Tag Archives: capitalism

How to end 2016

Book cover of Penguin Classics edition of Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia

I am reading Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia by Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari. Technically I haven’t actually started reading it yet and have only finished reading the preface by Michel Foucault. Mostly I’m reading it because a lot of Deleuze and Guattari’s ideas were explored thematically in the Ghost in the Shell anime and I’d wanted to read it before actually watching the movies and shows. I think the book itself has been on my Amazon wishlist for eight years now.

It seems to be about using the schizophrenic’s break with (capitalist) society as a roadmap to how to live outside of capitalism and its inherently fascist tendencies. It’s kind of hard to read a theory book once one is no longer in academia as I’m no longer in the headspace to easily parse a translation of a densely written neo-Marxist monograph. That, and there are just too many options for amusement available to me.

Speaking of which, I’m also reading another – and more accessible – translated work known as The Devil is a Part-Timer series. It’s a bunch of Japanese light novels about the Devil being kicked out of his kingdom and escaping to modern Japan, where to make ends meet he has to work part-time at McDonald’s. It’s frequently hilarious.

I keep these books at home, though, and when I’m commuting I pull out my Kobo and read Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn: Shadows of Self, which is set 300 years after the end of his Mistborn fantasy series. While the original trilogy was essentially a decently fresh take on a fantasy trope, being about a world where the destined hero failed and the land is ruled by the evil emperor, this series is kind of a fantasy Western about supernaturally powered lawmen and criminals playing their games in a mix of the Wild West and Victorian London.

I like it okay. Sanderson’s writing has definitely improved since his first book, Elantris, though it’s still not going to end up studied in creative writing classes. But the book is entertaining enough.

Eat the Rich

So the revelations from the Panama Papers are all shocking and whatnot if you didn’t already assume that the world’s oligarchs were greedy pieces of shit. Though I suppose it’s interesting to see how specifically all this tax haven stuff works.

But what really surprised me was this picture from The Guardian:

Jasmine Li (centre) at the Crillon debutante ball for Vanity Fair magazine in Paris, France. Photograph: Jonathan Becker/Contour by Getty Images

They still have debutante balls? And the kind where actual wealthy people attend, not athletes or minor celebrities but those whose ungodly riches can destroy nations. There were princesses and future captains of industry at this shindig. I swear, it looks like something out of My Fair Lady.

Jasmine Li, it seems, is a scion of one of China’s Communist Party elites. Well, the party calls itself communist, but really, when your party members’ kids are coming out in a debutante ball then there’s no use pretending there’s anything of the old ideals left.

It just goes to show that the 1% live in a different world from the rest of us, which is especially noteworthy since the pictures date from 2009, during the worst economic crisis in decades. Ordinary people were left destitute and homeless as the masters of the world waltzed the night away. I wonder, is this kind of inequality what we can expect for the rest of this century? One wonders.

Thar she blows

Big Marijuana is coming like Big Tobacco did decades before, but it’s taking a detour through the 1920s and the Prohibition Era first. If and when marijuana is legalized in the United States, it will almost definitely join the other legal drugs in being pushed by profit-driven corporations willing to kill as many trees as it takes to be in the black. In the meantime, heavily armed pot growers are destroying the environment well enough on their own.

So sayest MoJo:

Although the original Northern California growers saw pot cultivation as an extension of their hippie lifestyles, their environmental values haven’t readily carried over to the next generation. “They are given a free pass to become wealthy at a young age, to get what they want,” Silvaggio explains. “And do you think they are going to give it up when they turn 20, with a kid in the box? They can’t get off that gravy train.” But with prices dropping as domestic supply expands, “you can’t go smaller; you’ve got to go bigger these days to make the amount of money you used to make. So what does that mean? You have to get another generator. You have to take more water. You’ve got to spray something because you may lose 20, 30 grand if you don’t.”

The Sadness of Sweetness

If the history of workers’ rights was an object then it would be a seesaw tipping between capital and labour. Sometimes capital has the upper hand, sometimes labour does. Well, labour is never dominant but sometimes it doesn’t entirely suck to be a worker.

The seesaw of workers’ rights occurred to me as I was watching The Devil is a Part-Timer, which is an anime about Satan being kicked out of his kingdom and exiled to modern Japan, where to survive he has to work part-time at McDonald’s.

Demon Lord of McDonald's

The series is hilarious. Watching the Adversary coming home exhausted to his shithole apartment panicking about how he’s going to pay for his new refrigerator is comedy gold. A lot of the stories are in that vein: The Devil gets promoted to shift manager. The Devil goes on a date with a co-worker. The Devil gets scammed by a door to door salesman.

The series is funny, but I couldn’t help feeling put off by the implicit normalization of living on the economic precipice. Lots of people live pay cheque to pay cheque and it’s probably not funny from their point of view. There are moments recognizing that precariousness in the series, such as the utter loneliness one of the otherworldly refugees suffers from or the way something as simple as free noodles is an incredible gift to the working poor characters.

I’m reminded of Welcome to the NHK, which is about what one possible reaction to the modern world: complete and almost total withdrawal. On the one hand, what does retreat do in improving one’s lot? On the other hand, what does struggling do in improving one’s lot as well? Because The Devil sure works his butt off in The Devil is a Part-Timer but he still isn’t even a full-time worker yet. And goodness knows those poor Kentuckians trying to make a living just seem to be digging themselves in deeper. The article is a decade old, but The Onion hit the target dead-on: “Report: Poor People Pretty Much Fucked”.

Is this the new normal, then? Is this life what Thatcher meant when she said There Is No Alternative? Because it seems that in this brave new world even our fantasies participate in our own subjugation.

I don’t mean to criticize the anime for not offering a solution. Comedy can be a site of political awareness, but by its very nature it can never be a site of struggle. It’s always too easy to say that it’s all just a joke. But comedy and art in general can still be a mirror to the society it depicts, and for The Devil is a Part-Timer, that society is trying hard to laugh at its own misery.

The Hipster Backlash

Lots of people still don’t know this but apparently we’re supposed to hate hipsters now (see the Wikipedia link for its fumbling vagueness in trying to define an amorphous subculture). To see the backlash, witness McSweeney’s Hipster Logic Problems:

  • Train A leaves from a platform that you probably never heard of traveling at 60 mph. Train B leaves one hour later from the same platform going 85 mph. How long will it take train B to catch up with train A, and which is going to an M83 concert?
  • Theodore heard of Youth Lagoon before Max. Max heard of them after Cindy, but Cindy heard of them before Don. Who’s the bigger asshole?

The thing is, McSweeney’s is exactly the kind of website that hipsters frequent. In fact, I will bet actual money that the author of the piece would be labelled a hipster by most people who met him. The missing analytical tool, of course, is class, in that a hipster is invariably a middle class consumer with disposable income and/or university education, the better to buy the vintage t-shirts and recognize the literary allusions found in independent cinema so beloved by hipsters (which is not to say that every single hipster loves these things).

It’s fascinating how the hipster locates identity firmly in consumption. A hipster is not a hipster without also consuming in certain ways (clothes, movies, music, what-have-you). Hipsters are still not as bad off as, say, Japanese otaku, who, as Marxy says, “use consumerism as a therapeutic solution to their psychological and social problems”, which is to say that to be otaku is to consume otaku products, else one would not be otaku and would therefore have mainstream tastes and social skills and not need to fill a hole in one’s life with consumer goods targeted directly at oneself.

However, and unlike the otaku, part of the hipster identity also seems to be located in an obsession with authenticity. Outmoded technology and little-known media are admired as not just pure expressions of creativity; instead, the very act of selecting these products are also seen as expressions of the hipster’s own pure being. “Only the authentic can recognize authenticity” is the unspoken and unacknowledged motto behind hipster consumption. The second part of that motto is of course “Only the authentic can consume authentic products”, which is to say that “Only the authentic can buy authenticity”.

But one might ask, then, what is all this in aid of? What is authenticity for? Which question can only be answered with a syllogism: Authenticity is for being authentic.

To remove the answer from being useless, one might also say that the search for authenticity is the point and not capturing the authentic itself (for, like a rainbow, one cannot stuff it in one’s pockets). Clearly the rampant and relentless message of consumption that surrounds us all in a capitalist society has created strange pockets of, well, not counter-consumption, since there is no such thing, but rather alterna-consumption, or a different way of consuming in a capitalist society which still reaffirms the pre-existing capitalist order.

I do wish I had more time to tease out more analytical insights and further develop these ideas but I ain’t in grad school no more, I can’t be arsed to write more.

The hidden price of cheap online dildos

I just read this eye opening piece from Mother Jones about the inhuman working conditions to be found at the logistics firms that run the warehouses which ship the online gewgaws that we swim in. It’s shocking to find out about the hidden costs of being able to order cheap dildos on the Internet.

The annoying thing is that I really shouldn’t have been so surprised. I’ve written about Taylorism and scientific management – I defined it as “a discredited management philosophy organized around getting the most productivity out of workers and damn their health and comfort” – and I know perfectly well about the dire labour conditions to be found in states with right-to-work laws, which severely curtail the power of unions, and I also know about the demand towards timeliness with Just in Time shipping which has companies do their level best to turn their workers into unfeeling cogs who don’t pee or get sick.

I knew all that and yet I didn’t connect those things to the free shipping that Amazon and almost every other large online retailer provides and the guarantees towards getting items fast which are always shouted out in giant letters on a company’s website. Really, though, I’ll pay for the damn shipping and even wait an extra couple of days if it means workers won’t get fired for attending the birth of one of their kids.

Still, the article is about American third-party logistics firms so I wonder if I can still order stuff online in Canada with a clear conscience. I know at least three things different between Ontario and this unnamed state west of the Mississippi:

  1. Minimum wage is $10.25 an hour, well above the $7.25 those poor slobs were getting;
  2. Mandatory overtime is illegal;
  3. All residents would be on the provincial health plan.

Just to be safe, though, I think from now on I’m going to buy stuff in person whenever I absolutely can. All those trucks driving around delivering stuff can’t be good for the environment, anyway.