This is embarrassing but I’ve just got to rant a little bit about “conservatives” and conservative pride in their ignorance.
Naturally, some conservatives might say, “we’re not all ignorant!” but, if that’s true, my rejoinder would be: “why aren’t you out there reducing the level of proud ignorance among your fellow conservatives, then? They sure make you look bad by association; I can only suspect you’re an enabler.” That’s basically the same reasoning that many anti-muslims trot out to challenge all muslims about terrorism: “Oh, yeah? If you’re not opposing it, you’re supporting it! Nyar!” Hey, if you’re going to associate yourself with a group of deplorables, expect some splash-deploring. If you want to have asshole politics and not be challenged on the axis of “conservatism”, just call yourself a “libertarian.”
I’m tempted to go charging off on a side-rant about how “conservatism” isn’t even a coherent political philosophy, but is rather a nebulous hankering for a mythical racist, classist, imperialist, disease-ridden, polluted, white supremacist past – but I won’t because trying to get “conservatives” to stake out a position is difficult; they’re just pining for the good old days when people worked and made themselves better and, um, I dunno. I’m not saying “conservatives are stupid” but conservatism is such a nebulous atmospheric inversion of bullshit that it’s hard to come to grips with. It doesn’t help that conservatives’ primary distinguishing characteristic is: dishonesty about what they actually believe.
Now, I will play the role of a “triggered lib” – a label I would otherwise reject. I get these emails and they make blood squirt from my ears, which I can’t complain about because I suppose I asked for them:
This is such a great example of a false dichotomy that it’s hard to imagine finding a better one. On one hand, you have a really stupid and vague mis-characterization of capitalism, being compared to a dishonest and stupid mis-characterization of socialism. You could illustrate Richard Hofstadter’s The Paranoid Style in American Politics [amazon, it’s not on worldcat] – the idea is pure propaganda technique:
- Establish a label
- Get the population scared of the label
- Never bother explaining what the label actually refers to
I live in Rural Pennsylvania and have encountered this sort of thing many times. The last time, it was a neighbor who said (this is a direct quote) “The reason I will probably vote for Trump again is because I don’t want sharia law.” Naturally, my first question was, “do you know how sharia law works?” and “it’s like when the police union mediates disputes between officers without bringing in lawyers or third parties.” I also asked him whether the mostly catholic composition of the supreme court worried him and he interrupted me and said it did. So, there: the paranoid style in action – fear as the engine of manipulation, fear built on complete ignorance because that’s the best and easiest kind of fear to create.
The first statement on the Tshirt is … weird:
Capitalism = Work Or Starve
Paging Karl Marx, Paging Karl Marx – Please Come to the White Courtesy Phone! “Work or starve” is exactly the problem that Marx was trying to point out, about capitalism. It’s exploitive and brutal. For fuck’s sake, what kind of authoritarian submissives wrote this Tshirt? I’d say it’s an “own goal” except I don’t think they even know what that is.
The second statement on the Tshirt is flat out wrong:
Socialism = Work And Starve
I just sit here with my mouth flapping open and shut like a landed fish, suffocating on the dock in the sun. I suspect that, if I could ask the author of the shirt what they were thinking, they’d say something about the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics which was a totalitarian dictatorship with a command economy run by a madman who could be Donald Trump’s fucked up uncle. Perhaps they are thinking of the collectivization of agriculture in the USSR, which was an act of supreme political incompetence that had nothing to do with socialism. I know you know this, dear reader, but it must be said: socialism is when the means of production are controlled by the workers. I’m not a big expert on Marxian Theory but one interpretation of “farming” is that you have a farmer (the worker) and they control the means of production (their farm) – redistribution on surplus, which capitalists call their “profit margin” is to those that need food, instead of those who control the supply or market. In the USSR – well, it’s hard to even describe it – “a lot of people” (20+ million!) starved because the government got involved in taking control of agriculture from where nature intended it to be: local. Of course it’s not a bad idea to have some central control of agriculture and today that’s what happens in the US, with the FDA controlling what kind of toxins you can spray on food, and basic food qualities. I wonder if the author of the Tshirt has ever eaten unregulated foods and, after they were done riding a rocket engine propelling them around with shit, or puking their guts out, if they would really like the government not to try to do stuff like mandate that food preparers wash their hands after using the toilet. Or, do they imagine a capitalist heaven, Amazon-style, in which workers have to piss into a jug because they don’t have time to get to a bathroom without being disciplined for goofing off. “Work or starve,” Jack!
Government control of parts of the economy is one of the hallmarks of socialism, which, in the US, means that the government has us on a permanent war economy, with expenditures on the military pegged at around 3% of GDP. That’s more than the GDP of Sweden. [I am aware that GDP is a bad metric but it’s what we’ve got] Government control of parts of the economy is all over the place in the US: the tax code, for one. It’s rigged so that capitalists can invest their money and make more, while paying less in taxes than someone who “works for a living” – remember: the same chucklefuck who wrote the Tshirt (assuming they believe any of it!) is voting for a president who paid $750 in taxes in 10 years because of how the tax code is jiggered for the rich investor class – literally, the taxpayers some of who “work for a living” are underwriting the business losses of someone rich just because they’re rich. That’s so fucked up, it’s why I don’t apologize for bringing Stalin’s USSR into the discussion as an example of horrible mis-government. Besides, the first line of the Tshirt: “work or starve” is incredibly Stalinist. It is, basically, exactly what the chekists who went forth to murder and starve the “kulaks” (farmers, jews, Ukranians and other undesirables) told them when they took their food.*
What kind of submissive authoritarian would wear a Tshirt like that? In order to say “capitalism is good” one has to ignore the enormous history of American capital stomping all over the workers every chance they get. The only people who should wear a Tshirt like that are executives at Apple, Amazon.com, Ebay, Uber, Oracle, Microsoft and investment bankers like Mitt Romney. Even then, you have to parse it differently, as though it’s something they would say: “Work or starve.” And, then, when they lay you off in the middle of a pandemic, “Work and Starve.”
Constantly, in the back of my mind as I write this, is De Boetie’s Treatise On Voluntary Human Subjection – why does anyone adopt such a self-abusing belief system? And how can they be so un-self-aware to trumpet that they believe that they are, basically, garbage humans in the sense of fully disposable, recyclable waste that is grist for capitalism? De Boetie asks why it is that we can have dictators, who are one man, enthralling and terrorizing an entire population who could easily crush them if they acted together? The same can be applied to capitalism, as Walter Mosely asked [stderr] how it is that “everyone needs a job” and that having a job has been allowed to become a matter of life and death. It’s a good question.
Look at the comment below the Tshirt:
Alright, socialists, we hear you, we hear you. Some people have worked harder than you and now you’re upset about it.
That’s a blatant appeal to another of the great lies of America: that it’s a meritocracy. Remember: the people who are selling that Tshirt are selling it to the supporters of a guy who claims to be a billionaire because he started with over $400 million tax-free from daddy. I don’t want to pop anyone’s bubble but: it’s not hard to be “successful” in any terms if you start with $400 meg. There’s an old joke that applies here, which I’ll re-write as:
Q: If you’re Donald Trump, how do you make a small fortune on real estate?
A: Start with a large one
But, seriously, are these people so stupid that they can’t see that what Trump did – avoiding taxes – validates their idea of dodging “government interference” and “wealth distribution” and the fucking imbecile still managed to lose billions of dollars of paper wealth. I can’t figure out where starvation fits into that scenario, but Trump has neither worked hard, nor starved. I’m sure we all wish he could be fed the meal that
Jugurtha Mithridates [corrected] fed Manius Aquillius as his just desserts.
The level of palpable ignorance necessary to produce or wear that Tshirt is mind-boggling. I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s their best-seller. Who buys it? Probably people like my neighbor up the street, who is worried about sharia law and creeping socialism. He lives in a cute little old house, well-maintained, that he paid for from his union job at the WAL-MART distribution center, living on his union-guaranteed pension. It’d probably be mean to point out to him, right now, that he’s not working. And that’s thanks to the many socialists and other labor activists who took the blows from capitalist-hired corporate strike-breakers, so that the workers had limited control over the means of production.
Here, I just designed a Tshirt:
And then a Stalinist version for the well-dressed authoritarian submissive:
Collectivization in USSR: I just finished reading “Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin” [wc] by Timothy Snyder. He goes into excruciating detail about what the farmers suffered during the collectivization of agriculture, and ties it into the Holocaust in Germany, Austria, and Poland. He doesn’t exactly make an argument, but the subtext is that the Holocaust was the pinnacle of a very fucked up century in a very, very fucked up continent managed by very, extremely, fucked up people. It is not a fun book.
The Tshirt images come from the real-time Tshirt design widget on spreadshirt.com, which is very cool and is a handy way of mocking up Tshirts for blog postings.
A more brutal reply to the “ … Some people have worked harder than you and now you’re upset about it.” bit would be: “YOUR fucking ancestors kidnapped mine, who they worked to death to amass wealth that they passed down to their worthless kids and now I’m upset about it.” Don’t let anyone forget for a second that American capitalism was established on slave labor and depends today on creating and maintaining a permanent underclass of Tshirt wearing “conservative” fuckwits.
[I don’t get to make the slavery come-back, but my ancestors came over here because British agricultural rentiers and capitalists starved a few million of them during the potato “famine” – which: surprise! Was not really a “famine” – there were hundreds of thousands of tons of potatoes in warehouses being shipped to England to feed Britons, while the Irish and Scots starved. The Norwegian half of my family were also farmers who came to the US during the potato blight and were told they were lucky they survived. They were resettled on land in Minnesota that had been ethnically cleansed of the Lakotah, who had lived there. What the Irish and European immigrants experienced was bad, but it was not remotely in the ballpark of as bad as chattel slavery.]