SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Mercy James thought she had lost her rental property here to foreclosure. A date for a sheriff’s sale had been set, and notices about the foreclosure process were piling up in her mailbox.
Ms. James had the tenants move out, and soon her white house at the corner of Thomas and Maple Streets fell into the hands of looters and vandals, and then, into disrepair. Dejected and broke, Ms. James said she salvaged but a lesson from her loss.
So imagine her surprise when the City of South Bend contacted her recently, demanding that she resume maintenance on the property. The sheriff’s sale had been canceled at the last minute, leaving the property title — and a world of trouble — in her name.
“I thought, ‘What kind of game is this?’ ” Ms. James, 41, said while picking at trash at the house, now so worthless the city plans to demolish it — another bill for which she will be liable.
City officials and housing advocates here and in cities as varied as Buffalo, Kansas City, Mo., and Jacksonville, Fla., say they are seeing an unsettling development: Banks are quietly declining to take possession of properties at the end of the foreclosure process, most often because the cost of the ordeal — from legal fees to maintenance — exceeds the diminishing value of the real estate.
We already knew that homeowners have been walking away from suddenly burdensome mortgages, sometimes trashing the house on the way out. Now, we learn that banks have also started walking away:
On the one hand, a lot of people who have already had their lives trashed beyond repair are getting, once again, shat on by the banks. Making these people liable for the upkeep or demolition of properties the usurious financial gamesmen have already forced them out of adds insult to injury. On the other hand, this is going to lead to the destruction of a lot of the overcapacity and imaginary value of housing that contributed to the bubble in the first place. It might also be a good opportunity for the collective-minded - or just those who are in the market for some property but don't want to owe a large portion of their future productivity to the corporate loan sharks - to pick up lots and abandoned houses at rock-bottom prices. After all, that's the way the capitalist 'free' market works; one person's pain is another one's gain.....
I started the first seeds for our backyard garden today. 5 pepper plants, and 6 heads of leaf lettuce (the first of 3 sets). Next weekend I'll be starting tomatoes; after that, should the weather cooperate, I'll start turning the lawn under and prepping the soil. If all goes well I'll be planting spinach and peas come mid April. By the end of May, my lettuce should be ready for harvest.
I've never planted a seed before in my life. Like millions upon millions of people living in modern cities, almost every ounce of food I've ever eaten came to me from factory farms, feedlots and industrial slaughterhouses, by way of the supermarket and the fast food restaurant. I don't really even have the excuse that I was way too busy for stuff like that; I've been frequently unemployed or working temp and freelance. I've had plenty of empty hours to fill. I just never really considered filling them with a garden. It's part of the way I learned to see the world, through the lens of capital and specialization and the market - there are the people, out there in the boondocks, who grow the food (and who are, it tends to be implied, worth a bit less because they spend their lives grubbing in the dirt); and there are people who do other things. Things that are more important and worthwhile than merely feeding the hungry.
I've always aspired to the creative class, wanted to be an artist, a writer. I never imagined that I would want to be a farmer, let alone get excited about it; and yet I am. We're planning (with the homeowner's enthusiastic blessing) on turning the lawn grass under a couple feet of soil and planting vegetables in the back and flowerbeds in the front; as my partner says, we have an anti-lawn agenda here. I've always hated lawns. They're like a badge of petit-bourgois majoritarian conformity, not to mention a massive waste of space. Flowers, at least, are pretty and can be used to express a bit of individuality. Lawn grass is a perfect symbol of what the system thrives on: lifeless, interchangeable people, bullied into submission, endlessly planting and watering and mowing a bunch of useless identical plots filled with weeds because what would the neighbours think? And yet I've gone along with that attitude for years, doing nothing beyond grumbling, because of peer pressure and the attitude that it wasn't my place to demand that other people dig up their lawn and plant a garden. It was the lawn of the houses I lived in, lawn that I had to help maintain, lawn that stared me in the face every day as a visible reminder of the system of expectations and social controls I live my life enmeshed in; and yet I never fet able to express a serious desire to get rid of the goddamn lawn and plant something useful (or at least pretty). And anyway, it's not like I wanted to grub in the dirt like some farmer.
Yet now I do. Suddenly the idea of remining dependant on the system, dependant on a whole chain of people I don't know and probably wouldn't like if I did, to get food on my table is becoming more and more abhorrent to me. I genuinely want to learn how to farm the land I'm living on, not just as a matter of mere survival but as a matter of pride. Growing a garden is a creative act, nurturing life and beauty and fresh delicious vegetables where once there was nothing but lifeless, colourless lawn grass. But more than that; it's become an act of rebellion. It's become a statement of principle: I neither need the system, nor do I want it. You can keep your efficiencies of scale and your gains from specialization and trade; I will work to feed myself, not so you can feed me, thank you very much. Certainly, we'll still need outside food sources; but there's a great local food cooperative that sells boxes of locally grown vegetables and grain for way cheaper than getting out-of-season produce at the supermarket. We've got a line on some local sources of meat, cheese, and eggs; and we're seriously considering getting some laying hens or a fish farm, if we can work up the capital. We've bought a membership in the City Co-op, which is still big business but at least makes an effort to buy local and share profits, and are starting to get out to the farmer's market to see what we can scrounge up and buy things at bulk stores when we can find the time. And we've more or less stopped eating fast food. More because we're broke than anything else; but to tell the truth, I don't miss it much at all.
Sometimes I imagine a world where every lawn has been turned under, where every park and boulevard and apartment building has a community garden; where everyone spends at least a small part of their time growing the food they live on, and people who choose to spend most of their time sowing and harvesting are seen as respected members of the community instead of ignorant hicks kept conveniently out of sight. A world where food has become one less leash by which the system keeps us tied to our 'jobs', one less reason to work so many hours we have no time or energy left for anything else. One less reason to be divided into different classes of people; one less thing that the rich get others to do for them while they collect huge piles of surplus value. Yes, I am excited about my little backyard garden. Done right, It'll bring in enough vegetables to last us all year - maybe even enough to share.
What will happen to the Internet in time of collapse? If the oil-powered, corporate-implemented technological-industrial base we have become dependant on as a society were to unravel, would we simply lose this beautiful network of information and communication it has wrought? I don't think so. I think the nature of the net has become such that it will be essentially self repairing. It would certainly experience a setback; a lot of data would be lost, a lot of opportunities missed; but I don't believe it would become unsustainable in a world of sustainable technology and intentional anarchic social-economic-political units. The 'net was designed to be able to survive nucler war; I think it can probably survive alittle thing like the total collapse of society.
Let's look at a more or less 'worst case' scenario as far as the internet is concerned (short of catastrophic human annihilation). A combination of economic meltdown and peak oil causes all large-to-midrange computer manufacturers, telecommunications providers, and power generation companies to implode. Within a matter of, say, weeks, every technology service which forms the backbone of the net ceases production and distribution. Now in such a circumstance a vast majority of people would be concentrating on finding ways to survive and thrive in a vastly altered economic circumstance. They would just learn to do without the internet, in the course of learning to do without a llot of modern conveniences we take for granted. It would probably be a fairly good time for the development of anarchic communities; not because of the lack of internet, but more coincidental with it, against the background of a general reduction in the power of capital and central authority, and the immediate necessity for local community and human engagement in the problems of survival and governance. However, there would be a good number of people who would feel a very immediate and intense engagement in getting their internet service (along with a whole host of other technology dependant services) up and running again; the hackers, the techno-geeks, the transhumanists - the ones who are really committed to deliberately interweaving technology into their lives. They would start building personal generators, which in a world without ready supplies of fuel oil would de facto run on abundant and readily available renwable resources. They would start scavenging and jury- rigging computer systems, patching into legacy telecommunications equipment, booting up their own servers and networking with whoever they could find. The nature of the internet is such that given enough time and enough ad hoc local networks run by dedicated nerds, the global internet would inevitably re-form.
Thinking about it gives me a lot of hope for the potential of human progress. My intuition is that if collapse comes, it will be slow enough that a local-based grassroots internet could replace a corporate-dominated interned on a case by case basis with very little interruption of potential service. The new internet would be dominated by software pirates and open-source partisans and net-neutrality advocates and it would be a lot closer to the anarchist ideal than the internet we have today. Linux would replace Microsoft as the standard interface. If we can no longer make new computers using components based on scarce resources, we'll keep splicing old parts together until someone comes up with sustainable alternatives that can be manufactured in small-scale, locally dependant production runs. The internet will survive, because there are people out there in every community who will be dedicated to keeping it alive.
And more than that, the same essential model of social-economic change can be applied to more or less every technological system we take for granted. Electrical power generation is included in this model but could very well be considered in and of itself. Community-based agriculture is already starting to compete with the factory-farming monoculture; as food supplies become scarcer, it will develop more quickly, since people who can't find ways of getting food on the table will starve. If peak oil renders our current transporation fleet unusable, people will start using biodiesel and invent cars that run on garbage or whatever. Sustainability is going to become a matter of necessity, and I'm actually very confident that our society can rise to the challenge, as soon as some of the detritus of the old world is cleared away by the wildfire of collapse. The process might be painful in a lot of ways, but in the end the pain will worth the gain.
You say you want a revolutionIt's morbid all right, this obsession with destruction, collapse, implosion; The End Of The World As We Know It. I don't deny that I'm a morbid fellow. I think a lot about the worst that could possibly happen; the water wars, the race riots, the marching Christian Soldiers. The Big Wave, Yellowstone Caldera, the Extinction Level Event. Nuclear apocalypse, grey goo, pandemic panic, and good old-fashioned Fascism; it's all swirling around in there. And I'm not by any means some survivalist nut case, who thinks I can survive the apocalypse with a rifle and a lifetime supply of canned beans; I like to think I'm a bit smarter than that. Sooner or later you have to leave the house for some food and water, that is, if the asset-strippers don't just burn you out and call it done. No, I'm aware that in the case of the total breakdown - provided I don't just outright die -my best bet for survival is going to be to knuckle under to whoever ends up in charge. I don't want the world to end. I'm not a revolutionist. Violent insurgency is for crypto-fascists, wingnut wankers, and people with absolutely nothing left to lose. If the Anarchist project is going to succed, it will be a quiet revolution; the kind that will not be televised. It'll be through people coming together at the level of the neighbourhood, the worker-owned business and the shop union to quietly and peacefully start doing things for themselves.
Well, you know
We all want to change the world
You tell me that it's evolution
Well, you know
We all want to change the world
But when you talk about destruction
Don't you know that you can count me out
- The Beatles, Revolution
You said you wanted evolution
The ape was a great big hit
You say you want a revolution, man
And I say that you're full of shit
- Marilyn Manson, Disposable Teens
I want to car, skid and crash
Into the brave new world
I want to ride
We want revolution
Start your engines blow your fuses
Burn the bridges for the future
This is our solution
- Covenant, We Want Revolution
So why do I dwell so much on The End Of The World As We Know It? Well, there are a few reasons. Way back when I was in the Boy Scouts they taught me to Be Prepared. Barely remember anything from those days (memories deliberately suppressed), but that's one thing that always stuck. The more possibilities I'm at least intellectually prepared for, the more I feel in control of my life; even when - perhaps especially when - they're things I can't control, things nobody really could. When the asteroid hits, the tanks roll out, the currency hyperinflates and the bottom drops out of the economy, or whatever - at the very least I can say 'I saw this coming'. For me, the years after 9/11 were one long 'I told you so' moment as I saw my worst fears coming to life before my eyes. That's a big part of why I think of myself as Transhumanist and as an Anarchist too; because the more I can feel like I saw it coming, the more I feel like I'm looking at the world with eyes full open, the more I feel in control of my own existence.
But of course, I'm not in control. And that's the other reason. Everything important that happens in the world today goes way over my head. Society is like a force of nature, and when it decides to move you, you fucking well get moved. A bare few have managed to accumulate enough privilege to ride the wave instead of getting plowed under. You think President Obama is in control? You think the fat cats at AIG are in control? Bullshit. Our individual decisions aren't worth shit in the greater scheme of things. The system is the one in control. The elections are rigged to reinforce the system. The economy is an expression of the statistical aggregate decisions of billions of people; no one person's decisions caused the meltdown, and no one person's actions could have stopped it. Yes, this or that person gets the blame for this or that decision, but neither Bush nor Greenspan nor this or that defaulting homeowner alone bears the ultimate responsibility. We are all to blame. Yes, even you, theoretical responsible hard-working saver. You're to blame because you trusted the system. You stood by and did nothing while mobs of irresponsible idiots ran the economy and the environment and civil rights into the ground. Now those same mobs if irresponsible idiots are consolidating more and more wealth and power in their own hands - just like the system allows and requires them to - as our civilization collapses around them, and what are you doing? What's that? Speak up, I can't fucking hear you! Oh, you're angry now? A bit miffed, are you? Mad enough to march about with a sign, maybe? Planning to plant a garden and cut down on driving a bit? Not fucking good enough.
We're heading into dark days, and what can any of us really do about it? What are our options here? Well, there's always violence - armed revolt. Not that that's going to happen, not until and unless life gets so bad for the majority of people that there's nothing left to do but pick up a gun and join the revolution. It just might end up changing things for the better - but it's more likely going to end up with another bunch of glory-seeking autocrats lording it over another bunch of spineless sheeple. That's just the way things work. Or we can all 'go Galt', to coin a phrase; withdraw from the larger economy and the larger state, form our own syndicalist communes or libertopian meccas or primitivist reservations or whatever the fuck, and try to go it on our own. Except of course that that is simply not going to work without massive collapse. If the machinery of the corpocratic state is left intact, it will act to preserve itself, because that's just what the system does. That, or one or another of the alternative life systems we shiny happy people create will recapitulate the same authoritarian social control methods and start spreading itself at the expense of less disciplined, less ruthless groups. The system, after all, evolved the way it did for a reason. Or, we can just twiddle our thumbs while the system does what it does, in which case a) the system reinforces itself and we end up with a new age of tyranny, or b) the system collapses and we're back to food shortages and tribal violence.
There's a saying, expect the best, prepare for the worst. Well? Exactly what is the best possible outcome here? That the system, against all indications, magically reconfigures itself into the mode of sustainable living and libertarian socialism? That all of the greed-tards and fundamentalist nutbars magically disappear and leave only people who are willing to cooperatively build a more enlightened future? That out of chaos and death and destruction the seeds of a new order can be nurtured? Or that things just continue on much as they are, with a patch here and a stopgap there, shying off enough from both collapse and autocracy to maintain a state of relative freedom and prosperity? What should I be rooting for here?
Pardon my cynicism.
[...] let’s consider the paper losses. They are a heartache. If I had invested $1 million with Madoff and thought it had grown to $5 million, I would be devastated to learn that I suddenly had nothing. I might have relied on that $5 million for my retirement while spending down the rest of my assets.
But from another perspective, I’ve lost a lot less than $5 million. If I hadn’t invested in Madoff, I would have ended up with less than $5 million. Indeed, the recent collapse of stock prices in some ways mitigates the harm of Madoff’s mischief even more. If I hadn’t invested with Madoff, I might very likely have invested with some other hedge fund that took a beating this last year. Maybe Madoff only made me lose half a million.
Freakonomics, known for counter-intuitive economic conclusions, shows us how people who invested their funds in Bernie Madoff's 65-billion dollar Ponzi scheme may actually end up better off than the ones who invested in the actual stock market. A fraud so massive, it looks good in comparison to the incredible scam which is the modern derivatives market? And once again the world shudders on its foundations.
Kevin Kelly at The Technium posted a very interesting article regarding the technology of the Amish which made me think a little bit about the dissemination of technology:
Like all legends, the Amish myth is based on some facts. The Amish, particular the Old Order Amish -- the stereotypical Amish depicted on calendars – really are slow to adopt new things. In contemporary society our default is set to say "yes" to new things, and in Old Order Amish societies the default is set to "no." When new things come around, the Amish automatically start by refusing them. Thus many Old Order Amish have never said yes to automobiles, a policy established when automobiles were new. Instead, they travel around in a buggy hauled by a horse. Some orders require the buggy to be an open carriage (so riders – teenagers, say – are not tempted with a private place to fool around); others will permit closed carriages. Some orders allow tractors on the farm, if the tractors have steel wheels; that way a tractor can't be "cheated" to drive on the road like a car. Some groups allow farmers to power their combine or threshers with diesel engines, if the engine only drives the threshers but is not self-propelled, so the whole smoking, noisy contraption is pulled by horses. Some sects allow cars, if they are painted entirely black (no chrome) to ease the temptation to upgrade to the latest model.[...]Ivan is an Amish alpha-geek. He is always the first to try a new gadget or technique. He gets in his head that the new flowbitzmodulator would be really useful. He comes up with a justification of how it fits into the Amish orientation. So he goes to his bishop with this proposal: "I like to try this out." Bishop says to Ivan, "Okay Ivan, do whatever you want with this. But you have to be ready to give it up, if we decide it is not helping you or hurting others." So Ivan acquires the tech and ramps it up, while his neighbors, family, and bishops watch intently. They weigh the benefits and drawbacks. What is it doing to the community? Cell phone use in the Amish began that way. According to anecdote, the first Amish alpha geeks to request permission to use cell phones were two ministers who were also contractors. The bishops were reluctant to give permission but suggested a compromise: keep the cell phones in the vans of the drivers. The van would be a mobile phone shanty. Then the community would watch the contractors. It seemed to work so others early adopters picked it up. But still at any time, even years later, the bishops can say no.
I was particularly fascinated to learn that the Amish often use genemod crops, for the same reason that anyone else does: pure convenience. At the end of the day, the Amish are not that different from ourselves. Everyone likes to feel they are in control of what technology is doing to their existence (though this is quite manifestly not the case). The Amish have taken the extreme step of sequestering themselves from mainstream society and allowing their religious authorities control over every aspect of how technology interacts with their society. On a larger scale, however, social adoption of technology proceeds in essentially the same way that it does in Amish communities. It is picked up by communities of tech-savvy early-adopters who test-drive both the tech itself and its social implications. At first the barrier that seperates the hi-tech from the everyday tech is less social disapproval (though there is certainly a sense that being associated with certain things makes you not quite 'one of us', like the Internet in the late 80's/early 90's) than simply the lack of an easy-to-understand interface. If you were interested in the Internet in those days, you hads to learn some pretty technical stuff. The web browser and the one-click-connection came much later.
One statement in this post that strikes me as utterly bogus is this: "In contemporary society our default is set to say "yes" to new things, and in Old Order Amish societies the default is set to "no." I know what Kelly's getting at here but this is bullshit. In contemporary society we're set on default 'yes' to certain classes of technology, things which the system finds useful to its own aims. We are conditioned to automatically approve technology that increases economic productivity and profit (just-in-time manufacturing chains); technology that increases state power (CCTV); technology that makes it easier to kill. We automatically approve that which increases the ability of the system to control us, to make demands of us 24/7; because we have been conditioned to believe that central control is good. We automatically approve any technology that can be easily 'productized', then allow it to be constantly made better, faster, smaller, sleeker, and in a wider variety of colours; to the point that landfills are now overflowing with discarded cellular phones. Imagine that, these marvels of technology discarded by the thousands every year just because a better one came along.
At the same time, there is an inherent social bias against a lot of different technologies. We're set on default 'no' to anything which threatens the profits of the wealthy and the corpocracy; that's why green technology has taken decades to develop to the point where it's even on most people's radar, quietly fermenting in early-adopter sustainable communities as the corpocracy continued to externalize its pollution and waste. We're set on default no to anything which makes people squeamish on a gut level. We're set on default no to anything which increases individual freedom, individual power. Of course when these drives come into conflict, corporate profit always wins out; that's why we have things like genemod food, which could do immense good in the world, being implemented in ways that directly profit Monsanto Corporation, with a ragtag rabble of 'Frankenfood' protestors left to question exactly how it's going to affect the environment and social relations.
Practically every technological development in the last several centuries, and the social changes that they led to, have been made at the behest of the corpocratic elites and gamed for the purpose of their own enrichment and power. The rise of the Internet, however, is one of the few changes that has somewhat escaped from their control. Yes, the original 'opening of the internet' was driven primarily by businesses wishing to take advantage of its communication potential; but they fucked up royally. The Internet developed for decades in the labs of academic researchers and hacker geeks before the Corpocrats got full-on access, and it was made to be an open system with no points of central control. This is what just made sense to the people who developed it. The system has been playing catch-up ever since; failing to control communication, failing to control the distribution of copyrighted material, failing to control citizen journalism and the sharing of 'classified' and otherwise secret documents. Think about the biggest web-2.0 services, the things 'practically everyone' is using - Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Wikipedia, Yelp, Craigslist. None of these services is operating at a profit, and nobody knows how to make them profitable. The people who started them seemed to have a 'built it and they will come (and pay)' attitude. Yet they have already opened vast possibilities to us, combining the advantages of a centralized service with the freedom and control of decentralization. The question now is not 'can you afford to keep this service running' but 'can you afford to shut it down?'
There are a lot of potential responses to the future conditions that our current circumstances lead us toward, the immanent caollapse of our present systems of social control under the burden of economic meltdown and climate catastrophe. Some would have us retreat to a baseline existence in which anything requiring complex manufacturing is eliminated. I think we need to find a way to preserve and continue our technological evolution. Different communities can and should determine their own level of technological dependency; primitivists and agrarian communes are just as admissable as a way of life as anything our industrial centuries have brought us, while some will wish to embrace technological liberation far in excess of anything the system has allowed us to this point. For a while, I think we're probably going to end up relying on refurbished and jury-rigged tech while we figure out ways to reboot our manufacturing capability in a sustainable, ecological and non-corporatist framework; it will probably teach us to think a lot less about 'products' and a lot more about what the effects of the things we make and use will be on our ways of living. The social complex that controls technology will collapse, and we will all become a lot more like the Amish, considering our technological choices as individuals and as communities with a great deal more deliberation. But I'd hate to see the one truly revolutionary technology we've come up with in the centuries since the printing press to be abandoned just as it was starting to really fulfill its potential to help create true Anarchy in this world.
International Monetary Fund prepares to print billions of dollars in new global 'super-currency
Are pesky problems like evidence and logic getting in the way of your Bible-based 'scientific' theories? Just blame Satan!
It never ceases to amaze me how people can put so much 'creativity and intelligence' into propagating counterfactual bullshit for the purpose of appeasing the Imaginary Magical Sky Dad. How can they spend so much time thinking about this shit without vomiting their brain out of their nostrils? Satan is indeed the best friend the Church ever had!
BTW - Satan, et. al. would be a great name for a Goth Metal band, and Post-Fall Genetic Mutation and/or Bestiality would make a great album title.
To director He Nian, Das Kapital and the theory of surplus value are serious issues, yet he wants to make them fun to watch. He will set the play in a business. In the first half of the story, the employees discover that their boss is exploiting them and learn of the "surplus theory of value." However, they react differently to the knowledge of their exploitation: some are willing to be exploited by the company, and the tighter they are squeezed, the more they feel they are worth. Others rise in mutiny, but this ruins the company and leaves them out of work. Still others band together and use their collective wisdom to deal with the boss....He Nian said that due to the different points of view held by the boss and the workers, he would borrow the structure of Rashomon to show things repeatedly from different viewpoints.I would so pay to see that.
California State Assembly introduces bill to legalize and tax marijuana
And of course, as we all know, once you let the kids start smoking dope, the entire society goes to shit; 'cause nobody who smoked dope ever did anything worthwhile with their life. They just get lazy and eat cheetos all day, that is, if they don't get crazy like the crazy mexicans and go out on a murder spree.
It's not surprising that Cali is considering taking this step; the state is facing a major funding crisis. One simple change to the law will, at a stroke, remove the single biggest waste of police time and prison space (thus saving the state a large amount of cash) and net the single biggest possible tax windfall by bringing pot back into the legal market.
Beside this, the retardulous 'arguments' against legalization and regulation start to seem incredibly weak and flawed. Once again proving that appeal to logic, compassion, and human rights are as nothing beside appeal to the allmighty dollar.
The neo-conservative 'movement' in the last few decades has essentially been a monstrous circle jerk between Christianist theocrats, crypto-Fascists, and political-economic Libertopains; three distinct, and one might think in a lot of ways incompatible, varieties of counterfactual lunacy somehow merged into a monstrous ass-beast of scum-sucking political vileness. It really is entertaining and more than a little validating to watch this creature sink into the toxic morass of its own creation, desperately throwing out line after line in an attempt to heave itself back onto the shores of relevance. The latest notion cooked up by the leading lights in their eternal quest to regain some sort of moral high ground is the notion that of 'Going Galt'.
For those of you who managed to avoid a brief, unfulfilling college fling with Ayn Rand, let me introduce you to John Galt, main character of her capitalist slash fanfic Atlas Shrugged. (Spoiler alert!) He's such an amazing super-genius that he was able to invent an engine that makes electricity out of air. But when the gosh darn gubmint took it into their sleazy communist hearts to force him to use his invention for the good of others, he just took it and up and left. He went out to found a city where everyone could live free from the evil of socioeconomic redistribution, and convinced all the great capitalists, artists, scientists, and other worthwhile people to join him as the world fell into decay under the hands of petty beurocratic tyrants.
I have to admit, I thoroughly enjoyed Atlas Shrugged. I liked it in the same way I like slasher flicks and super-hero comics; it's a philosophical cartoon, intellectual pabulum for people who aren't ready to deal with the complexities and compromises of serious political and moral thought. But I never imagined it was a plausible representation of reality. To this day, when I meet someone who never managed to get over their juvenile Rand infatuation and thinks of themself as a genuine dyed-in-the-wool Objectivist, I think about the same thing as I do when I meet serious bible-believing Christians: "You seriously believe that crap?" And the idea of people trying to 'go Galt' in real life strikes me about the same as people putting on a cape and thinking they can take down the mafia, or running around in a hockey mask taking a machete to stupid teenagers.
There are three classes of people in Atlas Shrugged. There are the super-smart and super-heroic super-capitalists whose brilliant entrepeneurship shills keep the economy turning over; there are villainous parasites whose only means of not starving to death in the street is to leech off the productivity of the super-capitalists, be it by robbing them at knifepoint, by getting their shrewish mothers to guilt their hard-working brothers into giving them a cushy job, or by infiltrating the government and passing laws that raise taxes and commandeer hard won capital. Then there are, implicit but almost never even mentioned, all the 'little people' who actually do all the work. You know, the farmers, the factory workers, the shop keepers, and suchlike. Rand's world is a vast fictional explication of the concept of 'social darwinism'; through absolute selfish competition, those who are fittest rise to the top and collect the bulk of the wealth, and everyone else gets whatever level of power and wealth they are comptent to handle. This is not only a social reality but a moral imperative; anyone who tries to interfere with the function of the free market is a sinful parasite, and anyone preaching the virtues of altruism and the 'duty' of people to help the less fortunate is just trying to get theirs by subterfuge instead of honest hard work.
Or, you know, by skimming the cream off the hard work of others, because that's what capitalism is in reality. No mention is made of how Galt's Gulch feeds itself, of how a bunch of investor/inventors engaged in a kind of extreme tax evasion managed to convince people to come work in their factories (or even build them). Presumably Galt and his cronies did it all themselves. The idea is more or less the same as an anarcho-syndicalist commune, except that everyone's working for wages and gets to buy each other's products, and magically nobody falls to the bottom of the economic heap because they're all magic super-capitalists (or if they do, they're happy about it because they're fulfilling their maximum potential in life while getting the moral satisfaction of sticking ot to those parasites outside); and if there's a fire or they get sick they'll most certainly have insurance, and if the commies come along to rob them of their capital they'll all just pick up their guns and fight back. In fact, the concept of 'going Galt' is lifted from Anarchism hook line and sinker; but where Anarchism is about people working together to free themselves from tyranny, going Galt is about declaring yourself to be intrinsically better than the masses of poor and the working class by virtue of your ability to stack up worthless pieces of paper via usury.
These people think they're going to make the economy grind to a halt by not 'working'? I'd love to see them try! Where exactly do they think their wealth is going to come from without thousands upon thousands of 'little people' providing the muscle behind their profits? Imagining a bunch of effete bankers, lawyers, bloggers, and corporate CEOs deliberately putting themselves into such dire poverty that they're reduced to the level of the people they exploit amuses me even more than watching some maniac cut people to pieces. Let them go out into the wilderness and try to build their little Libertopian society. I'll lay odds they're back within 6 months, begging for their old jobs back.
When the idea of replacing the corpocratic, statist regime is broached, there's inevitably an endless tirade of 'gotcha' questions about how things are going to work in an anarchist society. "How will children be educated? How will food be distributed? How will criminals be caught and punished? Who will build the roads? Who will pick up the garbage?" These question really makes me weary, because those who ask it (generally in a hostile, belligerent sort of way) are really saying 'tell me what do do. Tell me how to live my life.' They can't even comprehend the ultimate basis of anarchy; they're so used to living in a society where everything is a commandment handed down from above, that even when it is explicity spelled out for them that nobody is going to tell them what to thing, what to do, or how to do it, they still want explicit instructions. They want to be told, 'we will live in communes of this-and-such a size, and resources will be divided in this-and-such a way, and decisions will be made like so'. Then they have something to attack; they can talk about how inefficient it would be, or how grey and boring such a life seems, or how authoritarian it is of you to want everyone to live in agrarian communes where decisions are made by 2/3 majority vote.
The best way to answer these questions, both in the immediate sense of a personal discussion, and in the broader sense as an anarchist movement, is to turn them around on the asker: 'How do you think it should work?' Of course a lot of people don't have any idea, beyond a 'why fix it if it ain't broke' mentality, but any answer provides a good basis for discussion. We all have our own idea of a 'perfect society'; the essence of anarchy lies in trying to work together to make as much of that a reality as possible.
I see a true state of anarchy as being like the ultimate free market (inasmuch as economic, social, and political relations are more or less interchangeable). What we have now is a massive social monopoly. Our available modes of political interaction are monopolized by the system of territorial beaurocratic states, rightwing/leftwing political parties, and unaccountable elected representative legislatures. Our economic relationships are all defined in the context of capital accumulation, rent seeking, corporate personhood, and class warfare. Our social relationships are limited by normative codes of conduct, reinforced by family structure, education, the media, and when necessary the police. The systems of course all feed off and reinforce each other in monopolizing our time and energy, our minds and bodies, turning us into cogs in the great machine. Of course, we all have our choices to make. We choose whether to 'dress for success' or get ostracized from working life and social life. We choose whether to obey the social codes or cut off from our families, our communities, and sometimes from any society but that of criminals. We choose whether to sell our time to the capital class, or starve. Within these walls every little bit of freedom takes on immense significance; the freedom to choose whether to be a butcher or a baker, whether to eat nacho cheez tortilla chips or Extreme! jalapeno barbecue chips, whether to make your mark for the corpocrat who promises to throw a crust of bread to the poor or for the corpocrat who promises to not steal quite so much of your wages. It's nothing but an illusion.
Real freedom would lie in being able to choose to live the way you want, and there's no magic system that can guarantee this. A true state of anarchy would have to have room for everyone from the primitivists to the extropians, from the communists to the libertopians, from the Christianarchs to the militant atheists, and from the absolute individualists to the fascists. The fact that someone else's idea of how to live is repugnant to you has no bearing on whetehr they should be 'permitted' to live it, save only that they do not force or otherwise coerce another into their system. 'And how will you guarantee that such coercion doesn't happen?' There are no guarantees in this life. We'll do our best to make sure of it, stand in solidarity with others to preserve our ideals without infringing on those of others. 'How would you catch criminals, and punish them? How would you make sure everyone does their fair share of the work?' Every system comes up with a way of punishing the free riders; some are more effective, and some less humane, than others. 'Who would pick up the garbage?' Someone certainly would; people don't generally like living in places where there are mountains of trash lying around. 'How would the food be distributed? How will raw materials get to factories? How will products get to consumers? Who will run the hospitals? Who will teach the children? Who will think up new technology? Who will protect the environment? Who will build the houses?' We'll figure it out.
Evolution is a powerful force; the only ultimate answer is that those arrangements that work best will survive, and those that do not work will be abandoned in favour of better ones, and that this process will be much quicker and more profitable for all if the social monopolies which circumscribe our ways of determining how we will live are abandoned and dismantled. I have some ideas of my own, which I will elaborate in future postings, on all of these subjects; but they are just that, ideas which others can choose to adopt, modify, or reject as they see fit. The true test lies in the application. Let people live in the way they choose, and work together toward goals of their own choosing, without the need to obey some established 'way of doing things' that manifestly causes more harm than good. Let a thousand flowers bloom, and spread the seeds of the prettiest ones far and wide.
I hate looking for work.
Of course, I hate doing wage work as well. I loathe every second of it, the meaninglessness and repetitiveness, having to kowtow to idiot customers and overbearing bosses, having to dress like a zombie douchebag, and the sense that I could be spending my precious, irreplacable time improving myself and making a difference in the world instead of trading my life for a capitalists's money. I very much prefer the uncertainty and impoverishment of freelancing to the tedious grind of wage slavery. But I'll do it. I can't pay my bills on the income I'm getting now, and so I'll fucking do it. I've slowly climbed the ladder of demeaning jobs, from brute labour to market research, until I'm in somewhat of a position to be considered for jobs that require a bit more skill.
But more than just hate, I actually fear looking for wage work. It gives me anxiety attacks, a feeling like I can't breathe, and so I put it off and put it off in a very counterproductive way. It's a fault I've been working to overcome most of my adult life, and I think I'm really starting to get at the cause. 'Job searching' makes me into a person I really don't like.
Sizing up job listings, trying to decide it I'm 'good enough' to apply for this one, or whether that one would set off my trigger issues to the point where the panic attacks or bipolar fits would make me into a literal nervous wreck if I tried it. Writing cover letters in bullshit corpspeak, talking about how much of a fucking 'detail oriented creative problem solving flexible multitasker' I am and what a 'pleasant demeanour and customer focused attitude' I have, in a desperate attempt to convince some stuffed-suit korporatchik that I'm the best candidate for a job I don't even really want. Treading the fine line between lies and self-promotion. Telling an endless series of insincere assholes that my biggest fault is 'perfectionism' and that in five years I see myself 'moving up the ranks'. Trying desperately not to seem like I just woke up when I answer the phone a 9AM. Pestering all of my friends and relations about whetehr they know of any openings. Trying to dig up references that will say nice things about me and won't mention the way I lost it and screamed verbal abuse at that one asshole for 15 minutes.
Working for a wage makes me feel like a collaborator, a coward, a helpless cog; it may have literally made me sick. But looking for work is infinitely worse. I'm trying to sell an image of myself that doesn't exist. I have to make myself into a lying, manipulative, glad handing son of a bitch, just to get my foot in the door. And what scares me most is the thought that if I keep at it long enough, I'm actually going to turn into that person. When I actually start to like looking for work? That's the day I check out.