Tag Archives: capitalism

The Consent of the (Un)governed

Illustration by Kjell Reigstad

Laurie Penny | Longreads | December 2017 | 15 minutes (3,881 words)

And when you’re a star, they let you do it.
You can do anything… Grab ’em by the pussy.
You can do anything.
— Donald Trump

What civilization has done to women’s bodies is no different than what
it’s done to the earth, to children, to the sick, to the proletariat;
in short, to everything that isn’t supposed to “talk.”
— Tiqqun, “Preliminary Materials for a Theory of the Young-Girl” 

Something has snapped. In early autumn, women and men finally began to come forward to speak, in numbers too big to dismiss, about sexual harassment and abuse. It started in Hollywood. It spread, under the #metoo hashtag — first coined 10 years ago by Tarana Burke — across industries, across oceans, to the very heart of politics. Powerful men are losing their jobs. We’re having consent conversations at the highest levels, with varying degrees of retrospective panic.

Something broke, is breaking still. Not like a glass breaks or like a heart breaks, but like the shell of an egg breaks — inexorably, and from the inside. Something wet and angry is fighting its way out of the dark, and it has claws.

A great many abusers and their allies have begged us to step back and examine the context in which they may or may not have sexually intimidated or physically threatened or forcibly penetrated one or several female irrelevances who have suddenly decided to tell the world their experiences as if they mattered.

Look at the whole picture, these powerful men say. Consider the context. I agree. Context is vital. It is crucial to consider the context in which this all-out uprising against toxic male entitlement is taking place. The context being, of course, a historical moment where it has become obvious that toxic male entitlement is the greatest collective threat to the survival of the species.

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Does Luxembourg Have Any Business Entering the Space Race?

Members of Luxembourg's royal family on National Day, 2015. (Mark Renders/Getty Images)

Once upon a time in the twentieth century, there was an era called the Space Race, a few glorious decades of scientific discovery in the name of national superiority. But once we got to space, what was there to do? Poke around? Send some cool tunes to the farthest reaches of the solar system? Launch a robot to go to Saturn and then burn it up twenty years later?

Now these activities are fun and good for countries that like to spend money, but what about countries that like to make money? Which will be the first nation to break the surly bonds of earth and touch the face of capitalism? The answer, as it turns out, could be Luxembourg,

Luxembourg is a small but savvy nation. With few natural resources — besides its valuable national sovereignty — the country has looked to the stars for its next big venture: asteroid mining. At The Guardian, Atossa Abrahamian lays out the galactic ambitions of a country that has fashioned itself as as tax haven to craft a thriving economy.  When it comes to legal loopholes, space may be the final frontier.

By crafting innovative rules, laws and regulations that only it could (or would) put on offer, Luxembourg has attracted banks, telecommunications companies and consulting firms before any of these industries came to dominate the global economy. Now, by courting asteroid miners before anyone else takes them seriously, it may very well end up doing the same thing for the commercialization of space…

The only catch was the ambiguity of space law: companies wanted assurances that the fruits of their extraterrestrial labour would be recognized here on Earth. This is not a given. Unlike on Earth, where a country can grant a company a mining concession, or a person can sell the right to exploit their land, no one has an obvious legal claim to what’s outside our atmosphere. In fact, the Outer Space Treaty, signed by 107 countries at the UN in 1967, explicitly prohibits countries from claiming sovereignty over celestial bodies. The question now is: if nobody owns or governs the great unknown, who is to say who gets to own a little piece of it?

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The Sun Never Sets on Oppression and Dominance, or Why You’re More Aztec Than You Think

Aztec calendar, photo by Kim Alaniz (CC BY-ND 2.0)

Aztec priests ripped out people’s hearts daily as a sacrifice to the sun, and for Sam Kriss, the contemporary West might be a lot more like them that we think. In The Outline, he explores the Aztecs’ cosmology and their concept of the apocalypse en route to deciding that we’re actually their social and political heirs.

The Aztecs built an extraordinarily sophisticated state. Their capital, Tenochtitlan, whose ruins still poke haphazardly through Mexico City, might have been the largest city outside China when Europeans first made contact; it was bigger than Paris and Naples combined, and five times bigger than London. Stretching across the Mexican highlands, their empire had, in 150 years, conquered or achieved political dominance over very nearly their entire known world, bounded by impassable mountains to the west and stifling jungle to the east. Without any major enemies left to fight, they found new ways of securing captives for sacrifice: the “flower wars” were a permanent, ritual war against neighboring city-states, in which the armies would meet at an agreed place and fight to capture as many enemy soldiers as possible.

The Roman Empire could never defeat their eternal enemy in Persia, and the dynastic Egyptians were periodically overwhelmed by Semitic tribes to the north, but until the day the Spanish arrived the Aztec monarchs were presumptive kings of absolutely everything under the sun. The only really comparable situation is the one we live under now — the unlimited empire of liberal capitalism, a scurrying hive of private interests held together under an American military power without horizon. We have our own flower wars. The United States and Russia are fighting each other in Syria — never directly, but through their proxies, so that only Syrians suffer, just as they did in Afghanistan, and Latin America, and Vietnam, and Korea. Wars, like Reagan’s attack on Granada or Trump’s on a Syrian airbase, are fought for public consumption. There is a pathology of the end of the world: dominance, ritualization, reification, and massacre.

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Unlocking the Genetic Code of Poverty

an abandoned warehouse in appalachia
An abandoned warehouse in Appalachia. Photo by My Mom Is Wolves via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

Christian H. Cooper made his way from Appalachia to Wall Street, and from poverty to wealth. But is it because he worked harder than the family and friends still struggling in East Tennessee, or was it luck? In Nautilus, he digs into the emerging science of epigenetics to look at the way poverty actually changes our genetic expression, and therefore our physiology. If poverty has treatable physical aspects, what does that mean for economic policy, social policy, and politics? What does it mean for the American ideal of meritocracy?

Now, new evidence is emerging suggesting the changes can go even deeper—to how our bodies assemble themselves, shifting the types of cells that they are made from, and maybe even how our genetic code is expressed, playing with it like a Rubik’s cube thrown into a running washing machine. If this science holds up, it means that poverty is more than just a socioeconomic condition. It is a collection of related symptoms that are preventable, treatable—and even inheritable. In other words, the effects of poverty begin to look very much like the symptoms of a disease.

That word—disease—carries a stigma with it. By using it here, I don’t mean that the poor are (that I am) inferior or compromised. I mean that the poor are afflicted, and told by the rest of the world that their condition is a necessary, temporary, and even positive part of modern capitalism. We tell the poor that they have the chance to escape if they just work hard enough; that we are all equally invested in a system that doles out rewards and punishments in equal measure. We point at the rare rags-to-riches stories like my own, which seem to play into the standard meritocracy template.

But merit has little to do with how I got out.

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The High-Water Mark: The Battle of Gettysburg, the Jersey Shore, and the Death of My Father

Dane A. Wisher | Longreads | April 2017 | 36 minutes (10,142 words)

 

2013

* * *

“What kind of commie bullshit is that?”

“I’m telling you, listen to the album again.” I jam my finger into the bar top for emphasis.

“I don’t need to. It’s called Born in the USA. It’s about good, honest American people. You’re defiling a New Jersey hero.”

“It is about America. But the flag and blue jeans on the cover, the upbeat sound on the title track—it’s all ironic.”

“Here we go. It’s ironic.

“It’s the definition of irony. Apparent surface meaning conveying the opposite of the actual underlying intent of the message. The album is about how people can’t catch a break, how hollow all the patriotic fanfare is.” My speech sounds less pompous in my head.

“This is just like your thing with Forrest Gump.”

I roll my eyes. Forrest Gump has become his latest culture war litmus test. Still, it’s good to see my brother. I’ve been teaching in Qatar for two years and he works odd hours as a cop at the Monmouth County Prison and so the nights when we can shoot the shit are rare. When we do, we eat a lot and drink a lot and tell a lot of stupid jokes and get a sick enjoyment out of fighting with each other. Read more…

I’d Gladly Pay You Tomorrow For a Hamburger Today, If Only My Debit Card Weren’t Frozen

US dollars and euros, paper bills
Photo by Mark Hodson via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Brett Scott explores the emerging cashless economy in Aeon magazine. Is ubiquitous digital payment the harbinger of a glorious future, or a smokescreen for powerful interests that want to control (and undermine) choice and capitalism?

This is no longer a deal between me and the seller. I am now dealing with a complex of unknown third parties, profit-seeking money-passers who stand between us to act as facilitators of the money flow, but also as potential gatekeepers. If a gatekeeper doesn’t want to do business with me, I can’t do business with the seller. They have the ability to jam, monitor or place conditions upon that glorious core ritual of capitalism – the transfer of money for the transfer of goods. This innocuous device exudes mechanical indifference, reporting only to invisible bosses far away, running invisible algorithms in invisible black boxes that don’t like me.

If we are going to refer to bank payments as ‘cashless’, we should then refer to cash payments as ‘bankless’. Because that’s what cash is, and right now it is the only thing standing between us and a completely privatised money system.

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Ireland’s Forgotten Women

They spent decades behind high-grey-convent-walls, against their will, working away, packaging board games, without a complaint in the world to anyone: because they were brainwashed into believing they had committed a mortal sin, and were paying back their penance to Jesus.

The Good Shepherd Sisters have continually tried to erase these “forgotten women” from our collective consciousness; and want to relegate them to the dustbin of Irish history.

In the wake of the centenary celebrations of 1916, Ireland, more than ever, is striving to come to terms with the ghosts of its own history.

In doing so, there is a hope that coming generations might experience, what President Michael D Higgins recently referred to — in his keynote speech about the rising, in the Mansion House in Dublin — as “freedom from poverty, freedom from violence and insecurity and freedom from fear.”

In Little Atoms, JP O’ Malley digs deep to tell the story of the Irish nuns who a multi-million dollar corporation exploited to help produce its toys, and to honor their lives and their suffering.

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The Case Against Christmas

Long after winter has ended, hating on Christmas remains popular sport, as much a holiday tradition as eggnog and overspending. In the New Republic in December, 1990, James S. Henry published an essay outlining his yuletide complaints and what he sees as Christmas’ flaws. The magazine republished Henry’s piece online for Christmas this year, so I thought I’d share it here, too. The stats might be dated and popular toys no longer the same, but the case Henry builds is as evergreen as a spruce. Each New Year I hope we live in a world with less hate and more understanding. But complaints? I have a few. Happy Holidays.

Christmas destroys the environment and innocent animals and birds. These have perhaps not been traditional concerns for economists. But when one takes account of all the Christmas trees, letters, packages, increased newspaper advertising, wrapping paper, and catalogs and cards, as well as all the animals slaughtered for feast and fur, this holiday is nothing less than a catastrophe for the entire ecosystem. According to the U.S. Forest Service, 33 million Christmas trees are consumed each year. Growing them imposes an artificially short rotation period on millions of acres of forest land, and the piles of needles they shed shorten the life of most household rugs and pets. All the trees and paper have to be disposed of, which places a heavy burden on landfill sites and recycling facilities, especially in the Northeast.

This year, according to the Humane Society, at least 4 million foxes and minks will be butchered just to provide our Christmas furs. To stock our tables, the Department of Agriculture tells me, we’ll also slaughter 22 million turkeys, 2 million pigs, and 2 million to 3 million cattle, plus a disproportionate fraction of the 6 billion chickens that the United States consumes each year. To anyone who has ever been to a turkey farm, Christmas and Thanksgiving take on a new and somewhat less cheerful meaning. Every single day during the run-up to these holidays, thousands of bewildered, debeaked, growth-hormone-saturated birds are hung upside down on assembly-line racks and given electric shocks. Then their throats are slit and they are dropped into boiling water.

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What Marx got right—and wrong—about capitalism: 

The most obvious mistake in his version of the world is to do with class. There is something like a classic Marxian proletariat dispersed through the world. But Marx foresaw that this proletariat would be an increasingly centralised and organised force: indeed, this was one of the reasons it would prove so dangerous to capitalism. By creating the conditions in which labour would be sure to organise and assemble collectively capitalism was arranging its own downfall. But there is no organised global conflict between the classes; there is no organised global proletariat. There’s nothing even close. The proletariat is queuing to get into Foxconn, not to organise strikes there, and the great danger facing China, which is in a sense where the world’s proletariat now is, is the inequality caused by fractures within the new urban proletariat and the rural poverty they’re leaving behind.

“Marx at 193.” — John Lanchester, London Review of Books

See more #longreads from John Lanchester