“Unfortunately, the gap between those with money and power and those who actually know what they are talking about has grown catastrophic. The rich are surrounded by sycophants and pretenders whose continued employment demands that they not question the premises. As Larry Summers lectured Elizabeth Warren, ‘insiders do not criticise insiders.'”
But how can activists actually start moving toward the open source vision now? “For starters, there are eight ‘tribes’ that among them can bring together all relevant information: academia, civil society including labor unions and religions, commerce especially small business, government especially local, law enforcement, media, military, and non-government/non-profit. At every level from local to global, across every mission area, we need to create stewardship councils integrating personalities and information from all eight tribes. We don’t need to wait around for someone else to get started. All of us who recognise the vitality of this possibility can begin creating these new grassroots structures from the bottom-up, right now.”
Today two stellar pieces of writing were published that speak deeply and intelligently on subjects that “the left” at times falters on: the relationship of class and capitalism to both feminism and environmentalism.
First, in Jacobin, “Rank-and-File Environmentalism” describes the fallacy of the “jobs vs. environment” debate, drawing on the history of the Miners for Democracy (MFD) caucus of Appalachian coal miners in the ’60s and ’70s:
Jobs, the MFD insisted, were not at odds with the environment. The caucus suggested that any miners displaced by a national ban on strip mining or enforcement of anti-pollution laws be given other (union) jobs working to reclaim land that had been destroyed by coal companies or building up the infrastructure in their home states which had often been bypassed by state and federal development projects.
The MFD shifted the terms of the debate. Instead of a choice between jobs and environment, they argued for different priorities: people and land before profit.
As when people disparage organic food as “classist,” they often ignore that the people most harmed by pesticides are agricultural workers (many of whom are trafficked and/or children), so too with those who use populist rhetoric to defend pipelines and fracking — or, blame energy workers for such environmentally destructive projects going through:
Many who include workers as part of the problem forget that workers tend to be among those who suffer the most from the destruction their work inflicts. The concentration of energy production in places where few other job opportunities exist means that workers often take jobs that inflict ecological destruction they oppose. Women who occupied a strip mine in 1972 to stop the destruction of their mountains reported that “miners sympathized with the demonstration. These men said they would not be strip mining if there were other jobs available.”
This is one of the key reasons I support a Job Guarantee. Not only would it give workers the ability to refuse work they feel is exploitative — of the land or the people– but it could help us more justly transition to a society where at times human labor may have to replace fossil fuels. In other words, do we enter a post-petroleum world by viciously exploiting segments of the population? Or do we figure out ways to divy up whatever work needs to be done in fair and humane ways?
The former is the obvious extension of the system we have today. Work is far less “automated” than many a blogger/columnist would like to think; nimble human fingers are still often cheaper than machines, provided you don’t have to pay a living wage. If new, sustainable, technologies soon eliminate the need for human labor, great! But rather than bet on that happening before we irrevocably destroy the environment/run out of oil, I’d like to focus on ways that agriculture, construction, sanitation, etc., can be made to operate with fewer fossil fuels and dangerous chemicals, while still providing safe working conditions and fair compensation. There is already a wide range of “appropriate tech” and sustainable agriculture techniques that substitute human labor for fossil fuels. The key is to make sure there are enough workers, enough worker protections, and ample compensation to ensure such labor is safe, dignified and not miserable. “Many hands make light work,” as they say. There is a massive difference between 10 farmers working 5 hour days and 5 farmers working 10 hour days. Of course, if it turns out there just isn’t that much work to be done, we could all just work less.
Second, in The Nation, is this roundtable “Does Feminism Have a Class Problem?”, which similarly emphasizes the importance of understanding labor and class, this time in the context of feminism:
It is no accident that the societies ranked as having the most gender equality are the European social democracies, which tend to have the most economic equality, as well. It is also hardly coincidental that in America over the past twenty years, feminism has stalled while economic inequality has skyrocketed. Both feminism’s halt and inequality’s surge are connected to the rise of the neoliberal capitalist state, with its deregulated workplaces, its deep cuts in social services and its reliance on the unpaid labor of women to provide care.
Nearly everything I said about the job guarantee & green jobs above could similarly be said for the job guarantee and care work. Instead of three elder care workers doing back-breaking eight hour shifts, why not twelve care workers doing four hour shifts? And paid well, like the skilled professionals they are!
A World To Win, the latest issue of Jacobin is out & it’s a beaut:
Both “No Shortcuts” and “Unmaking Global Capitalism” are serious, thoughtful and practical pieces on left strategy – well worth contemplation if you’re yearning for a unified, organized and effective left.
This issue looks especially gorgeous in print so you should subscribe.
Bank examiner fired from the Fed after turning in a negative assessment of Goldman Sachs files wrongful termination suit; Judge throws out case; Judge’s husband is a partner at law firm that has handled over $9 billion in deals on behalf of … Goldman Sachs. Meanwhile, Cecily McMillan’s in Riker’s.
GritTV interviews Jessica Gordon Nembhard, author of Collective Courage: A History of African-American Economic Thought and Practice.
“The hundreds gathered at Jackson Rising spent the weekend exploring and discussing how to fund, found and foster a different kind of business enterprise – democratically self-managed cooperatives. They reviewed future plans for and current practices of cooperative auto repair shops, laundries, recycling, construction, and trucking firms. They discussed cooperative restaurants, child and elder care coops, cooperative grocery stores, cooperative factories, farms and more, all collectively owned and democratically managed by the same workers who deliver the service and create the value.”
I watched this interview with Wendell Berry a couple weeks ago, and my thoughts continue to return to this one quote:
Well, you’ve put me in the place I’m always winding up in and…that is to say well we’ve acknowledged that the problems are big, now where’s the big solution? When you ask the question what is the big answer, then you’re implying that we can impose the answer. But that’s the problem we’re in to start with, we’ve tried to impose the answers. The answers will come not from walking up to your farm and saying this is what I want and this is what I expect from you. You walk up and you say what do you need. And you commit yourself to say all right, I’m not going to do any extensive damage here until I know what it is that you are asking of me. And this can’t be hurried. This is the dreadful situation that young people are in. I think of them and I say well, the situation you’re in now is a situation that’s going to call for a lot of patience. And to be patient in an emergency is a terrible trial.
— Wendell Berry
Now, I bow to no one in my appreciation of female beauty and fancy clobber but I could not wrench the phantom of those children from my mind, in this moment I felt the integration; that the price of this decadence was their degradation. That these are not dislocated ideas but the two extremes are absolutely interdependent. The price of privilege is poverty. David Cameron said in his conference speech that profit is “not a dirty word”. Profit is the most profane word we have. In its pursuit we have forgotten that while individual interests are being met, we as a whole are being annihilated. The reality, when not fragmented through the corrupting lens of elitism, is we are all on one planet.
To have such suffering adjacent to such excess is akin to marvelling at an incomparable beauty, whose face is the radiant epitome of celestial symmetry, and ignoring, half a yard lower down, her abdomen, cancerous, weeping and carbuncled. “Keep looking at the face, put a handbag over those tumours. Strike a pose. Come on, Vogue.”
Suffering of this magnitude affects us all. We have become prisoners of comfort in the absence of meaning. A people without a unifying myth. Joseph Campbell, the comparative mythologist, says our global problems are all due to the lack of relevant myths. That we are trying to sustain social cohesion using redundant ideologies devised for a population that lived in deserts millennia ago. What does it matter if 2,000 years ago Christ died on the cross and was resurrected if we are not constantly resurrected to the truth, anew, moment to moment? How is his transcendence relevant if we do not resurrect our consciousness from the deceased, moribund mind of our obsolete ideologies and align with our conditions?
The model of pre-Christian man has fulfilled its simian objectives. We have survived, we have created agriculture and cities. Now this version of man must be sacrificed that we can evolve beyond the reaches of the ape. These stories contain great clues to our survival when we release ourselves from literalism and superstition. What are ideologies other than a guide for life? Throughout paganism one finds stories that integrate our species with our environment to the benefit of both. The function and benefits of these belief matrixes have been lost, with good reason. They were socialist, egalitarian and integrated. If like the Celtic people we revered the rivers we would prioritise this sacred knowledge and curtail the attempts of any that sought to pollute the rivers. If like the Nordic people we believed the souls of our ancestors lived in the trees, this connection would make mass deforestation anathema. If like the native people of America we believed God was in the soil what would our intuitive response be to the implementation of fracking?