Your appliances are spying on you. Colluding in the kitchen and living room, relying on pure stealth. Hidden microphones listening in on your preferences and predilections. Your morning prayers and the sounds you make on the toilet. Mumbling your passwords out loud as you tap them into your devices. Who do you think is on the receiving end, who’s monitoring your every syllable and breath with the professional diligence of an ICU nurse? Mining you for information, consumer tendencies, part of a focus group of unsuspecting millions. So much of what you say and do and buy is data, recorded and commodified. You are unaware, compliant, oblivious of the lurking peril. The conceit is thinking yourself somehow unique, rather than a mere unit. A number on a spreadsheet, more fine-tuning for the algorithms. Your tastes readily deduced, your opinions aired on every platform, available for all to see. The appropriate marketing campaign already being custom-designed and personalized. You have mistaken freedom of choice for liberty and things for necessities. In your little silo, safe from the outside world. Comforted by illusion, impervious to anyone you might find disagreeable. Superficially happy, but completely alienated. Part of you aware something’s wrong, a sickness eating your soul. Desire for the most part abating, except those rare, terrible days when you’d absolutely kill for a kiss.
I don’t review a lot of stuff these days (although I do keep a regular book journal). However, after reading Aaron Bastani’s Fully Automated Luxury Communism I felt compelled to respond, at length, to his vision of the bright, shining near future that awaits us thanks to new technologies, robots, and limitless leisure time.
* * * *
First of all, does anybody else have a problem with the words “luxury” and “communism” appearing in such close proximity? Aren’t they understood to be practically, y’know, oxymorons?
Not according to Aaron Bastani.
Looking through his rose-colored glasses, he sees the future as a time of abundance, thanks to the mining of asteroids in near earth orbit and virtually free services like health care and housing. It is technology that will finally liberate our species from the onerous yoke of work, robots doing most of our jobs, humans enjoying lives of leisure…
I consider myself something of a student of history and try as I might, I can’t recall a single human society, from pre-history to the present, where someone didn’t get a larger slice of the pie due to their size, strength, ferocity, intelligence, wealth, connections, etc. In times of abundance, the ruling clique simply takes more. In times of want, they give up the least.
I wouldn’t call Bastani’s book non-fiction, more like science fiction.
In describing a near future utopia brought about by technological advances, he is employing wishful thinking—I don’t trust machines (or billionaires) to save us and, frankly, we don’t need more luxury on this godforsaken planet, we need less.
In light of the most recent IPCC report on the climate (and its ominous-sounding references to “Code Red”), Fully Automated seems even more far-fetched and fanciful. It will be decades before we can mine asteroids or store limitless amounts of data on a strand of DNA. I see no political will anywhere for building affordable housing or offering free health care or university tuition—hell, we can’t even get our governments, liberal or conservative, to get behind a liveable minimum wage.
And, in the meantime, we’ll be dealing with a climate catastrophe: drought and severe weather phenomena, refugees in the hundreds of millions, flooding, famine, mass deaths from heat waves and newer and even more deadly pandemics as we continue to trespass in remote areas we don’t belong.
Under such stressful circumstances will workable societies and infrastructure still exist, will we have the capacity or, yes, luxury to conceive of space travel when the bonds that hold civilization together are loosening, the world coming apart at the seams?
We know that capitalism is eminently adaptable, able to contort itself into new configurations if it means justifying its survival, but even getting it to embrace a $15 minimum wage or support the notion of a Universal Basic Income is like trying to pry food away from a T-Rex.
It isn’t part of its mentality to throw around “free money” or have governments providing anything but the most basic services to citizens. Oligarchs and their cover organizations have spent billions in “dark money” to secure legislators who are hostile to “big” (i.e. effective) government, doing their best to discredit democratic institutions in the eyes of an increasingly cynical and disconnected electorate.
What major party or serious contender for power is out there agitating for Universal Basic Services for every citizen? Who is going to have the courage and chutzpah to “switch off the privatization and out-sourcing machine”, institute a “One Planet Tax” and impose the rest of Bastani’s progressive and expensive agenda in a world bought and paid for by minions of neoliberalism?
To be fair, the book does have its moments. For instance, Bastani is proficient at providing short, snappy definitions:
Capitalism is described as “a machine designed to extract maximum value to shareholders at the expense of workers and service users”.
Privatization: “is not about improving outcomes or services, but pursuing a political agenda which redistributes wealth from the majority of society to a small elite”.
Neoliberalism: “reduces the capacity of public bodies to spend money while simultaneously intensifying social problems like homelessness and poverty. This means the only options to respond…are increasingly market-oriented”.
And, finally: “A green politics of ecology without the red politics of shared wealth will fail to command popular support”.
I also agree with Bastani’s insistence that we should replace the GDP, not with an “Abundance Index”, as he suggests, but something that measures the physical, mental and spiritual health of our citizenry, a Happiness Scale (“decommodify happiness” should be a meme passed on like a secret password, embroidered on t-shirts, stamped on buttons).
But those occasional gems don’t detract from this book’s wrong-headedness and sheer hubris:
“Our technology is already making us gods, so we might as well get good at it.”
“Under Fully Automated Luxury Communism we can lead lives equivalent to today’s billionaires…”
It sings the praises of technology but expresses little interest in human nature and our somewhat spotty historical record when it comes to slavery, exploitation, genocide, conflicts over resource scarcity, etc. Even so-called “free societies” have been built on the fruits of cheap labor and menial servitude.
Bastani posits a positive, hopeful future based on the most specious evidence while blithely ignoring crises that represent an existential threat to our species and are far more present and pressing than he seems willing to acknowledge.
Humans have never lived “wisely and agreeably and well” (quoting John Maynard Keynes) and we’ve never existed in a jobless, leisure society where our basic needs are met and I don’t believe we ever will.
If there is wealth, the priest-kings and charismatic leaders will use dogma and jingoism to take more than their fair share. If we complain, they will employ lethal force to terrify and constrain us. What else is new?
Capitalism might be flexible and self-replicating, but it will also fight fiercely for its survival, its ability to continue exploiting the many in favor of the few, chewing up more and more of our precious ecosystem, its greed barely held in check by weak laws, compromised lawmakers and a distracted populace.
Bastani feels that through some magical influx of abundance, capitalism will become a victim of its own success and be transformed into an economic system that better serves the common good.
I wish that were the case but fear his timeline renders his solutions, fanciful or not, moot. Our plight as a species must take precedence over capitalist wet dreams. We need to act today to save our living, breathing planet, not wait decades for dubious technological fixes.
And I shouldn’t have to say this but the solution won’t come from without, but within.
It starts with us. Speaking and acting collectively. Reforming when possible, revolting when necessary. Putting aside our differences, shouting in one voice, a deafening, prolonged clamor that can’t be, won’t be ignored. Demanding a sustainable, equitable, ethical future, one worth the blood, sweat and tears that will undoubtedly be shed in the course of bringing it to fruition.
This was, for all intents and purposes, a second Brexit referendum and, guess what, the Leavers easily won the day, despite the so-called “youth quake” and every bit of “Momentum” they could muster.
Labour took a big hit but what is equally interesting is that the Liberal Democrats, pro-Remain and proud of it, were also swept from the electoral board. Take that, all you Labourites who insisted Jeremy Corbyn should have more aggressively stumped for the European Union while out on the hustings.
Ah, Jeremy Corbyn.
He’s finished, of course, and so is the Left wing of the Labour Party. Now Tony Blair and his minions will have all the ammunition they need to gut the party and return it to the golden days when they hugged the middle of the road like a near-sighted motorist. No more of this shite about “the many vs. the few” and shaking up the ruling hegemony. There are many affluent Labour members and supporters who were never comfortable with Corbyn’s intentions to redistribute wealth and shore up the “nanny state”. Cradle to grave medical coverage, free tuition, reinvesting in social services? Fuck that. The wealthy are happy to claim a progressive mantle as long as their interests aren’t threatened. Once that happens, they lose all trappings of liberalism and socialism, siding with their economic equals and peers. Karl Marx and Rosa Luxemburg called it over a hundred years ago and little has changed since.
It’s a class thing and nothing else matters once privilege is called into question.
Going to get very, very ugly, very, very fast in the U.K. but here are a few predictions for what lies ahead, and one doesn’t have to be a swami or mentalist to see this coming:
Boris Johnson’s star won’t be long in ascent. At heart, he’s a creep and compulsive liar and his true colors will be revealed in very short order.
The U.K. will sign a final Brexit deal…but will never escape the economic reach and power of the European Union. The final draft will be a huge eye-opener to the rabid Leave folks, Brussels setting the agenda and calling the shots, including a free movement of people across borders and many other clauses that kinda, sorta resemble the old agreement.
Scotland is gone. Independence, baby. The Scots are a wise people who know which way the wind is blowing. While the rest of the U.K. limps along, its power and influence much diminished, Scotland will cut a new deal with the E.U. and before long will be out-performing their Brit, northern Irish and Welsh counterparts.
The powers that be will double down on their control of the “free press”, learning to better manage the message. Despite a heavily biased news media (including the once-vaunted BBC), Labour was able to starkly depict the plight of the poor, disenfranchised, youth and precariously employed, exposing the underlying anger people are experiencing while suffering under the yolk of neo-liberal capitalism. That must be checked—can’t allow reality to defeat the carefully maintained illusion of a united, contented populace.
I’m in grieving mode today, distraught that ordinary, hard-working people had an opportunity to take a sober, second look at Brexit and remake their society into a fairer, more sustainable and democratic dominion where everyone is treated equally.
This was a chance for real, generational change, a revolution from below.
It’s over and won’t come again in my life time.
The good guys have lost and now the U.K. is at the mercy of a black-hearted bunch of bastards who are going to loot the public purse, secret the proceeds of their crimes in tax havens, while having a bloody good laugh at the expense of the stupid proles who put them in power, voting (yet again) against their own interests, deserving of nothing but contempt.
“The worst slavery is that of heavily indoctrinated happy morons who adore their chains and cannot wait to thank their masters for the joy of their subservience.”
“Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.”
Decided to check out the Telus “World of Science” when we were in Edmonton recently.
Unfortunately, the price of admission—$35, including a surcharge for the ridiculous Marvel Comics feature exhibit (and that has what to do with science, exactly?)—was a complete ripoff so I decided to wait in the foyer while the folks I was with ponied up the necessary coin.
To add insult to injury, the Telus folks have created a scale model of a new building they’d like to construct, with the help of public donations. Folks, Telus are the arseholes who are over-charging you for your cell phone service and making billions at your expense. They could easily fund the entire facility, while asking only a nominal fee for admission, but that is not part of their mentality.
These corporate sponsorships are a joke, advertising for companies that are socially irresponsible, capitalistic, greedy and self-serving. They pay low taxes, while earning all the benefits of the infrastructure we’ve paid for out of our pockets.
Here’s what I wrote as I waited for the group I was with to finish their tour:
When you commodify the sciences and arts, charge a fee to access records of our shared achievements, whose agenda is served and whose interests ignored?
The corporate mindset is not generous or benevolent, it exacts a price for its puny tithes and refuses to acknowledge the public ownership of knowledge or the common good served by true acts of charity.
“Peasants were never permitted within the gardens of Versailles
their presence an affront to the beauty residing there;
Only the wealthy could produce the price of admission,
only they had license to piss on its manicured grounds.”
Skull Island wasn’t the same without him. The indigenous inhabitants, denied their traditional object of veneration and sacrifice, disintegrated into sects and internecine squabbling, nearly eradicating themselves. Survivors fell victim to the missionaries who inevitably follow in the wake of white explorers, displacing pagan idols, substituting ones more to their liking.
Robbed of its apex predator, the jungle lost coherence and structure, descending into chaos. And then came invasive species, animals and plants foreign to the closed ecosystem, devastating the pristine wilderness.
It wasn’t long before a consortium of Far Eastern financiers and venture capitalists bought the beachfront and lagoon for the equivalent of some beads and hand mirrors, evicting the natives, erecting exclusive vacation resorts catering to jet-setting millionaires and trust fund slackers.
Gift shops featuring statuettes, t-shirts and keepsakes commemorating the Island’s most famous denizen did brisk business, affluent tourists sporting colorful gear celebrating a fearsome creature once dubbed “the Eighth Wonder of the World”.
Descendants of the original islanders toiled in service industry roles, existing precariously, pining for the days when their god still lived and breathed, uprooting trees, bellowing his defiance, exacting regular tribute for the privilege of viewing divinity in the flesh.
“I hate ’em,” I snarled, “they are lower order creatures, on par with ambulatory trilobites.”
Words to that effect.
But on one occasion, I was reminded that during the summer of 2016 my wife and I spent an entire month overseas, visiting three countries and soaking up the atmosphere like parched sponges. Didn’t that make me, ahem, a tourist?
Immediately after the accusation was leveled at me I became angry, defensive, denying the charge vehemently.
See, my notion of tourism is that it’s a necessary evil, like gut bacteria or liberal politicians. Yes, it can greatly benefit the economy of a nation but, in so doing, it also exacts a certain psychic toll. I mean, there were some parts of Prague that reminded me of Disneyland (and that is not a good thing).
For myself, rather than tourist, I prefer the term “visitor” or perhaps even “guest”.
Let me illustrate what I think is the difference between a visitor to a foreign country and a tourist with this analogy:
After a perfunctory knock, a stranger enters your home, basically brushing past you as he marches over to the table, seats himself and waits to be served. He doesn’t look right or left, doesn’t check out the pictures on the walls, the arrangement of the furniture; there’s no small talk, this person just wants to be fed.
And so you bring forth the courses you’ve spent all day preparing, but the food is unpleasant and exotic to the stranger, who loudly bemoans the lack of familiar favorites. The water tastes funny too and they can’t understand your weird accent.
Then, finally, the stranger glances at his watch, bolting abruptly because they have another dinner appointment further down the road (hopefully boasting better fare than this sorry joint). No real human contact, no effort made to immerse themselves in their surroundings and engage with their host. Only interested in stuffing their fat faces as quickly as possible and then moving on to the next trough.
See what I mean?
I personally think it’s quite easy to make distinctions between feelthy touristas and those who are genuinely interested in their chosen destination, doing their research, learning a few words of the language ahead of time, apprising themselves of some of the historical and cultural features specific to the region in question.
Visitors have bucket lists, tourists have checklists.
A visitor will seek out a nondescript street corner once glimpsed in an obscure “B” movie; a tourist goes on inclusive, all-you-can-eat-and-drink junkets, spending hours trying to tan their pasty bodies on a private beach, the only locals in evidence the ones employed as service personnel.
Tourists patronize expat bars and seek out others of their kind; visitors deftly avoid anyone reeking of their home country and venture far afield to escape their idiotic compatriots.
Visitors seek experience, interaction; tourists are after visuals, placing themselves front and center in every picture they take, “selfies” amid the ruins, egos the size of the Parthenon.
A tourist never gets deliberately lost or risks chance encounters.
A tourist is rarely pleasantly surprised or jolted by insight.
A tourist secretly despises the countries they visit and can’t wait to get back home and pretend otherwise.
A visitor gamely struggles with the native dialect; tourists insist on talking their own lingo in A VERY LOUD VOICE.
To a tourist, any place worth seeing has to look like it belongs on a postcard.
A tourist says “cool”, meaning worthy of yet another picture, and “quaint” when they mean old and useless.
A tourist can enter a thousand-year-old church and completely ignore the gorgeous, stained glass windows, hand-carved pulpit and ancient aura, instead fixating on a middle-aged nun praying near the back who’s a dead ringer for their aunt Gladys.
A visitor never completely shakes off the places they explore and inhabit; a tourist takes nothing from the sites and monuments they see and leaves nothing of themselves behind.
A visitor is respectful, tolerant, gracious; a tourist vain, easily bored, rude, suspicious and disdainful.
A visitor departs with regret, a tourist with relief.
Visitors smile, tourists grimace.
Visitors say “thank you”, tourists begrudge even a modest tip.
Visitors try and fit in, tourists don’t bother.
Visitors are pilgrims, tourists consumers.
I’m posting the Table of Contents below, just to illustrate the breadth and diversity of the subject matter.
In the meantime, I urge you to pop over to a site that has recently posted one of the most personal essays from Mouth, a warts-and-all overview of my three-decade long writing career, with the promising title “Man of Constant Failure”. Click here to read it.
I also posted one of my favorite bits, a takedown of stupid comic book movies and the critics who laud them, over at my film site, Cinema Arete. Click here to read it.
And don’t forget the live performance of some of the essays from Mouth I recorded in my living room before a very appreciative audience. I loaded it on to Bandcamp for free listening. Click here to tune in.
And now, the aforementioned Table of Contents. The roll call of infamy:
The Attractions of Misanthropy
This movie sucks (and so do you)
Paris is Burning
Coming Soon to Your Hometown
I’ve Seen the Future, Baby, and It’s Boring
God, A Concept
Bad At Sex
Agents of Control
Who are you? (I)
Good, Honest Hatred
Man to Man
Christians & Taliban
Foot in Mouth Disease
Who are you? (II)
Stupid People: A Case For Eugenics?
I Don’t Care
Get Out Your Hankies
Who are you? (III)
Man of Constant Failure
People Who Take Signs to Public Events
Between the Idea and the Reality
In Praise of Book Burning
I Hate White People
* * * * *
Mouth: Rants & Routines is currently being prepped for publication as an e-book/Kindle and will be available for sale and downloading by the last week of May.
Check back here in the coming days for further updates.
I confess to feeling nervous—how would people, even enlightened, progressive types, react to my rants on subjects that would strike many as too close to home?
As the clock wound down and the reading date we’d chosen inched closer and closer, I felt my nerves twanging like guitar strings. On the day in question, I set up chairs in our living room, cleaned the house from top to bottom and wondered if I’d be a few friends shyer once the evening was over.
My latest book, Mouth: Rants and Routines, is a no-holds-barred attack on political correctness and its dim-witted minions, except this time, the criticism is coming from the far Left. This will be considered unconscionable by some, a betrayal of my roots.
PC and its accompanying trendy social causes have diverted the attention of progressives and advanced the agenda of people only interested in narrow, single issues, rather than trying to build a giant tent that would encompass all those who struggle in the crushing grip of capitalism, men, women and children who lack food and health and shelter security. I’m talking about folks working two or three part-time jobs in a precarious economic climate; single mothers, people living on fixed incomes that amount to no incomes at all, once the rent and bills are paid.
And then there is the existential threat presented by climate change: while some of us fuss about, wondering where we fit on the sexual spectrum or fret over what bathroom is most appropriate or which personal pronoun to use when referring to ourselves, half the world is burning.
Mouth is a bitter pill to swallow, no question, and will offend a lot of individuals who like to wear their beliefs on their sleeves, visible to everyone, a display of righteousness and piety and sanctimoniousness that would make a medieval Pope blush.
As my Introduction to the book warns:
“If you’re a wishy-washy liberal, someone who sits on the fence until their ass is black and blue, this probably isn’t the book for you. Likewise if you recently enrolled in a Gender Studies program and/or believe that one day, God willing, Caitlyn Jenner will win a Nobel Prize for…something. If you frequently use the words ‘men’ and ‘rape culture’ in the same sentence, if you self-identify according to a particular animal clan, or consider your pets surrogate children, well, there’s the door, please use it.”
The folks in attendance that night were surprisingly receptive to my heresy and in the recording we made you’ll hear lots of laughter and noises of agreement. I was thrilled and very, very relieved.
I know I’ll take some stick for daring poke at some Lefty/liberal causes that many people hold as sacred, inviolable, untouchable. But I also know there is a strong undercurrent among political progressives and contrarians who agree with me and cheer my decision to slay these sacred cows with as much invective and sarcasm as I possibly can.
Here’s a link to that reading, recorded in our home earlier this week. I have quite a bit of spoken word material and ambient music posted over at Bandcamp, all of it available for free listening and downloading. Please, tuck in.
I welcome your responses, whether you agree with me or not.
We need to have this discussion. The Left has no hope of defeating the entrenched interests opposing us unless we act in a unified, cohesive manner, refusing to allow ourselves to be hijacked by special interest groups and a tiny, vocal minority who eschew Big Ticket issues (income inequality, poverty, hunger) in favor of identity, gender politics, etc.
Stop the atomization and division and come together in one massive plurality of those who demand fairness and equality for ALL.
It really is our only hope of slowing down or, at least, humanizing the capitalist juggernaut bearing down on us, the horrible future it portends.
- Special thanks to my pal, Laird Brittin, who bravely agreed to open the evening with some of his new, original songs. He set the tone early, warmed up the crowd and, oh, yeah, played a helluva set. A true and valued friend…
Moment of Truth
They say it’s not a class thing, it’s just common sense that the right to vote should be reserved for those who own property.
They say it’s not a class thing, but it isn’t society’s responsibility to look after the poor.
They say it’s not a class thing, it’s that higher education was never intended for everyone, just a select few.
They say it’s not a class thing, it’s because handicapped parking discriminates against the able-bodied.
They say it’s not a class thing, but shouldn’t those who make more get to keep more?
They say it’s not a class thing, but does their daughter have to sit next to her?
They say it’s not a class thing, but too much is made out of raising the minimum wage.
They say it’s not a class thing, but wouldn’t our neighbourhoods be a lot safer if we had more cops and prisons?
They say it’s not a class thing, but what’s all this nonsense about minority rights?
They say it’s not a class thing, but aren’t the best cleaners and maids from Central America—El Salvador and Honduras especially—because those people have the most to be thankful for.
They say it’s not a class thing, it’s just that offhand they don’t know the price of a quart of milk or carton of eggs.
They say it’s not a class thing, they really do need that great, big house all to themselves.
They say it’s not a class thing, they don’t mind shelling out seven bucks for a quality cup of coffee.
They say it’s not a class thing, but as a rule they never give to panhandlers.
They say it’s not a class thing, some people are natural leaders, while others are meant to serve.
They insist it’s not a class thing, then grin sheepishly and admit yeah, it probably is.