Sheep, goats, angry men in coats.

One of the most troubling elements of recent political life is that some of my fondest theories and literatures are being recast in a new light, and it’s not flattering. The Frankfurt School, comprised of a twitchy bunch of middle-European men, thick in both coat and brow, produced much of the most prescient works on the cultural aspects of consumerist culture.

Adorno, Horkheimer and Marcuse angrily penned blistering critiques of low culture – films, books, T.V and drew direct lines between consuming this shit and quietly by-standing the Holocaust. More than fifty years on, all of their works are still troublingly apposite, but perhaps what’s become most alarming to me is that their ideas and language have been co-opted by what we might charitably call, ‘the far right’.

Consider this quote from Herbert Marcuse (1964),

Independence of thought, autonomy, and the right to political opposition are being deprived of their basic critical function in a society which seems increasingly capable of satisfying the needs of the Individuals through the way in which it is organised.

Every day some version of this statement will turn up on my Instagram account, usually in the service of those who champion, ‘freedom’. The anti-vax movement didn’t initiate this movement but it networked, refined and mobilised those with nascent views about their ‘freedom’. You know the people I’m talking about – the sovereign citizens, terrain theorists, bio hackers, survivalists etc.,. People I don’t normally think of myself as naturally gravitating towards. Although these people are generally characterised as being racist (something I can’t judge really as I have the privilege of not paying enough attention) what I am absolutely sure they are united by is a sneaky whiff of anti-semitism. The Frankfurt School would be sizzling.

The irony of bleating about the insidious and nefarious social and political manipulation rolled out through instagram is not lost on me. And yet claims about how the mainstream media depoliticises and poisons us, frames junk choices, broadly, controls us, continue apace. Here’s Adorno (1974), not even remotely writing about Instagram,

The phrase, the world wants to be deceived, has become truer than had ever been intended.

The resonance with today’s current bunch of wellness warriors is acute.

So what to make of this? For me, it’s like discovering that your high minded, moral, well-meaning religion (critical theory) has been adopted by Hillsong. Extremism is the hallmark of ‘not really understanding what the Frankfurt School was on about’. The creation of binary narratives – sheep/goats, blind/seeing, redpilled/bluepilled etc.,. are simplistic meta-narratives that mirror the ones that ‘freedom warriors’ claim to be so keen to resist.

The people who really get on the wagon with the ‘freedom’ talk are doing exactly the same thing as the people who run their lives according to the mainstream consumerism presented to them via the same channels. The sheep and the goats are equally serviceable in a curry. They are all making and producing and reproducing themselves and their identities through the medium of images presented and controlled through social media.

Herbert Marcuse claimed that ultimately, the main aim of the culture industries was to make profit, and I think that’s the right place to start thinking about this. Because although people who are extreme about what we might loosely call ‘the freedom movement’ mediated through social media, it is the social media platforms that make money out of them. They are, to repeat the phrase, the product.

Often, these social media personalities complain about being silenced or moderated or edited by the platform because of their unpopular views (for instance, people having their anti-vax posts removed) but in fact, the posts that get removed are the ones that don’t make the platform enough money. Engagement plus advertisement makes profit.

Perhaps these ‘influencers’, bravely baring their unshaved clackers to the world to give a defiant finger to ‘transhumanism’ are aware that the platform still makes money out of their content, but think it’s an acceptable price to pay for the ability to get the message out.

A vast majority of the content about ‘freedom’ exists in the health sphere, and was consolidated and weaponised by the anti-vax issue. Suddenly, a big part of the ‘wellness’ sphere transmogrified into a tight coalition of ‘paleo-bros’ and ‘bio hackers’ – a very male dominated eco system of tightly wound, mostly white guys who are succesful in part because you can’t smell ketosis through the screen. These people, like many, many others (including me) are convinced that the modern food industries are designed for profit rather than human health. It’s very hard to argue with that. But their criticisms of the corporate structures that engender the ‘food’ economy are refracted through their own bodies, identities and relationships. They use much of the language of the men’s rights movement – that men should be strong, protective, muscle bound, virile etc.,. and that the modern food industry has feminised men and contributed to the breakdown of the modern family.

In other words, the ‘anti authoritarians’ question and reject the meta narratives of science, government, risk and control and replace them with another set of equally controlling hyper individualistic notions of personal sovereignty, that amount to little more than outing themselves as advanced hyper-consumers who are seeking to reproduce much older traditional ideas about the family and masculinity. The main difference between the meta narratives of science, governmentality and risk is the focus on humans as a group whereas the ‘anti-authoritarians’ are extreme individualists. These people are the ultimate consumers – they are performatively made and remade through their relationship to the products they consume.

To be clear – BOTH groups are pretty bad. On the one hand, there’s the mainstream, slavish adherence to ideas about how to be a controlled body – eat mass produced food and consume the ‘mental health’ bullshit that renders you governable. Many of the strategies of government and public health exist to address the obscene rates of illness that are a direct result of corporate negligence in the service of profit.

BUT, the extreme ‘anti-authoritarians’ are doing more or less the same thing – finding their tribe, allowing themselves to be completely preoccupied with their narcissistic individuality, completely obviating the possibility of political engagement in the current omnishambles. They are noisily ‘opting out’ and thinking this will solve everything.

What to make of all this? How to retain my love affair with critical theory as liberation? For me, it’s with the help of two ideas – governmentality and anti semitism.

The idea of an extreme freedom midwived through extreme narcissism and cultivation of the performative individual is little more than the most modern iteration of identity-based, late capitalist consumerism. The appeal of simplistic, formulaic ideas of control (government bad and evil versus plucky heroic freedom warriors) simply reproduces some very well worn patriarchal tropes. It’s Star Wars in yoga pants.

And anti-semitism? Well, the idea that the extreme left and right are connected by anti-semitism isn’t new. The left think that major media corporations are Jewish controlled, and as such, governments dance to their tune. The right are anti-semitic for more tribal reasons. Both frame Judaism as a powerful, controlling force with a ready supply of sleeper foot-soldiers. The Frankfurt School was developed precisely because its founding members were understandably horrified by the way in which the Holocaust could be countenanced by regular, ordinary working people – their friends, neighbours, colleagues and associates. I’m always stunned when I see people at protests holding signs that say, ‘Always wondered who let the Jews be taken away? Now you know’ etc.,. These are always the same people who ascribe to ideas about the global order that aren’t much different to the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

And with that, it’s time for me to go and make a potentiated almond goat’s uterus smoothie.

Thatcher, Reagan and a little country in the Pacific

I’ve been watching The Crown. I was enjoying it for all the reasons I should – the opulence, the soap opera melodramas, the depictions of the politics of Britain in the post war period. Thatcher’s Britain came as a kick in the guts.

I think this Scottish woman’s eulogy for Mrs Thatcher sums it up nicely;

I am a child of the 80s. My first memories are of thin leather jackets, bad perms and cigarettes. Thatcher’s Britain was not too far removed, in terms of ‘look’ from New Zealand at the time – lots of shambling poverty, cups of tea and unemployment. Thatcher renovated the British economy from top to bottom (as she put it). Basically, as Britain’s colonial power declined, and with it, the money extracted from milking ‘real’ resources in its overseas territories, the country was increasingly ‘domesticated’. That is, reliant on making things within Britain. This wouldn’t be such a problem, if Britain had kept up its technological dominance, but it hadn’t, lulled, as many before it, into a false sense of security provided by a healthy stream of income from its resources obtained overseas.

Thatcher knew this. Britain was becoming less competitive and was suffering economically for it. Thatcher’s Britain aimed to shift the very structure of the economy to emphasise the one thing in which Britain still retained supremacy – a hub for financial trading. The City (of London) drew in enormous wealth for Britain. Thatcher decided to hitch the country’s fortunes to this horse, and, at the same time, embark on a radical monetarist inspired restructure of the welfare state. This was what we now refer to as neoliberalism. ‘The Washington Consensus’ and Britain’s structural adjustment signalled an enormous shift in the basis of the economy. I’m not going to summarise the details here, as many have done a far better job of that than I. However, what I think The Crown gets right is the cultural oeuvre of neoliberalism, Thatcher’s words piped into the existence of its downtrodden, penurious protagonists as they stand in line waiting to be ritually humiliated at the dole office, or in their shabby council flats.

Neoliberalism presented an economic idea as a cultural one – the idea that the economy and society were one thing, and that the individual was a discrete, atomised actor, completely in control of his or her own destiny, regardless of one’s circumstances. Success or failure was based purely on personal, individual gumption and hard work. Society, according to Thatcher, ‘did not exist’. It’s worth noting that all this individualism did not extend to taxes, which were still collected by the state.

Citizens were endlessly re-educated into this new way of thinking, the language of individualism. It was a mean-spirited thing that viewed all the workings of society – housing, healthcare, education – as economic products rather than social goods. There was no longer any ‘social’. Everything was privatised, speculated on, governed by the ‘invisible hand’ of economic rationalism.

The impact, of course, was to reduce transfer payments from the top of the economy to the bottom, thus concentrating wealth upwards. The rich got a lot richer.

New Zealand, with its dour, pinch-faced Scottish Protestant-Calvinist tut-tutted Thatcher for her gentle touch. In 1984, faced with a similar ‘traditional’ economy in decline, New Zealand embarked on a massive neoliberal experiment, known today, in the fine Kiwi tradition of austerity in naming, as The New Zealand Experiment. This was an extreme version of neoliberalism, carried out even more radically than in Britain. The country floated the dollar and embarked on a massive overhaul of the public sector. Unemployment shot up, poverty flourished, homelessness and social alienation became entrenched by the early 90s.

The results, of course, were devastating for ordinary people.

I think what’s most striking to me, having mostly grown up during this period, is that this represented a new way of thinking about ourselves as political, social and economic beings. It seeped into the way we thought about ourselves. For instance, in the 90s in NZ there was an incredibly strong stigma attached to being ‘unproductive’. Neoliberalism had unleashed an extant cruelty that fostered hatred amongst friends and neighbours. Using terms like ‘working class’ or, ‘benefit’ was openly sneered at. Working full time was the only way to be fully human, and in my opinion, this element of neoliberalism remains. For women, having a child was judged harshly and women should ‘get back out there’ as quickly as possible. Unsurprisingly, the economic arrangements of the day had the harshest judgements for women. My mother, for instance, was a ‘solo mother’ *gasp* after her husband left her. She struggled to get work and eventually, through friends, got a full time position as a telephonist (yes, in one of those phone offices with the long cord and plug thingos). Her relief was enormous as it meant she could pay a mortgage on the small house she’d managed to buy (after being refused several times by the ANZ bank because she didn’t have a husband on the paperwork.

The problem, of course, was that she had two children, which was somewhat incompatible with working full time, in the age of zero childcare. We attended every single day of school, no matter our condition. She simply had no choice otherwise. Mum had 5 days of sick leave per year, and the fact that I remember this from the age of 5 is testament to how it dominated our lives. Mum had an illness that eventually required an operation and she rationed out those sick days like gold.

In the afternoons I went to a Barnardos home and my brother went to a neighbour who had other children his age. We collected food boxes (in another woman’s car) from what Mum called ‘the vege co-op’ but I now realise was a food bank. I remember sitting cross legged in the back of an HQ stationwagon with several other kids, all of us woozy with the petrol fumes, with next to boxes of food as the car made its way around the neighbourhood. The irony is, of course, that we weren’t even considered particularly poor. I remember my Dad picking us up for a visit and discovering that Mum hadn’t packed us any clothes and he took us into Wellington city, at night, and bought us new clothes. I got a pair of jeans and a jumper. Until that point all my clothes came from my cousin Glen, who was the only cousin bigger than me. I wore boys’ clothes for my entire childhood, including Y front undies. Shoes were optional.

Unless you lived in a household with a full time employed husband, you were fucked. There were plenty of people in our situation.

New Zealand prior to 1984 wasn’t exactly rolling in cash either – there was a strict division between rural and urban kiwis, and money was almost hermetically sealed amongst those in the farming sector. Liberalisation and the removal of tariffs knocked that on the head.

I think what’s interesting to me is that Neoliberalism, for many New Zealanders under the age of 40, is just a given. It was presented as an incontrovertible set of natural laws that would govern the fortunes of the country and enable success. It tapped into New Zealanders’ Calvinist leanings, their inherent distrust of their neighbours as bludgers and leaners, their cruel racism.

There was no ‘citizenry’, no longer any sense of social contract or licence. All there was was the cut and thrust of economic primacy and success. The idea that government should support, foster, regulate, ameliorate, prime or undergird economic activity was an anathema. The government should not ‘pick winners’. Of course, this was because the winners were picking themselves. No one laughed longer than I did when New Zealanders chose John Key as their Prime Minister, a man who had colluded in the fevered currency speculation following the floating of the NZ dollar that almost bankrupted the entire country, overnight.

From https://www.stuff.co.nz/sunday-star-times/features/249633/Who-is-John-Key

So suppose what I want to flag is something hopeful. Neoliberalism has, as predicted, has not guaranteed the stable economic success it promised. It was brought increased inequality and poverty. But, and this is a big but, I am now old enough to recognise changes. People are increasingly seeing it for what it was and is. They’re aware now, especially in the wake of massive social spending following the GFC and more lately, the pandemic, the role of strong governments that are integrated into the economy in a more traditional Keynesian, interventionist way. There are arguments about what this means economically, but what’s changed is an awareness of the separation of the economy and society, and that one must serve the other. As I live in Australia I increasingly witness the political consensus coalesce on what we might recognise as something like ordo-liberalism, rather than neoliberalism. It’s clear that there’s no point in simply working very hard to tip money into the top end of a FIRE economy (Finance, Insurance, Real Estate).

I’m just dribbling on now, but part of my 2021 resolution was to write more, and reflect more through writing, and so now I’m doing just that.

(I’ve written about The NZ Experiment before – here)

Phew

I have a passing interest in economics and policy. At times, this has led me to examine some of the key theories about history and economics, including Marxism. Today we’ll be talking about Cultural Marxism  *cue hysteria*

Cultural Marxism is the idea that economic Marxism failed (where’s my revolution, it was here a minute ago etc.,.) and so now lefties are attempting to dismantle the current social fabric with a different type of Marxism – the Marxism of culture. Or so the critics would have it. You’ll be familiar with this idea; Cultural Marxists are promoting the death of the family and western social structures through the devious propagation of silly ideas like gender theory and identity politics. Thirty years ago, the same thing was said about feminists, that was until right wing pundits realised that the only thing that served capitalism better than one person working outside the home was two people working outside the home.

Undaunted, these shrill lunatics continued to maintain that cultural Marxism is a threat to humanity. Feminism has been replaced by issues such as ‘gender dysphoria’ or ‘trans-visibility’. Yep, it’s scary stuff, this cultural Marxism. Apparently we’re teetering on the edge of a society-wide apocalypse because a bunch of bored, screen-sallow shut-ins think that everyone cares very deeply about the cut of their trousers.

The corporatist oligarchy is shitting itself.

And that’s my point. Because if anything, the wobbly juggernaut of Western capitalism loves cultural Marxism. After all, if young adults are keeping themselves entertained competing to see whose dignity and humanity has been, like, super-impugned the most, they’re hardly likely to organise to take collective action against the forces who stand to fleece them the most.

Cultural Marxism is Gen Y’s Marxism – tangling itself up in narcissistic irrelevances, while the real machinery of global capitalism marches on. Cultural Marxism is the Marxism you have when the real thing is too dangerous. Cultural Marxism’s key sponsors are likely to be The Capitalists themselves. After all, this form of Marxism doesn’t bite. What’s not to love?

There’s another reading of course – that capitalism has won. After all, nothing screams, ‘conspicuous consumption’ like the idea that you might fetishise (and monetise) your very gender.

It’s all deeply silly.

Depression and anxiety; The new racism

It’s been a hell of a few weeks. Clearly I am suffering from stress. It could lead to depression, or perhaps anxiety.

Or perhaps I’m just busy and under pressure. Perhaps I’ll just harden the fuck up for a bit and see if that helps.

First; a warning. This is just some out-loud thinking. Sorry if it doesn’t make any sense. I’m stressed etc.,.

Yesterday I heard Frank Furedi speaking about freedom of speech on Radio National. I’ve not heard of Furedi since I was an undergrad student, about 20 years ago. I liked his work then, but have shifted in other (leftward) directions since.

Yesterday, I listened to him argue that Western universities are increasingly self-censorious. This is because, under a neo-liberal consumerist model, they’re competing for students. There are prizes for the least confronting course content, according to him.

Education has become commodified, of course, but it’s happened in weird ways. University is no longer an adult stage, it is a continuation of a cosseted larval form, where endlessly fretting parents shuffle continuously build a fuzzy little ‘happy bubble’ around their children.

Every year the numbers of university students applying for special consideration on the basis of ‘stress’ or ‘depression and anxiety’ increases, as students pathologise the normal pressures of life in the adult world into an ever-expanding rubric of ‘wellness’.

Furedi often writes about this cultural turn. Furedi seems to focus on the personal elements of this; the pedestrian dog-whistle that all young people are feeble minded snowflakes. I’m unmoved by this, as it’s basically just same-old inter generational cruelty. What’s more interesting are the structural dimensions – how did we get to the point where these frailties became such an integral part of identity?

In the period of late capitalism, we are encouraged to focus our attention on ourselves so as to avoid looking at the structural inequities and problems that may affect our ‘wellbeing’. This is one of the key ways that neo-liberalism works – it is the cult of the individual; If you can’t make life work, it’s because you’ve got something wrong with you. You have an illness. I’ve moaned about how this insidious cult of wellness operates before.

There are many orthogonal structural considerations here. For just one example; all capitalist systems require a certain degree of labour market elasticity. This is what the NAIRU (Non Accelerating Inflation Rate of Unemployment) refers to. It is simply the rate of unemployment that can be sustained before inflation rises.

In the old days, the easiest way to secure churn at the bottom of the labour market was simply racism – you brought people in to your country and then stigmatised them so they would remain at the bottom. I’m over simplifying, but we can recognise this pattern in the Australian context, and in other places too. It’s hardly a radical observation. The decline in Empires (something that really only happened with the recession in the second half of the 1970s) has made flat-out racism more unpalatable (but still very much alive make no mistake) and immigration much harder to manage. But the market still needs a bunch of people who will buy things but can’t work all the time. I find it fascinating to see how ‘anxiety’ plays out, the structures around it, and most importantly, the intersection with the labour market. Those with ‘mental health’ (we’ve dropped the ‘problems’) are frequently cycled in and out of the labour market, and enfeebled by a coterie of ‘experts’ who convince them of their lack of self worth. It is unsurprising to me that this predominantly affects women, and has risen in lock step with the expansion of the service sector, with its zero hours contracts and predominantly women’s participation.

There’s another dimension to Furedi’s comments about education and feeble-mindedness, however. The commodification of a university education under a neo-liberal model has seen a dramatic increase in university enrolments. I’ve written about this in the Australian context before. My point is, universities are now accepting students who are completely unprepared for a university education.

One of the one hand, it’s predatory lending – inviting students to buy a mediocre education where they barely scrape through a general degree, with the help of multiple concessions to ‘stress’ or ‘depression’, is of questionable benefit. Many emerge with little more than a more finely honed sense of their acute and personal failings. There are graphs around that demonstrate the rise in ‘support services’ within the tertiary sector.

I’ve got mixed feelings about this. I left school very young, with no qualifications, convinced by my family and teachers that I was so hopelessly stupid that if providence smiled upon me I’d end up in a medium security prison. It was through a series of accidents that I found myself at university in my early 20s, entering through a special dispensation – ‘you can have a crack and if you pass everything, you can stay’.

So I’m cautious about Furedi and suggesting that university entry requirements should be tightened as it may exclude those who might genuinely benefit, but it doesn’t prevent a clear eyed discussion of what the actual benefits are, or what role university education might play in a person’s life.

I’ll leave that there. Apologies for lack of coherent thought.

When the ABC does it too….

Screen Shot 2017-07-20 at 8.55.39 AM.pngEvery year or so Life Matters *discusses* preschool education for Australians. Yesterday we were treated to the wisdom of two experts, one of whom runs a preschool in Newcastle, and the other, an early childhood education researcher at Victoria University.

Australia sits near the bottom of relevant countries when it comes to GDP spending on pre-primary school aged children.

Industry experts say the number of years spent in early childhood education and care is a strong predictor of the level of performance reached at later stages, both in and out of school.

Naturally we were treated to frightening statistics. Well, one anyway. Did you know that children who attended preschool did twice as well in high school science? And did you also know that there’s almost no point in sending kids to preschool for just one day a week, they need to attend much more than that!

Let’s start with the claim that kids who go do preschool turn out better human beings. Here’s the thing, preschool costs money. Poor kids are less likely to go to preschool. Poor kids also do worse in high school generally. This obvious confounder was not even mentioned. Same goes for women in the workforce. Kids with working Mums tend to grow up and work themselves. Mum-key see, mum-key do.

Certainly, some studies show that children from highly disadvantaged backgrounds who attend preschool do better at school than their peers who don’t, but this is probably because they’re getting access to an enriching environment instead of sitting front of the TV. Spending the day in jail in an underground Nepalese coal mine would most likely improve their performance, compared to staying at home.

No matter, though, that’s just research. BORING! We all know that preschool education is awesome for all kids! In fact, some countries have now decided to do away with parenting altogether and turn the whole thing into a profession that the state pays for. It worked with dentistry!

The message from Life Matters was unashamedly biased – Australia should provide access to preschool for all three and four year olds. It helps them with their literacy and numeracy when they reach school, and teaches them how to cope in a large group.

I could go on about the multiple ways this is bullshit, but I won’t. It is, after all, a shameless puff piece engaging in the worst kind of cherry-picking to appeal to its demographic – working, predominantly middle class women who want free, full time childcare. It’s telling that for all the talk of ‘preschool as education’, the head of the Newcastle centre still referred to it as ‘childcare’.

So here’s the other side of the story; children with an enriching home environment can and do thrive when they hit school. Moreover, many children find the noise, chaos and violence of a preschool setting troubling and exhausting. Have you ever been to a preschool? It’s like someone airdropped a shipping container of methamphetamine into the meercat enclosure. However, as with daycare, stressing the shit out of small children isn’t destined to get a whole lot of government sympathy and attention.

And this is because it’s the economy, stupid. There is no longer an option for anyone to stay at home with the kids, unless you’re part of the minuscule elite. Mum or Dad must now work. Grandparents who are well enough to look after children are actually in Tuscany/Rome/Portugal at the moment. And who can afford to rent a place in the same neighbourhood as a baby boomer anyway? What everyone could do with is a spot of free childcare. And so this is the line Life Matters is pushing.

I’m not anti-preschool. My kid went to preschool, for two years, before (public) school. In the first year (at age three) my kid attended one day a week. This was all we could afford. The following year we were a little better off financially, and started going two days a week. The kid did not cope at all and was a complete wreck. We quickly pulled it back to one day a week. Of course, I’m not suggesting our experience is generalisable – unlike the radio program that entreated listeners to call in with ‘their experiences’. Did you go to preschool? How has it worked out for you? Very scientific.

But seeing as you ask….I went to preschool – it was a community run playgroup thing. We didn’t have ‘early childhood educators’ – we had a bunch of Mums in track-pants not contributing to the tax base while we tried hard to set one another on fire. It was excellent. My later high school performance can be best summed up as abominable.

Perhaps I wasn’t ‘ready’ for the classroom – didn’t have my literacy and numeracy nailed, compared to my peers. Well, this is just a comparative measure – pretty meaningless. Who cares if you can’t read when you’re six? Steiner kids don’t even start to read until someone really needs to know what’s in a packet of Cheezels. Doesn’t seem to do them much harm. Or those home-school weirdos. They seem to do rather well, actually. In fact, there are heaps of kids who do rather well outside the mainstream, homogenising school system.

Again, we’re in the mainstream school system, and it’s bloody great – our experience with the public school education system is that it’s creative, engaging and bloody good fun. It does not need to start any earlier than five though.

 

Modern slavery

Screen Shot 2017-05-18 at 9.56.20 AM.png

Thinking out loud…

Friends are taking part in a writing challenge, where they write 500 words a day, without editing, backspacing or planning. Simply, you write completely off the cuff about your thoughts de jour and once a week they ‘mark’ or read one another’s ramblings. They invited me, I like to keep my level of ‘joining’ at the RNA level, so I’ve decided to go it alone.

I’ve been reading about domestic slavery in Korea. Of course. And I’ve noticed it’s become popular to compare participation in the modern workforce as slavery. Roughly the logic goes something like this;

We do not own our own labour, we sell it, and this is a form of expropriation. Of course, I would argue you can’t sell what you don’t own, but there are interesting connections with the Marxist definition of surplus value and fetishism. I think the key idea is that the modern labour market is no longer something we can longer refuse to participate in – that is, we are under extreme duress to participate in it. And when we do, it is under conditions which are not of our choosing (to greater or lesser degrees). We don’t generally own the means of production, and we can’t afford to buy the products of our labour (made in China).

I’ve also noticed the increasing focus on the Universal Basic Income as something that recognises the real economic benefits that flow from not participating in the traditional labour market. Usually, this attracts ‘social justice’ media attention – that is, recognising the contribution made by those not actively engaged in the capitalist economy. However, I’m more interested in its macro implications. My first guess would be that it might kind of evens things out, in a Keynesian sense, instead of concentrating ‘wealth’ amongst those who earn money versus those who don’t, providing a kind of economic stimulus that is more productive (i.e. – concentrated in the lower earning segments of the domestic economy). Obviously transaction costs are germane to this discussion but Australia’s economy is so heavily buggered around with that I can’t see the impost being much greater than it already is.

The implications for GDP are so wooly it’s difficult to make sensible predictions (which is why this kind of soothsaying lies in the domain of economists).

See, this is what happens when you think on a keyboard. No conclusions. Just thinking.

Dogma, Karma, bullshit

screen-shot-2017-01-14-at-4-14-30-pmHow many times must I stab the radio this summer?

In today’s ABC ‘Documentary Piece’ about Roald Dahl, we hear of a young woman’s literary love affair with the author who shaped her childhood. Dahl, she tells us, with excruciatingly ponderous pace, made her into the writer she is today.

But wait, there’s a twist! There is a Dark Side to Roald Dahl, a side so horrible that one can barely bring oneself to look into it, lest their childhood be tapped open like a festering egg!

Tell me more!

Well, apparently Roald Dahl was an adulterer. And, he once called his daughter a bitch for confronting him on it. There’s more. Dahl once remarked that he’d rather be dead than fat (he’s as evil as Kate Moss! Shuffle over, Hitler and stop hogging the blanket!). It gets worse, folks. Dahl was a racist. His oompah loompahs were originally cast as African pygmies, and he ruminated on the character flaws of the Jewish people. Why, he wondered, had they attracted such perverse persecution? Sure, Hitler was a prize bumpfswiggle but in Dahl’s view the Jews had partly brought their fate upon themselves.

The radio narrator/writer weeps and wails over their gravity and depth of these failings…. Oh my God, how could I have loved this guy? How could I have read his books? WHAT A MONSTER! I can’t believe I was somehow complicit in his vile world!

After about thirty hours of this self-righteous, hyperbolic panto routine I turned it off.

When I was 8 my Dad showed me some film footage of Jews being pushed into pits. It is still the most distressing thing I’ve seen in my life and remains securely fastened in a repertoire of lively nightmares. I’ve since questioned my father’s judgement, but I’ll never forget his words;

If you had grown up in a family of Nazis, you would believe this was right too.

Dad wanted me to think about judgement, about the relativism of right and wrong. He wanted me to think hard about the social conventions that I was growing up in. (I’m making him sound like a morally righteous demi-God – he isn’t, he’s just a person like everyone else. A person who should have looked into a bit more Disney).

And so when I hear blind judgement, without consideration of context, background, politics, family, gender or class I get nervous. Because this is truly frightening. This is the blueprint of unblinking dogmatism. And unblinking dogmatism gets you front row seats at the pit.

Simply stating ‘Dahl was a monster’ demonstrates a troubling fixity of thought, something far darker than his supposed ‘dark side’. What is really, truly frightening, is cultivating the lack of insight that allows us to come to grips with what people are thinking and feeling, to think critically about the cultural patterns, tropes and values that are in ascendence at any one time. The Holocaust can’t be understood with the idea that there were just a few more shittier human beans in the can. Dahl’s story tells us that intelligent, well-connected people, loving fathers and mothers can come to hold dreadfully dangerous ideas. We are all ‘monsters’. We need to think hard about how that happens.

Dahl was a product of multiple moments in time, of the family he grew up in, the British class-constrained school he attended, the war he fought, the Africa he experienced and the women he disgraced himself with.

Dahl was a human bean. Like the rest of us.

My left wing media bubble

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I had a feeling this was coming…

I think it was when my left wing media bubble told me that Trump is a sexist misogynist, and that was the most important thing to know about him. The final days of the campaign even helpfully presented the choice in cartoon form;

Trump; Rapist, bigot, racist etc.,

Clinton; used private email server.

Ho ho ho.

My left wing media bubble even infiltrated Trump rallies, producing nuanced ethnographies of how ‘nice’ and polite his supporters were. I learned that Trump’s baseball cap sits on his head in a gently amusing way. His supporters are generously built, and often wear clothing from the nineties in an un-ironic fashion. It is these unwitting dupes who’re engaging in the ‘post-truth’ future.

My left wing media bubble told me that it’s not their fault they conflate T.V infotainment with reality. It told me to feel sorry for them, wallowing in their half-arsed, endlessly reproducing simulacrum.

It didn’t mention the other side of the ‘post-truth’ future – the inescapable conclusion that all sides might be full of shit. Trump was positioned as an inveterate liar but he lied in an honest way. Clinton represents a government of impenetrable sophistry that results in things like the lack of prudential legislation that lead to the sub prime mortgage clusterfuck, or tap water you can’t drink.

The US government has presided over an ever increasing polarisation of wealth and opportunity. Attempts to claw back some sense of dignity for those ‘at the bottom’ are personalised and denigrated as welfare. My media bubble might think we’re in a post-truth world, but there’s a truth that people live every day.

It’s the one where 18 year olds go into the army because it’s the only job they can get, only to come home broken and forgotten. It’s the one where ordinary people pull their own teeth out, or work three jobs and still live below the poverty line. And it’s not just really poor people either. It’s the lack of wages growth for the upper working class, or the general discomfort over America’s intervention in….exactly what in Syria? It’s the people who hear that free trade means they can buy cheaper goods, but still worry they won’t have a home to put them in. It’s the people for whom the government is far less relevant than their church.

They are well aware who will bear the pain of austerity or structural adjustment or whatever you want to call it. They are unmoved by claims that Trump is a sexist, racist bigot*, because, guess what? They’ve been subject to sexism, racism and misogyny this whole time! America might have its first black president, but he’s been there for two terms and guess who’s still getting shot by police? Statistics show that black and Latino voters predominantly voted Clinton, but they also show that many eligible voters simply didn’t vote at all.

Clinton also made a mistake in treating her campaign as a holiday length episode of Oprah’s Book club. Her campaign mobilised the idea women should vote based on little more than the fact that Trump is a smutty pervert, as if all women are primarily concerned with their pussies. And by the way, America has had smutty presidents before. At least this one is honest about it.

She also told everyone, at length, how hard she’d advocated for some of America’s most vulnerable, which just reminded everyone that the most vulnerable still need to be continually advocated for. She also failed to address very real questions about her government’s role in Syria, circulating rumours and stories about arms deals and a fraught relationship with Russia. But you know, hands off my pussy!!

Oh sure, here in Australia we’re all poking the borax at the US for voting in an overgrown oompah loompah. Ho ho ho. But it was easy to see. Clinton represented the establishment.

*He obviously is a racist, sexist bigot, which actually is pretty uncool.

Insta-hipster

IMG_5808.jpgOK so as I post this picture I recognise that for many people, perfectly formed, naturally leavened #sourdough is unattainable. I also recognise that for some,#gluten is not an option. I keep those people in my thoughts today.

Of course there are some people who openly choose to live without home-made bread in their lives. My post is not intended to denigrate or belittle those who buy artificially leavened ‘bread products’ from Australia’s monolithic supermarket duopoly.
I also accept that with work, parenting and financial commitments, home-baking can become virtually impossible. The very idea that home-baked bread is a ‘choice’ implies responsibilities that fall disproportionately to women. #feminist

That said, I celebrate this loaf today with reverent #humbleness. I am participating in #grateful-guilt, the new, improved Christianity 3.0. Grateful-guilt is a perfect melange of religiosity and fetishisation, sans  the embarrassing deities. It enables me to feel sufficiently righteous for my fortunate circumstances. Like old fashioned Christianity before it, #grateful-guilt justifies my class position.

By being #thankful for this loaf I recognise that it represents my physical labour, which I give freely, rather than for wages, thus signifying my incorporation into the middle class – a position more ordained than attained.
This loaf, and others like it, is part of my post-commodity future. It signifies my movement beyond the shallow, didactic strictures of producer-product. I make my own stuff. My products are imbued with the value of my own labour (rather than the invisible labour of the people who made the iPhone I used to document it). In this way I can translate some of the value of my labour into maintaining my class position. The alternative would be to recognise that I’m an unemployed feckless tit who couldn’t operate a whipper snipper without taking an eye out #wabi-sabi.