This is not an essay arguing a considered position, nor a creative work. It is more a shout of desperation.
In this morning’s New York Times, Eduardo Porter published a short piece in which he attempts to point out the absurd futility of “The Myth of a Return to Manufacturing Greatness.” He points out the absurdity of the claims of all presidential candidates in the US to restore our economy by such ridiculously useless strategies as import tariffs and tax incentives for business. Okay, fair enough. It is obvious that either all the presidential candidates are absolute morons and don’t know what anybody with even a passing familiarity with global economics knows, or else the are cynically promising the impossible knowing that the ignorant American public will be easily enough duped. Or perhaps it’s some combination of these?
Porter mentions something that has sunk me into a state of hopelessness, though. Not that I had that far to sink.
He points out that in the 1960s it took over 45,000 workers to harvest and sort and process California’s 2.2 million ton tomato crop. Today, because of genetically modified crops and technological change, it takes only about 5,000 workers to harvest and process over 12 million tons of tomatoes.
Now I don’t want to suggest that technology and mechanization are the cause of increased poverty. Increased productive power frees us all from the need for drudgery, so that ideally nobody need live lives that are nasty, brutish and short. Instead, here’s my question: if we can produce so very much more with so very much less human labor, why aren’t we all working ten hour weeks and enjoying a standard of living twice as affluent as our parents? Why, instead, are we working virtually round the clock to live in a manner considerably less prosperous than most retired baby boomers or members of the “great generation”?
Porter can offer no solution to this. He sees it as inevitable. He laments the fact that many “developing” countries will be forced to move into “postindustrial” economies before they have even begun to reap the benefits of industrialism that Europe or the US did. His only solution for the US is to focus on profiting from the global economy by providing education, health care, and clean energy.
What has made it hard for me to even keep going today, after putting aside the rest of the morning paper, is the horrible awareness that I am likely the only person who read this short essay this morning and even considered the alternative of eliminating capitalism itself. This is, for almost all humans, just not a thinkable possibility.
If we can produce enough food, clothing, shelter, medicine, etc. for the world population, with so little effort, why are most of the planet’s six billion plus people dying in poverty, living lives of deprivation and ignorance? Why are the richest 100 million or so allowed to go on destroying the planet, insuring that it will be uninhabitable for most existing species within two centuries?
Because nobody can any longer imagine that capitalism is a humanly created thing that could be eliminated by human action. Nobody can imagine using our collective social productive power for anything other than the collection of more and more wealth in the hands of fewer and fewer people.
The situation at the present is this: over the past few centuries, a minority of the human population has, mostly through mass murder and theft, claimed ownership of the entire planet. Their descendants are now assumed to have a “legal” right to this stolen world, one that cannot be questioned. As a result, all other humans on the planet must pay them for the very right to exist on Earth. Now that they even own the means of producing all food, in the form of global agribusinesses, nobody can even feed themselves without paying the wealthy.
And then, because they produce all this stuff so efficiently, they decide that they don’t need to employ the majority of the people on the planet. Those people still must pay to live on the Earth, must buy their food and clothing, but they will be given no jobs with which to do this. And nobody can imagine that these people even have a right to live on the planet! After all, the ancestors of the one percent worked hard massacring indigenous populations and manipulating governments to steal the world, what right to the rest of us have to demand they ought to share it? And now, as global capitalism goes around the world pushing people off their land, making them dependent on money and the capitalist economy to live, then moving the industry on to the next “developing country,” leaving behind a population newly dependent on money for thier food and housing but with no way to get it, we are supposed to applaud the fact that they have been “elevated” out of their benighted primitive state, and made truly human. Before, they had no income, and now they are part of the monetary system, and surely nobody is fully human unless their lives are run through the circuit of the profit.
So what’s to be done?
How can we persuade people to wake up and see the truth of global capitalism?
Sometimes, in the night watch hours, I despairingly consider that maybe if people are just so stupid as that, well, maybe we deserve our coming fate, and the end of our species in another century is a good thing. Let Earth reset, and start again.
But then I consider that this ignorance is not natural, but is a product of the capitalist system itself. It isn’t that the poor are dumber than the rich–the rich are mostly even stupider, so concerned with getting their kids through Harvard and into those high-paying spots on some board of directors they can’t see that the result will be that their great grandchildren will likely not survive the environmental effects of their present affluent lifestyle. The ignorance is built into the educational system, where nobody going through college would any longer study things like philosophy, Marxist economics, or the history of social formations other than capitalism. Instead, they study stock market strategy and computer science and Internet ethics and neuroscience, mistaking the produciton of profitable technology for an education.
And I’m less and less motivated to continue posting the installments of my novel. Or to write the little essay on Althusser’s theory of ideology and why nobody today can quite grasp it fully. Or anything else.
I don’t believe I can make the state of the World clear to those who need most to see it. And they end up, like Porter, lamenting the fact that the economy, that reified juggernaut, will inexorably kill us all, but what can you do? Try to make a buck in the meantime, maybe watch something on Netflix. Hope the Yankees win this year, and put a Trump sign on your front lawn.
Is there anyone out there who can do what I know I can’t? Who can wake up the mass of dying humanity? Yes, my prose is a bit histrionic here. But is there any practice or discourse in which the great masses of deluded humanity can be enbabled to think?!
If anyone is reading, and knows of any such hope, throw the rest of us a lifeline.