I’m Mad as Hell and I’m Not Going to Take it Anymore
Anger is not one of my primary responses to tragedy, loss, and injustice. In the current pandemic, I’ve cycled through my normal states of anxiety and sadness, but this time, the overwhelming emotion that is destroying my sleep cycles and taking over my thought life is RAGE.
Generally, I feel like anger in itself is quite limited, because it usually results in violent or heated actions that don’t bring about real change or lasting cooperation. But I can’t help it.
The state of the world, as it is, has been deteriorating into a morass of Late Capitalist Hunger Games, and this evolving story has been attracting nothing but smug think pieces from the left and eye rolls from the right. We’ve labeled so many things a “crisis” it’s hard to keep track: climate, housing, underemployment, poverty, travel, social security, immigration, healthcare. We knew these problems were right here, on the ground, yet they looked distant and fuzzy and not at all urgent. They were staring us in the face but we were too close to see them. And all the left could do was march and protest and dance to techno. Meanwhile, lemming followers of Trump, Johnson, Xi, Bolsonaro, Putin and other authoritarian leaders blindly cheered for isolationist, racist policy in an undeniably interconnected world.
My own father still thinks the coronavirus pandemic proves that Trump was right about moving supply chains and manufacturing back “home” to the US, because we can’t count on China or other countries when the world has shut down. Ok, Boomer. It’s like finding a needle in a haystack and jumping to the conclusion that all the horses have munching on heroin all day long.
The bludgeon of neoliberal capitalism believes that the system is worth saving more than the people who make up that system. Because the model Protestant Work Ethic WASP Capitalist will be saved if the system is saved, regardless of how many others lose their lives, their homes, their livelihoods or their natural habitat. And the Eco-fascist Nonconformist Elitist Leftist thinks we can burn the system down without realizing that the first sparks to ignite are always at the bottom of the socio-economic pile. But this is the time to THINK DIFFERENTLY. On all sides of the ideological spectrum. I’m not talking about creating a mass happiness drug, just making the world a bit more livable. And it’s infuriating that no one actually sees that this is the revolution that has been taunted since the Great Recession (even longer — since the fall of Soviet Union). It’s a massacre that’s painful and many lives will be lost, but the only way for us to overcome it and step into the future is to implement the tools that small groups have been pioneering for decades, which neoliberals have argued could never work at scale. But guess what? We actually have no choice but to test them now, so let’s start DOING IT.
You don’t need the entire world to follow suit because even if I will argue below that massive systems need systemic change, the future is all about plurality and being in community with the people and places where you live. Many of our daily needs could be taken care of, not just with a “supply chain close to home,” but by forming our own co-operatives and villages within the cities and towns where we live. And yes, there is room for national and international collaboration, which I’ll address below. But more importantly, let’s in-source our human energy and share each other’s burdens. Then, let’s knock down the terrifying Late Capitalist Crisis Structure and build a world that most of us actually want to live in (that includes plants and animals and oceans too!) Here are some ideas that I’m mad we’re not implementing. But first, check out Howard Beale getting mad:
UNIVERSAL HEALTHCARE. When I say universal, I mean the whole world. Healthcare should be a human right, not based on where you are born or what your income is. Each country could implement it differently, but every country should adopt a commitment to making basic healthcare (including mandatory vaccinations, maternity care and treatment for life-threatening diseases) free and available to everyone. The WHO could help oversee this in countries that can’t seem to do it alone, and compliance could be tied to freedom of movement across the globe. A “travel tax” could be collected from people who travel outside their country for pleasure in order to pay for this. This would also mean that vaccines and medication must be open-source and scientific knowledge must be shared with everyone, regardless of diplomatic relationships between countries. This means people in North Korea and Iran should receive vaccines and life-saving medical equipment at the same rate as everyone else. Short-term travelers should bear some responsibility to the places they visit, and this is one way they can do it.
When talking about individual countries and their healthcare systems, I don’t have a problem with designing a system that works for your country, whether that be a public option/private option (with a universal individual mandate), or if people who knowingly make optional poor health choices (smoking, for instance) have to pay a subsidy through taxes, etc. But adhering to some basic universal standards must be key. Rich countries who can afford this more easily must be held to account FIRST.
HOUSING AS A HUMAN RIGHT. It’s not new. Millions of people around the world live in slums or sleep in the streets. It’s unacceptable, especially when ghost town tower blocks where rich people park their money (not to mention countless hotel rooms) are empty. Housing should not be a for-profit industry, and that’s all there is to it. Let commercial real estate be the construction and development industry’s cash cow. And force a percentage of a developer’s earning on every commercial project to go into building non-profit housing for the public. Those buildings could then be turned into co-ops owned and maintained by the people who live there. Even better: let the construction industry give a percentage of profits to construction workers, who can build their own homes and co-ops. The “co-op concept could even extend to neighborhoods and blocks of houses, where people don’t own their single-family home, but maintain it as part of a co-op. Rich people can still build their own houses, but the cost of their land and the tax they pay on it goes into the development of more social housing. And I’m not even saying social/public housing should be “free,” I’m just saying it should be set at a consistent level that allows for operational expenses and not corporate profit. And non-profit housing should not depend on “profit” to build more housing; the cost of housing should come from the commercial sector.
ABOLISH THE STOCK MARKET. Sort of. Traditionally, a public company sells shares based on the value of the company, in product, assets and sales. But when stocks are based on artificial products like a bet that someone will default on a loan, or that a company’s profitability will fall (ie, a short sell) that is money created from thin air. If you do that in Las Vegas or Macau or Atlantic City, it’s called gambling and a lot of regulators already frown on it. Why not frown on it on Wall Street, in the DAX and the Nikkei as well? To abolish this kind of trading based on money that doesn’t actually exist, force the stock market to trade only in the value of actual goods created and services performed. If it functions like the real economy, it will be less vulnerable to extreme swings based on ephemeral qualities like “consumer confidence” and “investor uncertainty.”
Banking could use a similar re-think, so that it actually functions to provide liquidity to businesses producing real goods and services, and individuals who need a place to store their financial assets. Ideally, banks would be owned by their customers, as shareholders.
Update: by the way, some venture capitalists don’t disagree with me.
UNIVERSAL EDUCATION. Another gimme. But yes, healthcare and education are the two completely unconditional pillars of a healthy and robust global society, and when we learn that they are best as measures taken preventatively instead of in an emergency, our societies will be both more alive and also more productive. I’m sick of the argument that without capitalist competition nobody would be inspired to find a cure for cancer or go to the moon. That’s bullshit! Human beings are incredibly curious and creative. With education for all, the diverse backgrounds and life experiences of people all over the globe will create new and novel ideas that will have profound impacts on their communities and societies and the world. And yes, there will be some adults with an education who still insist on sitting around and playing video games all day. Get over it. Cost of doing business.
ECONOMY=ESSENTIAL WORK. In the time of this pandemic, a lot of the occupations that define our lives have been deemed “non-essential.” They might not be essential to keeping us alive, but they are essential to leading a good life, to living in harmony with ourselves and others, and to fulfilling our own needs. (I’m looking at you cooking classes, church, yoga, DJ sets, poetry, etc.) The willingness of so many people to forgo payment for these offerings does not make them go away, or make them less popular or necessary. And yes, there are essential economic necessities involved in some of these things (like paying for internet, instruments, musical equipment, cameras and recording devices, etc) but the truth is, if artists had the time and ability to exchange their skills and services for other skills and services, theirs would become an entirely different kind of bartering economy that leaves room for a lot of diversity and creativity, while also gauging in a more authentic way what audiences really like (here is the choice and variety that capitalism promises only it can provide — but for free!). There are already plenty of socialist-minded arts organizations and festivals doing this now, offering collaboration rather than buying and selling participation. Go to Garbictz or Fusion if you live nearby in Eastern Europe, rather than flying all the way to the massively-more-corporate-every-year Burning Man.
But what of the workers in the “essential economy” who are growing, preparing and selling food; the medical professionals on the frontlines; the manufacturing workers who are making supplies for them, and for those of us who need to wear clothes; the service and delivery workers who are flying cargo planes, steering cargo ships and driving trucks or bicycles to transport those goods and services right now; the journalists who are factually reporting, fact-checking, and conveying information to us day by day; the internet service providers keeping our Netflix humming? I think we could create a distinction between the “financial economy” and the “collaborative economy,” with the former offering most of the able-bodied workforce jobs at reduced hours. If we spread out all of the work that is essential over the whole population, none of us would have to work the kind of soul-crushing hours currently required to sustain life. The cost of these essentials would go down because we could produce more, and we wouldn’t need all the extra money for the things that truly make up the GOOD life because we could barter and enjoy them in the non-money-based “collaborative economy.” (That collaborative economy would also employ politicians — public servants — by the way.) And yes, if people want to charge for non-essential services, or work a whole lot more hours at the essential industries jobs, or start some company that’s non-essential but for profit, they can go ahead and do that and make as much money as they want to. But spreading those hours enough so everyone is guaranteed something like 15 hours a week to provide for their needs would mean that a lot more people could just go out there and do the shit they want to do, while also contributing to the stockpile of “essentials.” This way, the things that can’t actually be quantified monetarily, like writing a sonnet or performing a concert, wouldn’t *have* to be.
Yes, this is related to Universal Basic Income. It’s not a new idea, and it’s shown promise in lots of applications where it has been piloted. Again, you are still going to have those people who just play video games all day (when they’re not at their 15-hour-per-week job). Deal with it. Most people are much more inventive.
LEGALIZE EVERYONE. Nobody should be “illegal” for any reason, but to start with, workers that are deemed essential during a crisis should not, under any circumstances, ever, feel threatened by deportation. Let’s declare right now an amnesty for ALL ESSENTIAL WORKERS who are currently undocumented. You are saving our lives, but it’s not like you’re not serving our needs and doing essential work every day that we’re not in a pandemic, too.
Update: “Between 47% and 70% of American farmworkers are undocumented.” They get nothing from current stimulus bills, while risking their lives to put stockpiles of food on American tables.
REPLACE PRISON WITH REHABILITATION. This would require the definition of “crime” to be confined to actions that victimize another person. Recreational drug use (like your weed-smoking gamer, above) doesn’t hurt anyone and could easily be regulated and taxed. Meanwhile, that gets 100% of drug-related petty crime out of the system and you have time to focus on the real criminals, like child molesters, abusers, murderers and bands of robbers. Instead of prison, some humane rehabilitation would produce better results while ending a huge drag on the government’s financial resources that would be much better used on some of the other programs listed. I feel like I don’t have to spell this out because it’s already been worked out with much thought and detail by the prison abolition movement.
RESPONSIBLE TRAVEL. This comes back to healthcare and those travel taxes, right? Travel is an incredible privilege that many people enjoy and will continue to enjoy. But we as consumers have got to look at our behavior, and taxes do help to incentivize/de-incentivize certain forms of travel. The most carbon-guzzling trips (1-hour airplane trips every weekend to see a nearby city) could be taxed more heavily than a two-month trip to a certain part of the world, once a year. The travel industry itself could do its part to advertise and incentivize slow travel and local travel. And along with supporting healthcare in poorer countries, some of those travel taxes could build out more eco-friendly infrastructure, like high-speed light rail and electric transit, and also to make airlines a public utility. These travel taxes and restrictions (based on not adhering to universal health standards, etc) might need to be the only travel restrictions a country needs to enforce. Otherwise: OPEN BORDERS! Go where your skills are needed, where your friends live, and the country in which you feel comfortable. And stay there for a few years, rather than traveling back and forth 10x per year. Countries could create their own measures that include (always) a path to citizenship for immigrants, or a “travel class” of citizen for short-term migrants. Omg, now we’ve just abolished ICE and customs officials worldwide, getting rid of a ton of bureaucracy and cost, how about that?!
SUSTAINABILITY. And of course that brings me to the trickiest wicket, environmental regulation. In the past, humans living in “harmony with nature” has meant that nature, in her cruel way, sent natural disasters and plagues to kill off a good deal of the human population and keep numbers down. I’m not suggesting we should see the current pandemic as a necessary population thinner, though; I’m just suggesting that we take the steps to live more in harmony with nature by respecting its power a little bit more and pushing through the changes we’ve been trying to make. Number one, in the rich world, is to consume less and rely less on convenience. Consume less energy by getting to work on bicycles and on foot and living where we work. Then, let’s have a worldwide moratorium on buying crap and having it delivered. If the item is a) something you will use only once, b) something made of plastic, and wrapped in 3 layers of plastic, c) something you could just as easily buy from a brick-and-mortar store, JUST DON’T BUY IT. This one is where consumer behavior really matters, and if we’re still going by that capitalist metric of “supply-and-demand,” YOUR VOICE COUNTS. There are plenty more systemic ways to address this, but this is actually something YOU CAN DO on your own, so I want to highlight it.
There are other factors that tie into sustainability, like not offering flood insurance to homeowners who build their resort second homes in a flood zone (to incentivize them to build elsewhere), or maybe offering move-out grants for homeowners who have had their one and only home in a flood zone or other environmental danger area for a long time so that they can relocate elsewhere. We could create new habitats for plants to flourish on city rooftops and walls. And (hello, healthcare) we could educate women and men about birth control and give them the necessary tools (free under universal healthcare) to keep birth rates lower and incentivize controlled population growth. We need to particularly empower women to make choices for themselves, without the men in their lives taking heavy-handed measures to force their hand. We can also harness biotech to create non-meat products and reduce our dependence on animals (which are often the breeding grounds of new viruses that eventually infect humans). If we work to sustain and not unduly GROW the economy in the other areas I’ve outlined, environmental sustainability will be a natural consequence.
In terms of sustainability, the most important thing we can do is act with, for, and part of, communities. I’m looking at you, churches and neighbors and artist collectives and people whose lives are already intertwined. If you work with your local community/ies you can pool resources to make a lot of this stuff happen, even if the systems around you are slower to change. At this moment of social distancing, those in our immediate vicinity must rely on each other. It’s good practice, so get used to it. Solidarity isn’t just for crises, it should be a regular part of your social vocabulary.
I’ll reserve personal and spiritual practice for another time, but I know that all of the above relies on individual, personal transformation. The renewing of the mind and spirit is a task unto itself, but aligning our physical actions with the solidarity and hope we want to possess is a step in the right direction.
I know there are lots of initiatives I’ve missed, and many ways in which I (and everyone I know and admire) is a hypocrite and not doing some of these things. There are structural powers-that-be. And at the moment, those structures are shut down. THIS IS WHY THE TIME TO ACT IS NOW. Are my all-caps getting through to you THAT I AM MAD AND FRUSTRATED THAT THIS HAS NOT BEEN THE IMMEDIATE RESPONSE OF THE MASSES AND WORKING CLASSES TO THIS SHUTDOWN?! OR THAT THESE HAVEN’T BEEN THE MAIN TALKING POINTS? MEANWHILE, WHY DO WE GIVE TRUMP AIRTIME EVERY DAY TO PUBLICIZE HIS POLITICAL CAMPAIGN WHEN WE, THE PEOPLE WHO ARE SITTING HOME, COULD BE RENEGOTIATING OUR RELATIONSHIP WITH SOCIETY INSTEAD?!
Do YOU have ideas for making massive changes to reform neoliberal capitalism into what I’m calling Global Democratic Pluralism? Let me know in the comments. Actionable ideas welcome.