A Soviet Dystopia Under Late-Stage Capitalism

This article from yesterday should be required reading. It begins with the latest kerfuffle about some NBA manager’s tweet in support of Hong Kong’s right to self-determination. It should be a given, right? The United States is for freedom (despite hardly living up to that ideal, ever). But capital, the incessant desire to expand into global markets, stomps all over that. We’ve seen it with Apple, the NBA, even Hollywood rewriting Bohemian Rhapsody to remove all references to homosexuality, apparently.

Relatable Brand on Medium:

Late-stage capitalism has this Soviet-esque quality to it, with all its pointless bureaucracy, collectivism, propaganda, burnout, and helplessness.

If capitalism fosters human creativity, then why does our economy produce an extremely limited demand for artists, musicians, academics, researchers, or scientists, but has a seemingly insatiable appetite for corporate lawyers and rehashing the same Marvel superhero movie every six months? Well, if the 1% controls most of the wealth, what we call “the market” is merely a reflection of their desires, and it’s imposed a privatized tyranny on us all.

There’s a lot of talk in the American public sphere about socialism, communism, capitalism. But if, like many say, capitalism is the best system to organize an economy and nation, why does it feel so terrible to so many people?

I’ve heard all the talking points. I’m not convinced. And each day brings new examples of corporate greed, lack of dignity for normal people, and the suppression of freedom, even for rich basketball coaches.

Rethinking How to Think and Act

“I want to do whatever it takes to make it possible for everyone, around the world, to enjoy a life worth living.” — Who Owns Tomorrow? by Chloe Watlington in Commune

It is May of 2010 and I’m back in California going through a range of emotions; leaving my university life in Oregon, understanding that a short, failed relationship I spent two years desiring was not reciprocated, and the uncertainty of committing to 27 months abroad before I return.

In a Borders Books next to my parents’ house, I play a game; only perusing the Penguin Classics, the spines uniformly with white text on a matte black. Hundreds of them scattered alphabetically over the store. One sticks out with the the title A Little Larger than the Entire Universe. Already deep into vague misreadings of quantum physics and squaring it with Islam, it sounded like something in my wheelhouse. Fernando Pessoa, an unfamiliar name of a famous 20th-century Portuguese poet. The translator and editor of the poetry anthropology in my hands wrote:

Instead of getting down to the practical business of living, he continued to wrestle with theoretical problems and the big questions: the existence of God, the meaning of life and the meaning of death, good vs. evil, reality vs. appearance, the idea (is it just an idea?) of love, the limits of consciousness, and so on. All of which was rich fodder for his poetry, thriving as it did on ideas more than on actual experience.

The intervening years since stumbling on his work have been full of migration, learning, love, faith, and adventure but also of ambiguity, uncertainty and difficulty. But editorial impression, of a life not fully lived but wholly examined and possibly being paralyzed by it, has served as a bizarre measuring stick to my own. I’m infatuated by the written word, of outside perspectives to better understand the world and my place in it. But how far does one accept outside stimuli to live a life?

My active, outside, rural years in Sierra Leone stand in sharp relief to the introspective and inside ones in Mauritania. I’m an extreme person.

I don’t envy Pessoa. He died an alcoholic having rarely left Lisbon after returning from Durban in his teenager years. I left Mauritania to win back my personal relationship with the Divine, away from the legalism and minutiae of a nominally Muslim society. Distance made the heart grow fonder, it seemed. In the wintry Andes and with a few entheogenic plant experiences, I felt reawakened and clear-eyed.

Now it is 2019. Now surrounded by the modern city life, I feel too tuned in to what is happening in the world. And it looks grim.

There are some who say we are doing much better than we ever have in human history. Then why does it feel so shitty?

Climate change, the normalization of racism and xenophobia, rising inequality and our potential responses are our generation’s World Wars or Paris Commune. Just as Rumi’s family anguished and migrated to escape the world-ending devastation of the Mongol invasion, we have our world-ending scenarios that we must face.

We must educate ourselves and others. We must reject false choices and centrism. And then we must organize ourselves accordingly in a way that respects and protects all life from the fevered egos that see the world as a zero-sum game.

I become more class conscious and eco-conscious by the day. I’m an extreme person. No longer does it seem right for me to travel around on planes as often as I did. Or buy everything wrapped in plastic, the micro-remnants of which are now in almost every living being, when a bit of planning and with the abundance of alternatives.

With time comes more understanding and responsibility.

“I take my desires for reality because I believe in the reality of my desires.” — Paris, May 1968

I add the words hope in the late anthropocene to the existing tagline at the top to reflect my desires in this reality. I commit myself to working on solutions and not adding to the despair.

Thanks for reading, seriously.

Reply All: Negative Mount Pleasant

This recent episode of Reply All from Gimlet Media highlights so much of the power imbalance between multinational corporations, especially tech giants, and local communities that are desperate to find new opportunities for employment.

Reporter/producer Sruthi Pinnamaneni with the math:

Wisconsin will give Foxconn almost three billion dollars in incentives, and then, Mount Pleasant itself will chip in another 760 million dollars.

…Foxconn says that they’re gonna create jobs that pay an average of 50k a year, but the state is paying them $200,000 for each one of those jobs.

There is also an interview with Sruthi on the Verge about everything.

The deal was made behind closed doors with the village council and Foxconn representatives, and many locals are livid. In the face of rising inequality, why do we let capital run roughshod over us?

In my milieu growing up, politics was something private and for election day. But politics, with the cognizance that real consequences and benefits are at stake, is the solution. A politics that doesn’t devolve into profit or growth but rather a system that elevates us all.

The Age of Extinction

It’s 2018. We’ve seen enough extreme weather in just the last few years. But fundamentally changing the way our economy and society works to facilitate, you know, staying alive isn’t politically convenient. President Trump doesn’t believe the National Climate Assessment, which was released on Black Friday:

DAWSEY: You said yesterday when you were leaving that you were skeptical of a climate change report that the government had done. Can you just explain why you’re skeptical of that report?

TRUMP: One of the problems that a lot of people like myself — we have very high levels of intelligence, but we’re not necessarily such believers. You look at our air and our water, and it’s right now at a record clean. But when you look at China and you look at parts of Asia and when you look at South America, and when you look at many other places in this world, including Russia, including — just many other places — the air is incredibly dirty. And when you’re talking about an atmosphere, oceans are very small. And it blows over and it sails over. I mean, we take thousands of tons of garbage off our beaches all the time that comes over from Asia. It just flows right down the Pacific, it flows, and we say where does this come from. And it takes many people to start off with.

Read that again. Oceans are small? Our air and water at a clean record? Almost 63 million people voted for this kind of nonsense.

Trump’s spokeswoman Sarah Sanders and Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke both said the report was a “worst-case scenario”. One of the authors of the report responded on Twitter. Apparently, sixteen hundred pages of hard science need to be reduced to tweetstorms.

We will not wake up from his nightmare. It is here. Our grandchildren will be dealing with this. We can only keep talking about this. This is an Independence Day-level event, the one where we all need to work together to save the planet. Instead of aliens, it’s the pesky side effects of our globalization.

There are two movements I’ve seen in the US and U.K., The Sunrise Movement and Extinction Rebellion. We need to disrupt the status quo.