We’ve got to go straight to the heart of capitalism and overthrow it

Novara Media reports George Monbiot’s impassioned attack on capitalism, as seen on Frankie Boyle’s New World Order (2017-).

I agree with him, but it does feel a bit like one of the podium speeches from the film Reds, Warren Beatty‘s 1981 biopic of Jack Reed.

The question I have for Monbiot is simple. Where do I plunge my sword? I’d love “to go straight to the heart of capitalism” and strike the fatal blow.

Personally, I don’t think you can, because this version of capitalism doesn’t have a heart, and because it doesn’t, there is no focus for our rage, no place for my aim to strike.

Contemporary capitalism isn’t the capitalism of the nineteenth or early twentieth centuries, the one Jack Reed was reporting in Ten Days that Shook the World (1919). That seems almost quaint by contemporary standards. Cut the head off the bosses, take control of the means of production, job done. These days you can cut the head off as many bosses as you want, capitalism just grows another head, or two, like the spawn of Hydra.

It strikes me that capitalism is more like an all-consuming ball of viscera, held together with clots of blood, and the chimeric limbs of a virus, grabbing at everything in its path.

I think we should adjust my understanding of the monolith.

For me the metaphor for contemporary capitalism has always been the panopticon. The panopticon I’ve written about in previous posts is a machine of control, a prison. It has a tower at the centre, with cells arranged around the perimeter. The watchers watch, and the tenants comply, because they never know when they’re being watched. With the visceral image in mind I think I have to revise my vision of the prisons architecture. It needs to accommodate this unrelenting ball of viscera.

If contemporary capitalism is a ball, always rolling, always consuming, where do the cells of the panopticon fit? I can only think they line the inside of the ball like the proteins lining the wall of a virus. This changes the orientation of the cells, tipping them over. That means we’re no longer being watched along a horizontal axis, instead we’re being monitored from above.

If we’re inhabiting these six-sided boxes, hermetically sealed cells, what are we seeing when we look out? If we look left or right, front or back, we should be able to see the other tenants of the panopticon, but we don’t. They should be there, staring in on us, as we stare in on them. Could we be so similar to each other we mistake them for our own reflection? Is it that we see them, but like Narcissus we’re so transfixed by our own reflection, all we see is a haze of movement in the background.

If when we look around we only see reflections, what are we seeing when we look up? Can we even see the spherical version of the tower, all watching, all knowing, omnipotent? Do we see the virus gnome, hovering above us like oil sliding on water?

Are we seeing God?

Is that why capitalism hasn’t destroyed our notions of God? It needs us to believe in the almighty so we keep looking up. If we’re always looking up, we’re not looking down. If we’re not looking down, we don’t see the viscera, the clots of blood, the chimeric limbs of the virus. We don’t see the true horror of capitalism swirling beneath our feet. We’re told the fiery chambers of hell are waiting should we transgress, but they’re not. All that is beneath us is the bloody intestine of the beast that has swallowed us.

If the Devil is the beast, and the beast is the machine, how many of us have the courage to cut into its flesh? How hard is it to kill an animal? How much fear and loathing must we have to slice through the flesh and bone? How much more courage would you need to slice and escape through those chimeric limbs? Their entire reason for existence is to grab everything in their path, and draw it into the beast? Any individual escaping their cell would become just another resource for the machine, more protein for the wall of the virus.

It’s no wonder that beast seems impossible to slay. We’ve been shadow boxing our reflection for so long, we’re exhausted. But strength must be summoned from somewhere. Any attack on the beast must be coordinated. It requires a vast percentage of the panopticons prisoners to break through the walls of their cell, and slice into the beast simultaneously. The trauma must be so catastrophic that the beast is unable to repair or mutate. Each and every chimeric limb must rendered irreparable. The unrelenting production of heads must be hacked until the machine has neither the will or the energy to produce more. Only then will we be able to hack through the clots of blood, and escape.

This wouldn’t be the end of it. Who knows what will be found on the outside? Will there be anything left? It could be so depleted it can no longer sustain us. Consider also, how prepared are we for this new life? After forever in a box, will we have the skills we need to thrive? A practical life is not a technological existence. The abstract thinking needed to thrive in a cell is not the same as the practical skills needed to survive in the wild. Can you create fire from nothing? I’m not sure I have such a basic skill.

It’s not an excuse to stay where we are. We have a choice. Escape the panopticon, destroy the beast, they’re one and the same. If we don’t the beast will continue until it has consumed everything, then it’ll feed on us until that resource is gone. Finally, alone, the beast will wither and decay, it will not matter, no one will cry, there will be no one left to notice.

We have a choice. Learn to make fire.

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Why aren’t there more riots?

A couple of days ago I flicked past Newsnight and heard the term “feral rich” for the first time. Two words you don’t often hear said together. They were referring to an article by Peter Oborne.

Originally written for The Telegraph, I found a copy on Open Democracy.

Mr Oborne’s article highlights the “terrifying decline in standards among the British governing elite”. He points to the scandal over politicians expenses. The hypocrisy of the government’s efficiency adviser Philip Green, sending a billion pound divided off shore.

While their actions may well have been within the law, they were not in Mr Oborne’s opinion, or mine, moral. Mr Oborne notes that “an almost universal culture of selfishness and greed has grown up” among those at the top. He offers the example is Rotherham MP Denis MacShane who in the House Of Commons debate about the riots remarked “What the looters wanted was for a few minutes to enter the world of Sloane Street consumption.” This from a man who claimed ¬£5,900 for eight laptops. Of course, as an MP he obtained these laptops legally through his expenses.

While Mr Oborne racks up a steady count of politicians all guilty of hypocrisy. Exposing the “get what you can” mentality that infects our society from top to bottom, and argues “that the criminality in our streets cannot be dissociated from the moral disintegration in the highest ranks of modern British society”. I think you have to go back thirty years, to the government of Margaret Thatcher, to understand the true causes of what happened a couple of weeks ago.

Put simply you reap what you sow. Mrs Thatcher’s period in office set in motion a series of social changes that we are only now starting to pay for. Her premiership brought with it a social shift that positivity promoted an ethos of rampant self-interest. It is my opinion that the recent banking crisis was caused by individuals who began their careers while she was in office. Her ethos rose with them through the industry. It was her brand of greed that ultimately brought the banks down.

Prompted the massive bail outs, that has lead to the cuts, caused the unrest we saw in May, and ultimately exploded in recent lawlessness. The looters wanted what those at the top of the pyramid have, and got it, the way those at the top get it, by taking it.

I think Mrs Thatcher’s legacy roots deeper still. She changed the nature of our economy, from manufacturing to service. In doing so she condemned an entire generation of people to a life on benefits. Those people who now live the nightmare of joblessness, are exactly the same people who would have found work in manufacturing. Those failed by the education system, are now forced to compete in an employment market that is saturated with graduates. The irony is, with graduate unemployment now at its highest since the mid-nineties, even the most menial job is hard to get. What’s left for those without a university education? Minimum wage jobs that make befits seem like a pay cut?

Cutting benefits is not the solution. Creating jobs is the solution. Jobs that pay enough to give people a decent standard of living. How can that happen, when the cost of living is rising, and those at the top of the Sunday Times Rich List are able to increase their wealth by eighteen percent? It can’t. Because to create jobs you have to spend money, and this government is intent on deficit reduction. A deficit that should be paid off by those who caused the problem in the first place. The bankers put their interests about everyone else, and we’re paying the price. Not just in cuts, but in the social misery of poverty. Those at the bottom don’t have the luxury of walking away from their debts, why should the “feral rich” at the top?

The question shouldn’t be why did the riots happen? The question should be. Why aren’t there more riots?

Embarrassed by The Apprentice

If capitalism were a brand, what kind of brand message is THE APPRENTICE sending? I didn’t sit down and watch last nights episode. It was already on when I got in, and stayed on in the background while I busied myself with other things. In that half aware, peripheral vision, wallpaper kind of state, I was struck by how juvenile it all is.

I realise this is a television programme, and these people are there as much for entertainment as anything else, but if these are the brightest and the best, Lord Sugar’s business is in trouble. They go about their task like a blind man in a patch of brambles, staggering here, tripping there, because as far as I can tell, they’re so busy trying to elbow their way to the front of the line, they don’t see the others in their team as anything but competition.

The worst of it comes when they get to the boardroom. Where the team with slightly better result is rewarded with a trip to a peep show circus, and the others, the ones who did that bit worse, get to play the greasy spoon blame game.

The post task autopsy is like watching a child caught pinching a sibling. They shift the blame, and obfuscate, while holding their knees together, hoping they will be believed. If they are, it’s off to slime another day. If not, they’re on their bike, doomed to poverty, and the arbitrary nature of the labour market.

If I were the brand manager of capitalism, I’d be embarrassed by The Apprentice, and what it says about my product.

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