Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Bubbles 7 - Our Favorite Flavor

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What the malignant spirit that has captured us wants, by the way, is this: genocide and slavery. Literally.

* * *

Congratulations! You’ve made genocide inevitable. Now, for slavery.

For slavery you take genocide, and make it profitable. As we are nothing if not a hyper-capitalist society, slavery has always been our favorite flavor of genocide. Wealthy men, addicted to the high of free labor and all the attendant benefits, founded our nation. Not fans of taxes, those guys. Also not a huge fan of paying for labor—so they baked slavery right into our national cookies.

Some of them had reservations about slavery.

They got over it.

And we eventually fought a war to end slavery. That’s the story—and it’s a true story, to an extent.

But there’s another story that also has to be true for that statement to be true. We also fought a war to preserve slavery. If you doubt me, just look to our statues. Those who preferred the order of slavery more than they preferred the order of a unified country lost their war to preserve that evil institution. Meanwhile we are all inheritors of the victor’s preference, which for many was not the abolition of slavery, but merely a restoration of unified order. This victor's preference happened to bring about the great justice of emancipation, but this result sprang as much (or more) from pragmatism as from a preference for justice. And many of us still living today think the lost cause of the vanquished should not have been lost, and long to restore that order, to let rise again to greatness that which has been laid low.

Please read Samuel Sinyangwe's story on incarceration in Louisiana.
There are still those of us who fly the flag of that cause, and erect statues to it. Any suggestion that this practice be discontinued for the sake of descendants of those who suffered slavery is met with hostility, framed as a moral outrage, an intolerant attack upon 'our' heritage. That’s not what that flag means to us, we proclaim, as if only we get to choose the meaning of symbols once put to violent uses against others, as if we can divorce that meaning from history, any more than Germans could fly the swastika and proclaim that it has nothing to do with Nazis, without also admitting that the perspective of Jews still means nothing to them.

You can find in this country reenactments of plantations, dedicated to the idea that slaves were well-treated, almost family members. You can find history books that say the same. You can find school boards who insist that these book be used in schools to the exclusion of others.

You can find it embedded, completely unexamined by producers, into the backgrounds of our game shows.

You can find people who will tell you black people had it better when they were bought and sold and owned and used like livestock. If you want to meet any of them, I would direct you to right-wing cable news, or to your nearest social media outlet, where souls feel free, under hoods of anonymity, to unburden themselves of their horrid thoughts.

And, these days, sometimes they don’t even bother with the hoods.

Often your first thought is your best thought, Tucker.
The North won the war, it’s true. But, since they seem to have ceded to the South the victor's perquisite to write the history books, we might conclude it is because the North, even in victory, still preferred order to justice. We might wonder, if we happen to prefer justice to order—did the North fight to end slavery? Or did they simply consider the order of the Union more important—maybe only slightly more so—than the order of slavery? Did the North, having secured the order of the Union, comfortable with their own flavor of injustice, feel little need to quibble about the morality of the South's preferred flavor?

Or, perhaps, we don’t wonder.

The desire for slavery is never far from us; you’d need to be in a bubble to miss it. It is not buried in the past; it is near, near, near, now, now, now. The order of slavery, disrupted not so very long ago, longs to be restored. It’s the not-so-secret wish lurking in the hearts of thousands and millions of us. Not overtly, of course, and not for ourselves, of course—but it as the natural destination of the lies we've believed, the true North of our moral compasses.

Slavery is what happens—it’s the natural end point—when the buckets you use to divide the people who have earned life from the people who haven’t are labeled PROFITABLE and NOT PROFITABLE.

Once wealth becomes self-evidently fungible with moral justice, anything that creates a greater profit will eventually be taken to be moral and just.

And cheap labor creates profit. But free labor creates even more profit.

And so free labor is very, very good.

Or, let’s think about corporations.

A corporation is an entity that ensures profits for a small group of stakeholders by providing value to those with the wealth to afford such value, and by paying others only as long as they demonstrate skill enough to assist the continual strategic growth of that profitability.

A corporation is an excellent tool for accomplishing these good things, and toward those goals it can effectively provide significant value to a society in ways that few other entities can.

For what they are designed to do, corporations are very good. They have done good. They have improved the human experience and condition—within that specific context.

However, corporations are a terrifyingly poor tool for pondering the essential dignity and human need of those lacking either the wealth to afford the benefits the corporation provides, or the skill to assist the corporation’s growth.

Corporations view the people that labor for them as assets, as resources, and routinely evaluate those resources to make sure they remain strategically relevant and valuable toward the execution of their mission, which is the continual growth of profit. If it is determined that these resources are no longer strategically relevant and valuable toward their mission, they are jettisoned. Since the mission of corporations is to create profit for their owners, this is a very appropriate thing for corporations to do.

I’ll say this again, so it’s not missed: Within the specific context of what corporations are designed to do, this is an entirely appropriate orientation toward people. When placed within the correct context, this orientation creates opportunity and value for both people and corporations.

But, because the mission of a just society is not to create profit for a small group of owners, it is an extremely inappropriate and harmful orientation for a society to have toward people. And it is extremely corrosive to organize society so that corporations, more and more, are the only realistically available method of sustenance and flourishing for human beings.

Nevertheless, in a society captured by the idea that profit is moral virtue, captured with the assumptions that unprofitable people have not earned life, the idea might arise that our government—which is how we organize our shared life together—might be better run as a corporation, to better enhance profitability’s moral virtue, and this idea might begin to seem very reasonable and wise and moral. In a society that has been captured by such ideas, you might find that the larger a corporation gets, and the more powerful, and the more influential, the better its size and power and influence are deemed to be. The reason is simple: A corporation is the best possible vehicle for capturing and growing profit. If profit is your greatest moral value, than a corporation becomes the most moral thing imaginable.

And, in such a society, being unprofitable becomes a kind of original sin.

Story here.
You might find that heath care is allowed to become a product in such a society. A product like health care, which is literally life where there would have been death, which is healing where there might have been suffering, which has by its very nature a market value approaching the infinite, might be allowed to reach such near-infinite valuations on an open market, so that it is effectively unpurchasable by most. This, in turn, might create a massive market for health insurance, itself barely affordable for individuals, whose acquisition can only be safely secured through a corporation, requiring individuals to sedulously maintain their profitability so as to continue, quite literally, to earn life.

You might even find that health care produces a product that brings not healing and life, but addiction and death, but that it is allowed to continue for decades, simply because it is so gloriously and morally profitable.

In such a society, you might see a bill proposed that denies health care coverage to millions, for the crime of having been sick in the past. These sick people have failed the simplest moral test: they have failed to be profitable. Any consideration for their humanity is irrelevant beside the sin of their unprofitability, because we don’t all belong to each other, and because life is something you earn, not something you’re born with. You might find hundreds of thousands of people afraid, no matter how vulnerable it makes them, to leave the job they held before they became unprofitable to the healthcare industry, knowing if they leave the protective umbrella of their corporation's outsized influence, or if their corporation decides to withdraw it from them, they are unlikely to ever again find themselves deemed worthy to affordably access life.

The idea that health care might be a right afforded to all humans by the simple fact of their humanity might begin to seem a deeply offensive idea, when a society is dedicated to profit as its primary goal.

The idea that access to clean drinking water should be a right might seem offensive, or at least impractical, precisely because its lack of market value will devalue it; an argument which presupposes that water's role as an essential necessity for human life is an insufficient enough value to be assigned worth by a society that presupposes that profitability is a higher value than that of life.

The idea that a person's ability to move from an area that threatens their life to an area of stability is a human right might begin to seem dangerous and offensive, precisely because the human inflow will be expensive and disruptive, which will cut into profit.

The idea that unprofitable humans should have easy access to the vote might begin to feel like dangerous fraud.

The idea that a labor force would organize might begin to seem deeply offensive and immoral, precisely because the human advantages to be gained would cut into the existing and outsized corporate advantage, which are driven by profit and result in profit. The idea that corporations might enact countervailing measures against organized labor on might be seen as inevitable, and those measures, however draconian, might be seen as desirable and moral. If the measures have some evil effect, the fault will never lie with the entities enacting the measure, but the laborers, whose organized demands for fair treatment mercilessly forced their employers’ hands, compelled them to take drastic action to preserve the ultimate morality of profit.

The idea that there might be restrictions upon how a corporation uses natural resources, on the grounds that those restricted uses endanger human well-being, might begin to seem fatuous, short-sighted, onerous, even offensive.

The idea that there should be restrictions placed on corporations to prevent them from using their outsized resources to influence government might seem outdated and foolish and strange.

The idea that corporations might be allowed to maximize profits by consolidating, so that industries are controlled by fewer and fewer corporations of larger and larger size, providing more and more benefit to fewer and fewer people, might start to seem wiser and wiser.

It might seem to us that the justice system should be made profitable; that our prisons systems should be run by private industry, that crime and punishment should become a growth industry, that prisoners should become product.

The idea that prisoners can be used for pennies an hour might seem very reasonable and wise and moral, and the idea that we should make human imprisonment subject to the continual strategic profit growth demanded by private industry will no longer trouble us. Even once we imprison more of our population than any other country, we will go on proclaiming ourselves The Land of the Free, without a trace of irony—because what could possibly create more freedom than maximizing profit?

It might seem that education should be made profitable.

It might seem that unemployment relief is theft. It might seem a free lunch given to a hungry child is a moral sin.

It might seem that wars should become a growth industry, maximized for profit. You might even hear this idea suggested by the brother of the Secretary of Education, who is herself working to make education profitable.

It might seem as if real and proven future threats to human life should be ignored, if the solutions to these threats might threaten present profits.

It might seem that everything should be made profitable or, if it cannot be made so, be jettisoned.

It might seem that people should be made profitable, or else jettisoned.

And then, it might begin to seem that being profitable is how you earn life.

It might seem that citizens of a country are considered at-will employees of the corporation of that country, their existence to be determined by what monetary value they are able to deliver in the coming fiscal year.

And then we might start thinking that corporations are people. And that people are not.

And we might decide to run our government—which is the way a people organize their shared life together—as if it were a business.

And then we might hire a businessman to run it.

And, if it turned out this entire premise were based upon a set of horrendous lies, you might find that the businessman we hire to this end would be the most horrendous sort of liar.

The endpoint of this business will always—necessarily—be profit. And profit will require jettisoning unprofitable people. And, since we are talking about government, which is how we organize our shared life together, then jettisoning will not mean firing the no longer profitable, but abandonment and death and enslavement. The definition of 'unprofitable' will be in some cases a matter of bad luck, in others a matter of inevitable entropy, and in many others an almost religious predestination, based upon our preexisting and long-established injustices.

The country that becomes a business can only eventually have one product, which will be murder and theft for profit.

Within this business, there will be those of us who want to kill and use others out of hatred and fear and anger, for unprofitable violations against a profitable system.

And there will be others among us who decide to kill and use out of a failed compassion, a misplaced altruism that does not extend far enough out of our own comfort to allow for modifications to an abusive and unjust system. Too unimaginative to challenge the atrociousness of our proposed foundational lies, we seek the softest atrocity within that structure.

Here is the great and final conclusion: There are people who do not matter, and it is their own fault. It is better if they die, but it is best if they can first be used.

And, if this were a deeply ironic universe, we might see a society believing all these lies as a fundamental component of their adherence to a religious tradition that worships a deity that taught his followers he would be found among the hungry, the thirsty, the prisoner, the stranger, the destitute, who taught that no man can serve two masters, and that the eye was the lamp of the body, who taught that humans were to live like the birds of the air, not chasing after tomorrow, but rather coming to eat, freely, without price.

The penalty and the danger for believing this lie is this: self-enslavement. When I live in a world where my only value is the profit I can deliver, then I’ll live my life trying to deliver it, and when I can no longer deliver it, I’ll no longer feel my own worth. I’ll become such a person that can be used by whoever will value me, and, having so devalued myself, I’ll never see the unsurpassable value of others. I’ll wear the chains. I’ll put them on myself, right after I’ve made them.

A world in which profitability is the prime measure of human moral virtue is a world in which I am no longer art, but product.

* * *

So. There are some who want genocide and slavery for their own enrichment—true believers. And then there are the rest of us, who prefer order to justice, and the true believers wield that preference of ours with precision to achieve their rough ends.

Most of us don't want slavery and genocide. We've just been convinced of a set of proposals that will make it inevitable.

We conservatives and libertarians don’t exactly want genocide and slavery, maybe. We just don’t want the hassle of the disorder it’s going to require to not have genocide and slavery. This isn’t how we think of it, because we've furnished ourselves with bubbles, surrounded ourselves with mirrors that don’t allow us to see ourselves. We have architectures of justification we’ve constructed for our support of what may seem like heartless propositions, proofs of their efficacy and hidden morality, of their status as necessary and pragmatic measures, not capitulations to evil. We can send you links. We have them at the ready.

We liberals and moderates are not so removed from this. We’re willing to go so far as to vote against genocide and slavery, but if we lose, we’re pragmatic. Time to all pull together and help the president succeed. And after all, we tell ourselves, there’s not really much difference between the parties. It’s comfortable to reconcile. It makes us feel reasonable and open-minded. And, we think, whatever the other party does, we can always say ‘I told you so.’ We can’t say we didn’t know. But we can always say we never voted for it. It’s a thin blanket, but it gives us something at which to clutch. We have architectures of justification we’ve constructed. We have mirrors that don’t allow us to see ourselves. We can send you links. We have them at the ready.

Because there are some who talk about justice and equality for all. But talk is easy; there are only a few of that number—a precious few—who truly enact it. And there are many others, who talk of law and order. And in America today, the order of genocide and slavery is the order they fight to protect.

If you don’t care for the term ‘genocide and slavery,’ try this one: Death of the unprofitable, for profit.

That’s our country right now. That's the spirit that has captured us.

That is our frame, defined.

Engaging in a debate set within this frame seems a futile occupation, for even if we 'win,' we still occupy a slightly less unjust space within an unjust frame.

The frame is the problem. We have to move it.

That’s what I dare hope thousands and millions of us realized, when our ‘liberal’ bubbles popped.

It's time to talk about Story.

0. ART


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