I don’t have a good excuse for why this is late. I meant to write it last night after watching Game of Thrones but then I accidentally fell asleep while I was lying on the floor, lost in thought about the source of magic in the Game of Thrones universe. (It’s a comfortable floor.) I remain extremely fascinated by this topic: what is the purpose of magic, in the form of prophecies, blood magic, supernatural creatures, etc? Is it meant to be a metaphor for a deeper idea? Please send any literary criticism on this topic my way.
Also, I turned 27.
Borrowing an ebook from the library (day 110): All copies of this ebook are currently checked out, so you'll have to wait until one becomes available.
When is a company a 'tech' company? (day 109): And why does it matter?
Locally optimal, globally absurd (day 108): Housing is an arena where the choices available to an individual are constrained within a narrow set of possibilities, each of which is globally suboptimal.
Finding the breadcrumbs (day 107): I found the left at a time of my life when I was forced to admit that I didn't actually know as much about the world as I thought I did.
Building a better billboard (day 106): Advertising technology solutions tend to optimise for the world as it is, not the world as it should be.
Why we can't have free online tax filing (day 105): Powerful corporations view politics as an arena in which to ensure their continued existence, at the expense of everybody else.
Unbundling progress (day 104): How can we criticise capitalism if it's brought us so much progress?
🎙TrashFuture episode on work, ft Will Stronge of Autonomy: this is a fun episode about why work sucks for most people, and the value of unorthodox proposals like the idea of a 4 day week (while getting paid the same), which Autonomy has been pushing for. This episode covers a wide range of topics related to work (and post-work), including the conservative drive to get people into work (and in the process, treating them like children); the rise of “bullshit” jobs; the typical characterisation of those who don’t work as “parasites” (a characterisation which, weirdly, doesn’t apply to landlords). As Will suggests, the key insight of post-work is to challenge the notion that the only way to distribute the benefits of industry society is through the wage system (except, of course, for the capitalist class surviving on investment), which seems like a compelling point. What we’d want is a system that maximises discretionary time for everybody, by minimising necessary time (doing the work, including non-remunerated work like domestic work, that is required for society to function), by spreading the load more equally.
🎙Working People podcast: last week I recommended this podcast by Maximilian Alvarez, and this week I’d like to recommend it again, especially this episode on the Shop & Stop strike and this interview with Laura Bucci on the decline of labour unions in the US.
🎙Antifada episode at Historical Materialism: I didn’t listen to the whole episode, but from 60:30 to 77:00 there is an interview with Jamie Woodcock and Callum Cant, my colleagues at Notes From Below. They talked about why workers are organising in different sectors (food delivery platforms, pub chains, the games development industry), as well as a cultural analysis of the role of games under capitalism & how we can link the politics of consumption to the working conditions in the field of production. The sound quality is not great, FYI.
🔗 Live Commentary on the Žižek-Peterson Debate: Nathan J. Robinson’s live blog on the debate for Current Affairs. I did not watch the debate, but I would be remiss to not at least mention it, since debate talk comprised about half my Twitter timeline the last 2 days. Robinson’s exasperated commentary on the shortcomings of both participants is a delight to read (“I’ve completely lost the thread. I think he has too.”), but there are substantive critiques as well, including one rebutting the common pro-capitalism argument that “poor people today have iPhones, poverty is going away, etc”. As Robinson writes: “the question has always been “Why is there so much deprivation that could be alleviated and is not being?” not “Is there less deprivation?” If you adopt the “Have things gotten better?” approach, as Peterson and Steven Pinker do, then you could make the same argument in 1900: oh look, we’re better off than the Middle Ages, therefore things must be great and nobody has any legitimate objections.”
🔗 The Fallacy of Post-Truth: a short and pointed Jacobin article by Rune Møller Stahl which neatly chimed with why liberalism stopped making sense to me. Sections I especially liked include: “The 2008 financial crash revealed the failure of liberal economics. Occupy and Black Lives Matter threw light on structural problems that triangulation and managerialism not only can’t address but refuse to. These events revealed liberal factuality for what it is: highly self-interested and selective, willing to ignore inconvenient truths, and presented as above partisan politics, as the scientific management of society.” and “Trump’s win doesn’t prove that voters hate the truth. It merely shows that enough of them prefer a pathological liar who promises change to a status-quo technocrat who liberal-splains the facts. It’s time to stop blaming fake news and realize why so many believe it. The simple reason is that the mainstream of the political class have squandered people’s trust, by not having their best interests at heart.”
🔗 When the Hero is the Problem: this is a long, meandering, and lovely essay by Rebecca Solnit for Lithub. Solnit addresses the “great man” theory of history, with its overreliance on deus ex machina narratives rather than seeing the groundwork done by collectives, and its tendency to ignore the harm done by these “heroes”. “That’s another part of our rugged individualism and hero culture, the idea that all problems are personal and they’re all soluble by personal responsibility—or medication that helps you accept what you cannot change, when it can be changed but not by you personally. It’s a framework that eliminates the possibility of deeper, broader change or of holding accountable the powerful who create and benefit from the status quo and its myriad forms of harm. The narrative of individual responsibility and change protects stasis, whether it’s adapting to inequality or poverty or pollution. ¶ Our largest problems won’t be solved by heroes. They’ll be solved, if they are, by movements, coalitions, civil society.” and “A general is not much without an army, and social change is not even modeled on generals and armies, because the outstanding figures get others to act willingly, not by command. We would do well to call them catalysts rather than leaders. Martin Luther King was not the Civil Rights Movement and Cesar Chavez was not the farmworker rights movement and to mistake them for that denies the multitudes the recognition they deserve but more importantly denies us strategic understandings when we need them most. Which begins with our own power and ends with how change works.”
🔗 Who Works for the Workers?: an incredible n+1 piece by Gabriel Winant, who's also the author of one of my fave n+1 articles of all times (a review of Malcolm Harris’ Kids These Days). It’s from 2016, and I don’t remember how I came across it, but it’s a thoughtful and, ultimately, optimistic analysis of the state of labour organising and unions in the US, both from a theoretical standpoint and from an empirical/strategic one. “So-called legacy unions represent living traditions with institutional memories of what worked and what didn’t against an individual boss, in a given industry, or among workers of particular types. It’s an error to perceive union defeat as evidence of some strategic mistake. American workers can do everything right and still lose.” and “Just because a political project is difficult, in other words, doesn’t necessarily mean you’re doing it wrong. It could just be that it’s hard — that the opposition is fearsome and you haven’t cracked it yet. Some kinds of success are bought with a dozen or a hundred failures. The key is to be there for the next round, and to know a chance when you see it.”
🔗 Embedded Internationalism: the only way to fight the global oligarchy: a long read by David Adler for Open Democracy which maps out the political economy of international institutions (e.g., the EU, UN, NATO, IMF, WB, etc). The article lays out two main axes for understanding how these institutions work: embeddedness (“the extent to which markets are anchored in society”) or its converse, financialisation (“the extent to which elements of society present themselves as opportunities for financial speculation”); and scale (“the level at which political activity is organized, from the national to the global”). This is a useful framework for considering the role of global institutions like the IMF/WB in creating the disembeddedness that capital, sick of the postwar Keynesian compromise with labour, desired (the real story of globalisation): “They did not encounter those countries in a natural state of disembeddedness. Rather, this process required the construction and mobilization of institutions that would clear the way for international investors.” It ends on a warning about the dangers of neglecting these institutions: “It is all too easy for progressives to dismiss international institutions as the machinery of global capital, and to focus where power appears closer at hand. / [...] just because we don’t talk about the World Bank and the IMF doesn’t mean that they are not still there. […] We must therefore develop our own vision of international institutional change, or else they will be reshaped by our opponents.”