It’s been a while since I’ve taken the time to update. Admittedly, most of my online activity has taken the form of Reddit comments and Goodreads reviews of my latest books.
Lately I’ve been feeling quite depressed, in a weird global way. In my local bubble things are going well. My family is doing well, I make more money than I ever have doing work I believe in, we just took a nice week long vacation to the Sequoias that was beautiful and relaxing. Hell, my baseball team is even in line for the playoffs (if they don’t fuck it up in the remaining 13 games). But on a macro level the world is actively declining.
I’d love to point to Trump, McConnell, or Kavanaugh, or further afield the likes of Bolsonaro, Putin, or Duterte as worrying signs that the world is facing another rise of fascism. The reality though, is that the deeper you look into global history the more our current troubles just become the latest symptoms of an illness: capitalism.
At the risk of waxing Marxist, it seems like basically every societal ill stems from love of money and the capture of our governments by people that have it.
There is a certain gleaming image of America that exists only in our minds, injected by high minded rhetoric in movies and TV and advertisements, but beneath the deluded hagiography that has been pushed on us by our own culture, America is an utterly brutal place to live for the same reasons that any third-world dictatorship is: the rich will do whatever they want, whenever they want and if you disagree you are to be vilified or eliminated by the mechanisms they control. Our media is the greatest spin machine the world has ever known focused on deifying its owners and minimizing the ugly truth of what happens to everyone that opposes them. Our secret police – who could be ICE, the FBI, CIA, NSA, or just their wannabes embedded in your local PD – is so effectively spun by the media that our own populace waves blue striped flags and worship them in spite of (or because of) their body count.
The secret of the American way of life is that billionaires always wear jackboots, out of frame, unmentioned, or more likely diligently ignored by a media they control. They always benefit from making rules to benefit themselves, and have the pocketbook to do just that with a little help from a vast swathe of ignorant, barely literate voters that cling to their Bibles almost as fervently as their Fox News and dream of one day being rich in White America. These billionaires know exactly what they’re doing because they’ve been doing it for as long as money has equaled power. Citizens United was nothing but an American formalization of what we’ve known for millennia: money is the only thing that matters.
As such, our only shield from the rich, the media, or the law is our status as consumers with a few dollars in our pockets. Dollars which are themselves a largely fictional leftover from the post-WWII economy that benefited from the rest of the industrialized world being in ruins. Money that’s turned from a living wage to achieve the American Dream into the company scrip of our begrudging overlords to be minimized and manipulated into schemes to increase their wealth that some would call “loans” or “credit” for things that we can no longer actually afford without pledging financial servitude to our masters.
So often in school we paint feudalism as this medieval, backward, ignorant system of peasant oppression that was practically abolished by the blooming of the merchant middle class marking the dawn of upward mobility. It’s no surprise the heroes of this fiction are business people, but feudalism lasted well into the Renaissance “Enlightenment”, and the capital-L Lords of the past became the landlords of the present. They didn’t even change the terminology, they just clarified it. Landlords are lords by right of ownership rather than right of birth.
The only difference between the feudal age and now is that there is enough fluff to distract us from the myriad of Lords that are salivating, ready to take advantage of us at the earliest opportunity. Where once a peasant worker could get fucked by a single Lord taxing his harvest, now we Americans (and all of our brethren around the world to a greater or lesser extent) have the opportunity to be raped by any number of monied interests. The Lords foreclosing on your mortgage they knew you couldn’t pay. The health insurance Lords who are getting erect at the prospect of you being mutilated in a major car accident just so they can deny you treatment and foist you off on their pharmaceutical buddies for life. The land-Lord that raises your rent every year. The boss-Lord who underpays you. The government Lord that taxes you in order to destabilize governments and murder opposition around the world in the name of “liberating” their resources. On every corner and in every high rise there’s someone positively making bank to fuck you and yours over in the name of profit.
Yet none of this matters because the media has so thoroughly fuzzed our brains into a consumer mindset, where nothing matters but comfort and entertainment that can be obtained for dirt cheap. For the low low cost of wage slavery and the loss of your humanity, you can be showered in endless entertainment and feast on a hundred varieties of cheap foods crafted by the finest engineers from ingredients whose names are forty-five syllables long and were synthesized in vats rather than grown. Ideally you’ll do this in your rented home, furnished on credit, with a car or two in the driveway you’re still paying off with money you make at a job you got by taking student loans and getting a worthless degree. Bonus points if you do it while raising the next generation of consumers whose only source of love is expensive gadgetry in pretty packages. Look at all these wonderful ways you can spend money. Now look at all the ways you wish you could spend money. Obviously you need more money. There’s only one answer to every problem: more money.
This is why I can live a comfortable life, but I cannot be comforted. The capitalist world is a torture test. I make a salary well into the 100k range and can afford to be ping-ponged between a thousand different places to spend it. But overall system is designed to dehumanize us and despite how much money I make it’s not enough to buy freedom from this system of oppression. For that I’d need to get into the only business that pays well enough to get on the level of Bezos: exploitation. Unfortunately, I have a working conscience and a moral compass that was formed outside of the influence of mountains of cash.
In this context, as a tiny and comfortable part of the latest entry in the history of human oppression by money, I can’t help but think our society needs a huge realignment with reality.
Previous entries, starting with those feudal peasants followed by a long parade of workers and artisans crippled by the heartless nature of greed, had the benefit that the ruling class wasn’t going to literally destroy our world. If the idea of people starving in a world of surplus, or homeless in a world of empty homes wasn’t enough to motivate us in the times of yore, surely the extinction of our human race would be enough impetus to change. Yet I keep having visions that the world the rich believe we are traveling to is a sort of post-apocalypse where the veil is lifted and the mechanisms that oppress us now are laid bare. The militant police forces become private militias, the gated communities become literal fortresses, and the pretense of “democracy” finally dies. In other words, we return to the bald-faced feudalism of a thousand years ago without even paying lip service to the needs of the little people that make it happen. The sort of world where powerful friends of moron kings can traffic underage sex workers with impunity, the truth can be suppressed indefinitely, ignorance is unassailable, brown people can be chained for the crime of existing, and the earth can be exploited ruthlessly. In short, the world we live in now but with all of the voices of dissent conveniently silenced.
I never thought I’d be a radical. I was raised to love this country. I grew up thinking corporate Democrats were the “good guys” and rich people deserved their luxury. But I was also raised to believe in a fictional concept of America that is fair, just, and equal. An America that took immigrants and refugees in its loving arms instead of locking them in cages and separating them from their children. An America that fought fascism and autocracy instead of installing dictatorships over democratically elected leaders.
That America has never existed. Under the covers, America has only one defining characteristic and it’s not baseball, fireworks, apple pie, freedom, or any other egalitarian ideal – it’s the ability to exploit free labor to make a handful of those ancient feudal Lords rich beyond reason. First with slaves kidnapped from Africa. Then, after the Civil War dried up the slave market, it became poor immigrants and children. When the Progressives in the early 20th century won us the right to minimum wages, eight hour days and five day weeks, the exploitation turned to suppressing that wage, eroding those rights and opening up new markets where those protections don’t exist. Like prisons filled with non-violent offenders, or overseas countries desperate to turn their own populace into American style drones in the name of assimilating into the capitalist hellscape. Now there’s even the oncoming “threat” of advanced automation that should be liberating us from the concept of working-to-live entirely, but instead it’s a specter of unemployment and destitution. It’s all class warfare that’s so cleverly hidden that half of us are rooting for the wrong side.
As such, despite the fact that I was raised to abhor communism (and, in fact I still despise all autocrats and genocides, communist or not), I can’t help but read Marx and think he was onto something. His criticisms are not just apt but insightful and if anything more prescient in the world of insidious, globalized, coordinated capitalism than they were in the comparatively primitive strain of nation-state capitalism Marx actually observed 150 years ago.
We need a revolution, just like Marx said.
Our final hope, and my hope for America, is that our democracy is still functional enough to perform this revolutionary trick without a call to literal arms. I don’t want blood to be spilled, I want to live a life free of worrying about medical debt. I want every person to have a home. I want laws to be applied equally to all people, regardless of race, gender or orientation. I want our prisons filled with people that are actual criminals, and focused on rehabilitating them. I want everyone to have access to as high an education as they wish to pursue. Above all, I want to keep us from ruining our planet, our only home in the cosmos. These goals are not incompatible with wealthy people existing, they are just incompatible with plutocracy – because if there’s one thing the last 500 years have proved it’s that people with money will do anything to keep it, including dooming us all.
Anyway, maybe tomorrow I’ll stop believing we can change the system from within and quit my job to call for the bloody revolution to commence (at which point my city will be annihilated by the rest of Texas). For now, I’ll just satisfy myself with hoping for our last hope:
Bernie Sanders 2020.