Saturday, May 14, 2016


This is a blog post.  It's really good.  I've included the comments too.  One of them is really moving.  This gives me the feeling that a revolution of some sort is brewing.  If a political one doesn't happen, there may yet be a violent revolution.  I hope we do something in time to prevent violence.  


More Coyotes than Wolves


I remember AIDS. I'm older than you probably think I am, and I remember what AIDS in America meant in the eighties, when William F. Buckley suggested all "carriers" be tattooed, and the Wizard of Id got in trouble in Canada (fr) for a joke in which Robbing Hood's "Merry Men" were rounded up into quarantine camps. Mostly what I remember is the darkness- the world seemed apocalyptic. Everyone, at least in the gay men's community, seemed to be sick, or dying, or taking care of someone else who was sick or dying, or else hurling themselves headlong into increasingly desperate and dramatic activism the like of which has hardly been seen since. I was actually watching the MacNeil/Lehrer news hour when ACT-UP broke in and nearly handcuffed Robert MacNeil to his desk. The tenor is just unreproducible; you get a taste of it in some of Sarah Schulman's fiction, or Diamanda Galas' Plague Mass, but it didn't feel like a disease, it was an… unearthly detonation.

We forget this era now. If anything, people remember the Team America parody "Everyone Has AIDS!RENT came out in 1996, not coincidentally the peak of the epidemic was 1995, a year when the CDC reported 41,699 Americans died of AIDS. To put that in perspective, that's about 70% of the number of Americans who died in all nineteen years of the Vietnam War combined. The first year for which statistics are available (1987) 13,329 Americans died, which is actually more in one year than the total number of deaths attributed to the West African Ebola outbreak from 2013 to the date of this writing (11,325).

Lets dwell on that date, 1987, for a moment. The first report of "a cellular-immune dysfunction related to a common exposure that predisposes individuals to opportunistic infections" was published in 1981. A year later, the term "AIDS" was coined, and a year after that, in 1983, HIV (known as HTLV-III or LAV) was isolated as the cause of AIDS. Four more years, however, went by before reliable death numbers are available [note: AmFAR has published estimates for every year since 1981]. Why? What was happening in that interim? Why was the initial official response only to scare, and not to inform people at risk? Why were AIDS information materials censored (or more properly defunded) if they did not simultaneously condemn homosexuality?

Good genetic analysis has identified the origins of the virus, and put to rest the conspiracy theories, both the plausible (an attractive, malicious airline steward, or poor sterilization of serum used in polio vaccine production) and the unlikely (biowarfare) but looking at the history, its clear where the theories came from. For much of the 80's, AIDS was killing thousands of people every year, and the official government response seemed to be: Who cares? Let the fags die.

More Death and More Silence

Prince, apparently, overdosed. He's hardly alone, just famous. After all, death rates are up and life expectancy is down for a lot of people and overdoses seem to be a big part of the problem. You can plausibly make numerical comparisons. Here's AIDS deaths in the US from 1987 through 1997:

The number of overdoses in 2014? 47,055 of which at least 29,467 are attributable to opiates. The population is larger now, of course, but even the death rates are comparable. And rising. As with AIDS, families are being "hollowed out" with elders raising grandchildren, the intervening generation lost before their time. As with AIDS, neighborhoods are collapsing into the demands of dying, or of caring for the dying. This too is beginning to feel like a detonation.

There's a second, related detonation to consider. Suicide is up as well. The two go together: some people commit suicide by overdose, and conversely addiction is a miserable experience that leads many addicts to end it rather than continue to be the people they recognize they've become to family and friends, but there's a deeper connection as well. Both suicide and addiction speak to a larger question of despair. Despair, loneliness, and a search, either temporarily or permanently, for a way out.

Did I mention there's a geographic dimension to this?



See any overlap? I do.

AIDS generated a response. Groups like GMHC and ACT-UP screamed against the dying of the light, almost before it was clear how much darkness was descending, but the gay men's community in the 1970's and 80's was an actual community. They had bars, bathhouses, bookstores. They had landlords and carpools and support groups. They had urban meccas and rural oases. The word "community" is much abused now, used in journo-speak to mean "a group of people with one salient characteristic in common" like "banking community" or "jet-ski riding community" but the gay community at the time was the real deal: a dense network of reciprocal social and personal obligations and friendships, with second- and even third-degree connections given substantial heft. If you want a quick shorthand, your community is the set of people you could plausibly ask to watch your cat for a week, and the people they would in turn ask to come by and change the litterbox on the day they had to work late. There's nothing like that for addicts, nor suicides, not now and not in the past, and in fact that's part of the phenomenon I want to talk about here. This is a despair that sticks when there's no-one around who cares about you.

The View From Here

Its no secret that I live right smack in the middle of all this, in the rusted-out part of the American midwest. My county is on both maps: rural, broke, disconsolated. Before it was heroin it was oxycontin, and before it was oxycontin it was meth. Death, and overdose death in particular, are how things go here.

I spent several months occasionally sitting in with the Medical Examiner and the working humour was, predictably, quite dark. A typical day would include three overdoses, one infant suffocated by an intoxicated parent sleeping on top of them, one suicide, and one other autopsy that could be anything from a tree-felling accident to a car wreck (this distribution reflects that not all bodies are autopsied, obviously.) You start to long for the car wrecks.

The workers would tell jokes. To get these jokes you have to know that toxicology results take weeks to come back, but autopsies are typically done within a few days of death, so generally the coroners don't know what drugs are on board when they cut up a body. First joke: any body with more than two tattoos is an opiate overdose (tattoos are virtually universal in the rural midwest). Second joke: the student residents will never recognize a normal lung (opiates kill by stopping the brain's signal to breathe; the result is that fluid backs up in the lungs creating a distinctive soggy mess, also seen when brain signalling is interrupted by other causes, like a broken neck). Another joke: any obituary under fifty years and under fifty words is drug overdose or suicide. Are you laughing yet?

And yet this isn't seen as a crisis, except by statisticians and public health workers. Unlike the AIDS crisis, there's no sense of oppressive doom over everyone. There is no overdose-death art. There are no musicals. There's no community, rising up in anger, demanding someone bear witness to their grief. There's no sympathy at all. The term of art in my part of the world is "dirtybutts." Who cares? Let the dirtybutts die.

Facing the Unnecessariat

You probably missed this story about the death of a woman in Oklahoma from liver disease. Go read it. I'll wait here until you come back. Here, in a quiet article about a quiet tragedy in a quiet place, is the future of America:

Goals receded into the distance while reality stretched on for day after day after exhausting day, until it was only natural to desire a little something beyond yourself. Maybe it was just some mindless TV or time on Facebook. Maybe a sleeping pill to ease you through the night. Maybe a prescription narcotic to numb the physical and psychological pain, or a trip to the Indian casino that you couldn't really afford, or some marijuana, or meth, or the drug that had run strongest on both sides of her family for three generations and counting.

In 2011, economist Guy Standing coined the term "precariat" to refer to workers whose jobs were insecure, underpaid, and mobile, who had to engage in substantial "work for labor" to remain employed, whose survival could, at any time, be compromised by employers (who, for instance held their visas) and who therefore could do nothing to improve their lot. The term found favor in the Occupy movement, and was colloquially expanded to include not just farmworkers, contract workers, "gig" workers, but also unpaid interns, adjunct faculty, etc. Looking back from 2016, one pertinent characteristic seems obvious: no matter how tenuous, the precariat had jobs. The new dying Americans, the ones killing themselves on purpose or with drugs, don't. Don't, won't, and know it.

Here's the thing: from where I live, the world has drifted away. We aren't precarious, we're unnecessary. The money has gone to the top. The wages have gone to the top. The recovery has gone to the top. And what's worst of all, everybody who matters seems basically pretty okay with that. The new bright sparks, cheerfully referred to as "Young Gods" believe themselves to be the honest winners in a new invent-or-dieeconomy, and are busily planning to escape into space or acquire superpowers, and instead of worrying about this, the talking heads on TV tell you its all a good thing- don't worry, the recession's over and everything's better now, and technology is TOTES AMAZEBALLS!

The Rent-Seeking Is Too Damn High

If there's no economic plan for the Unnecessariat, there's certainly an abundance for plans to extract value from them. No-one has the option to just make their own way and be left alone at it. It used to be that people were uninsured and if they got seriously sick they'd declare bankruptcy and lose the farm, but now they have a (mandatory) $1k/month plan with a $5k deductible: they'll still declare bankruptcy and lose the farm if they get sick, but in the meantime they pay a shit-ton to the shareholders of United Healthcare, or Aetna, or whoever. This, like shifting the chronically jobless from "unemployed" to "disabled" is seen as a major improvement in status, at least on television.

Every four years some political ingenue decides that the solution to "poverty" is "retraining": for the information economy, except that tech companies only hire Stanford grads, or for health care, except that an abundance of sick people doesn't translate into good jobs for nurses' aides, or nowadays for "the trades" as if the world suffered a shortage of plumbers. The retraining programs come and go, often mandated for recipients of EBT, but the accumulated tuition debt remains behind, payable to the banks that wouldn't even look twice at a graduate's resume. There is now a booming market in debtor's prisons for unpaid bills, and as we saw in Ferguson the threat of jail is a great way to extract cash from the otherwise broke(thought it can backfire too). Eventually all those homes in Oklahoma, in Ohio, in Wyoming, will be lost in bankruptcy and made available for vacation homes, doomsteads, or hobby farms for the "real" Americans, the ones for whom the ads and special sections in the New York Times are relevant, and their current occupants know this. They are denizens, to use Standing's term, in their own hometowns.

This is the world highlighted in those maps, brought to the fore by drug deaths and bullets to the brain- a world in which a significant part of the population has been rendered unnecessary, superfluous, a bit of a pain but not likely to last long. Utopians on the coasts occasionally feel obliged to dream up some scheme whereby the unnecessariat become useful again, but its crap and nobody ever holds them to it. If you even think about it for a minute, it becomes obvious: what if Sanders (or your political savior of choice) had won? Would that fix the Ohio river valley? Would it bring back Youngstown Sheet and Tube, or something comparable that could pay off a mortgage? Would it end the drug game in Appalachia, New England, and the  Great Plains? Would it call back the economic viability of small farms in Illinois, of ranching in Oklahoma and Kansas? Would it make a hardware store viable again in Iowa, or a bookstore in Nevada? Who even bothers to pretend anymore?

Well, I suppose you might. You're probably reading this thinking: "I wouldn't live like that." Maybe you're thinking "I wouldn't overdose" or "I wouldn't try heroin," or maybe "I wouldn't let my vicodin get so out of control I couldn't afford it anymore" or "I wouldn't accept opioid pain killers for my crushed arm." Maybe you're thinking "I wouldn't have tried to clear the baler myself" or "I wouldn't be pulling a 40-year-old baler with a cracked bearing so the tie-arm wobbles and jams" or "I wouldn't accept a job that had a risk profile like that" or "I wouldn't have been unemployed for six months" or basically something else that means "I wouldn't ever let things change and get so that I was no longer in total control of my life." And maybe you haven't.Yet.

This isn't the first time someone's felt this way about the dying. In fact, many of the unnecessariat agree with you and blame themselves- that's why they're shooting drugs and not dynamiting the Google Barge. The bottom line, repeated just below the surface of every speech, is this: those people are in the way, and its all their fault. The world of self-driving cars and global outsourcing doesn't want or need them. Someday it won't want you either. They can either self-rescue with unicorns and rainbows or they can sell us their land and wait for death in an apartment somewhere. You'll get there too.

In Sum, Despair is the Collapse of Forever into the Strain of Now

If I still don't have your attention, consider this: county by county, where life expectancy is dropping survivors are voting for Trump.

What does it mean, to see the world's narrative retreat into the distance? To know that nothing more is expected of you, or your children, or of your children's children, than to fade away quietly and let some other heroes take their place? One thing it means is: if someone says something about it publicly, you're sure as hell going to perk up and listen.

Guy Standing believed that the Precariat heralded a new age of xenophobic nationalism and reaction, but at the same time hoped that something like Occupy, that brought the precariat together as a self-conscious community, would lead to social and economic changes needed to ameliorate their plight. Actively. The gay community didn't just roll over and ask nicely for recognition, they had their shit together enough that they could fight their way, literally, into the studios of one of the top news shows in America, into the US capitol, the UK parliament, into the streets of every major city at rush hour. AIDS galvanized them, but it was their mutual recognition as friends, allies, comrades-in-arms from years of fighting for urban space to hook up in that made that galvanic surge possible. The disease blew a hole in an entire generation and the survivors kept fighting. HAART attenuated the death rate, and the survivors kept fighting.

So far, the quiet misery of the unnecessariat has yet to spark its own characteristic explosion, but is it so hard to see the germ of it in Trump's rallies? In the LaVoy Finicum memorials? Are we, and I don't mean this rhetorically, on the verge of something as earth-shaking as ACT-UP?

On primary election day, I wrote the following to a professor friend (edited):

I am despising myself for a coward today. I stopped for gas on the way to the polls, and noticed a hole in the frame of the car that you could push a parrot through. Dammit, I can't afford a new car, and I don't know if I can afford a welded patch- I don't even know what would be involved, since so much has to be stripped off before you can bring a torch near a car body. I was in a pretty bad state when I got to the polls.

Let me explain my conundrum: all democratic primaries are proportional, among candidates who get 15% or more of the votes. The republicans have a whole slew of delegate procedures, but ours is winner take all. [I could contribute one fraction of a fraction of a fraction of a delegate to Sanders, or help push Trump over the top.]

What's the outcome here? Sanders isn't going to win. He doesn't have the delegates- hell, he doesn't have the votes. Doesn't have the support. Clinton is the democratic nominee, and frankly she's favored to win in the general election, even though in a head-to-head she gets trounced by Cruz, Kasich, or Rubio. Right now she polls ahead of Trump, but Trump is the one factor in this race that could completely kick the whole thing over. What happens if Clinton wins? For me, nothing- nothing good anyway. I still can't afford car repairs, I still have to buy medication in cash raised by selling hay bales. No, I didn't bale them, I trucked them across the county. If you bale them yourself, you make money at it, but I just had some extras to unload. That'll still be the shape of things in a Clinton presidency.

Lets be honest- Clinton doesn't give a shit about me. When Clinton talks about people hurt by the economy, she means you: elite-educated white-collar people with obvious career tracks who are having trouble with their bills and their 401k plans. That's who boomed under the last president Clinton, especially the 401ks. Me, or the three guys fighting two nights ago over the Township mowing contract, we're nothing. Clinton doesn't have an economic plan for us. Nobody has an economic plan for us. There is no economic plan for us, ever. We keep driving trucks around and keep the margins above gas money and maybe take an odd job here or there, but essentially, we're history and nobody seems to mind saying so.

And let me be honest again- Trump doesn't have an economic plan for me either. What Trump's boys have for me is a noose- but that's the choice I'm facing, a lifetime of grueling poverty, or apocalypse. Yeah I know, not fun and games- the shouts, the smashing glass, the headlights on the lawn, but what am I supposed to do, raise my kid to stay one step ahead of the inspectors and don't, for the love of god, don't ever miss a payment on your speeding ticket? A noose is something I know how to fight. A hole in the frame of my car is not. A lifetime of feeling that sense, that "ohhhh, shiiiiiit…" of recognition that another year will go by without any major change in the way of things, little misfortunes upon misfortunes… a lifetime of paying a grand a month to the same financial industry busily padding the 401k plans of cyclists in spandex, who declare a new era of prosperity in America? Who can find clarity, a sense of self, any kind of redemption in that world?

Fuck it. Give me the fascists, I'll know where I stand…

But I went ahead and took a democratic ballot regardless. And voted for Sanders. And as long as chumps like me keep doing that, we'll keep getting the Clintons we deserve.

I am of two minds. On the one hand, Trumpism is unspeakable. On the other hand the status quo is silence and death. I had hoped that Trump himself would collapse and the populist movement he unwittingly inspired would find some less terrifying (and less racist) organizing principle, but now that the nominees are essentially decided, that seems unlikely. For the unnecessariat, what is to be done?

Caveat #1: This blog post is talking about the AIDS epidemic in the US. AIDS is a global disease and has social and political ramifications far different in countries where poverty, rather than Teh Gay, is the defining stereotype of infection. Also, in the US deaths have declined since the introduction of HAART, a treatment package not available in most countries. There's a lot more to say about AIDS, but this is the AIDS I remember from my own childhood.

Caveat #2: The increase in mortality and decrease in life expectancy is so far limited to white people, and much of this post is about white people. Rural white people. This has led to some rather disgusting spectacles, well-caricatured as politicians who were "tough on drugs" when it meant arresting black kids, but supportive of treatment and recovery when its white kids in the crosshairs. However, not to speak for black people, but I think the sense of being seen as unnecessary to the functioning of the country, and a speed-bump at best, is something that black Americans have experienced for years, and what's changing is that (some) white people are joining them. Over at hipcrime they're blaming automation, but in my experience in flyover country, white folks are predictably blaming everyone of color for their plight. That's a bigger issue than I can talk about here, but in brief I disagree with (and hate) the argument that a white sense of economic disenfranchisement is somehow separable from a racial narrative. It isn't. Rural white people, in my (ethnographic) experience, see their economic circumstances as a result of the rich/the government taking "their" stuff and giving it to the "undeserving," which is as racially marked a definition as exists in the American vernacular. We can talk about this later.

Caveat #3: I don't think discussions of "fascism" are useful here. I almost left Trump out entirely but that county-level link was too good to pass up.

Caveat #4: My professor friend wishes to clarify that he is a post-doc. Also, in addition to the frankly absurd odd jobs I do for money, I am still a graduate student. We can talk about this later too. And yes, I found a guy who could weld a patch on the frame, thought its still bent.

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36 thoughts on "Unnecessariat"

  1. hardly campesino

    I grew up in the Midwest, what is now Rust Belt. I also had the privilege of living in Mexico during the economic crisis of 1993-4, and the Larry Summer's architected bail out of the banks that followed. When it happened, I was very hopeful. There was a significant and 'not-so-quiet' movement: the Zapatista's, the call against NAFTA, the indigenous rights movements. It was loud and inspiring. Like Bernie Sanders, I thought a coherent force was going to coalesce on the left.

    That didn't happen. By 2000, it was very obvious that narco culture was going to win. Farmers in 1992 could make a dollar a head (3 pesos) growing lettuce in far-away fields without electricity. By 2000, those same heads of lettuce were worth 20 cents. The Unnecessariat are global phenomena in what is still a nationalistic dialectic. Hard to see it not ending in more tears.


    • Agreed. Among my regrets are that I have too little international perspective on this problem. Its definitely nationalist language being used in the US, which is why I feel so unsettled about the idea of a movement here on anywhere. Ironically I think those are the same prices you get from processors right here where I live.

      Not that there are any major buyers in this part of the world. I wish people understood how much infrastructure it takes to make large-scale vegetable production profitable, and in how few places (the central valley of CA, the rio bravo valley of TX, parts of the NYC catchment) that infrastructure exists.


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  3. Casey

    Thanks for this. Very well said


  4. Mike

    Insightful as hell. Keep writing! Those in the Precariat and above can easily join the Unnecessariat at a moment's notice. One car wreck, illness (including mental or substance abuse) or bad divorce, a layoff or buyout and you – and your loved ones – are in the soup. Getting in a hell of a lot easier and faster than getting out. I've teetered on the brink a number of times in my 60 plus years, but a strong sense of survivorship, a major aversion to needles and in my fifties, sheer dumb luck in my chosen profession and a second marriage have apparently put me on Easy Street. My wife and I each have three young adult children, though, and we are flatly terrified when we contemplate their future because the Precariat and Unnecessariat are both always there.


  5. Frank

    The lower classes are being offered a very good deal. Don't have children, and you can enjoy s life that is better than what the royalty of the past enjoyed (vast libraries of books, music, video essentially free for the taking, etc). Just be smart and self-disciplined and learn to live cheap. Purple get hurt baling hay mainly because they are greedy and so work when tired or work too fast or otherwise push the limits of what is safe. If they can learn to live on 3$/hour (a realistic global wage), then they have time to fix that cracked bearing and take other steps to reduce risk.

    Whereas those poor who foolishly have children will feel the full force of the system on their necks. Today they merely feel bad when they can't feed their children. Tomorrow, they will be sent to slave labor prisons if they can't support the children properly (where properly is defined by powers who want to see them in prison).

    Being exterminated slowly, by being punished for reproducing, is a very gentle form of extermination by historical or global standards. Meanwhile, the poor of India and similar third world shitholes are going to face the old-fashioned rapid form of extermination, via famine or pandemic, at some point.


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  7. Portia

    Wow, thank you, great blog. I grew up in the Midwest and this strongly resonates with me. Even since the 60s I have felt like the Unnecessariat. Perhaps partly because I was female expecting a career. People telling me not to "use such big words". That I did not need to go to college. There was nowhere I was wanted, except as musician, which saved my life, actually. This "fuck off and die" thing is stronger now. My heart aches for these people. I dodged a bullet.


  8. Excellent. But I am wondering if this economic phenomenon is less about greed and schemes than the inevitable fallout from blind 'more efficient tech at all costs' commitments. Overpopulation due to over-efficiency, if you will, in almost just one generation. No one except sci-fi writers seems to have seen it coming.


    • You're right about sci-fi! I should have referenced Gibson's Peripheral or Zadie Smith's Meet the President when I wrote this! I can't say for sure why this is happening, and I'm not sure I want to get into the scrum or trying to explain it. Definitely automation is a popular theory ("How you gonna get them robots to buy your cars, Henry?") and greed is… well, greed is a bad theory (what, greed, like, just happened? just now?) but people say it anyway. I honestly think there's something going on with the end of extractive colonialism, and the declining capacity to "produce" wealth by going to the frontier and stealing it from someone, but perhaps I've been reading too much of the history of Scotland.


      • loweyecue

        It's a switch in the basic structure of the economy that started in the late 70s early 80s and really took off in the 90s. Greed has always been there, but the economy used to be based on "production". Then came the bankers with their fancy math and complicated jargon and the "production" was conveniently shipped off to China. The whole entire workforce that supported the production economy became unnecessary and irrelevant. Why pay 1000s of people 50K a year to make products, when you can lend them money and force them to bankruptcy while selling insurance on their loans?


      • Kim Cooper

        You're onto something there — Capitalism is a frontier economic system, and there are no frontiers left. It is obsolete, and is on life support.
        As for greed — well, it used to be that religion, especially Christianity, disincentivized greed by making it a sin. When religions stop saying no to greed, where are the brakes on it? Atheists also had ethics that reduced the value of greed. When "greed is good" becomes a truism, the culture is in trouble. It becomes uncivilized.
        Automation is a big part of it, but there are also other factors: mergers and acquisitions, inter-generational competition, population expansion, and climate change displacement.
        One of the possible solutions we see is worker owned and run businesses, where the profits are shared between all who work. Another is the universal minimum income.


      • Again, I really want to find the time to write about UBI sometime, but I should also point out that two major world religions, the collection of Vedic traditions we call "Hinduism" and the even more heterogeneous traditions called "Chinese traditional religion" are far less critical of greed than Christianity, and what we're seeing here hasn't exactly been the norm in those societies. FWIW.


  9. perpetualWAR

    I have been fighting the crooked bankers now for seven years. Not a day goes by that I haven't counted the pills I have to ensure that I have "enough." The only time I am worried is when the count is below the amount that will do the job.

    I am a former upper middle class person who is now over 50 years of age. Because I have been fighting to save my house from unlawful foreclosure (which is a full-time job) I haven't been able to find work that will provide enough money for an attorney and put food on the table. So, I continue fighting in the courts on my own.

    This is a lonely existence. Virtually all my former friends have abandoned me cuz who likes the person who embodies the terms, "loser" and "deadbeat"? Terms of propaganda used by the bankers early on to describe those of us displaced by the banker's crooked economic policies.

    So, I am reduced to hoarding my pills that, should they be needed, I will use. For should the bankers win, they will have to scrape up the remains of my body off the neatly washed wood floors. And I hope the vultures who consider themselves patriotic Americans who are buying a foreclosed home because "it's a good deal" are forever tortured by having to clean up the rotting flesh that used to be a middle class member of this sinking society.


  10. Alan Smithee

    I've read this article twice and I still cannot understand why those you call "the unnecessariat" and I call "my friends and neighbors" would ever vote for one of the corporate parties. Maybe I'm living in some kind of geographic anomaly (central Minnesota), but practically no one I know votes Republican or Democrat. Everyone I know is either a Green or Libertarian these days. After the last 30 years of plutocratic rule, who in the pluperfect hell would trust any of those snakes ever again?


    • I don't have an answer for you, I'm afraid. I think you may live in a geographic anomaly, but I think that's actually more common than people think. The world is much more granular, after all… but to answer your question, I don't know, why not? Why root for the Steelers? There aren't any real Green or Libertarian organizations near where I live, unfortunately.


    • Kim Cooper

      I would think that a rational reason for voting for one of the "corporate parties" would be that it does matter what the government does and one of the two big parties are going to determine what the government does, so you vote to influence which one it is. Yes, it's voting for the lesser of two evils, but it's still less evil than the other one. However, I see no real evidence that people vote for rational reasons.


  11. Fabian Incerto

    I read your post and found it very depressing – true, but sad. I have lived across the US and I am now approaching my retirement years which will pass by without retirement because I will continue to have to eek out a living until my body is cremated to make room for others. As a parent I hope for the next generation but can't find the solace of where to suggest that my children find a place in this society. As a former PhD student in sociology I can't imagine a world in which I could think of voting for a Donald Trump, but then I have awakened to the feelings that he has become the candidate that seems like to only hope to get me out of the sedation of this society. I am quiet about this thought. I can't articulate a rationale reason why I think this way. But I know that tomorrow will be the same. Even though two of my children graduated from great schools their degrees mean nothing. My education did not get me a job after the financial crises of 2007. Life plods along. Others arrogantly say to me welcome to our reality, but there is no room at their table for laughter and frivolity. Even schadenfreude lacks the repose to give respite. Turn, turn something has to take a turn even if it means turning it all upside down.


  12. John Braley

    Here's Zizek's contribution to the Disposable Life Project:


  13. Non Ya

    Gorgeous article, sums up why I left the States this past year never to return.


  14. gepay

    although as we should know correlation is not causation, a graph showing the taking of AZT out of the HiV positive medication would mirror the death decline. There is no money to research that as AIDs is a probably a 20 billion dollar a year industry by now. Alternatives to the still unproven by scientific standards retrovirus hypothesis were never continued after the Gallo announcement. HIV positive >AIDS > death was invented and then sort of proven by killing with AZT – the too toxic to use as a cancer drug. It was useful to Reagan admin who loved a deathly contagious disease that mostly killed fags and drug addicts – interestingly it still does except in as falsely reported in Africa. It was invented as a sexually transmitted disease because herpes just wasn't scary enough to stop the sexual revolution. Where is the AIDS epidemic among heterosexuals that was predicted using the late 80s scenario? Or the swamping of prison health budgets by inmates contracting AIDS? Why aren't prostitutes dying in large numbers from AIDS? And don't tell me rubbers that have pores larger than the retrovirus have stopped it.

    Other than that a good article.


  15. brodix

    I'm sort of there, though as part of a small family horse racing business, I'm necessary to those around me.
    Having spent a good portion of my life trying to figure out why the world is as it is, I do think there are deep conceptual issues propelling us. We have always sought out more efficient ways of doing things, but it is the nature of efficiency to do more with less, until you can do everything with nothing. For instance, one black hole is more efficient than two, so when they combine, it radiates away all the excess energy, out across the universe.
    Which is to say that humanity exists in between order pressing inward and energy pushing outward. Much as social energy pushes up, as civil and cultural structures push down. Order comes into being and fades, while energy pushes onto the future.
    Here is an essay I wrote, trying to make some sense of the reality;


  16. Eric

    Hi Anne, Thanks for the post. I got here via the link from Ran Prieur, as I have at other times in the past. Your essay is masterful and important, and I can't think of any parts of it that I don't agree with. So this is mostly just praise for you, but I also want to string together some disjointed thoughts that may relate somehow.
    I now live in Lawrence Kansas, a Bernie Sanders oasis surrounded by Brownbackistan, but when I first moved to Kansas, I lived two counties south, and your essay is about the people who were my neighbors. There but for the grace of god.
    I have a bullshit job that I am certain is the last one I will have that pays a decent amount, my age and crappy resume being the chief culprits. But I have a comfortable middle class life. My parents died young enough so that I can afford to own a house (in flyoverland) without debt, and being a white middle class (late) middle aged man makes my life easy here. Thankfully, somehow this has not fully insulated me from the pain that you so aptly describe. Though for me it is just an idea, and a vague unease about the inadequacy of my 401k, rather than the full-on grind of poverty and despair. Which means that I am in a position to do something useful, or at least have a meaningful conversation about these issues. (I'll forward your post to my friend who is a State Representative). I have gotten to an age where I seem to be thinking a lot about being useful, and about the enormity of the predicament we are soaking in.
    Even though I have my various beliefs, I have not much interest in convincing anyone of anything, but I have a feeling that whatever useful action there is to be done, it will be done in community. Community in the sense that you used the word to describe the AIDS community. I remember those days too. I remember being stunned and hopeful after seeing 'Angels in America' – it felt like the beginning of something. Like a society based upon caring rather than profits. Maybe some of that energy still exists, but the community did not expand beyond the gay circle. So, community and having a meaningful conversation. I am sure that I don't have to tell you how difficult and rare those are.
    Another thought. Ran Prieur says that a universal income could address the despair of the unnecessariat. I think this is exactly wrong. What people need is a way to provide for themselves. Access to the resources and tools that can be made into a living. We do not need surplus cheese. We need the cow and a place to graze it. I am not a libertarian, by the way. I fully acknowledge the ways that access to wealth is systematically taken from the peasantry to benefit the gentry, and all the stories that get told to justify the theft of the commons. Even so, a vast underclass that is being kept (via universal income) strikes me as a terrible dystopia. Never mind that the gentry doesn't give a shit about the peasantry, and is not likely to support their needs.
    Having ample time to think about all this while I sit in my office chair so that someone will pay me, I have concluded that Industrial Civilization is a death cult. That its chief fetish object, money, is produced in a variety of ways, but all of them require the killing of the natural world. Whether tangibly, by cutting down trees, eliminating all but a few species from agricultural landscapes, burning ancient fossilized biota, for instance, or intangibly by trading in ideas and symbols that have no relationship to, and are antithetical to the air and water and soil and living beings that keep us alive. I think it is fair to think of money – a dollar bill, for instance – as a token of the ruination of the natural world. Should we then give away 'free' money to everyone, so they can feed and house themselves, heedless of the terrible price that was paid to support the creation of that money? Far better to find a way for all of us to live in concert with the natural world, and meet our needs in a way that supports life rather than death. A hard problem, I know, not least because it is not possible to support all of us that way. So useful action becomes all the more necessary.
    And so I keep arriving back at the point where it becomes clear that the only thing is to do the long hard slog. However dimly we can see what we are doing. But along the way it is good to hear a sympathetic voice, or tell a funny joke maybe. How's that last bit for drama, eh?
    Thanks for listening (and writing).


    • Thanks, this is thoughtful comment. I am completely snowed by the number of views, links and comments here but I really do want to take on the UBI question at some point. I don't think that food or charity is bad for people, but there's definitely something to be said about, to quote Steinbeck, "arms aching for lack of work."


      • Kim Cooper

        As I understand it, when Canada experimented with UBI in the 1970s, the only ones who quit working were the mothers with kids under school age. What science fiction predicts is a lot more creativity and productive hobby businesses. People will work — but it doesn't have to be for money. People work very hard at things like learning to play a musical instrument, even with no expectation of monetary gain. People are generally happier working for themselves or their community than for a "boss". Very few people are really seriously lazy — and most of them are teens and grow out of it.
        Again, I suggest worker owned, democratically run businesses so that income is distributed where it is produced. And "job ecology" — business for the sake of jobs rather than just profit. (We are working on an invention, probably will be on the market early next year, and we think that eventually we will franchise the factories to be run as worker-owned businesses. Small factories all over the world, source a lot of stuff locally, local jobs. Small factories are doable because of modern technology — small computer guided machines, parts programmed in — we are coming out the other side of the wave that made technology make big companies more efficient than small ones.)
        I'd also like to see a website with suggestions for businesses that are needed but don't exist — we keep coming up with ideas for things that should be available but aren't. (this morning it was a mini fork lift for small shops, because we live in an area where many properties include a shop, and things need to be lifted. )


      • Don't they call that a pallet jack? Sorry, kidding. Punchy today. Clearly I need to add UBI to my upcoming-topics list, because this is all very interesting. I also want to point out that lots of people work essentially for no pay now, in order to be self-employed and self-managed. That is to say, many people will farm, or work as freelance mechanics, or buy and sell furniture or what-have-you even though they make almost no money at the end of the month and could (obviously) thrive as employees in the same industry.

        Interestingly, a friend of mine just got a CNC machine, and is now learning that contracts to make things are harder to come by than the tools! When you have a machine shop, you either prototype for developers, or you make custom parts for repair work- maybe the local theater has a 35mm projector that hasn't been produced for forty years and needs a new doohickey- and these tend to be one-off deals. Lot of hustling involved…


  17. "Journalism is just a gun. It's only got one bullet in it, but if you aim right, that's all you need. Aim it right, and you can blow a kneecap off the world."

    Way to pull the trigger.


  18. Some Loudmouth from the West Coast who Isn't PC

    You can't keep crapping on people and not expect a reaction, period. They aren't going to react with macrame and hippie bullshit (Sanders) they are going to react with anger and toughness (Trump). The country IS "going to Hell" for a lot of people, and they're not going to go quietly into the night, no matter how much people in the elites of both parties wish they would. Democrats used to be the party for these people but gave up long ago. The Republicans never were, but will always figure out a short term win electorally with anyone they can get. Neither "party" is really useful – both are zombie parties that exist mostly out of tradition. Meanwhile the rent is "too damn high" in the big cities, and the jobs in the Rust Belt don't pay shit. Blame whomever you want – Trump is laughing his way to the White House.


  19. Pingback: Interesting Links: May 13, 2016 | Playing the Devil's Advocate

  20. TVA

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