FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

At the End of Capitalism’s Rope

by BENJAMIN J. GEORGE

Capitalism has an amazing duality inherent in its structure.  It can build homes in Fordist fashion yet yields homelessness.  It can produce enough food for all yet turns a blind-eye as much of the world starve.  It discovers cures for diseases but denies them to those afflicted.  In short, this polarity is exactly that: profoundly positive at one end and woefully negative at the other.

One of the most shameful aspects at capitalism’s negative end of the spectrum is that far too often its victims are voiceless, nameless individuals.  Here we might think of a starving baby in Mogadishu or an AIDS victim in Botswana.  Although I can still remember as a child pleas from NGO’s and charity organizations that gave some voice to these victims while at the same time legitimating states and corporations by concealing the larger crimes from which such victims are suffering—but that is another part of the larger story.  Instead let’s turn our attention to the 2,500 Greeks who have killed themselves since economic crisis beset the ancient land in 2010 or to US veterans who, unable to find solace either, take similar means toward that ultimate end at a rate of roughly 20 suicides per day.

What is interesting to take note of here is that these are not passive victims, rather they are active in their own demise; they take their own lives.  These people, who once loved and were loved, who laughed and made others laugh, who cried tears of joy and tears of pain, made a conscious decision to end their own existence.  Many might assert that they gave up, they still had a chance, and they could have opted for a different—for any other—route.  And too often people dismiss such victimization as exactly that: they took the “easy way out” and therefore examinations of exigent circumstances aren’t required.  Such thought processes mean we effectively exculpate ourselves for any complicity we may have had in their passing.  That is why when someone leaves behind any insights into what drove him or her to extremes, it is important to look into them critically.

In 2010 Andrew Joseph Stack, an engineer, flew his small airplane into an IRS building in Austin, TX.  Killing himself and an IRS manager, Vernon Hunter, Stack was angered at the IRS, blaming them for being left penniless, compelling him to act as he did.  Let me be clear from the outset, Stack’s action was ignoble as a seemingly innocent life was additionally claimed.  This is something I will return to.  Stack left behind a memo outlining his life and explaining his desperate action, a denouement that unfolds the life of a single person and the history of the United States at once.

As a young man Stack recalls living next to an elderly woman, the widower of a unionized steel worker whose pension was stolen by management, she was left to live off of Social Security and cat food.  Stack brings up Arthur Anderson, the corrupt accounting firm complicit in the Enron Scandal, as having lobbied for the introduction of a regressive, 1986 tax law that rendered engineers like him at a disadvantage.  He goes on to talk of the loss of military contracting jobs in Southern California, a hallmark of postwar growth-liberalism that became a harbinger of 1990’s neoliberalism.  Stack writes at length about rapidity of over-accumulative busts that characterize the neoliberal period and how the rich get bailed-out with “HIS MONEY!!” while the rest of us, like him, “rot and die”.  Left with nothing after a lifetime of giving everything, so it was that Stack took upon himself the unthinkable.

More recently, a member of the LAPD and US Navy, Christopher Dorner left behind another such memo.  As a black man, after a lifetime of enduring abusive racial epithets and witnessing the all-too-well documented racism and violence of the LAPD, as well as being a target of its systematic character assassination for speaking out against such injustices, Dorner, so enraged, is waging a war against his former co-workers and their families.  Again, this is not an act to be defended but condemned as two seemingly innocent people have already lost their lives.  However, this is not our purpose here and I will return to such connections, however tenuous, later.

Dorner pens in considerable detail the dates and times of abuses perpetrated by his fellow officers against the most hapless members of our society they are supposed to serve and protect.  These include a mentally ill man and an elderly woman.  Dorner recounts how Nazi songs celebrating the burning of Jewish Ghettos were sang to a Jewish police recruit.  And of course he writes about how causally LAPD members, even in his presence, used the word “nigger”.   When Dorner followed protocol he was abraded, eventually being discharged, left without anything including what was most important to him—his “name”.   Like Stack, Dorner felt there was but one path to take, which is ultimately suicidal.

In Stack’s “manifesto”, he quotes Karl Marx.  Ironically, Marx is useful here.  Explaining how human labor-power is objectified in commodities, which then become realized as social relations once they are put to use, Marx demonstrates how through our labor, which is our dominant mode of social relation, we are all connected.  Marx was fond of using linen as an example.  A weaver’s social value is realized after a person wears a coat made by the tailor.  That is, these heretofore unrelated persons now share a common relationship.  If we expand upon this and ask how many people today are involved in producing the coat we wear, from the electricity that powers the sewing machines to the petrol used for delivery, the answer is infinite; the answer is all of us.  Marx further explains how once the “universal equivalent”, or money, is supplanted as a metric for our labor, that organization of production tends toward profit rather than collective good.

This is a powerful tool in understanding how we share a common relationship with a destitute Greek worker or an Iraq War veteran suffering from PTSD and/or other psychological disorders.  With wages earned from our labor we purchase German goods, exacerbating the economic imbalance between Germany and peripheral countries like Greece, thereby adding to the extreme suffering Greek workers are being forced to endure.  It can explain how a solider, upon his or her return home, cannot easily reveal that the jingoist notions of freedom, liberty and security we are all imbued with had no role to play in the killing that we as a society, at least through our taxes, tacitly asked of them.  It can further explain how police can criminalize the indigent for their own victimization.  As Stack described, the loss of jobs from L.A. caused some Los Angelians to lose their already precarious footing in American society, namely Blacks and Latinos.  Combined with systemic, inter-generational poverty and racism, it is all too easy to mistake the symptoms of this malaise for its etiology.

This is not an indictment of particular individuals or as members of society.  Nor is it meant to be a blanket justification for individuals’ improper actions.  Rather it is meant as a wedge to insert into the fissures that each day widens on our societal edifice so that we can widen them further.  In so doing, it calls upon us to examine less reflexively and more critically our own roles we play in society.  It is only through critical inquires that we can hope to reorganize our social relations in order to minimize human tragedy and maximize human potential.  After all things are never as they appear on the surface and the more we dig, the less most of us like what we find.

Benjamin J. George is a social justice activist who can be reached at benjaminjgeorge@gmail.com

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
February 24, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Exxon’s End Game Theory
Pierre M. Sprey - Franklin “Chuck” Spinney
Sleepwalking Into a Nuclear Arms Race with Russia
Paul Street
Liberal Hypocrisy, “Late-Shaming,” and Russia-Blaming in the Age of Trump
Ajamu Baraka
Malcolm X and Human Rights in the Time of Trumpism: Transcending the Master’s Tools
John Laforge
Did Obama Pave the Way for More Torture?
Mike Whitney
McMaster Takes Charge: Trump Relinquishes Control of Foreign Policy 
Patrick Cockburn
The Coming Decline of US and UK Power
Louisa Willcox
The Endangered Species Act: a Critical Safety Net Now Threatened by Congress and Trump
Vijay Prashad
A Foreign Policy of Cruel Populism
John Chuckman
Israel’s Terrible Problem: Two States or One?
Matthew Stevenson
The Parallax View of Donald Trump
Norman Pollack
Drumbeat of Fascism: Find, Arrest, Deport
Stan Cox
Can the Climate Survive Electoral Democracy? Maybe. Can It Survive Capitalism? No.
Ramzy Baroud
The Trump-Netanyahu Circus: Now, No One Can Save Israel from Itself
Edward Hunt
The United States of Permanent War
David Morgan
Trump and the Left: a Case of Mass Hysteria?
Pete Dolack
The Bait and Switch of Public-Private Partnerships
Mike Miller
What Kind of Movement Moment Are We In? 
Elliot Sperber
Why Resistance is Insufficient
Brian Cloughley
What are You Going to Do About Afghanistan, President Trump?
Binoy Kampmark
Warring in the Oncology Ward
Yves Engler
Remembering the Coup in Ghana
Jeremy Brecher
“Climate Kids” v. Trump: Trial of the Century Pits Trump Climate Denialism Against Right to a Climate System Capable of Sustaining Human Life”
Jonathan Taylor
Hate Trump? You Should Have Voted for Ron Paul
Franklin Lamb
Another Small Step for Syrian Refugee Children in Beirut’s “Aleppo Park”
Ron Jacobs
The Realist: Irreverence Was Their Only Sacred Cow
Andre Vltchek
Lock up England in Jail or an Insane Asylum!
Rev. William Alberts
Grandiose Marketing of Spirituality
Paul DeRienzo
Three Years Since the Kitty Litter Disaster at Waste Isolation Pilot Plant
Eric Sommer
Organize Workers Immigrant Defense Committees!
Steve Cooper
A Progressive Agenda
David Swanson
100 Years of Using War to Try to End All War
Andrew Stewart
The 4CHAN Presidency: A Media Critique of the Alt-Right
Edward Leer
Tripping USA: The Chair
Randy Shields
Tom Regan: The Life of the Animal Rights Party
Nyla Ali Khan
One Certain Effect of Instability in Kashmir is the Erosion of Freedom of Expression and Regional Integration
Rob Hager
The Only Fake News That Probably Threw the Election to Trump was not Russian 
Mike Garrity
Why Should We Pay Billionaires to Destroy Our Public Lands? 
Mark Dickman
The Prophet: Deutscher’s Trotsky
Christopher Brauchli
The Politics of the Toilet Police
Ezra Kronfeld
Joe Manchin: a Senate Republicrat to Dispute and Challenge
Clancy Sigal
The Nazis Called It a “Rafle”
Louis Proyect
Socialism Betrayed? Inside the Ukrainian Holodomor
Charles R. Larson
Review: Timothy B. Tyson’s “The Blood of Emmett Till”
David Yearsley
Founding Father of American Song
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail