December 26, 2014 - admin

Paroxysm of Capitalism

It is perhaps fitting, at this time of year, to reflect both on how capitalism shapes society, and on the state of society (and here I mean the US as the heartland of neoliberal capitalism) under capitalism.  We are inundated with offers of merchandise as we are asked to celebrate a holiday that commemorates charity and kindness, and yet has come to symbolize both the excesses of income inequality and the human costs of poverty and despair.  We see all around us symbols of the failure of this society to meet even the most basic forms of human dignity, most pressingly in the form of the all-too-often shooting of unarmed men and women of color, a sign that social control and order must be neither control or order.  In its place we have a society that seems to shrug, even as people demonstrate under the banner “all Black lives matter” throughout the country.  We have the sad events of two officers killed by someone with emotional problems, who felt wronged by the police and who devolved into a paranoia that first cost the life of his partner.  And yet that event is meant to negate the outrage of a population at the senseless killing of unarmed teens, of mentally unstable homeless people, of men simply not reacting quickly enough when confronted by the police.  But what drives the outrage and demonstrations are not necessarily the killings themselves, as awful as they are, but the reaction (or failure to act) by the system designed to protect us, the endless and now almost automatic exoneration by a judicial system that refuses to recognize that many if not most of the circumstances around these killings deserve further inquiry, evidence deserves to be examined, judgement deserves to be exercised.  Instead, officers are found not culpable by Grand Juries manipulated by prosecutors who blatantly defend the actions of the police under any circumstance.

And so we return to this season of excess and greed, though the economic tidal wave known as neoliberalism and austerity has put a damper on some of that excess–after all, you can drive down the living standards of most of society only so far before it undermines the very foundation of capitalism…its ability to realize the surplus appropriated through the sale of the products produced by wage labor. Ayn Rand noted, in her track Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal (Signet, 1986), without property rights, no other rights can be practiced. I am sure she meant us to understand that all rights derive from capitalism’s foundation in private property, but ironically we now can understand the extent of suffering under capitalism for all those without property.  Through its unending march toward excess, and the tidal wave of accumulated wealth in fewer and fewer hands, capitalism creates ever increasing legions of poor, of people only able to look through the lens of their TV at the things they cannot give their children, of meals they will never enjoy.  And yet this wave of austerity is not met without resistance.  People march–though sadly and less often in the US–as austerity programs have shredded social safety nets or torn up social contracts crafted over decades of struggle and negotiation.  If one looks at non-US news broadcasts we can see major and often violent demonstrations throughout Europe as young people march for jobs, retired workers mobilize to protect benefits, workers organize to defend their gains.

So what does that mean for police violence against people of color in the US?  Perhaps we are seeing the early signs of probing to understand the limits (if there are any) of repression.  The subjugation and oppression of people of color–whether it is the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow that revisits our society constantly in the treatment of Black people, or the criminalization and prison-industrial complex to which undocumented immigrants are subjected, or the war on drugs that victimizes everyone not white–creates a climate where we expect that the police act, if with a bit of excess, still with cause ever ready to believe the worst of that segment of society.  And so, we are saddened by what seems to be senseless killing, and yet we are more willing to contribute to defense funds for the police who did the killing than we are to support families left without husbands or wives, without the means to support themselves after loved ones are murdered.  We may be forgiven our cynicism when we wonder if this is not just early days as we enter a period of repression designed to silence criticism, to short-circuit resistance, to test the limits of police responses as we learn that the forces of social control, whose motto is serve and protect, now considers itself on a “war footing” because they are now under siege (or what we might call, being held accountable!).

It all comes together during this annual end-of-year reflection on what the new year will bring, as we articulate our hopes and aspirations, as we step over the homeless and hungry who embarrass us (perhaps because we have so much, or perhaps we are unable to do more, or even anything) even as we go into stores filled with what we don’t need.  We don’t think about the Detroit pensioners who lost many if not all of their promised benefits even as the city and the courts work to protect bond holders.  We don’t think of workers in fast food establishments who only get minimum wages that are insufficient to support families, making them eligible for public assistance.  We don’t pay attention to advice given to McDonald’s employees when they are told to resell Christmas gifts on eBay or Craig’s List to generate a little more cash, or break down the food they eat into smaller portions so they might feel full when they eat.  We marvel at our good fortunes forgetting all those for whom good fortunes are merely a fantasy, or sit in comfort in the warmth of our homes while trying to ignore all those who don’t have homes or can’t afford the heating bill to make those homes warm.  We look forward to holiday meals and try not to let knowledge of the world’s hungry–many in this country, all too many of them children–make us lose our appetites.

So, the ever fewer and fewer of us who can celebrate this holiday as we have always must keep in mind that both the bounty and the desolation are brought to us by a system relentlessly robbing humanity of any dignity, creating gated communities and increasingly unlivable cities for poor people, depriving so many of the most basic needs of food, shelter and safety.  What is needed is not more individual charity–as the ideologues would have us believe–but a change in the way our society is organized.  And that begins with the demonstrations against police brutality, mobilization for a living wage, actions against austerity measures, and demands for the protection of the rights of workers and citizens everywhere.


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