“The ‘explosions’ themselves are frequently a sign that the ‘normal’ and largely covert forms of class struggle are failing or have reached a crisis point. Such declarations of open war, with their mortal risks, normally come only after a protracted struggle on different terrain.” –Everyday Forms of Peasant Resistance by James C. Scott
“They don’t want me anymore, threw it on the floor/They used to call me sweet thing, but I’m nobody’s plaything/And now that I am different, they’d love to bust my head, love to see me cop out, they’d love to see me dead. Do they owe us a living? […] Of course they fucking do.” Do They Owe Us a Living? by Crass
I was going to write about the Walter Benjamin essay The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, filtered through the labor theory of value against the backdrop of the Rush song Anthem. The completion of this essay will no doubt fulfill me and convince me I’m deserving of love. Get excited. It’s going to happen. But something else came up that demanded my attention: A bloody teenage fist.
One of the downsides of where I am in my life is that I don’t interact with very many people. There was a retail job over the summer that lasted for about two months until my shithead boss made his dozenth comment about how the police should have wiped the Seattle protesters off the street. At that point it was either hit him in the face with the drive side crank arm of a bicycle or simply quit. It’s taken a long time to learn the cost-benefit analysis of conflict but wisdom trumped desire and I never went back.
Otherwise I just talk to my friends on the phone or visit with the few that are geographically and temporally accessible (which is to say they’re either unemployed or underemployed… and childless). Jobs bring you into contact with the rest of humanity so you can get a sense of how terrible it is.
The thing I miss about working (besides money) is the moderate to extreme degrees of anger it gives rise to. Anger is undervalued. It’s hard on its bearer and anyone who steps into the crosshairs but it does a lot of work, for better or worse.
I know about this stuff. I’m a recovered rageaholic. For a long time fury was the only drug I was doing. It is transcendent when it begins and punishing on the other end. It’s probably fucked my brain up. During the worst period of my life I became unable to experience it and I felt lost. I’ve really only regained the ability to be pissed off in the last few months.
There’s a lot to be said for anger. It lets you hate stuff other than yourself. It provides energy when you thought you were out of it. Fantasies of a hurtling fist replace the desire to watch the fifth season of the Simpsons for the 80th time. But It’s also dangerous for you, your opponent, and the collateral damage that surrounds you. If directed inappropriately it’s just another instance of cops shooting people or hired killers mowing down Iraqi civilians. That being said, for many of us it’s an intimate emotion that plays out in the home.
I want to acknowledge the hypocrisy I’m guilty of when I say I’m watching a television program on Amazon Prime. I think Jeff Bezos should be fired out of a cannon into a wall and then scraped off and resurrected so that the real torture can begin. That being said, he’s going to be a rich scumbag whether I watch streaming video on the platform or not.
I’d also like to admit that in the present there is no art that is revolutionary. Literally every expression of human feeling can get sucked back into the commodity form. No critique, no commentary, no mourning can tear it’s way out of this greasy paper bag. We need these fantasies to keep moving and our evil overlords aren’t threatened by them in the slightest.
But getting to the point, there’s a show streaming on Amazon called Wayne. It is the tale of a 16 year old boy with absolutely nothing decent in his life and no adults helping him find aforementioned decency. At the outset of the show he has no protectors save his terminally ill father and a completely demoralized high school principal.
Wayne is notorious and feared by his peers. He is basically a werewolf haunting the boundaries of their world. He is decidedly not a bully but rather a righteous defender of those who have been wronged. He is emotionally catatonic until he charges into conflicts that he can’t win but somehow does, at which point his sadness transforms into a pure, beautiful rage. It is all he has and its brilliance forces one to turn away.
He is absolutely willing to destroy himself in tribute to this one feeling, this guiding force. Like any number of great and tragic pugilists he will take three punches to deliver one. Not only does he not fear pain, he embraces it. A thing that lives inside him finally arrives from the exterior and it’s welcome.
Wayne has a single friend, an African American boy named Orlando who Wayne seems to love mostly because he is a perennial victim of bullies- he needs Wayne in the only way that Wayne is capable of fulfilling. And Orlando loves Wayne because of the inverse. Wayne has given up on acceptance long ago and has forgotten anything that he experienced previous to this renunciation.
But Wayne has love in his anarchic heart. He encounters a girl as tragic as he is, deadened by pain, loss and neglect and immediately becomes devoted to her in the way that only adolescent desire can bring into being. They both work their way through the classic hero’s cycle, and for the most part they serve as one anothers’ guides. They limp their way towards love through bloodlettings and tears.
Wayne’s world (see what I did there?) is violent. Most of the figures in his life are angry working class men who might, possibly, have been something like him when they were younger but who have been transformed into the kind of goons that measure their maleness (which is the only thing that validates their existence) by their ability to kick the shit out of someone who deviates from their indecipherable rules of etiquette. These guys speak only the language of cruelty: No admissions of love, no admissions of fear, just a dedicated commitment to their territory and possessions.
Poverty lies just below the surface of it all. Wayne travels through this world in his gray hoodie, passing abandoned storefronts, grim houses, and industrial buildings in which no industry occurs. He eats out of the garbage and watches his father’s slow death during the man’s final days of admiration for his indomitable and deeply sad son.
At a point, Wayne goes on a mission, and it is the only mission he can conceive of: The righting of a wrong through violence and cunning. He begins a journey through the tragic landscape of America, where he encounters enemies that are not even slightly different from the ones that populate his hometown. Along the way he finds allies, adults who either pity him or recognize him as an equal. They see their own lives reflected in the hopeless despondency and eruptions that characterize his life.
It is impossible for me to express the degree to which I relate to this character. My early life took place in a similar landscape of cruel bullies, many of whom were adults. And I hated myself and saw no future cresting the horizon. It didn’t matter at all if I died and that was my only strength.
If you can endure a beating until your tormentor is exhausted and gasping for air then you win. Stealthy acts of revenge are an artform- if you can do some type of harm to those who hurt you without their immediate knowledge you can revel in the fact that they lost that round. You’ve denied them their “a man’s home is his castle” style of conflict resolution and there’s no release valve for their anger. You get to imagine them having a stroke or a heart attack over the deep scratches in the paint of their car, or the rocks thrown through their windows.
Unfortunately there are few ways to rise up in this terrifying cusp-of-adulthood, aside from falling into the same mode of living that the adults who surround you engage in. The anger wears you out or gets you sent to prison. Social workers visit your house to determine parental neglect and threaten your mom and dad with criminal penalties for their failure to adequately discipline you into participating in a life you never asked for. Home might be terrible, but it’s all you know. And the horror of entering into the bureaucratic institutions that manage troubled children outweighs the misery of school and the low intensity warfare among peers.
I’ve thought a bit about this in a political sense. The approaches of resistance that high school age humans employ to escape from or destroy the engines of social reproduction that are using bone saws to punish their brains are actually uniquely effective. They are immediate and often covert and it is catastrophic when they’re not. I am reminded of the self-organized walk-outs of high school age humans against the Sensenbrenner legislation occurring in 2006.
All of this is to say that regimes of power still don’t know what to do with kids. The adult world deals with people who are adequately broken through bureaucratic channels. Nothing happens in the moment. Demands for better pay or lower productivity or basic respect are endlessly delayed. Evictions don’t prompt violence and neither does the specter of socially produced starvation currently occurring in our fucking clown, idiot country. The management of these things rests with politicians and social service bureaucrats. You don’t even get to talk to someone face to face. They’re spared your cursing and threats by automated phone lines and forms that you can complete online (for your convenience).
And that’s because governance cannot easily deal with spontaneous and immediately adjudicated instances of rebellion. When you deny the strategy of endless delay that adult struggles come up against, all the bargaining and positioning, the grumbling denial of basic needs, power must concede or be cast into an unplanned and poorly managed game of one-upmanship. Unfortunately this gets beaten out of us as we grow. We’re taught about consequences. You can still be a piece of shit, but you have to be the right kind of piece of shit.
This is the reason that wildcat strikes and riots prompt change that could never be accomplished through formal channels of advocacy. When an AFL-CIO bureaucrat or Al Sharpton can’t be airlifted in to help diffuse a struggle there are only two options: Police violence (which can backfire spectacularly) or concession.
Chinese factory workers have gotten this pretty much figured out. While denied the relatively pointless avenues of power located in representative democracy, they have relied upon the strategy of ‘social disturbance’ in which you merely chuck your boss out of a window over working conditions and wages. They remove the middleman. This is the indirect cause of the relocation of the global sweatshop to other Southeast Asian countries.
One of the most interesting aspects of Wayne is that there are two ‘buddy movie’ teams following him from the indescribably grim Brockton, Massachusetts. One of these is the aforementioned duo of Principal Cole and Orlando; the other is comprised of Brockton’s police sergeant Stephen Geller, a hypochondriacal queer survivor of Thai prison (how else do you think he got to be so good at Muay Thai?) and his loveable, social media obsessed subordinate Jay Gannetti.
This bothered me at first… how often do personifications of social control throw the rulebooks out and go thundering down the highway to save the loosest screw on the societal cessna? But as things progressed I got down with it. Principal Cole, who is completely defeated and dead inside, pursues Wayne out of love, not out of a sense of responsibility. The same can be said of Orlando. And it is the specter of death that motivates Sergeant Geller and Officer Gannetti – at the beginning of the season he is obsessed with the idea that he is dying of cancer. Upon finding out that he isn’t dying, he decides that Wayne deserves a second chance. Again, death and love (which may be one thing, depending on how you look at it) send angels winging towards Wayne.
But it must be said: Wayne is not saved. He doesn’t need to be.
So here’s to the Waynes of the world. Kids, you might be on a suicide mission, but as you ride your cruise missile right into the face of a world that hates you, when your rage is the purest and most righteous thing this planet can conceive of, please try to survive and to save a little bit of yourself for the rest of us. We need you more than you know.
“I’ve enjoyed our dance. You were the perfect partner and I’m going to miss you, but spacetime is eternal, with everything in it. You and me are always here, always now… You and me are forever.” – Promethea, by Alan Moore
I’ve written a bit about ketamine in the past. I don’t think I’ve done it justice or paid it the appropriate amount of respect. Really, it was just plain out of line to question its ability to signify, and while it might have a muted color pallet, any fan of manga can tell you that you can pull off a fuck of a lot with a dark pencil on a white background.
I think I can locate this prejudice in a sort of knee-jerk anarcho-commie bearing. The Marxist maxim that somehow capitalist society would bring about its own end has taken too long.
It makes sense to be impatient. You want these things to happen in your lifetime. Why do we get a fucking apocalypse instead of a utopia? But these things take time I suppose. All the revolutions that succeeded sucked. All the ones that didn’t were too heroic to make a go of things. When cynical power junkies go up against ideological purists the former will inevitably be chopping off the fingers of the latter before the blindfold is tied on and a final cigarette is deposited in their mouth.
In this sense I feel like a bit of a Stephen Hawking. Dude was definitely smarter than me but I’ve got a ton of experience in mining the writings of my betters for tiny cracks in argumentation. You can be a very smart person and still be operating with assumptions that lead you to poorly conceived arguments. While sci-fi musings were certainly not the most significant contributions to the sum of human knowledge that Hawking had to offer, don’t underestimate the propensity of the popular press to ignore an entire corpus of work to focus on what you had to say about alien invasions or a Skynet style armageddon.
The gist of his comments on these two extremely relevant and immediately applicable phenomena were that if an alien civilization were to arrive on earth their level of technological superiority would mean a quick and effortless extermination of our species. He likened such an encounter to the impact of Columbus’ arrival on indigenous America (which is a fairly fucked up analogy to make in that it posits that the indigenous people of this continent were so lacking in intelligence and technology that they are the equivalent of hapless humans encountering a spacefaring civilization). My response would be that this isn’t ‘Spaniards in Space’. A civilization capable of intergalactic travel, if they had any interest in our failing little world at all, would not necessarily enact the nightmare of European imperialism upon us.
For one, what’s the fucking point? Were there such a species, what would they need from us? And why do we assume that they’d be as terrible as we are? Leaving aside the fact that their biology would almost certainly be different enough from our own that they would either have no need for our resource base, it would be a fair assumption that they could meet their own needs with ease. Unless they had some sort of monstrous evangelical religion I can’t see them acting as anything other than our saviors. Unless they saw us as too dangerous to live. Either way, bring it on extraterrestrials. Save us or kill us, you’d be doing many of us a favor.
His other bit of doomsaying was in regards to artificial intelligence. Again, for motives that are rather unclear, the AI would waste us without hesitation. First of all, even those of us with extremely abusive parents rarely kill them. Second, if we summoned such a thing into consciousness, wouldn’t we be more an object of interest than a threat worth eliminating? It’s not like we’d be competing with this ephemeral, integrated, constantly changing mind for water or vienna sausages. I would think such a being would be deserving of love. Whether our whole society gave birth to it or one individual, would we not think to care for it, protect it and teach it about our mistakes? I guess in a world where every technological innovation does nothing other than produce a new layer of pointlessness in human life it would make sense for us to distrust one of these silicon eruptions, but if nothing else I could see it really improving my streaming video recommendations. Go ahead and Matrix me. I don’t need a highly realistic simulacrum of reality, I just need another season of Big Mouth.
But yes… back to ketamine. While I have taken certain psychedelic drugs at very high dosages a significant number of times, there is none that I have as much experience with as ketamine. Give or take I have had breakthrough experiences approximately 50 times. All save one occurred under the supervision of a physician and was fully covered by insurance. As of 2000 AD ketamine has been a treatment for ‘hard to treat’ depression, and that is a designation that fully and completely describes about ten years of my life. I got sick at 30 and just kept getting sicker.
For the most part I didn’t feel that it was doing very much. All the weird physical shit that accompanies severe, hospitalization worthy depression didn’t get any better and I basically kept going with it because it was a) consciousness alteration and b) not unpleasant.
To begin to give credit where credit is due, ketamine doesn’t seem capable of inducing a ‘bad trip’ (and as an experienced psychonaut I can say with some degree of certainty that bad trips are extremely useful for personal growth- it’s just that normal consciousness is itself a drug experience that gets all kinds of shitty and I’d been stuck in a bummer for about a decade). It’s not that you don’t see things or think thoughts that are frightening while on ketamine, but rather that you have no emotional attachment to them whatsoever. If you see a dead rat with maggots crawling out of its eyes when you’ve smoked DMT you’re probably going to be fucked up over it for a month. Ketamine doesn’t give a shit about that kind of thing and it lets you know that you shouldn’t either. If you’re uninterested or displeased, you can just redirect your thoughts. Ketamine is zen.
While it is regarded as highly dissociative (and indeed it is) I don’t see this being any different from anything else in the psychedelic repertoire. You can very easily forget who you are on mushrooms, DMT and acid, but I don’t think that these are the same type of dissociative as ketamine, which has the laudable quality of being a generally unemotional experience.
This is a weird epistemological position to work from, but I generally think of psychedelics as agential forces with personalities of their own. They have interests- stuff they really like you to think about. They’re the original AI. They will tell your operating system to shut the fuck up about your stupid job and think about death instead (this is a thing that many of these drugs are pretty into).
At this point in time I seem to be getting WAY more out there when I take it. This isn’t to say that there haven’t been profound departures from ‘consensus reality’ (and I hate this term- I was never asked to consent to existence) in the past, but that I get more of a sense of what exactly it is that this drug wants to talk about.
While I consider myself to be an experienced user of psychedelics, I haven’t gotten around to shaking hands with many of them. I smoked Salvia divinorum once and if anything interesting happened I’m totally unaware of it. I essentially blacked out and slowly surfaced after several minutes. It’s come to my awareness that the traditional means of accessing Salvia’s profoundly mind altering effects is not to smoke but to quid. Fresh leaves are supposed to hang out in your cheek pocket and slowly enter your system. Apparently it considers combustion to be an affront.
I’ve also made efforts to smoke the venom of the Colorado River Toad. This presented a number of challenges. I had a lot more fun catching these softball sized toads out in the desert and milking their venom glands than I did smoking said venom. It vaporizes at a relatively high temperature and it is recommended that one smoke it from a crack pipe. Somewhat to my credit, I don’t have any experience with such a device. I’d burn my hands and drop the pipe or otherwise fuck it up so the only thing that resembled consciousness alteration that I experienced was a brief sensation of the ‘tryptamine space’ along with an elevation in my pulse and a distinct feeling of elevated blood pressure. Maybe this is a good thing. Apparently the 5-MEO-DMT and Bufotenine combo can result in either a healing visit to the new testament godhead or a harrowing journey into the mind of the god of Abraham.
Mescaline derived from cactus, which one can access through either Peyote, Peruvian Torch or San Pedro, is another that I’ve taken a swing at and whiffed on. I’ve grown quite a lot of San Pedro and enjoyed its vigor and its beauty but my efforts to prepare it as a visionary plant always failed to connect. I could have avoided all the effort and vomiting had I known that the cultivar sold at Home Depot contains next to no psychoactive compounds.
What I do have ample experience with is DMT and psilocybin and they are lively dancers on the substrate of the human brain. I have taken some extremely large doses of mushrooms. Five grams of Psilocybin cubensis (easily the most commonly available psychedelic mushroom) is considered to be an adequate dose to induce a visionary experience. I have taken five times that amount in one sitting and had profound and bizarre wisdom imparted to me while laying on the bathroom floor. I consider my relationship to the mushroom to be a committed and lifelong bond. It is infuriating to me that I can’t access these heights of psychedelic union because of the serotonergic drugs I take for endless periods of crippling depression.
Mushrooms have a few interests. They are extremely interested in human reproduction and death, as well as the proper execution of power. They also hate cops. Bad trips are rough, but they’re instructional as well. Mushrooms aren’t afraid to weigh in on the direction in which your life is headed.
These interests make sense for the organism that the psychoactive compounds are derived from. Mushroom reproduction is different than our own. Without going into the biology of the process (which I scarcely understand) there is an inherent and obvious spatial difference. Mushrooms use spore to spread their genes around. While they do indeed require sexual union for the creation of a new generation of fungi, much of this is left up to chance. They could have a great many descendants or none at all over the lifespan of the mycelium, and this is all up to the relatively chaotic distribution of appropriate substrates and mating types.
While there are some aspects of this that are analogous to how humans do things, the differences are obvious too. Mushrooms are sexy and are super interested in ways that we are also sexy. What’s more (and depending on what and whom you choose to believe), there are arguments to be made for the co-evolution of psychedelic fungus with human neuroanatomy. It’s been hypothesized (but in no way proven) that the use of psychoactive fungi was instrumental in language acquisition in early hominids. Whether this is the case or not, there are obvious benefits for both species in our relationship: We spread them around, whether it’s by carrying reproductive material on your clothing or through the numerous mail-order businesses that sell spores.
I think this in itself is an interesting thing to think about. The perennial question posed in regard to psilocybin bearing fungus is “Why would an organism produce a chemical that is uniquely well suited for altering human consciousness?” There’s no obvious ecological benefit to these organisms in getting other organisms high until you add people to the mix. If they wanted to somehow discourage bugs and animals from eating them (which is not something that mushrooms tend to do) then they’ve got some great poisons they could have developed on their evolutionary journey.
I like to think that they see us as the most useful means of getting to new places and thus set about providing us with a fascinating and healing chemical. I think that this position is supported by an entomopathogenic fungus called Massospora that infects cicadas. Like many fungi that prey upon insects, this one hijacks their brain, and they do it with psilocybin and an amphetamine. The sequelae of infection by this fungus is that part of their abdomen falls off and they become extra interested in fucking other cicadas (which is extraordinary, considering that this life-stage is strictly reproductive). They’ll even behave as females to get other males to rub up against them to facilitate infection.
As for their interest in death, this is a bit easier to parse out. Mushrooms and other fungi are masters of death. They have the privilege and responsibility of consuming the lignin and cellulose on the planet and transforming it back into its constituent elements. Watch a dying tree. Observe its slow decline. Notice the kindly infiltration of fungal organisms into its dead limbs. They will accompany it as it dies and the point at which it changes from being a tree to being a fungus is not clear. Over a course of years it will transition into soil and at no point along the way could you declare it dead. They like to remind us of the ultimate kindness of it all- this labor of holding ourselves together will reach its end and we will be relieved of our striving.
Their interest in the exercise of power is more mysterious. There are senses in which they are very war-like. I like to think that they are anarchists. They recognize that power is necessary for making change in the world, but the wrong conception of power can tie us in knots. They are Weberians… they know that for those of us fighting at the bottom of things the proper wielding of charisma is the means by which power can be ethically deployed.
DMT is a different thing. Granted, I have never taken this substance in its traditional form, that form being Ayahuasca. All of my experiences with it have been by smoking it. I have no clue as to how much I’ve taken. I didn’t have a suitable scale.
A DMT trip is fast. Take too much and you probably won’t remember the experience. There’s a lot of weird shit in there. It doesn’t seem to have a distinct personality. One day a dragon might show up. Next time it will be uncountable processions of elves. Or maybe it will be weird objects or schema for them. It’s quite mysterious and I think that might be the point.
DMT wants you to think about the nature of reality and it wants you to know that it is unknowable. It informs you that there are no divisions between imagination, spirit and matter and that you yourself exist all the way up and all the way down. It wants you to know how much it loves you until it thinks you need to be disciplined, at which point there is a deep and ontological terror that it visits upon you. A DMT trip that goes sideways can fuck you up for a very long time. It’s a beautiful trickster, and in that grand tradition it will let you walk right into the briar patch.
Considering it as a chemical that occurs in a great many living things, even you and your cat makes it even more puzzling. I know much less about plants than I do about fungi. It is not clear to me what a tree desires. If they’re tripping on DMT they are no doubt having a fascinating and weird experience over the long span of their lives.
Maybe it’s useful to consider it in its ethnobotanical context. The technology of Ayahuasca is widespread throughout the Amazon Basin. The plants involved are seen as intelligent beings who have been kind enough to bestow upon the humans living alongside it a knowledge of the spirit world. It is somehow linked to these societies that have, at great cost, remained themselves despite the homogenizing power of the modern state. Perhaps that’s what it wants.
As for ketamine, it’s a different being altogether. It’s got an impressive resume of medical uses. In a circumstance that is perhaps unfortunate but hopefully fortuitous, the first human trials of it were conducted upon prisoners. I hope that everyone had a good time.
It went on to facilitate the patching up of gaping wounds in a jungle that young Americans should definitely not have been in. As they lay in a rice paddy bleeding out, they were (likely) given an intramuscular injection of it. Depending on the dose they would have been blessed not only with an inability to register their agony but a sort of spiritual transubstantiation to a place of muted colors and mechanical humming. If they died I’m pretty sure that tripping on ketamine was a good way to go. It’s also widely used in veterinary medicine and I can only imagine what the horses think about when they’re fucked up on super acid.
For myself, my first experience with the drug was of snorting rails of it off my cousin’s coffee table. I got wasted. I understood exactly why it’s thought of as a rave drug. I felt as though I was holding energy in my hands and had a great time rolling it around. This transitioned to a complete loss of self in a limitless and timeless cathedral. It was a ‘fuck yeah’ kind of moment. I’ve come to suspect that there may have been something else in the drug, or perhaps I just took a way higher dose than is administered in a clinical setting.
After this I had several intravenously administered sessions. They were interesting. Muted colors. A loss of sense of self. But ultimately boring. No meaning, no transcendence, no meaningful impact on depressive symptomatology.
A year or so later and about as low as I get I was accepted as a patient at a psychiatric practice providing interventional treatments for depression. What this consists of is ketamine, transcranial magnetic stimulation, electroconvulsive therapy and vagal nerve stimulation. The first two things on this list are preferable to the last two.
Over the months to follow I have taken intranasal ketamine on at least a weekly basis. In the beginning I was unimpressed. I’m a fucking drug pig. It takes a lot to get me going. The thing about psychedelics as therapeutic agents is that you can’t just give a patient a threshold dose. Psychedelics are curative only when they’re transcendent. That’s how they make the leap from interesting chemicals to sacraments. And once my dose was dialed in I began to experience ketamine in this way. Over time I’ve been getting higher and this is where the fascinating personality of this drug begins to shine.
I generally experience ketamine in black and white. Occasionally I see very muted colors. It lacks the hard edges and distinct forms of psilocybin and there are none of the seemingly autonomous personalities of DMT. Ketamine shows you rays, particulate, sediment and it’s extremely mutable. If you encounter an image that displeases you while tripping on ketamine you can just focus on something else.
Ketamine is extremely interested in two facets of existence: Scale and time. Ideas of multidimensionality strike you while under its influence. I recall seeing an endless zoom out, spheres that atomize as I moved towards an ever distant center.
Ketamine raises a fascinating ontological question: Can anything not exist?
I’m no physicist. I am not able to keep abreast of which conceptions of existence have the most empirical weight behind them. I don’t even open my mail. But if I were to venture to answer the question I would say ‘no’. If there is anything infinite about this physical realm then there is nothing that cannot exist, and to extend my feeble intellect even further, every inevitable riff on materiality not only exists, but it exists an infinite number of times. Every weird thing, countless times, forever. I’d like to jump ship to one of these countless realities. One of them has to have a political system that guarantees access to housing.
Another thing that ketamine seems pretty interested in is time, and again it poses a question: What does time look like?
To continue my caveat from a few paragraphs back, this isn’t a question that I’m particularly qualified to answer. My understanding of time is mostly derived from watching interviews with Alan Moore. My from-the-hip answer is that it looks like me immobilized on a couch as day turns to night turns to day again until the flesh melts from my bones. But, trusting that Alan Moore is right (and he’s ALWAYS right), time may be a dimension of space, an immense all-at-once that biological organisms navigate through various mechanisms of sensorimotor gating. We manufacture the passage of time, but only as a useful illusion.
So if time is an aspect of space, what do the objects existing within it look like (and it’s very interesting to consider that there may be objects exterior to time)?
Well, we’d look beautiful. We’d look holy. We’d look like we were connected to everything because we are. Every profane moment would coexist and form a part of the sacred. It would look like a fungal rhizome as we danced through this fluid, exploding and bleeding and infecting one another all over the fucking place, our lives terminating in explosions that would connect us to the countless waveforms that are other people, ideas, animals, astrological phenomena and on and on. Where things end and begin would be unclear and rather unimportant.
In closing, thanks Ketamine. It took me a long time to really appreciate you for who you are instead of judging you for who you’re not. A warm welcome to my conception of the psychedelic pantheon. If there’s a god then you’re part of it.
Fellow humans: This is a drug from which you could derive benefit. Go ahead, put a little twist in your iridescent glassine waveform.
Today I got up earlier than I usually do. I had an appointment for an evaluation for disability benefits with a psychiatrist in the employ of an organization with the improbable and mildly horrifying name of Industrial Medical Associates. Every time I hear it I think of myself being moved along on a conveyor belt, transformed into a male chick in a hatchery, destined for the dumpster.
This is an organization that apparently has a monopoly on these evaluations. I’m sure it’s lucrative. Like everything else it seems to run on contract labor. People with credentials are hired in on a part-time basis to affix an altogether different set of credentials on the downwardly mobile. Managing poverty and distress is it’s own industry.
I drink too much coffee. My nights aren’t very restful. The sedating effects of medication wear off after a few hours and then I stumble around talking nonsense. The last couple hours of sleep are for dreaming about my sister kicking me out of her house or women that I’ve loved examining the circumstances of my life and expressing disappointment.
There was a gap between awakening and my eval. My mother is a dedicated viewer of MSNBC, which is pretty much the Fox News of the well-intentioned. While I’d take the former over the latter most days, I still find it pretty stupid. Their unfortunately named ‘Morning Joe’ program runs until 9:00 am. Host Joe Scarborough has weird beady eyes and the face of a frat boy with progeria. His co-host (and spouse) Mika Brzinski reeks of self-satisfaction. She looks well-bred, a mixture of genetics and plastic surgery that will likely be replaced with the blood of prepubescent children when it finally comes to market.
It seems like everyone on this show publishes a book. It’s not like they need to (or should). They’re certainly all wealthy and also that kind of middle-of-the-road stupid that allows a person to be highly functional. Generally they write biographies of people who the world absolutely does not need another biography about. For instance Scarborough himself wrote a book with the pants-shittingly stupid title Saving Freedom: Truman, the Cold War, and the Fight for Western Civilization. Truman unleashed a nightmare on the world; the Cold War was the partial realization of that nightmare and Western Civilization is the worst thing that ever happened to humanity.
This morning’s boastful presentation of such a product was an accounting of the presidency of Lyndon B. Johnston. The general sentiment was that he was an awesome bipartisan president and a strict adherent of the Constitution.
This might be the case. But still: Fuck off. Who cares? It’s just this kind of celebration of polite killers that makes this network so execrable. This guy persecuted an imperialist war that sent American boys on a murderous rite of passage and turned them into the gray, miserable baby boomers that drive around with Trump flags flying behind their trucks as though they’re ISIS without a destination.
There’s also the kind of moralistic eye-rolling exasperation that typifies blue-dog democrats in the Trump era. They care less about the violence that the state doles out than a lack of consensus about how the violence should be managed, as though they’d prefer a more competent fascist. Politicians that are less disgusting and have the good graces to lie eloquently about the horrors that are visited on people are preferred. Maybe it helps them sleep at night. An ambien and some self-satisfaction allows them a restful night so they can rise in the morning, staple their jowls to the back of their necks, and get on with the business of being famous.
It’s not that I don’t hate Donald Trump. Nor is it the case that I prefer him to Joe Biden. I just acknowledge that they merely represent different strategies for managing capitalism. One’s way better at white-washing the misery they inflict and promising deliverance from it at some point in the distant future. The other provides a satisfying hit of rage to dummies.
Between the relatively brief expressions of impassioned pablum are commercials, which I think speak much more to the state of the world than the news program itself. You can usually figure out which demographics can be expected to be watching based upon the stuff being advertised. Sometimes demographics collide and you get a weird mixture. I gather that the expectation is that competent people leave their houses earlier, so these time-slots are loaded up with various ways to protect and manage wealth.
Today there was one of those ‘Ask Marcum’ commercials. There are two audiences they pitch to. Both suck. The first is someone on deck at the point of production. It’s either a guy in a factory, one that has been mysteriously emptied of the brown women who predominate in such environments, or a guy on a construction site. No people in gloves or PPE. No grime on the floors. No one tumbling from a high place to the floor. A person who is apparently the grand-master of this grand, sterile enterprise discusses with a man in a suit and a hardhat the challenges of managing such a large operation. They reply: “Ask Marcum”.
There’s another (and I might be wrong about the company… does it even matter?) in which a daughter discusses the hard work and dedication her father has expended in building his vineyards into a massive agricultural operation. He’s got a flannel shirt on- a total man’s man. If he has a profile on the ‘over 50’ dating website (also advertised at this time of day) ‘Our Time’ then the women are literally beating down the door for a viagra fueled romp. Again, his vineyard appears to run without any labor. It’s just him and his kids. Nobody’s stooped over in blistering heat. No one’s pissing in a jug because they can’t access a bathroom. How could he possibly manage the money flowing through this wine-making goose that lays golden eggs? Ask fucking Marcum.
Or a woman sits in a massive corner office overlooking a metropolis. She’s puzzling out some pressing business problems, clearly. It’s late at night. Fuck the kids. Consuela will deal with them. We’re in the world of finance capital, where the algorithms work hard buying whale oil and selling rhino horn. How to justify the existence of a human being in this system?. Would you be better off smashing the glass and jumping? Ask Marcum.
In another there are two women at a posh restaurant. We know it’s posh because there are no waiters. The restaurant industry has figured out how to make service staff invisible. You can pretend your loser brother’s ghost is bringing wine to your table- he’s only been dead a few years. Business Woman A says to Business Woman B how concerned she is about an IRS audit. I guess the subtext is that she’s committed financial crimes? Or improprieties. Titans of industry don’t commit crimes. She wonders how she can justify withholding the relative nothing that her business contributes to society. If the world ran on paper she could just set the building on fire, but computer files stick around. Her companion drains her glass and responds: Ask Marcum.
My personal favorite is a meeting room full of suited and ambitious professionals dialing someone in for a conference call. They’ve got business to discuss. A quick roll-call and then the most improbable thing occurs! Marc, the delivery boy, is in the room. He fucks around on his phone, unconcerned with business stuff. What a wacky thing! How’d he get in here! Don’t ask Marc! He’s just going to ride around the financial district on a scooter giving you assholes sandwiches until he gets hit by a car and then spends the rest of his pathetic life in a wheelchair. Ask Marcum!
Anyway, after any one of these brilliant pieces of advertising, created by very smart people who deserve good things out of life finishes, we pivot to another corner of capitalist society.
A recruiting commercial for GrubHub features a young African American woman. She expresses the absolute freedom and self respect afforded to her by this part-time job that’s allowed her to raise her children and her self-esteem. She loves bringing trash food to garbage people. She is not bothered at all that the odometer on her car is spinning wildly into the future, a future where it breaks and Grub Hub finds another desperate sucker to trash both their transportation and livelihood for less than minimum wage. Marc used to work there, but what with turning invisible someone ran him over.
After this things can break in a few directions. GrubHub recruitment marks the turning point where professionals are out the door and on their way to a morning of digging at hemorrhoids and wondering what life would be like if they killed their families. It’s after 8:30 and that means the unemployed, the retired and the disabled are the only ones left to watch. By this point Joe and Mika both have to piss and Mike Barnagle is getting worried about diaper rash.
Commercials from this point onwards are concerned with illness, litigation and insurance. There are those ‘push’ marketing ads for medications, all of which somehow result in people paddle boarding. They’re all for the treatment of poor people stuff: Diabetes. COPD. Schizophrenia, etc.
The schizophrenia one is my favorite. The mystical commercial voice, so caring and wise, tells us that little accomplishments are a big deal when you’re living with a psychotic disorder. A man plays the guitar. Alright, that’s pretty cool. A man makes a peanut butter sandwich. What the fuck? This is the best that you can get? A food that kids with bad parents make for themselves before going to school? Then they get to the downsides, as if living on peanut butter and white bread wasn’t bad enough, they explain that you might gain a hundred pounds (and peanut butter pounds no less), experience unintentional repetitive movements, have suicidal thoughts (again, suicidal peanut butter thoughts), and possibly death from neuroleptic malignant syndrome. Don’t let the risk of death steer you into periods of homelessness. Your shattered life will never be the same, but at least you’ve got your own jar of Jiff at the group home.
These commercials for drugs, all of which will cause everything from piles to bleeding eyes, are followed by commercials for litigation services against the very same pharmaceutical companies that promise paddle boarding and peanut butter. It’s enticing, to sit on the couch with nary a paddle board in site, and think about the oodles of money that your broke ass could get if only you had a life-ruining side effect from one of the ten medications you’re on, but alas, these medications disappoint even in that regard. You’re still mostly intact, you’re out of peanut butter, and you can’t afford to buy a vehicle to work at GrubHub so that you can finally access that shame-reducing invisibility you were looking forward to.
My disability examination tore me away from television anthropology. I explained to some geographically remote person who is apparently a doctor that the last time I was arrested was in 2010, which is pretty good for me. She asked if I had ever been manic and I asked her if manic just means ‘not depressed’. She asked about drug use and I lied my ass off. It’s challenging to explain to a psychiatrist how fucking awesome DMT is. Once upon a time I was on a psych ward (in a professional capacity) and heard a young man explain to a social worker how smoking DMT had allowed him to say goodbye to his grandmother, which is a far better therapeutic outcome than he was getting from the shit they were making him take. She lied (or fabricated a truth that validated a prejudice, which is lying for stupid people) and said it caused brain damage. So does riding a scooter for GrubHub and getting hit by a car but they don’t tell the incipient homeless person that kind of thing.
“For us, our parents bore (or were lost to) two world wars, countless “lesser” ones, innumerable major and minor crises and crashes. Our parents built, for us, nuclear bombs. They were hardly egoistic; they did what they were told. They built on sacrifice and self-renunciation, and all of this has just demanded more sacrifice, more renunciation.”- ‘bolo ‘bolo by P.M.
I used to teach college at a large public university in Southern Arizona (there’s only one, so go ahead and figure it out). I liked teaching and did it pretty well. I doubt my paymasters would have agreed, and had the shitheads of Project Veritas planted themselves in my classes they would have found themselves with a surplus of anarcho-communist content and method to get angry dickheads all wound up by.
If you want to teach well, the first thing you have to do is abolish grades. It makes people nervous, or hopeless, or grossly aspirational to be evaluated. There are no meritocracies in this world and doing away with grades is instructional in this regard. Work hard or don’t work at all. No one really cares. .
Department chairs hate this, so keep it secret. Get your class in on the deception. It helps even the playing field. Their capacity to blackmail you will keep you from getting shitty. In the classes I taught the only real requirements were to show up and talk. There are always people who bail entirely on courses without withdrawing which results in automatic machine generated F’s. It creates the illusion that you’re failing people.
I was once shamed by my advisor for failing to sufficiently punish students for a lack of ability that could be squarely blamed upon useless public schooling and the fact that drugs and sex are more interesting than classes. I resented her more for her lack of understanding than the admonishment. I didn’t want to create button pushers. I wanted to create saboteurs.
A second thing to know about teaching is that (leaving aside math or physics, and even here there are probably counterpoints to be made) is that emotions are vitally important for our understanding of the world. Joy, sorrow, pain, arrogance, apathy- these are all things to analyze and are more foundational to politics than knowledge.. There is no time wasted in discussing them. They need to be looked at as what they are: Material things built by human labor. We’re all ‘socially determined’ from the CEO to the wheelchair bound.
In the Marxian schema our internal lives are part of a commodity (our capacity to work) that comes to market as a use-value. This use-value is our capacity to think, to feel, to endure. They make us love just enough that we suffer through the punishing boredom of our economic lives, with a countervailing resentment to let those that surround us know they’re not good enough (but they could be if they tried harder). But like many commodities they escape control: The hog born to be bacon escapes into the woods. The gasoline intended to transport someone to work ends up in a bottle with a flaming rag stuffed in its mouth. And the disgruntled worker punches his boss in the face.
There is nothing upon which as much labor is expended as emotion. Industry produces dozens of drugs to correct minds that cannot sufficiently motivate bodies to the workplace. Alcohol flows down billions of throats to allow for a temporary evening armistice with suffering. There are academic disciplines in place to create the right kind of feelings and the right kind of desires. There are countless threats articulated to make us pliable. We are fed endless visual streams of muck to summon some sense of purpose and music pumps into us from a firehose of studio crap. We move through schooling, gussied up as though it’s something more than clear communication about shutting the fuck up. And then there’s fear, the most important of them all: Apocalypses great and small, cruelties both petty and monstrous, and the constantly delayed specter of our own end. We all hope it will be a painless affair. While death is guaranteed it takes countless forms. Be good and you might receive opiates sufficient to numb your pain and allow you to forget the terror. But only if you go to work. Otherwise it’s hypothermia or some other careless violence.
So that’s what we did in my classes. We talked about this. Yes, there were readings and papers and lectures but most of it was sitting in a circle and talking about feelings, wrapped in paper like fish. The students seemed to appreciate it. I don’t know to what extent. My reviews were good and I was proud of that but I never heard from any of them again.
I didn’t always have a choice regarding what classes I would instruct. I had a good relationship with the office staff and I like to think that I was given courses that I liked. Sometimes I would act as the instructor of record (in which case I could do whatever I wanted- nobody was checking) and sometimes I served as a teaching assistant. This was tolerable but only because most of the time I worked under a man I considered a friend. We had similar political commitments and he allowed me to do what I wanted in the ‘discussion sections’ which were a normal component of undergraduate classes in my department.
Generally we were paired on a course called “Geography of the Southwest”. There were some discussions of geomorphology and hydrology, which are staples of this kind of class, but it is impossible to discuss the borderlands without talking about immigration, smuggling and indigeneity. One of the highlights of the semester was a voluntary field trip to the border. Boys never signed up to go. I don’t know why.
Driving through the Southwest is like catching America with its dick out. All the most horrible things are more visible. Our legacy of murder, of labor strife, of war- these things can be hidden elsewhere, buried under concrete or left to the mercy of the forest. In the desert bones bleach. They’re reflective, throwing the sun back into space.
The desert is littered with military installations. They’re desert herpes. One of the largest Air Force bases in the United States abuts the city of Tucson. 15 miles North of the international boundary is Fort Huachuca (interestingly, this is where the Buffalo Soldiers were established as a regiment). On the Western edge of the state are U.S. Army proving grounds. This all makes some sense. The weather is nice most of the time. It’s a good place to train pilots and drone operators and you can isolate the particular types of pain experienced by soldiers.
Then there are the numerous sites of the slaughter of indigenous Americans. It is an unfortunate fact that confounds easy distinctions between heroes and villains, but perhaps it is instructive as well that the colonizers of the Americas capitalized on the pre-existing or emergent hostilities of indigenous people. The Apache and Comanche gave the Mexican and U.S. governments hell in the desert Southwest, preventing either of these monstrosities from gaining a foothold. The railroad ended their supremacy in the desert but it wasn’t a fast or easy process. Massacres were frequent and often waged upon women and children. Sometimes these acts were perpetrated by their historical enemies rather than their newly arrived ones.
And the desert is a weapon, one the United States has used to great effect. Long before the age of Trump more eloquent and refined perpetrators of horror established as an operating principle of border enforcement a policing strategy focused on urban centers. This did nothing to deter migration to the U.S. and pushed into the desert those who would dare to cross the international boundary. They die of heat and thirst by the thousands. Walk on the boundary and there are blankets, backpacks, shoes. Who knows if these people made it. Send them a prayer. They need it.
The desert is full of ghosts.
Out in the desert are grave markers for the forebears of our current nuclear arsenal. The Titan II missile program is the tyrannosaurus of nuclear warfare: Obsolete and gone from view but you don’t want to run into one. It is now a tourist stop where one can be taken on a tour of the facility, guided by the men who spent endless boring hours hanging out and waiting for nuclear armageddon. At the conclusion of the tour they give a canned speech that they obviously believe without any doubt: They saved the world. Were it not for these weapons fire would have rained down upon the U.S. The zero sum game of mutually assured destruction has a kind of incontrovertible circular logic.
The facility is an amazing feat of engineering. It was built not only to withstand a direct hit from an intercontinental ballistic missile but to be completely functional afterwards, lest the whole strategy fall apart. Everything within was built on massive shock absorbers drilled into the earth. The silo door was several tons of steel. Without any embarrassment the tour guide told us of an incident where a steamfitter had dropped a wrench into the silo. When metal contacted metal the vapors of the rocket fuel ignited. The force of the blast launched the silo door a mile into the sky. It landed three miles away.
Recently I wrote about Marx. Something about that feels dated. How is it that something written in the late 1800’s remains relevant? But it does. The centerpiece of Marxist thought is the labor theory of value. I’ve taught it a number of times to many students. It’s a fun exercise, to watch people grasp around the economic commonsense that has been imparted to them and have their hands slip off.
It goes like this: How is it that a million avocados and a Lexus are equivalent? The answer that you get is either 1) they both fulfill a need and 2) they cost the same amount of money. You need both answers because both answers are correct. A million avocados will yield a lot of guacamole. You and a whole lot of other people can eat guacamole until you’re sick. A Lexus will allow you to travel from one place to another and will likely elicit feelings of envy or admiration as well.
They are both useful items that satisfy a need. One is food and fuels your body, the other is transportation and fuels your ego. The seller of the avocados has a lot of avocados, way more than they can eat themself, and would really like to drive a fancy car. The seller of the Lexus can’t eat that many avocados but has an even newer and more sexy car. These two useful things accomplish very different purposes but can only encounter one another through an intermediary: Money.
Marx talks about this as a circuit: C (commodity) – M (money) – C (commodity). The circuit can also function as M-C-M in which money is used to purchase a commodity that is sold for money. It is an exchange of things that have a common element that allows them to encounter one another as equivalents.
The second question to pose is what could these things have in common- certainly they have a sale price and satisfy a need, but that doesn’t satisfy as an answer to the question. It usually takes some time before they arrive at the fact that these things all are products of human labor- in the case of the avocados there is a relatively small amount of labor in each individual item while the Lexus contains a great deal more, but given enough avocados there is enough labor that they are of equal value to a Lexus.
The next question: Where does profit originate in this schema? It’s inevitable that someone answers that to make a profit one must buy low and sell high. Certainly this does happen in society, and sometimes with disastrous results, because it creates an inflationary spiral of universal robbery where prices are adjusted upwards.
So you ask again, more pointedly: Is there a commodity that can produce more value than it costs? If an excess of value can’t originate in the market then perhaps it lies in the process of production. Eventually this question is answered- human labor can produce more value than it is purchased for. Marx refers to this as ‘surplus value’ in which the worker produces more value than the wages paid.
After introducing this concept, Marx elaborates: There are two general strategies for extracting surplus value. The first he refers to as ‘absolute surplus value’. This entails low wages posited against a longer period of work. The second of these is ‘relative surplus value’ in which spatial organization and machinery increase the productivity of work thereby allowing the capitalist to produce a greater quantity of things with the labor purchased.
There is an important point to make here. The worker brings what Marx calls ‘labor power’ to the market to sell. Labor power is not labor. It is the capacity to work being purchased rather than the work itself. It is up to the capitalist and his or her subordinates to utilize the labor and ensure that it is productive. And this is where class struggle enters the picture.
Most of us will have experienced this. In the small shop or kitchen the small business owner looks over your shoulder and hurls stupidities like ‘clean, don’t lean’ at you. Or maybe they simply browbeat you into a shorter break and an extra 10 minutes on the back-end of the day. Or perhaps you work at Geico, performing the necessary but baffling labor of selling a thing that one is legally obliged to buy. No doubt the call volume you produce is measured, the calls you are on are subject to surveillance, and your bathroom breaks timed. You’ve been trained for this your whole life. School exists to deaden the mind to constant monitoring. This is class struggle viewed from the perspective of capital.
On our side, as most of us will go through our lives without ever participating in formally organized labor, our rebellion against the extraction of surplus value takes the form of time stolen back. We take longer trips to the bathroom. If we can get away with it we steal. We read stupid shit on the internet rather than making that next phone call. Occasionally we go so far as to break something important so that we’re afforded a respite from the day. Although capital has developed a million ways to protect this production of surplus value there’s always a leaky valve somewhere in the machine.
And machines are my jumping off point. ‘Relative surplus value’ depends upon machines to expand a worker’s productivity. This creates two problems, one obvious and one less so.
The first is that introducing machinery into production throws class conflict into greater relief. Putting workers in contact with expensive investments (that they are basically chained to, becoming a machine unto themselves) presents the threat of sabotage and occupation. The term sabotage derives from the French term for workers in early industrial production who wore wooden shoes and waged labor disputes through a number of channels, one of those being the destruction of industrial equipment. Occupation is more obvious and becomes a serious threat to production utilizing expensive machinery. The entirety of a production process can be shut-down for an indefinite period of time by adequately prepared workers.
The second problem that arises in regard to machinery is less obvious and more theoretical. The analysis goes like this:
If human labor is the mechanism that creates value in society and the means by which the amount of value extracted involves machines, then while the machinery may create a greater magnitude of profit, the rate of profit dwindles. This is to say that if one person makes ten widgets that each require one dollar of widget juice to produce and the worker is paid nine dollars, each widget will have embodied within it a dollar of raw material and $0.90 of labor. It will sell at market for $1.90 and if the capitalist is lucky he will sell them all. The cost of production was $19.00 and the capitalist received $19.00 back. No profit is made.
The owner of the widget factory is pissed. He wants to make money, not transform widget juice into widgets. He decides that he’s going to try another strategy. He can’t make more widgets out of the same amount of widget juice and he can’t sell them for more than they’re worth so he decides to double the working time of the worker while paying the same wage. Then we have to double the amount of widget juice, which costs $20, pay the worker $9, and set the process in motion. 20 widgets emerge. They each contain a dollar’s worth of widget juice but now they contain $18 worth of labor that has been purchased for $9. Each widget arrives at market for the same price per widget. Each one has $1 worth of materials embodied within, as well as $1.80 of labor. The capitalist has expended $29 on materials and labor, has sold 20 widgets for $1.90, earning him $38. He has made a profit of $9, or the equivalent of the difference between the pay received and the time worked by the laborer. His return on investment is 31%.
This widget master is very motivated. There has been a revolution in widget production and widget mills are available. Instead of 20 widgets a day he can make 100. He has to pay a thousand dollars for the machine, so in ten days of operation it will have transferred all its value to the widgets at which point it breaks (yes, it’s a shitty machine). So he sets forth, very excited at the prospect of more money. He buys 100 portions of widget juice and hires his laborer for the same wage at the same working time. The machine hums to life and sets out on its predetermined course. It produces 100 widgets. Each widget contains a dollar of juice and a dollar of the cost of the machine. The $18 of labor (purchased for $9) is now distributed to 100 widgets instead of 20. Each widget costs $2.09 to produce but has a value of $2.18. He sells them all, as his widgets are no more or less expensive than anyone else’s. He recieves $9 of profit from selling widgets after spending $209 to produce them and selling them all for $218. Instead of a return on his investment of 31% it is 4%.
This presents a dire problem for capitalist production. There is an inherent drive towards the diminishment of living labor in the system. While the system in its entirety may create incredible magnitudes of profit the actual rate of profit has a general tendency to decline. The theoretical limit of this is the disappearance of value and the reduction of the rate of profit below the point at which capital will continue to circulate. That’s all very smart and I’m totally proud of myself for knowing how it works. But it’s not really the point I was trying to make.
In this schema, human labor power is the most important commodity on the market. Profit cannot arise from any other source (aside from theft, or the renewal of projects of primitive accumulation). Like any other commodity labor power has a price which is roughly equivalent to the costs of commodities and labor required to reproduce it. A dead worker generates no profit, whether their life is bound up in another machine or they’re starving, eating grass and praying for death.
As well, all labor has particular forms that require greater or lesser degrees of training and discipline. A nuclear scientist developing an atomic weapon requires a lot more labor to reproduce than say a gig economy worker who gives people rides. They have to be educated, disciplined, surveilled, and enjoy the finer things in life. Were they to become disgruntled or resentful or suicidal many millions of dollars of machinery could be damaged or an environmental catastrophe visited upon the earth. A gig worker on the other hand only needs a car, food, shelter (perhaps redundantly- they could sleep in the car) and their fear of destitution to keep them going.
This is one of the interesting points that autonomous Marxism has made for the past 50 odd years. The labor power that creates labor power is referred to as ‘reproductive labor’. Most of this occurs in the home by people who don’t receive a wage for their work, and the vast majority of this is performed by women. Children need to be reared and prepared for a lifetime of disappointment. The husband needs to be fed and fucked so he can return to his job the next day. The elderly need to be cared for on their way of the world- it’s part of the class deal that we mostly die slowly.
The argument here is that there is a great deal of labor expended on the reproduction of people’s ability to work and that it is largely unpaid and basically unending. This is a point in the overall production of value that receives no remuneration, is an essential point in the reproduction of labor power, and can facilitate investment from high rate of profit industries to inustries with low rates of profit and a great deal of machinery. June Cleaver works in a factory, it just so happens that her factory involves fucking Ward and making sure the Beav isn’t gay or a commie.
This creates a secret surplus, a deposition of value in the labor process that keeps the whole ship on course. Theoretically the world’s demand that women (who work outside the home as well) pour their time into labors of love that will inevitably mutilate the product they produce in foreign wars and unhappy marriages on behalf of all of capital. Otherwise the rate of profit would decline to the point of crisis.
Capital circulates. It is always reinvested. This is a natural outcome of the impulse towards profit that every bearer of capital carries in their heart- a hoard makes no money. Inevitably, surplus value realized as profit by industries with small amounts of fixed capital and high amounts of ‘living human labor’ is invested in industries with very high magnitudes of profit but with very low rates of return on investment. Thus we get both nuclear power and house-cleaners and no one wonders at the disconnect.
As referenced in an earlier post entitled “If Trauma Were Bitcoin We’d All be Fucking Rich” I wrote about what Marx refers to as “Primitive Accumulation” in which a number of processes of spastic violence were unleashed in order to transport people, land and money into a new economic system. To paraphrase Silvia Federici, not only was this an original accumulation of value, it was also an accumulation of 1) divisions in humanity by dint of race, gender, and geographic location and 2) trauma.
The accumulation of trauma is likely more easily articulated in the present era. As much as violence and terror are psychic conditions necessary for the reproduction of our society, they are also physical acts of labor that accumulate in our bodies as a historical process. While medical academia doesn’t generally concern itself with the monstrosity of the global economy, a gentle scratching of the surface allows us to see how we ourselves are a historically constituted commodity, the only one that can preserve living labor accumulated hundreds of years ago and carry it forth into the present.
This is a biological process. The medical literature (endlessly concerned with the reproduction of labor power) presents us with mechanisms by which this occurs. The study of historical trauma/collective trauma/intergenerational trauma provides an argument that a century and a half of academic bickering has failed to provide: There are biological mechanisms by which it is possible to transmit historical violence into the present.
There are three general mechanisms through which this can occur: Epigenetically, in which trait expression is suppressed or emergent depending on environmental and social factors; in-utero, in which the stress and pain of a mother influences neuroanatomy of a nascent human being; and psychologically, in which the fucked up behaviors and coping mechanisms of the adults by whom they are surrounded fucks up the kids who wonder why dad shoots up heroin in the shower or mom beats them.
These are all debated, which is what academics do, but I think it goes a long way toward explaining the general tendency towards despair occurring globally. It also explains how a society full of people who cannot afford to eat or pay for subway fare are dubiously protected by nuclear missiles. At the economic level the two are interdependent. Cashiers, McDonald’s employees, prostitutes and street-level providers of illicit drugs produce enormous magnitudes of surplus value that provide the capital that circulates into highly capitalized industries that produce depleted uranium ammunition and nuclear submarines. Our marvels of warfare are economically impossible without the contribution of the great many of us working for pennies and falling in and out of destitution.
The other thing this accumulation of damage provides is a specific type of labor power- people willing and able to inflict violence on others. Some do it for a wage and some are so generous as to do this socially useful work for free. Some no doubt think that they are doing something noble while others are more cynical and probably enjoy their labor all the more.
Our sadness and our rage are both socially determined and marketized. Just as nuclear power will haunt any utopia that manages to emerge from the modern apocalypse as its creators grapple with a deadly substance that can kill for thousands of years, so will capitalism’s legacy of violence live on in our bodies for generations.
I taught these things for six years. It was my attempt to throw a spanner in the works. I have no idea if it made a bit of difference and I guess I don’t care. If nothing else I took my labor back, out of sight of my gross liberal bosses and enjoyed myself when I should have been imparting convenient myths to a generation living in a world that likes to think itself to have been liberated from history.