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.
I love the sounds Nature makes
when she’s happy and none trouble
her serene countenance, vexing
her with their tireless machines
She hums contentedly
tending her bursting flower boxes
attentive to each seed or shoot
showering them with maternal love
She likes to get her hands dirty
except for the blood
which flows so copiously
it inevitably leaves a stain
She would say she’s blameless
as an iris, tender as a fawn
but we know her as a ruthless foe
when her existence is threatened
Leave her to her graces
praise her in word and deed:
the many shades of green she grows
the beauty she won’t concede
Written on my back deck June 2, 2021, while being serenaded by several varieties of bird song.
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…
Completing the final draft of my latest book, experiencing giddiness, a strong sense of anticipation, as well as a certain amount of anxiety—I mean, how are folks going to react to 40+ “routines”, satiric snippets, many of which are devoted to controversial or touchy subjects? We’ve become so thin-skinned and defensive these days that the most innocuous remark can be misread as bigoted or insensitive, topical humor regarded with suspicion and those holding dissenting views treated like latter day heretics and pariahs.
A guy on the far Left putting down political correctness, attacking the notion that our society should focus on social issues, at the expense of much more pressing concerns like poverty, food and health security, the looming threats posed by climate change and global warming? Not advisable, one runs the risk of being accused of apostasy or, even worse, labeled a “hater”, which, these days, is akin to being called a pedophile.
At various points during the conception and writing of this book I’ve paused, questioning my motivation, my aims…even my sanity. It would be far easier keeping my head down and mouth shut, not responding to the threat to freedom of expression and personal liberty presented by mushy-headed liberals trying to socially engineer their brave new world. Except…all my life I have been a progressive and I don’t want to see that agenda hijacked by a small, vocal group of people who wish to control what we talk about and the words we’re allowed to use in conversation and debate.
I also have a very strong hunch that we are being deliberately distracted with social causes (like identity politics) because the Powers That Be don’t want to be forced to make the massive, systemic changes necessary to confront the hegemony of the wealthy, the rampant consumerism threatening the future viability of the planet, the dark underbelly of capitalism.
All my adult life I have spoken out against censorship and will not, as an artist and human being, have my ideas, my imagination and themes, controlled by anyone else, regardless of how fine and honorable their intentions might seem.
I know my book, once it’s released, will cause offense, will annoy and alarm people, maybe a lot of people, but that’s kind of the point. We can’t be weak-kneed when we are defending something as fundamental as freedom of speech.
In about two weeks I’m going to be hosting an informal reading in our home, inviting a few friends and acquaintances over to hear excerpts from the book. A public workshop of the material. I’m curious to see what their reaction will be; it will be an excellent gauge as to how its contents will be received by people who don’t know me or my body of work.
Gonna be an interesting evening…
Further: hope to have a mockup of the cover ready to show you in the next week or ten days…I will be posting excerpts from the book around mid-April, releasing electronic versions of the complete text by the end of that month…there might also be an audio recording of my wee “house concert”, which (if it’s of sufficient quality) I’ll post either here or on my Bandcamp page.
Another long interval between blog posts and, once again, I have a writing project to blame.
My collection of rants and essays, as yet untitled, moves closer toward publication. I have been writing and editing this book since November, 2018 and have been very pleasantly surprised by how quickly it’s come together.
How would I describe the general mood and content of the book? I would represent it as a kind of purging—I confront inner and outer demons, situations and subjects that infuriate me and, in my view, trivialize our society. Some of the pieces are intensely personal, others take a broader view. Most of the “routines” are satirical and drip with venom; no sensibilities are spared, no quarter given. I guarantee there will be folks, even among my own small circle of acquaintances, who will be offended by my take on hot button issues. Religion, identity politics, the climate crisis, the rise of the “idiocracy”, are among the topics I address and, you can imagine, there’s plenty of invective to go around.
I’m pondering publishing this collection first as a free PDF on this blog and, eventually, as a very cheap e-book (Kindle and ePub versions).
The release date is still somewhat up in the air but I hope to have the aforementioned PDF posted on my blog in the next two months or so.
Sigh…yet another Black Dog Press release that is nothing like the 12 previous books. Satirical, sharp-toothed, non-fiction essays…is there a market for such things? I guess we’ll find out.
No excerpts or teasers yet…but I will say that right from the beginning I wanted to attack political correctness from the hard Left. Many conservatives and Right-wingers have taken their shots but few people on the other side of the ideological spectrum are willing to confront PC and point out how intolerant and anti-democratic it can be. Freedom of expression is a longtime obsession with me: anyone who seeks to limit or control the terms of a debate is my ENEMY, regardless of their politics or rationale.
This latest book absolutely demands reader feedback and I encourage you, once it’s posted, to download it (free), dive in and let me know what you think: which parts work, which parts make you scratch your head…or want to sever mine. Are there places where I’m unfair or go too far? Drop me some lines with your thoughts, we’ll have a sober, mature dialogue, see if we can attain a meaningful meeting of minds.
I’d better get back to work, I’m anxious to finish this brute then sit back and watch what happens.
Once the dust settles, there won’t be a single sacred cow left standing.
Hand me that bolt gun, will you, and let’s get down it it…
The atmosphere was terrific, the audience engaged and appreciative of the opportunity to meet and question a man who could well be the premier of our province in 2-3 years.
Ryan, I think it’s safe to say, is on the progressive side of the party and so I felt comfortable in my preamble excoriating the stupidity, cowardice and arrogance displayed by “center-Left” politicians and (gritting his teeth) liberal democrats.
I loathe both vile species, will never forgive them for the betrayals they’ve perpetrated on the people they purport to be serving.
I’ve posted the text of those remarks below and, as always, encourage readers to respond to or debate with any of my points and assumptions.
The evening began with my friend Laird Brittin performing a rousing rendition of Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land”.
Here’s what I said immediately following the song:
* * * *
Thank you, Laird.
And thank you, thank you, thank you, Woody Guthrie.
Does anyone happen to remember what Woody had printed on the body of his guitar in big, block letters?
“This Machine Kills Fascists.”
Woody wouldn’t have had much tolerance, I’m afraid, for those people who like to refer to themselves the “Alt-Right”. He was well-acquainted with the danger they represent and I have no doubt he would have called them by their real name.
I also think that Woody, if he was alive today, would be disappointed by the state of the political Left, how muzzled and tamed and tepid it is. And how sadly compromised, its program and rhetoric in many instances almost indistinguishable from the Tories and neo-liberals it allegedly opposes. In the name of expediency and electability, the Left has abandoned its most basic principles and lost its historical solidarity with the working class—also known as the “precariate” or “anxious class” among certain contemporary sociologists and commentators.
Our fellow citizens are disillusioned, depressed, indebted, cynical, lacking any kind of hope for a better future, the scantest possibility for improvement. They’re losing faith in notions like “social mobility” and, yes, “democracy”.
Woody could have predicted that. In the midst of the Great Depression, experiencing the horrors of the Dust Bowl firsthand, he witnessed people giving up, the light in their eyes going out as they watched their livelihoods, the very source of their identity, swept away by powers beyond their control. Such men and women are easy prey for demagogues and dictators, anyone who’s quick to supply easy answers to their questions (along with a convenient scapegoat or two).
And so it is today.
Vulnerable workers, people in low-wage jobs with no benefits, men and women one paycheck away from a repossessed car…or a notice of eviction. Folks who look around and don’t see their lives getting any better…and no one addressing their fears and anxieties.
As the saying goes, a drowning man will clutch the point of a sword.
Especially if that’s all they’re being offered.
Clearly, progressives have been doing a poor job of presenting a relevant, well-articulated alternative to the neo-liberal/corporate agenda and we’ve failed to connect with people who are at the end of their rope and desperately in need of some relief from the constant strain and pressure of daily existence.
From their point of view, we’ve abandoned them—and did so once we started spouting the same jargon as the other guys and kept gutlessly tacking to the middle of the road in the hope of making our policies more palatable to international money markets and guys in suits worshipping at the altar of the Chicago School of Economics.
We need to spare struggling citizens our rote sympathy and manufactured outrage and, instead, help them better cope with a fluid, volatile world that, without some kind of outside intervention, will treat them like chattel, while reducing our environment to the equivalent of a smoldering rubbish tip.
Our counterparts on the Right are quick to put forward solutions that promise the electorate the efficiency and rigorous structure of a Toyota factory floor. Conservative ideologues–many of them, not coincidentally, wealthy businessmen—cannot conceive of why every government service can’t either be privatized, down-sized or delivered in a manner that conforms to sound management practices and tried-and-true business methodologies.
But do we really want the profit motive and neo-liberal economics applied to our education and health care systems?
Doesn’t that kind of top-down, austerity-driven model lead, in other spheres, to boom-and-bust cycles, insolvency, mass layoffs, cronyism, corruption…and is that the mindset we want to embed in our hospitals and schools?
Tariq Ali calls it “tooth-and-nails capitalism” and I think he’s bang on.
And since I’m tossing quotes around, I’ll throw in another one, this one from Terence McKenna:
Because the future is rushing toward us and it is a future for which we are wholly unprepared. We approach dangerous new frontiers in almost every branch of science and find ourselves confronted with technologies that will alter our conception and definition of humanity. Genetic engineering and the development of artificial intelligence present us with extraordinary ethical dilemmas. And if we prove to be unable or incapable of facing up to our responsibilities, others will be more than happy to make critical decisions on our behalf.
But these are huge issues and so we feel helpless and stupid when we try wrapping our minds around them. How can we manage?
May I remind everyone that we live in the birthplace of the cooperative movement? At one point in time, we were the bellwether as far as the socialist experiment in North America was concerned.
Individually we might feel overwhelmed, but by acting in concert, with a shared vision and a shared sense of urgency, we might have a chance to slow this juggernaut down and introduce some kind of sustainability and human compassion into a world-spanning ideology that is starting to eat itself.
We need people in the vanguard who are willing to defy the status quo and resist the temptations and blandishments offered by the ruling class.
Dr. Meili’s prescription for a healthy society requires that we recognize the role of scarcity and insecurity in undermining wellness in all its guises.
It acknowledges that without a strong social safety net, too many will founder when faced with the innate indifference of market forces and rampant consumerism.
Any government that refuses to protect its citizens from unemployment, social exclusion, inequality and marginalization based on race, class or gender, has abdicated its constitutional responsibilities and is unfit to represent the people who mistakenly elected it.
Tonight, we’re dreaming big.
We’re looking down the road a few years when there will be an opportunity to show the people of Saskatchewan that there is a real alternative, another course to choose.
It will involve innumerable challenges and it will ask each of us to contribute what we can toward forging a brighter future…for us, and generations to come. A participatory, grassroots-oriented democracy that values the ideas and input of one and all, harnessing the tremendous creative and entrepreneurial energies of our people.
A special kind of leader is required for a movement like that—someone who understands the enormous potential that exists when we pool our collective resources, achieving more in concert that we ever could have alone.
Since announcing his candidacy, Ryan Meili has impressed many of us with his composure, his candour, his comprehensive understanding of the vital issues facing us…and the personable, thoughtful manner in which he responds to them.
It’s my pleasure to welcome Ryan to the Gog tonight and invite him to step forward and present his platform to you and, later, take your questions.
Without further ado, allow me to introduce our special guest and featured speaker, Dr. Ryan Meili.
Severe Weather Advisory
A system of fast-moving clouds
high altitude winds speeding
them toward their destination
If it storms, will it rain?
If it rains, will it pour?
If it pours, will we drown?
If we drown, will you mourn?
When the heavens finally open
a torrential shedding of tears
overflows every ocean and sea
If it storms, will it rain?
If it rains, will it pour?
If it pours, will we drown?
If we drown, will you mourn?
Find yourself an Ararat
from the highest precipice
watch for a flicker of wings
If it storms, will it rain?
If it rains, will it pour?
If it pours, will we drown?
If we drown, will you mourn?
Komatsu, the Destroyer
The monsters are tearing up 105th Street
devouring it in powerful maws;
the monsters are swallowing our street
rending it with their jaws.
Sherron, mind your flower beds
count your perennials one, two, three;
the monsters are eating 105th Street
heedless of leaf, root or tree.
Copyright, 2017 (All Rights Reserved)
Just returned from a weekend at Cypress Hills, a park in the southern region of the province.
Accompanied by my pal Laird, I attended a “stag party” for our mutual friend Tom. Ten guys in the semi-wilderness, celebrating the betrothal of one of their own. And a good time was had by all.
While I was there, I wrote three short pieces, inspired by the environment or conversations around the fire.
* * * *
The weather is strange these days
overcast with a chance of melancholy;
on the weekend, the sun never shines
and the grass smells of tears.
The Elements (An Introduction)
There is a tendency to
envy fire for its clear conscience
or over-praise the transparent,
placid gaze of water.
Yet no one spoils the
earth with lavish gifts
and we frequently embarrass
the air with our coughing.
Might as well fear the clouds
or prostrate yourself
before a 1000-year old
Jesus, put away your cross
Buddha, no thanks
I’m investing my faith
in some special place
worshipping where there
are no altars
July, 2017 (All Rights Reserved)