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 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 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, Revisited
* See: Prostitution & Torture