pretty ways to challenge capitalist ideas
[...] If higher wages were all that is necessary, Marx would have been no more than a wordy and over-philosophical union activist. The problems, however, are much bigger: the wage relation and capitalist social relations themselves. The point is not to redistribute capitalist value, but to overcome it, to destroy it as the relation that rules the world.
The idea that capitalism will persist as long as the rule of value holds is Marx's essential lesson. This is not a majority opinion, and is easily taken as dismissive of "reformist" efforts to improve working conditions and the distribution of income. I don't mean to suggest such efforts are useless because they are not "radical" enough. Clearly, any effort on the part of labourers (and unemployed people) to improve the material conditions of their everyday lives is worthwhile. My point is that the fundamental problem with capitalism as a mode of production is not ultimately addressed by the redistribution of capital.
[...] The whole point of paying workers well is to keep the system going--in fact, there is a theory in orthodox economics that says this is exactly what "fair" wages do. So as a social justice strategy, wage demands are key. As a social transformation strategy, they are insufficient.
Yet it must be said that this still does not suggest an obvious reason to reject the idea that if workers were paid "fairly"--presumably at least as much as capitalists--then no one would want to be a capitalist anymore, or would have no self-interested incentive to be one, and the whole mode of production would fall apart. In other words, we might use the wage relation to overcome the wage relation. [...]
On the contrary, the explanation is far more straightforward: capital won. Sometimes with armies, sometimes with persuasion, sometimes with money, and sometimes by accident, but it won. For at least the last thirty or forty years, and this is increasingly true in nominally "noncapitalist" nation-states like China also, capital has proven richer, more powerful, more expansive, more convincing, and more real than any other political economic force on the planet. It is not a myth, it is not an elaborate hoax, and its wealth and dominance are not fictitious or illusory. Unsurprisingly, therefore, it has written the political economic rule book by which the world plays, and defined the terms and means by which one might "legitimately" break those rules. Socialists may have lost their ideological fire, or they may have read the writing on the wall and decided that given the options available to them, and the ultimate political and economic objectives to which socialism aims, i.e., the long-term betterment of citizens' everyday lives, their constituencies had to play by the rules, and the rules rule against being socialists.
on socialist parties in Spain endorsing austerity
"capital has proven richer, more powerful, more expansive, more convincing, and more real than any other political economic force on the planet. It is not a myth, it is not an elaborate hoax, and its wealth and dominance are not fictitious or illusory. Unsurprisingly, therefore, it has written the political economic rule book by which the world plays, and defined the terms and means by which one might "legitimately" break those rules" -> think about this
[...] The most fundamental problem with capitalism, and the reason it must be rejected, is that it is structured, in its very operation, to make it impossible for millions and even billions to be free in any meaningful sense. The critique of capitalism has little to do with how well it provides for the people of the world relative to what came before (feudalism, slave-plantations, etc.), or with a need to defend the disastrous attempts to resist it (Stalinist "communism", faux-socialist kleptocracy, etc.). Anticapitalism has to do, rather, with the fact that capitalism is not good enough. It is unacceptable.
connects with my thoughts on capitalism as this adolescent stage
[...] Some, of course, hedge their bets, saying capitalism is "the best we can do," or the "least bad" way of organizing our political economic lives. That, it seems to me, is horseshit, and not a shred of evidence supports it. At my most generous, I might grant that capitalism, relative to what came before, is among the better ways developed thus far, but [...] why would we accept something because it is the best "so far"? Imagine if we had stopped at leeching or slavery because they were the best methods for medicine and agriculture we had developed "so far".
[...] These were actual living humans—I keep coming back to this—not only adopting but insisting upon the priority of a monstrous legal construct designed for the express purpose of annihilating all concerns but its own profit.
I feel like I am not doing a great job of capturing, in words, the dread that this produces in me. Across the room, one of my dogs is licking its asshole with intense fervor; it is making sounds like the stirring of a pot of macaroni and cheese. Also, large bees are thumping loudly off the glass of the window with arrhythmic regularity. Both of these are very distracting; I am having a hard time doing the thing that makes me money. If I were a corporation, the spectrum of possible responses to these distractions would include killing my dog and encasing my home in soundproofed concrete; that spectrum would be ordered by the degree to which each option maximized my blogging efficiency and by nothing else; what mediated the preferability of these extreme responses would not be concerns that they were cruel or might diminish the simple human pleasure of having nice, big windows to look through on a sunny day. Alas, I am a human—I cannot be a corporation, and a corporation cannot be me—so the dog gets to live. For now.
But the point is: You are not the corporation. You are the human. It is okay for the corporation to lose a small portion of what it has in terrifying overabundance (money, time, efficiency) in order to preserve what a human has that cannot ever be replaced (dignity, humanity, conscience, life). It is okay for you to prioritize your affinity with your fellow humans over your subservience to the corporation, and to imagine and broker outcomes based on this ordering of things. It is okay for the corporation to lose. It will return to its work of churning the living world into dead sand presently.
There is a lonely need at the heart of this book, the need for all this ephemeral shit to mean something, for the generations nurtured by the internet to have collected something more than transient commodities and opinions about them, more than posts and tweets and days of recycling things we’ve consumed and perhaps leveraged into monetized brands. But Cline has rejected the bigger ideas that usually absorb all our mortal flailing into an arc of greater redemptive significance. Religion is out. Unsurprisingly, he doesn’t so much as flirt with Marxism, even in a rootless Hegelian form of thesis, antithesis and synthesis inexorably churning human society forward. Capitalism is portrayed as a disease unless it’s in the hands of the right people, which is indistinguishable from the view of capitalism espoused by the wrong people.
At times, you can almost sense a muffled scream trying to escape the page, the unthinkable recognition that memorizing movies and videogame speed-runs and every beat of a standup routine contains only the memory space required to store it—that it builds to nothing, achieves nothing, signifies nothing more than the story of somebody else. That you can watch Raiders of the Lost Ark 100 times, and on the 101st, it won’t reveal a greater truth or build a better you. That the passivity of life via filmstrip exacts no price because it confers no prize. That, maybe, the cold message of becoming a pop-culture savant is realizing that you’ve dedicated your life to the craft of memorizing how it happened to someone else—or as someone else happened to imagine it. That the Comic Book Guy was right to lament, “Oh, I’ve wasted my life.”
Maybe that’s the seductive—and to those who embrace it—profound appeal of a story like Ready Player One, built on the bones of hundreds of others: that somehow we can construct a scavenger hunt of narrative human significance from everything we’ve already consumed, something every bit as spiritual and whole as a more rigorous study and embrace of the world as it is. Maybe there is a mechanism by which we can collect enough skill and armament and enchantment to ineffably cohere as flesh and spirit, something more sublime than meat networked and spasming with electricity.
Cline just hasn’t watched the movie that explains that part yet, and it’s not his fault. Nobody has.
If community programs have consistently floundered, both in the past and today, what’s left? A return to the rule of experts? Bigger dams and better seeds? If faced with two approaches — that of the development expert, asking “What can we do for the poor?” and that of the community developer, asking “What can we do with them?” — then the grassroots approach seems at least less condescending.
Yet there is a third question that inhabitants of the Global North might ask, one that would be far more productive. “What have we been doing to them?”
That question implies a different framework, one that proponents of participatory development rarely consider. It raises the possibility that there might be some causal relationship between government policies in the Global North and the continued poverty of the Global South. Rather than focusing merely on poor people in poor places, it zooms out, capturing the North and South together through a wide-angle lens.
No existing social theory is sufficiently powerful to even begin to construct such a comprehensive chart of possible social destinations beyond capitalism. It may well be that such a theory is impossible even in principle—social change is too complex and too deeply affected by contingent concatenations of causal processes to be represented in plan form. In any case, no map is available. And yet we want to leave the place where we are because of its harms and injustices. What is to be done?
Instead of the metaphor of a road map guiding us to a known destination, we could think of the project of emancipatory social change as more like a voyage of exploration. We leave the familiar world equipped with navigational devices that tell us the direction in which we are moving and how far from our point of departure we have travelled, but without a map laying out the entire route from origin to endpoint. This has perils, of course: we may encounter unforeseen obstacles which force us to move in a direction we had not planned; we may have to backtrack and try a new route. Perhaps with technologies we invent along the way we can create some artificial high ground and see somewhat into the distance. In the end, we may discover that there are absolute limits to how far we can go; but we can at least know if we are moving in the right direction.
This approach to thinking about emancipatory alternatives retains a strong normative vision of life beyond capitalism, while acknowledging the limits of our knowledge about the real possibilities of transcending the capitalist system. This is not to embrace the false certainty that there are untransgressable limits for constructing a democratic egalitarian alternative: the absence of solid scientific knowledge about the limits of possibility applies not only to the prospects for radical alternatives but also to the durability of capitalism. The key to embarking on such a journey of exploration is the usefulness of our navigational device. We need, then, to construct what might be called a socialist compass: the principles which tell us whether we are moving in the right direction.
The exploration of viable alternatives brackets the question of their practical achievability under existing social conditions. Some have questioned the value of discussing theoretically viable alternatives if they are not strategically achievable. The response to such sceptics would be that there are so many uncertainties and contingencies about what lies ahead that we cannot possibly know now what the limits of achievable alternatives will be in future. Given this uncertainty, there are two reasons why it is important to have clear-headed understandings of the range of viable alternatives. First, developing such understandings now makes it more likely that, if future conditions expand the boundaries of what is possible, social forces committed to emancipatory change will be in a position to formulate practical strategies for implementing an alternative. Second, the actual limits of what is achievable depend in part on beliefs about what sorts of alternatives are viable. This is a crucial sociological point: social limits of possibility are not independent of beliefs about limits. [...] In the social case, however, beliefs about limits systematically affect what is possible. Developing compelling accounts of viable alternatives, therefore, is one component of the process through which these limits can themselves be changed.
It is no easy matter to make a credible argument that ‘another world is possible’. People are born into societies that are always already made, whose rules they learn and internalize as they grow up. People are preoccupied with the daily tasks of making a living, and coping with life’s pains and pleasures. The idea that the social world could be deliberately changed for the better in some fundamental way strikes them as far-fetched—both because it is hard to envisage some dramatically better yet workable alternative, and because it is hard to imagine successfully challenging the structures of power and privilege in order to create it. Thus even if one accepts the diagnosis and critique of existing institutions, the most natural response is probably a fatalistic sense that not much could be done to really change things.
i love this SO much