solution to the difficulties that you’ve encountered throughout your life but have never been able to name. It provides comfort, a certain degree of safety (as a privileged insider), and a sense of community. You may not have much power, but at least you’re better than “they” are, at least you’re not one of “them.”

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The Left, unfortunately, represents a threat to all of that. The Left wants us to change our whole society around, the Left wants to upset hierarchies and disturb the “natural order of things,” the Left paints you as a bully even though you’re certain that you are the underdog. The Left represents everything that is wrong with the world, and it needs to be fought, tooth and nail. The Left is weak, corrupt, cowardly, and illogical (i.e. feminine), but we are strong, brave, rational, and valiant (i.e. masculine), and we are going to prove this by crushing the Left, and anyone else that dares to oppose us, because that’s how masculinity works. We’re the winners, not the losers, and we’ll do whatever it takes to win.

 

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In order to achieve this, we may claim to represent certain underprivileged groups, but deep down we can never accept them as equals, because as much as they try, they will never be real, white, heterosexual men. Never mind that they provide the basis of support that allows us to carry out some of our more extreme activities, never mind that they, like us, are simply looking for answers, and a sense of security, and belonging. This is, after all, the appeal of hashtags like #NotYourShield, which invites women and minorities to support and identify with GamerGate. It’s the feeling of being a part of something bigger than yourself, of feeling included, and welcomed, of having a clear purpose. It’s the same feeling that has united so-called “social justice warriors” on the Left, and activists of various stripes.

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The thing that is rarely understood about the Right, and its more extreme variant, fascism, is the extent to which it thrives on crisis. Crisis is what produces the anxiety, the uncertainty, and the desperation that pushes people to look for answers, to look for security, in whatever form. Crisis, which also brings with it the potential for change, the potential for a dramatic redefinition of the status quo, threatens those who currently occupy a position of power or privilege, particularly when they are faced with a strong and organized Left. In order to prevent the Left from gaining ground during the crisis, the old guard will start to support (or at least fail to prevent) the activities of the extreme Right, of the fascists, who at this point may be the only ones who seem capable of putting down the Left. The fascists are not afraid to use violence, whether that means beating up and killing Leftist activists or harassing feminist critics and game developers online. The elites, meanwhile, are perfectly happy to let somebody else do their dirty work, even if publicly they will denounce the violence, or pretend to take a neutral stance. Up until now they have had to put up with constant criticism from the Left, but no more. From their point of view, fascists are actually preferable (an enemy of my enemy is my friend).

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The point I’m trying to make is that you do not have to be a fascist to act as a basis of support for fascism. You do not have to be actively harassing women and minorities to provide a cover for those who are. Not everyone in Germany was a Nazi, and not every Nazi was necessarily a xenophobic sociopath, but that didn’t stop them from committing genocide. The Nazi party emerged in a moment of crisis, initially supported by members of the Western ruling class who feared the spread of communism and its promise of a global revolution more than anything else, just as the fascist parties of today are slowly but surely gaining ground, alongside the rise of movements like Occupy and Idle No More.

 

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Screencaps from the GamerGate 8chan board.

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This is why I find anti-feminist sentiments and references to “cultural Marxists” in GamerGate videos and texts so absolutely terrifying, because I know where those things come from, and I know what they can produce. Anders Breivik repeatedly decries the corrupting influence of “cultural Marxist” in his manifesto, which he published not long before massacring 77 people in Norway. Elliot Rodger blamed women for his suffering, and for his inability to live up to the impossible standards of patriarchy, before killing 6 people and himself. Marc Lépine claimed he was “fighting feminism” when he murdered 14 people and committed suicide at École Polytechnique.

These might seem like isolated cases, but they all fall back on the same old myths about women and minoritized groups that are perpetuated by the mainstream media and supported by structural oppression. Every time we use a sexist slur, or dismiss the experiences of women and minorities, or make a crack about “feminazis,” or dehumanize someone who is struggling with poverty, or blame unemployment on immigrants, we contribute to a toxic culture that serves as a breeding ground for hate groups and right-wing extremism. People on both sides are suffering, but it is ultimately the people who are already disempowered, who are already vulnerable, that will bear the brunt of it, regardless of which side they identify with.

 

GamerGate and the Right

We need “Capitalism 101”

This is a call to all the parents and teachers and guardians and mentors out there: we can’t continue to raise generations of kids that have no idea how this economic and political system called capitalism functions, how it shapes our culture and our relationships with one another, how it impacts our sense of self and our understanding of right and wrong.

Growing up I can’t recall a single instance when someone actually sat me down and said, look Carolyn, you’re living in a capitalist society, and it’s about time you understood what that means. I was never taught to name the system, let alone comprehend it, and I don’t think my parents were either. I was born into capitalism the way one is born into a religion: there are certain rules you must follow, and rituals you must perform, but you’re never encouraged to think about why those rules or rituals exist, where they came from, or who benefits from their existence. Instead all the emphasis is on the person following the rules and performing the rituals, on you as an individual and your behaviour; everything else is beyond your control, part of the “natural order”. This is personal empowerment (and responsibility) being used to hide collective disempowerment (and responsibility).

Meant to Be Free by Stephanie McMillan
Meant to Be Free by Stephanie McMillan

Even four years under the roof of a liberal arts university wasn’t enough to shake me out of my stupor. After all, what’s four years of classes on literature and theory against 18+ years of Disney, Batman, and The Price is Right. Sure I learned about racism and sexism and colonialism, but they were always represented to me as relics of the past, things we as human beings were slowly starting to overcome, not as things that were being actively produced and fostered, and certainly not as products of a political and economic system that puts wealth and power in the hands of the few at the expense of the many. Karl Marx, perhaps the only theorist I encountered in school that dealt directly with economic concerns, was depicted as an outdated hack, whose theories and methods were overly rigid and totally irrelevant to the current situation.

marxIt’s striking to me now, looking back, that I went through so much of my life without ever thinking about capitalism directly, all the while accepting, subconsciously, the idea that capitalism was some sort of benevolent god, working through the “invisible hand” of the market, providing us with all of our modern goods and services, all our comforts and progressive values. Sure there were problems, but these were just the natural outcomes of human imperfections, or government intervention, or something like that, right?

It was only when I learned to name the system that I also learned to see, not only the extent of the problems, but the myriad of ways in which they were interconnected. I began to see (or rather was shown) the limits of the bubble I’d been living in, and how different things looked when I pushed on the edges of that bubble. Rather than viewing capitalism as natural, normal, and eternal, I began to see it as constructed, unsustainable, and in many ways, absurd.

How is it absurd, you ask? Well, let me count the ways.

1) High levels of economic growth and record-breaking profits exist alongside rising poverty levels, even in the richest countries.

2) We have an untold number of urgent problems that need to be resolved, including a looming environmental crisis that threatens the entire globe, and yet people everywhere are struggling to find work or are languishing in jobs that serve no useful purpose outside of the drive for profit.

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3) Countries with millions of unoccupied homes, also have problems with homelessness.

4) When new labour-saving inventions are introduced, they won’t be implemented until rising wages make it profitable to do so (i.e. machines become cheaper than people). When automation does happen, the workers are forced to fight against it, or risk losing their jobs. Instead of technology reducing the amount of time we all need to work to meet our needs, and improving our collective well-being, it actually hurts workers, who then have to compete to find new jobs, and/or accept less pay for their work.

Automated by Steph McMillan
Automated by Steph McMillan

5) Despite dwindling natural resources, our societies are producing massive amounts of waste. (For a specific example of the kind of waste produced by “free enterprise,” check out this story about Goldman Sach’s merry-go-round of metal.)

There are many more things I could list, including the surveillance state, the militarization of the police, and perpetual war, but you get the idea. Whether you’re totally on board with all of these claims, don’t believe a word of it, or agree with some of it but still think capitalism is worth saving, it’s worth reflecting on why you think this is the case. These, I would argue, are some of the symptoms of capitalism, but how well do you really understand its inner workings or its development over time? What about alternatives to capitalism? Do you feel a sense of revulsion, fear, and/or disdain when confronted with words like communism and anarchism, and if so, why? Do you think you could explain their theoretical foundations and history to somebody if they asked?

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Commodity Breakdown by Stephanie McMillan. For a step by step explanation click on the image use Next to see each of the figures.

Though these questions have interested me for a while now, I still have a lot to learn, and sorting through the bullshit and misinformation can be time-consuming. A general climate of anti-intellectualism hasn’t helped, and while there are good reasons to be suspicious of the role academia has played in justifying the positions and mandates of the global elite, as a whole anti-intellectualism only makes us more susceptible to being misled and manipulated. One of the most telling flaws (though some might call it their strength) in right-wing rhetoric is the utter inability to explain, on a real, material, and fundamental level, how capitalism actually works, let alone other systems of social and economic organization. Instead you’ll hear vague (and often contradictory) appeals to freedom, individual rights, and innovation, with very little evidence or analysis–but then they don’t need it, because this vision of capitalism is so pervasive that we (meaning those occupying the more privileged corners of the West) don’t even notice it’s there most of the time. Some of us don’t want to notice, because we’re personally invested in the system, and are afraid to confront it. In this case anti-intellectualism can be very convenient, since it allows us to deflect criticism from “pompous” intellectuals while ignoring any research that happens to contradict our beliefs or undermine our interests.

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There are some inklings that things are starting to change, however. Thanks in part to movements like Occupy and 15 Now, both of which emerged as a result of the 2008 financial crisis, the critique of capitalism is no longer taboo. People everywhere are feeling the strain, or devastation, of austerity measures, and the proverbial cake is beginning to crumble. Even in economics, which has played an important role in legitimizing capitalism, students are starting to demand an alternative approach that pushes beyond the dogma that has pervaded their discipline for so long.

But there is still a massive need for educational initiatives that address the very heart of the existing world system, the always-present but rarely acknowledged elephant in the room. Whatever our political leanings, we need to get to know this elephant called capitalism, and understand how it affects our day-to-day lives, before we find ourselves on the wrong side of history. We need to know what it is we’re standing up for, or what we’ve chosen to fight, and we need to help others do the same.

With that in mind, here is a list of resources that I’ve found helpful (also check out the links scattered throughout the post). Please feel free to suggest more if you have them!

RSA Animate – Crises of Capitalism with David Harvey

The Contradictions of Capitalism a talk and Q&A David Harvey

Marx’s Capital by Ben Fine and Alfredo Saad-Filho

Capitalism Must Die! by Stephanie McMillan. This is where half of the illustrations in this post came from, but the descriptions she includes on her website are also very helpful.

Slavery and the Origins of Racism by Lance Selfa

 

We need “Capitalism 101”

#NotAllFeminists

Feminism. It’s a word that means a lot of different things to a lot of different folks. To me it means the fight for equality, not just for women, but for all people that are marginalized and oppressed. Others see it as a scam or a conspiracy theory designed to cover up “female privilege” and/or subjugate men.

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“What, dinner not ready yet! What have you been doing? A picture of the future by our ‘mild-mannered’ artist”

Unfortunately patriarchy (which, by the way, also hurts men) is alive and well, and one of its effects is the demonization of feminism. Anyone who dares to publicly support it risks opening themselves up to criticism, ridicule, slander, exclusion, harassment, threats of physical harm and sexual assault, or other, often subtler, forms of punishment, especially if they happen to be a woman. The more vulnerable or underprivileged we are, the more dangerous it is to self-identity as a feminist, and the less likely it is we’ll be able to recover from our wounds.

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It’s no surprise then that many women avoid having anything to do with feminism. The stereotypes and misinformation that are actively promoted and spread by governments, mainstream media, religious organizations, men’s rights activists (MRAs), and so on don’t help either. In an attempt to combat these stereotypes, and perhaps avoid some of the anticipated backlash, many of us try to play down the more threatening elements of feminism, separating ourselves from the imaginary bra-burning, man-hating, “feminazi” militants that some people believe represent the movement as a whole. But while it’s true that there are many different strands of feminism, some of which are more radical than others, there are still problems with dismissing “that” kind of feminism out of hand.

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Image from Hark! a Vagrant – “Straw Feminists in the Closet” by Kate Beaton

First of all, we’re lending support to the “bra-burning” stereotype by promoting the idea that these women were/are irrational, that their actions were/are unwarranted, that they hurt rather than helped the movement, and that good feminists “know better.”  This does a disservice to the women that, whether you agree with their methods or not, risked a lot to help secure the rights we now enjoy.

Secondly, we’re excluding women that are angry, and have every right to be, by advocating a more “moderate,” liberal approach, while subtly reprimanding those that refuse to remain “calm” and “reasonable” in the face of extreme suffering, exploitation, injustice, and oppression. It’s easy to stay calm when you’re relatively privileged, much harder when you’re at the bottom of the ladder, struggling to survive, and constantly being shit on by everyone else. Many people may have trouble connecting to liberal feminism, not because it’s too scary or angry, but because it’s too nice, too complacent, too tailored to mens’ expectations, too focused on incremental reform as the one and only method of bringing about change, not to mention that it often completely fails to address the experiences and concerns of poor, working class, non-white, and non-cis-gendered women. Some of these people may feel that liberal feminism is far too preoccupied with symbolic gestures that are designed to make patriarchy more appealing to women, rather than actually working to eliminate patriarchy, and the systems of social stratification that support it, and you know what, they might be right.

Image by Nicole Stradiotto
Image by Nicole Stradiotto

And really, in all seriousness, what is so bad about burning a bra anyway?? It’s just a piece of clothing! How could this possibly compare to the acts of violence that women around the world face every single day? But of course we’ve been fed the narrative about “crazy” feminists so often that we don’t even stop to think about it. This narrative has been around for a long time (just check out this New York Times article from 1912), in various forms, and it’s typical of the divide and conquer strategies that have been used to undermine collective struggles throughout history. Not only does it encourage feminists to turn against one another, but it also reinforces the message that it’s always better to play by the rules–even if the rules were created largely by and for men, even if they’re unfair, and even if that means accepting less pay for our work, keeping our experiences and opinions to ourselves, or putting up with harassment and abuse, because nobody likes an angry, whiny, unreasonable, uncompromising, feminist.


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I’m not saying that we shouldn’t welcome male allies, that men can’t be feminists, or that we can’t work together to further our goals, but neither should we be ashamed of our anger, or repress it in ourselves or others, or stop fighting for our rights because some people are upset by our anger or don’t agree with us. If the men that claim to be our allies are really on our side, they’ll feel angry as well, or at least support us in our anger, rather than trying to shut us down.

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And really, no matter how much we try to act tame and “play nice,” it will never be enough, because feminism, like all social movements, is always going to be threatening so long as it represents a change in the status quo. The moment it stops doing that is the moment feminism dies, or at least ceases to serve its purpose.  That doesn’t mean we all get to keep the rights we currently have either, because those rights weren’t granted to us by benevolent government officials out of the kindness of their hearts; they had to be fought for, and unless we continue to fight, they will be taken away. The process is already in motion. The expansion of the prison industrial complex, the suppression of wages and attacks on unions and collective bargaining, cuts to public services and a push towards privatization, government spying, the introduction of laws that allow for the suspension of basic rights and freedoms (usually justified by vague threats to “national security”), and the rising popularity of fascist parties, all point to a less than pretty future, and not just for women. While this list may seem to have little or nothing to do with women’s rights, intersectional feminism is concerned with all forms of oppression and inequality, and the ways in which they connect to and reinforce one another. If we start with the understanding that everyone, regardless of sex, gender, age, ethnicity, sexuality, religion, and so on, has a right to respect, dignity, and a decent quality of life, we can start to see how these developments might negatively impact on those rights.

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If we’re going to stand against this, let alone fight back, we’re going to need to embrace our anger, and the anger of others who, like us, are tired of the double standards, the excuses, the fear, and the hardship. Rather than dismiss it, we need to learn to use that anger, and turn it against the system that oppresses us; we need to make it work for us, rather than against us, as it so often does. I say this not because I think anger is a wonderful thing (it’s not), but because the alternative (passivity) is much, much worse.

I don’t know about you, but I’d take an angry feminist over an angry racist misogynist any day of the week.

#NotAllFeminists

Why I started going to protests

I grew up in a small, relatively isolated community in the heart of Labrador. Dominated by a military air base, my hometown was not exactly what you would call a hotbed of social unrest. That’s not to say important political struggles weren’t happening, especially between embattled aboriginal groups and the White majority, but I was largely insulated from them. As a child the only marches I witnessed on a regular basis were the annual Christmas parades. When I moved away to a attend a liberal arts university I was exposed to a lot of new ideas; terms like institutional racism, patriarchy, and Orientalism became a part of my working vocabulary. At the same time, I became aware of rising tuition fees, and student opposition to the hikes. Small protests were held on campus, but they were never people I knew, and they always seemed pitiably tiny in comparison to the majority of the student body that were content to carry on with their lives. It was easy to disassociate myself from them, and their methods, not least because I had parents that could afford to pay my tuition.

Then I moved to Quebec, and found myself in the midst of what would soon be called “The Maple Spring,” otherwise known as the 2012 Quebec student protests. The issue was the same, but suddenly the protesters were not some isolated group of strangers. They included my friends, my classmates, and my professors. Even then, it took some convincing to get me out on the streets. After all, tuition was much higher in the other provinces, more than double in the case of the university I had previously attended. So what was the big deal?

Had I been anywhere else that would probably have been the end of it, but, simply by virtue of being present at a university in a left-leaning department in a province with a history of student activism, I met people, read things, and witnessed events that slowly but surely led me to think otherwise. I met students that were working part time, studying full time, and still struggled to pay the bills, some of whom would not be able to return to university if the tuition hikes went through. I met parents trying to support their children on incomes that were well below the poverty line. I heard professors talk about the endless battle against the corporatization of the university, and classmates that clearly and patiently explained the importance of making higher education as accessible as possible to as many people as possible. I read news articles and comments dismissing the movement out of hand, implying that its participants were all a bunch of spoiled, entitled, lazy brats, and suggesting that Quebec as a whole was nothing more than a parasite sucking on the blood of Canada’s more “productive” provinces. I compared this to what I was seeing on the ground, to the cheering, smiling crowds banging pots and parading down the street, to the articulate statements of students and supporters, to the arrogant and repressive tactics of the Liberal government, and realized just how warped and uninformed my image of the student protests, and of protests in general, had been.

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Despite all this, in the end I only attended three different events (including the 200,000-strong protest on March 22, which left a long-lasting impression on me). The rest of the time I conjured up a series of excuses, or convinced myself that I just wasn’t the type to go out and protest, that these manifs (short for manifestations) and demos weren’t for me. I was wrong, but it took me a long time to figure out why. The first problem was that I didn’t fully understand the importance or meaning of solidarity. I felt that, because I wouldn’t be directly harmed by the proposed increase in tuition rates, I had no right and no need to go out and protest it. I had no concept of how social movements have grown throughout history, and how so much of their strength lies in the ability and willingness of diverse groups to stick together, and show support for one another, even when they do not directly benefit from doing so. It seems so simple now, but I never bothered to ask myself: If I can’t stand up for a cause that matters to someone else, why should I expect them to stand up for mine? I am now of the opinion that solidarity is the foundation of positive social change, and that it is, in effect, the only thing that can save us from the destruction of the many by the few, but I was a long time getting there.

quebec students

The second problem was that the mainstream media, the education system, and other social forces had taught me to see activists, and activism, as a special category of people and activities that are totally separate from the lives of “ordinary citizens” like me. Martin Luther King Jr., Gandhi,  David Suzuki, Malcolm X, Nelson Mandela, these were the sort of people that got involved in activism, the “great men” of history, the leaders and the shakers capable of rousing the masses (as if the masses had no ideas of their own). The rest of us (the un-roused masses?) had other things to worry about, like getting an education, and finding a job, and maybe starting a family. Of course it’s now apparent that these “tried and true” steps to achieving a comfortable and fulfilling life are growing more and more out of reach, even in the world’s wealthiest countries, but for a while this just seemed like the natural order of things. Either you were an activist, or you were a regular Joe; there was no in-between. In my head mass movements were a thing of the past, never mind that they were happening all around me.

not_this_much_democracy

It also took me a long time to figure out that there was more to being a “responsible citizen” than voting for an elected representative every now and then (a very comfortable and convenient fiction). In fact, most of the important historical gains that some of us still enjoy today (such as universal health care, weekends and the 8 hour work day, women’s right to vote, anti-segregation policies, etc.) were the direct result of either the threat or the reality of widespread social unrest, expressed through protests, civil disobedience, strikes, sabotage, and other disruptive actions that prevented governments and corporations from carrying on with business as usual. Unaware of this history, I was unable to make the connection between social change and social unrest, between political reform and popular pressure, in all its myriad of forms. I had been fed a watered down version of democracy and a whitewashed image of history, and it had the effect of disconnecting me from the political realities that shape my everyday life. It left me disempowered, while covering up my disempowerment with inspiring narratives about entrepreneurial, self-made men (and occasionally women) that are helping to make the world a better place. “If you just work hard and buy into the system,” I was told, “you too can rise to the top, and make a difference.” “Don’t worry about things you can’t change,” I was told, “just focus on your own life.””Protests are for radical extremists and deluded hippies,” I was told, “and you don’t want to be associated with that, now do you?”

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Having stood, to some degree, on both sides of the fence, I am now just starting to realize how much effort goes into building and maintaining that fence. The careful selection of which protests are covered in the media, and how, the failure to connect current movements with historical struggles, the divide and conquer tactics used to turn us against one another, the idealization of the role of the police and the demonization of the protesters, all of this works to prevent us from identifying with the people on the streets, particularly the people risking arrest, the people being harassed, beaten, stalked, and threatened by law enforcement and intelligence agencies. And for the most part we accept it, or shrug our shoulders, because nobody wants to get arrested, right, and it’s not like they’re achieving anything anyway, the bunch of whiners. But it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy, and we ought to recognize it as such.

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While I go to more protests now, I’ll admit that I still make excuses, and I still find reasons not to go. Probably 90% or more of the protests I hear about (and agree with) I don’t attend. I’m not proud of this, because a lot of the time it’s not a lack of privilege, ability, or access to information that’s preventing me from going; it’s straight up fear, and laziness, and apathy, and sometimes just the feeling that nobody is listening, nobody is on our side, and it’s all a big waste of time. The only thing that gets me there is encouragement from people I admire and respect and the reminder that solidarity isn’t something you do when it’s convenient, it’s not about picking the winning side, and it’s not about instant feedback or success. Protests aren’t always effective, or beneficial, but the very fact that the establishment goes to such great lengths to discourage us from participating in them suggests that they’re not useless either.

Around the world protests are on the rise (along with social inequality, global temperatures, and fascism), and one way or another we’ll all have to decide what that means for us personally. Do we sit back and watch the show, or do we get involved (if we can)? Which movements do we support, and which do we oppose? How far are we willing to go, and what are the consequences if we go too far or hold back? These aren’t just questions for self-proclaimed activists, they’re questions we all have to face, and the sooner the better. No one is asking or expecting you to burn down buildings, or smash windows, or fight riot cops, or anything like that. I just want to know if you’ll be there.

Why I started going to protests

Neoliberalism, capitalism, and the “doomsayers”

The following is a copy of an email I wrote in response to an article my uncle passed along to my mother and I, titled “Doomsaying math whizzes just don’t understand capitalism.” I spent all afternoon writing a reply, so I figured I might as well post it, cause, seriously, this thing took me forever.

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The more time I spend in academia the more I feel that the really important debates are the ones that happen informally amongst friends, family, acquaintances, etc., at least for students like myself, so I’m always happy to take a break from paper-writing to talk about pressing issues. Unsurprisingly, I have a number of thoughts on this article. The first relates to the vested interests of the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, the “independent non-partisan public policy think tank” that the author represents. This article suggests that the institute has a number of ties to the Conservative party, and its list of corporate donors is also quite impressive.

The MLI comes across to me as one of a large number of think tanks and non-profits that either lobby or “advise” the government on behalf of their corporate/private sponsors. They also act as extensions of traditional PR departments, attempting to sway public opinion about issues relevant to the industries whose interests they represent. The Center for Consumer Freedom is a good example of this, and is particularly effective because it purports to represent the interests of “consumers,” a practice known as astroturfing. Another frequent problem in these organizations, particularly amongst lobbyists, is the “revolving door” phenomenon, which the article about MLI mentions. This website also has a number of examples from the US. The revolving door is a particularly tricky and widespread form of corruption, since it’s not strictly illegal, though it certainly introduces some pretty serious conflicts of interest.

The interesting thing about neoliberal organizations like the MLI is that while they claim to fight government intervention in all its forms and criticize the gov. for being wasteful and inefficient, they will then turn around and support/defend some of the most egregious examples of government intervention and over-spending. For example in this article Brian Lee Crowley defends the Canadian government over the F-35 jet scandal.

In the article he argues that: “Many blanch when presented with the full bill for the military preparedness that is a sine qua non of sovereignty and the protection of national interests at home and abroad.” Basically Crowley and the MLI are fine with the Canadian government spending vast quantities of tax-payers’ money on military ventures and the criminal justice system, and in some cases argue that
governments aren’t doing enough. In this article for example the MLI state that “On this central question of the state’s duty to protect its citizens from crime, Canadians are not as well served as they should be.” This is based on the recognition that governments are necessary in order to keep a lid on the population, violently repress workers that attempt to organize (see for e.g. the http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Banana_massacre), and protect private property rights in the face of pronounced social and economic inequalities. Though some transnationals such as Monsanto are acquiring their own private armies in the form of mercenary groups like Blackwater, or military robotics companies like Boston Dynamics (which was recently purchased by Google), most businesses can’t afford to do this or would prefer not to if they can get the government to do it for them. Governments and their armies are also useful for pressuring other countries into opening themselves up to foreign investment, either through regime changes like the one that is being attempted in Venezuela, or through the lending policies of government-backed international organizations like the IMF. Wars fought by nations are also more likely to have public support and legitimacy than wars fought by private companies. Obviously military interventions and IMF regulations can and have hurt small local businesses, but this isn’t really a concern for transnationals.

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There’s also the question of the extent to which the deregulation of the financial industry directly contributed to the financial crisis of 2008 (the root causes of which have still not been resolved). Ironically the same neoliberals that were pushing for deregulation in the preceding decades were more than happy to take the government bailouts once the crisis hit, bailouts which came at a huge cost to ordinary people. What I’m trying to argue is that contemporary neoliberalism (which is much more radically laissez-faire now than it used to be), as an ideology, equates freedom with their vision of a “free market society” to support the interests of a ruling elite, arguing for government
control/intervention in economic affairs when it suits those interests and against it when it does not. As this article points out, ” the practical outcome of the neoliberal agenda over the past 20 years has not, in most cases, been to diminish the state’s institutional power or spending. Instead, it has redirected it elsewhere, and strengthened the power of the many Northern nation states to intervene in the economic affairs of other countries, notably the indebted countries of the South, the emerging economies of the former Soviet Union and the weaker partners of trade blocs such as the European Union. Indeed, as the World Bank’s World Development Report (WDR) makes clear, state spending relative to the economy as a whole has continued to grow in OECD countries, and now averages 50 per cent of GDP.”

So far none of this is directly related to what’s actually written in the article though. To start off, Crowley’s argument that the “doomsayers” he cites are wrong because our civilization hasn’t collapsed yet is flawed for a number of reasons. First, Al Gore, Nicholas Sterne, and the authors of The Limits to Growth aren’t suggesting that the apocalypse is inevitable, or that “human beings are…prisoners of some Newtonian clockwork universe.” The very fact that they’re advocating for change is testament to their belief that humans are innovative, active agents that are capable of exerting some control over their collective future. Strangely the links the author provides for The Limits of Growth and Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth actually support or corroborate many of their findings/predictions/extrapolations. Also most of the “worst case scenario” predictions are tied to a future date that has not yet arrived, so saying that “we’re still waiting” doesn’t necessarily prove them wrong, even assuming the specific date was actually that important, as compared to the general trends that are being identified.

In the case of the study by the “NASA mathematicians,” (none of whom are NASA employees, though they did receive some funding from NASA for the study), I question whether Crowley has even bothered to read the actual paper. If he had, he would know that the study makes no claims about the state of our current society (except to say that some of the scenarios they created more closely match our current reality than others, which is not the same as claiming that their model accurately represents reality) or the future of capitalism. Instead it suggests a general model for understanding historical examples of societal collapse. Their conclusions are as follow: “In sum, the results of our experiments, discussed in section 6, indicate that either one of the two features apparent in historical societal collapses |over-exploitation of natural resources and strong economic strati cation| can independently result in a complete collapse. Given economic strati cation, collapse is very difficult to avoid and requires major policy changes, including major reductions in inequality and population growth rates. Even in the absence of economic stratification, collapse can still occur if depletion per capita is too high. However, collapse can be avoided and population can reach equilibrium if the per capita rate of depletion of nature is reduced to a sustainable level, and if resources are distributed in a reasonably equitable fashion.” This is a general claim about historical trends based on a mathematical model; whether and how we apply this to our current situation is entirely up to us (although I tend to be a fan of learning from history). Here’s the study if you’re interested: http://www.sesync.org/sites/default/files/resources/motesharrei-rivas-kalnay.pdf

In contrast to these “doomsayers” Crowley suggests that business-as-usual will work out just fine, and that there is no need to move towards alternative forms of social/political/economic organization. Again I would point out that Crowley represents groups with a strong vested interest in maintaining the status quo. Most of the author’s arguments seem to rely on the idea that capitalism is a special or ideal economic system that somehow renders our society immune to collapse, despite the fact that collapses have occurred all throughout human history. This argument seems shaky at best–especially given that boom-and-bust cycles are endemic to capitalism–and the author provides no real data to back up such a specious claim. Instead he implies that capitalism promotes technological innovation, something which other economic/political systems are apparently incapable of or at least not very good at, and that innovation and efficiency will save us all. That humans will adapt to new circumstances I don’t doubt; what I do doubt is his argument that under capitalism technological progress is inevitable, that its benefits are or will be universally applied, and that it will continue at a rate that is sufficient to counteract climate change and environmental degradation. He also has little to say about the concentration of wealth and how capitalism does or does not contribute to social and economic inequalities.

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While the article is short, a proper defense of capitalism should include a comprehensive look at available alternatives. Unfortunately the only alternative he looks at is a strangely narrow notion of socialism, which he equates with the authoritarian regimes of the Soviet Union and China, suggesting that he knows absolutely nothing about the complexity and variety of socialist systems and theories. According to Crowley, doomsayers are “always willing to cast themselves in the role of saviour. Give us the power to curb population growth, to spread the wealth, to prevent overconsumption, they murmur seductively, and we will save you from the doom that awaits. According to The Guardian newspaper’s writer who first drew the world’s attention to the NASA mathematicians’ gloomy prognostications, their work shows that only egalitarian socialism can save us from ourselves.” Leaving aside the fact that this is only one interpretation of that study, it is also not how socialism works. Socialism is not something that can be implemented by a small group of scientists and policy-makers; it requires a huge mass movement such as the ones that arose during the October Revolution, the Cuban Revolution, or the Bolivarian Revolution.

Finally, the pretty picture Crowley paints of the world glosses over a lot of injustice, suffering, and corruption that is and has been occurring all throughout the history of capitalism. If capitalism gets to take credit for all the good things that have happened, from hunter-gatherer society onwards, it should also take credit for all the bad, including wars, genocides, slavery, famines and droughts (people like to blame famines on communism but rarely apply that same logic to capitalism), poverty, spiraling debt, systemic discrimination, climate change, etc.

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I am also completely disgusted by Crowley’s statement that: “Far from exploiting the poor of the developing world, the developed world has created the ideas and technologies that have made their very lives possible in such large numbers, and improved the standard of living they can enjoy.” The racist idea that our superior society is bringing the “light of civilization” to the “dark corners of the earth” has been repeatedly used and propagated by colonialists to justify the violent takeover and pillaging of foreign lands and the enslavement of their peoples. The reason developing countries are in such a bad state is because Western colonial powers left them that way and/or are continuing to find new ways to exploit or suppress them, not because the people living there are inherently incapable of achieving our high standard of living, nor necessarily because the material conditions in a country prevent it from developing economically (this is precisely the barrier colonialism is designed to overcome). The idea that the poor of the developing world should “enjoy” their poverty and disempowerment and be grateful to us for allowing them to live “in such large numbers” is sickening. This is like a slave owner telling his slave, “aren’t you lucky I’m here to feed you and put a roof over your head.”

A map of countries England has invaded/occupied (in pink). Here's the source: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/history/9653497/British-have-invaded-nine-out-of-ten-countries-so-look-out-Luxembourg.html
A map of countries England has invaded/occupied (in pink). Here’s the source: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/history/9653497/British-have-invaded-nine-out-of-ten-countries-so-look-out-Luxembourg.html

I don’t think I’ll go further into the complex relationship between the developing and the developed world here, but if you want to know more about where I’m coming from I recommend starting with the Wikipedia entry on postcolonialism and Immanuel Wallerstein’s book, “World-Systems Analysis: An Introduction.”

Anyway that’s my two cents. Sorry this is so long; I had trouble containing myself. Hope everything’s well in your corners of the world.

Neoliberalism, capitalism, and the “doomsayers”