Sunday, June 14, 2015

End-of-History Illusion

Sometime last year I had a conversation with a person I admire very much about leftism since she’s one of the more involved people in the IWW, and I mentioned that one of the biggest things that kept me out of left activism is the terse and really toxically personal infighting. Flash forward maybe a few months and I got heavily involved with a left activist group founded out of a group of really toxic infighting.


Let’s switch gears a bit and talk about ethics for a bit. My major in college (and frankly my ongoing passion) was anthropology, which is the broad study of humans as a whole. The modern discipline is divided into Linguistics, Archaeology, Physical Anthropology (sometimes referred to as Biological Anthropology), and Cultural/Social Anthropology. Each part of the discipline has its own questions and concerns but as a field that explicitly deals with people in all possible forms across the entire planet and throughout history, there’s an overt need for examining the ethical procedures by which study is done. Anth as a discipline has a history of ethically nebulous figures performing spurious research and is likewise fraught with a century of attempts to counteract these individuals through codes and creeds and coercion. The feuds are as epic and legendary as any across other disciplines, and there’s no sign of a real conclusion so long as the AAA refuses to maintain blacklist powers.

Point is, I sat in a lot of ethics courses where students were kinda uncomfortable with making any strong statements either way and the professor was no dang help. Being involved in general leftism is kind of like that, really. That or the other reaction where every ethical violation no matter how convoluted is trying to be respected at once, and then there’s the whole issue where people decide that their ethical commitments stop at their specific identities and then there’s the whole concern where ethical disagreements should be swept under the rug in the name of preserving the community, which ultimately means less that a community is being preserved and more that the cracks are being waxed over and forgotten just long enough for the whole thing to blow up later.

And it’s all entirely an exercise in futility, since The Discourse itself doesn’t really help anyone, just entrenches whatever ideological point of view can outlast the others as an epistemological fact. One of the other takeaways from anthropological theory courses was that consistently across a century and a half of cultural formation/perpetuation theories there’s rare suggestion that individuals might have agency in the creation or formation of culture. Instead myriad theories assume that culture is essentially too large to ever really be in control of a single person or a single group. A metaphor might be: the French nation created Napoleon, rather than napoleon creating France.

So ultimately leftism and leftist movements might themselves be ridiculously inept and it doesn’t matter since the fate of whether or not leftism succeeds or racism or sexism or homophobia ends is out of any individual group’s hands. Economic forces are probably going to drive us toward something that looks very much leftward simply due to technological development the same way capitalism successfully globalized thanks to the Long Peace created by nuclear weapons and communications technology.

But of course that still leaves us with in-fighty leftist movements. There’s definitely a put-up-or-shut-up element to ongoing involvement, a sort of “hey if you’re really committed you’re gonna be here” kind of morality both for the groups themselves and for the sort of turgid call-out exercises popular among a certain crowd, where anything that feels more like you’re doing something is preferable to feeling like you’re not doing something.

The thing is, struggle sessions are easy. Arguments are easy! Holy shit is rationalization easy. Literally if you don’t want anything to be your fault and you have even a small understanding of what makes people tick it’s incredibly simple to build dozens of justifications for anything you do. Despite my couching anthropological ethical violations as largely historical in nature, this is only the case because present ethics are exactly the sort of wobbly, finicky issues that can be propped up with twigs, leading to pointless repartees between two sides that are both plausibly correct. Ethical violations continue anon, depending on who you’re reading.  

What’s hard is creating strong, lasting communities of people who’re mutually invested in each other’s wellbeing. It’s tremendously difficult, even as it’s a patently obvious necessity for any kind of radical organization. There’s several reasons that this is so difficult, and they cross over largely into how consumerist-individualism has thoroughly entrenched a primacy of the self in the modern West combined with an understanding of the internet as a customized content delivery device first, communications platform third, but at their base core leftist groups exist as organizational vectors for a particular political bent. If you’re not a leftist, you’re not in a leftist group. What this means is your entire time and involvement in that group hinges on your political beliefs, which in turn leads to constant reexaminations and redefinitions of what those beliefs are.

An effective counter tactic should at this point become clear: take the politics out of the leftist spaces. Create groups that have reasons to exist beyond leftism itself. Create a set of rules that explicitly bend toward a leftist angle and suppress rightist talk within the group as much as you like, but decenter the politics and you decenter the infighting. Do this and you stand that much better of a chance of creating a space where leftism ceases to be a trial of purity and begins to be understood as simply the way things should be, an unspoken expectation that reaches beyond the rational, argumentative political thought-process and into the centers of the brain that drive cultural creation and interpretation. Do this and create a new culture all our own. 


Wednesday, October 8, 2014

On Reading Art

There is a vast and inescapable gulf between creators and the folks who enjoy stuff that’s been created. This gulf is inevitable. Art is created to convey messages, from top to bottom. Even art that’s created for the sole purpose of “this thing is aesthetically appealing” is still conveying a message about what “aesthetically appealing” is. Plot that’s merely created as a device to move a storyline is still conveying a message. In our post-post-modern times (this ironicist age) we’re inclined to reject the notion that the author has a message in the first place, that the work’s sole value is in the interpretations derived by the fandom of an object. This attitude is especially appealing in an environment driven by individualistic consumer capitalism, where works of art are ultimately only important inasmuch as they provide some compelling experience for us as individuals and can be later appropriated to build a self-image. If the author is irrelevant and our individual experiences paramount, anything can be perceived as supporting any kind of self-conceptualization we can come up with. The actual narrative or message of a story is ultimately irrelevant compared to our individual experience with a story. This is why we can tell bald morality fables even to folks diametrically opposed to the self-limiting concept of morals. The story doesn’t matter, just that it helped momentarily raise your dopamine levels and distracted you from your own mortality.

This is why Final Fantasy’s clear naturist spiritualism can be utterly 100% ignored in favor of, you know, “Aerith dies! Look how evil/badass Sephiroth is. Yuffie is mai waifu” and so on. The story is a bit standard of a paean to anti-pollution or general gaianism, but it’s literally the last thing you hear about final fantasy seven and the folks way into the game aren’t forming anti-pollution initiatives or standing outside at climate change rallies. The message (respect your planet because it’s the source of all life) doesn’t really matter to the people most invested in the actual work. And it’s endemic to every kind of story. Folks who’re big on neon genesis evangelion don’t come away with an idea that all people are more or less one and the same, that difference is an illusion created by an absolute terror field or psychological damage. The list goes on.

It’s possible to read a narrative and accept and internalize its message over its presentation. It’s not common, but it does happen. My contention is just that perhaps in this modern ironicist age, as we’ve broadly accepted the conclusions of post-modernism (that all meaning is constructed) and taken them to their illogical conclusion (meaning is false and sentimentality is lying), we’re less and less equipped with the ability to read a narrative for what message it’s attempting to convey and consequently modern artists are less and less interested in conveying a message. The very act of working a message into art is inauthentic; the message is assailable, the expression artificial and dishonest and untrue. The art itself of course is unoriginal, everything that can be made has been made already. In a culture where the authentic expression of oneself is a moral imperative, inauthenticity and unoriginality is anathema. This creates a tension within the arts community, whereby artists have to confront the conflict between awareness of a lack of originality/authenticity/honesty in their work and the overarching need to be original/authentic/honest.

Different artists solve this different ways, but I’m more concerned about the legions of folks left in the gutters, creatively paralyzed as a result of failing to meet an unrealistic internalized standard of expression created by the proliferation of mass culture. You may notice parallels between what I just wrote and the creation and sustention of beauty standards that leave millions of folks bodily and personally insecure (not to mention gender standards, wealth standards, ethnicity standards, all kinds of normativity). This is intentional, as all of these processes are the tandem result of mass media. Normativity in artistic presentation/consumption is just as ruinous as any other normativity.

What I’m here to tell you today: don’t be afraid to make any art. It’s easy enough to write out, but much harder to internalize. Don’t be afraid to write whatever ridiculous dreck you want. Don’t let your internal editor endlessly compare your work to anyone else’s. Don’t be afraid to read narratives for what they say. Don’t be afraid to embrace a philosophy or a politic or a position. We’re all going to be dead sooner than later and no one will remember us accurately so there’s really no reason to worry about it. It’s out of your hands.

Monday, September 29, 2014

On humans and hierarchies

There’s been this sort of interesting idea kicking around in my head that essentially the only judgments humans can make without needing a cultural reference to back it up is whether a thing is good or bad. Indeed whether a thing is good or bad is often what many descriptions boil down to. A critical review my expound on the myriad factors involved in a work, but ultimately these factors fall upon a dividing line of good or bad.

Once we get to comparative judgment our tools only become slightly more complex: we place objects as greater or lesser than their peers. We might organize one object as more in one aspect and less in another, but the result is still the same. This cup is larger than that cup. This cup is more orange than that cup.

It is through this means that humans create hierarchies or structures of existence. It’s a habit that is as close to universal as behaviors come, and can be seen across time and place and across subject, whether it’s a manga placing its characters on a number line of relative strength or Catholicism determining the importance of angels by their distance from god or a bored student arranging her writing utensils from order of shortest to longest.

Why is this so important to humans? Are we destined to be the universe’s organizers, to find and categorize all living or nonliving things? The irony is palpable, as all things are merely extensions of one continuous object.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Skylanders: Swap Force

Three years after its initial iteration, Skylanders shows no sign of slowing down, cannabilizing entire store aisles with cartoon bits of plastic and innovation. The first real adaptation of NFC technology in video games has been a wild success, nailing a vulnerable target market (children) with consumer capitalist dream toys: little devices that a video game requires in order to function. A game that takes all of the best elements of grindy lootfests aimed at older players and combines them with a compulsive and coherent marketing structure doesn’t merely suggest purchasing as many toys as you can but demands that you acquire them or face a drop in euphoric hormones.  
There are 80 Skylanders characters now, 10 each categorized across eight basic elements. Swap Force, the latest iteration, adds in an additional eight movement types spread across its unique mix/match figures while Giants, the previous iteration, had 8 larger than normal figures required for play. In optimal configuration, players only need about eight figures (one of each element, or in the case of Swap Force, one of each element and one of each movement type. These two requirements do coincide, a small mercy) in order to unlock every area in each game and collect all the secrets. This optimization is obscured, however, by both the game’s target market (5-12 year old boys) and features in the game itself. Throughout the game world you’ll find “soul gems” that unlock new powers and feature a promotional video for skylanders you don’t have. They’re toy commercials dolled up as super-secret rewards. On top of that there’s an extensive collection screen that encourages you to seek out and complete the full collection of little dudes with little fluff details and links to the in-game advertisements.  Even the mechanics of the game encourage you to collect more. Beyond the gates that bar entry to all but specific kinds of skylanders, the number of available lives you have for a certain level is hard limited by the number of skylanders you have. The more skylanders, the more lives you have to play with.
It’s brilliant, from top to bottom, and the game would be so easy to condemn if not for the fact that it’s well made and well designed. Attacks have an appropriate amount of friction, enemies are smartly varied, the level design is engaging. All told this game plays as a thoughtful Diablo variant for children.
But that’s just a physical description of the game. If you’re wondering if it’s worth picking up, wonder no more. A bunch of outlets have given Swap Force (the most recent iteration) perfect scores. The game is indubitably fun. What’s more interesting is the questions that the game itself and its runaway success bring up. Why do we sell these things to children? What is it about kids that make marketing a consumerist wet dream to them so much more lucrative than selling to adults? A cynic might suggest that adults are too jaded for this kind of thing to work on them, that kids with their inherently more trusting nature are more likely to buy bald marketing pushes such as these. I don’t think that’s a sufficient answer, as I’ve watched plenty of adults buy and collect plenty of stupid things in my life. I think it has more to do with what we consider childish in America. Collecting things just for the sake of collecting things has simply never been in the stable of sane activities for mature adults to do. Instead we describe adult collecting as a somewhat strange and shameful hobby, to be kept secret and gently mocked when it sees the light of day. At the extreme we consider it a form of hoarding and we put these folks on trial on television, a warning to the rest of us to become anxious about our personal lives. This attitude is slowly and somewhat changing, though. We’re learning to understand and appreciate the collection impulse through things like mobile games, which feature more and more “get this thing to complete your virtual collection” hooks. Maybe in the future there’ll be a more adult oriented form of skylanders, with sexy women and hooded, goateed bald dudes. Or ideally games will have gotten over that impulse too and truly become something transcendent and imaginative. A game with an NFC pass-along mechanic, say, where you send one object from person to person to accrue social power, each person leaving a small stamp on the figure in game terms. A game that works in conjunction with a 3d printer to, rather than put a physical object in the game, uses the game to produce a physical object. Lots of interesting places for this tech to go.
One thing would be missing in a more adult oriented version of skylanders: sheer whimsy. The game is silly as all get out, from the ultra-serious announcement of silly enemy characters (“Grumblebum Blunderbuss”) to the goofy hat options to the characters quipping lines throughout play. It’s cutesy and mostly charming, at least until the cutscenes. The plot of Swap Force is utterly ridiculous and ridiculous in the worst “talking down to children” sort of way, featuring “evilizer” devices powered by solidified evil and cartoony, unbelievable villains. The only saving grace is Patrick Warburton doing his Kronk voice as a self-important airship pilot. The game is aggressively kid oriented, even to the point of rendering its powerups as a variety of foods that kids would find appealing, hot dogs, hamburgers, even a Kid Cuisine tv dinner. Marketing for the game is tailored to the inevitable adult purchasing the $75(!) starter set, extolling it’s value and virtues as unequivocally providing a fun experience to children that provides some sort of nebulous real-world benefit.
It’s gross, really. Reading marketers selling kid stuff always gives me the heebie jeebies. These children aren’t old enough to work or drive or technically sign the 63 page EULA(!) that innocuously appears under a button push on the title screen (the EULA of course states that by playing the game and not returning it to the store immediately, you agree to these terms. Contract lawyers are the devil) yet here we are, marketers playing on unexamined personal wants to inspire them to pester their parents into buy the stuff. I’m never sympathetic to the argument that parents should just be the dividing line between advertisers and their children because these advertisers are well aware that they’re creating conflict within a family, palpable interpersonal drama that can be resolved (if only for the moment) by purchasing a thing. It’s bald emotional manipulation and It’s gross. It’s such a dishonest way to make money.

Thursday, May 1, 2014


What am I afraid of? Why is it so hard for me to sit down and write?
I’m afraid that I don’t really have any worthwhile or new ideas and I’m afraid that what ideas I do have will inevitable come out wrong and be interpreted in weird, distorted ways. Not that any of this is new. I think the biggest and clearest part of this slump I can point to was stepping outside my comfort zone yet sticking to my actual principles (which are apparently way more radical than anyone who occasionally follows me seems to think they are) and calling people out on their shit attitudes. I mean, I expected backlash, for sure. What I didn’t expect was the unilateral bullshit party it turned into, a bullshit party with lasting and far-reaching bullshit effects. Unequivocally, Fuck you all. There’s no goddamn excuse for not knowing better than this. There’s no goddamn excuse that a collection of grown-ass adults are incapable of reacting better than a group of children.
But the biggest and the worst thing is that it’s the starkest fucking reminder that I’m living in the south, that I’m living in the city that still has secret white clubs and still celebrates a heritage of explicit and overt racism. The tourist brochures gloss over the history and the politicians are good old civil rights champion blue, but the town runs on racism and if you poke that hornet’s nest you’re gonna find yourself mighty fucking unwelcome.
I’m so fucking tired of this shit, man. I’m tired of reading the same bunk arguments over and over, tired of hearing people’s experience ignored or doubted. I’m tired of the same fucking controversies hitting the news with the same fucking talking heads and the same fucking non-action afterward. It’s stupid, it’s stagnant, it’s stifling.
Still, the grindhouse presses on. There are still terfs to kill and tumblrs to reblog.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

I only have one feeling: infinite and soul-crushing anxiety.
I was thinking earlier about this: I am honest because I cannot believe anyone around me
When I do believe; when I am so fooled; when I am vain
I cling to it like a drowning man to styrofoam, lost in the sea of maybe abandoned by the good ship s.s. jake

Even my dreams lie to me.
Especially my dreams.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014


Since the dominoes are falling or the jenga brick has been removed or satan has arrived on earth to damn us all or whatever and gay marriage (that is marriage between two people of the same sex, whose sexual activities are bizarre foreign and probably disgusting to all right-thinking heterosexuals) is becoming legalized and all kinds of movements are insisting on the right of homosexuals to live as though they’re actual citizens and junk, let’s talk about the post-gay world we’re approaching. Once we’ve achieved every major ticket item on the HRC’s list what’s going to happen?
Let’s start with what “post-gay” is. In other intersections of oppression there’s a general understanding that after some gains have been achieved and the movements subside, we as people tend to re-assert a worldview that assumes that we’re beyond those movements. An example: post-feminism. Children of the late seventies and beyond were generationally removed from the struggles of feminism, and as such all of the challenges and victories were firmly placed in the past. Certainly previous feminist rhetorics didn’t have much relevance to their lives, as the decimation of the economy all but guaranteed that every household that wanted to succeed had to succeed as a two-wage household. So feminism was a thing that already happened and was over and women were cool now. Any problems that women still faced were probably due to individual choices in their lives.
Another post: post-racism. There’s a strong understanding that racism is not only placed firmly in the To Kill a Mockingbird past, but that racism that happens today is due to isolated incidents created by individuals rather than a system that actively devalues nonwhites. Thus people who argue against racism or those nonwhites who point out deep systemic problems in our society are seen at best as whiners, subversive “reverse racist” demagogues at worst.
Post-gay is going to play out similarly. The broad assumption across society is that well by gum gays can marry now and there’s some laws against discrimination in place so by George the queers have made it. Queer radicals will be further marginalized and gay rights organizations will become persnickety and superfluous. Individuals who comment that there are basically little more than token gays in media will be dismissed as unrealistic political correctness police. Not just by heterosexuals. By other gays. Eventually we’re going to run into phrases like “I’m gay, but I’m not one of those gays.” Assaults on gays will be chalked up to “well maybe they shouldn’t have been so flamboyant in front of those dudes.” Bisexuality will be totally erased.  
Sounds familiar, right? Elements of all of these things exist even today, but the problem in a post-gay world will only be more and more severe, where all of these things will come together and become the overarching norm of gay life rather than disparate issues varyingly expressed. We will come to a clear and well-defined hierarchal organization of homosexual behavior where now we only have bits and pieces of attitudes by a handful of sex columnists. The classes of queer, bi-curious, heteroflexible, metrosexual, questioning, mostly straight/mostly gay, or any other way people define the middle spaces between pure homosexuality and pure heterosexuality will coalesce into a single “mulatto” definition that is interpreted in the direction most convenient for the interpreter’s biases. “Straight-acting” will become not just a weird internal insult but an actual threat.
Shit man, maybe we are actually here already.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Laziest Generation

The whole point of these missives, this writing exercise, those monographs is to share some kind of knowledge, some wisdom, some truth hard fought and hard won. You’re supposed to come away having a better appreciation for life and your place in it. The problem is, of course, that there needs something to be said before that writing can occur.
It’s 2:13 a.m. and I’m eating pepperjack and townhomes and feeling as lost and overwhelmed as I always do. If there’s some kind of truth in this, I don’t know where it is. If there’s wisdom, it’s not mine to share. All I can give you is my experience, which is all I can ever give you when it comes down to it.
There’s a narrative in anthropological academia, a narrative that implies that the reason anthropologists get into anthropology in the first place is because anthropologists don’t fit in well with their own culture and have the urge to explore other cultures to better understand why they’re personally wired that way. It’s a good narrative, one that describes a number of major figures. On top of the whole “reformer’s science” subtitle, a great many anthropologists are argumentative contrarians.
It’s sweet and sort of sentimental to read about these figures and discuss loosely what’s going down at the AAA convention, but it’s the sweet of nostalgia and daydreams, since it’s a culture that’s dying out every day – or rather it’s reverting to a pre-G.I. bill era where academia is a locked tower filled with overly wealthy dodderers. I’m supposed to graduate this semester, and really I’m getting out just in time. The budget cuts are deepening and major services are being slashed. The Children’s Center, an entire building on campus, is getting cut. There are fees for withdrawing from classes. There were talks of changing requirements to require transfer students to have to take something like 75% of their courses here; boosting tuition from otherwise (apparently) flighty transfer graduates.
On every campus in America there’s a bunch of clubs and activities designed to engage college students in some sort of collective spirit-building exercises. These constructs are designed purposefully to help ease college freshmen into college life, where they might feel suddenly isolated and uncomfortable removed from the high school they were previously attending. It’s a justifiable goal, though it also serves the purpose of extending adolescence and obscuring the financial cost of college through misdirection. For these clubs and for many Americans, college is just another step in the path to becoming a middle class adult. The thing is: college is also an ancient and erudite institutional method of intellectual development designed to acculturate and reiterate an intellectual class. Even further college is a road towards greater economic security, negotiated by ambitious individuals who still believe in class mobility. College for them represents a contract where in exchange for a series of individually pointless tasks they’ll earn leverage over their employers.
I’ve probably said this before (and I’ll gladly rant about it a dozen times more in person, willing didact that I am) but modern college is some kind of mutated aggregate of an assumed adolescent stage that’ll bottlerocket you off to middle classdom. Combined with our most recent “millennial” trend of victim blaming and the stagnant economy, college is actually a pretty bad deal. You’re paying tens of thousands of dollars to attend a place that treats you as an over-developed horny child in exchange for a piece of paper whose value drops every commencement. Then you’re jettisoned into the “real world” where your vain attempts at demanding recompense for your labors as per the implied social contract are met with cries of “entitlement” or “homeless with iphones” or “laziest generation.” It’s a catch-22 because the world loves catch-22s.
It’s not really worth it to go to college, but the biggest and worst problem is that it’s even less worth it to not go to college, to languish in entry level world as employers use arbitrary notions of “skill” to justify paying as little as they can get away with. Basically we’ve made college the modern indentured servitude, leading straight to the wage slavery constructed in the world.
There’s some argument out there that all the things that capitalism constructs are the same; that the story it tells is the same one over and over again. There’s some argument that all stories we tell are the same story. I don’t know if any of that is true and I don’t know what wisdom there is to curdle from them.

Monday, October 21, 2013

On obsession and desire

It’s eight and I’m at the bar and I’m feeling a little down and I’ve got a whiskey and diet and I’m thinking about him and where it went down and what I should have said

He’s still out there somewhere and probably not even thinking about me and I’m just sitting here and I should contact him. I don’t want to bother him, don’t want to risk making a worse impression than I already have
“I don’t want to apologize”
“I need to know the people around me aren’t going to hurt me”
“It sounds like you’re saying ‘I’m done with you’”
It’s 8:30 and I’ve got another drink and more people have come in and left. Thank god I don’t know any of them I’m not in any shape to interact right now. I’m staring at the tv instead but behind my eyes in my head there’s a play happening over and over and the best/worst part of me is trying to figure out how that could have gone better
I want it to be perfect, I want it to be how I imagine, I want it to be a life worth living, I want all my effort to matter I want to be appreciated I want to be understood
“Are you okay?”
“Hey, sorry we haven’t talked in a while, let’s catch up”
You doin?”
It’s 10:00 and now Tosh is on doing his white guy on the internet routine over and over and I’ve closed out because I’m feeling pretty sleepy and still no one I know is here
I think I get it, I think I just like him because we connected sexually and that is the majority of my feelings here, since he’s so hard to talk to and clearly not interested in the same kinds of things I am and we’re different people. All of this has been really dumb emotional wrenching for something that wasn’t ever going to work out, and I know it. It’s just safe and easy and this way I can build my identity around romantic tragedy and feel sorry for myself instead of ever bothering to grow as a person at all
“Ugh, it’s like rubbing my uncle”
“I can be so mad at you but then you turn around and say something like that and it just makes me want to hug you. I hate it”
“Good night, Tomcat”
It’s 11 and I’m walking home and now my vision is all blurry and I’m weeping as I walk past all of our ghosts and all I can feel is all of the loss

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Creative Content

Oh man a lot of stuff has happened lately, yet I haven’t written at all. I don’t even know what writing is any more. I’m just hitting buttons and this little counter on the bottom corner keeps going up. I’m already at 42! “Word” is the best game Microsoft has made since “solitaire.”
I keep reading these articles (I read all the articles) about millenials and the generation gap and junk like that and reading about the ways that millenials are terrible or like the world is going to become a hellish collectivist totalitarian state and all individual identity will be absorbed into some kind of freakish union. Dave fucking eggers just put out a book about this. Apparently in some kind of dystopic future privacy will be theft from the people and some megacorporation is going to eat us all. The WSJ, a Murdoch mouthpiece, is hailing it as a The Jungle of our times (while simultaneously promoting policies that created the situation the book described, naturally) and is really excited about it. I think it’s pretty clear that this is some kind of Randian break-point for Eggers, who is probably just pissed that writing is worth shit-all today and totally blames it on some amorphous collection of internet entities disrespecting the individualist right of ownership of ideas and the ability to profit off of those ideas.
Depending on who you’re talking to we’re either on the teetering edge of a massive conservative/capitalist backslide or we’re watching the death throes of capitalism and its mealy-mouthed adherents. I’m leaning toward the latter, as the industry of packaging and selling thought is less and less profitable according to a capitalist system and these are not small industries. They’re too big to fail, or more accurately if they collapse a lot of our economy collapses with them.
Recently there was a government shutdown, a shutdown that was initiated by a group of radical conservatives elected in based on racially charged anti-government fanaticism and a successful system of aggressive gerrymandering. Those conservatives did what they said they’d do, which is oppose the black man in the white house at all costs. They finally did it, the bastards. They damned that dirty ape. Seriously none of what just happened is even remotely okay. This is a situation where in a modern era a group of politicians attempted to seize control of the entire government through rule-changes and absolutely insane stubbornness. The double-talk is just as crazy. Every one of them is either citing this event as a victory or as a painful tragedy invited upon them by a stubborn white house+supreme court+senate that refuses to kowtow to the minority. It’s crazy. They’re terrorists. Everything they say is carefully designed to create more terror to the benefit of their party. They’re not interested in you. They’re not interested in anyone other than their party and their power and they’ll tell you anything they can get away with to maintain their positions. Come 2014 they’re not going to lose the elections. Come 2014 they’re going to win even more seats for their moral courage and ability to believe the shit they’re saying. Come the next debt ceiling or other manufactured crisis, they’re just going to push a little farther, since this has barely hurt their chances of re-election thanks to the insane gerrymandering. We need a new system. We don’t need to fix the old system with incremental reforms or whatever the democrats might push for. We need to throw the system out and start designing a system that from the start recognizes that politicians are people and not rational automatons (or fuck, even neutral advocates for their constituency) and people will find ways to abuse the system in their favor.
Speaking of the breakdown of capitalism, I’ve been reading a handful of stuff by prominent older musicians condemning streaming music sites for paying shittily. Pretty much all of these articles follow a certain tone, one where the primary issues with these site’s poor pay is that it’s hard for new musicians to make any money from them and consequently people who are musically talented will have to pursue their art as a part-time hobby instead of a full time occupation, leading to a dearth of creativity. Or something along those lines. People aren’t being paid what they’re worth is the general gist of these. It’s really odd to me because all of these articles seem to rely on this idea that capitalism can and should be compassionate, that it should pay musicians enough to make a living and acquire food and shelter and so on (say, 40k a year per person). From a purely rational standpoint this makes no sense. If music is not worth 40k a year according to the market, it’s simply not worth it. There’s no such thing as a basic income guarantee under a purely capitalist system. So there’s nothing actually wrong happening here. Music has simply become less valuable owing to its more frequent creation and distribution. The creators of music are more often than not already wealthy so they have the time and energy to learn and create music, but this has literally been the history of all music since the time of poets and lyrists and people like that. Beethoven wasn’t exactly some urchin off the streets. Gottschalk didn’t just up and decide to leave his life farming and go music. So I’m not seeing what’s changing here, other than the profit margins of the handful of prominent older musicians.
It’s especially telling when none of these older dudes decide to actually question the system that creates the situation they seem to be mad about. At the most they’ll make some flippant statement about how terrible the recording industry that made them moderately rich is while ignoring any and all of its influence or the fact that they’ve made a number of conscious decisions to stay in the business and help it thrive. These aren’t just anyone, but people who’ve made their names as “alternative” musicians who hate all that nasty injustice stuff, names like David Byrne and Thom Yorke and Bono. It’s an act. It’s an act borne from a need to protect a system rather than create a new one. Solving the problem where musicians don’t have the time to create music is easy: you create a basic income guarantee, allowing musicians to work on providing their craft without having to worry about providing food or shelter for themselves. It’s a galling idea, but it’s a galling idea only under a capitalistic premise that all money is a zero-sum game and everyone has to fight for it or get crushed (or the premise of the actual system we work under, which is that rich people are born rich, stay rich and die rich, and the poor likewise are poor from cradle to grave). Under a system that gave a shit about people (i.e. not designed by the sociopathic wealthy) this would make perfect sense. Everyone gets to live at some basic level.
Part of this goes back to a complete (and deliberately cultivated, on the part of those with an investment into a capitalist system) misunderstanding of the premise of communism. The idea isn’t that no one works and the state gives you everything, the idea is that you get everything you work for. Sounds kinda weird, right? It’s not nearly as weird once you recognize how badly you’re paid for your actual labor. Say you work at McDonalds, right? You make burgers. Those burgers sell at a rate of around $400 an hour averaged out over the day. Those burgers (and coke and fries and electricity and stuff) cost the store maybe around $100/hour. So between you and your four co-workers, you generate $300 an hour in profit! So that comes out to about $60 an hour, yeah? Oh but there’s the manager, so let’s make it $50 an hour for everybody. Pretty sweet, huh? Oh but hang on the mcdonalds is owned by someone else and he decides to pay you guys as little as possible, since after all he owns the place. You did the work, the manager ordered the food and regulated hours and handled disputes, and the owner did… jack shit. But the owner knows he can get away with paying you guys literally as little as he can because that’s what makes rational economic sense, so you all make $8 an hour and the manager makes $15 so you’ll listen to her and the owner pockets the other $245 and calls it a day.
Massively injust? Maybe, but it’s only rational for the owner to do this. It’s a great way to make money. It’s rational to not provide health benefits, rational to skimp on customer amenities, rational to do literally anything it takes to make more money. The owner put forward the money to open the building after all. The basic premise of communism is to do away with the owner controlling the building and providing the opportunity for people to, if they so choose, work at Mcdonalds and receive /all/ the fruits of their labors (here, $50/hr). Pretty crazy, huh? Anyway that’s the general premise of Marxist communism. There’s a lot more interesting ideas in there (paying women for domestic labor, for example, or paying parents for the work of raising children) but this isn’t really what this post is about.
In this heady modern era, we’re watching all of our information become easily and cheaply translatable to a handful of machine signals, and not just all of our modern information but all of every form of information that can be put into a machine language. One of the core concepts of Marxist theory is that industrialization needed to be able to produce goods on a massive scale, that systems needed to exist to be able to sell millions of burgers per year. At the time of writing, which saw the tripling of crop outputs and an insane influx of available goods, this was a perfectly good prediction. Numbers that were going up were going to keep going up and so on. Here 100-odd years later, anyone with a computer and some spare time can produce a song, anyone with a computer who’s literate can write a book, and anyone with a camera can get their videos uploaded to a potentially gigantic audience. The cost to create and transmit media has dramatically fallen in the last two decades and this is the result of that: a complete collapse of capitalism in the face of virtually nil value for its products. The reality that stuff can be supported solely through advertising and data-mining shitty quantitative userdata reflects the alternate economic reality the internet lives in. The recent phenomenon of not paying writers or artists or photographers for their work isn’t because the internet has made people evil, it’s because writing, art, and photography have no scarcity value and minimal cost to transmit. There are millions out there sharing their stories, drawings and photos simply because they want to be heard and to participate, not because they want money. Millions of people derive value simply in being a part of something greater than them. That attitude does not mesh well with capitalism, and it certainly doesn’t mesh well with prominent older artists who made a living under the old rules and are now defenders of the status quo.
My argument? Pay those motherfuckers for their contributions to society. Don’t pay them what their contribution is “worth” but what they need to survive and keep contributing. Pay them because they worked hard and they work hard every day and there’s no good reason for life to be some kind of rigged competition. Kill the rich and kill your heroes and burn everything down until it’s better.