A useful video from the Gravel Institute on the future of work envisioned by Silicon Valley

I’ll have some more substantial stuff up shortly, but in the meantime, I though you ought to watch and share this video. It’s a useful breakdown of one of the tactics being used to get around labor regulations, in the absence of a powerful labor movement to oppose them. A lot of this feels similar to the tactics used by Walmart and Amazon to gain monopolistic power.

 

Kick them when they’re down: The fight we’re in isn’t fair, and we shouldn’t pretend it is.

This is a useful interview on how to deal with tech monopolies, but I think it doesn’t go far enough. The approaches that Doctrow lays out are, I think, an excellent starting place. If we want humanity to survive the next century or two, and to simultaneously build a more just and happy society, we need to be working on a whole lot of changes all at once. That means the kinds of power-building work I’ve talked about before, but it also means using the the political system we have now to make that other work easier, to whatever degree we can. That means both direct organizing, and working through our representative democracy. We have to do it all.

Under the current system, the default approach to change is a sort of timid incrementalism that always seems to treat history as a settled matter, starting yesterday. That means that when a dramatic change is made, there’s generally a great deal of opposition and complaining, but then as soon as anyone suggests changing things back, it’s treated as just as big a problem as the initial change. Change is viewed as both generally bad, and as value-neutral. The problem isn’t the kind of change, it’s the scale of that change.  Taking steps to undo the damage done by “Reaganomics”, or even by the Trump administration, is met with similar or even increased level of hand-wringing, as the initial damage. It’s different people making a stink, but they make about the same level of stink, and more importantly, the media treats it as all being the same.

It’s all just a game played by opposing teams, and it’s “fair” to give both sides equal footing.

Of course, this ignores the fact that, when one side fetishizes procedure and incrementalism, while the other side is committed to getting their way no matter the cost, you get predictable results. Things either move in the direction preferred by the more committed side, or they don’t move at all.

Changes in social norms – like the gradually increasing acceptance of homosexuality – can happen under this framework, but not any real changes in how power is distributed or used.

We tend to treat it as an unassailable truth that the way we operate now is the best way to operate, and so truly systemic change is anathema. That’s why, for all the changes seen in the United States over the last century, power has continued to rest primarily in the hands of the capitalist class, which has used its power to whittle away those changes in things like labor law and social safety nets that gave more power to the working classes.

People whose primary goal is the accumulation of wealth and power will always use the wealth and power they currently have to get more. The more they have, the more they are able to reshape society to funnel more to themselves, and to prevent others from preventing that. This is a path that leads inevitably to monopoly and to oligarchy. Even if someone like Bezos or Gates were to decide that they should burn through all of their personal net worth to solve one problem or another, the end result of that is that they would lose the personal power that society gives to capitalists, and someone else would increase in power by comparison. At best, the changes made by one multibillionaire would be temporary, and rolled back by those multibillionaires who chose instead to continue hoarding power.

Ultimately, the only way out of this trap is to make it impossible for individuals to hold that level of power. Until we do that, there will always be people like the Kochs, like Bezos, like Musk, or like Gates, pulling strings around the globe for their personal benefit, and asserting control over resources that we desperately need for things like dealing with pandemics, or with global climate change.

We need to use the tools we have – taxation and regulation – to decrease the power of the ruling class, much as FDR was doing when he talked about taking power away from “economic royalists”, but we cannot simply stop there. We can’t win in a metaphorical bout of fisticuffs and then walk away having “taught them a lesson”, while still leaving them with outsized wealth and power. History has shown that they will, in general, respond by stabbing us in the back. Their goal is dominance, not winning in a fair fight.

Take away all of their power, and don’t give it to anyone else. Use it for degrowth, for new energy infrastructure, and for adaptation to coming climate change. Use it to make sure that nobody can use poverty or deprivation to force others to work FOR them.

We have to knock down the ruling class and kick them while they’re down. We have to remove that class from existence. That does not mean that we have to kill anyone, necessarily. Ideally, the “horrible fate” I want for today’s billionaires includes guaranteed healthcare, food, shelter, freedom of speech, expression, and movement, and so on. The one thing I want to take away from them is their ability to govern the lives of other people, and I don’t want that ability to go to anyone else in their stead.

We are in a fight for our lives, and for the lives of those with less power than each of us might personally be able to wield. We are fighting against people who have attained their power by exploiting every loophole and weakness they can find, and cheating every person they can. We are not in a fair fight, and we should not pretend otherwise.


If you find the contents of this blog useful or entertaining, or if you think that it’s moving in that direction, please consider becoming a patron at patreon.com/oceanoxia, and/or encouraging others to do so. I’d to keep writing, and keep building this into a useful resource for those who want a better world, and to do that, I need money to survive. I’m still pulling in far, far less than minimum wage, and it’d be awesome if I could close that gap.

“What do you expect me to do, fix it? I’m only 10.”

There is no excuse to look away from this. This video contains no wounds, no blood, no corpses, and no screaming. It does, however, contain children faced with the impossible task of coping with the relentless, crushing violence of a genocidal campaign by an ethno-nationalist government that wants to erase them from existence. There is no “both sides” here. There can’t be with a power imbalance this colossal.

 

Update: Work-work balance, science fiction and non-fiction

As most of my readers are no doubt aware, in addition to the primary content of this blog, I also write fiction – mostly sci-fi and a little fantasy. Lately I’ve been increasing the amount of time spent working on my science fiction, and that has led to a bit of a drop in posting here. This post is a bit of an explanation, a bit of an apology, and a bit of talking about what the future looks like for me.

In the short term, I don’t expect any major changes to Oceanoxia. I intend to keep posting, and to increase both the frequency and quality of my non-fiction work here. This is partly because it’s my primary means of income, meagre though that is right now, and partly because I feel like it’s the way I can best help to bring about the changes I want to see in the world.

That said, there are limits to the concepts I feel I can effectively explore through nonfiction work and advocacy, and part of my goal has always been to help people see various possibilities for our future. In that regard, my science fiction has begun to fall into three general categories. The first, that some of you have hopefully seen, takes place in the United States somewhere around a couple thousand years in the future. Sea levels are still very high, but just starting to fall slowly, and New York City is a sort of solarpunk archipelago and rainforest. So far everything about that scenario takes place in Manhattan, which has a layout pretty similar to its current arrangement, but with canals where the streets would be, and big lagoon where Central Park currently stands. I’m still figuring out what sort of society it is, but it’s not too far from a version of anarcho-communism or something like it. Cooperatives and councils handle most of the collective projects that are currently managed by government and corporations. Housing and food are guaranteed, and people divide their time between work that helps society run, and activities that fulfil them, at least where the two purposes don’t overlap. Whether or not an activity is allowed depends largely on whether it harms other people in some way, and while there’s collective oversight of things like construction, if someone is “caught” doing something like construction outside of said oversight, there has to be demonstrable harm or danger to people in order to justify intervention.

Because my explorations haven’t gone much outside of New York, I’m honestly not sure what the rest of North America looks like, except that it’s no longer the heart of any sort of empire, and hasn’t been for some centuries. Problems created by greed, hatred, and so on still exist, but they’re not supported at a systemic level in the way we see today, and so have less power to destroy lives. Not a perfect world, but a better one.

The second category is in the far more distant future – tens of thousands of years. Have I mentioned I’m an optimist? I tried not to be for a while, but it got tiresome. At this point in time, humanity is interstellar, and has been for a very long time. The stories I’ve worked on thus far also take place in a better society, but this one is an interplanetary association of sorts, with the various planets governing themselves along similar lines to what I described in the “flooded New York” setting. Some use governments, some don’t, but access to food, shelter, and healthcare are all guaranteed, and insofar as there’s a currency, it’s the hydrogen that’s used in fusion engines to both power technology, and to manufacture and “print out” most materials needed for society. It’s sort of like replicator technology in Star Trek, but rather than just “materializing” finished products, the matter forges synthesize raw materials of varying complexity from molecules formed in a series of fusion reactors, each fueling the next. This setting is also one in which I explore fascism, as a number of planets – including Earth – are under the sway of a fascist society that’s in a sort of “Cold War” with the society I just described. I view fascism as a set of ideologies and political tactics that I think are likely to plague humanity for a long time to come, and likely to re-emerge from time to time, as ignorance, complacency, or fear lead people to those practices. Some of what I’m working on deals with resistance against such a fascist regime, and some does not. The anti-fascist societies are – again – not perfect. There are families and corporations with interplanetary power and influence, and that leads to predictable problems. I’ve been putting less time into this end of things in the last couple years, but I’ve recently resumed work on a novel taking place in this setting, now that I feel like my skill as a writer is closer to being able to tackle the subject matter.

The third category is one I think of as “the gauntlet“. It’s a set of stories taking place within the next century or two, depicting humanity’s struggle to survive a warming climate and the collapse of the current global capitalist order. Reflecting my own expectations for the near future, this is definitely my least optimistic project, and contains a lot of stuff that I fervently hope will be viewed as laughably pessimistic in a couple hundred years, if not my own lifetime (again, I’m optimistic enough to hope that my work will be considered at all on any useful scale. I think there’s a degree of egotism required to continue in this line of work). Some of this stuff is more optimistic, as it deals with the first glimmers of the world explored in the first category above.

Some of this fiction I’ll share here directly. Some is exclusively for my patrons. Some I’ll send away in the hopes that some publication will pay me a little. In any case, there’s going to be more of it around in general. If you want more of my time to go to this blog, and more of my fiction to be available to either you, or to the general public, the best way to achieve those goals right now is to support me via patreon, and encourage others to do the same. The closer I am to being able to actually cover living expenses, the more I’ll be free to just directly share my work with whoever wants to read it, which is my preference. The second best way is to share any of my work that you find to be valuable, by whatever criteria you judge such things.

Life’s chaotic for most of us right now, so however you relate to my work, take care of yourself, and those around you.

Renegade Cut: Why Riots Happen

America’s “protest season” has begun, and the government has continued its brutal response to any calls for systemic change. Because injustice has not been corrected, political unrest will not cease. As they saying goes, “No justice, no peace”. This video is a useful examination of riots, and how violence is defined, justified, or condemned within our society. Education alone will not save us, but it is a powerful tool in the struggle for a better world.

The video has been “age-restricted”, I suspect due to a mass-flagging campaign by those who object to any content critical of police, and of white supremacy. You’ll need to sign in to see it, but I think that’s worth doing.

 

A video, and some thoughts on the current state of U.S. fascism

As I’ve said before, I don’t think the threat of fascism will be leaving the United States any time soon. This video does a good job of outlining the ways in which the modern Republican Party has become either fascist, or part of a fascist movement. A lot of these elements were present prior to Trump’s entry into politics, and I think it’s fair to say that there was a growing fascist movement that brought Trump to power, and that was empowered in turn by his presidency.

That said, I think it’s also worth noting that if Biden doesn’t make good on the efforts to pitch him as a new FDR (a comparison that seems to be either wishful thinking, or a feeble effort to placate left-wing dissidents), then the threat will remain as strong as it has ever been. At this point in time, any efforts to blame America’s problems on outside forces will, in my opinion, feed America’s fascist movement. As long as the problems caused by neoliberalism remain, any efforts to fix things by focusing on an outward enemy will leave the public with two choices – one is to reject the efforts at scapegoating altogether, and to join in the effort to replace capitalism with something better.

The other is to conclude that if both parties are saying that China (or any other scapegoat) is the cause of our problems, maybe the people whose rhetoric on that issue is more aggressive will actually “do something about it”. I don’t know what the future holds, but climate jokes aside, the United States is on very thin ice right now. The momentum seems to be pushing in a very bad direction, and it’s going to take a lot of careful work to turn things around.

You should watch this video on mutual aid

I’ve already added this to my direct action post, but the more people see it, the better off the world will be. If pressed to describe my political movement leftward, I would say that the values with which I was raised haven’t changed a whole lot, but my understanding of the world has changed deepened a great deal. I think I’ve mentioned before that I was opposed to American imperialism and to capitalism before I realized I was. I’ve participated in activism around monstrosities like The School of the Americas/WHINSEC, the sanctions against Iraq and later invasion, the embargo against Cuba, climate change, and more. For all of that, I would say I’m relatively new to being “A Leftist”. I’ve learned enough to know that I have a huge amount left to learn. One of the most important things I’ve been learning is that there are a myriad of people looking to share what they’ve learned.

One theme I’ve encountered – a sort of a joke, I guess – is that the anarchist strategy for revolution is “do mutual aid and then we win”. Obviously, this kind of analysis is going to be too simplistic for any political theory that’s been around for a while, but at the surface level, it’s easy to see why people dismiss anarchism in this way. Part of the problem often seems to be a lack of understanding about what mutual aid actually is, what makes it different from the various things often described as “charity”, and where it fits into a desire for rapid, revolutionary change.

This video from Saint Andrewism covers all of that and more. Watch it, check out the rest of the channel, and support him on patreon if you can.

The danger of fascism has not gone away. Not even close.

As the world’s largest and most aggressive military power, I think it’s fair say that the rise of fascism in the United States is a matter of great concern for our entire species. I do not think that an overtly fascist U.S. would succeed in its goals over the long term. Fascism is an ideology that, dependent on fiction and scapegoating, will always carry the seeds of its own destruction. That said, beyond the entirely reasonable fear for the groups targeted by white supremacist fascism, there’s also the concern that the anti-environmentalist tendencies of the right would continue interfere with the global response to climate change badly enough and for long enough that we would be unable to cope with the approaching climate chaos.

I think for a lot of Americans, the Trump presidency was a wake-up call. That’s good, as far as it goes, but for whatever subset of the population didn’t realize how urgently change was needed before 2016, there’s a very real danger that Biden’s victory and the Democratic Party taking control of Congress will “hit the snooze button”. The conditions that gave rise to the Trump presidency have not gone away, and for all the talk about how different Biden and the Democrats are, they are not at all likely to do what’s needed to keep the U.S. from sliding further into overt, white supremacist fascism. The leaders of that party are wealthy, comfortable, and more concerned with maintaining their personal positions of power than they are with the future of the country or the species.

They may favor change, but only if that change doesn’t threaten their wealth and power. That means that the economic hardships, escalating nationalist and white supremacist propaganda, and the growing feeling of doom brought on by ecological and climate collapse will continue to push much of the white population of the United States towards fascism. The problem is that the economic system that governs most of the world is fundamentally incompatible with the ideals of democracy that are supposed to be at the core of a free and just society. Capitalism is designed to concentrate wealth and power in the hands of those whose primary interest and ability is the hoarding of money. The results of this have always been the same – those at the top use their resources to solidify their lofty positions in society by funneling an ever-increasing amount away from everyone else. Under capitalism, society simultaneously becomes more authoritarian, while becoming more difficult for the growing pool of those at “the bottom”.

So-called “social democracies” mitigate this process through progressive tax structures and generous social safety nets, but from what I can tell that only slows the process, and shifts the burdens of it onto those colonies and “former” colonies that have been ruthlessly exploited for their resources throughout the history of capitalism. As those at the top continue to demand more, they erode social safety nets of all forms, to both take more of society’s wealth, and to increase the number of people desperate enough to agree to bad pay and conditions, in order to survive in a world with no other options.

The left and the extremist right both claim to offer solutions to these problems. On the left, we want to change the nature of the system that brought us to this point. We want power and wealth to be distributed more evenly, not just because we want everyone to have their needs met, but also because allowing a small ruling class to run everything, while exempting themselves from the problems created by their rule, threatens to destroy us all.

The right’s solution is to turn those with the least power into scapegoats. Minorities and foreigners are blamed for our problems, and punished with increased poverty. When that inevitably fails to solve anything, the number of groups being blamed, and the severity of the punishment is increased. This cycle gets repeated, until ethnic cleansing is the only “solution” left (since taking power away from those in charge is obviously off the table). A “correction” like the New Deal may be able set this process back a bit, but it’s not capable of actually stopping it.

And while this is underway at any stage, we will remain unable to deal with problems that, as with climate change, are driven by the endless need for accumulating wealth that makes up the foundation of any version of capitalism.

Biden and the Democratic party cannot save us, and they never could. What they can do, at least in theory, is slow the process down for a short while, to allow for the kinds of work that will empower us to save ourselves.

Whether it’s peasants with torches and pitchforks, unions going on strike, or mass political unrest of other kinds, collective power and collective action has always been the solution to the lethal greed and irresponsibility of the aristocracy. As it stands, those living in the heart of the American Empire lack the organization to force revolutionary change – violent or otherwise.

We need to use what time and resources we have to change that.

It’s hard to know how this effort will end up going. The willingness of the powerful to use violence to keep their power may be one of the most reliable trends in human history, and it has been a central feature of the United States of America from the beginning. I believe our best chance at both avoiding violence and at surviving it if avoidance becomes impossible is through encouraging people to look out for each other, and to begin relying on each other as communities, rather than on governments or corporations. We need to start rebuilding society from the ground up, within the crumbling structure of the systems that currently govern the world, so that we can use all these marvels of technology for the benefit of life as a whole. 

If we don’t, then momentum will carry us to an era of horrors that will make the 20th century look peaceful by comparison. We cannot afford to waste the next four years. We cannot afford to relax. Biden’s victory might have bought us time, but only if we work on organizing to change course now.

 

 


If you want to help pay for the content of this blog, cover the costs of my recent move, and feed my pets, please head over to the Oceanoxia Collective on Patreon. My patrons are a wonderful group of people who give according to their abilities that I might live and work according to my needs. I’m grateful for every one of them, and you could join their ranks for as little as one U.S. dollar per month!

All the work still remains

I’m glad cop who killed George Floyd has been found guilty, and glad that he will not be free during the 8 weeks until sentencing.

This one conviction- if upheld -will change little. It has not brought justice, and so it cannot bring peace.

There is too much wrong with the systems that govern this world, too much at stake, and too little time for the change we need.

The work must continue, at every level.

The meaning of freedom in a finite life

One of the more common themes throughout history has been disagreement between society’s rulers, and those being ruled, about how society ought to be run. Fortunately, history has also shown that if enough people are able to work together towards a common vision of a better world, we can bring about needed change whether our current rulers want it or not. One difficulty we face is that in the midst of so much messaging designed to present the way things are as the only way things can be, it can be hard to actually find that vision through the clutter. I think many of us have a vague desire for a life similar to the one with which we’re already familiar, but “better”. In a lot of our daily lives, the desire for change is less about wanting something good to start, and more about wanting something bad to stop.

While most people can agree on what our basic needs are, I think it’s generally understood that the basics required for survival do not guarantee a fulfilling life, and that different people have different ideas of what a “fulfilling life” would mean. There are always going to be some limits; my right to do whatever I want doesn’t extend to causing problems for other people. When it comes down to it, though, the common thread in pretty much all the myriad visions of a good life seems to be the ability to control how we spend our time.

The problem of capitalism – in this context – is that “free time” is viewed as an extravagant luxury, rather than a human necessity. Only those who don’t need to work for a living are entitled to free time. For the rest of us, any time not spent earning money seems to be viewed as a vice more than anything else, and sufficient justification for poverty. If I’m not spending every minute of my time in pursuit of money, then any financial problems I have are my fault, and evidence that I am a burden on society, in some way.

The system cannot fail me, I can only fail the system.

Not only that, but the time I’ve spent trying to turn this blog into a source of income that will keep me fed and sheltered is now a liability. If – as is likely – I have to spend time hunting for wage labor again, I will have a “gap” in my C.V./resumé. If I want someone else to pay me to do work that they want done, and that I am competent to do, I will also have to justify the time I have spent not working for the financial gain of someone else.

Throughout 2020, as the United States struggled to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, this cultural hatred of free time was brought into sharp focus. At a time when hundreds of thousands of lives could have been saved by keeping people at home, the the capitalists running our country seemed to be mostly horrified and offended at the notion that – for just a few months – a majority of the population might be allowed to simply exist, without having to do work apparently for the sake of doing work. There seems to be a deeply held belief that without the threat of misery and death through poverty, nobody would do any work at all.

I think it’s worth pointing out that for the ruling class, this does not seem to be about whether the resources needed to keep everybody housed, fed, and so on would exist if people were “paid to stay home”, but rather about the endless need for escalating profits. Never in my lifetime has the United States so openly told its own people that their lives are worth less than the desire of rich people to keep getting richer. The justification given, however, is not generally that multi-millionaires or billionaires might stop seeing their “net worth” rise, or might even see it decline a little. That’s not a line of argument that’s very persuasive to those of us whose concerns relate more to the basic necessities of survival.

Instead we are told that if people are allowed to control how they spend their own time, nobody will do the work that’s needed for humanity to survive, and we’ll all starve from laziness or something. We must be coerced into doing the work deemed necessary by those who have more money than us, and their right to decide that is justified by their legal control of that money, and the access to resources that it represents.

It should be clear to most people that this is nonsense. If meeting the material needs of humanity was the driving force behind capitalism’s relationship with labor and production, then we would have eradicated hunger and houselessness long ago. Certainly we would have eradicated them before anybody was able to measure their wealth in hundreds of millions of dollars, let alone billions. The scarcity suffered by so many of us is manufactured for the sake of controlling how people spend their time.

Poverty is the tool used by the capitalist class to force everyone else to work for their benefit, and as a result, most of humanity is denied the freedom – the free time – to pursue happiness.

Any society will require work to maintain, but no society in history has lacked people willing to do that work, provided the ability to do so in reasonable safety, and to have time and energy to spend on other things. The only time coercion is required, is when people are asked to do work that is neither necessary for survival, nor pleasant or interesting to do. If there is a job that needs doing, and there’s nobody willing to do it, then surely we can find ways to make that work more appealing. I’d love to divide my time between writing, growing food, and maintaining my home. I would happily also spend a day or two every week on pretty much any kind of work useful to society, in exchange for the ability to spend the rest of my time on those pursuits. I’d spend more time than that, depending on the work in question, and I know I’m not alone. How many of you have known someone who enjoyed a job that would make you miserable?

Do you enjoy building houses or furniture? What about inspecting or cleaning sewers? What about milking venomous snakes to make medicine, or studying spiders to further our understanding of biology? What about dissecting dead animals to discover what killed them? What about nursing sick people? Delivering mail? Repairing appliances? Teaching children? Farming? Teaching adults? What about composing music, or performing music composed by others? Cleaning boat hulls? Painting houses? Gathering evidence to help settle a dispute? Building roads? Dismantling broken electronics? Cleaning up pollution?

How many pages could I fill simply listing the kinds of work needed for a just and functional society with our level of technology? What jobs, of the tiny handful I’ve listed would you be willing to do because they needed doing, and you had the time and inclination, knowing that your needs were already met?

Which of them would you be willing to do in exchange for access to your favorite form of entertainment, your favorite drug, or your favorite foods?

Which of them would you do because it would allow someone you love to work on something that makes them happy?

I’m not sure I’ve ever met someone who wasn’t willing to do some form of work that would make another person miserable.

A society that actually values the freedom of each human to pursue happiness, rather than endlessly growing “profits” isn’t just one that would be more pleasant for humanity as a whole, it would also be far more sustainable at pretty much every level.

Plenty of us would prefer to have toys or tools that last a long time, rather than disposable ones that pollute the environment when they have to be replaced.

How many of us would prefer to make tools or toys that last a long time, rather than ones that we knew would stop working soon, not because it’s not possible to build a better one, but because it’s more profitable to make and sell more items of lower quality?

With all the incredible technologies available to us, do you really think that it’s not possible for food to be distributed around the world based on need? Do  you really think it wasn’t possible to maintain a resource stockpile for pandemics that we’ve always known would happen? Do you really think we just don’t have the resources for everyone to have clean drinking water? Do you really think we need to have people claiming ownership of homes they will never need for themselves, just so they can charge other people for access? Do you really think our society is made better by forcing artists to do work they hate just to survive, rather than making art?

Is it so hard to imagine a society where all of our collective knowledge and skill is used for the health, education, and free time of everyone, rather than for one or two people to own a dozen yachts they never use, or to have private airplanes?

Is it so hard to imagine a society in which nobody gets rich off of war?

I don’t think it is, but it does require that we have the time and energy to do so, and the ability to learn from the passions and expertise of our fellow humans.

We have a finite time as sapient creatures on this planet, and it seems to me that the quality of our lives is centered around how we spend that time, and how our use of that time affects our fellow sapient creatures, both in the present, and in the future.

I believe we can work together to dismantle a system meant to control our existence, and to build a society that values our lives and our ability to enjoy them as best suits us, and I think that free time as the only true “freedom to pursue happiness” should be the central priority around which we rally.


If you want to help pay for the content of this blog, cover the costs of my recent move, and feed my pets, please head over to the Oceanoxia Collective on Patreon. My patrons are a wonderful group of people who give according to their abilities that I might live and work according to my needs. I’m grateful for every one of them, and you could join their ranks for as little as one U.S. dollar per month!