Category Archives: capitalism

on somatophobia more generally, or, is “Food a haven for reactionaries”?

T’ai: I hadn’t even read the newest piece and I came to a bunch of the same conclusions about food politics today when reading this article on Gawker. Somatophobia and the fear of hunger.

Em: Yes, it’s horrible.

T’ai: Or rather, you don’t deal with the suffering or need by eliminating the instrument which suffers or needs. Wanting tasty food isn’t a curse. These people probably get angry when they involuntarily sneeze, or laugh. Optimizing nutrution is a great goal, but it’s really wrong to act like something that isn’t whatsoever pleasant to eat is anywhere near to optimal. It really does come down to a weird hatred of being bodied, or anything involuntary, like sneezing or laughing or orgasms.

Em: It’s a weird contradiction. Capital demands individual units, but people seek to discard their own units in an individualistic way. It’s possible that the individual desire to escape the body is the unfocused individual desire to escape capitalism.

T’ai: It’s true that it’s possible to be denied agency by immaterial things, like drug addiction. Which is why I think that “do what you want because it’s your body/drug politics” are stupid. But, like, that doesn’t make every single biological or psychological need a sort of oppression. Things like the need for food can be vehicles for actual oppression, obviously.

Em: Like through capitalism, commodification. All of those items: hunger, sex, disease, they have all been commodified.

T’ai: Yeah, there’s something very No Alternative about it. I feel like the sort of person who is into this displays a really weird desire to escape (and indeed destroy) the human body/condition as such; eliminating biological and psychological needs instead of fulfilling them, uploading one’s mind, and so on. There’s something that bothers me about a viewpoint that sees suffering human bodies (in whatever fashion) as a thing to be made obsolescent rather than a thing to be treated more respectfully and humanely.

Em: Even eliminating them! Eliminating suffering bodies is easier than treating them, for capital.

T’ai: Yeah…

somatophobic feminism I

Dying was the best piece of publicity Shulamith Firestone ever generated. A name I did not hear much in 2012 seems to be making a comeback in 2013. I could not grasp what made her so rehabilitatable at first. “Radical feminism” is almost a slur nowadays, while hissing at and even physically attacking “radfems” is quite  nearly applauded on the left. So when Laurie Penny tweeted about how fond she was of Firestone’s “The Dialectic of Sex” I had to finally raise my hand and ask why. The most memorable chapter I could recall was Chapter 5, “Rasicm: The Sexism of the Family of Man” which was one of the more shockingly racist things I’d ever read from a second wave feminist. Penny said her favorite was the chapter that comes after, on love, and that she could effectively divorce the underlying premises from the previous chapter. How? Even within that chapter we find abhorrent essentialism, totally unhelpful analysis based more on Firestone’s own life than on conditions women face.

The underlying theme to Firestone’s work – and part of why I think it’s been rehabilitated – is a very vicious somatophobia (fear of the body) that complements contemporary racist and classist feminism very well. On request, I emailed Penny to ask her what could be gleaned from such a feminism – she has not responded. This destruction of the female body – either from thinking sex work is “just like any other job” or from the surgical/chemical feminism that holds hands with liberal trans feminism – is rooted in a dangerous essentialism. The woman is unable to escape her body, therefore she must destroy it. Reminders of her body, e.g. birth, menstruation, voluptuousness etc, are considered traumatic.

Masculinity is being able to transcend the body by immersing oneself in the “world of the mind”, by utilizing technology, by challenging the mystification of the body, of reducing people to individuals and individuals to their individual parts. Federici writes on surgery theaters of the late middle ages, of women being cut open and their mysteries being laid bare as a kind of terrorism and disciplining of the female sex. The mystical experience of pregnancy and birth reduced to organs, the rearing of children (reproduction of labor force) reduced to individual events and biological needs, schedules and regimins. In Firestone’s technofetishistic fantasy of babies grown in vats and raised by the state we have made quite a leap. The oppression of woman under capital is found in her body that betrays her by swelling large with children, by losing its perkiness with age, by gaining wrinkles around the eyes. The betrayal trans people describe in the process of puberty is the same betrayal women face as they go through puberty, as they age. The solution to this oppression posited here (with Firestone) is to embrace the flesh and conquer it and shape it to our will using technology and surgery. By embracing  masculinity-through-technology we too can escape our oppressive bodies. The hate is turned inward, festers like an ulcer. We blame ourselves, our lack of spirit, our lack of ability to change our own situations. It is atomizing and alienating.

In this, liberal and pink feminists willfully ignore the forces that assign such values to the body that make us hate them. Infuriatingly, they say there is nothing to be done about this. They say that men will always want to buy sex, they say that women are programmed in their brains to be the way they are, that gender is an essential biological condition as opposed to a system of active oppression under capitalism.

Birth is a powerful thing. Reproducing society is essential to our continued existence. There is no shame in breast feeding, no shame in menstruation, no shame in pregnancy or varicose veins. These are positions of great power for women, it is male technofetishism and capitalism that have turned these things into cause for shame and weakness. That Shulamith Firestone hates the body, hates weakness in the self is understandable, considering the pain that women go through on a daily basis in being women. However, she is misdirecting her hate and fear, putting the blame on women themselves. Her essentializing logic is dangerous, and the fact that her ideas have once again found traction in a “new generation” of “feminists” is troubling indeed. I hope that women are critical when they read these works, that they critically ask their friends to what end they are fascinated by fantasies of birthless, bloodless womanhood. We must make a decision of what we wish to transcend: capital or the flesh?

Further reading:

Audit This!!!

The following is written by packagedude69 and reprinted, with permission, from elsewhere…

When I read Capitalist Realism by Mark Fisher, I was expecting something like a Frankfurt School abstract examination of the totality of capitalist society, which is kind of how the book was marketed. But the book was way more concrete than I expected, and one of the book’s concrete-ier chapters dealt with the audit, from Fisher’s perspective of a minor functionary in a vast bureaucracy whose occasional byproduct is education.

I’m also a minor functionary, part clerk and part manual laborer, in a vast organization whose byproduct is the sorting and delivery of packages. Since my, ahem, work, is different, but the experience of the audit is ubiquitous, I have a slightly different perspective on what Fisher talks about in the concrete chapters of his book, and an experience a couple days ago allowed me to put together some things I’d been thinking about for a while but was unsure of.

The experience occurred during a pure audit situation, the ideal audit situation, when the auditors are present but their presence is unknown and things are truly proceeding as normal. I came back late from my pickup route to the sort, and missed the meeting where my manager told all of us “hey idiots, don’t throw packages, don’t cross the belt, if you see someone in a polo and khakis he’s an auditor and you should cough cough, do what you do every single day.” I was across the belt, and a huge package came down and there was only one person on the other side to handle it. The rule is that packages above 75 pounds have to be handled by two people, but honestly anything above 60 and sufficiently bulky can be basically unmanageable by one person at the speed at which the belt moves and given all the additional requirements of the sort (the requirement to place packages in ‘walls’ so they don’t all fall over later, etc.). So, I crossed the belt. About two seconds later a pudgy middle aged man with a goatee and a partially shaved head (have you ever seen a white male police officer?), in telltale khakis and polos, materialized next to me. He took down my employee number by saying “hey, we’re just checking training records, routine stuff, let me see your badge.” After he took my number down, shaking from the rush of witnessing a blatantly unsafe act, he told me that I’d cost my entire workgroup an entire section of the audit and that I should, quote “never cross the belt, especially not during an audit. it’s a major safety violation.”

Fisher says that the audit is self-referential. No data from the audit is ever used outside of the audit, the set of procedures by which the data is collected have relevance only to the audit and not the thing that the process being audited is supposed to produce, and after the audit is done the data is discarded, the process resumes, with the only change being disciplinary actions, in the form of pay cuts, firings, demotions, or the increased arbitrariness and “scrutiny” of authority. At all major package companies this is so obvious not even the auditors themselves or my bosses even bother to appeal to the relevance of the audit to the actual process. Fisher’s equivalent is his “laid-back” ex-hippie boss, who says “hey look, we’ve got to do this and it’s bullshit, but we might as well go on with it and make things as easy as possible for ourselves.” Fisher says that an attitude like this doesn’t actually challenge the legitimacy of the audit at all, or even make it less effective, since its purpose is not to improve the process or, in my case, make anything safer. A short review of the idea of safety, which Fisher doesn’t encounter but makes up the major component of my audit, will establish this.

Packages themselves are unsafe. Spilled dangerous goods, drill bits that dislocate shoulders when lifted, packages that adjust in transit and tumble down when the container is opened, slippery bullshit that crushes toes, etc. Driving is very unsafe, especially in our area, which includes mountainous areas with long driveways, unimproved roads and tons of crazy weather. And delivering is unsafe. People here frequently let huge dogs patrol their grounds like some sort of insane English lord on a quarter acre, in Oakland some routes are done out of armored cars instead of normal delivery trucks, and one dude got the police called on him when he was driving a rental vehicle, a white van of course, and someone thought it was suspicious that he was driving super slow in a deserted residential neighborhood in the early afternoon.

So all this is obvious. Leaving your house is dangerous. The question is not should we take any risks at all, do things that are inherently unsafe, because we have to. The question is how much should we risk to get the job done. Package companies have said, we can risk the health and safety of our workers to a pretty considerable degree to get the job done. We can give them guidelines, punish them if they do unsafe things, and give them seatbelts and purely cosmetic back braces but at the end of the day we have to get packages to where they need to be.

This is where the traditional socialist focus on things other than high wages puts itself head and shoulders above the grubby small-time crap that passes for militancy where I work. There is basically no amount of risk or injury that is defensible or reasonable in the face of about ninety five percent of the pure garbage we deliver every day.

A courier of very long standing snapped his leg on an icy driveway last year delivering a Kindle. He was well paid to do it and he recovered fully, generating thousands of dollars in extra business for insurance adjusters, surgeons, the guys who took over his route when he was gone, and Budweiser. So from the perspective of capitalism everything is working normally. But as soon as these benefits go away, and they are being eroded at non-union FedEx and at “Change To Win” UPS, the broken leg = delivered Kindle equation will appear even more absurd and grossly wasteful than it already is. Socialism’s demand to not only compensate workers fairly but reduce the amount of time they spend working, period, is the only real answer here. And it’s clear from the internal decisions of package companies that they are able to bear the reduction in work – or at least the reduction in the intensity of the work – that would make authentic safety possible. Let me explain how I know this.

Peak season, from Black Friday to Christmas, is really the happiest time of the year at any package company. Everyone gets Hours out the ass, management give almost free reign to employees, the audit is completely suspended (audits only happen during this time of the year, the slow time), and, most importantly, the intensity of work is reduced dramatically. The sort, which during slow times is compressed into a supercharged hour and a half to two hours at my station, is stretched to an almost criminally indulgent six or seven hours during peak season. We get way more packages but more people are working, and working longer, and as a result the time is much easier. Drivers don’t have to worry about running their routes twice (once for priority packages and once for all the other ones), but instead just waltz into their area, deliver everything in a straight shot, and come back after a couple hours of overtime to a happy family and welcome rest. Management fawns over us for a month. We get donuts or bagels every day, crates of frozen turkeys and coolers filled with burritos appear spontaneously, customers leave us holiday cookies on their doorsteps, we do donuts in the parking lot in our huge trucks, and the checks are fat. It’s labor aristocracy hog heaven.

Package companies are meticulously managed and this freedom would not be allowed if the company were not making enough money. But the point is that there is no reason why couriers must be rushed to, say, jog down an icy driveway instead of walk slowly, or why the sort has to be two hours instead of four, and conducted at a much safer, more leisurely pace. Or why the audit focuses on the individual actions of employees in a context created by the company to compel rule violations, corner cutting, and deliberate unsafety, and not the fact that delivering slave labor iPads or merger agreements is not worth any degree of risk to anyone whatsoever.

it’s not crazy – it’s normal!

I knew someone who was institutionalized as a child and went back years later to see her old psychiatrist. She told me he laughed and joked with her about how strange she was as a little girl of 8 or 9 – that she was up late wondering if people had souls or if suffering was normal. So many have lived her life and live as “normal” people now – but how much were they ever crazy to begin with? It got me thinking about some statistics I’d seen earlier about how 6.8 million American children were on ritalin, a 41% rise in the past decade. As the rhythms of our days and nights change, so too do our minds. Over half of “millennials”, those 18-33, are kept up at night due to stress.  The most tragic figure is that of women, who are disproportionately medicated against anxiety and depression to men, 2 to 1.

As I’ve always understood it, sanity was about your reality agreeing with everyone else’s. If you were convinced that the sky was red, and everyone else around you said it was blue, insanity would be doubting their perceptions over your own. Of course, as the pace of our minds increasingly change according to the markets, so does this minority of the “insane” steadily increase. Substance abuse or self-medication, as some would like to call it, is nothing new. However, solutions to being out of sync with reality are becoming more of a public service, less of a private affair and now more the realm of the market. A new pill is rolled out to cure what ails us. Curing cancer is important, sure, but more money is spent on researching pills to take once you have it than on prevention efforts and education. The wheels of commerce roll forward when you are buying something, not when you are eradicating illness. Over $35 billion worth of antipsychotics, stimulants and antidepressants are sold each year in the United States. Insanity is big business. Big business is insanity. It follows that we begin to crack under the strain.

If you look around and see problems with the world around us, and if that drives you to distraction, the practical and profitable thing to do in this modern world is to medicate yourself and seek out someone who can talk you out of your external symptoms of unhappiness.  Taking adderall can help you perform better at work, can help you work two jobs and go to school, etc. Faced with a disappointing middle age spent taking care of ailing parents and distraught children can drive one to antidepressants. Becoming overwhelmed and terrified by a world of distraction and suffering, we start taking anti-anxiety pills.

Anyway, what was so crazy about my friend when she was a little girl? Wondering if one has a soul, if the nature of the world is suffering – these are normal things. If someone is unhappy in a marriage, workplace, prison… this is normal. Instead of changing the world around us, we are ushered into padded rooms and handed pills in paper cups. Children who can’t sit still in class for 8 hours per day only to go home and sit in front of  a screen for the next 6 cannot be expected to have the ability to focus or learn effectively, much less grow into well-adjusted human beings. Adam Lanza was unable to leave his house at the end, medicating a condition rooted in something deeper than his own brain – if Adam Lanzas were normal in this species, we would see spree killing as a historical phenomenon – not something associated with the birth of neoliberal social and economic restructuring.

Of course it’s not sustainable! But many continue to assume that left untouched, we can ride out current era of madness and find something easier on the other side. There is no promise to this, nothing to lead us to believe that inaction would deliver a better world to us eventually. In addition, as history shows us, new patterns of social behavior that rise and fall with material conditions will eventually be integrated into commonplace occurrence, or perhaps the other way around. It’s all fluid and dependent on dominant economic and class mores at the time.  Seventy years ago, it would be strange to think that graphic violence could be celebrated as a part of pop culture through video games, and commonplace among children. So too homosexuality would be considered a mental illness seventy years ago, but perhaps because of this we should be doubly critical of seeing dissent or dissatisfaction with our current lives as symptoms of a disease to be treated with pills. Perhaps we should start to look deeper and wonder if, maybe sometimes, the sky really is red and it really is everyone else who is crazy.

Materialism and Patriarchy: an Interview with comrade Jasmine Curcio

I’m linking to an excellent interview with scholar Jasmine Curcio on feminism and the left, printed yesterday in the North Star (ht: Sarah). Amazing points contained within!

Indeed it was a regression within liberal feminism, as entrenched and lucid feminist analysis of women’s exploitation in the sex trade — made by women prior to the first-wave, and by feminists in the second-wave — was abandoned. A large impetus of second-wave feminism was the male sexual revolution, spurring its critique of patriarchal sexuality in its various manifestations, especially as the models of sex promoted to both right-wing women in marriage via Freudian ideology to serve their husbands’ desire and fetishes, and the sexual model of “free love” promoted by left-wing men. Never mind that the concept of free love was first articulated by women of the first-wave, such as Emma Goldman, who sought to escape the institution of marriage at the same time as ending the culture requiring women to perform sexual favours and engage in a subordinate sexuality to men, in order to gain recognition, affirmation, and most often, money and shelter. Nowadays, liberal feminism bends itself over backwards to defend the patriarchal choices of individuals who self-identify as feminists, and trying to fight this culture with actual, materialist, feminism is a difficult and often frustrating task.

C.D.V.: Why do you think Marxism itself has become a mostly male discourse since the 1970s?

J.C.: The reaction to the second-wave of feminism by many men on the left was not a small matter. It is not really mentioned today, since hindsight focuses more on the successes of a feminist movement than its failures, its theory, or even just the general historical circumstances. But it was well-documented, by feminists such as Christine Delphy in France in her article “Our Friends and Ourselves.” Aside from the interruption of the early feminist meetings and the misogynist remarks made by various men —which were commonplace in the late ’60s and ’70s with the rise of a new wave of feminism and women’s consciousness of their oppression as women — reaction did occur, subtly, in the realm of theory, which is not to say it was done exclusively by men, but overall it happened that it was for the benefit of men in not addressing their privilege or their consciousness. Attempts at independent feminist theorizing, particularly around patriarchy, were dishonestly construed as apolitical. The hostility towards women’s attempts at autonomous organizing materialized in the form of constructed orthodoxies of Marxism on questions of sexual politics. And while the autonomous consciousness-raising groups faded away at the tail end of the 1980s, Marxist organizations remained and so did their theory from this period. I am not speaking of socialist feminism, which did acknowledge the importance of women’s organization and engaged with and embraced the theoretical understanding of the system of patriarchy that they and radical feminists largely uncovered.

And so many years on, feminist discussions around the left continue to be subtly dominated by men and their perspective, with the aid of theoretical frameworks that marked disdain towards feminism in decades past. Men have become gatekeepers of feminist discussion, and many debates take place with ignorance, disdain, and sometimes subtle tactics of bullying. Phenomena that lie outside of the bourgeois-proletarian contradiction are not really taken on board as material facts, but either made to fit with constructed orthodoxy or they are discarded. So not much of a productive and open discussion is had. Though I’m sure many men do participate in good faith, theoretical blinders from the past are not a good way to contemplate feminist questions. Neither is uncritical acceptance of what appears to pass as a real feminist movement.

capitalism is a virus

Have you ever seen the Moscow International Business Center?

It’s a $12b project built on top of shuttered factories and quarries. Still under construction, the darling brain child of the government in the year of our Lord 1992. Capitalism is like a  virus, and out of the ashes of those it’s mindlessly slaughtered it blossoms hundreds of hollow, glass-windowed stories. You see it on Wall Street and Canary Wharf, with their locked-down graveyard howls – now we see it in Moscow, too. Should have been where they were going to build the Palace of the Soviets, so as to get extra psychic energy from Stalin’s seven skyscrapers.

ADS <3 KIDS

 by Iikka Vuorela, part of weird twitter and the rhizzone

Much like how run-of-the-mill nerds have fled the unsanitary physical world into the internet, My Little Pony, WoW and animé, so too are the academic hopefuls today hella eager to devote themselves to a Zizekian hodgepodge of social commentary based on irreverent anecdotes, film theory and Lacan, and generally anything postmodern and deconstructionist in favor of trying to consider solutions to localized, individual situations involving real human beings. There is a particular subject that feels, to me personally, hella overlooked: television. Another: babies, toddlers, children. Because of the former, the late capitalist world is more hostile, manipulative and alien place for the latter to grow up in. Moreso than anybody is willing to admit to themselves.

Most households still have televisions and children grow up in front of them, while the content has steadily gotten more and more sophisticated in manipulation. But this dilemma is no longer one that spawns discussion in the media, internet, academia, anywhere. Television is old news. And so, as it is being overlooked, the blame on the arrested development of the western youth has no target. So, the youth keep coming up with targets, using Lacanian analysis and Marxist theory to explain top-down the horrors of late capitalism, perhaps even intentionally distancing themselves as far as possible from the localized interaction they themselves were a part of years ago: the television and the toddler.

We’ve forgotten television. And who can blame us, what with how fast the internet grew? Who here is boring enough to still go on about the dangerous effects of television on our youth? Now it’s all about the effects of social media, ultra-realistic video games, sexting, internet porn and all that good stuff. Who even has a television nowadays, man.

I would argue that what has been completely missed by the population at large is that television still exists as the primary medium that capitalism uses to reach small children and that the harmful effects of it are supremely underestimated.
There are many other facets of capitalism that were new, or at least rapidly evolving, during the war and after it, such as the fast food industry, Coca-Cola (you mustn’t underestimate the incredible changes in western societies that soda pop alone has wrought), supermarkets, additives, rise of advertising and branding. These elements are now part of the past, their harmful effects on the psychology and physiology of children and adults universally accepted as a part of living in modern society. Such effects are casually shrugged off as something one must simply teach their child to bear. As far as ads, television and branding go, most people deny any brainwashing takes place in the first place. And the academia shrugs and says ‘Heh, sheeple will be sheeple’.

This attitude is probably unwillingness to accept the contradiction. How can television still have control over me, it is a thing of the old world? There’s Youtube now, and internet forums. No way can such an antiquated piece of shit have a hold on me psychologically. It does not and never did.

I am not claiming these to be arguments that media and academia have made. They are the reasoning we, in our hurry, give ourselves so we wouldn’t have to talk about television. Why would you want to, when what you know is the internet and Zizek. Where your strengths and interests lie, there you will seek to shine the spotlight and call to people ‘let’s find out more about this here, btw I’m an expert and my fees are very reasonable’.

But if you force yourself to think on the old, forgotten television, the reality of the situation is clear. We are more vulnerable the younger we are. When we were at our most vulnerable, during the first three or four years of our lives, everything else paled to the effect of the television. The light, the sound, the fast pace, the cuts, the people, the colors, the volume, the products, the cartoons, the music, the hypnosis and, of course, as the opposite, the numb reality we had to return to eventually. Nothing compared then, nothing compares now. Nothing except video games. But those are for later years. It’s fair to say that during the first three years of our life at least, television is king. And by the time any other medium has a chance to challenge it, it has already been accepted into the fabric of reality as a natural, unchanging constant.

Today, television is not something brought into the household, it is not an artifact discussed, examined, taught. Television is simply there, always. It’s there from the moment you first eye your surroundings while going hog wild on your mothers teat in the living room. Television is the air you breathe, and with it come the ads.

Ads and children. This is the interaction that sculpts us more than we’d like to think.

A child cannot discern the nature of an advertisement in any shape or form. It does not understand where the ad comes from, why its there in his or her home. The child does not understand why it is necessary for the network to air adverts, receiving ad revenue in exchange to fund the cartoons the kid loves. The child does not understand that the man telling you about the new product line isn’t doing it out of goodwill. To a small child the ad man’s unbridled enthusiasm about a particular brand of dish washing liquid comes off genuine. To a child the only reason the ad man could be so excited is the unforeseen awesomeness of the product. The child receives a simple message: this is a thing worth getting more excited over than anybody you’ve ever met has ever been. The child understands the message at the shallowest level possible: product good. So good we had to come into your living room and tell you directly. It’s brainwashing at its most basic, plain and simple. Later on in life the child grows up and doubts that he or she was ever manipulated. After all, they’ve grown up and learned the art of cynicism. Even if they were successfully manipulated in your early childhood, surely the damage was minor and in the long run without consequence. No way could my psyche be damaged irrevocably by something as benign as television advertising. This is the reasoning that people who spent their childhood in front of a television go through to arrive at the decision to not deny their children television for their first years. To keep television away until the kids will have grown old enough to be able to discuss its characteristics. I’d say it’s obvious that the damage is not minor, it doesn’t go away by itself and as it affects the vast majority of the population of every western country, the accumulated harm is innumerable.

I want to paint a picture of an oft downplayed horror in the life of a western adolescent at the age of two or three or something. I dunno, could be four or five or six. Here I’m writing about babies and know shit about em. Anyway the horror: the supermarket. Imagine yourself a child; before your eyes lay the endless spoils of capitalism, toy aisles unending, sugary goods in colorful packages under lighting so strong you can make out every detail and fine print. Compared to your dark damp murky moldy cavelike apartment your parents covered in furniture in faded cream and beige, everything looks so clear, colorful, crisp and lifelike; it’s as if every product on display jumped out from the glowing backlit screen of a television set and walked onto the shelves. This is it. This is where you’d end up if you could jump inside the television. It’s so beautiful. And never-ending. You can’t even see up to the highest shelves. Should you let go of your moms hand, a little pee would come out and tears would follow. How helpless you, how vast the supermarket. A sea of everything you want. And not only what you want. More. You don’t even recognize half of the things on display. Every other package introduces a product you didn’t even know you wanted. But it’s all variations on a theme. Look here, you haven’t seen ads of these products before but you can tell that they could have their own ads on the tube anyday now. The packages all have similar style when compared to their neighbors on the shelves. They all have brands. And brands cannot live without advertising. That must be it. You’ve simply missed their ads. More the reason to have it, to try out a brand you haven’t even seen ads about. What a thrill. And look at the amount of brands and things. The games, the appliances, the clothes, the bikes, the televisions, my god the size of the televisions. And the food, the candy, the soda, the types of bread, burgers, pizzas, ice cream, yoghurt, cold cuts, juices, on and on and on. There’s so much of everything it’s blowing your fragile little mind: so many brands and each brand more colorful and stylish than the one before it.

It’s no longer a daydream or an analogy. You have stepped inside the television. The ads were right, they were all right. The people were smiling for a reason. This is why the man in the ad was yelling, this is why everybody was jumping up and down at the thought of getting whatever the man was selling.

No way is all this the work of a man. Look at the size of this place. Who could alone build a store this big, who could alone keep these endless shelves stocked with products. Who could give life to cartoons, make these plastic figures and electronic gadgets with no uses discernible to you. It’s better not to even think about it. Maybe this is what everybody else’s life is all about. There’s hella families here isn’t there? Maybe everybody else lives here.

Maybe it’s the sugar from the candy your mom always gives you for the car ride here to keep you quiet, but there’s no denying the reality of the situation. You’re somewhere better than your own life in every way.

Every wish fulfilled, all wants met, this is the grea-

We’re leaving already? But the cart isn’t even halfway full. Look, that family has two full carts and the kid even gets their own to push around. This can’t be right. You don’t mean to say you brought me here to smell all these boxes, to press the PUSH ME’s, to fly from one daydream to the next, which I, a child, by the way, can’t discern from reality too well anyway, to hug the huge elmos, to read the descriptions of all the board games, to spell out the entirety of the disney dvd aisle, to greet all the kellogg’s animals and dream about the time it would take me to drink through all those coke bottles on display, and the end result is that were going home with just groceries. Why aren’t we taking more. They’re right there. You can just pick them up, there’s plenty room in the cart. I can tell you what we need, I saw some cool shit on the television. Hey. It’s not funny. Look at this shit, it’s right there. You can just pick it up, look. Look. Look. I just picked it up, I’ll put it in the cart. That’s it. Simple.

Teaching critical thinking at college level is too late. Writing books about capitalist realism is too little. All rhetoric is powerless. Indoctrination starts at the cradle and sinks so deep into the depths of the unconscious that it will never see natural light.

What a perfect boner we’re committing. Just try and tell people to give up television for the first few years you have a little kid the house. That’s not gonna happen. Don’t tell me how to raise my kids. I need my soaps. They’ll grow up weird if they don’t know what American Idol is by age four.

Destroy television. You personally have probably made the logical leap from ‘I’m no longer thinking about television at all and nobodys talking about it, its all Facebook this and twitter that now. Television barely exists in my life anymore dude.’ to ‘theres no reason to get riled up over television anymore.’ There’s plenty reason. More reasons are born every day. And they’re most born into the poor families, the ones most vulnerable, most likely to stay in front of television.
What kind of anti-television films do you remember? Cable guy? That’s it? It’s all always played out irreverently, maybe a minor character acts weird because their parents were never home and they grew up watching too much Leno. It’s never portrayed as a fundamental piece in disturbing the psyche of everybody involved. It should be. But we’re in denial. It’s hard to get riled up.

We do not dream of a just society. We dream of nothing, because the only thing we want to dream of has been sealed off as unnatural, monstrous gunshot wound of a thought shot into us by the omnipotent artifact we now pity as the major relic of the impotent, naive past. We won’t allow ourselves to dream of it, not ever. And so our dream will never be filled. The only thing we can and want to dream of, really and honestly as the children we are to our graves, is a happy meal.

Why doesn’t anyone talk about unionizing arms manufacturers? On the idea of sex worker unions

No one proposes ending war by unionizing arms manufacturers. Proposing to end violence against women in the sex trade by unionizing them is likewise untenable. The best way to end violence against women in the sex trade is still to end the sex trade. The unionization strategy is a reformist position – and the position that we would like to live in a world where there is no such thing as prostitution, strip clubs, pornography, while it might seem fantastical, is a revolutionary position and the correct line to have for a leftist who calls herself a feminist. It’s not moralistic hand-wringing to criticize the base assumptions of the military industrial complex; why then, is it just my “personal baggage” speaking when I criticize the sex trade?

First, we should look at the conditions in which women in the sex trade live, and ask ourselves if these conditions could be alleviated by unionization:

Seventy percent of women in prostitution in San Francisco, California were raped (Silbert & Pines, 1982). A study in Portland, Oregon found that prostituted women were raped on average once a week (Hunter, 1994). Eighty-five percent of women in Minneapolis, Minnesota had been raped in prostitution (Parriott, 1994). Ninety-four percent of those in street prostitution experienced sexual assault and 75% were raped by one or more johns (Miller, 1995). In the Netherlands (where prostitution is legal) 60% of prostituted women suffered physical assaults, 70% experienced verbal threats of assault, 40% experienced sexual violence and 40% were forced into prostitution and/or sexual abuse by acquaintances (Vanwesenbeeck, et al. 1995, 1994)… The prevalence of PTSD among prostituted women from 5 countries was 67% (Farley et. al. 1998), which is the same range as that of combat veterans (Weathers et. al. 1993). 

From Farley et. al.  (2003) “Prostitution in Nine Countries” 

Is this staggering violence a result of lack of unionization? Let’s see what the International Union of Sex Workers is fighting for:

All workers including sex workers have the right to:

  • full protection of all existing laws, regardless of the context and without discrimination. These include all laws relating to harassment, violence, threats, intimidation, health and safety and theft.

  • access the full range of employment, contract and property laws.

  • participate in and leave the sex industry without stigma

  • full and voluntary access to non-discriminatory health checks and medical advice

Here is where we begin to be mired in questions, a case by case judgment of “good” vs. “bad” prostitution. What defines coercion? What defines trafficking? What defines abuse? What defines empowerment? Certainly, the assumption of the IUSW is that the sex industry is a normal, neutral industry wherein women happen to be subject to incredible amounts of violence and poverty, where nearly half (47%) are under the age of 18 when they begin working. The idea of the IUSW and other unionists is that the trade is not the focus – the focus, as we so often find it when discussing sex work, is on the women themselves.

Unions often define themselves by their relationship with management – with the “boss” –  but for sex worker unions this is hardly ever the case. As the women are primarily seen as independent contractors for the sake of analysis, the john and pimps are left out of the picture. The culture surrounding the sex trade is not up for analysis, either. It is a neutral, unchanging constant.

The boss is the john, and to take action against the john or the culture that encourages him is to shut down business. Instead, the union is supposed to either challenge the state (to legalize prostitution) or to perform the functions of the state (provide protection, legal counseling, health services). Yet, these are reformist measures that simply serve to react to the conditions women live in, rather than challenging the very conditions themselves. Lest we forget: women are not raped and abused because of a lack of state regulation (or too much state regulation), they are raped and abused because the john, pimp and cop decide to do so, and exist within a system that shelters them from consequence.

Within the realm of the normalized sex trade, rape and abuse are no longer crimes against the person, but rather occupational hazards. In the blog, “Tits and Sass”, two articles underscore this quite well. The first, about rape, is written from the perspective that “unwanted sex” is still consensual when the woman sees material gain from the process. This agrees with studies of john behavior and attitudes, wherein a full quarter believe that the very concept of raping a prostitute is “ridiculous.

 It’s rare that I give authentic “enthusiastic consent” while I’m working. And that’s how I prefer it.

“Enthusiastic consent” was conceived in an effort to eradicate the so-called gray areas of sexual assault, so it’s hard to talk about without also talking about rape. While I appreciate the centering of desire and consent, it wouldn’t hold that every sexual encounter taking place without the enthusiastic consent of both parties is rape… But I still turn over plenty of work-related questions in my head: what does it mean for a man to keep paying to have sex with a woman who doesn’t give signs of enjoying it?

Another article, entitled “On Stripper Burnout” advises women who are tired of the verbal abuse that goes with stripping to buy new clothes, look at photos of money to boost morale, eat sweets, or work for a cruel booking agent as “fear can be a great motivator.” There is no advice here on leaving the sex trade – emotional, verbal and physical abuse in the normalized world of pro-sex work advocates becomes a grey zone, where the woman’s personal attitude is what determines the difference between occupational hazards and something that might contribute to PTSD – putting the onus of responsibility on the woman rather than on the john.

The practical side of unionization brings us back to the current, atomized-view of sex work in general. It is a localized solution which does nothing to address a global problem. Questions arise: Who do you bargain with? How do we unionize all women? If a woman was in the sex trade and did not belong to a union, would this be her choice? Are johns supposed to solicit union prostitutes out of a sense of guilt, a la consumer activism (fair trade hooking?). Do we really expect johns to spontaneously grow a conscience when they are told women are for sale and it’s okay to buy them? When it comes to women in pornography, the average career tenure is quoted in several sources at being between five months and three and a half years – how then, to unionize these women?  Same with prostitutes, who on average enter the trade when they are underage – how to unionize these women? What about pimps and madams, pornographers and mobsters – are they allowed in these unions?

Any leftist worth their red will agree that punishing women is the most counter-productive way to handle prostitution or sex work. Yet unions stop short at criticizing johns who, on the whole, generally acknowledge that women in prostitution experience homelessness, substance abuse and physical and emotional degradation. Johns know, on average, that women enter into it when they are underage and against their will. They buy sex anyway. Unionizing women will not end trafficking, will not end violent deaths – it simply turns what is a societal problem into an organizational problem. Like most unions as they exist under capitalism, a sex-worker’s union’s primary purpose is to keep the more politically-minded in line with the management. We should look elsewhere for solutions that liberate women.

the toxic language of entrepreneurship

What is an entrepreneur? The entrepreneur is an ideal type of market individual – a person who works for “themselves”, whose only boss is the ebb and flow of the market. As an example of this, a comment on Nate Thayer’s piece on the troubles of freelance journalism:

Nate. Sympathies, and dilemma noted. Journalists today are forced to be entrepreneurs, and negotiate business deals. Perhaps, if you offered them a much truncated piece with links back to a site on which you had ads that paid you, or they gave you a venue to sell something from which you made money (books, for example). So, it’s perplexing, yes. But the market is what it is and the challenge is how to sustain yourself while doing quality work.

Meanwhile, talk of entrepreneurism has also proliferated in the NGO/non-profit world, as exemplified by the latest trends in microfinance/microlending and in the language of organizations. For example, again, from Ashoka:

Ashoka is leading a profound transformation in society. In the past three decades, the global citizen sector, led by social entrepreneurs, has grown exponentially. Just as the business sector experienced a tremendous spurt in productivity over the last century, the citizen sector is experiencing a similar revolution, with the number and sophistication of citizen organizations increasing dramatically.

Rather than leaving societal needs for the government or business sectors to address, social entrepreneurs are creating innovative solutions, delivering extraordinary results, and improving the lives of millions of people. (Emphasis mine)

Entrepreneurship is another word for “take care of it yourself”. Even at companies where it is clear there is a structure of management, of wage labor, the language of individualism and personal responsibility is found:

Screen shot 2013-03-17 at 1.45.21 PMThe offices of LivingSocial, from a Washington Post office exposé 

Worldwide, the idea of taking care of it yourself, of working for yourself, of “personal brands” is gaining traction. What does it do? It destroys camaraderie  as all engage in competition with one another. Microfinance is not the silver bullet it pretends to be – it can tear communities apart. The rise of the independent contractor – the freelancer – correlates with the longest era of wage stagnation/loss in the last 100 years. The language of entrepreneurship also correlates with the plummeting rates of union membership in the United States, in spreading global poverty. Why do we keep hearing about this toxic idea of entrepreneurship, of “standing alone” and “taking responsibility for your own destiny” when we are more vulnerable on our own than ever?

At a time when the state and capital offer labor less than ever in terms of protection, security or even basic living essentials, we are encouraged to become stronger individuals and take care of ourselves – to blame only ourselves if things go wrong.

east flatbush

Sixteen year-old Kimani Gray was murdered last Sunday, shot 11 times by two undercover police officers. The police claimed that Gray was armed and threatening them with deadly force. Neighbors say they heard him plead for his life. Eleven times is a lot of times to shoot somebody.

Accordingly, East Flatbush has exploded with anger. There might be plenty who just hang from their windows, or wave from the doorways, but the idea that a group of vulnerable young people – the most targeted members of this neighborhood – would go through the streets articulating some serious rage means that it’s already boiled over. There have been nearly 50 arrests so far, and the protests continue.

Despite the majority of the media coverage and spin to this is that it’s the case of a bunch of outsiders there to do damage, there are people from all walks of life at this protest. True, many travel from different parts of New York, but they travel from the Bronx. They travel from Harlem. They travel over an hour by train or longer by bus to get there and hold solidarity with East Flatbush. There are white people and there are Hispanics, students and the unemployed, the formerly incarcerated and those who have never been touched by a cop. There are still more from the neighborhood. Everyone is furious.

The NYPD killed 21 people last year. They have dragged unarmed young women into the streets by their hair and killed them. Even if there are a million excuses and reasons, dismissed hearings and slaps on the wrist, these children gunned down in East Flatbush were murdered. They were murdered from the moment they were born. By chance of birth they were born into a system that condemned them to death or jail – sometimes both. The young men of East Flatbush are regularly stopped on the street and frisked by the NYPD. The parents are tired of losing their children – either to death or to lost opportunity.

For sure, I spoke with a man on the subway tonight who told me he was without power for a month after the hurricane. His life was swept away from him on the Far Rockaways by Sandy. Bloomberg showed his face there and was heckled away by the crowd. It was sort of a joke when Manhattan was without power – people moved uptown and checked into hotels or went to stay with friends. It was an inconvienance at best. But in the Far Rockaways people’s whole lives were wrecked by a Category 1 hurricane, which is not a very powerful hurricane. The foundations their lives were built on were those of poverty.

It is the same in East Flatbush. I’ve had people tell me that you need at least $40,000 to live a year in this city, but there are those in places like these that live off of $9,000 a year. The disconnect is remarkable.

So for the time being, rage builds in East Flatbush. The police presence is overwhelming. They won’t let the crowd to within a block of the police precinct and have cops on horseback. They have arrested nearly 50 people thus far and they are serious about cracking down. Kimani Gray’s sister was arrested for crossing the street. In response, the cops are going to the hospital with wounds from thrown bricks and bottles. The stakes are rising.

Kimani Gray’s family asked for there to be no protesting two days after they lost their son. The protesters proceeded. To the organizers, this was not just about Kimani Gray. It was about the structures that brutally oppress them. It is and isn’t about the cops – for sure, they are responsible for the shooting more directly, but they representative of what protects the system that keeps people in Red Hook and the Far Rockaways without power a month after the storm has passed. The system that creates teen mothers and the system that kills and imprisons their children. The system that has 1.8 million New Yorkers on food stamps and 21,000 children homeless. People came from all over New York because they are tired of it. They are calling for the end of it in the streets of East Flatbush. They are protesting against racism, brutality, capitalism, poverty and the senseless killing of children.