Monday, June 18, 2018

Identifying Identity Politics


There are limits to López Obrador’s inclusiveness. Many young metropolitan Mexicans are wary of what they see as his lack of enthusiasm for contemporary identity politics. I asked if he been able to change their minds. “Not much,” he said, matter-of-factly. “Look, in this world there are those who give more importance to politics of the moment—identity, gender, ecology, animals. And there’s another camp, which is not the majority, but which is more important, which is the struggle for equal rights, and that’s the camp I subscribe to. In the other camp, you can spend your life criticizing, questioning, and administering the tragedy without ever proposing the transformation of the regime. (A New Revolution In Mexico, The Newyorker) 
- And that man, Lopez Obrador, will probably in a matter of days be chosen to be Mexico's next president. Impressive.
- You're impressed that he sees through identity politics?
- Yes.
- Can you make it clearer for me? I'm often asking you that. Why is identity politics 'criticizing, questioning, administering the tragedy without ever proposing the transformation of the regime'?
- Because it is a kind of show-making. It hasn't been long since you asked me to explain that to you too.
- Yes, I know. In fact I've got ready to read you back the conversation. May I? Here it is:

-  You said at the time of the election that in general Republicans voted Republican and Democrats voted Democrat, and that in general there was a changing of the guard after an uneventful presidency one party to the other, so that what was important was the fact the outrageous bad character of our new president did not interfere with established voting practice. You also said that only people with bad character could entrust their future to someone with bad character. That's what I want you to explain. Did you mean that people with bad character are blind to the existence of character?
- That is what I meant.
- Explain to me how that works.
- The short answer is it works by character being thrown in shadow.
- The shadow of what? And anyway, I want a better answer than a metaphor.
- In larger societies, people have specialized occupations in which special knowledge is practiced. Each member of society needs to cooperate with others, trade goods and services. But some members of society make a special occupation itself out of that cooperation, put into practice a technical knowledge of how to do that. Instead of living with others now fully, with attention, understanding, sympathy, imagination, the relation to others is put into service of performance of specialized occupation. Follow?
- Yes.
- J.J. Rousseau described in detail how a child, in the doings of childhood, a kind of occupation, learns to manipulate adults to get what he wants. He stops seeing the world as place to be learned and looking to other people for assistance in that learning.
- We've been over this before.
- Many times. The child wants to do what he wants to do, and in the service of those desires puts on a show for adults. Do you know how that happens?
- No! If I knew how a children get corrupted I would have solved the problem of good and evil.
- And is that so impossible? What is it that connects specialized occupation and show-making? Why should they be associated?
- In larger societies life is lived among strangers. Show of manners, of uniform clothing, help us identify what we offer each other.
- Yes. Now we agree that our new president's bad character appears in the deliberate use of showmaking to gain power over others?
- Alright.
- We talked about how the United States has gone from a country of a large number of self-employed people to a country of few. Do you see? Being employed, and being the audience to a show are much alike.
- I don't see.
- Both audience and employee are passive. An employee may not follow his own will, but must do what he is told. An audience member in body sits passively in the theater, while his mind is transferred in identifying with the characters represented in the show. An imitation, a representation, requires this passivity to operate.
- By operate you mean we take it as real. The child pretends to like his teacher, the new president pretends to care about the American people. But as long as the child learns, and the new president does what he says he will do in his show, what difference does it make?
- The child represses his real desires, and his goal becomes not his own happiness but the manipulation of adults. Like the child does not allow himself to act on his real desires, the employee is not allowed to do what he wants. He becomes unreal to himself, while he sees himself in the character of his employer put on show for him, or in the president he puts into authority over himself.
- I think I'm beginning to understand. When human relations, what we want from them, is put second to practical relations, when we get others in their special occupations to give us what we want in our special occupations, we see ourselves in those in power over us, and seeing others as means to the end of your power over them is a definition of bad character. Because we are passive to our own real desires of full life with other people, we don't look for anything other than the shows made by us and presented to us by others. Our desires, the world of their possible fulfillment, is placed in shadow, to use your image.
- And that is true both for employee and employed, elected and electorate.
- Why?
- It makes no difference whether economic conditions force you into part time slavery or whether a TV actor decides to show-make himself into the office of president. Whether you put on the show yourself or identify with the showmaking done by another, natural desires are repressed, are replaced by a state of passivity of audience to show.
- But what if the politician or employer knows he is lying, does not believe his own lies? That's at least possible, isn't it?
- To not be seduced by your own showmaking you need to avoid becoming passive to your natural desires for human relation, and the only way that can be done is if you are actively practicing those relations while you put on shows for others. Our literature has many examples of characters trying to do this, with varying success.
- Ok. The idea of hidden depths in our new president is laughable. He obviously has bad character. He says anything he thinks will bring him votes, without regard for reality. He is liked by the people who already are on the side he places himself on, the side where the poor are believed to be robbing the rich. They identify with him, see themselves in him. Some subset of them do more, and identify with the manipulative ever changing showmaking he does. But how can this work? Doesn't the obvious unreality of the show being put on undermine the suspension of disbelief necessary in theater?
- No, because being employees they can't easily escape the theater, the world created for them in their passivity. Identifying with him, they don't take the step back to see what kind of character he has. But even if they do take that step back and see his character, his aim to perform in the show with the greatest skill, to put into practice the best technique, they rush back into the theater to become passive audience to that show of character. Identifying with the high-tech showmanship, they remain ignorant of the real world thrown into shadow by the showmaking going on all around them.

- You'd like me to tell you exactly how identity politics is a kind of showmaking.
- Yes.
- Identity politics is a claim on others with different self-description to give fair treatment to you in your own self-description. Two things: self-description, and a claim on others with different self-descriptions to act more fairly towards those of your self-description.
- How is that show making?
- In identity politics you are demanding a better role in the play to play with others of different identities. The demand to act with more fairness takes the form of insisting others create for you a "safe space", that is, forbidding representations (= shows) of there being any differences between the sexes or races, or that others make public statements of guilt of belonging to the dominating sex or race. Though skin color and sex are real, they are made use of in a self-conscious representation, like in the behavior of Rousseau's child, of a part of yourself, a thing-like, instantiated part that has to be managed in relation to parts of other people. Do you think you are your skin color or sex?
- I am, but I am a lot more too. So you argue that identity politics has us setting parts of ourselves fighting other people's parts over parts in a play, while much else more real is going on with all the rest of us not identified by roles played in relation to other roles.
- The rest of us that lives in a world of war, poverty, cruelty and dispossession, real things that affect the whole of us.

Further Reading:
Puppy & Puppets

Friday, June 8, 2018

Masculine / Feminine

Image result for bike lock figure wiki
Jordan Peterson is a Canadian psychologist, best-selling author, and wildly popular YouTube star promulgating backward and deeply unoriginal biological determinism with certainty, zeal, and a lot of Jungian mumbo jumbo. - The Nation*
- That was you I saw sitting outside late at night at Starbucks?
- What was I doing?
- Watching something on your computer. No one else was there.
- That was me, having what turned out to be an interesting night. You'd hardly believe it.
- Try me.
- I was watching Jordan Peterson lectures and interviews. You know, the Canadian clinical psychologist and psychology professor who became famous when he made a video challenging a law that all transgendered be referred to by a pronoun of their choice, not the speaker's.
- Why? You're generally not interested in politics.
- I was interested in his ideas on the differences between the sexes.
- How does he say they differ?
- Women are interested in people, men things. Women have compassion, men ambition. Women are agreeable and prone to be neurotic, men aggressive and prone to criminality.
- That reminds me of something.
- 19th century psychology of dark mysterious individual passions blocked or channeled by an order imposed by society. He says modern day research confirms this difference between the sexes. Political correctness assumes that there are no fundamental differences between the sexes, therefore sex roles can be taken on at will by for example transgendered.
- If there are no fundamental differences why take on one role rather than another?
- The professor thinks the answer is a relativism or nihilism that denies the existence of meaning altogether thus making every choice equally good.
- Why were you interested in differences between the sexes?
- I'd had my own idea I was mulling over.
- Which was?
- Peterson describes his opponents as suffering from an imbalance of compassion.
- Hyper-femininization.
- Yes. In his clinical practice prescribes to sufferers of life-confusion and failure heavy doses of masculine discipline, order, and social responsibility.
- You think he has set up his conflict with the powers of political correctness as a war between the sexes? That's your idea?
- Yes.
- Then he's got to lose that war. With his masculine discipline imposed on female compassion he is the patriarch of the feminist's nightmares. We know the problem with 19th century psychology is the lack of communication between dark forces and the order that can't explain it but only block, divert or contain. A woman's compassion is something good in itself, a man's discipline and repression definitely not something good.
- The professor doesn't see it that way. He worked for years counseling corporate lawyers, and expresses only admiration for them and their unending work done for its own sake. He rages against a compassion unmediated by an end outside itself, a compassion for its own sake, rages against political correctness, against a 'whining' demand for a safe place; yet he himself was dedicated to disciplined order for its own sake. His lectures are filled with exhortations to young people to grow up and accept discipline. Not me! The absurdity of both his work for the sake of work, and political correctness' feeling for the sake of feeling, was precisely what I had trouble with since I was young about adult life. In fact it looked to me that 19th century nihilism and relativism were in reaction to becoming aware of these two self-contained and opposed roles.
- And what did you end up accepting instead? If women were not about people, and compassion, and men about order and ambition?
- I proposed that male and female both sought to love, while conditions allowed, but when not conditions had to be altered to allow a return. Woman, I suggested, made a specialty of returning as quick as possible to a secure home of love, while men went out to remake surroundings if possible so as to allow love when returned to to last longer. Male and female both love and have compassion, but the female aims at homeostasis with the world while the man goes out to change the world. Neither the compassion expressed being at home nor the ambition of remaking the world free-floats from reason and purpose.
- And do you think these differences between the sexes are natural, not culturally imposed?
- I think that both men and women have the same capacities of compassion, discipline, ambition, attention. I think men and women do tend to put these capacities to use differently in taking the different paths I described.
- Ok. That's your opinion. What was so crazy about your night?
- Life had decided, as it often does, to act out my ideas for me. You saw me: there I was, sitting late last night with computer in my lap on Starbucks' terrace. A bicyclist rode by, slowing to take a closer look at my bike locked to the parking meter directly across from where I sat. A minute later he was back on foot. I recognized him, had seen him before at this time of night: very tall and thin, dressed in black with various heavy chains around neck and wrists. He twitched and jumped constantly, talked to himself. He stopped right in front of me without apparently seeing me. Then went around the corner of Starbucks and looked through the two glass walls at my bike, returned, walked past my bike, turned and stood in the street with his back to the parking meter, jumping, twitching, talking to himself.
- What's this got to do with political correctness?
- He was black. He was out of his mind, poor guy, suffering from mental illness, he was a drug addict from a disadvantaged home who now was expressing great male discipline and order in overcoming his disadvantages trying to steal my bike by lifting it locked to the meter over the meter's top.
- Right in front of you?
- Yes. I shouted, 'Hey! That's my bike." He stood immobile two, three seconds, then he started lifting the bike again. I shouted again, 'That's my bike!' and got to my feet. He gave up and sauntered down to where he'd leaned his bike against the next store's window. Feeling my eyes on him, I guess, as he rode away he crashed into a parked car, falling to the ground, getting up with a comical jump he got on the now wobbling bike and rode off. Where he'd crashed a large hand saw had fallen. I went back to watching the professor lecture, though it's not long before another bicyclist appears, eyeing not my bike, but the salad in its circular plastic container that Starbucks' manager had given me. (Not just me, all the regulars were offered their choice of leftover food.) This time my visitor was transgender: young, with long dark curls falling to his shoulders. He told me he was hungry, could he buy my salad? I said I'd give it to him. Could he sit down next to me? Yes. But, he asked, why was I looking suddenly so sad?
- Ok. I'll ask: Why were you sad?
- Because, as I said, I saw the world when I was young as the world was presenting itself to me tonight: idiotic meaningless work for its own sake...
- The fall-down dumb bike thief.
- Yes. And emotion that had no reason to it...
- Transgender choice to be agreeable.
- Yes.
- But you had a better idea, right?
- Maybe I had, but I can't say the world I live in has heard the news.
____________________
* I Think My Friend Is A Jordan Peterson Fan. And see Testosterone Rex: 'There is no “male brain” or “female brain”. But as soon as your maleness or femaleness is recognised, other people start to treat you in ways that form you into a man or a woman, with the support of toys, books, role models and a million other subtle nudges.' And watch: Fairness vs. Sameness.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Capitalism & Love

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(Continued from Capitalism, Prostitution, Torture)
Jean-Luc Godard, the Swiss-French film director, once told an interviewer that prostitution was the only work in our times in which you can find love - an observation related to Marquis de Sade's, that only in causing pain can you be sure of real connection. Torture, allowing the entrance of love, or rather its name, seems to stabilize capitalism.
- Such an absurd thing as capitalism could make its entrance into history, slaves being forced to buy the products they themselves have produced, because capitalism tortures, and torture produces stability by being a form of cohesion. That is your claim?
- Yes.
- And you're serious?
- Yes. In capitalism buyer and seller are drawn to each other only to be enemies to each other in every transaction. The free market produces benefit out of the defeat of the natural desire to cooperate, buyer and seller taking on roles opposed to each other.
- Participation in the free market is another torture of mind and body. I see.
- The unnatural taking on of roles in the repeated, group re-enacted killing of an old god and the rebirth of a new is our old friend ritual. Slavery in which producers must buy back their own products, and exchange between buyer and seller, both involve torture, both are ritual that is itself continually reborn, never for long let escape the phase of killing prior to new life. Through recurring torture, slave and master are suspended together in the act of being reborn; through inevitability of ritual, the master of the market and the producing and consuming slave are drawn close. Perverse and mocking, Godard and de Sade called this closeness love.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Capitalism, Prostitution, Torture

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(Continued from What Is Capitalism?)

-  A few months ago, when you came back from Europe, you told me that the city of Los Angleles had acquired some fame for its people living on the street.
- I'm fond of repeating that bit of information. What about it?
- We ended last time with these words:
Two Forms of Torture: In prostitution, the body of the prostitute is forced to act against desire, the mind forced to imitate attraction to (or passive acceptance of) the buyer. In capitalism, work forces the body to act against desire, and the worker's mind is made to take on the role associated with the products acquired.* 
Granted free food from the government but allowed no place to live, those who sleep on the street say they are being deliberately tortured. My question is, why that should that be? They clearly are not part of the capitalist-torture economy, neither employed nor having a role: you've explained previously that indifference to their suffering arises from their having no role. Can you tell me what's going on?
- We've been over this. Those living on the street do have a sort of role to play, frightening the employed into appreciation of the secure place in society their purchases grant them, and discounting the relatively minor discomforts of their work compared to what those living on the street undergo.
- Employer's find a use for them in scaring their employees, but what about the employees? Even if they have no sympathy, aren't they afraid of ending up like them one day? The city is, in fact, trying to do something about the situation.
- The relief of acquiring roles in purchases produces a religion of, a martyrdom of, suffering in work. To the employed the unemployed are deserving of nothing. God will protect them, the faithful, the gainfully employed, from the deeper, unrecompensed suffering of living on the street. And the actions of government in Los Angeles: the government represents the employers, not the employed. The government represents those who pay for the politicians' elections and who do business with them when out of office. I was earlier this week at a meeting of more than 100 public servants and academics on the subject of those living on the street. I've made some notes. Would you like to see them? They're a bit rough.
- Like the subject. Go ahead. Read them to me.
- Listen:

Late last night, outside Starbucks Olympic and Doheny, Beverly Hills, talked to a young man.

- I thought this was about a meeting?
- Notes can have introductions, can't they?

With him were two trailers, one a shopping cart piled high with household possessions, the other a wagon fully occupied by two 11 month old female pit bulls, both asleep. The young man told me he got evicted from his apartment in Miracle Mile area a few weeks ago and was trying to get his life back together. I asked him about his finances. He had he said a housing voucher from the city good up to 1400 dollars for an apartment. He also received 900 dollars cash a month. He was sitting on the pavement with his back to Starbucks' glass wall, with his two trailers and two huge puppies, and with 2300 dollars a month. The problem, he said, was that not many apartment buildings accepted his big dogs. Now it was hard getting anywhere equipped as he was with impediments of dogs and possessions. It took him three days to get from Miracle Mile to Santa Monica this week. Took him a day and more to get where he was tonight, in Beverly Hills. He'd get things together eventually, he said. He appreciated that he was alive; he'd been in the army; was lucky he was in one piece. That's how I left him, lucky to have his dogs and be alive.

I forgot to say he didn't always pull the dog filled trailers, sometimes he got on his skateboard and the dogs ran ahead and pulled him! You would like those dogs. They were very quiet. They both had sleek coats, of tan/brown color. They were called brown nose, as opposed to black nose pit bulls, I learned. Their noses really were brown.
- Did you pet the pit bulls?
- I touched one lightly. Actually they were sleeping, wedged tightly against each other in the wagon, heads angled toward the kid, half attentive to him even while asleep.
- How nice.
- You know better than I do how puppies sleep much of the time.

A few hours later, after the sun came up, though I tell myself I should stop going to these things, I was at a UCLA conference on the 'homeless' - a word I object to: it implies that the people so named are living in a way in which they can recollect what it is like to have the comforts and privacy of a home, when such memories are far gone from them in their lives of lying down on cold hard pavements, hunted by the police from place to place, ignored by the public or looked down on with loathing. 
- What do you call them them then?
- Those that are living on the street, or dying on the street, which is even more true. The room I entered contained more than 100 academics and city officials. Discussion was underway already of "big data": they were trying to determine how many of which group those on the street originate from, often which set of groups: drug addicts, insane, just out of prison, just evicted, just out of emergency room. New York City, in a model program, gave to those with deadly diseases and living on the street 900 dollars, cash. The city didn't want them infecting the general population inside institutions so they'd paid the 900 dollars to feed and buy them drugs and keep them on the street. 

- The same money the fellow with the dogs you talked to had. I guess because he was a war veteran.
- Could be. 

These 100 academics and public officials didn't seem to have noticed the 3 or 4 real life people who were living on the street seated at the back of the room, one of whom asked a question: Why do you need big data to identify who is on the street when you can just look at who's been thrown out of one gentrified neighborhoods after another? One of the academics on stage responded: Of course that is one of many data groups that must be taken into account. There is some truth there but it is far more complicated than that. Next question! At the reception afterwords, beer bottle in hand, I was lecturing the the young woman at the drink buffet when the big shot, the man who the other academics were fond of repeating literally 'wrote the book' on L.A.'s people on street, came over, looked me in the eye as I paused. I had no choice but to let him have it. I told him: You academics! You should be ashamed of yourselves! Fighting over which crumb the government provides will go to the insane, which to the transsexuals, which to the jail birds, which to the evicted, which to the drug addicts. Feelingless academics! Doing your big data computing, achieving the best possible divvying up of crumbs, funding people to have food to eat, drugs to buy, and no place to go but the streets. How proud you are of such results! Such fairness! Such good outcomes! The academic who wrote the book responds: We also support minimum income proposals. You do, I counter, the last I heard you were talking about an absurd 200 dollars a month for housing. You go on divvying up the crumbs and nothing changes. You're all so very proud of yourselves while the rest of the world laughs at Los Angeles, or rather is appalled, disgusted at the pretension that the people who run the place are civilized. But what, asks the man who wrote the book on homelessness, do you expect us to do? I expect you, I say, to stop wasting your time fighting over scraps, I expect that you demand people be taken care of, not tortured with food and no shelter. 

- And then?
- He takes that opportunity to walk away.

- How'd I do? I ask the woman serving drinks. A lot of passion, she says. You did well.

P.S. Jean-Luc Godard, the Swiss-French film director, once told an interviewer that prostitution was the only work in our times in which you can find love - an observation related to Marquis de Sade's, that only in causing pain can you be sure of real connection. Torture, allowing the entrance of love, or rather its name, seems to stabilize capitalism. (See: Love & Capitalism.)

Further Reading:
A Face To Indifference
Indifference
Indifference, Revisited
______________________
* See: Prostitution & Torture

Friday, May 11, 2018

A Face To Indifference



I wouldn’t say that I dislike the young. I’m simply not a fan of naïveté. I mean, unless you have an erotic interest in them, what other interest could you have? What are they going to possibly say that’s of interest? People ask me, Aren’t you interested in what they’re thinking? What could they be thinking? This is not a middle-aged curmudgeonly attitude; I didn’t like people that age even when I was that age. (Fran Lebowitz)

- Let's play a game. You tell one of your stories, in such a way that it means something of course, only don't tell me what it means. I'll come up with a moral for the story, subject to one condition: the moral has to include a new idea, new at least to you and me.
- I'm willing. How should I begin?
- Why not with those people on the street outside Starbucks? What's going on with them? Remember our condition: there has to be a meaning.
- I'll try not to make it too hard for you. The 300 pound man is still playing his guitar during the day to earn money for food, pushing his cart at night, sleeping in the doorway of the design showroom. The paparazzi has reappeared, not seen for months, not since the movie-star frequented restaurant* down the street closed while its building is remodeled. He's still trying to become the subject of a reality TV show to be self-produced, catching himself in the act of catching stars. Who else? A middle-aged woman who drives around all night has taken to stopping to talk to me when she sees me at the tables outside at Starbucks. She hears voices calling her a whore, sometimes hears a voice coming out of my head doing the same. Her CEO husband from England divorced her years ago; she can't get over it. She brought her aged mother over from Bulgaria last year, and the two took off for Portland, Oregon to live more cheaply. Last month the two had a fight, mother called police on daughter, daughter drove off down to home territory, L.A., where ever since she's been driving around in circles. Conservative Jewish, she's visited most of the neighborhood rabbis; they can't or won't help her. They tell her she's possessed by a demon. She has been taking medication, seeing psychiatrists on and off for the past two decades. She's not taking drugs or seeing councilors now. She gets out of her car, thinks someone driving by is playing music chosen to insult her, gets back in her care, drives away, returns. Her aged mother in Oregon, without daughter's rent contribution, has been evicted, and now is living on the street. Why doesn't she go home, I ask? Her mother, she says, is crazy. You're not? I ask. You too! I thought you were a friend, that we were like Franny and Zooey, she says; back to her car she goes and drives away. See what I'm getting at here?
- I'll take my turn when you're finished. Go on.
- Hungry Dog** is back hanging around UCLA. A poverty-stricken version of our president, a stupid man amusing because he thinks he's smart. He sleeps in a flophouse room with a dozen others, works as a temporary part-time guard, but is always getting fired, he says, for not being a member of the race his bosses belong to. He's back to going around to lectures and conferences eating and bagging for later all the free food and drink he can take. Hint: meaning here.
- I don't want your hints. Leave them out.
- I'm not sure I like this game very much. 'Franny And Zooey', I repeated to the troubled woman, just about my favorite American novel, read over and over again. To luck into the relation these brother and sister have to each other! Both hard-headed, realistic about the world and deeply mystical in demand for - yes - meaning. And here the grand opportunity arises with a women by whom such a relation is offered, but is absolutely impossible: hallucinating voices, her world is unreal; living in nearly constant fear and anger at those voices, mystical depths don't have a chance. Imagine the face of this woman: deeply lined, slightly twisted into a grimace of pain.
- I'm picturing it.
- Now imagine the faces of the mostly Jewish audience of a lecture I went to on the memoir-writing, Italian holocaust survivor and suicide Primo Levi.
- How should I imagine them?
- Without expression.
- Which is an expression of indifference.
- You wanted to wait until the end of my turn to derive your meanings. At the break for lunch out on the terrace of the Faculty Center, at my table, the only one in the shade needed to read my computer screen, are a man in his 90s attended by a woman in her 70s, a retired psychiatrist who gives his age as 85, a married couple both in late 70s, and a retired school teacher of the same age. All jewish. I read the first chapter of Primo Levi's first book, If This Is A Man, describing his transport and admission to the Auschwitz death camp. He describes the experience as that of becoming progressively aware that everyone outside him is indifferent to him and those with him; as the guards, applying techniques that facilitate that indifference, take away their clothes and possessions, shave their heads, the prisoners find that they are becoming indifferent to themselves. Hint.
- Stop that.
- I close the computer. Eavesdrop on the table's conversation: 'A beautiful program.' 'They really know how to do things here.' I turn to the psychiatrist who's seated next to me, and ask him what he thinks of the Jewish woman driving around all night hearing voices and told by rabbis she's possessed by demons. He responds he's retired, and in any case was specialized in treating veterans for post traumatic stress disorder.  According to social workers, I reply, the people living on the streets also suffer from PTSD. No, he objects: PTSD is a serious disease; the vets who have it often cannot even stay indoors. Yes, I say, exactly like many of those living on the streets, according to social workers. Several organizations go around and on a person to person basis try to set up proper services for them. A matter of a few hundreds of people, when we are told there are somewhere between 50 and 100 thousand are living on the streets in L.A. Here the 95 year old man, in a hoarse but understandable voice says, 57,000. The school teacher comments that 'we're' doing what we can. I don't think so, I say. How would I solve the problem, she asks? I answer: Give everyone a place to live. That's impossible under our system and I know it, she says. I say, It's only impossible because you don't care. Who do I care for, she asks? Hint.
- Are you through?
- Almost. As I said, around the table I saw nothing but blank faces, faces that expressed indifference. This has nothing to do with Judaism. Our president owns another such face. Rather I'd venture to say that what we are seeing is how a human being expresses, responds to a life lived stripped of everything but the economic, stripped of everything including religion, customs, arts, sciences - and playing games too. Now your turn. Tell me about faces.
- Faces. Very good... Give me a moment to think... Ok. I've come up with something.
- Already?
- We didn't say I couldn't make use of ideas we've discussed before. This is what I think. Plato divided the soul into three parts: rational, irrational, spirited. Rational expresses the world, irrational expresses the self, the spirited expresses the self in the world, or society.
- Interesting.
- You haven't put it that way exactly, have you? The three part division can also be applied to faces.
- How?
- When you feel good, you smile. If, not feeling good, you deliberately put on a smile, you can make yourself feel good. As our own put on smile makes us happy, when we see, or even hear described, another person smile, we also are made happy. The same power of suggestion works in our relation to others as in our relation to ourselves. I propose - and this is my claimed new idea - that this inborn function of the human being is part of what makes us social. The spirited part. It is allied in this function with the instinct to touch*** each other, shared with most animals, and with our rational understanding of the immense benefits**** that come from cooperating in producing resources rather than competing for and depleting existing resources.
- Irrational part of the soul represented by the instinct to touch, rational by the understanding of the benefits of cooperation, and the spirited part by the sympathy that comes out of the ability of our minds to affect our bodies.
- Yes. That's my new idea. When we look at our president, at Hungry Dog, at the old people ridiculously indifferent lunching at a conference on the murderous indifference of the Nazis, we see all three functions of the soul broken down with reduction of life to the mere economic: the blankness of their faces expresses their spiritlessness, irresponsibility, indifference to others outside of tribal alliances; a false economic theory claiming that free markets create human happiness excludes a rational organization of society; touch has been psychologized into pleasure-stimulus, transforming what is between two people into a matter of the internal economy of one person. How'd I do? I won.

Further Reading:
Indifference
Indifference, Revisited
Beverly Hills Jews
_______________________
With The Movie Stars
** Hungry Dog & The 17 Year Man
*** See: Touching: The Human Significance of the Skin, Ashley Montagu
**** Killer Metaphysics

Friday, April 27, 2018

Sex, Race, & Privilege

Image result for cherry pie wiki

- Tell me again, that story with the cherry pie.
- Do I have to?
- Come on.
- Why?
- I've been reading about race and want to talk about it with you.
- Alright. I went to the reception after a lecture at UCLA on killings of blacks by police.
- Were there any other whites there?
- No, I don't think so, counting whites after dividing the species by African, Asian, and European origins.
- Which are the three races that biologists say have some basis in reality, Europeans being the whites.
- If you say so.
- Biologists say so.
- What do they say?
- R. C. Lewontin wrote in 1972: 'Human racial classification is of no social value and is positively destructive of social and human relations. Since such racial classification is now seen to be of virtually no genetic or taxonomic significance either, no justification can be offered for its continuance.'
- I thought you said biologist recognize three races?
- They recognize three reproductively isolated groups. But since there is more diversity within a group than between groups, they discount the significance of the diversity resulting from the reproductive isolation.
- I agree that racial classification is of no social value and is positively destructive of social and human relations.
- I know you do. Good. I want you to tell the story.
- There was a lot of food set out on tables. I went over to a cherry pie as yet untouched, took up the plastic knife set beside when I stopped, feeling myself observed. A black women in her 40's was staring at me a short distance away. I asked her:
- Did you make this pie?
- Yes.
- Is it good? Is it? You don't answer. Why is that? You don't want me to eat your cherry pie?
- I didn't make it for privileged white males.
- Am I to you a privileged white male?
- Of course.
- What are my privileges?
- Not to be shot by the police.
- They've taken lately to following me when I ride my bike at night.
- You're not dead.
- You're right, there. Can I take a slice of pie or not?
- Take it all.
- Exercising my white privilege thereby? No answer. I'll take a slice. It's good.
- I know.
- You know also, or should know, that you don't know me at all. I'm a complete stranger. I admit I might have some advantage over you in my contact with the police. But what about in health, youth, beauty, material quality of life: in all of which I'd say you have the advantage over me. Why should skin color allow you to discount all the advantages you have over me and privilege only the disadvantage you have from skin color?
- You said that?
- What about it?
- I bears on what I discovered.
- What did you discover?
- Finish the story.
- The black woman said:
- It is different.
- Why? I'll take another slice of pie, Ok? No answer. Why is your disadvantage different from mine?
- You know.
- No I don't. The way you're looking at me eat: you think I'm adding the exclusive consumption of your pie to my privileges.
- Eat your pie.
- I will. I'll even take another slice. Ok? No answer. You know, if racism is present here in our conversation I think you're the source, assigning me the permanent inherited guilt of being a white male.

- And then?
- She looked at me with such deep hatred, I put my plate down, took my bag and left. Now, what do you have to say?
- I think you both were right. Race identification occurs in two steps. First, the dominance of one community by another. Then, when after time the relation between communities of slave to master becomes second nature, accepted as the way things are, skin color identifies members of the separate communities, and expresses a supposed biological determined permanence and rightness of the assessment of inferiority of every member of the dominated community, as well as the biologic transmission of inferiority to their descendants.
- She was right that race was a different, more significant kind of disadvantage, because linked with biologic permanence, I was right that she was trying to turn the tables on me, in an act of racism placing me by the color of my skin in a biologic community with inferior standards of morality.
- Yes. Actually skin color only provides the name of the community. For as the biologist I quoted wrote, there is more diversity within a race than between races, and skin color is no exception.  And remember that you are privileged not only in being white, but also in being male. Women's domination by men has the same logic as racism. Women are assigned the biologically permanent characteristic of inferior muscle strength to give them a pseudo biologic name - "The Weaker Sex" - that justifies their being permanently dominated. As with race, skin color is not a real characteristic of the community it names, so "the weaker sex" does not accurately name the community of women. Though inferior muscle strength historically made women a suitable target for enslavement, they are biologically superior to men in significant ways: they live longer, have lower metabolism, greater stamina, and the exclusive additional functions of pregnancy and nursing. The historically originated division of labor between sexes, the historical institution of legalized slavery, together with the assertion of biological permanence and inheritance make male and white advantages different from the non institutionalized and impermanent advantages of health, youth, beauty, etc.
- And you'd like to know what, in light of the cherry pie incident, I say to all this?
- Yes.
- If I had to continue the conversation's competition in blame and grievances - and I wouldn't want to! - I'd point out that my white male privilege is involuntarily acquired and justified by factually false assertions, her advantages are based on true assessments, for example, of age and health. I think she has the advantage of me, she is the one who is privileged. Her advantages over me are real, my advantages over her mere products of social lying.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Who Eats Who



Starbucks Coffee, West Hollywood

- Do you know her?
- A little. She avoids me.
- What does she have against you? Does she live on the street like the others?
- She does. And I don't know what she has against me. 
- She's very beautiful. 
- She was a model in Paris when she was a teenager. Later, she says, she ran a studio for fashion photography. 
- What happened to her?
- She won't tell me. Says she has issues. 
- What kind of issues?
- Once I couldn't tell if she'd said things were hard or that they were against her. She's not friendly with me so I don't know much. What surprises me is that, beautiful as she is, no one helps her, gives her a place to live.
- It is surprising.
- It's our times: even beauty if not associated with money is not attractive.
- Is that her dog?
- Yes. She's left her with me to watch while she goes off to the market to buy her food. I can't tell you much about the beautiful woman...
- So you're going to tell me about her dog?
- About dogs and humans. In our economic system people prey on each other, try to get each other's money; it's not crazy, when living on the street, to have a stronger sense of this happening than others do. Humans originally were herbivores, but have adjusted their diet to eating meat; while dogs originally were carnivores, but living with humans have adjusted their diet to eating grains. Dogs and humans live together, but humans are evolving in the direction of eating dogs, while dogs are evolving away from satisfying their hunger with eating humans. Animals who would prefer to eat animals are living with animals who wouldn't. Won't the animals who'd prefer not to eat animals always live under the threat of being eaten? Why are they not menaced by the situation? 
- Because they love us.
- They do. Maybe we took them into our homes because by their movement away from animals hunting each other they teach us to do likewise? 
- How teach us?
- By their love.

Further Reading:
What's Happening

Sunday, April 8, 2018

What's Happening



(Last of five parts. First part here.)

- What's happening?
- Very early this morning, 2 am, I took part in a little drama. I was sitting outside at Starbucks, the cafe had locked up for the night, when the middle of my three brothers in Thailand appeared on Facebook chat and asked me your question.
- 'What's happening?'
- Yes. I answered, with some grandiosity: I'm thinking about capitalism. Brother Jerry asked:

- What about capitalism?
- Was it true that it involved a particular form of slavery, wage slavery, part time slavery, in which the slave buys back products made by him or slaves like himself, because of the opportunities it provided for a more continuous torture of slaves than previously tried forms of slavery?

- The torture being forcing the slave into exhausting work under dangerous conditions, then forcing him to buy at higher price products he himself or his fellows had produced, paid the minimum possible to keep him alive.
- Yes. Brother Jerry's types in that he'll be back on line soon, he wants to take a shower. It's hot humid daytime in Thailand. I return to my draft page, but not for long. A young, well dressed man walks up to me. He says:

- Sorry to bother you. But I'm in trouble. I've never felt like this before. I don't know where I am. I don't know what to do!
- Sit down.
- Thank you.
- What should I do?
- Were you at a bar?
- I don't remember.
- Where are you coming from now?
- I don't know!
- Where do you live?
- 234 Grey Lane.
- I don't know where that is.
- Long Beech. Where are we?
- West Hollywood. How did you get here from Long Beach? Car? Train?
- Train. Then Uber.
- What are you doing in West Hollywood?
- I don't know why I'm here.
- Can't you call someone?
- I don't have my phone. Or my wallet. Can I use your phone?
- You've met the only man within miles without a phone. Are you married?
- I have a girl friend.
- Where is she?
- I don't know.
- Do you know her phone number?
- Yes. Can I borrow your phone?
- You just asked me that. I said you've met the only man within miles without a phone.
- What am I going to do? I've never felt like this before. I don't know what's happening. I want to go home. I don't drink, smoke. I don't understand.
- You've been drugged.
- Drugged?
- You're the fourth to come up to me here late at night who didn't know where he was.* You aren't coming from a bar?
- I don't remember. Can't we call the police?
- As I said, I don't have a phone. It's two in the morning. We'll sit here together a few minutes. Somebody will come by who'll let us use his phone. Relax.
- Ok.
- Is your girlfriend here with you?
- I don't know. Can we send her an email with your computer?
- Sure. What's the address? What's your name? Her name? Well Michael, you two seem to have the same last name. Are you married?
- Yes. No. I don't know.
- I don't know where my wife is but she doesn't want me to know. Let's ask that man:

- Hey! This fellow here has been drugged, his telephone and wallet taken. Can he use your phone to call his wife?
- Of course.

Michael makes the call. I can hear ring tones, followed by a recording. Then an hysterical woman's voice. Michael says over it, Hello! Hello! He can't get a word in. He passes the phone to me. There's a lot of noise from a crowd, a bad connection, or both.

- Hi, I'm at Starbucks with your Michael.
- I don't know where Starbucks is.
- Beverly and Robertson.
- I don't know where that is!
- Where are you? Try to stay calm.
- At the Abby.
- That's close. He's coming. Wait there.

Michael seems not to have followed the conversation. He's sitting, dazed.

- Time for you to go. She waiting.
- I'll take him, says the man as I return him his phone. He's wearing a cook's jacket. Probably he's just off work at the new restaurant down the street.
- Michael gets himself up, says to the cook, 'This guy helped me a lot.' The cook holds out his hand to shake mine, and off they go.

I return to my computer and the question whether capitalism is a form a slavery chosen for its opportunities for more constant torture. Wasn't what just had happened, this drugging, a good example, wasn't it an unnecessarily painful way to steal? I'm about to to pursue this line of inquiry when my brother returns to Facebook chat. I have to warn you this is going to be one of those dialogs where one side does all the work and the other throws in an encouraging remark here and there to keep things moving. So then. Having reappeared on Facebook chat, brother Jerry asks me:

- Have you made any progress?
- Factory owners argue that they make their employees work twenty hour days because, without the lower price that allows them to sell their products for they wouldn't be able to compete. But I wonder whether the group of people willing to becoming factory owners are not a preselected group, that of those willing to torture.
- Interesting point of view.
- If only a minority of employers had a predilection for torture, why didn't the majority of them pass laws to prevent torture and so take out the factor of competition? It is sometimes argued that the additional profit to gained from torturing workers is needed to invest in new technology. Others say No, technology cannot be constantly replaced because of the high cost, risks, and delays of installation and testing.
- That figures.
- The question is: Why make slaves buyers of the products they make? Why not have them directly make luxuries for their employers? Or if employers couldn't use any more luxuries, build pyramids to their glory? Why not forget about wages, just give them a box of cheap food every few days? The Trump administration actually proposed something like this yesterday, to change the food stamps program from providing a credit card to a box of what is certain to be junk food.
- Wow. Is that true about the Trump administration?
-Yes. Competition, it is argued, drives employers to torture employees. But is that true? Apple products sell for vastly higher prices than their competition, yet they are only marginally better for a few purposes and for others not better at all. Consumers will pay more for products that are different.
- That's for sure.
- What stops a 19th century factory owner from saying to himself, I'd rather be dead than a torturer of children? How does the fact of competition avoid that question? I think the argument from competition is false: only because the factory owners already were immoral was it possible for the argument to be raised. What do you think?
- I think you make some really good points.
- Am I right or not?
- You're right.
- What would happen if you asked American Indians or Australian Aborigines, way back at the beginnings of the industrial revolution, if in exchange for a lot of glass beads they would torture children, what would they say? You'd explain further that they couldn't get the beads without torture because their fellows would be willing to do the torture if they didn't. Wouldn't they laugh at you, knowing their fellow Indians and Aborigines would never torture masses of children?
- Well, they would laugh.
- A very small number of people own controlling interests in most of the world's largest corporations. It is they who decide company policies. Nothing forces them to make immoral choices. They have no need of more money. They don't need to be concerned about stock values since they don't ever need to sell their stock. They don't need to be concerned about dividends because their companies could, like the Rolex watch company does, operate very successfully without insisting on making a profit.
- Very true.
- So it looks to me like factory directors and stock owners positively want to torture. Their preference for torture precedes any pressure felt from competition. They chose the system of part time slaves who buy the products they make because it puts workers continuously, as both producer and consumer, in the control of a process torturing to them. Do you see any other explanation?
- I completely agree.
- If a few of the world's top billionaires spent only half of their billions to eliminate poverty, allowing the poor to have again the life on the land the billionaire's forerunners had taken from them with violence, world poverty would be entirely, immediately eliminated. But the billionaires don't consider doing anything like it. They don't think of changing the system of torture that their wealth originates in. If you asked them why not save a million people from starvation every year, they'd say it was politically impossible, meaning governments would stand in the way. But put a few million dollars in the pockets of politicians and their objections would vanish.
- That's for sure.
- Probably not myself being employed by any torturer I'll just copy this Facebook chat, post it on the internet and say I'm done.
- Haahaaha, Too funny.
- Haaha. It'll be funnier when you see I'm really going to do it.
- I'd like to read the finished masterpiece.
- I'll send it.

- The chat with my brother ends there.
- What do you think happened to the guy who didn't know where he was?
- He went home with his wife. It's to be hoped.

Further Reading:
Capitalism & Compulsion 

P.S. Two Forms of Torture: In prostitution, the body of the prostitute is forced to act against desire, the mind forced to imitate attraction to (or passive acceptance of) the buyer. In capitalism, work forces the body to act against desire, and the worker's mind is made to take on the role associated with the products acquired. See: Prostitution & Torture. And: Capitalism, Prostitution, Torture
__________________
* See Killer At Starbucks

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Capitalist Utopia



(Continued from What Is Capitalism?)

- What is capitalism anyway? Adam Smith's free market?
- Capitalism goes on fine without it. See the monopoly controlled, subsidized, cartel-ridden, government-bribed big business U.S.A.  
- Marx's wage labor plus class struggle? 
- That's a little closer. 
- Then you tell me.
- Capitalism is wage labor that uses its wages to buy products it has made. 
- A cycle.
- Yes. 
- Why?
- Why what?
- Why not slavery pure and simple? Supply the slaves food and shelter, and employ them to build pyramids to your glory or to make you luxuries. Why have them buy back the products they have themselves made?
- It has to do with the social instability of the times and the development of modern science and its similar non-stop cycling: results of research and experiment are turned to technology which yields new research, experiment, and technology. In the capitalist cycle, money invested in production pays employees who use the money to buy products they themselves have produced. Money cycles through the production process back to the employer, to be reinvested. The world may be changing all around, but life is clear to scientist and capitalist: discover the rules, apply them, repeat. For the non-scientist, non-capitalist, there's a problem: we know the rules of the world, but not of the mind, or of the mind's relation to the world. The philosophy that develops around the time modern science's cycling begins solves the problem by identifying mind and body, in the words of Spinoza, as two ways of looking at the same thing. Or in the what we call now 'process philosophy' of Marx: seeing in the world the action of the self in coming to know it; seeing in the self the world it has developed acting in response to. The employee has his world removed from his grasp when the product he makes is taken away from him as the property of his employer. Separated from the world it had been acting on, the employee's body is seen to perform meaningless repetitive actions. Later, when the hours of wage slavery have expired, exercising his freedom, his mind is engaged in attempt to recover his lost self that has been mysteriously attached to one of the objects he and others like him made and now are offered back to him for sale. The employee, who becomes a material in the production process as the employer solves his mind body problem, becomes part of the world to be researched and incorporated in new management techniques. As a human being the employee is invisible to the employer, part of the body that is no problem. The employee, if seen at all, elicits contempt as a failure, while the employer in his own judgment is an undeniable success as he participates in the great creative cycle of money passing through production back to money, money representing mind, the production representing body. The world we live in, capitalism triumphant, loads the majority of people with the unsolved mind body problem. Overwhelmed with the practical difficulty of getting enough money to keep body going, body becomes alien, standing in the way of creative intentions.
- The employer has contempt for his employee's life failure. But what the capitalist is doing - it might make the mind body problem disappear, but it isn't really creative. It is loveless, destructive of human lives, profoundly ugly.*
- As it must be. The stable class relation between employer and employee, locked together with a machine's causality, is suspiciously like that of the warrior class and the producer class in the city imagined in Plato's Republic, a utopia of total management in which justice is supposed to be writ large in the relation between classes, membership in which guarantees not the least happiness.
- Capitalism's destination is Plato's Republic? Seriously?
- We'll have to see. Workers have their cycle: product - wages - product. Employers have their cycle: money - product - money. Scientists have their cycle: knowledge - technology - knowledge. These cycles working together end in forming the three classes of the republic: workers, warriors, guardians. At which point all cycles cease. The workers can only work, all means to do anything else having been squeezed out of them by capitalists demand for profit. The capitalists, with no more profit to be made out of workers, settle down into the warrior role. They protect the little world of the republic acting in which shows them who they are; they protect the republic against all those who do not have their being made by acting in that little world. And scientists, they turn to the task of keeping the republic free from change, workers working, watchdogs being watchdogs.**

Further Reading:
Dream Girl
________________
 * The recollective experiences of love, beauty, and truth are experienced resting from movement. See The Care & Feeding Of Vampires & Zombies, and Noam Chomsky & Mental Things
** Regarding Capital's drive towards absolute control, see The Dream Of Pacification: Accumulation, Class War, And The Hunt, and How To Read Plato's Republic. 

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

For The Hell Of It



(Continued from What Is Capitalism?)

- Capitalism moves towards a closed system. Those dispossessed from their lives on the land become employees. Employers make a profit out of the labor of their workers who can't afford to buy the products they make: with employers profit added the total cost of products is more than the total of workers wages. Workers can buy only a fraction of what they produce.  Employers consume some of the excess. The rest must be sold in territories outside the system. As capitalism and the free market expand their reach, and populations in the territories, dispossessed from their lives on the land, become employees producing additional products that have to be sold, that outlet is closed. Competition drives advance of technology; the amount of products made for fixed cost increases. But workers can't pay more for employer products than employers pay them. Employers have the choice of hoarding the excess products, or allowing with higher wages workers to have some of them and live more than a life of subsistence: maybe then they'll work better and make more products.
- But how do employers profit from that if all they can get from their employees for their products is the same amount they have paid them in wages?
- They allow them credit to buy more.
- But that is their money too!
- They don't let it get too far away. In one scenario workers buy houses on credit at low interest rates, the boom in house buying is followed by a bust, interest rates are raised, refinancing is impossible, payments become unaffordable and houses are repossessed.
- Poor workers. Made slaves, dispossessed of their land, are allowed to buy back land, only to be dispossessed again! Is it a stupid question to ask why employers don't stop persecuting their employees and let their businesses run on without profit? Why do the rich-beyond-any-use capitalists think they need their profit?
- A company doing business in the billions operating without demand for profit presently exists: the watch manufacturer Rolex. At the death of its owner the company became a private foundation without loss of competitiveness.
- Then there is no institutional, practical necessity for profit.
- Profit isn't the only value. Have you ever tried to read Marx's Capital?
- I tried.
- Even second hand, hearing it discussed, I experience a strange sense of unreality. Value, Marx says, is socially useful labor. Employees produce that value, but employers take most of it for themselves as their profit, without doing any socially useful labor themselves. Their relation to their employers, labor, is used to explain what money is, to prove that employers are robbing employees of what is theirs.
- What's wrong with that?
- It's an explanation in terms of the severely limited world of the marketplace where everything is to be bought and sold, including people, that is, from the world of part-time slavery Marx is trying to explain. In the larger world something is socially valuable passed from one person to another as an act of sympathy, as participation in another's life, as a creative act, as an act of humor, as an act of disencumbrance...
- All of which hasn't the slightest meaning to capital's slavedrivers. They won't willingly give up the god-like act of remaking human beings from part-time slaves into full-time slaves. They're in it for the hell of it.

Further Reading:
Capitalist Utopia
The Politics Of Truth

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Ritual, Technology, & The Free Market



(Continued from What Is Capitalism?)

To continue where we left off. Spending our leisure time on premises owned by the corporate giant Starbucks, consuming its products under pressure to be quick...
 - Yes, yes. You claimed capitalism involved ritual-like spontaneously occurring social arrangements in which technology increases productivity, allowing employer profits to be taken from the wages of employees who can subsist on less money, buying the more efficiently produced, cheaper products.  A second spontaneously occurring social arrangement was the free market's competition being applied to the first arrangement, making sure technology is endlessly and continuously applied to reduce costs, lower wages, and provide employer profits. Am I summarizing correctly?
- Yes.
- When in the past these social machines couldn't be applied, when technology wasn't up to the task, wasn't cheap enough, employers made use of a reserve army of unemployed they'd gone to the trouble of creating for times like these, or collusion among each other to fix wage rates, or monopoly control of markets, to directly take their profits from workers in the form of reduced wages or longer working hours. Correct?
- Yes.
- Technology and the free market have been put to the service of extending part-time slavery into full-time slavery. My question to you is: you said this activity is like ritual in being a spontaneous occurring social arrangement; but isn't it itself ritual? And if so, what does it express as a ritual?
- Employers first acquired their capital by violent acts dispossessing their future workers of land held in common, and by other aggressive manipulations that have no connection with technology and the free market. Employers go back to use of these means when technology and the free market fail them. Linkage of slavery to technology and the free market regularly fails, is established and recovers from crisis by means of actions inconsistent with, that do violence to technical application in the free market. Violence, and myth-like lack of consistent practicality, suggest ritual.
- Again: ritual expressing what?
- That if an "accumulation of wealth at one pole is, therefore, at the same time accumulation of misery, agony of toil slavery, ignorance, brutality, mental degradation, at the opposite pole,"* that is the result of the functioning of natural laws of market and technology. Ritual serves to hide from ourselves the fact our society is based on violence and slavery.
- Then it's true?
- Capitalism is ritual? The formal requirements are met: repeated acts reenacting a story of emerging out of weakness reborn into strength by means of violent, unquestioned acts in the company of others. You and me here at Starbucks, consuming the corporate employer's products at higher and higher prices, we are like slaves forced into a dance with a fanatical master. I don't know. Dancing with us do corporate employers feel powerful and reborn?
_____________
* Karl Marx, Capital

Friday, March 23, 2018

What Is Capitalism?



1.

- I don't know how you can stand coming to this Starbucks. Where do these people go to when it closes? What time is closing?
- 12:30. That big man - he admits to weighing 300 pounds - the days he gathers a little money playing guitar on the street; restaurants to give him food in exchange for posting on social networks video reviews he makes on the spot. When they lock the doors here he'll push that cart you see outside down Beverly to a doorway of one of the high design furniture showrooms.
- Where he'll sleep?
- Yes.
- Who are the others?
- Drivers from Armenia. A couple of medical students. That man I suppose was just released from the hospital where he was kept locked in for observation. He'll wander up and down the streets all night.
- Going nowhere. Let's change the subject.
- Fine.
- On the subject of a past conversation, why political critique doesn't seem to change anything:* what do you think happened with Karl Marx? His ideas changed the world, but not really for the better. He was wrong in his predictions of collapse of capitalism and worker led revolution. But people are talking about him now because he was right about increasing inequality.
- Maybe only his timing was off. Capitalism's collapse and worker led revolution are coming. Is the timing right for us to talk about this? The cafe closes in 15 minutes.
- Then don't waste any time.
- You know how we often talk about ritual as a spontaneous social structure, a social behavior that seems to be an inherent possibility of human nature? Marx made his predictions about the future of capitalism assuming the presence of several of these sort of machines in capitalist society.
- And these machines were?
- (1) Advance in technology allows products to be made cheaper, workers to be paid less, and employers make profit. (2) Competition in the free market drives down prices, allows workers to be paid less, forces development of new technology, and employers make profit. (3) New technology not forthcoming at cheap enough price, employers increase their demands on workers to the point where these part-time slaves, wages at subsistence level and working all waking hours, are indistinguishable from full-time slaves.
- More injections of technology. More competition in free markets.  A race to reestablish slavery in all its purity. The fact of there now operating such social machines...
- But is it a fact?
- Assume they exist as along a path a society may or may not take. The path offers a direction, not a destiny. Society can get on and off. There being such machines possible, workers living in the midst of their operation Marx believed would wake up to their enslavement and rebel.
- Look around you. Where's the revolution?
- I think I know why. They're closing now?
- We have a couple minutes. Why no revolution?
- Marx's story of history progressing from primitive communism maintained by ritual, to slave agricultural society, kingdoms, feudalism, capitalism, and finally communism again, this time with technology: this is somewhat like the story told by Kabbalah, but with a big difference. In Kabbalah, progress is made accumulating good in the world, not in reaction to accumulation of bad.
- Kabbalah's machine is located in a world of persisting beauty, truth, wisdom, not society.
- That's right. Marx's ideas were applied in China and Russia, seeing only, reacting only to bad accumulations, bad machines. But Marx himself wrote: "I can only relate myself in a human way to a thing when the thing is related in a human way to man."** To take the final step out of slavery requires more than knowing you are a slave. Knowledge from taking that human way has to be allowed to accumulate. Relating myself to the world in a human way requires that I step off the path that surrounds me with people and things that are not related in a human way to me.
- Then we'll see about the revolution. Closing time.


2.

To continue where we left off. Spending our leisure time on premises owned by the corporate giant Starbucks, consuming its products under pressure to be quick...
 - Yes, yes. You claimed capitalism involved ritual-like spontaneously occurring social arrangements in which technology increases productivity, allowing employer profits. A second spontaneously occurring social arrangement was the free market's competition being applied to the first arrangement, making sure technology is endlessly and continuously applied to reduce costs, and provide employer profits. Am I summarizing correctly?
- Yes.
- When in the past these social machines couldn't be applied, when technology wasn't up to the task, wasn't cheap enough, employers made use of a reserve army of unemployed they'd gone to the trouble of creating for times like these, or collusion among each other to fix wage rates, or monopoly control of markets, to directly take their profits from workers in the form of reduced wages or longer working hours. Correct?
- Yes.
- Technology and the free market have been put to the service of extending part-time slavery into full-time slavery. My question to you is: you said this activity is like ritual in being a spontaneous occurring social arrangement; but isn't it itself ritual? And if so, what does it express as a ritual?
- Employers first acquired their capital by violent acts dispossessing their future workers of land held in common, and by other aggressive manipulations that have no connection with technology and the free market. Employers go back to use of these means when technology and the free market fail them. Linkage of slavery to technology and the free market regularly fails, is established, and recovers from crisis by means of actions inconsistent with, that do violence to technical application in the free market. Violence, and myth-like lack of consistent practicality, suggest ritual.
- Again: ritual expressing what?
- That if an "accumulation of wealth at one pole is, therefore, at the same time accumulation of misery, agony of toil, slavery, ignorance, brutality, mental degradation, at the opposite pole,"*** that is the result of the functioning of natural laws of market and technology. Ritual serves to hide from ourselves the fact our society is based on violence and slavery.
- Then it's true?
- Capitalism is ritual? The formal requirements are met: repeated acts reenacting a story of emerging out of weakness reborn into strength by means of violent, unquestioned acts in the company of others. You and me here at Starbucks, consuming the corporate employer's products at higher and higher prices, we are like slaves forced into a dance with a fanatical master. I don't know. Dancing with us do corporate employers feel powerful and reborn?


3.

- Capitalism moves towards a closed system. Those dispossessed from their lives on the land become employees. Employers make a profit out of the labor of their workers who can't afford to buy the products they make: with employers profit added the total cost of products is more than the total of workers wages. Workers can buy only a fraction of what they produce.  Employers consume some of the excess. The rest must be sold in territories outside the system. As capitalism and the free market expand their reach, and populations in the territories, dispossessed from their lives on the land, become employees producing additional products that have to be sold, that outlet is closed. Competition drives advance of technology; the amount of products made for fixed cost increases. But workers can't pay more for employer products than employers pay them. Employers have the choice of hoarding the excess products, or allowing with higher wages workers to have some of them and live more than a life of subsistence: maybe then they'll work better and make more products.
- But how do employers profit from that if all they can get from their employees for their products is the same amount they have paid them in wages?
- They allow them credit to buy more.
- But that is their money too!
-They don't let it get too far away. In one scenario workers buy houses on credit at low interest rates, the boom in house buying is followed by a bust, interest rates are raised, refinancing is impossible, payments become unaffordable and houses are repossessed.
- Poor workers. Made slaves, dispossessed of their land, are allowed to buy back land, only to be dispossessed again! Is it a stupid question to ask why employers don't stop persecuting their employees and let their businesses run on without profit? Why do the rich-beyond-any-use capitalists think they need their profit?
- A company doing business in the billions operating without demand for profit presently exists: the watch manufacturer Rolex. At the death of its owner the company became a private foundation without loss of competitiveness.
- Then there is no institutional, practical necessity for profit.
- Profit isn't the only value. Have you ever tried to read Marx's Capital?
- I tried.
- Even second hand, hearing it discussed, I experience a strange sense of unreality. Value, Marx says, is socially useful labor. Employees produce that value, but employers take most of it for themselves as their profit, without doing any socially useful labor themselves. Their relation to their employers, labor, is used to explain what money is, to prove that employers are robbing employees of what is theirs.
- What's wrong with that?
- It's an explanation in terms of the severely limited world of the marketplace where everything is to be bought and sold, including people, that is, from the world of part-time slavery Marx is trying to explain. In the larger world something is socially valuable passed from one person to another as an act of sympathy, as participation in another's life, as a creative act, as an act of humor, as an act of disencumbrance...
- All of which hasn't the slightest meaning to capital's slavedrivers. They won't willingly give up the god-like act of remaking human beings from part-time slaves into full-time slaves. They're in it for the hell of it.


4.

- What is capitalism anyway? Adam Smith's free market?
- Capitalism goes on fine without it. See the monopoly controlled, subsidized, cartel-ridden, government-bribed big business U.S.A.  
- Marx's wage labor plus class struggle? 
- That's a little closer. 
- Then you tell me.
- Capitalism is wage labor that uses its wages to buy products it has made. 
- A cycle.
- Yes. 
- Why?
- Why what?
- Why not slavery pure and simple? Supply the slaves food and shelter, and employ them to build pyramids to your glory or to make you luxuries. Why have them buy back the products they have themselves made?
- It has to do with the social instability of the times and the development of modern science and its similar non-stop cycling: results of research and experiment are turned to technology which yields new research, experiment, and technology. In the capitalist cycle, money invested in production pays employees who use the money to buy products they themselves have produced. Money cycles through the production process back to the employer, to be reinvested. The world may be changing all around, but life is clear to scientist and capitalist: discover the rules, apply them, repeat. For the non-scientist, non-capitalist, there's a problem: we know the rules of the world, but not of the mind, or of the mind's relation to the world. The philosophy that develops around the time modern science's cycling begins solves the problem by identifying mind and body, in the words of Spinoza, as two ways of looking at the same thing. Or in the what we call now 'process philosophy' of Marx: seeing in the world the action of the self in coming to know it; seeing in the self the world it has developed acting in response to. The employee has his world removed from his grasp when the product he makes is taken away from him as the property of his employer. Separated from the world it had been acting on, the employee's body is seen to perform meaningless repetitive actions. Later, when the hours of wage slavery have expired, exercising his freedom, his mind is engaged in attempt to recover his lost self that has been mysteriously attached to one of the objects he and others like him made and now are offered back to him for sale. The employee, who becomes a material in the production process as the employer solves his mind body problem, becomes part of the world to be researched and incorporated in new management techniques. As a human being the employee is invisible to the employer, part of the body that is no problem. The employee, if seen at all, elicits contempt as a failure, while the employer in his own judgment is an undeniable success as he participates in the great creative cycle of money passing through production back to money, money representing mind, the production representing body. The world we live in, capitalism triumphant, loads the majority of people with the unsolved mind body problem. Overwhelmed with the practical difficulty of getting enough money to keep body going, body becomes alien, standing in the way of creative intentions.
- The employer has contempt for his employee's life failure. But what the capitalist is doing - it might make the mind body problem disappear, but it isn't really creative. It is loveless, destructive of human lives, profoundly ugly.****
- As it must be. The stable class relation between employer and employee, locked together with a machine's causality, is like that of the warrior class and the producer class in the city imagined in Plato's Republic, a utopia of total management in which justice is supposed to be writ large in the relation between classes, membership in which guarantees not the least happiness.
- Capitalism's destination is Plato's Republic? Seriously?
- We'll have to see. Workers have their cycle: product - wages - product. Employers have their cycle: money - product - money. Scientists have their cycle: knowledge - technology - knowledge. These cycles working together end in forming the three classes of the republic: producers, warriors, guardians. At which point all cycles cease. The workers can only work, all means to do anything else having been squeezed out of them by capitalists demand for profit. The capitalists, with no more profit to be made out of workers, settle down into the warrior role. They protect the little world of the republic acting in which shows them who they are; they protect the republic against all those who do not have their being made by acting in that little world. And scientists, they turn to the task of keeping the republic free from change, workers working, watchdogs being watchdogs.*****


5.

- What's happening?
- Very early this morning, 2 am, I took part in a little drama. I was sitting outside at Starbucks, the cafe had locked up for the night, when the middle of my three brothers in Thailand appeared on Facebook chat and asked me your question.
- 'What's happening?'
- Yes. I answered, with some grandiosity: I'm thinking about capitalism. Brother Jerry asked:

- What about capitalism?
- Was it true that it involved a particular form of slavery, wage slavery, part time slavery, in which the slave buys back products made by him or slaves like himself, because of the opportunities it provided for a more continuous torture of slaves than previously tried forms of slavery?

- The torture being forcing the slave into exhausting work under dangerous conditions, then forcing him to buy at higher price products he himself or his fellows had produced, paid the minimum possible to keep him alive.
- Yes. Brother Jerry's types in that he'll be back on line soon, he wants to take a shower. It's hot humid daytime in Thailand. I return to my draft page, but not for long. A young, well dressed man walks up to me. He says:

- Sorry to bother you. But I'm in trouble. I've never felt like this before. I don't know where I am. I don't know what to do!
- Sit down.
- Thank you.
- What should I do?
- Were you at a bar?
- I don't remember.
- Where are you coming from now?
- I don't know!
- Where do you live?
- 234 Grey Lane.
- I don't know where that is.
- Long Beech. Where are we?
- West Hollywood. How did you get here from Long Beach? Car? Train?
- Train. Then Uber.
- What are you doing in West Hollywood?
- I don't know why I'm here.
- Can't you call someone?
- I don't have my phone. Or my wallet. Can I use your phone?
- You've met the only man within miles without a phone. Are you married?
- I have a girl friend.
- Where is she?
- I don't know.
- Do you know her phone number?
- Yes. Can I borrow your phone?
- You just asked me that. I said you've met the only man within miles without a phone.
- What am I going to do? I've never felt like this before. I don't know what's happening. I want to go home. I don't drink, smoke. I don't understand.
- You've been drugged.
- Drugged?
- You're the fourth to come up to me here late at night who didn't know where he was.****** You aren't coming from a bar?
- I don't remember. Can't we call the police?
- As I said, I don't have a phone. It's two in the morning. We'll sit here together a few minutes. Somebody will come by who'll let us use his phone. Relax.
- Ok.
- Is your girlfriend here with you?
- I don't know. Can we send her an email with your computer?
- Sure. What's the address? What's your name? Her name? Well Michael, you two seem to have the same last name. Are you married?
- Yes. No. I don't know.
- I don't know where my wife is but she doesn't want me to know. Let's ask that man:

- Hey! This fellow here has been drugged, his telephone and wallet taken. Can he use your phone to call his wife?
- Of course.

Michael makes the call. I can hear ring tones, followed by a recording. Then an hysterical woman's voice. Michael says over it, Hello! Hello! He can't get a word in. He passes the phone to me. There's a lot of noise from a crowd, a bad connection, or both.

- Hi, I'm at Starbucks with your Michael.
- I don't know where Starbucks is.
- Beverly and Robertson.
- I don't know where that is!
- Where are you? Try to stay calm.
- At the Abby.
- That's close. He's coming. Wait there.

Michael seems not to have followed the conversation. He's sitting, dazed.

- Time for you to go. She waiting.
- I'll take him, says the man as I return him his phone. He's wearing a cook's jacket. Probably he's just off work at the new restaurant down the street.
- Michael gets himself up, says to the cook, 'This guy helped me a lot.' The cook holds out his hand to shake mine, and off they go.

I return to my computer and the question whether capitalism is a form a slavery chosen for its opportunities for more constant torture. Wasn't what just had happened, this drugging, a good example, wasn't it an unnecessarily painful way to steal? I'm about to to pursue this line of inquiry when my brother returns to Facebook chat. I have to warn you this is going to be one of those dialogs where one side does all the work and the other throws in an encouraging remark here and there to keep things moving. So then. Having reappeared on Facebook chat, brother Jerry asks me:

- Have you made any progress?
- Factory owners argue that they make their employees work twenty hour days because, without the lower price that allows them to sell their products for they wouldn't be able to compete. But I wonder whether the group of people willing to becoming factory owners are not a preselected group, that of those willing to torture.
- Interesting point of view.
- If only a minority of employers had a predilection for torture, why didn't the majority of them pass laws to prevent torture and so take out the factor of competition? It is sometimes argued that the additional profit to gained from torturing workers is needed to invest in new technology. Others say No, technology cannot be constantly replaced because of the high cost, risks, and delays of installation and testing.
- That figures.
- The question is: Why make slaves buyers of the products they make? Why not have them directly make luxuries for their employers? Or if employers couldn't use any more luxuries, build pyramids to their glory? Why not forget about wages, just give them a box of cheap food every few days? The Trump administration actually proposed something like this yesterday, to change the food stamps program from providing a credit card to a box of what is certain to be junk food.
- Wow. Is that true about the Trump administration?
-Yes. Competition, it is argued, drives employers to torture employees. But is that true? Apple products sell for vastly higher prices than their competition, yet they are only marginally better for a few purposes and for others not better at all. Consumers will pay more for products that are different.
- That's for sure.
- What stops a 19th century factory owner from saying to himself, I'd rather be dead than a torturer of children? How does the fact of competition avoid that question? I think the argument from competition is false: only because the factory owners already were immoral was it possible for the argument to be raised. What do you think?
- I think you make some really good points.
- Am I right or not?
- You're right.
- What would happen if you asked American Indians or Australian Aborigines, way back at the beginnings of the industrial revolution, if in exchange for a lot of glass beads they would torture children, what would they say? You'd explain further that they couldn't get the beads without torture because their fellows would be willing to do the torture if they didn't. Wouldn't they laugh at you, knowing their fellow Indians and Aborigines would never torture masses of children?
- Well, they would laugh.
- A very small number of people own controlling interests in most of the world's largest corporations. It is they who decide company policies. Nothing forces them to make immoral choices. They have no need of more money. They don't need to be concerned about stock values since they don't ever need to sell their stock. They don't need to be concerned about dividends because their companies could, like the Rolex watch company does, operate very successfully without insisting on making a profit.
- Very true.
- So it looks to me like factory directors and stock owners positively want to torture. Their preference for torture precedes any pressure felt from competition. They chose the system of part time slaves who buy the products they make because it puts workers continuously, as both producer and consumer, in the control of a process torturing to them. Do you see any other explanation?
- I completely agree.
- If a few of the world's top billionaires spent only half of their billions to eliminate poverty, allowing the poor to have again the life on the land the billionaire's forerunners had taken from them with violence, world poverty would be entirely, immediately eliminated. But the billionaires don't consider doing anything like it. They don't think of changing the system of torture that their wealth originates in. If you asked them why not save a million people from starvation every year, they'd say it was politically impossible, meaning governments would stand in the way. But put a few million dollars in the pockets of politicians and their objections would vanish.
- That's for sure.
- Probably not myself being employed by any torturer I'll just copy this Facebook chat, post it on the internet and say I'm done.
- Haahaaha, Too funny.
- Haaha. It'll be funnier when you see I'm really going to do it.
- I'd like to read the finished masterpiece.
- I'll send it.

- The chat with my brother ends there.
- What do you think happened to the guy who didn't know where he was?
- He went home with his wife. It's to be hoped.

Further Reading:
Capitalism & Compulsion
The Politics Of Truth
The Technology Of Good
Let's Sue Starbucks
Indifference 

P.S. Two Forms of Torture: In prostitution, the body of the prostitute is forced to act against desire, the mind forced to imitate attraction to (or passive acceptance of) the buyer. In capitalism, work forces the body to act against desire, and the worker's mind is made to take on the role associated with the products acquired. See: Prostitution & Torture. And: Capitalism, Prostitution, Torture.
______________
Laugh & Do Nothing.
** Karl Marx, Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844.
*** Karl Marx, Capital.
**** The recollective experiences of love, beauty, and truth are experienced resting from movement. See The Care & Feeding Of Vampires & Zombies, and Noam Chomsky & Mental Things.
***** Regarding Capital's drive towards absolute control, see The Dream Of Pacification: Accumulation, Class War, And The Hunt, and How To Read Plato's Republic. 
****** See Killer At Starbucks