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It is a wonderful time to be alive.  Our social sphere is a dividedly partisan uncharitable hot mess.  Nothing gets done because the status quo recognizes that people working together have the capacity to radically alter society.  Internecine conflict and partisan yelling matches are not an accident.  They conveniently combust all the oxygen in the public sphere, keeping threatening systemic change far at bay.

Consider, we fecklessly embrace capitalism and the ruthless exploitation and environmental destruction that goes along with it.  Yet, at the same time we have our scientific classes raising the alarm that we are rapidly making our planet uninhabitable.  A few eyebrows are raised, but in general, the system continues to chug along.  Here is one foundational parts of our capitalism system, the ever present race for the bottom and thus maximum profitability (at all costs).

It’s gonna suck when the earth strikes back and decides our defining passion for hoarding slips of paper is not a desirable evolutionary trait.  Pete Dolack writes for CounterPunch:

 

“And as the race to the bottom continues —  as relentless competition induces a never-ending search to find locations with ever lower wages and ever lower health, safety, labor and environmental standards — what regulations remain are targets to be eliminated. Thus we have the specter of “free trade” agreements that have little to do with trade and much to do with eliminating the ability of governments to regulate. And as the whip of financial markets demand ever bigger profits at any cost, no corporation, not even Wal-Mart, can go far enough.

Despite being a leader in cutting wages, ruthless behavior toward its employees and massive profitability, when Wal-Mart bowed to public pressure in 2015 and announced it would raise its minimum pay to $9 an hour, Wall Street financiers angrily drove down the stock price by a third. Wal-Mart reported net income of $61 billion over the past five years, so it does appear the retailer will remain a going concern. Apple reported net income of $246 billion over the past five years, so outsourcing production to China seems to have worked out for it as well.

The Trump administration’s trade wars are so much huffing and puffing. Empty public rhetoric aside, Trump administration policy on trade, consistent with its all-out war on working people, is to elevate corporate power. Nationalism is a convenient cover to obscure the most extreme anti-worker U.S. administration yet seen. Class war rages on, in the usual one-sided manner.”

Paul Street writing for Counterpunch illustrates the problems humanity faces as a whole and how completely useless our insular elites and mainstream media actually are. They would rather madly fiddle for short term profit than tackle the larger issues, namely the continued human habitationof the earth.

*edit* Poor sleep on the weekends shoots the hell out of my writing acumen.

“The 2020 elections and their aftermath (including the distinct possibility that Trump will refuse the Electoral tally) will not be irrelevant to the fate of the nation and the Earth.

But nothing matters more now than the existential environmental crises we face, with the climate disaster in the lead. There’s no chance for social justice, democracy, equality, creativity, art, love and community – or anything else (including profits) – on a dead planet.

Yes, the “Green New Deal” advocated by a cadre of progressive Democrats has made its way into media coverage and commentary in recent months. It appears that the GND – which includes welcome calls for net zero U.S. carbon emissions by 2030 – will be part of at least the primary election story thanks to Bernie Sanders, Alexandria Cortez-Ocasio, Jay Inslee, and other progressive or progressive-sounding Democrats. But don’t expect it to receive all that much attention (much less positive attention) in the dominant corporate media-politics complex. Serious discussion of the climate issue and environmental questions more broadly doesn’t serve broadcasters’ and advertisers’ bottom line interests. There is little chance that the climate crisis will remotely approach the Trump investigations and the already emergent 2020 presidential horse-race when it comes to garnering real media attention.

The reigning political and media “elite” is happy to keep capitalogenic global warming on the public margins until long past the last ecological tipping points are passed. They can be counted on them to fiddle and diddle through the species’ final, fossil-fueled flame-out. It is an existential necessity to create a new culture, media, and politics with the elementary natural and social intelligence required to properly prioritize the most pressing problems of our time.

As an atheist it is sometime easy to become hyper focused on what those people over there are doing wrong and how they need to fix their views and join the 21st century.  Sheldon Wolin takes this view and compares it to what we have going on right now in society, rightly criticizing the capitalist-consumption aesthetic that, by any other name, is doing exactly what religion does.

 

“There was , he [Max Weber] contended, no room any longer for occult forces, supernatural deities, or divinely revealed truth.  In a world dominated by scientifically established facts and with no privileged or sacrosanct areas, myth would seemingly have a difficult time retaining a foothold.  Not only did Weber underestimate the staying power of credulity; he could not foresee that the great triumphs of modern science would themselves provide the basis for technological achievements which, far from banishing the mythical, would unwittingly inspire it.

    The mythical is also nourished from another source, one seemingly more incongruous that the scientific-technological culture,  Consider the imaginary world continuously being created and re-created by contemporary advertising and rendered virtually escape-proof by the enveloping culture of the modern media.  Equally important, the culture produced by modern advertising, which seems at first glance to be resolutely secular and materialistic, the antithesis of religious and evangelical teachings, actually reinforces the dynamic.  Almost every product promises to change your life: it will make you more beautiful, cleaner, more sexually alluring, and more successful.  Born again, as it were.  The messages contain promises about the future, unfailingly optimistic, exaggerating, miracle-promising – the same ideology that invites corporate executives to exaggerate profits and conceal losses, but always with a sunny face.  The virtual reality of the advertiser and the “good news” of the evangelist complement each other, a match made in heaven.  Their zeal to transcend the ordinary and their bottomless optimism both feed the hubris of Superpower.  Each colludes with the other.  The evangelist looks forward to the “last days”, while the corporate executive systematically exhausts the world’s scare resources.”

Sheldon Wolin.  Democracy Incorporated, pp. 12-13.

So, I think it is time to work on our own epistemology.  I’d like to be able to square our expectations of others with those we place on ourselves.

 

We have a NIMBY problem here.  The bad news is that said NIMBY problem is on a planetary scale and my backyard is really everyone’s back yard so to speak.  The doom of our time is coming, human driven climate change, and we merrily continue to do that very things that will cause our end.  It’s fascinating watching the ecocide play out because if there is one truth to the entire situation it is this – until the elites of our society feel the pain of AGW, nothing will be done – because the current status quo is a just too darn profitable and comfortable to want to change toward a future that might sustain the future of the species.

Of course, from my small balcony in which I view the world, I can point to one system that has been royally screwing the planet since it’s inception – capitalism.  And yes, yes, yes, apologists I’m happy I’ve been given the few crumbs of technology and relative stability that make my balcony observations possible but – and it’s a rather large but – would I trade my technology and relatively easy life style for one that works withing the boundaries of the carrying capacity of the earth?  Absolutely.  It is the adult and responsible course of action; the only hitch is that doing the right thing is rarely a profitable venture and we all know how the ‘right thing’ vs. ‘making money thing’ goes, at least in our current economic paradigm.

Paul Street adds to the argument:

   “Other thinkers of an eco-Marxian bent, myself included, narrow the diagnosis. They historicize the climate crisis, situating it in the specific historical context of capitalism. The concept of “the Anthropocene” has rich geological validity and holds welcome political relevance in countering the carbon-industrial complex’s denial of humanity’s responsibility for contemporary climate change, they note. Still, they counsel, we must guard against lapsing into the historically misleading, fatalistic, and often class-blind use of “Anthro,” projecting the currently and historically recent age of capital onto the broad 100,000-year swath of human activity on and in nature. As the Green Marxist environmental sociologist and geographer Jason Moore reminded radio interviewer Sasha Lilley last a few years ago, “It was not humanity as a whole that created …large-scale industry and the massive textile factories of Manchester in the 19th century or Detroit in the last century or Shenzen today. It was capital.”

Indeed, it was not humanity as a whole that built the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL)in 2015 and 2016. It was capital, corralled in the accounts of Energy Transfer Partners, under the supervision of a reckless, eco-cidal and profit-mad billionaire named Kelcy Warren, who funded  the DAPL with billions of dollars from across the world’s leading financial institutions.

It was not humanity as whole that hid evidence of Greenhouse Gassing’s deadly impact on human prospects.  It was capital on various levels but most particularly in the form of Exxon-Mobil, who (in the greatest climate and environmental crime in history) buried the findings of its very own cutting-edge scientists in the 1970s and 1980s— an offence that that, as Chomsky says, “is almost hard to find words to describe.”

Moore and other left analysts argue with good reason that it is more appropriate to understand humanity’s Earth-altering assault on livable ecology as the “Capitalocene.” It is just a  relatively small slice of human history – roughly the last half-millennium give or take a century or so – during which human society has been socially and institutionally wired by a specific form of class rule to relentlessly assault on an ultimately geocidal scale.

It is only during the relatively brief period of history when capitalism has ruled the world system (since 1600 or thereabouts by some calculations, earlier and later by others) that human social organization has developed the inner, accumulation-, commodification-, “productivity”-, and growth-mad compulsion to transform Earth systems – with profitability and “productivity” dependent upon on the relentless appropriation of  “cheap nature” (cheap food, cheap energy, cheap raw materials and cheap human labor power)  Moore maintains that “humanity’s”  destruction of livable ecology is explained by changes that capitalism’s addictive and interrelated pursuits of profit and empire imposed on its behavior within “the web of life.”

It is capitalism and its quarterly earnings obsession with short-term profits, not Rich’s “human nature,” that constantly plunders and poisons the commons and trumps long-term planning for the common good.”

Hurricanes give no fucks about your socioeconomic status.

Our short-sighted nature will be the end of us.  Unless…

“This in one of the timeworn paths to societal ruin discussed in a paper published five years ago by mathematician Safa Motesharrei, atmospheric scientist Eugenia Kalnay and political scientist Jorge Rivas in the journal Ecological Economics. Reviewing past societal collapses, they reflected on a potential current global scenario in which:

“[T]he Elites—due to their wealth—do not suffer the detrimental effects of the environmental collapse until much later than the Commoners. This buffer of wealth allows   Elites to continue ‘business as usual’ despite the impending catastrophe. It … explain[s] how historical collapses were allowed to occur by elites who appear to be oblivious to the catastrophic trajectory (most clearly apparent in the Roman and Mayan cases). This buffer effect is further reinforced by the long, apparently sustainable trajectory prior to the beginning of the collapse. While some members of society might raise the alarm that the system is moving towards an impending collapse and therefore advocate structural changes to society in order to avoid it, Elites and their supporters, who opposed making these changes, could point to the long sustainable trajectory ‘so far’ in support of doing nothing.”

Is this not the state of “humanity” under the command of capital today, with many millions of disproportionately poor and powerless people already suffering from climate disruption while the wealthy few continue to enjoy lives of unimaginable, environmentally shielded opulence atop a recklessly fossil-fueled planet so vastly unequal that the world’s eight richest people possess as much wealth between them as the bottom half of the species?

It’s “the rich,” not humanity in general, that “are destroying the Earth,” as Herve Kempf noted in the title and text of an important book eleven years ago. At the same time however, it is in fact up to “our species,” yes, humanity, to save itself and other Earthly life forms by engaging in a great mass uprising against those who have plundered and poisoned the commons for private profit. (If there’s another intelligent life form out there that survived the transition to high-tech modernity and developed the capacity to save other species in the galaxy, now would be the time for them to travel through tie and space to lend us a hand.  I’m not holding my breath for that!)   The best bet we have, my fellow world citizens and common(s)ers, is is eco-socialist people’s revolution here on the planet itself.”

Revolt or die comrades.  :/

 

Bonus Reading: Human Nature and Dynamics There is a good deal of math here, however, also a very readable paper on the collapse of complex societies. It’s a good read and worth your time.

 

 

We’ve had a few pieces on the disconnect between the public and the political process.  This essay by Richard D. Wolff looks to answering the question why, despite there being two different political parties in the US, that the overall arc of the US body politic maintains the same general direction.

 

“In short, “democracy” has been applied to societies whose political/residential sphere was at least formally democratic but whose economic sphere was decidedly not.

The ideological rigidity of most brands of anti-statism across US history served nicely to keep the focus forever on state/public versus individual/private in thinking and acting about social change. Democracy was redefined in practical terms as the liberty of the individual/private from the intrusion of the state/public. The democratic quality of the individual/private enterprise – the central structure of the economy – was exempted from analysis or even from view in terms of its structural incompatibility with democracy. Legalistic equations of capitalist corporations with individual personhood also helped to distract attention away from the undemocratic structure of the corporation. Likewise, the US government’s commitment to a “democratic foreign policy” fostered the reproduction elsewhere of the same undemocratic economic structure that characterized the US.

The right wing of US politics has long understood and responded to social movements for equality and democracy as threats to capitalism. Its leaders built their coalitions by working to mobilize public opinion against those movements as threats to the “American way of life.” It built its ideology on the notion that democracy meant a state kept from intruding on the lives and activities of persons and enterprises rendered as equivalently “individuals.” Equality to them meant equality of opportunity, not outcomes: and then only if opportunity was strictly disconnected from the wealth, income and social position each individual was born into.

The left wing of US politics has always tried hard to sustain the notion that capitalism was not only compatible with egalitarianism and democracy. It would also be strengthened, not threatened, by moving capitalist society closer to equality and democracy. In practical terms it contested against the right wing by insisting that the mass of people – the workers in capitalist enterprises – would become disaffected from and disloyal to capitalism if it indulged its anti-egalitarian and anti-democratic tendencies. Capitalism, it argued and argues, will be strengthened not threatened by less inequality and more democracy.

Both left and right – and their expressions in the leaderships of the Republican and Democratic Parties – live in fear, conscious or otherwise, that the mass of people, the working class, will become disaffected from capitalism. “Populist” is the currently popular epithet that expresses this fear.  Both parties contest for the support of the leaders of capitalism – major shareholders and the corporate boards of directors they select – by offering their alternative strategies for avoiding, controlling, or safely channeling mass disaffection with capitalism.”

Want to know moar, citizen? Check out Manufacturing Consent by Noam Chomsky.

 

    The dour feminist in me would like to point out that women are still struggling toward full autonomy in society after some 2000 years of ‘civilization’ ( :/ ), but the hot topic of self driving vehicles has crossed my desk and merits a comment or two with regards to society.

A healthy dose of skepticism is always in order when it comes to vaunted new technology promoted by the tech industry.  Because they, like other features of capitalist society, value profit over anything else, the tech industry will often jazz up, embellish, and often outright fabricate their claims to make their product seem like the next “must have” consumer item in society (consider the recent crapple failphone X – now with *twice* the screens to break).

Skepticism in place, we do need to realize that sometimes the technological advance is real and will have serious effects in society.  Consider the case of the elevator operators in the 1940’s.  It was a flourishing job opportunity, and even wielded social power as a 1945 elevator-operator strike in Manhattan severely clogged the engines of business industry.  Within a generation this profession was gone; automatic elevators had all but replaced human elevator operators and ran elevators more efficiently and cheaply ever since.

A shit deal if you happened to train for and be a Elevator Operator – with the phrase “this is progress looks like burning in your ears” you had to go out a get a different job, and most likely one that did not pay as well as being an Elevator Operator.

Fast forward to the present day – Truckers are now facing this very same conundrum as automated vehicles are entering their field of work.  Operating truck driving software and actually driving a truck are two very distinct categories; thus yet another blue collar job opportunity might very well be shut off to the people.  I’m not a Luddite when it comes to new technology in society, but the motivation behind the vehicles (and most of capitalism to be honest) has me worried.  “In Canada 1 in every 100 workers is a truck driver, some 300,000 people – it’s the second most common occupation reported by men.” (The Walrus – Overhauled by Sharon J. Riley).

Are we going to spend the money to retrain these people if the technology for self-driving vehicles actually becomes a standard?  Or do we just turn these people to the wind, like the Elevator Operators of the 40’s, “here’s your last paycheck, sorry about your luck , bu-bye now.”?  I highly doubt that the trucking industry – the prime mover in its quest for ‘automated-efficiency’-  is going to step up to the plate and sponsor job retraining for all the employees that have become redundant.  The responsibility for integrating these now jobless people back into the economic workforce will most likely fall to the government and as valiant as Canadian social services are, a three hundred thousand plus hit on our limited social resources just won’t end well.

So, the case looks like this – Business moves ‘forward’ creating more efficiency and profitability, while the social and economic damage caused by said advances is left to the government to haphazardly repair with the limited resources available to it.  This smells like a looming case of what in corporate culture is known as “externalities” or items that have a tangible economic or social cost but importantly not directly to the company itself (Pollution is a prime example of an ‘externality’).  So really, it will be the common citizen, who will be responsible for keeping society going while business plunges ahead willy-nilly chasing the most effective and profitable supply chain.

I have a problem with these technology driven calamitous ‘externalities’ that we will be facing, not just in the transportation sector but in other sectors as well.  This process is driven by greed, and greed gives no fucks for those who must perish in the process of efficiency maximization.  The argument against me would be such – but with greater efficiency and optimization more people will be better served by the industry at hand, thus society will be better and everyone wins.

It’s just that everyone doesn’t win.  The people put out of work by technological advances and their families are going to lose and lose big because they will have no income to afford the goods being delivered so efficiently and profitably to the stores.  Our profit driven corporate/business sectors almost always seems to ignore that fact that their profitability hinges on condition that people exist in the market that have the capacity to buy their widgets.   You may have the best widgets out there, but with no demand, nothing happens.  Of course you can keep profits going up through dubious accounting methods and the churn and burn of the stockmarket magic – but that is an illusion as you are just moving money around an not creating actual value in society; plus that financial shell game periodically crashes hurting everyone in society (see 1929, 2008 et cetra).

The way forward is clear, at least to me.  Technological advancement needs to examined and fined tuned through the lens of what society as a whole needs, and not just the business sector because the business sector is necessary too short sighted to see beyond the bottom line and what is good for them at the time.

 

Related reading and some of my paraphrase fodder – Overhauled – By Sharon J. Riley found in the Walrus Magazine December 2017.

 

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