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It’s All Wrong

December 1, 2010

Here we are in Wonderland. The holiday lights are going up and the great winter festival of extravagance begins again.

As Debord said, the remnant feelings of an earlier, cyclical time are exploited through pseudo-festivals and empty rituals, much as the pointless games and spectacles in the court of the Red Queen.

Those silly courtiers and fearful subjects, though quite varied in their appearance and idiosyncrasies, had one thing in common; their thoughts,  speech and behaviors were completely confined and determined by their self-image, by who they believed they were. Except of course the cat, who knew, and Alice, who wondered.

And so it is in our social discourse, our ideas remain well within our chosen brand identity; Tea Party Revolutionary,  Libertarian Freedom Fighter,  Party Pragmatist, Strictly Business, Progressive Social Humanitarian, to name the big ones.  Of course there are the Greens and the rump of the Socialist alliance and so on, but the tendency is the same. Ideas are not created, but are ready-made and packaged, each on a different shelf, in a different isle. Product placement becomes  key to sales, and sales mean more brand awareness and more cash in the coffers of the processors, the party operatives.

One interesting thing is that, perhaps with the exception of the naive Libertarians and Anarchists, neither of which is suited for actual social organization as they are basically utopian, all of the brand-name ideologies have as their basic purpose the objective of being bought within the existing economy and nation-state supermarket. And let’s be clear, nobody forces us to buy this junk, we choose to buy it because it’s quick and easy.

For instance, nearly everyone might agree that with unemployment at an official 10%, and real unemployment at 20%, and subsets of various minority unemployment at  50%, that ‘putting people back to work’ is both a noble and logical endeavor. This completely ignores the obvious fact that, at the end of the not-so-long road of industrialization, labor, nearly all labor, is superfluous. It is simply not needed. The ‘labor-saving’ appliances in our households perform the same economic function as every other machine; they ‘save’ labor. That is, they decrease labor’s value in the production of goods, services and wealth. So as the technology of basic production spreads, the question is not how to put people back to work, it is how to value people for some quality other than their labor. No more chattel slaves or wage slaves. I don’t want a job, I want a life.

Or, with worldwide financial chaos stemming from currencies based on ‘confidence’ and the natural tendency of accumulation, everyone might agree that ‘getting our economy growing again’ is a no-brainer, so to speak. But this ignores the fact that, protestations of the Party Pragmatists aside, it is this very economy of accumulation that is destroying our ability to physically live on this planet. Any economy that is based on constant growth will inevitably reach a point of environmental collapse. But an economy based on movement, on flow, on circulation is both a sustainable model and a more just model, since resources must circulate, as opposed to what they do now, accumulating in vast reservoirs of stagnant wealth. So the question becomes not so much how to create wealth, but how to use resources not based on their commodity value.

Some systems fail not because of what they can’t do, but because of what they can’t stop doing.

Obviously, these are revolutionary changes. And they must not be merely revolutionary ideas, as time for idle academic parlor talk is a leisure luxury we do not have.  As Grant Peeples says, “it’s hard to make a revolution with your face 6 feet from the television.”

The natural stresses on the social and economic structures will continue to build, and they cannot be diffused. When the quake hits, those structures will fall.

Some 25 years ago, John Cage remarked that the whole edifice is so weak that “it’s no good trying to fix it here and fix it there. Everything’s all wrong.”

It is useless and futile to spend our time choosing sides, claiming superiority and calling the other names, Republican or Democrat, Tea Bagger or Socialist, in a game that is played within the same crumbling stadium.

Beyond the Thunderdome, outside of Bartertown, there is not just an empty desert. There is a tao of green grasses with streams that flow from the Lakes of Oliveros.  A Cageian breeze  sways the trees of Merton. There is a modern school there full of artists and monks who teach the basics of life, love, and understanding, the natural resources of the new economy.

Perhaps we should sit there a while, just to get our wits about us. We’re going to need t hem.

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