Welcome to the Moment of Truth: the thirst that is the drink.
My mom always said that one day I’d wake up fat. I don’t know why she said that, but she was right. What she didn’t say was that the forces of history would be responsible for my enfattening. I’m writing this on Fat Tuesday, known in Acadian French as “Mardi Gras.” This year my birthday came one day before Mardi Gras. I’ve been told I can celebrate my birthday all month, which would make this month, unofficially, Fat History Month.
At the dawn of Fat History stands the Venus of Willendorf. At the end lies Rush Limbaugh, dead of lung cancer. If we saw Fat History as a straight-line journey from Venus to Rush, things would look pretty bleak. Luckily we have many branchings of the paths, tangents and co- tangents, wendings and wigglings, complexities and convolutions, as we’ve come to the fractal array of fatnesses today.
In the past we had the proud obesity of prosperity. Today we have the shameful obesity of poverty. Such a contrast of fatness and what it signifies belies the rich buttery goodness of the truth. Nothing is ever as simple as it seems. Lizzo is a hot, shiny, body-positive rapping flutist, not flautist, while the comparatively slim, clownish Tracy Morgan suffers from diabetes. Fat and slim evoke reactions based on the mores of the moment. It’s amazing how short-term such judgments are, and how little time it takes for the advertising wing of the food establishment to steer collective values toward what they need us to desire.
We are a fickle hivemind, a hivemind easily led by the nose.
The slender young woman has been a sexy, lighthearted flapper or a waifish hippie chick, both of them out for good time; an anorexic or bulimic victim of her own neuroses; a drug addict, a slave with no will to resist; a poised, dangerously seductive model who’s also a spy, or a gullible, soft- hearted film star sucked in by seditious rhetoric and finally caught in a secret policeman’s trap.
But buried deep under layers of adipose tissue is where the golden woman resides – the matriarch. Mama Cass was everyone’s mother, nobody’s lover. Rotundity stabilizes a woman. It gives her a center of gravity. It makes her practical. While the wind might blow away the willowy waif, the large woman will anchor her house firmly to the ground during the hundred- mile-an-hour winds of a hurricane.
But her obesity is also a sign of weakness, as it is with men. The fat man, though, has no stabilizing virtue. His lot is the pratfall, gullibility, the career ruined by orgies indulging the desires he ought not dared acknowledge. Fat men transgress if they aim too high. The fat woman never finds herself ruined because she never achieves success in the first place. She’s too practical to nurture ambition, and too unseductive to sleep her way to the top.
Fat men can be sultans, but never emperors. Was Nero fat? Seems like he was. But, generally, emperors rule with strength; sultans enjoy women, silks, figs, jewelry, and rule by merely displaying their wealth. Fat rulers are ostentatious and foolish, slender rulers are conquerors.
Queen Victoria was fat. If it weren’t for her reputation for priggishness and eschewing of pleasure, she might’ve been a figure of ridicule. Maybe she was anyway. Maybe she looked down on frivolity because she was never invited to partake in it.
Meanwhile, First Peoples of the Tundra are always happy, delighted by their children, in harmony with their inner worlds as with the outer.
In Hawaii, I’m told, big fat people let it all hang out. They’re all over the beaches, looking cheerful and unashamed.
How would history have been different if a chaste, dour, elephantine queen of England and a generously proportioned queen of the Islands had been lovers? Western women with wealth who are fat are pitiable, if proud. Island women who are fat are giving, smiling, bearers of mangoes.
Tarzan is lord of the jungle. He’s what they call a well-proportioned man. But who is his lady? Not Jane, she’s married to the lord of Greystoke Manor. The lady of the jungle must be the fat lady, laden with flowers, gathering fruits, friend to the exotic birds: the hornbill, the toucan, the lorikeet, the lyrebird. She grinds the flour, prepares the psychedelic roots for the shamanic ceremony. Where her physical body is burdened with too much girth to pass, she can travel with ease as formless energy.
The guru cannot be fat, though many are. Sai Baba was a bony, austere man in a drab dhoti, a white scarf wrapped around his head, living in a stone cell, eating nothing but air. He opened his mouth once and produced a glowing green, jeweled egg bigger than his head. He was a real man of the higher realm.
By contrast, the fat, grinning, afro-headed, colorfully-robed-and-beaded Satya Sai Baba, – ironically named, as Satya means “true,” and he was clearly the false one of the two – lived richly on the gross plane of existence. Eggs went into his mouth but never came out.
One gives alms to the emaciated beggar. A fat beggar will have to wait till he drops the poundage.
One of Donald Dump’s signature features is his obesity. The fatter he looked, the more disgusted we were, even though what was truly disgusting were his mind and soul, his words and commands, his lawsuits, excuses, denials, accusations, bullying, grifting, embezzling, bragging, insecurity, empty bluster. He was the opposite of a fat woman. A fat woman would never have been elected president. Nor a thin woman or a middlin’ woman, apparently. Fat presidents get stuck in their bathtubs. Or they clearly wear diapers while golfing.
Trump didn’t need to be fat. We could’ve hated him just as much if he hadn’t been. It’s just another line he crossed, just for the hell of it. Bill Clinton was fat for a while, I’ll remind you. But we chalked that up to his appetite for everything: sex, liquor, food, power. Somehow this joie de vivre never applied to Trump. He never seemed to enjoy anything. So it was really our disgust for him that made his obesity objectionable, not the other way around. He couldn’t pull off fatness, he made it look moribund, the way he couldn’t wear a suit to save his life, nor any other clothes, nor none. He was in no wise materially centered, and we never allowed him to be. And, yet, still, he lives. Maybe he isn’t done disgusting us yet, but neither are we finished tormenting his flesh.
Hugo Chavez was no slim-jim. But he was raised on manioc and other starches. He earned his fat during in his oppressed upbringing. Maybe Idi Amin did, too, but his girth was intimidating. His joie de vivre had driven him syphilitically mad.
Fat bikers are the most serious of fat men. They ride hogs.
There’s mad fat, and there’s sane fat; there’s earned fat, and there’s lazily-accumulated fat. There’s happy fat, there’s sad fat; there’s practical fat, there’s frivolous fat. There’s responsible fat and irresponsible fat. There’s tough, bitter fat, and sweet, ticklish fat.
Try to remember, during Fat History Month, that we each contain the entire spectrum of fat. If you are human, you are part fat, even if you think you’re 100% muscle. Remember that a woman must be fat before she’s a mother. We all descend from the Venus of Willendorf, that globe of origin. You can fear fat. You can shun fat. But I’d advise you to embrace fat. Fat is in you. When will Fat History Month be over? Maybe never. It bursts its limits. It ain’t over till the Venus sings.
This has been the Moment of Truth. Good day!
Welcome the Moment of Truth, the thirst that is the drink.
In the summer of 2005, a team of 4 US Navy SEALs dropped into Afghanistan’s Hindu Kush, on a mission to capture a supposedly high-level Taliban leader. Only one SEAL survived. He was later played by Mark Wahlberg, a former white rapper and underwear model, in the movie, Lone Survivor .
In the book on which the movie was based, Marky and his fellow pinnipeds were ambushed by between 35 and 50 Taliban. Reconnaissance experts and those with access to intelligence on Taliban activity in the area that day say it couldn’t have been more than 8 or 10, and probably fewer. The man they were hunting, contrary to the contention of Marky Mark’s real-life counterpart, was no big-shot pal of Osama Bin Laden. He was the leader of a small Taliban- adjacent militia who had no link to US casualties.
And so, this very expensive mission that cost the lives of 3 of Marky’s comrades, along with a Special Operations Chinook helicopter and the lives of sixteen elite soldiers inside it who’d come to aid the original SEAL team, was a mission based on lies. Nineteen super-soldiers were killed while performing an operation amounting to a totally bullshit job, and the helicopter was shot down. The little militia that could have but didn’t, recovered three M4 Carbines with grenade launchers, a field laptop whose undamaged hard drive contained locations of possible targets, gear for night vision, and a sniper scope, which gave the US military a chance to order replacements, including a new tandem rotor heavy-lift military vehicle from Boeing Defense, Space & Security.
A side note: April 20 of last year, in the quarter following the start of the pandemic lockdown, the defense side of Boeing did better financially than its civilian side. The last time this happened was in 2008, after the world economy collapsed, proving that if you’re looking for a recession- proof investment, the mass murder industry is where it’s at.
But back to the summer of 2005: Marky was crawling, injured, to an uncertain survival down a cliff-face, when he was found by a Pashtun villager named Muhammad Gulab Khan. Gulab Khan then acted according to the code of hospitality called the Pashtunwali. The entire population of Afghanistan, whether Pashtun or not, follows the Pashtunwali code. When the US government demanded the Taliban turn over Osama Bin Laden to them, the Taliban were following Pashtunwali by defying that demand. It was because of Pashtunwali that the USA chose to attack Afghanistan as punishment for the massacre at the World Trade Center. They blew the living bodies of civilian Afghanis to pieces, hundreds of thousands of them, and tortured some, and ruined the lives of some. In the years before 9-11, the human rights outcry from the women of Afghanistan, even after viral videos of public executions, couldn’t bring about the help of the US military, but the hospitality code of antique herding peoples could bring down the vengeance of an imperialistic state shocked by the blowback from its own covert machinations.
But that gift to the mass murder industry wasn’t enough. Dick Cheney and his blood-brothers in the Project for a New American Century were insatiable. So they invented a reason to do the same to Iraq, creating endless acres of bullshit jobs.
Whatever scenario you can think of, whatever story you’re told of a terrifying firefight and the courage and heroics that snatched warriors from the jaws of death at the last moment – it all takes place on a stage set by lies, poor judgment, callous greed, and craving for power.
The dictates of the Pashtunwali led Gulab Khan to bring Marky to his village. In the movie the villagers engage in a splashtastic firefight against the Taliban militia, who want to take Marky prisoner. In reality, no such fight ever occurred. The supposed bigshot of the militia had too few men. He came to the village and demanded that the US flippered marine mammal be given over to him, but the villagers, all sworn to Pashtunwali, outnumbered the militia, who backed down in the face of an ancient hospitality tradition and skedaddled back to their little outpost.
In that story, hospitality turned away wrath. In the days after 9-11, hospitality brought down wrath.
On the one hand, you have lies, poor judgment, callous greed, conscious or unconscious racism, and craving for power. On the other hand you have a dictate that predates the Old Testament to extend comfort and protection to a stranger in need of aid.
It’s uncertain the human species can survive the current war between these two impulses. But, it’s not entirely clear that they are mutually exclusive impulses. They do both exist in the same species, after all.
To illustrate the ambiguity, here is a bright spot along the squall line between the hospitality and anti-hospitality movements. I speak, of course, of the principle of hospitaliano. Hospitaliano walks that frightening line between unlimited tolerance, with unlimited pasta, and limits on tolerance and pasta. In sum, hospitaliano limits a tolerant society’s tolerance for intolerance.
In 1935, Joseph Goebbels said, but in German, something like, “"We have declared openly that we used democratic methods only in order to gain power, and that, after assuming power, we would deny them to our adversaries."
Goebbels was admitting that he’d warned the Republic: “If you, with your democracy and press freedoms and freedom of travel, allow us Nazis to use these tools of tolerance to gain power, we will then deny these tools of tolerance to any but ourselves.”
There’s a cartoon going around called, “The Paradox of Tolerance,” which has gotten the panties of a few Karl Popper scholars all in a twist. It basically says, “If you’re a tolerant society, and you want to stay that way, you must not be tolerant to the intolerant.” It’s not really a paradox unless you take the terms to their extremes. It’s actually a way out of an apparent paradox.
But we don’t need Karl Popper or a philosophically inaccurate cartoon to find our way out of that paradox, because we have something simpler. The above-mentioned principle of hospitaliano.
I quote now from a well-documented hoax of the last few days:
“It has come to our attention that a few of our guests have taken part in a vicious attack on our nation's Capitol. We have worked with the FBI and the Holiday Inn in Washington D.C. to identify several guests who both frequented our restaurants and participated in the violent uprising against our government this week.
“In response, Olive Garden has revoked our Never-ending Pasta Pass from Sean Hannity.
“Olive Garden is dedicated to creating a safe and delightful environment for our guests with what we call Hospitaliano. This year has been difficult for so many of us, and we cannot wait to see your family smiling in our restaurants once again. Until that time, your favorite dishes from Olive Garden are available to order online for both pickup and delivery.”
And until next time, this has been the Moment of Truth. Buongiorno!
Welcome to the Moment of Truth: the thirst that is also, paradoxically, the drink.
On the one hand, you have the ancient traditions of hospitality. You are obligated, by universally agreed-upon human law, to invite a stranger into your tent and feed them. Allow them to rest. If they require it, to spend the night, maybe two, maybe more. After all, the desert can be a dangerous place. Those struggling through the unwelcoming wasteland must be offered respite, and you must give it to them in whatever measure you have the means to provide. They might be angels, so you should offer your virgin offspring to them, so they’ll remember to spare you when it’s time for fire and brimstone.
On the other hand, you have Greeks dumping refugees they view as a potentially unendurable burden into the Mediterranean to bob until they die of exposure or drowning or shark attack. The party Greeks had voted in to extricate their country from the crushing European Union debt turned out in the end not to be up to the task, hence the continued imposition of austerity, hence the feeling of poverty imposed from above, hence the fear of strangers and their needs. Poverty imposed from above always seems to be a good reason for those below to attack anyone perceived as being even lower than them.
You have the Beverly Hillbillies saying, y’all come back now, ya hear? And you have Oscar the Grouch, telling you to get away from his trash can.
The South African Nobel Prize-winning writer, J.M. Coetzee, published a novel about 40 years ago called, Waiting for the Barbarians. He’s written many books since then, and this one is probably not his best. But it may be his most famous, and easiest to read, because stylistically it resembles the outline of a Camus novel, although with an even more allegorical feel. I read his The Life and Times of Michael K, which was published three years later, and then Age of Iron when it came out in 1990. I appreciated those more than Barbarians.
He’s an excellent writer, J.M. Coetzee. The Booker Prize he also won. They don’t give them Nobels and Bookers to no slouches. Politically, he was against apartheid, though never committed to the left in an organizational sense. The perspectives it’s possible to glean from his work are complicated and humanistically moral, and even somewhat universalist. After apartheid he might’ve been called a centrist, if labeling him were ever necessary. He conveys an oddly depressing yet worthwhile flavor of the human experience, which is about the best thing I find myself able to commit to saying about him.
Waiting for the Barbarians takes place in a colonial outpost of the Empire. What outpost, where, when, and of what empire, isn’t specified. But it’s a non-western colony of a European-seeming empire. A far-flung colony. Sometime in the 17th to the mid-18th century.
I recently noticed they’d made a film of it. It came out in 2019, the year before the year that wouldn’t end. Coetzee himself wrote the screenplay, and, for a novelist, he did a damn good job. The big stars are Mark Rylance, who’s so hot right now. And Robert Pattinson, who’s so hot right now. And Johnny Depp. Who... well... he turns in a sober performance, looking severe and speaking with gravity and wearing an early version of stylish sunglasses.
Design-wise, wardrobe-wise, and casting-wise, I was curious how they were going to maintain the lack of specificity of setting. I’ll tell you this: there were no black people in the cast. The colonizers were white, and everyone else looked to run the ethnic spectrum, in dress and phenotype, from Afghani, to Pakistani, to Nepali, to Mongolian.
The story is a kind of parable. Mark Rylance is the Magistrate. He’s a nice ruler of his outpost. He tries to be kind by stopping his soldiers from treating the natives roughly or unjustly. He tries to adjudicate disagreements between natives fairly. He can’t read or speak the language, but he collects old native writings. They are in a script that predates the current native alphabet. I think. He stores them lovingly in cases in his library of documents.
The friendly outpost, the purpose of which is unclear, is paid a visit by Johnny Depp in his glasses. He’s an officious, taciturn officer of the police, Colonel Joll, who is anything but jolly.
Johnny Depp is sure the natives, whom he refers to as barbarians, are up to no good. Soon enough he captures a couple of them, tortures one to death, and tortures a confession out of the other one, a confession that the barbarians beyond the outpost are indeed up to no good.
Despite Rylance’s instance that the barbarians are just peaceful herdsfolk minding their own business, Depp takes it upon himself to capture more of them, torture and imprison them, until at last he’s created the very conflict he’d been predicting. He leaves for the Empire’s capital and returns with enough troops to achieve the battling and conquering his invented project requires. Meanwhile, Rylance is fumblingly trying to navigate an aimless relationship of pity and exotic fascination with a barbarian former prisoner.
Eventually, Robert Pattinson shows up to bully and humiliate Rylance. During trials and tortures, Rylance’s ineffectual humanism is shown up for the weakness and self-absorption that it is, while the natives he once extended awkward kindness toward have been twisted by Pattinson’s troops into a petty, cowardly, cruel rabble.
As a parable of imperialism and colonialism, it paints a template-like picture that can be imposed on many situations, such as the French and US involvement in Indochina; the British and Portuguese in India; the English, Dutch, and assorted white trash in Africa.
The aspect I felt myself focusing on most keenly wasn’t the complex ambiguity of Rylance, nor the methodical malice of Depp, nor the impatient cruelty of Pattinson. It was the self-fulfilling prophecy of “trouble with the natives.” It made me think about how many of the conflicts the US has been involved in that were either repercussions from earlier colonial crimes or invented or purposely stirred-up antagonisms.
And that led me to reflect on David Graeber, who passed away last year, and his concept of “bullshit jobs,” jobs that accomplish nothing practical but keeping the economy in apparent motion. And, of course this isn’t an original thought of mine, but it really sank in how much of a bullshit job being a soldier is. Even a general.
Some kind of realist takes it upon himself to “know” that a conflict with some other population is inevitable, and makes sure that inevitability comes to pass. This creates numerous jobs in the destruction industry, which is all war is. The shock doctrine is that disasters must be seized upon and capitalized on, and war is simply the creation of disaster. And everyone involved in that project is doing nothing more than destroying people, animals, the environment, structures artificial, natural, material, and conceptual. All that destruction requires destruction engines, weapons. So the making of weapons is part of the bullshit destruction industry, as is the use of weapons. And, naturally, after the destruction comes the rebuilding. But in our circle of BS, building is only done to create that which is to be destroyed at a later date.
I don’t know if this is still true, but on the back of some baking soda boxes were diagrams of the many uses of baking soda: one is to put it in the fridge to absorb food odors that wander around, invading the peaceful Tupperware; another is to brush your teeth with it; and still another use is to pour the entire box down the toilet. “Buy our product, flush the entire thing down the toilet, and buy more.” It’s a capitalist’s dream. A capitalist’s wet dream. And that’s our economic system, built around war. Make it, box it, sell it, buy it, flush it, and start all over again.
But, to paraphrase Margaret Thatcher, “The problem with capitalism is that eventually you run out of world to destroy.” There aren’t the vast number of fresh countries around to pull that imperialistic self-fulfilling destruction prophecy on anymore. Luckily, there’s always a way to stir up anger among one oppressed group to get them to do bullshit destruction on another, either migrating in as refugees or already within as minorities. It’s a very popular phase, nationalistic, xenophobic, astro-turf populism. It’s so hot right now. It’s even better than regular war, because you don’t have to pay the soldiers, they do their destruction for free! A nationalist movement is like and army of unpaid war internships. The troops even pay for their own uniforms and weapons with their own money! You can even sell them hats!
On the other hand, there’s hospitality. It’s the opposite of war and xenophobic violence. But that will have to wait till next week.
Till then this has been the Moment of Truth. Good day!
Welcome to the year-end Moment of Truth: the thirst that is the drink.
Caveat Ω: The following is satire, or, at worst, a joke. It is neither an earnest account, nor a call to action, nor should it be taken as an excuse for any authorities or their paramilitary proxies to molest or prosecute the writer and/or his, her, or their confederates.
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Can the dead return to life? I know this is more of an Easter question than a Christmas question, but I have to ask because I plan on killing numerous people during and/or slightly prior to the upcoming Revolution, or war for independence from capitalism, and I want to be sure they can’t seek me out from some vantage point in the world of the dead – a mountaintop, or a ziggurat, perhaps – and thus locate me here in the living world, pierce the numinous veil, inhabit some corporeal structure of flesh, bone, and tendon, and do me an injury in payback. It really would spoil my plans, or at least disrupt them terribly.
My plan – and this is just between us – is to commit a few well-chosen assassinations first, either in the first few weeks of the war, or in the weeks leading up to it. This latter option is more difficult to plan for, but if everything we did in following our bliss were easy, it wouldn’t be bliss, would it?
And this particular segment of the plan is not such a worry. No one’s ever gone wrong committing an assassination. I mean, there are the celebrated disasters we’re familiar with from the lurid press – the Kennedys, Lincoln, Caesar, McKinley, King, John Lennon, Archduke Franz Ferdinand and such – but those are the sensational, tentpole assassinations, the splashy affairs.
Your run-of-the-mill assassination is just too run-of-the-mill for the tabloids (and they’re all tabloids these days) to bother with. The Russians, USA, and Israelis get away with them all the time. Israel just did one in Iran a couple weeks ago; Putin just denied an attempted one ten hours ago, and no one even got their hair mussed in consequence. I can hardly imagine anyone but an aggrieved bureaucrat even giving their desk so much as an angry fist-pound. And I think I can muster enough proof of Jewishness to qualify for Israeli citizenship – it used to be automatic for any Jew, but that country club has become restricted in recent years. I would say that’s ironic, but irony is dead, and who assassinated it a mystery. No one doubts Israel had a hand in that operation, though.
Should Israel fail to step up, there are ample alternative options for acquiring the necessary skills. I’m not worried about that part of the plan. They’re even discussing the possibility of the federal government paying to train people for the high-tech jobs of the future, and if assassin isn’t going to be a high-tech, high-status, high-paying career in the years ahead, well, we can pretty much kiss advancement and progress goodbye, along with the American Dream and Lady Liberty herself.
I’m not just waiting around for someone to give me an education, either. I’ve done some auto- didactivity. I once read an article in Soldier of Fortune magazine about how to take out a sentry. The trick to assassination is you have to sneak up from behind. If you can conduct your entire war that way, you’re sure to win. That’s probably the first lesson in The Art of War: “sneak up from behind.” I wouldn’t know. I’d like to pursue war as a science rather than an art. Even more than that, I’d like to pursue it as a sweet science, like boxing, but if the opponent were facing the other way. Wouldn’t that be sweet?
After the strategic assassinations, leaving the enemy leaderless and bewildered, the war proper can begin. That’s assuming the victims of assassination don’t come back to life to get revenge. It’s unlikely the undead would be the speedy zombies of 28 Days Later, and the later Living Dead movies, beginning with Day of the Dead and those that followed. More likely they’d be the lumbering zombies of the first couple of the “Of the Dead” movies, Night and Dawn.
As you can tell, I’ve done quite a lot of research on the dead coming back. Vampires are rough customers, but they have their limitations. The sparkly vampires from the teenage Twilight franchise won’t be a problem. They’re very emotional. But unless you kidnap their girlfriends they pretty much leave you alone. The Frankenstein creature is a one-off, a patched-together jalopy of several lifeless masses, and probably wandering in the Arctic if he’s even alive anymore.
Of more realistic concern are the New Testament undead. In my studies I’ve read The Last Temptation of Christ by Nikos Kazantzakis, and there, to my relief, the report about Lazarus is encouraging. Lazarus was pretty apathetic after being brought back to life by Jesus. He didn’t seem to have much get-up-and-go to speak of. He wandered around in a pouty, taciturn daze like a resentful, hungover passive-aggressive awakened too early. I think we can handle such a person.
The scary one is Jesus. That’s who you gotta watch out for. That Jesus is one to keep a wary eye on. When he came back from the dead, first thing he did was start rolling boulders around. By all accounts he had the strength of ten vampires. If he hadn’t ascended to a heavenly throne he’d have been a formidable foe, although, as I say, being snuck up on from behind is a difficult move to counter. The avenging host from the Revelation of John the Divine presents Jesus as an insurmountable obstacle, but that whole production, flaming swords, etc, has been predicted over and over and always fails to materialize. And even so, we can still try sneaking up from behind. It seems the strongest move, and I don’t know why generals in the past haven’t relied on it more.
Once the war starts in earnest, well, I can’t reveal all the strategies we’ll be putting into action, but if you wanted to practice sneaking up from behind, I wouldn’t discourage you. I predict we’ll be doing a lot of sneaking up from behind. By the way, Napoleon was an idiot. “Hey, Wellington, meet me at Waterloo, we’ll be facing you, marching right toward you. I’ll be the one with his hand crammed his shirt between the buttons just above my fly, scratching my belly like a dumbass.”
I’ve been taking notes while watching the series, The Good Lord Bird, the story of John Brown, starring Ethan Hawke, who despite his last name does not play the bird. That John Brown knew the value of a sneak attack, even if he didn’t always pull it off. I wouldn’t be surprised if Ho Chi Minh hadn’t swiped a few of his moves back at Dien Bien Phu.
It is my sincere wish for all of us this holiday season that we crush our enemies in the coming year. May we be victorious, may our dead enemies stay that way, may our resolved arguments never be reawakened by returning fads, and may we distribute power and the bounty of the world justly, equally, generously, and righteously among all the beings of the Earth, and may our reconstruction this time be successful, sustainable, renewable, jubilant, and squeaky clean.
Have a blessed revolution, everyone. Ho ho Ho Chi Minh. This has been the Moment of Truth. God Jul!
Welcome to the Moment of Truth: the thirst that is the drink.
Irrational capitalism. There are those of us who complain that capitalism and its corporate and financial pillars only consider, or consider way too much, short term gain over long term effects. I held this belief for a long time myself. But that would be too simple for capitalism. Capitalism is cunning. It’s suspicious and watchful. It has principles now, principles perhaps it always had, but now it’s adhering to them, as they say, “bigtime.”
It’s not necessarily that capitalism leads its misbehaving leaders to seek something other than their own advantage, it’s that financial profit isn’t the only profit to their advantage.
Yes, if they could have peered into the future, they’d have seen that raping the Earth would eventually render their raw materials more expensive. Yes, they’d have seen that impoverishing as many of the public as they could push around would cripple the very consumption that drove the economy. They’d have seen that gaming for short-term future payoffs in a numerical gambling universe rather than long term sustainable development in the real world would lead to bubbles of imaginary accumulation that would explode, over and over, causing ever more volatile booms and busts. They would have seen that jockeying to narrow and unleash the wealth accumulating class would lead eventually to the loss of their health and heads.
But none of that would have changed their behavior. A lot of these destructive achievements required dedicated forethought and scheming, projecting well into the future. So why did they not heed projections of negative outcomes, negative even for themselves?
Beginning with the carving up of the commons in England in Shakespeare’s time (to The Bard’s advantage, I might add) and continuing through last week or so’s successful cramming of Prop 22 down California’s esophagus, corollary and coeval to the profit motive has been the fight for the sovereign right to control – control rules as well as resources human, agricultural, mineral, and otherwise. Now, you might suppose this is not separate from the profit motive, and in many cases it’s not. But it also arises from its own overriding principle.
It’s a principle of material philosophy with an invisible, therefore deniable, spiritual element. Weber wrote The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism for a good reason. It seemed to him that an epistemology of spiritual accumulation of merit had been transformed into a worldly, rational one of accumulation of wealth. My feeling is, the spiritual dimension has never been fully subsumed, sublimated, digested, or dispersed. My feeling is it’s still the divine right of kings to own everything within the boundaries of the realm. My feeling is, and my feeling is, and my feeling is, and that’s how I feel.
Because it’s all about feelings now, isn’t it? Our feet have left the ground. The reality-based view of events has been ignited and sent off into the fjord for an honorable Viking burial. It’s ironic that those who’ve told everyone but themselves to eff their feelings, our feelings are not their problems, have completely surrendered logic, evidence, rational discussion, and reality for whatever their demagogues tell them, because they feel it’s true. This abdication of reason and inquiry has reduced the worldview of a horrifically large portion of our fellow citizens to a comedy routine.
“Yes, if someone was defying subpoenas and court orders and blocking witnesses, it would show he has something to hide.” “But Trump’s defying subpoenas and court orders and blocking witnesses.” “Oh, well, then he must have a good reason.”
Since the partitioning of the commons, up to today, the principle has been to wrestle common resources, those available to anyone regardless of wealth or status, away from the public. Privatization has been the driving force of capitalism since it first began to recognize itself as an attitude. Somebody has got to own it. Preferably me, says one capitalist, but at least somebody, say all of them.
They’ve tried at every turn to take from the people their land, their labor, their bodies, their rights – this is the method, and the principle is to maintain a distance away from and above reasonable fairness. It’s the divine right to get away with crime. It’s the divine right to buy your way out of trouble, the divine right to avoid accountability and ignore the authority of another’s rights not to be screwed over. To “show ‘em who’s boss.” It’s the right to win, to kill, to deprive, to amass surpluses that would stagger the Inca, the Pharaoh, the Queen of Sheba, and the Emperor of Rome.
Much money has been parted with to prevent unions from forming, not because of the money it would save, but to prevent the workers getting a foothold from which they might eventually, sometime down the road, climb to a more commanding position. Oil pipelines are routed through tribal lands, not because it’s the most efficient route, not even because the oil itself is so profitable. It’s to show the indigenous people that their claims mean nothing. The capitalist retains the right to spit in our faces and tell us it’s raining.
The people have made it their business in the West over the last three or four centuries to shape government into a tool for helping their communities with material and organizational support to carry on everyday existence. You’ll notice that the parts of the government astroturf tax protest movements focus on destroying are the ones that provide money and services to the general public. So much about being a decent person is offensive, puny, trivial, or laughable according to the religion of capitalism. It is blasphemy to speak of the rights of the public. It’s blasphemy to claim any being’s right to anything unless someone richer and higher than them acknowledges that right. The winning capitalist has the right. It’s the right to order killing and the right to profit from death. It’s the right to judge, to decide, and to crush another’s dreams. That is the religious principle now.
Milton Friedman wasn’t an economist, he was an acolyte, a priest, and eventually a prophet. His prescriptions for economy rely, without stating it plainly, on the defeat of unions and other communitarian movements and on the gutting of whatever power they might have acquired between the time of the New Deal and whenever the capitalist thinker is thinking.
Any talk or action that crosses the boundaries of the spiritual realm of capitalism must be dealt with, with whatever cruelty is required to make the point. Who cares if solar power is dirt cheap now? We’re not going to abandon fossil fuels just to save money, it’s the principle of the thing. Who cares if those doing the real work of caring for the outrageous number of plague victims during a pandemic are themselves falling ill, government is not the answer, because the principle we’re defending is exactly that: government is not the answer. Who cares if it would be more efficient to do away with the private medical insurance structure, it’s an institution! An institutional monument to an ideal, the ideal of privatization at all cost.
This is why it’s so easy to imagine Biden’s accession to power having little to no effect on the public state of well-being. The real solutions are all forbidden by the national religion, a spiritual illness that’s spread throughout the world, though nowhere is it nearly as virulent as it is right here in capitalism’s Holy Land. Biden won’t solve the problems of record poverty, hunger, disease, and homelessness, because the amount of money he’d have to channel away from the overseers of possibility is so great it’s almost forbidden for him to entertain the inkling. So of course the people will rise up. And when the police come to put down the unrest with their religiously sanctioned violence, it will again be blasphemy for Biden to consider, for the wispiest sliver of a moment, that the police ought to serve the people, not beat them back into servile submission.
There are those who say the market can be enticed by profit to do the right thing. My cousin, who’s the kind of mad genius I once hoped to be, has floated a proposal. Who is he to float a proposal? He’s a mad and joyous genius who is teaching various subjects on the Micronesian island of Yap. He has a PhD and founded an institute, of which he is the entirety. From the Island of Yap he floated, in a press release picked up by the Associated Press wire, a proposal to entice energy companies, using the carrot of profit, away from fossil fuels toward geothermal energy, of which he’s concluded there is enough to power the world economy for millennia. And the energy companies can still frack and destroy a little bit, which they enjoy, as long as that fracturing of the Earth’s crust is done to make heat within the planet available for the generation of electricity.
He’s thinking practically. But I’m sure he’s being too idealistic. Practicality, efficiency, sustainability, gentility toward the environment – these aren’t the concerns of the energy capitalists. They take a back seat to their concern to control land and resources, to maintain that which they already control, and to achieve control over new lands and resources they don’t yet command. Profit is not the motive. It’s the power to dictate the feeling and spirit of the agenda.
I would be overjoyed to be proven wrong by events. My cousin is onto something. He’s made other dreams of his a reality, like having an institute, and it would not surprise me if this proposal found its way into the world at some level.
We say, “follow the money.” We say, “look for whose bread is being buttered.” I would like us to say, “Whose right to be above the law is being threatened?”
I’ll go out on a limb and say that, within my lifetime, the question whether or not some corporation – maybe headed by a tech hero with an admirable if not exciting life story, maybe headed by a ruthless, vain ass hat who claims rugged individualism but got his fortune from his pimp daddy – the question will arise before I leave this broken world: whether or not some corporation or other should be allowed to project their logo on the face of the moon, whatever phase it’s in, whatever largest size will fit, day and night. It’s come up before, but this time it will be immanent. And there will be a period of public debate, with the usual powers-that-be controlling the frame of the conversation, and what input gets recognized and what gets ignored. And if things remain on their current course, the people will be oh so close to winning... but they’ll lose. And the Nike swoosh or the name Trump or the Amazon erection will appear in dayglow green in the sky. And no one will like it. It will not improve brand loyalty. It will not make any more than a small circle of snickering associates happy. It will only be there to take a dump on the face of the people and rub it in. Because that is the principle of the thing.
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Let’s say there’s a holocaust. No, not a nuclear one, nothing as fancy as all that. A regular selectively genocidal one. And let’s say you’re one of the select genus upon which the laws of genocide are brought to bear. And let’s say you survive past the end of the genocide.
If I gather to memory all I’ve read of the narratives of survivors and what they tell me about what it’s like, one thing I’ve learned is about survivor’s guilt. It’s like the ghosts of everyone you loved, and anyone at all, who died in the genocide, haunting you. The author Primo Levi struggled with it all his post-Auschwitz life. He finally succumbed in 1987, committing suicide, although that interpretation of his fatal fall in a stairwell is certainly debatable.
He also struggled against survivor bias: coming to selective conclusions based only on the survivors’ input, because those who didn’t survive aren’t there to chime in. It’s the feeling that you’re more than lucky. The feeling that in some way you deserve your good fortune because of some merit or virtue within you. The thesis of one of Levi’s books, “The Drowned and the Saved,” is that it was through no quality, but by pure chance, that anyone who was caught up as a victim in the genocide against various categories of humans during the second World War survived beyond the fall of the European Axis regimes. Levi was useful to the Germans because of his knowledge of chemistry, but he attributes his survival to a series of moments when he happened to be in right place at the right time.
Consciously, overtly, on the surface, Levi was willing to indulge in survivor’s guilt and determined to repudiate survivor bias.
I have an interpretation of survivor bias, which Levi himself may have arrived at in his unconscious, as he pitted bias against guilt, and goes like this: “I’m not unique, I’m a normal person, but somehow I’ve survived, whereas others haven’t. If I’m normal, it’s normal to have survived. Therefore, my survival is the norm, even as extraordinary as it might seem.”
That is, my good luck is no better than anyone else’s good luck. And, though I’m aware that there are all kinds of luck, anyone can find themselves blessed with my kind, the good kind.
That means that survival must not be as rare a result of my people’s tribulations as it seems to my guilt-ridden identity. Maybe I can forgive myself for surviving what others didn’t.
It takes a complicated mind to contain such a cosmic storm of processes as Primo Levi’s did. In the end he didn’t survive the attempts his mind made toward synthesis.
There’s something I need to tell you all at this point. The universe wants to kill you. Perhaps even more than it wanted to bring you to life. Now that you’re alive, the universe wants to maim you, erode you, and finally extinguish you, and it will have its way one day.
Every moment you find yourself alive, you have survived the universe’s many attempts to assassinate you.
Think of the universe as one all-encompassing genocidal regime. Just do it for me, indulge me. Pretend it’s trying to exterminate us all.
But the extermination game is rigged. Just like everything else humans have a hand in. No mistake, there are people collaborating with the universe to try to destroy you, hoping thereby to increase their own chances of survival. And the degree and quality of their collaboration depends on who they are as much as who you are.
To me the big question is not how people can tolerate the stress of oppression – it is incredible, but people are strong, it’s actually hard to kill them, which is why the whole universe has to put in an effort – nor how people can be so evil as to put others in that position of stress, where the universe has a better opportunity to crush them – people can be cruel and greedy and uncaring when it comes to securing their own survival, rewards, and social status.
My big question is, how can so many people who derive little to no protection from the universe’s vendetta against them, nevertheless line up to be complicit in the victimizers’ schemes? The victimizer – in my example let’s make him a “him,” and let’s make that “him” a grotesque demagogical gargoyle of vanity and self-interest, a grotesque over-inflated CHUD, a bloated bag of subcutaneous, fermenting chicken ala king – this vile victimizer gives his CHUDlings not a crumb from his table, just words to play upon their petty bigotries and fears. Why can they not see through him? Furthermore, why don’t they despise him? He thinks they’re idiots he can command at his caprice. He lies to them, makes promises he’s too incompetent to make good on, he puts his CHUDlings at risk of death from disease, yet he plays his little butt pipe and they dance to his tune.
And, no, I’m not talking about centrist Democrats and Biden. Their relationship bears a strong resemblance to King Chud and his Chudlings, but theirs is much more detached, less overtly emotional. I mean, come on, he’s Biden, how in thrall can anyone get? And, more to the point, Biden’s not currently shifting leadership around at the Pentagon in what seems like preparation for a military coup d'état.
Some of you might be saying to yourselves, or to someone else, or to your dog or cat or guinea pig, “Jeff, what can this possibly have to do with survivor’s bias? Isn’t this a simple case of Stockholm syndrome, or manipulative grievance politics? These CHUDlings see themselves as victims of elites who are forcing non-white, non-Christian, non-capitalist values down their innocent throats. How can people see themselves as both victims and survivors simultaneously?”
The answer, as you and your dog and guinea pig have probably guessed, is that each self-image is separated from the other in compartments in the same shrunken CHUDling head.
In one compartment, the CHUDlings feel under siege. They talk about themselves as victims of big government; of men disguised as women apt to assault everyone who’s in the Ladies Room legitimately; shiftless Black slackers and vandals who want everything for free and refuse to behave in a civilized manner, forcing police to kill them; owls and squirrels and frogs who want to crush the economy by protecting the environment with their feelings; little children who insist on being killed in school shootings, putting the CHUDlings’ gun rights in jeopardy, or even worse – surviving the shooting spree and speaking out about it like Bolsheviks; Latinas who mock them for wearing hoop earrings; Black people, always the Black people, making fun of the CHUDlings’ flavorless potato salad they brought to the cookout; academics who’ve made telling jokes a shunning offense; anarchists terrorizing everyone including themselves.
But in another compartment, like a guinea pig cage, separate but porous, the CHUDling, and really anyone who’s been indoctrinated into capitalism and is surviving in comfort, to some degree feels like, hey, I’m doing okay. I sure don’t want to end up as big a victim as I’m pretending to be. America is moving in that direction, but in a universe that’s constantly trying to kill me, I’m surviving just fine. And that’s because I do what’s right. I work for my place. Let the people who don’t work for their place know their place. I’ll tell them where that is, and maybe they’ll figure out that to be like me, and survive reasonably well, you have to be as good as me. And if you were as good as me, you’d be in my place, instead of envying my place.
These two views of the self, the survivor and the victim, and probably more, battle each other in the CHUDlings’ minds. The contradictions are at war. The victim and survivor are at war with each other, and it’s unclear if there will be a resolution. A war has collateral casualties. It doesn’t matter if this or that CHUDling doesn’t kidnap a governor, shoot a couple of protesters or a Black church congregation, blow up a building, kill someone he pulls over for a traffic stop, or purchase influence in this or that political party.
The collateral casualties of the war between the mental victim and the mental survivor are the people who have to live in the poverty their King CHUD’s client corporations create, the poverty the CHUDling has never given a damn about whether it was enabled under a Democrat or Republican regime. The collateral casualties are the people who die from covid-19, or in the 100- year weather events thanks to climate change denial, which CHUDlings parrot while they reject the rights of climate victims to call on their government for disaster aid. It’s the many species dying off at an accelerating rate as the CHUDlings vote for mindless industries to thwart attempts to mitigate the damage they’re causing.
And yes, you and your dog and guinea pig are correct, most of us have a survivor and a victim at war within ourselves. Those around us, and those even distantly connected to us, suffer because of it, with and without our knowledge. Any of us who is doing okay, even if we’re a little precarious, sometimes even a lot precarious, we all have something inside us that gives our fear and guilt a free pass and makes us say, “there’s no military coup being plotted against the people of the USA, that only happens in other countries. Things will always go on as normal here.”
Somewhere on the spectrum between victim identity and survivor identity, between rationalization and self-effacement, there’s a citizen of the world, who knows their worth but doesn’t see themselves as more or less worthy than anyone else, who takes responsibility and lives up to responsibility, who takes account of both the misery and the blessings of the world with clarity. I know some of these people, they’re pretty great. Sometimes I get tired of them, because they make me ashamed, not that they mean to. And sometimes I’m a little bit like them, and then I get ashamed of how much I secrely congratulate myself.
Short version: we get comfortable with the fact we exist, and the quality of our existence, while those who no longer exist, or exist in far worse conditions, seem like aberrations, although we can see they vastly outnumber us. As if it weren’t difficult enough to get a well-intentioned mass group of people to participate in activities that alleviate suffering, the survivor bias, even when confronted, does not easily loosen its grip.
And meanwhile, with and without the help of the rulers, the universe just keeps picking us off, no matter what we do or how unified our psyches are. One by one.
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I avoid advertisements as much as possible. I’ve avoided them like the plague, which has been good practice for the plague. I’ve missed all the commercials my friends are in because of that avoidance. When I listen to podcasts I scrub past pitches for absolutely anything. But Hulu makes you sit through the ads. I mute them, but sometimes I’m not quick enough. Thus, many’s the time I’ve heard, “At so-and-so, we believe—” Every company pulls this crap at some point, no matter how non-sensical it is. “At White Claw, we believe –” there is no “at.” You’re a beverage. And you don’t believe in anything but making money. “At Clear Blue, we believe –” What do mean, “at Clear Blue?” You’re a stick women pee on to see if they’re pregnant! You’re not a place. There’s no brick-and-mortar house of pee sticks. And what can you possibly believe? “At pee stick we believe in the pH level of urine.” You believe in selling pee sticks. You don’t have any other beliefs, because you aren’t human, regardless of what the Supreme Court has said in the past. You are an agreement to peddle pee-activated color-changing material housed in plastic for the profit of your owners and part-owners. You are a legal construction designed to be a financial instrument. That’s all you’ll ever be. Give up your stupid dreams of being a real boy, Pinocchio, it’s not going to happen.
I’ve gone off before about advertising. Commercial advertising. How it’s a waste of education dollars. Because that’s what it is, bad, poisonous education. A commercial is a 15 to 60 second lesson on acquisitiveness and shallow values. It’s school for consumers, and most of it is either outright lies, id-tapping fantasies, or dramas meant to communicate insecurity. Sometimes I’ll catch a radio ad out of the corner of my ear, and something they say, some made-up statistic, reassures me about the future, then suddenly I’ll realize what’s happened, what I’ve bought into, and out of shame at being such a gullible sucker I want to stab myself in the brain.
The amount of money spent on advertising is hard to get a grip on. There are figures that represent ad purchases, but the limits of an ad purchase are murky. Is it the money a company pays for advertising space? Is it the money a company spends paying the ad company to make the ad? Is it a combination of the two? Figures range from $214 billion to $512 billion “spent on advertising,” all the way up to the astronomical figure of $3.4 trillion dollars that “advertising contributed to the US GDP in 2014” – from a study released by a consortium of advertisers in 2015, a group determined to prove how important it was for the government not to tax advertising:
“Advertising contributed $3.4 trillion to the U.S. GDP in 2014, comprising 19 percent of the nation’s total economic output.” So, about 1/5 of our economy is tied up in this monstrous school of lies? Okay, I can live with that.
“Each dollar spent on advertising expenses generates nearly $19 of economic output that would not have otherwise existed.” How would that work? I’ve heard this idea of dollars generating other dollars before, but to me it always sounds like some kind of unholy alchemy.
“I’ll explain: In 2014, advertising accounted for $5.8 trillion in overall consumer sales, totaling 16 percent of all sales activity in the U.S., and supported 20 million, or 14 percent, of the 142 million jobs in the U.S. in 2014.” Wait, there’s only 142 million jobs in a nation of 350 million people? I know some are too old, or young, or imprisoned, or otherwise job-incompatible to work, but, like, more than half the population out of work? Okay, maybe. But I think we’re short a few jobs. I wonder if that’s a feature or a bug of capitalism?
“Every $1 million spent on annual advertising expenses supports 67 American jobs.” – Hey, that’s roughly an average of $15,000 per job. Not a very high take-home for the worker, and remember that some workers are taking home much more than the average, meaning most workers are taking home much less than the average.
“Every direct advertising job supported another 34 jobs across all industries.” Wait, really? That has got to be an extremely loose definition of “supported.” How does someone making less than $15,000 support themselves, much less the employment of anyone else? 34 people? Did anyone check these figures? What does this advertising worker buy, used coffee grounds from street urchins living in cardboard boxes?
So, not only do advertisers lie to us, they lie to themselves and the government. And the lies are everywhere. Yelp reviews are advertisements, and in addition to the reviews provided for free by us idiots, people get paid to write reviews. Yeah, some reviews are fake. There are tens of thousands of people writing good reviews on Yelp and Google for money. And, since that’s true, why wouldn’t some people take money to write articles praising ballot propositions, like Prop 22, that might have a damaging effect on the prospects of eventually forcing corporations to actually treat their workers relatively decently.
The USA has become like a dodgy carnival in London in the 1800s, where everywhere you looked were touts angling for your shillings and quid, or whatever, trying to pry your farthings from your fist, while everywhere lurked pickpockets and cutpurses of every stripe employing every possible strategy of guile. If, at the end of a day and a night of taking in the freak shows, fraudulent spiritual and scientific demonstrations, and eating lard pies laced with chunks of barbershop patrons, you ended up alive, albeit robbed of all your clothing, recovering from a surreptitious poisoning by a cunning boy who seduced you disguised as a girl, or vice-versa, who’s left you naked and missing a hand, an eye, and all your teeth, being picked at by geese at dawn in the fecal muck of the Thames at low tide, well, you considered yourself damn lucky, Sunshine.
Oh, we’re headed for a reckoning. This species is headed for a reckoning. This civilization is headed for a reckoning. And these professional liars, and teachers of the art of lying, indoctrinators into the church and army and bureaucracy of lying, oh, are they headed for a reckoning.
“Here at Home Depot,” they say to me in their sirens’ singsong tones, “we believe that a good stabbing in the brain is the best way to free yourself from this multi-dimensional web of lies whose fibers wrap themselves around the Earth a thousand times before they penetrate your flesh and weave themselves into your nervous and limbic systems. Stabbing yourself in the brain is liberation! It’s a vacation! You owe it to yourself to stab yourself in the brain, and not with any old ice pick, with a DeWalt high-tensile carbon steal ice pick, now on sale! Buy a dozen for Christmas, they make great stocking stuffers!”
Imagine that. Imagine me, a lowly gig worker, on vacation. “Here at Postmates, we believe that every day should be a vacation. Not a paid vacation, just a vacation where you drive around the neighborhood, seeing the sights and picking up and delivering food for your friends.”
That reckoning’s a-coming. And a stabby reckoning it will be, Sunshine. Have a jabby, stabby reckoning, during this year’s militia-enforced Christian season of lies. May your rulers be archaic and scabby, and may all your reckonings be stabby.
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Welcome to the Moment of Truth: the thirst that is the drink.
Last week I presented a primitive diagram of recent history from the advent of modern class consciousness in the 19th Century, to today, dividing mass phenomena redounding from class consciousness into 3 waves: the first, the classical revolutionary communist events; the second, the parallel phenomena of reforming classical revolutionary communism in the East while fragmented identities including labor sought social and economic reforms in the West; and third, the emergent process we find ourselves engaged in at the current moment.
I’ll remind you that the three waves explanation is a taxonomy of convenience, that no one will agree that there are three waves, or that they contain the phenomena I have crammed into them; that I have trimmed historical conceptual clusters with Occam’s Razor and smashed them with Bozo’s Mallet to form of them an object susceptible to a certain brutish examination; and that quantum physicists do this to subatomic particles all the time, and everybody thinks they’re super-geniuses.
We left off with a description of our global economic system as fatally entrenched in past destructive modes of domination – domination of resources, economies, means of production, populations, and the environment. Let’s pick up there.
We know that we have to stop killing the Earth, and from the Pope to a sixteen-year-old Scandinavian girl, along with armies of scientists, economists, and community activists, all agree that unless capitalism is radically transformed or destroyed, a mass extinction, already in progress (along with massive changes in the climate that will certainly disrupt our food supply), and the inability of many millions to remain in their home locales, will change our lives for the worse, forever, and possibly extinguish them.
But we can’t ignore the threat that our side might pursue a wrong way of changing capitalism into something new. Right now cyber-capitalism is content to spy on us in order to target us with ads to manipulate and profit from our behavior and thinking. If the Stasi or the KGB had had these tools, they might have used them on the people to ferret out deviant thinking, and ultimately exterminate whoever they deemed incorrigible.
We can’t allow the desire for wealth accumulation to dictate our existences anymore. We can no longer allow it to pervert our duties to our communities, our use of land, air, and water, our system of supplying ourselves with food. It’s clearly not a choice. Capitalism as it has existed from its beginning must end if anything else we care about is to exist into the future.
But we can’t allow a privileged coterie of revolutionary leaders to abuse truth or dictate behavior, or make possibly poor and destructive decisions about the use of resources. That’s why, when I hear straight-up Marxism being bandied around without the danger of tyranny being at all addressed, without the acknowledgement that we need to come up with a real plan or at least a first principle, or even an admitted desire, for distributing power as evenly as wealth, I get annoyed.
Maybe if we want workers’ rule, rule of the people, a classless society that doesn’t lie to itself about class, we should aim directly for that, and not take a detour through a ruling party of tyrants pitting the professional and proletariat classes against each other through a bureaucratic apparatus. Maybe we can even shoot for what comes next: decentralized socialism, or whatever we decide we want.
We need to think about this seriously. Maybe if we address ourselves to the actual form of government and economy we want – I mean, Slavoj Žižek doesn’t want to grow food, he wants food delivered, he says, well, I want him to help us grow food sometimes – I don’t care how entertaining he is – or at least help prepare it, or help deliver it, or maybe just do the dishes, a very very small amount of time out of his day. He might have to teach actual little children. He might have to clean a communal toilet, and I think on some level he knows this, and we just have to be ready for him to weep and moan like a drama queen about scenes in Dr. Zhivago for a little bit. He will find helpers; people like to help. The clothes he wears don’t demand much effort, I’m sure he can ask someone nicely to weave him another sweater out of hay or golden retriever fur when the current one wears out.
And I understand the desire to reward someone for how smart and entertaining they are. It’s a hard gesture to resist: reward. It’s a way we express our gratitude for what another provides. I’m a little worried that we might just rebuild accumulative capitalism by our own autonomous post- revolutionary selves just out of affection for other people who exhibit strengths and talents that we find admirable, and who give the products of their vocations to us. We have to account for that impulse.
The binary division between male and female, imposed on us for the convenience of the rulers of a long-forgotten past, is dissolving, and those of us with issues will need to get over them. And we have to account for the fact that there are people of sexual desires that might challenge us, because human sexuality has been so mutilated by decades of materialistic concerns vying for our life energy, while all along we’re afraid to experience or even intellectually allow the many ways people can give and receive love and pleasure.
We have to account for the feelings of bigotry between groups who’ve been in relationships of exploitation in the past; and here in the West, the slavery of black people was there when capitalism first took root, without slavery, it couldn’t have taken root; thus slavery has major legacy repercussions to this day, a legacy that has to be reckoned with as a real place we’re going to be starting from. We have to account for cultural differences, and fear of differences, and antagonisms built around those differences, without losing what joy and beauty can be provided by those differences.
We have to think about how we move from this world to the new one, the one we want, the sustainable, equitable, wise, kind one. The one that’s honest with itself about power and wealth, and continuously corrects for imbalances in their distribution. We have a lot to think about because we know a revolution is coming. The violent right always becomes restless when the people are on the verge of finally putting their foot down.
We are in the 3rd Wave of class consciousness. I don’t know what to call it. I don’t know what to call a movement that includes both Thomas Piketty and Laverne Cox harmoniously. Maybe they’d both be into each other, I don’t know. And if you don’t know the names, or can’t guess from context the vague social positions, of either of the people I’m talking about, I’m sorry, you aren’t doing leftism well. And if you only know about one of those two, I would like to suggest that might be a superficial, anecdotal indication that we still have a lot of work to do, building our ... whatever we’re building here. Whatever we’re going to call it.
I guess the name is the last thing to deal with, but keep it in mind. There’s not lot of time before we’ll have to identify ourselves to each other, maybe over field radios.
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Welcome to the Moment of Truth: the thirst that is the drink.
So, I wanna talk about 3rd generation class consciousness. I feel like the 1st generation harnessed a lot of unrest coming out of the 18th century. When that generalized but violent irritation with royalty, aristocracy, and capitalism met class analysis, you had rebellions all over Europe by the middle of the 19th century, the kindling that ignited the Decembrists and finally Lenin and Trotsky.
I would include Mao, Tito, Ho Chi Minh, the Communist Party in Kerala – and add to it the anti- colonialist reds in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. So, this is to say that we have still with us a lot of 1st generation attempts to address class inequality, albeit their primary instigators are no longer.
I’m lumping a lot into this 1st wave category. The three waves explanation is a taxonomy of convenience. No one will agree that there are three waves, or that they contain the phenomena I have crammed into them, but that’s fine. I have trimmed historical and conceptual clusters with Occam’s Razor and smashed them with Bozo’s Mallet to make of them an object capable of a certain brutish examination. But that’s okay. Quantum physicists do this to subatomic particles all the time, and everybody thinks they’re, like, super-geniuses.
The socialism in Western and Northern Europe has been hybridized with capitalism to various degrees, and with various degrees of success. In many ways it has led to improved lives for its working and middle classes, but its successes have diluted the urge for economic equality, and that dilution has allowed those societies to participate in contemporary global capitalism by claiming a lion’s share of the resources supposed to be held in common by the countries of the world, and those of the former colonies, who in turn suffer in attempting to appease the global market and finance, because that’s where the money is. In general, this hybrid socialism also allows abuses of various populations according to the interests of capital.
The 2nd wave of class consciousness was very much a product of the two World Wars, with growing workers’ power at the fore in capitalist countries. Unions, collectives, experiments with worker ownership were reactions to the underclasses’ refusal be among those made to live in desperation, especially when it had become so clear how much starvation and senseless violence the governments of the owning class were willing to dole out to their own people.
The anger against the constant threat of state violence and neglect led to the surge in identity movements using the labor rebellion model as one starting place to demand lives free from molestation by the authorities and authority-aligned populations. Martin, Malcolm, and the Panthers, La Raza and the LA Thirteen, the American Indian Movement, the Stonewall Uprising, and the Palestinian Liberation movement were all part of the 2nd wave, too. Up until Reagan and Thatcher, Keynesianism was capitalism’s favored means of trying to adapt to these challenges to its authority. The 80s began the all-out blunt assault on all such challenges, especially that of labor.
Meanwhile, in each of the communist nations, attempts of various textures were made to modify the power relationships, relationships usually manifested as a division between the party elite at the top, a party and non-party professional and managerial class, and the rest of the population, from workers to the lumpenproletariat. The Cultural Revolution in China was an attempt from within the elite to correct the course of Maoist communism, an attempt engineered from the outset to avoid the question of why there even was an arrogant, oppressive elite and a personality cult at all and what to do about it. Rather than make an actual change in the unjust hierarchy of the society, Mao and others in power instead opted, for over 20 years, to exert ostensibly corrective cultural force against a variety of people of what in the West we would call the middle class. And Deng, after that, began to “open up” China, a kind of “opening up” that involved making Chinese resources available for connection with global capitalism.
The USSR went in the same direction. Khrushchev and Gorbachev tried their own methods of correcting communism in order to save it, but Khrushchev also elided examination of the privilege stratification solidified in the system, somehow never electing to give way to that Dictatorship of the Proletariat they’d always talked about, and by the time it came Gorby’s turn, he felt he truly had no option but to be more open to global market capitalism. Solidarność in Poland saw the workers rise up against communism itself, only for them to settle for letting the state ease itself into the NATO and World Bank spheres rather than, again, allow the workers to allow themselves to take power.
Now we’ve come to the 3rd wave of class consciousness, or the New New Left or whatever we end up calling what we’re in the middle of, which we won’t know until we’re deeper into it, most likely. Think of it, we’re barely two conceptual generations, albeit contrived, separated from Marx and the First International. Some of us are worried about the last of the Holocaust generation disappearing, meanwhile the last of the 1st Wavers died with Fidel in 2016. Who remains of that stage of the left? Cuba, I assume, is trying some reforms, but not the actual rule by the workers.
Rule by the workers. That’s what Dictatorship of the Proletariat means, yes? What else could it mean? Unbending Marxists act like the communist vanguard parties in Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, China and the other extant communist states are working on it behind the scenes, they’ll show it to us when it’s finished. If a vanguard party with as much control as China’s has now, Xi Jinping able to shut the whole nation down and willing to rent his people to Apple or any external corporation to treat as they wish, why aren’t they ready to cede power?
Or: why isn’t Xi Jinping working for Foxconn in Shenzhen? He’s part of the dictatorship, why’s he not a proletarian? Is he too good for it? Or is he some kind of representative, like an elector in the Electoral College? Or is the time just not right to give workers the power? I mean, clearly the time isn’t right, because capitalism’s hegemony puts constant deprivatory and military pressures on the few nominally socialist states left. But still the question lingers: the Soviet Union was viable, productive, scientifically advanced, culturally vibrant (when it allowed itself to be), and self-sufficient by at least capitalist standards. Why couldn’t they have just brought about workers’ rule?
Or am I being naïve, and there’s a special, arcane, theoretical way Xi Jinping is actually a proletarian, or I’m taking “Dictatorship of the Proletariat” too literally? That’s just rubbish. You should be ashamed of yourself if you’re positing such mealy-mouthed nonsense. Slavoj Žižek would call your obfuscation “a signifier without a signified.” And he’d be right. It’s a way of avoiding confronting your goal by making it an abstract fetish.
We look back at the living legacy of the 1st wave. We see that every attempt to replace capitalism has led to its own privilege stratification issues for some reason, and we say it’s the nature of power, or the nature of humans, or else we deny the problem exists or ever existed. I hear young Marxists deny or elide the cruelty and mangling of the truth under Stalin, the spying on the population under Khrushchev and Brezhnev, the totalitarianism and state violence under the East German government, the Ceausescu dictatorship (“oh, that wasn’t communism.” Yeah, no kidding! So maybe come up with a way for insane dictators not to hijack the state apparatus, which shouldn’t exist without the workers in charge in the first place. It’s bad for the brand.), the arbitrary anti-Semitism and persecution of indigenous peoples in Nicaragua under Ortega, who’s been a total jerk even before the period he was put out of power by US clandestine and overt violence and manipulation; brutal paranoid revenge at the beginning of post-Indochina War Vietnam, anti-homosexual policies and shortcuts around due process in Cuba.
It’s necessary to look at these offenses, as much as they pale beside the destructive and murderous achievements of capitalism. Sometimes a revolution is actually fighting its internal enemies, and sometimes it’s just marginalizing a group because of some arbitrary trait or designation or expression – hey, that’s supposed to be capitalism’s gig. And sometimes its elites are syphoning off resources, or competing in the international armaments game, and that too is capitalism’s gig.
Then what is it we’re in the middle of? Well, on the one hand we have fragmented, tenuously allied forces trying to see a way to maintain their principles, trying to discuss the issues before us via Twitter and YouTube and Tic Toc and Bric-a-Bric and Instapot, or whatnot, with, I believe, the end goal of coming together as a united, massive revolutionary force; and arrayed against us, we have the economic elite, the oppressing authorities protecting the elite and their privileges, and the members of the rent-paying class and part of the bourgeoisie who see themselves as somehow on the same team as the elite and their institutions of enforcement.
Our public policy serves arms makers and dealers; banks that love the way war, internal and external, generates money; and a network of industries stuck at a wasteful, outmoded stage of development, barely responsive, and often irrationally resistant, to those in the society trying to bring them into a renewable, sustainable future.
What do we call the emerging movement we are in the midst of, with what do we want to replace our destructive public policies? It’s like AAA for the broken-down civilization, languishing by the side of the road with toxic smoke billowing out from under the hood and toxic fluids leaking out the bottom and seeping into the soil. Next week, part two of this two- part historical survey. In the meantime, please give a bit of thought to branding. All the cool kids are doing it.
This has been the Moment of Truth. Good day!