Externalities and Affordances

Externalities

In the study of economics, at least in the current made up nonsense of economics, an externality is a factor outside of an enterprise that isn’t something the enterprise need concern itself with. For example, profit comes from coal mining, using the local river to wash the coal and fill the river with dust that kills the fish is an externality. The microcosm of the mine is viewed solely on its own terms and is making a profit and working fine. The macrocosm of the surrounding environment does not figure in any calculations. Downstream does not exist.

This willful ignorance is part of the human condition. It’s also, when you think about it, just the way animal populations behave. The future doesn’t exist for a deer that’s eating all of the vegetation. Without predators there will be a collapse. We are lucky, we can observe and think things through, we can think of better ways of doing things.

It’s also been said, but I haven’t yet researched this, that all capitalist profit comes from abusing externalities. The enclosure of the commons that began the accumulation of capital in the hands of a few, the industrial wastelands where dumping waste carelessly into a lake caused an ecocide and so on being the results of this. The profits from the processes were made, and the damage carried by everyone else.

As we sit now at the beginning of the phase change for the climate this forcing externalities is becoming ever more obvious, but it’s not hard to see that it goes way back to the beginnings of the industrial revolution and the processes that had to happen as a precursor to it.

Affordances

I came across this term in the past few years in my job writing software. It’s used by the User Experience (UX) specialists to mean the way in which software encourages the user to behave in particular ways, that guide the experience so that it is easy to get what you need from the software without much friction. It promises accurate information entry, and happy customers.

It’s interesting to think about this. If you don’t have a mental model that matches that of the software designer it could easily be a hostile and unforgiving process no matter how much effort they’ve put into designing it. We’ve all seen messages like error 46 at line 5, which are no use to the end user of the software but might have been to the original developer.

We live in an intensely bureaucratic society. There are electronic and physical forms we have to fill in all the time to get anything done. Clever algorithms that are replacing humans in decision making are every bit as biased as the humans were because the assumptions behind the data used to train the algorithms was also biased. In the USA skin colour is never mentioned explicitly, but the ghettoising of people of colour means that algorithms that check addresses and social environment are carrying on the racist assumptions that they are supposed to prevent. We have the same thing on a smaller scale everywhere.

For a UK-based example, children from deprived areas who couldn’t sit exams because of Covid 19 found themselves marked down because of the area they went to school in, not because of anything to do with their actual potential to pass the exams. Let’s also draw a veil over the better-off privately educated children sitting slightly easier exams that still count the same when allocating university places, which has been a scandal for years.

Our owners have done this for several reasons:

  1. Dealing with a complicated mass of individuals is expensive, so reducing them to form filling and a couple of easily managed metrics means they can control us without us even realising or being able to do anything about it if we did.
  2. They control the bureaucracy. This means the rules only affect people like you and me. You can see this arrogance when Covid rules were being applied in a partial and biased way.
  3. You don’t get to see your oppressor, they’re on the other side of the forms, and the poor stooge policing the form has no authority to do anything other than insist it’s filled in correctly, whatever that means.
  4. Reducing people to forms also means their human needs, not addressed by the forms, can be safely sidelined and left unnoticed and unresolved.
  5. You can police people solely by whether or not they have certain documents, and whether those documents have the right things on them. This allows mass discrimination without having to actually deal with the individuals. Suffering can be automated and kept invisible to the people that ultimately cause it.

So we have affordances that lock oppression in at very low cost, and we have affordances for our owners that keep them distant from us. We have affordances that mean no-one has to engage with us as human beings with needs. It’s all very tidy.

Corporations

The biggest wheeze the owning class came up with was the fiction of the corporation. Originally the idea was a group of people with a common interest, say creating a canal from Liverpool to Leeds, would get together and raise finance to do this mutually beneficial thing. So we had corporations creating and running infrastructure. It also meant that the infrastructure was managed and paid for in a way that benefited the people using it. The recent concept of selling these assets to financial institutions so they can screw us all out of cash wasn’t thought of.

The next step was the idea of limited liability. A corporation has assets, materials etc. that it uses. If it causes some damage or death then only these assets can be used to pay for any repairs. The owners of the corporation are not personally liable and neither are the directors because their only legal concern is making a profit.

I think we can all see where that one is going. We now have corporations that rent everything, own nothing, do enormous damage, and then shut up shop without the people who did the actual rapine facing any consequences. We have long supply chains where the minerals are torn out of the ground in grossly unsustainable ways by poor peasants but the damage isn’t the fault of the companies that buy them, at least those companies like to pretend they have clean hands, but do they?

I have discussed this elsewhere in my review of the book Ecocide

The idiot consensus

Another interesting point is that the post war boom had what seems like eye wateringly high taxes compared with now. If you were a ticket clipping share holder who had no personal income from a job but a lot of what was bluntly called unearned income you paid a lot of tax. Similarly corporations were taxed highly and had to put their profits to work reinvesting in actual research and development or plant because they would be similarly punished with heavy taxation. This was a deliberate forcing of growth to recover from the war.

We have had forty years of financialisation since then. Corporate taxes are far lower, rich individuals’ income is now subject to the pretense they earned it, even if it came from non-productive investments like property. Executive bonuses now depend on share prices so profits are put back into buying shares in the company so they will make their bonuses as the share price rises. This benefits nobody but a tiny number of people who will make money from the rising prices. There is a similar non-productive sea anchor that comes from spinning property prices and forcing the poor into rent and debt peonage.

I have read that there is a balance between financial services that allow the economy to run, and the financialisation that solely works to enrich a very few people gambling (or pretending to gamble – if they lose we pay through bailouts) with shares and property. The figures I saw suggested this balance was reached as long ago as the 1970s, at least in the UK. All the subsequent growth has done is act like a parasite on what might be called the real economy and caused crashes from speculative bubbles.

We have an idiot consensus that happily carries on with this fantasy. Our banks have been rendered too big to fail. The services we all need have been privatised so that their new owners can make money from things the rest of us need to survive. Somehow this engine of inequality and ecocide running along is deemed to be fine, even though by any human measure it is not.

New affordances

What do people actually need?

Let me quote myself from my Eco Socialism or Annihilation article.

In order to say we live in a world that is equitable, moral, and worth defending everybody must have unfettered access to these five things:

  1. Decent shelter
  2. Food autonomy
  3. Health care
  4. Education
  5. Meaningful work

Mixed in with this there must also be the democratic ownership and control of resources by the people who need and use them. The nonsense of nationalisation as it was originally done still kept the old structures of hierarchical companies. Rethinking how things are organised is a fundamental part of this. Otherwise it’s back to creating systems that can easily be stolen and sold again. Making it almost impossible to undo this work by organising it so that undoing it cannot be done is paramount. The organisations that provide the things we need must be incredibly democratic and well run, and also incredibly difficult to steal from us again.

We need affordances that give us the five pillars of human dignity without any fuss or ceremony. We also need to start undoing the damage caused by unthinking bureaucracy. Capitalism is perfectly logical in its own narrow terms. You can’t reform it, if you remove the corporation’s immunity and start working on ensuring the five are everybody’s without fear or favour then most of modern capitalism, with its silly market fetish and redirection of resources into the pockets of the few will be undone. As I discussed in the TINA disease the artificial scarcity from capitalist productive anarchy would have to be brought to an end. If they still need it, we can let our former owners build themselves a casino to play their bloody games in without beggaring the rest of us.

Thinking Downstream

In the first place we need a philosophical shift to always think of the downstream for whatever you do. For example, one of the things Trump did was relieve mine owners of the obligation to stop waste getting into the water table because it was burdensome and made it hard to make money mining. The obvious idea, of maybe doing something else that wasn’t so destructive never entered their tiny minds. Downstream destruction is their problem, whoever they are, and for some reason this went unchallenged.

Similarly, in the UK, the Environment Agency isn’t allowed to pursue cases that may damage growth. Plus it’s also tiny compared with the size it should be. Yet no-one questions this.

Look for the downstream, look for who is affected by what you do, and make sure everything still works properly. This is simple humanity and it isn’t even hard to do. We need to let go of the idiot consensus and create a new one that includes all of us. We must make sure all of us have the affordances we need to live a decent life. We must stop listening to the short sighted fools who pretend there is no downstream, no macrocosm that needs attention.

Mother Time

Mother time

I remember how we used to stand together
Waiting for the train to come
It was a goodbye
But not forever

If I knew now what I knew then
I would never let you go
Never let you go

Mother time had new ideas
Mother time says the end of all meeting is parting
The end of all building is destruction
But how else could we meet again
How else could we meet again

If I knew now what I knew then
I would never let you go
Never let you go

The TINA disease

Capitalist Realism

The late theorist, Mark Fisher, coined the phrase Capitalist Realism. He used it to mean the way the discourse has changed so that we now live in a world that, since the collapse of the Soviet Union, does not appear to have any viable alternatives to capitalism. We have the world catching fire and we have been sold the old Thatcher phrase there is no alternative or TINA.

This is bunk.

Humans have been around for hundreds of thousands of years. We’ve organised societies in hundreds, if not thousands of different ways. People got fed, kids got raised, blah blah. We now have the technical know how to create a just world without poverty and hunger, a world that can release the potential of billions of human beings, but the millstone of our restricted vision prevents us from realising it.

There is an alternative, you just have to be able to conceive of it and see how the new is folded deep into the structures of the old. It often seems to me, looking at how we know full well how to feed far more people than actually exist, and distribute things so effectively, that all we need is the will to do it better. A gentle tug on the old way of doing things and a better world will unfold like some magic origami. This is the old Marxist dialectic, there’s nothing magical about it, the new can just unfold and the world be a different place.

Capitalism is moribund, dying, its over-arching success is a burning world. The group consciousness it creates that has been so successfully undermined by our owners we accept their lies about no alternatives. It was a great engine of effectiveness and change a century or so ago, indeed up to the 1960’s technological change was racing ahead. There have been no significant discoveries since about 1970. You might scoff at this, but no-one has discovered or invented anything like the transistor since then. What we have now is simply endless refinement of those old ideas with better and better quality control. The central ideas that were used to create the phone you’re probably reading this on all originate at the latest around 1970, most of them far earlier, and most of them came from government funded research.

Our owners hate having to do any work, or take any risks. So they socialise the risk in order to make sure they don’t pay for it. When viable technologies emerge they’re taken out of the commons and turned into products, based on the ownership of things that should belong to all of us. We’re so used to this we can’t see how ridiculously unfair and wrong it is. The billionaire parasites are not entrepreneurs, they’re just lucky, and are making sure things stay the way they are while the rest of us are fuel for their supper.

Stealing the commons is a centuries-old way of making wealth for the few. First the common land was enclosed and people (particularly women) driven off, eventually the hyper exploitation of women became the new commons when they were driven out of wage labour into subordinate positions, eventually wars meant re-organisation and changes undid at least some of this and the patriarchy is more subtle in some parts of the world. Now we have a commons in the internet that’s slowly being monetised again. Underneath all this endless capital accumulation and over production fill the world with useless crap and hunger in the vain pursuit of profit and growth.

The TINA disease

Being caught by TINA is a disease. Look around you, why have stories about dystopian worlds come to dominate the arts? Why is it becoming almost impossible to see anything that isn’t a warmed-over cliche from the past or a re-make of something that was OK but not great even when it was new? Why has there been yet another revival of discredited Malthusian and eugenic ideas in the past couple of decades? Why have discredited and dangerous concepts such as austerity become current again? Why have racists suddenly found their voice again? Why are apparently radical movements like the greens worrying about the very existence of human beings, rather than the owner class?

Our owners are desperate.

The old saw about if you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail comes to mind. If all you have is hyper reliance on some meaningless platitudes about markets that were dubious when they were first mooted, no long-term strategy other than grimly clinging to what you’ve stolen from everyone else while lying through your teeth about it, then what can you do? Well, all you can do is make pap like Love Island and promote meaningless but ultimately harmful things like Brexit or irrational nonsense about immigrants or some other made up enemy to keep people distracted. Then you keep mouthing platitudes about markets and business expertise and hope no-one realises you’re actually in emperor’s new clothes territory.

The rest of us should take a breath, and think a bit more about who benefits from the way things are. It’s not us, is it? There are plenty of alternative ways of organising how things are done, but if everything gets turned into yet another project to rescue the unsustainable nonsense that we’re faced with, for example a green new deal that isn’t, or pretending fracking is green because you don’t count all of the emissions it creates, or defending jobs building disgusting weapons that are being used to blow children to pieces, then we’ve missed the real problem.

Recovering from TINA involves consciousness raising. Like the early feminist movement discussions that created conditions where women could see that they were all suffering under the same dead hand of patriarchy, and work together and support each other, we need to re-find our class consciousness. The great victory of our owners in the past few decades is not the propaganda of their market rubbish, but our forgetting the power we have and used to know how to wield. As the poet said: Ye are many, they are few. Our owners only own us because we let them.

It’s time to change that. It’s time they stopped thinking they can sell things that belong to all of us to force profits out of our suffering. It’s time to make them too afraid to take things we need to live and survive like housing, education and health care. It’s time to grow food everywhere it can be usefully grown, it’s time to completely rethink how things are done, and only we can do this.

We don’t need permission.

We already have permission, after all who already gave permission? It was us.

Over production – not scarcity

The other great lie, which is sadly one the Green movement have been taken in by, is scarcity. Marx pointed out that as well as a drive for endless accumulation, capitalism is driven by chronic over-production. It is unplanned and extremely inefficient – each enterprise may be a paragon of efficiency in and of itself, but the whole system of production is complete anarchy.

The old Soviet Union tried to fix this with bureaucratic central planning, but that didn’t work very well with slow paper-based systems and the technologies of the early twentieth century. In 2021 we have well-understood systems for just in time manufacturing and demand prediction that were unavailable to them. We can remove over production and make sure everyone has more than enough without burning up the planet to do so. It still wouldn’t be easy, but it is very possible.

It starts with not taking what we now have, and how we do things now, as givens.

Similarly, there is plenty of useful work to be done fixing the things our short-term profit driven masters have allowed to break or fall fallow. Just because they couldn’t make a profit, or enough of a profit, doesn’t mean things need to be left broken or human needs unmet. It’s the same with the overproduction of food, unused food is destroyed to keep profits intact. Despite small L liberal hand wringing, this has nothing directly to do with morals, but it is very much a function of the screwed logic of capitalist production. When you see people saying how silly this is and getting angry they need to get angry with the right thing, capitalism itself, in its own term its internal logic is faultless, but it doesn’t look after people’s needs except accidentally.

Bullshit Jobs

David Graeber estimated that up to 40% of jobs don’t serve human needs or wants and coined the phrase bullshit jobs. When you add in all the people who service the infrastructure supporting those jobs the number of empty jobs jumps to at least 50%.

Is it any wonder we have a climate crisis? Instead of pursuing hobbies, or meeting actual human needs, a vast proportion of us are simply burning resources so our owners can perform a pantomime that lets them extract value from us at no benefit to anyone but themselves.

Some people doubt Graeber’s analysis. Ask yourself, does the world need another e-commerce site selling the same stuff as everybody else? What does a commercial lawyer actually do? Have you notice there are a whole tier of jobs our political class had before they decided to pretend to be something other than human dross – PR consultants, financial analysts who do what a computer does better, assistant to a parent’s friend? The people at the sharp end get paid badly and treated badly, living in fear, the useless detritus thrive on networks where they wait for the largesse to fall from their fellow place men and women. None of them are honest enough to admit this.

The whole concept of work needs to be rethought. The idea of a fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay needs to be looked at critically.

Taking the fight to the parasites

Societies ebb and flow. After the second world war the systems were broken and worn out, destroyed by bombing in some cases. The owning classes were quite afraid of the working class taking control from them and remodelling society so they created the welfare state in the richer countries to keep their local populations quiet and obedient. Of course, this was paid for largely with colonial plunder, a fact carefully obscured or ignored by the empire socialists of the time.

It took nearly thirty years for things to recover and for the boom of rebuilding to finally ebb. That’s when the new thirst for money and allergy to paying for things infected the ruling class. In our complacency we didn’t notice how things we had paid for (but did not control) were slowly sold off to speculators and other forms of short-term financial carpetbaggers. Everything from water to telecommunications now costs far more than it did thanks to this faux quest for market efficiency.

The 40 years since have seen the replacement of class consciousness with an individualistic view of the world that makes the very idea of solidarity seem completely alien to so many people. Well, a solidarity past signing a meaningless petition or retweeting a clever meme. Collective action is uncomfortable, and people think about themselves first. Success is something individuals have, and the rewards coming to the minority, the nominal owners, seems to be the norm. There was a time when increased productivity meant at least some increase in wages, but now any benefits stay in the pockets of the owner.

TINA means that this new way of living and thinking, with its hard edged selfishness and lack of empathy, now seems to be the only way of doing so. The Bezoses, Musks and Bransons claim the vast fortunes they lucked into are the result of an individualised hard work and nothing else. The thousands of people who work for them and billions in state subsidies that their success is actually built on don’t exist in this fantastic con trick. They have conned the rest of us into thinking we could be them, even if we weren’t born into privilege and able to take risks like they were, as if potential failure would have had zero cost for us as well.

The bezel is the golden moment (for the scammer) when the victim of a con hasn’t realised the thing they hold in their hand is an empty chimera. We’ve been holding the bezel in our heads so long we no longer realise what empty nonsense it really is. We have been conned out of the commons, out of our human birthright, and taken to the slaughterhouse, all the while thinking the farmer is nice because we had a few scraps from their table.

This needs to be discussed and understood.

What we were given to keep us quiet in the developed nations is being slowly stolen from us because the distribution of power shifted and our owners no longer feel the need to buy us off. Our owners think we can no longer hold them back while they turn our countries into fire sales at the end of the world. The wholesale funnelling of funds into bogus projects that fill their friends’ pockets isn’t new, it’s just never been so brazen.

To even keep them at bay we must always be reaching for better. Merely holding on means all you can do is eventually lose what you have. Every loss pushes you backwards. Our enemies are always trying to take things from us. Merely keeping them back is a losing strategy in the long term. We need to become as ruthless as they are and always be looking to get more than we have. This is why there is no room for kinder, gentler politics we need implacable politics. Kind and gentle to our own, for sure, but the parasites should know their days as parasites are numbered.

Facebook’s blocking algorithm closing down dissent

It’s interesting

I got banned for sharing links for 24 hours and still haven’t had a reply from Farcebook’s support people – suspect I will never get one. I’ve also seen a lot of activist friends saying they suddenly can’t post things or work on groups they support.

The link I shared was from Scientific American blog – talked about how sex isn’t purely from XY combinations, and how the science is very broad. That is, trans people are real and their existence is backed by the actual science, rather than the nonsense the bigots are spouting.

I think there must be a bot farm (probably more than one) somewhere that marks articles like that to stop people like me sharing them and FB automatically then just bans people who share them.

I think there’s some paid-for shenanigans that does swathes of automatic community standards complaints to game FBs automatic shut down algorithm and keep our voices quiet.

Thinking with links it should be possible create a simple page to just reference the link without redirecting to it and share that instead, so people have to click twice, but at least the information can still be shared without censorship. At least until the bot owners see the new page … it will be a long and boring battle.

The attacks on individuals though, that is more troublesome. Unless they allow us to start registering support for people I’m not sure how to approach that one.

Of course, the right-wing conspiracists have been complaining about this for a while and the left have been cheering on blocking and preventing them from posting. Be careful what you wish for.

As an aside, if I recall, there was a massive campaign against porn in (I think) Australia in the 80’s. The first shops that were shut down were the ones offering material to help LGBT youth. There is precedent for this.

Brighter Future released on Kindle and paperback

Been a bit quiet for a few days putting the finishing touches on the first Brighter Future collection, making it ready for Amazon.

If you’d rather not buy from Amazon, there’s a slightly out of date version of the full text here.

https://leanpub.com/toabf-v1

Welcome to the anti-dystopian collection Brighter Future, volume 1. It’s the first three parts of what was originally a projected six novella venture where I wrote on various themes set in the near future, looking at how people escaped the ecocide and built a fairer world where everybody got fed, educated and housed. I have no idea if I will create the other novellas or move on to other things.

So you hold here the end result of several years’ work. I wanted to create an alternative to the dystopian doom and gloom that seems so prevalent in fiction at the moment. I am a socialist and I think the final death throes of late stage capitalism finally running out of its own tail to eat have created a strong current in our society that makes people think the world is going to end. The world is going to end, if by that you mean the late-stage capitalist world. As Rosa Luxemburg said, it will descend into Socialism or Barbarism. A more modern take is Eco-socialism or Barbarism. The current way of doing things is unsustainable. It’s not up for debate.

I wanted to create a place where we could start having a conversation about living in a better world without just mouthing platitudes like a better world is possible. Yeah, fine, even a better world is necessary. But where do you start and what would things look like after you started the transition?I got into a discussion with someone who said what I was writing must therefore be utopian, rather than anti-dystopian. But the problem is utopian writing is perceived as having an undercurrent of impossibility.

I’m simply advocating for a world where people’s needs come first, and the evil god of endless accumulation is buried, after having its heart torn out and eaten by the hungry millions. A world where our understanding of complex systems is used to help us carefully create something beautiful and worthwhile that doesn’t waste human potential or destroy the things that sustain us. A world that’s beautiful and loved by the people living on it.In the 20th century, and even more so in the 21st, humans have finally gained the tools to understand how to build systems that work properly, starting from needs and making sure nobody is left behind. But we have a society that is unaware of this, and is a living demonstration of a dictum often attributed to Einstein: Doing the same thing over and over while expecting different results is a sign of madness. A tiny number of lucky mediocrities lording it over the rest of us is indeed madness.

This work is unabashedly anarcho-socialist in bent, and doesn’t take any prisoners in terms of people who want apologia for capitalism. We know there is a better way, and I know we can find it if we work together. The world does not spring fully-formed from one person’s vision, but if we can share stories that help us understand change is possible, and even relatively easy, then I have achieved my goal.

No Mercy

It’s 07:26 and I’m awake again. Decided to get up and feed the cat. My IBS keeps waking me at about 6, which is beginning to wear on me. Thinking on it might be why I get so sleepy in the afternoons. Just not enough decent sleep. Sat in the garden with a cuppa and the Pinebook. It’s not particularly warm. Spring has sprung but there’s still a chill in the air. The doves are having a hooting competition all around me, it’s nice to be outside.

Want to do some music today. Can’t work out why I’ve been struggling to start. It might be because I can hear things in my head and just can’t make them happen. This probably involves some training, maybe signing up to Mary Spender’s Ableton course or something.

I like Ableton. I like the way you can paint sounds with it.

At Mark Fisher’s prompting I’ve been listening to the Caretaker (although the long album with the reprocessed songs got a bit wearing). I like Retrograde Amnesia, it’s good to code to and creates a calming aural backdrop.

On my walk yesterday it was interesting. I was listening to the audio book of ghosts of my life and the section was a review of some John Foxx music from 2006, called something like Tiny Colour Movies. That recount Foxx’s reaction to some films from a collection where the collector doesn’t collect anything more than 8 minutes, found things, video from 1960’s surveillance tapes, clouds, all kinds of things. So I decided to listen to the Foxx material, which is quite beautiful and weirdly fits in with the noises in the park I was walking through, the geese flapping and the motorbikes in the distances etc.

The analogue synth sound reminded me of, of all things, The Tubes and the song TV is king. So I switched to that because why not. Then I went to the album Remote Control and listened to that from the beginning. I remembered I used to listen to side one of the vinyl a lot, until one day I came home and I think my sister had disappeared the album because I left it on the turn table for quite a while – sigh.

A wave of emotion ambushed me and I felt like crying for a while. The music brought back the period from about 12 to 22 or so when my life was covered in misery. I know what the despair people experience feels like – I felt it keenly then and still feel it now, years of Buddhist practice just made it easier to live with. Listening to the songs 40 odd years later side 1 still has some great songs, put together really well, that inadvertently form a really powerful critique of consumer capitalism and the vacuous culture we are forced to live with. They’re beautifully crafted 1980’s pop songs.

You’re just a tube full of gas
And a box full of tin
But you show me your junk and I want to get in
If only your chassis were covered with skin
Cos TV you’re my everything
TV is king, you’re my everything

and on I want it all now

I saw somebody get married today
Saw people crying as they drove away
Old people laughing and children at play
I asked for love but they don’t hear what I say

What is it like to kiss a real girl
Think you’re in love and get married to her
Have lots of children and grow fat and old
And die like a fish at the end of a pole?

I listened to No Mercy and realised it could be an anthem to capitalism, it could be something we sing to our bosses in the queue for the guillotine. I had a mental picture of Fisher’s point that we need to counter the lie of calling everybody who needs help in the face of the murderous intentions of our owners scroungers by calling them back, calling them for the parasites they are. A nice picture of Johnson captioned No mercy for parasites.

Empire Socialism finally published on Amazon

The extended essay gives a potted history and outlines what the problems are with the so-called middle ground that is anything but. It pulls no punches, and some may find its conclusions hard to take.

It’s my view that we need to stop pretending and be very clear about what needs to be done, and this short essay is an attempt to clear the air and establish what that is.

Emotional labour and the paradox of ownership

The late, lamented, David Graeber talked about emotional labour in his book Bullshit Jobs. We live in a society that’s in thrall to ownership. If you own an enterprise, or are a director of it, you don’t have to make any effort to understand what your employees want, or even think. On the other hand, they have to understand you, because in a real sense their lives depend on it and you could discard them if you felt like it.

Of course, this is taking the idea to an extreme that’s probably not been as evident since Victorian times. But if you think how power hierarchies work it’s a very cogent thing. If you look how corporations work, with the lower-ranking employees scurrying around to avoid offending their masters and avoid showing initiative that could result in being wrong, it’s still very apparent. Particularly now, when trade unions and collective approaches to running society have been so traduced and neutered compared to the ridiculous cult of the individual and the leader.

It also explains why so-called leaders in corporations are always bemoaning how they can’t get people to own problems and solve them for the company. Well, bluntly, why the fuck should you? The owners keep the rewards and you get the ulcers. Doesn’t sound like a good deal to me.

This forced, insincere, emotional labour, pretending to give a shit about what some dickhead boss wants, is at least part of what Marx called alienation. I believe that it’s what is causing the rising tide of mental illness in the West.

Marx pointed out to us that we are slaves. Wage slaves. Instead of being fully owned like the chattel of old, we rent our labour out for fixed periods of time in exchange for tokens that we can use to get the necessities of life. If you aren’t a member of the owning class (and very few people are) then this is where you sit despite all the freedoms you have on paper. As an individual you have very little power. This is why our society makes a cult of the individual, it means the powerful few keep control while the rest of us wander around with nothing. The freedom you have is the freedom to own things, or the freedom to starve if you don’t and can’t get to place where you can rent your labour to someone who does.

The paradox

If you’re human you can’t help being emotionally involved with the enterprise you work for. You identify with it, and even feel that you want it to succeed. This is why being made redundant can hurt so much, part of your humanity is being thrown away by people who don’t value it. It’s also why the saying it’s not personal, it’s business is such a load of crap. It’s personal all right, business won’t work without both kinds of labour. Now we arrive at the point of the title of this essay: the paradox of ownership.

Say if you work for a company that’s very successful, that you put a lot of effort into, and it’s bought by someone, your contribution does not belong to you. Your owner has taken it and turned it into money, but it has nothing to do with you any more. Unless the original or new owners decide to acknowledge you with some kind of thank you (financial or even just verbal) you may not even have a job. You own your labour, and emotional labour in particular is hard, separating your feelings from what you do is damn near impossible.

The ownership of the company and the ownership of the work mean different things. The emotional labour you may have put in is necessary, may even have built something that can be sold by your employer, but if the company is itself sold it’s been taken from you to make a commodity. This is the quintessence of capitalism, everything you have, even the things that make you feel human, perhaps even love, become things.

A company is all of the people who work there, all of the things they did to make it better and help their customers. All the folks you enjoy working with and want to succeed. All that stuff, that human stuff, can be sold from under your feet and you will get nothing unless there is some kind of contract or the owners are willing to share.

A cynic would say that you shouldn’t give too much, if anything, to avoid being hurt. Just the time you’re paid for and that’s that. Is this what will work for you, though? It’s right to want human contact, and right to want to help others. Neither of these things is pathologically bad. However we live in a society with a bad pathology. Where the accident of ownership means you can do what you like to the people that work for you and they can’t do anything about it. An owner isn’t even obliged to understand the thing they own and how it works – think about it, it is absolutely mad when you get down to it. This bad pathology hurts us inside and out, it dehumanises and makes hurting other people seem acceptable. This is why dangerous nonsense like the enterprise destroying concept of shareholder value is acceptable if all you want is to play games with money – what the enterprise does, what value it brings, is overriden by who owns it.

This is why the rest of us need collectivism, and why we need each other. It’s why we need to reject the cult of the individual, the arsehole, and work together on things. It’s also why our owners have spent the last fifty years undermining trade unions, why the legal recourse for discrimination has been so restricted, why things like zero hours contracts have been created, and why the billionaire press is so hell bent on persuading us to hate even the idea of unions or collectivism and be suspicious of each other. The destruction of the post-war consensus was deliberate. It’s now almost impossible to remember what it was like when virtually everyone was in a union of some kind and your employer couldn’t pick on you if they felt like it. It happened so slowly nobody noticed, but the world is fundamentally different.

If an enterprise is sold, then there is a really weird assumption that the workers go with it. But what was sold, really? The mechanical thing. A business is a means of organising people and materials in such a way as you put resources in, turn a handle, and profit comes out of the process the handle initiates. So what the new owner bought was the process and the handle, possibly the brand if there is one. But they didn’t buy the workers, the physical labour was bought. Selling time for the use of your hands doesn’t mean you’re obliged to do the emotional labour as well, that would mean you worked for some kind of cult. So a business being sold generates a deeper conflict in the people that work for it. After all, chattel slavery finally disappeared a long time ago. They didn’t buy your heart, but they like to pretend that they did.

The other strange import from the USA, at least if you live in the UK, is this bollocks about family. Somehow the accidental combination of the people you work with and your employer’s limited largesse has created a family and you’re automatically a member. People you choose to be with vs. people you need to hang out with so you can earn a living. Bosses that assume you will go to out of hours virtual meetings and play pub games with strangers you didn’t choose as friends, whom you may not even like particularly.

When I worked for a big database company and 9/11 happened the billionaire boss sent an email round saying the folks we knew who died trying to take down the planes where all family. Maybe this was the harbinger of a new attitude where we all pull together and the wealth is shared along with the risk etc. etc. Six weeks later he was back firing people and doing all the aggressive stuff the MBAs told him to do to make even more money. It wasn’t a lie, as such, it just wasn’t a sentiment that lasted more than a week. Well, we aren’t dogs, our loyalty isn’t automatically given when someone shows even slight affection, and why should we pretend? Hey billionare narcissist, it’s just business and we don’t love you.

The cult of the individual also serves to isolate us from one another. You can find yourself in a situation and not realise that most of the people you work with feel the same. It’s what Marx talked about, what a class actually is, a group of people united by having the same needs and circumstances having the same perspective on what matters. Our owners are outnumbered and very weak, so they have to pretend our class does not exist. They have to turn us into individuals because it makes us easy to control. They create bureaucracies to hide from us so we can’t see their hands behind the puppet show.

This is also where the whining about people wanting free stuff comes from: nope, workers demand recognition of who they are and what they do. Their interests do not coincide with the owners. In fact the owners’ interests don’t necessarily coincide with those of the enterprises they own, they just want the profit and don’t care how it happens. This is why capitalism is destroying the planet – profit-driven ownership, rather than stewardship, is a very stupid idea when it becomes world-spanning monopolies that are wrecking the environment.

But if you look carefully it’s pretty easy to see, and then the paradox resolves itself by taking the ownership back from the people who only ever borrowed it, whatever they may pretend to.

Still standing

We are surrounded
Mountains of suffering and blood

Our leaders
Vampire clowns
Dancing on the dead
Clapping

See that river?
They poisoned it

Breathe that air?
They poisoned it

Everything for sale
If they only knew the price

My love is not a commodity
My love is not a commodity
My love is not a commodity

My love is freely given
My love is not for sale

Still stand
With hollow eyed starving
Still stand
With hungry on their way to school
Still stand
Every foot dragging weary, sick

The vampires
The reckoning

Our time comes, a sea of storms and suffering
Our time comes, they will be swept away

Broken but not bowed
Broken but not hopeless

We heal, we grow, still standing

Stronger
We paid the price

The great reckoning

Various loons on Facebook and Twitter a pushing yet another narrative where they promote a helplessness in the people that follow it. They call it the great reset. Essentially Covid and the climate crisis are a deliberate thing that comes from yet another inaginary cabal far away and a great many people are going to die to keep the cabal in power.

Like a lot of these narratives you can’t do anything about it. It’s related to the whole QAnon farce, where shadowy forces are taking over the world. Lunacy with a nice side-order of anti-semitism and hate directed at places where it can do no harm to the established order.

To be honest, I don’t want to talk about this any more than I already have. It’s brain-melting rubbish designed to keep you afraid and passive. You can google it if you want to go down the rabbit hole.

Instead, what do we actually have?

As I live in the UK, let’s start there:

  1. We now have the highest per-capita Covid death rate in the world, largely down to idiots trying to save christmas and not even attempting to implement a zero Covid strategy. More infections also mean more opportunities for the virus to mutate, which is a great win, for the virus. At the time of writing over 1,000 people a day are dying.
  2. A government department openly and blatantly bullied the people who work there to keep turning up for work even if they’d been told to isolate. People were also ordered to turn off the track and trace app or ignore it.
  3. Brexit restrictions mean that food is rotting before it gets delivered, but the government is trying to spin that into a story about Covid even though there weren’t any problems last year when there wasn’t any Brexit paperwork.
  4. Our crony-driven government still doesn’t have a working track and trace system, which makes even attempting zero Covid almost impossible. It has managed to channel millions to its failed private sector friends, though.
  5. Thousands of jobs in the fishing industry are probably already lost due to Brexit.
  6. The benefits system, in particular the murderous farce that is Universal Credit, pays too little, discriminates against people with larger families, and is designed to trap people in poverty. Who can forget the picture of the former minister exhulting when the former Chancellor announced even greater cuts? UC was temporarily increased to help people during the pandemic, and it has been reduced again even though the pandemic hasn’t gone away.
  7. UC is structured to give the money to the male partner in any relationship. This is because the fruit loop in charge wanted to keep families together, no count has yet been made of the number of women killed or injured because they couldn’t escape abusive partners. It also infantilises women, which is an amusing irony for a man who married money.
  8. There is evidence that 130,000 people may have had their lives shortened by inadequate benefits and benefit sanctions. This is disputed, but what is not disuputed is that it has cost lives, the argument is about how many. The department stopped collecting the figures to make it harder to work out.
  9. Our leaders continue to allow the supply of weapons to the ongoing war in the Yemen, despite being asked to stop and recently being able to vote on the policy. The humanitarian disaster is entirely man made, and our rulers’ bloody hands are all over it, including our arms-dealer queen.

These are merely a few examples of the ongoing murderous catalogue of actions and policies, from the bogus nonsense that they called austerity to the hard-faced attacks on the poor that have resulted in the deaths of thousands, both in the UK and elsewhere in the world. We are losing our jobs, having our health service privatised under our noses. We have been lied to over and over again, about everything, no-one believes a word our leaders say any more.

9/11 caused the death of around 3,000 people. The benefit “reforms” have already cost around 40 times that before we even start adding in the Covid deaths. People at the bottom of the socio-economic pile in this country are dying at an unprecedented rate, particularly if they are BAME people, who tend to be clustered in low-paying, low-status jobs where employers are particularly nasty.

The Western powers wrecked Afganistan over 9/11. So where is the outrage here? Why aren’t we going to war with these killers? Why are they still walking free, their lies unchallenged?

The killer isn’t at the gate. The killer lives in your house and eats at your table. You let them in, and let them lie to you and sing you to sleep.

The Great Reckoning

We need a great reckoning, forget the nonsense about the reset, or the racist crap about the replacement of white people with what is in fact their descendents who may have darker skin.

Every one of the dead should be counted, every politician involved in their deaths should be accountable.

Some people say that you sometimes have to make decisions that may result in resources being allocated in a way that means people will die and it’s unavoidable.

That’s true, but not in this case.

  • There are other places in the world where the UN hasn’t come into a nominally rich country to feed poor children.
  • There are other places in the world that correctly implemented track and trace and zero Covid strategies and have almost no cases now.
  • Others didn’t take the austerity pill and their economies recovered very quickly
  • There are other places where an advisory referendum is advisory
  • A large majority of the population want to see their NHS properly funded, not cut past the bone and sold
  • Other countries haven’t had the number of food banks go from a half dozen to out number the number of McDonalds in 10 years

There is no excuse for this, but at the moment our owners think they won’t face any consequences.

We need to start campaigning to disabuse them of that delusion.

The great reckoning needs to happen, or all of the nonsense about unity and healing is no more than hot air.

Footnote (March 2021) Naomi Klein has a great article on the Great Reset from the perpsective of the Davos group. A group which has itself made just about everything far worse.