My Journal from July 30th

(I wrote this while drinking a lot of coffee – and watching a lot more be wasted – at a convenience store in the middle of the night, in Missouri City, Texas. No lo traduje al español. ¡Lo siento!)

Gallons of coffee lemming their way into spill guards. It’s our society of abundance ejaculating arrogantly at 3 A.M. The convenience store coffee must be fresh. Why? Our humans can be mistaked for industrial products. Plant the seed of an idea in the fertile soil of a human brain and you’re creating a thinker. Plant the seed of a need and you create a consumer. We are products. The marketers themselves do it for that need, the false need that screams. The coffee must die because the coffee must be fresh! The simultaneous flows of the research-named varieties (for there must be choice so that we’ll know there’s choice) take shapes which change with the instants. There is splash, overflow, a hint of disorder in the celebration. Waste is power. Leftovers humble us and to be humble is to be weak. Marketed products market products to other products while we live, or act, or buy, in the age of consumption singularity. It’s cultural transmission. We sell the crap we’re sold, logical venerations fulfilling the will of the comfort god. For his good grace and lavish logic we enslave the world, while we convert them to the faith. Look at the stuff you make, which we desperately want, it must be want-worthy, look how comfortable it makes us. We’d love to share what we have with you, but how would we impel you to pick the beans to brew the coffee that fills our drains and sewers? Laura’s mother is provoked by Speciesism, but can’t bear day-old coffee. My fellow Americans, the state of our existence is weak. We must work, and the Colombians must work, and we all must work hard, or we will not be comfortable. The coffee flow stops and the visual impact of the 63 blinding ceiling lights loses the aural competition of Niagara Arabica until the worker (exercising the noble office of work) begins the humming process that will produce the next 12 gallons, to fuel other workers’ mornings until exhaustion or expulsion as waste. The workers or the coffee? We’ll be like Wall-E, except we’ll all have to perform useless tasks for forty hours a week to prove our worth. For the value of work is sacred, which is why we always think of the peoplewho picked the beans as we evacuate the vital vessels to ensure faultless freshness. And it’s why no American drinks coffee without thinking of the noble workers who make it possible. It’s why we think of the single mother in Indonesia who stitched the many stitches (there are many stitches) whenever we put on a t-shirt. No American mother gives her 9-year-old a new cell phone without explaining the effort of the miners (minors?), assemblers, and thinkers that brought it into being. Why? Because in America, we value work.

The proof is in the pay. We encourage work with the lavish reward of $7.25 an hour. Bullshit. Or $1.70 a day if you’re in Guatemala. Make me things or you will starve, María. We have all the wealth in the world because we took it. You are powerless to make us give it back. You don’t even get to vote. The world is a tiered democracy where the wealthy (us, here, follow along) get to vote on what to do with the wealth and we choose not to give it away. Imagine if the different economic classes each had their own government, each with power over the resources owned by its members. The wealthy Senate would not choose to tax its constituents to provide food stamps for the more populous poor. Such is the world. We justify not giving the global poor any sat in the structure of the global economy with geography. We have the wealth, you don’t live here, you don’t get to say what we do with it, and don’t come here. Even functioning national democracies everywhere would not add up to a democratic world.

People have no idea how wealthy our country is. That’s why we think a $15/hr minimum wage is outrageous. But, off the cuff, Americans work about 300 billion hours a year. That fits into the GDP about 50 times. That means the average wage is $50/hr. And we can’t afford to make the minimum a third of that? By the way, of course, fuck GDP as an insane metric that says the economy is comprised by the quantity of shit we charge each other for. A free hug adds nothing to GDP. A $10 hug is economic activity! Bullshit. BP brags about how much work is needed to turn oil into fuel/pollution (job creation!). As if having to do more stuff is good! And no one questions it. We have a major unemployment problem. Amazingly, our response to the fact that we don’t have enough work to occupy everyone 40 hrs a week is to celebrate the creation of more stuff that has to be done. I invent a product that adds X value and requires no labor, the world shrugs. I invent a product that adds X value and needs 20,000 workers to make and I’m a hero. Oh no, not me. The CEO. What logic is there in a society where automation threatens workers’ livelihoods instead of liberating them from toil!? But there can be no revolution because we do not think. Or we think, but only the thoughts that grow from the seeds that are planted. Am I blind, or is it actually painfully obvious and completely ignored that we’re taking an entirely illogical approach to the problem of work?

On another note, laboring some is probably good for a human’s growth. That’s clearly true of intellectual work, and probably of real toil as well. Overwork, however, destroys the possibility of growth, which requires leisure and reflection with energy and passion. TV may be the opiate of the masses, but labor is the compactor. It crushes people all the week until they want nothing but simple pleasures in their free time. We finally have the technology so that all humans can attain a good standard of material living, health, and intellectual living with a reasonable amount of work, perhaps 15/hrs a week. Yet we don’t do this. Some must work too much. Others are denied work and then denied access to our wealth. Then others, the world’s proletariat, must suffer both overwork and lack of access. How do we accept this without questioning? It cannot but be mind control, intentional or not. School never mentions the craziness of inventing a need for “job creation” instead of redistribution. We have enough stuff, obviously. We. Do. Not. Need. To. Make. More. I dream of a shrinking GDP as the gift economy grows, as we decommodify our lives and each other.

(Ok, there’s a lot more, but it digresses, so I’ll leave it there. I’d love some comments to discuss some of these ideas! Bye for now! :):) )


The Unseen Paycheck Deduction

(This is kind of a perfect follow-up to the Holiday Inn Horror post we put up last week, although I actually wrote this up in the Bay Area.)

It’s been at least a day. It’s been at least a day since I’ve read or heard a complaint about the government taking a fourth of someone’s paycheck in taxes. Thus, the argument goes, the government is taking a chunk of what little we have and hurting the standard of living of the working class. And indeed, the gov’t takes some of our money and spends it on war or gives a present to its friends at ExxonMobil. Indeed, this is most unfortunate.

But what about the giant invisible paycheck deduction? There is a salary-eating monster in this land that’s growing much faster than taxation. And unlike taxation, which has built-in progressivity to take more from the well-off than the ripped-off, this invisible wage-devouring monster targets the average worker directly. This salary-eating, wage-devouring, paycheck-shrinking monster is called profit.

U.S. corporate profits are up to $1.82 trillion/year. That’s over 12% of GDP, a new record. Meanwhile, total workers’ wages are down to 42.5% of GDP. The lowest ever. The lowest ever in the history of the United States of America. corporate-profits-and-wages And even those wages are counting the increasingly crazy salaries paid to CEOs. CEO pay growth CEO pay is the brother of the profit monster. Corporations (with decisions made by CEOs) have learned they can take more of the value of your labor and give it to their profit margins instead of you. These CEOs have also figured out they can just give more of the value of your labor to themselves. And of course, unlike the income tax, which takes more from the top, these profits and CEO pay raises can only come at the expense of workers’ paychecks. Not to mention that whatever does go into taxes is, at least partially, subject to our collective input, while whatever happens with privately “earned” profit is not.

Since 2009, 93% of all income gains have gone to the richest 1%, who now have more wealth than the bottom 90% combined.
Distribution of Wealth Chart

Since 1973, worker productivity has gone up at least 80%, but wages have only gone up 4%. Productivity vs. wage growth

The profit-monster is getting greedier, eating larger parts of our paycheck as he ages, no?

The minimum wage is lower (with inflation) than it was in 1968.
minimum wage vs productivity

All of that leads me to think this. If economics is the battle between labor and capital, capital is winning in a blow out. But there’s no mercy rule in the capitalism game; the more you’re losing, the more you have to play. So Americans play (that is, work) more than we did 40 years ago, after centuries of reductions. The dream of the 20-hour work week, technically very feasible, has died. Now they tell us we must cut social security, Medicare, and food stamps, while their profits grow during our recession. GDP growth doesn’t matter when all the gains go to the top. My friends, your employer is not a benevolent “job creator.” Your employer is your exploiter. Your stagnant paycheck is a product of the insatiable appetite and tremendous, undemocratic power of the profit/CEO-pay monsters. It doesn’t have to be this way. It can only happen as long as we let it. Rise up.

– Adam
Chula Vista, California

The Pull Is Stronger Than the Push

There are many reasons for each of us as independent humans to set out on this indefinite journey to indefinite places, living differently and learning about humanity. This entry fits in the densely filled space where our reasons overlap.

Taking off indefinitely is the kind of thing that prompts questions like, “What are you running away from?” But we’re not running away from ourselves or anything else; we’re running to other places and people, to things we’ve dreamed of and read about, to the things we would’ve rather been doing while toiling at Market Basket or FedEx.

There are some factors pushing us away from the lives we’ve led to this point. There’s a deeply held conviction that we should limit, as much as possible, our participation in actions and systems we feel are more destructive than constructive. There’s a commitment to not let our lives be dictated by momentum and convention when we’re more than capable of creating our own, hopefully more useful, paths. There’s a recognition of the difference between being comfortable and being happy. And there’s the pressure of time, the knowledge that we don’t live forever and that our life situations might not be as conducive to this in the future.

But what’s pulling us is so much stronger. We’ve both slept til 4 in the afternoon on probably too many days after reading Wikipedia articles about Comoros or debating the feasibility of an anarchist society until sunrise. We want, intensely, to experience things on a human level, first-hand. And we hope that we can be more productive facilitators of a better future by spreading our ideas, and our questions, beyond the relatively local and homogeneous gardens we’ve thus far been pollinating.

Unlike the oft-referenced Chris McCandless, we are not turning our backs on, or experimenting with dropping out of, society. We are investing ourselves in society by filling what seems to us a necessary yet largely underplayed role in it. It’s certainly true that many of our opinions diverge from the mainstream or from generally accepted ways of looking at things. But they are the products of years of earnest, fervent reflection on ourselves and the world we live in, and we think that sharing them with the people we encounter is a real contribution to our common endeavor of bettering the human condition. And while we have a responsibility to share the insights that our genes and our experiences have combined to create, we also have a responsibility to take what others have to offer, to incorporate it into our ways of seeing the world, and to share it widely.

In terms of our utility, we’d argue that we do more good via idea pollination than through a more conventional role as a cog in the material economy. Our society has more than enough stuff. What we can work to provide on this journey are the novel experiences and social connections that our isolated and routinized society so dearly lacks. These oft-belittled opportunities in everyday life are what the social sciences have consistently and convincingly shown to be the more important components of happy lives.

As idealists, we strive to live out not only our ideals, but also the questions hovering around them. Doing so requires repeatedly asking ourselves how necessary compromising those ideals may be. There is a constant struggle between idealism and reality, between the perfect and the good, between the good and the merely less bad, and between personal convictions and the status quo. We also can’t forget that the status quo represents, to various degrees, large parts of the human race with which we feel so intimately connected.

We are often told, if not by people we know then indeed by the droning rhythms of our societal machine, that we have our heads in the clouds, that dreams and ideals can only go so far, that we need to come down to Earth and acknowledge the need for jobs, for money, for routines. To this we ask, what makes those things so necessary? It seems those things are at least less necessary for us than for most, as we are, for whatever reasons, more comfortable than most with having less, with giving in to chaos, and with challenging so many of the arbitrary conventions our society disguises as obvious truths. The supposed guarantees of capitalism, routines, and isolation are not on par with gravity.

This exploration is both something we want to do and something we think is right. This may indeed be a rare convergence of those two things, desires and convictions, but for us these things have come together quite well, both as individuals and conjointly. Our friend Zach Peckham has a song that says something to the effect of, “I don’t believe that you can be anything you set your mind to, but I do think you are the only authority on your own life.” That sums it up pretty well for us too.

Ultimately, we know we have the capacity to have an impact on our world. Actually, it’s unavoidable. (All actions have consequences, inaction is action, and all that.) We all have a responsibility to one another. We feel that this responsibility exists to an even greater degree for people like us, given our relatively privileged roles and our personal tendencies toward intellectualism and activism. A world built on exploitation can only succeed at perpetuating an unjust, prejudicial, and damaging status quo for as long as we remain ignorant of others and the many ways in which we are so constantly and significantly tied to those people.

We may indeed find that our future selves will better serve the world in some different way. Until that moment arrives this will be a learning experience, and a shared experience, that hopefully leads us to an even better understanding of the world and how we can best live as part of it.

So yeah, we aim to contribute as wholly as possible to the happiness of humanity. This includes not forgetting that we are a part of humanity, and that our own happiness is as valuable as anyone else’s. This adventure, done in this way, seems to us at this time to be the best means of accomplishing that end. And it’s certainly refreshing to live lives in which, moment by moment, our means and our ends look an awful lot alike.