“Someone once said that it is easier to imagine the end of the world than to imagine the end of capitalism. We can now revise that and witness the attempt to imagine capitalism by way of imagining the end of the world.”Fredric Jameson
“The old world is dying, and the new world struggles to be born: now is the time of monsters.”Antonio Gramsci
Senators sell off stocks after an intelligence briefing and before the market crashes. People rush out to buy toilet paper. Others stay in and advise their friends to support local brands, businesses, and artists by purchasing items from them. These acts all vary in their intentions and their selfishness. Some are mercenary profiteering, others seek to help others. But what does not vary is their underlying idea — that by making the right consumer choices, a person can protect themselves and/or society from this crisis. We have been told: Shopping is the solution.
Shopping is not the solution. You cannot shop your way out of a pandemic.
It’s understandable that people think they can buy off a plague. It’s understandable that people think they should. On one hand, many are grieving. Not just for lost social lives but for lost futures, pasts, and presents. Their job may have vanished. Their business might be in peril. They feel powerless and afraid and they want to bargain with the crisis. Bargaining is on the Kluber-Ross cycle of grief, squeezed right between depression and acceptance.
But it’s not just a matter of psychology or of coming to acceptance. Money is important. Not only as a means of survival but as a guarantor of choice. As long as we can make choices, we still believe that we have some power over this thing. As long as we make the right choices, we can believe our choices matter. That our choices can help people and change the world while we get a new toy monster. We’ve been told this shit for our entire lives. It’s on us. It’s our choice. Our purchasing power can be ethical and this is natural. There is no other way.
Please continue shopping as normal. If anything, shop more.
Every disaster or crisis, real or perceived, present or incoming, has been met with the same consumer focused strategy. Don’t like factory farms? Become a vegetarian. Worried about global warming? Buy this car instead. Vote with your wallet. The market will sort it out. Never mind that when every dollar is a vote, your broke ass has been disenfranchised. Please enjoy this new green label instead. Doesn’t it make you feel warm and fuzzy? You’re doing the right thing!
This approach has always been an inadequate substitute for regulation and reform. There is an old joke – ‘how many libertarians does it take to screw in a light-bulb? None, the Free Market will do it.’ And this sort of thinking has always informed these sorts of consumer solutions. Often, it’s a matter of people wanting to have their cake and eat it too.
It’s reassuring to think that we can help without sacrifice — that we can not only save our neighbors and the planet but even get new goods while we do so. Our consumerism can be ethical. Our systems present the solution to a crisis, they are not the crisis. If we only make the right purchasing decisions, the market will adapt and we will save the world. The citizen becomes the consumer and the corporate media the parliament in which representation must be achieved. Spending power becomes votes. Philanthropy instead of taxation. A universal basic income instead of a social safety net. A Go Fund Me instead of a go fund a fucking healthcare system. Money can and will save us all. We need more choice, not less.
But our current crisis has given the lie to this thinking. If people could not or would not support their local artists and brands while they had a job, how are they supposed to do it now? What good is a universal basic income that you cannot spend? Are you just supposed to send it direct to your landlord while your other bills come due – you simply acting as a middleman for another massive upwards redistribution of wealth? Is a rich patron the answer to your specific problems? Maybe. But no such patron is coming. Even if they were, they would not fix everyone’s problems. Could they fix any of this? I have some doubts. And money? It’s less important than the necessities it’s supposed to deliver. Many of these must now be delivered without money. Without profit. Food, medicine, tests, and shelter. These must now be treated as public utilities. If they are not given, they must be taken.
What is now being asked of us is to imagine a world beyond capitalism. A world where the market is not expected to solve everything and the voting power of wallets is curtailed. It’s a world with some rules outside of those of the market. A world of fewer choices, not more.
A world of monsters.
And this frightens some people. From the cradle to the grave, Americans are taught that choice is sacrosanct. According to The Ancient Liberal Scrolls, the only time a choice should be curtailed is when it presents a clear danger to other people. In practice, rarely even then.
In practice, choices are often curtailed only after the danger has been realized, when a shooter, for example, has already shot people, and even then, only their individual freedoms are curtailed with a prison sentence. And, in practice, most of the choices people make are not about any of the larger issues in their life –where and when they will work, who they will be with, or what they will do with their own bodies– but about matters as trivial as which of the twenty fast food franchises they prefer. Coke or Pepsi. A system that produces twenty flavors of Cheetos and only two political parties. That’s the American way.
This crisis demands another way of thinking. Instead of worrying about how we pay our rent, we should be wondering why the fuck we’re even paying rent or, at the very least, so much of it. Instead of asking for help with our bills, those bills should be cancelled. This is not a time when we should fear landlords and bosses but a time when they should fear us. True, we may need to send money to a friend or a family member –we will have to navigate a lot of this shit according to practicalities rather than principles– but we must also recognize that money cannot help us. More choice cannot help us. Making important choices can.
We must choose to be monsters. This is our time.
Monsters must choose a world outside of capitalism. A world where not every goddamn thing is subject to the market. A world where some things are rights. Food, education, shelter, and medical care for all. These are not to be bought and sold. They are not privileges. They are not even only rights. These are necessities. The world itself cannot function without them. And they cannot function in a market. So the market must burn.
If we don’t want to go that far, then only this: The market can only be permitted insofar as it serves the betterment of life on this planet. The vast majority of its profits must be taken through taxation and used to build systems that make the market obsolete and support life outside of the market — places and systems where money is not allowed to intrude. Essential systems must be public utilities. They cannot be slave to the profit motive.
Austerity was always homicidal. Now it’s also clearly suicidal.
As it is, all that profit goes to the top. We’ve seen what happens and not for the first time. That money votes. It buys power. Taxes on the rich are cut. Programs for everyone else are cut. Money steals more money. It buys itself weapons to protect itself. The rich play a game of Jenga, where social program after social program is pulled out until we finally find the one that collapses the whole wobbling edifice. We’ve seen this game before. It’s has nothing to do with the players – of their personal charity or greed, their visitation by three ghosts on Christmas Eve, and their come to Jesus moments. It’s the game itself. And every time we play this game we’re weaker than before. Every time the pieces get picked up, the rich steal a few more. That’s the game. That’s the rules of the game. Your choices do not matter.
That’s why they’re rich. That’s how we became monsters.
We need a different approach. We need to change the rules. We have to build from the bottom. We need to take the money that has collected at the top and use it to build a solid foundation. To build solid instead of high – to measure our progress not by the obscene fortunes of the one percent but by the fortunes of those on the bottom. A society’s greatness cannot be measured by the size of the car some billionaire sends into space. It must be measured by the quality of education, healthcare, and life its poorest orphan child receives.
That’s the metric. It’s the only fucking metric that matters,
A society whose workers are one month or one bill away from homelessness is working on too thin a margin. It’s capitalist efficiency at its worst. It cannot survive a problem. A healthy society treats the rich, instead of workers, as the sheep to be sheared.
After all, they have all the fucking wool, right?
If we fail to make this choice, to make the right choice, we will not, magically return to normal. We will instead help create a world even worse and precarious than the normal world we just left behind. And, boy, if you think this pandemic is bad, just wait until Global Warming comes to your neighborhood. You might start to understand why that Scandinavian child is so pissed off. Why she’s not interested in more fucking denial and bromides.
We’re need a better world and we need to start making it instead of trying to buy it. We need a world where workers are not treated as disposable and subhuman prey cows for Wall Street. A world where it’s not disinfectant for the rich and disease for everyone else. A world where we are the monsters and the rich are our pets and beasts of burden.
This is a a crisis but it’s also new opportunity. This is the argument for all those systems that were dismissed as senseless luxuries just months ago. And it won’t be easy to build our new world. But it might not be as hard as what you think either. Hell, we already have some sort of a blueprint in The Green New Deal. Many of these other systems exist and work in variety of countries. You only need to copy and paste. The problem has never been knowing the answers, it’s being acting like you know. Now we know what happens when we don’t.
We’re almost there. Or we can be. The best, maybe the only possible answer, to power-mad fantasies of mobility is an epiphantic silence. Even if a socialist president was elected, such a silence would be still be required to transform society in any meaningful way. But such a silence is almost impossible to generate in America. That silence is now upon us. That silence is powerful. We see that we have created this silence. Not the disease, us.
This is already almost a general strike. The American government might be dragging its feet here, even denying the existence of the disease, not because they don’t understand the science or because they’re deluded incompetents, but because they understand this silence. They fear this silence. They should fear this silence. This silence is us. We are monsters.
If people see that you can react to a pandemic with silence, they might also see that they can react to societial ills with silence. In silence, they may see that the power rests with them. That they can withdraw their labor. They have already done this in many cases. In others, they must threaten to. They need to make silence so that their demands are finally heard. Let the rich make their choices. Let them make these choices like their life depends on it. Because Monsters live and grow in silence. It’s monster time and monsters are hungry.
Monsters eat the rich.