We need to do everything different

Thanks in large part to elites’ egregious mishandling of the COVID-19 pandemic and the consequent recession,[1] gross domestic product (GDP) is way, way, way down for the second quarter of 2020.[2] As we look at all the crises that beset us, it should be more than apparent that a revolution is in order.[3]

It’s important to remember that GDP is really nothing more than a measure of capitalist exploitation of labor and the environment.[4] That said, capitalists have made us dependent on that exploitation to such a degree that money, a mere social construction,[5] outweighs even human life[6] and a lot of people are suffering accordingly when, with even a bit of humanity, elites could alleviate a lot of misery.[7] That they don’t, that they persist in egregiously mishandling this and the other crises which beset us,[8] contributes to a loss of credibility that impairs our response to the pandemic,[9] making the pandemic even worse.[10] This is a downward spiral, what systems theorists call a destabilizing feedback loop, even if “a tailspin [in GDP] at the second quarter rate is unlikely.”[11]

[Ananya] Roy, the UCLA professor [director of the Institute on Inequality and Democracy at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)], said that although politicians have brushed aside rent cancelation demands, the severe wave of displacement could make it impossible for officials to ignore tenants: “Mass evictions have always led to mass mobilizations. This moment will lead to an extraordinary housing justice uprising.”[12]

The question is, how large, how profound will this already spectacular[13] mass mobilization be? Given the sheer incompetence and greed of our political and economic elite, it deserves to be huge, a revolution, to sweep these assholes aside.[14]

There are two problems with revolution, and both should be addressed, even if neither of them are:

  1. The replacement of one elite with another simply recreates the social structure that is, itself, problematic. Ultimately, all it does is reshuffle the deck chairs on the Titanic. As Emma Goldman wrote of the Russian Revolution, it had not introduced communism because communism in intrinsically about egalitarianism and the Revolution had instead inverted the authoritarian hierarchy, bringing some former subaltern folks into power,[15] centralizing and concentrating authority in what should be, but rarely is, called “authoritarian socialism,” which fully deserves capitalist libertarian criticism it gets.[16]

    But it is the authoritarian system of social organization that has persistently proven problematic since its ever widening adoption beginning in the neolithic.[17]

  2. It is, at best, unclear how one can displace an elite without resort to violence, and then without replacing the former set of armed thugs with a new set of armed thugs who will eventually prove as malicious, self-serving, and incompetent as their predecessors.[18] Violence is, itself, inherently problematic; all forms of illegitimate authority ultimately reduce to it,[19] as Donald Trump has recently demonstrated.[20] Violence does not persuade but rather intimidates; at best, it gains compliance only until the intimidated find means to resist, necessitating further violence to enforce compliance. This, in itself, is a downward spiral, and at the heart of much of our present dilemma.

Most profoundly, and probably even more difficult than anarchism—somebody has to be in charge, right?[21]—for many people to imagine, is the need to eliminate inherently authoritarian systems of exchange, in which, as I have repeatedly paraphrased Max Weber, they privilege whomever has the greater power to say no, at the expense of whomever has the lesser power, and in which these privileges and handicaps from each transaction accumulate, widening social inequality.[22]

To truly solve our problems, we need to do everything different. That’s not a small problem and, given the urgency of the moment, I’m guessing we won’t solve it this time either.

  1. [1]David Benfell, “Time for somebody and something new,” Not Housebroken, July 27, 2020, https://disunitedstates.org/2020/07/27/time-for-somebody-and-something-new/
  2. [2]Rachel Siegel and Andrew Van Dam, “U.S. economy contracted at fastest quarterly rate on record from April to June as coronavirus walloped workers, businesses,” Washington Post, July 30, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2020/07/30/gdp-q2-coronavirus/
  3. [3]David Benfell, “Time for somebody and something new,” Not Housebroken, July 27, 2020, https://disunitedstates.org/2020/07/27/time-for-somebody-and-something-new/
  4. [4]Riane Eisler, The Real Wealth of Nations (San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler, 2007).
  5. [5]David Benfell, “Cats are smarter than we are. Really,” Not Housebroken, October 30, 2019, https://disunitedstates.org/2019/10/30/cats-are-smarter-than-we-are-really/
  6. [6]David Benfell, “The capitalist death cult,” Not Housebroken, March 27, 2020, https://disunitedstates.org/2020/03/27/the-capitalist-death-cult/; David Benfell, “An impatient capitalist god demands human sacrifice. Now,” Not Housebroken, April 17, 2020, https://disunitedstates.org/2020/04/15/an-impatient-capitalist-god-demands-human-sacrifice-now/; David Benfell, “Surprise! Surprise! The capitalist god is greedy!” Not Housebroken, May 25, 2020, https://disunitedstates.org/2020/05/23/surprise-surprise-the-capitalist-god-is-greedy/
  7. [7]Jonathan Allen and Steve Holland, “Life upended for Americans as U.S. scrambles to contain coronavirus threat,” Reuters, March 12, 2020, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-coronavirus-usa/life-upended-for-americans-as-u-s-scrambles-to-contain-coronavirus-threat-idUSKBN20Z1OT; AnnaMaria Andriotis, “Americans Skip Millions of Loan Payments as Coronavirus Takes Economic Toll,” Wall Street Journal, June 18, 2020, https://www.wsj.com/articles/americans-skip-millions-of-loan-payments-as-coronavirus-takes-economic-toll-11592472601; Anne Applebaum, “The Coronavirus Called America’s Bluff,” Atlantic, March 15, 2020, https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2020/03/coronavirus-showed-america-wasnt-task/608023/; Kate Aronoff, “The Democrats Screwed Up,” New Republic, March 20, 2020, https://newrepublic.com/article/156994/democrats-screwed; Associated Press, “U.S. stocks climb 6% the day after biggest loss since 1987,” Los Angeles Times, March 17, 2020, https://www.latimes.com/business/story/2020-03-17/us-stocks-coronavirus; Associated Press, “3.2 million more filed jobless claims last week; more than 30 million since coronavirus hit,” Los Angeles Times, May 7, 2020, https://www.latimes.com/business/story/2020-05-07/coronavirus-weekly-jobless-unemployment-numbers; Associated Press, “2.4 million Americans sought jobless aid last week; 39 million since coronavirus struck,” Los Angeles Times, May 21, 2020, https://www.latimes.com/business/story/2020-05-21/coronavirus-jobless-unemployment-benefits; Associated Press, “1.9 million seek jobless aid even as reopenings slow layoffs,” Los Angeles Times, June 4, 2020, https://www.latimes.com/business/story/2020-06-04/jobless-unemployment-claims-coronavirus; Associated Press, “Tenants Behind on Rent in Pandemic Face Harassment, Eviction,” U.S. News and World Report, June 14, 2020, https://www.usnews.com/news/best-states/virginia/articles/2020-06-13/tenants-behind-on-rent-in-pandemic-face-harassment-eviction; David Blanchflower, “Pandemic Economics: ‘Much Worse, Very Quickly,” New York Review of Books, March 26, 2020, https://www.nybooks.com/daily/2020/03/26/pandemic-economics-much-worse-very-quickly/; John Cassidy, “What Would a Proper Coronavirus Stimulus Plan Look Like?” New Yorker, March 14, 2020, https://www.newyorker.com/news/our-columnists/what-would-a-proper-coronavirus-stimulus-plan-look-like; Kriston Capps, “What Happens When the Eviction Bans End?” CityLab, May 29, 2020, https://www.citylab.com/equity/2020/05/pay-rent-eviction-ban-coronavirus-housing-crisis-landlord/612277/; John Cassidy, “Who’s Right About the Economy—Jared Kushner or the Chairman of the Federal Reserve?” New Yorker, April 30, 2020, https://www.newyorker.com/news/our-columnists/whos-right-about-the-economy-jared-kushner-or-the-chairman-of-the-federal-reserve; John Cassidy, “The Most Alarming Thing About the Worst Jobs Report in History,” New Yorker, May 8, 2020, https://www.newyorker.com/news/our-columnists/the-most-alarming-thing-about-the-worst-jobs-report-in-history; Sarah Chaney and Kate King, “Over 3.8 Million Americans Filed for Jobless Benefits Last Week as States Struggle With Coronavirus Claims Surge,” Wall Street Journal, April 30, 2020, https://www.wsj.com/articles/states-struggle-with-coronavirus-unemployment-claims-surge-11588239004; Sarah Chaney and Kate King, “Workers File 2.4 Million Unemployment Claims,” Wall Street Journal, May 21, 2020, https://www.wsj.com/articles/self-employed-arent-counted-in-wave-of-unemployment-claims-11590053402; Zak Cheney-Rice, “Even Naked, America Cannot See Itself,” New York, April 27, 2020, https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2020/04/coronavirus-inequality-america.html; Sara R. 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  14. [14]David Benfell, “Time for somebody and something new,” Not Housebroken, July 27, 2020, https://disunitedstates.org/2020/07/27/time-for-somebody-and-something-new/
  15. [15]Emma Goldman, “There Is No Communism in Russia,” in Red Emma Speaks: An Emma Goldman Reader, ed. Alix Kates Shulman, 3rd ed. (Amherst, NY: Humanity, 1998), 405-420.
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  19. [19]David Benfell, “Violence is the illegitimate authority that begets all other illegitimate authority,” Not Housebroken, July 1, 2019, https://disunitedstates.org/2019/07/01/violence-is-the-illegitimate-authority-that-begets-all-other-illegitimate-authority/
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  21. [21]Gerhard Lenski weighs authoritarian and egalitarian systems of social organization in Power and Privilege (New York: McGraw Hill, 1966), finds in favor of the authoritarian, and I fear it may be too late for us as a species to choose an egalitarian system in David Benfell, “Why we won’t respond to climate change,” Not Housebroken, October 16, 2018, https://disunitedstates.org/2018/10/16/why-we-wont-respond-to-climate-change/
  22. [22]Max Weber, “Class, Status, Party,” in Social Theory: The Multicultural and Classic Readings, ed. Charles Lemert, 4th ed. (Boulder, CO: Westview, 2010), 119-129.

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