Thoughts

On being capitalists

We are not all capitalists. The vast, vast, vast majority of us are labor. We work for a living. Why are you lying to these people? Kellyanne, is that you?

 

When I say we’re all capitalists, I mean it in the same way that we’re all 60% water. If you are alive in America today, then you are a product of late-stage capitalism. Your personal beliefs are irrelevant. Your socio-economic status is irrelevant. Your politics are irrelevant — you are a tiny little piece of capitalism, and you don’t have a choice.

This isn’t about your freshmen level Marxism or your anarchy tattoo or anything else you’ve built into your identity that you think separates you from the system. If you’ve got access to the internet and the occasional cheeseburger, then calling yourself labor is just a distinction without a difference.

That’s not me being pro-capitalism or fiscally conservative or anything else so grotesque as to be worthy of the name Kellyanne. Fuck that. I’m all for infusing the American experiment with as much socialism as possible, but I also have a grip on reality, and I recognize that a deliberate refusal to accept the fundamentals of our economic system is just a left wing version of willful ignorance, and I fucking detest willful ignorance.

Sorry, kid. I’m with Nancy Pelosi on this one: “We’re capitalists. That’s just the way it is.”

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77 thoughts on “On being capitalists

  1. Elsie says:

    Personally, too many people in my family were saved by the WPA, so I’ll keep pretending I’m a product of democratic socialism.

    Will my son’s children be considered a product of crushing income inequality driven capitalism or bread-and-circuses (small r) republicanism or fuck-the-bread-the-govt-is-the-circus federalism, I wonder.

  2. praxagora says:

    Perhaps somewhat more selective and empirically useful (for questions of inequality, economic prospects, and intergenerational wealth transfers etc) definition of capitalist: you’re a capitalist if you own any capital at all, capital being a category that includes any 401k, Roth IRA, mutual funds, stocks, voluntary investment plan (VIP), or pension plan. Basically capital = the money you store in an account with the intent/mechanism that it grows into more money over time.

    Piketty’s “Capital” is great for understanding how capital compounds over time and how this relates to inequality.

  3. Micol Brunelli says:

    Well said! I find it incredible that there are still people out there who believe on can fully integrate socialist beliefs with a capitalist system.
    Even if you lived on a desert island or a wood chances are you wouldn’t be completely free.

    • Nona says:

      Socialism is intended to replace capitalism, not integrate with it.
      You might have been talking about social democracy which is a thing that works and exists.
      (PS: please don’t think I’m being arrogant or confrontational, I really tried to tone down this comment a lot already.)

  4. Wrkrb says:

    “If we started boycotting everything owned by rich white bigoted assholes, we literally wouldn’t have toilet paper to wipe our asses, so don’t let the bastards ruin your good time.” This is some gross capitalist apologist bullshit from our own material girl. Good luck wiping your ass on space stations owned by bigoted assholes after they kill all of the vulnerable species, use up the last of the good topsoil and waste the remaining freshwater. BOYCOTT THEM CONSTANTLY. Evade their influence. Be part of something else. Stop rationalizing support for people or institutions that undermine your values or the safety of others. We may be embedded in the system but it doesn’t mean we can’t grow out of it.

    • WhoAmI says:

      It’s impossible to survive in a city without consuming stuff made by some company owned by some other company, itself owned by one of the, what, ten corporations at the top of the game ? That’s what she meant.

      You can’t make your life 100% capitalism-free where there is human activity. You can’t boycott all of them. That would mean : no food, no clothes, no medication, no tools, no locomotion, no spare-time activities, no art-making, no listening to music, no Internet, etc.
      Except if you happened to know how to make all of these through non-capitalist ways. Good luck with that.

        • Nona says:

          You are well intentioned but delusional. Your personal efforts mean nothing. Join an organisation or give money to an organisation that can defend your causes if you are truly committed.

          • Wrkrb says:

            My personal efforts have gotten children bicycles, rebuilt neighborhoods, protected regions from vector species, and made sure terminally ill people have the right to end their lives if they want to. What the fuck have you been up to on your high horse? Probably investing in some capitalist profit bullshit instead of communities. Asshole.

          • Nona says:

            WRKRB : oh so you can single handedly manufacture bikes, do construction, build kilometers of fences and monitor regions, as well as sneak up on terminally ill people to suffocate them with a pillow? That’s quite the resume.
            I meant efforts to modify your personal consumption mean nothing. Of course you should invest in collective efforts to make the world a better place. My main point is that if all the eco friendly vegans took the energy that they spend navel gazing and put that into collective movements, that would be more efficient. Dipshit.

          • Wrkrb says:

            @Nona: My main point was that personal efforts do make a difference whether we’re talking about consumption or labor. You’re a fucking pessimist and you’ll find that your visions of ‘pointless’ness are self fulfilling prophecies.

          • WhoAmI says:

            Their point is that personal efforts of consumption that still fall under the umbrella of neoliberal mass consumerism are indeed totally useless. That’s why veganism is total bullshit, for example.

          • KittyNinja says:

            They wove the internet by themselves and built the modem from potatoes grown in soil they found on an abandoned lot. Give them some credit, sheesh!

    • grim says:

      You don’t seem to have understood the quote you replied to.

      Coke is saying you literally can’t boycott them and survive. There is nowhere to go. Even the few workplaces, if any really exist, where workers manage their own work, inputs to their production were produced by capitalists.

      What exactly are you suggesting by “be part of something else”? Run off and join a commune? What about the other people who aren’t so privileged as to live in the “first world”, or to be young, healthy, able-bodied, and without dependents? You’re suggesting to abandon those people. If you want to be in a position to help those people—and you should—you will have to resign yourself to wiping your ass with capitalist toilet paper.

      • Stephen says:

        And on the off-chance that someone would actually try to do something like live on a “capitalist-free” hippie commune, they would still have to grow food to eat, and that would initially involve buying seeds. A store gets seeds from a supplier, which gets its stock from a higher-up-the-chain supplier, and so on and so forth until you hit the corporation that sits at the top of this chain.

        Literally the only way to live free of capitalism is to live as a caveman – with all that entails in regards to hygiene, diet, travel, shelter, medical care, entertainment, and everything else affected by material possessions and capitalism.

  5. Nona says:

    Capitalist noun 1. a person who uses their wealth to invest in trade and industry for profit in accordance with the principles of capitalism.
    I’ll have to politely disagree on this one, although I see the point you’re trying to make.
    (Also, please try something other than “freshman level Marxism”, it works once as an insult, but more than that seems a bit repetitive and preachy. I can submit a few suggestions if you’re interested.)

  6. Soooooo says:

    These quotes are out of context. It’s very easy to see why coke said that in that particular situation and why it wouldn’t apply in this conversation. But, I know how you guys like to argue so I’m going to sit over here and watch.

  7. Monochromicorn says:

    Capitalism is great for phones, and bad for healthcare. You wouldn’t enjoy an 100% socialist country, the problem in America isn’t capitalism per se, the problem is too much capitalism.

    I think coke has said likewise elsewhere.

    • grim says:

      This is one of those things that is repeated so frequently it is difficult to challenge, but capitalism is not great for phones. Scientists and engineers, often trained in public universities, working in government-funded private labs, or often simply government labs, developed the technology used by cell phones. Capitalism has little to do with it.

      • WhoAmI says:

        Parts of its earliest development were funded and asked for by the US Army, if I’m correct. And then they lost interest in it and it became a public thing. That screams capitalism a lot to me, but a better example would be computers or digital cameras I think.

        • grim says:

          A good example is the GPS system. It simply isn’t economically feasible for a corporation to put into place. It costs the US government 750 million a year and installation was 12 billion, and it would have cost a hell of a lot more if they hadn’t been giving NASA billions in yearly R&D for two decades prior to making the thing. Russia, China and EU are the only other entities to have built GPS systems, and only the US and Russia have global coverage.

          I need to look into the phone thing deeper, Wikipedia is woefully short on info here but it looks like there was a lot of work that went into cell phones before the technology existed, and Motorola engineers were the first to create a working prototype in the 70s, but it’s unclear how all this was funded and organized.

    • Monochromicorn says:

      Ok, then point to a country that had/has a very high socialism to captalism ratio and tell me you’d rather live there. If you say Norway, I’d say that isn’t “very high”, because they still buy their phones on a market.

      Again, it’s just balance, you can make a livable wage law and still sell phones on a market. It’s never has to be black and white, you blend the systems as creatively as you’d like too.

      • grim says:

        I wouldn’t want to leave the US for a socialist country, but that’s a situation primarily created by Americans ourselves. Any place where there are movements towards socialism we tend to intervene somehow, and often support a right-wing tyrant who’ll look out for our business interests. Who knows what a socialist, democratic society could look like without US interference?

        My point is why should corporations be making phones? Corporations generally don’t work on R&D as much as they advertise (e.g. Apple), and much of the development work corporations actually do goes into planned obsolescence and other wasteful things nobody would ever work on if they had a say in their work.

        • Monochromicorn says:

          A socialist democratic society without us intervention looks like norway, or france, or pick a modern western European nation.

          You will note they all have markets. It’s just the balance that needs to be right.

          There are reasons that more extreme socialism trends toward communism/authoritarianism. The US isn’t responsible for all of those experiments.

          • WhoAmI says:

            Socialist ? No US intervention ? That’s not two things I would naturally associate with Fifth Republic France, but sure why not.

          • Monochromicorn says:

            Ok. We all affect each other, but I don’t think that France has seen the kind of US intervention of say … Pinochet in Chile for example. But maybe you have another perspective.

            And yeah, I dont know France as intimately as you do, but you have many more social services than america and have more policies that favor working and middle classes. I’m sure it’s not perfect, but those ideas are rooted in socialism, no?

          • WhoAmI says:

            How can I put it…

            First , it’s worth reminding that the american republic and the french republic have had very distinct ideas from the beginning about what things like equality, freedom, or socialism are (didn’t Arendt write about it or something ?)

            We have a number of laws with very strong socialist undertones, thanks to which, yes, we definitively are a tad more socialist than the US those days (even under Obama).
            But the overall system we use is definitively on the right side of politics, by design, because the 1958 Constitution (our fifth by the way – why do you guys never change your Constitution ? that’s weird) was basically self-tailored by De Gaulle. He may be reverred by politicians in every party nowadays, but he was a right-wing traditionalist with the mentality of a grumpy old man from a rich countryside upper-class french family, as smart as he was.
            Indeed, France has never leaned on the left side of politics in 50+ years.

            Of course from an american POV we can look really socialist ; especially since you only chose your Presidents from two parties, whose equivalent in France is the same and only party (the “Parti Républicain”, previously known as the UMP). We also have a couple more social progresses than you guys do, sure, but we’re still fighting to keep them up, and we’re slowly losing them one by one.
            The thing is : our “socialist” politicians who got elected as presidents ? They never really were the ones who brought the socialist change.

            If anything, our actual president chose not to run again next time because while he was elected as a “socialist”, he made a lot of very unpopular and right-wing decisions (so now everyone hates him). But then again, he was able to become president because the CIA, french socialists and others colluded just long enough to put Strauss-Khan out of the race. That’s US intervention at its finest there lads.

    • VeryMobile says:

      Instead of calling it class consciousness, how about “situational awareness?” We should all have the capacity to empathise with people who are different regardless of means, color, or gender.

      • WhoAmI says:

        Awareness of one’s own class doesn’t necessarily means empathy towards people in other classes I think. That capacity isn’t something everyone have, and I’m not sure you can develop it in yourself voluntarily.

        • VeryOn says:

          I’ll agree that the threshold of awareness doesn’t require more than the shallowest empathy. But recognition that someone doesn’t have something that you do have requires empathy, I think; if we are talking about anything that isn’t immediately observable.

          ‘Oh, you don’t have a cell phone made of diamonds’ doesn’t require empathy.
          ‘I bet you would like a cell phone made of diamonds.’ Does.

          I think we would have to go further than that to cobble together “class consciousness.”

          grmbl3 no coffee yet

        • VeryOn says:

          I would argue that Marxist class consciousness is how we ended up with trump. The farmers robert Reich interviewed were trying to decide whether it was Bernie or trump because they saw themselves as a disempowered class. Any time you draw a line between classes I would think you’re precipitating demagoguery.

          • Nona says:

            I would argue that the loss of class consciousness is the reason people feel disempowered.
            Anyone who works for a living is part of a common class and should realize that they are the gears in the capitalist machine. They are the only ones who have the power to assist it’s transformation.
            Upper classes and/or capitalists do not have ultimate control of means of production.

  8. Jess says:

    The important thing for people on the left who care about this stuff is to keep pushing, and campaigning; to paraphrase Coke, to help “infuse with as much socialism/[whatever]” as is practically possible.

    What’s truly defeatist is to believe that thing can never be fairer, or better, for whatever measure of that you hold to be true. That’s applicable whether you’re a left liberal or a communist, or whatever.

    I hated Pelosi’s answer because it immediately made me think of another pithy phrase, spoken by someone whose politics she doesn’t share: Margaret Thatcher.

    “There is no alternative”

    *shudder*

    • Chris says:

      So true. She doesn’t return calls right away. And she’s pretty much given all the advice that’s out there. Unlike Abby/Amy/Prudence/Carolyn who will keep answering the same Q’s:
      – How do I break up with my hairdresser (just stop going, idiot)
      – How do I tell my boyfriend I don’t like baby talk (with words)
      – We don’t have a lot of sex and are happy. is that okay? (yes)

      CQ reached the finish line, got the prizes (her book, anonymity, and other projects that spun off), and is probably ready to go.

      It’s time we thank her and move on – like the humans at the end of “Her.”

        • Grouch says:

          I think it’s like any repeated professional/client relationship, both sides start to get expectations, and definitely from the client side, probably a huge overestimation of their importance.

          • Chris says:

            Yup. And the columns are there in the archives if you read them.

            I once tried reading Dear Margo, but by the 5th time in 5 columns she said, “you need therapy,” I realized what a jackass I was to have read even that much.

            I hadn’t found Coquette yet, and was looking for her without knowing it.

        • Chris says:

          Just saw another ridiculous one
          “Should I feel bad that I don’t post happy birthday on someone’s FB timeline?”

          No, but you should feel bad that you’re wasting our fucking time with this.

          • Nona says:

            You must be a charm to spend an hour in the car with.
            Different advice columns have different purposes. I’ve been hooked to the concept since I was 10 when I discovered advice columns for the first time in a teenage magazine in my school library. I can genuinely say that they have made me the kind of person who is willing and able to articulate other people’s problems with them and find solutions.

            CQ has a unique voice. She has been moving away for a few years from the advice column format, but there are an infinite number of questions to answer out there, and I don’t think she’s going to quit writing.
            See this post http://dearcoquette.com/on-the-possibility-of-a-little-fundraising/

          • Chris says:

            Nona, I’m laughing at your reply. Thanks for that. I’m actually okay to be around sometimes. Last night my wife and I were out with another couple. They didn’t end the evening by saying ‘we never want to see you again.’ If that’s not success, I’m not sure what is.

          • Nona says:

            Well, you’re married and I’m in a tentative long distance relationship with my ex, so you must be doing something right.

          • Monochromicorn says:

            The really insane thing about those columns is that you start to realize how many women in america have no damn confidence what so ever.

    • Grouch says:

      Probably because she is slowing down her output, and she’s made it clear that she’s not the type to cling to things past their time. All things end, and someday this will too.

      • Chris says:

        Dammit, you’re right! She told us how she is, and we were so love stoned we just thought of how great it would be to be with her forever.

      • Chloe says:

        Depending on its success, this experiment will probably end when her next book is published, y’know, the one that’s been touted for several years now. If that one sells well and there’s more work to be published in her vaults, lather, rinse, repeat until the law of diminishing returns applies.

        • grouch says:

          Yeah, it just occurred to me that (as with all things), you can point to the moment that the start of the end became clear, in hindsight: a couple months ago there was talk of people donating money to help with the server cost, and having a forum or something. That was it.

  9. Wrkrb says:

    Re: @Nona’s remark: “Anyone who works for a living is part of a common class and should realize that they are the gears in the capitalist machine. They are the only ones who have the power to assist it’s transformation.
    Upper classes and/or capitalists do not have ultimate control of means of production.”

    In an era of increasing automation the idea of workers transforming capitalism by tinkering with the means of production seems like pure fantasy to me. The capitalist machine runs on human labor and human consumption (I think more consumption than labor but it’s a moot point). Many organizations put honest effort into branching out of the dominant paradigm and I try to only have labor/financial relationships with such as those. I chose not to have a child when I was 19 and presented with the occasion to decide. If I had chosen differently maybe I wouldn’t adhere to such deliberate simplicity in my consumption. Of course I make purchases that siphon tiny amounts of my support into conglomerations that I abhor but it’s about where the bulk of the support goes that matters.

    Boycotting and divestment are powerful tactics.

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