The Gun Debate Deserves More Nuance

Following every mass shooting, a polarized and contentious media frenzy debates gun control, with one side responding to tragedy with a celebration of rights, and the other finding the continued inaction of Congress disgusting. The Democrats are homogeneously in favor of any measure to reduce gun prevalence they can pass, while the Republicans are universally 2nd amendment proponents, holding it as dear as their God.

After the latest incident, Obama called for the no fly list to also become a no gun list. The no fly list is a travel ban imposed on 47,000 names (resulting in many false positives) picked by the government, often as “predictive judgments,” without a trial or even notification. This post-9/11 policy has been declared unconstitutional by courts for lacking due process, notification and explanation of charges, and the ability for blacklisted people to clear their name (ACLU).

The right, backed by the NRA, cites again and again that “guns don’t kill people, people do,” and believe in their right to protect their families and private property with a firearm.  They argue that removing guns from lawful people will leave them to black market buyers, which has some merit. The oft-touted quote, “the only thing that can stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” is arguably false, with just 3% of shooting cases between 2000 and 2013 curtailed by an armed vigilante, compared to the 13% by unarmed civilians, and 56% by the shooter’s own initiative (suicide or surrender) (FBI). The now-famous 1993 study in New England Journal of Medicine found people in gun-wielding homes were 2.7x more likely to be murdered. However, the 2.7x figure comes with guns as a risk-factor, as a controlled experiment would be nearly impossible. The murder rates of a group of gun owners is compared to a group of non-owners, so conditions of existing danger that might lead someone to buy a gun must be considered. All murders are included in that 2.7x, not just ones related to the victim’s firearm. The same study found being a renter as a risk-factor of 4.4x, yet we don’t blame the concept of renting, but rather the crime rates in wealthy suburbs compared to diverse cities, and the centuries of racist, inequality-spawning public policy behind that divide. I don’t mean to completely dismiss the studies, as cigarettes were found to cause cancer using the same method, and it’s the only realistic option to study the subject, but what they tell us is more nuanced than a snazzy headline can convey. (Kellerman)

Besides tightening gun show sales that avoid background checks, the Democratic Party’s efforts have focused on banning assault weapons, which are used in most mass shootings. These weapons aren’t materially different from others, as Eugene Volokh at the Washington Post explains:

To begin with, note that assault weapons are not fully automatic weapons (which is to say machine guns). Fully automatic weapons have long been heavily regulated, and lawfully owned fully automatics are very rare, very expensive and almost never used in crimes. As you might gather, bayonet mounts, barrel shrouds, pistol grips and the like don’t make guns materially more lethal. Guns that fit these categories may look more dangerous; but they aren’t more dangerous. Caliber does, because wider bullets are generally heavier bullets, but assault weapons aren’t defined by caliber size. The amount of gunpowder in a round does, because that too affects muzzle velocity, but assault weapons aren’t defined by this. For instance, the .223 rifles that are often labeled “assault weapons” have a much lower muzzle energy than familiar hunting rifles such as the .30-06. These days pretty much all semiautomatics and revolvers (and even other guns) fire quickly enough for any criminal’s needs; and again assault weapons aren’t defined by rate of fire.

All 462 mass shooting deaths in 2015 were undoubtedly tragic. However, accidents killed 130,557 in 2014, and suicide took the lives of 41,149 in 2014, half using firearms. These are the far more likely things to happen to any given individual, yet receive little to no political and media attention. In terms of other heavily publicized and contentious tragedies, 1,138 people were killed by police in 2015, 223 of whom were unarmed (The Guardian).

There are many issues relevant to guns in America that are completely ignored by both sides of the debate. The gun control laws we do have were largely racially charged, and even promoted by Reagan and the NRA. John Blake at CNN examined:

Before the Civil War, Southerners passed laws to keep guns away from slaves and free blacks because they feared slave revolts. After the war ended, Southern states passed laws that made it illegal for blacks to possess guns or ammunition.

The Klan’s rise was driven by the fear of blacks with guns, Kopel says. He quotes one 19th century lawyer who said that when the Klan took control of an area, “The first thing done was to disarm the Negros and leave them defenseless.”

These racial fears may seem like they belong to another era, but sometimes the present looks like the past, one historian says.

Later, gun control was passed to weaken the Black Panthers and civil rights movement:

The fears of black people with guns resurfaced during the 1960s. After a group of armed Black Panther members invoking their open-carry gun rights barged into the California state Capitol, lawmakers there passed the Mulford Act, banning the open carrying of loaded guns in public in 1967. The federal Gun Control Act of 1968 was passed after race riots rocked the nation.

Guns are one of the most effective methods of suicide, and used as one more often by men than women, leading to a gender discrepancy in attempt/success rates. A gunless society exactly like ours may have fewer deaths from suicide attempts, but just like the nets put under the windows of Chinese factories, this ignores solving the issues that cause people to become suicidal. There are other equally effective suicide methods, too. While countries like the UK and Australia that passed sweeping gun control legislation indeed have fewer mass shootings than the US, their suicide rates are comparable, with the UK’s at 11.9 per 100,000, Australia’s at 11, to the US’s marginally higher 12.1. Firearm homicide rate in Australlia went down by 59% following their policy change, and though it’s difficult to extrapolate the policy’s direct effect on overall homicide rate due to external variables, overall homicide rate has declined by about 30% from 1.6 to 1.1, compared to the US’s 40% fall from 7.4 to 4.5 per 100,000. Though not to be directly attributed to the recent gun control laws, homicide rate actually had a peak in both Australia and the UK during the early ‘00s. Still, the discrepancy between 1996 and current UK or Australia pales in comparison to that of the US and other countries. Before and after legislation, Australia and the UK had both far fewer guns and a far lower homicide rate than the US.

Implementing gun control to solve violence ignores any structural problems. With domestic terrorists being overwhelmingly white men, we must consider white supremacy and patriarchy as factors, and work hard to end them. Our society’s economic system is hyper-competitive, stressful, and requires forever increasing output from each person, with any attempts for individual control over this process (via unionization) being considered a violation of the sacred “invisible hand”. Italian theorist Franco Berardi posits that neoliberalism is the true issue in Heroes: Mass Murder and Suicide. Jérôme Roos analyzed the book, finding:

What has been established at the level of the collective psyche in the last 30 years is “a suicidal form of the neoliberal will to win”: a relentless drive towards an ever greater need to reaffirm ourselves through self-destructive deeds. The supposedly “successful” become absolute workaholics; the “ordinary” are subjected to unrelenting stress and self-doubt; and the “failures” grow dependent on anti-depressants and sleeping pills, or systematic substance abuse as a form of self-medication. The weakest, most tragically, quietly slip away on their own.

A white young male co-pilot with no criminal connections deliberately crashed Germanwings flight 9525, killing all crew and passengers. The perpetrator suffered anxiety, stress, and depression from his work at Lufthansa’s budget subsidiary. Entry-level piloting is an incredibly competitive, poorly paying industry. One pilot remarked, “There’s a long queue of desperate young pilots looking for a first step on the career ladder and happy to take my place. If I don’t turn up for work one day, I might not be called again.”

The suicide-murderer had eyesight problems, and often received, but didn’t execute on doctors notes to excuse him from work, possibly afraid of the career ending consequences that can come even after going into the typical $75,000 of debt from training. That’s not to say we should excuse or humanize mass killers, just that we should understand they weren’t created in a vacuum of evil, but rather within a system of power, a system that idolizes people with the most power over others. As Roos puts it, “When pushed to its extreme and forced upon the mental lifeworlds of hundreds of millions of people, this anxious and disgruntled subjectivity of permanent stress and hyper-competitiveness is bound to produce monsters at some point – at least among a small, mentally vulnerable sub-section of the overall population.” The pilot was in a position with little power over the course of his own life due to failing health, and took many lives to maximize his power.

Guns are used as tools for the following:

  • Maintaining authority in hierarchy
  • Gaining authority/decreasing someone else’s
  • Taking private property
  • Stopping own private property from being taken
  • Changing the political or social order of world
  • Hunting for food
  • Sport
  • Suicide within this society
  • Working for someone else above you that wants to do any of the above

In a system with no unjustified hierarchies that put some individuals above others, most of these reasons are deprecated as being solely malicious. In a system like ours, using them to change the order of the world can result in the destruction of unjustified hierarchies, as we see the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (a libertarian socialist and feminist militant organization) attempting against the oppressive powers of Syria, Iraq, Turkey, Iran, and ISIS.

Suicide rates have risen over 60% since the beginning of the deregulation, anti-union, trickle-down economic policy era known as neoliberalism. This coincided with Reagan’s stripping of our flawed public mental health services, dropping patients in need of help on the streets. Republicans love to say the issue with gun violence is mental health, but never address the cause, initiate solving it, or admit that their policies exacerbate it. Obama has blamed Congress for inaction in response to mass shootings. In a culture that cherishes 303 million guns, mostly owned by the privileged, gun legislation akin to the United Kingdom’s is not going to happen. Narrowly focused, the democrats have been just as uncommitted to funding mental health.

Reddit user Cymbalstack stated:

Gun rights were for a very long time advocated by the radical left, seen as the primary way of combatting the capitalist state’s monopoly on violence. The irony is that now the most fervent gun supporters are the property-owning, white cis men who benefit the most from state violence.

Why do today’s liberals and progressives so readily appeal to the authority of law for protection? Why do so many assume that the capitalist state, which regurgitates media apologetics for white supremacists, turns a blind eye to physical and sexual assault of gender minorities, finances terrorists abroad and thrives off the murder and imprisonment of black and brown people, has any genuine ethical interest in the safety of its own population?

I’m not here to fetishize gun ownership, or claim that NRA lobbyists and open-carry wingnuts aren’t awful pieces of shit. But if we authentically care about social justice, we have to recognize that people of color, trans people, queer people, homeless people, and people with physical or mental disabilities do not have the privilege of being able to rely on the police for their safety. We need to support the right of oppressed and marginalized people to defend themselves. We need to acknowledge the the critical importance that armed, militant groups played in the Civil Rights movement, workers’ movements and indigenous resistance. And we need to stop conceptualizing state violence and the violence of individual reactionaries as two mutually exclusive categories, because they are part of the same oppressive force. There are no easy answers, least of all the ones handed down benevolently from above.

The same liberal folk that call out the police for killing 223 mostly minority unarmed civilian beg to hand them exclusive and authoritarian access to violence. Gun-supporters are predominantly the people that benefit most from state violence, and therefore believe those unable to feel safe in the presence of cops brought it upon themselves and deserve any consequences. The reformist action plan is an overhaul of the mental health care system, rejecting anti-union “right to work” legislation, stronger labor laws, and a slow shift in culture to teach-out white supremacy and patriarchy. Like many issues, reform alone is not enough, but improving people’s quality of life is always a worthy effort. Gun violence is a deeply complicated issue that cannot be distilled to accurate infographics supporting either of the dominant sides.

Capitalism Doesn’t Work For Us

INTRODUCTION

Capitalism, a system that relies on the exploitation and inequality of people and causes oligarchy, is not functioning, and if we don’t drastically change it, further climate destruction, automation, and financial meltdown-austerity cycles will lead to utter dystopic catastrophe. Violent crime continues to exist despite the countering force of judges, police, and laws. Perhaps there are no bad apples living in an individualistic vacuum of chosen evil, but bad systems that create them. With modern tools and facing issues as big as global warming, we have the ability to create a better, more democratic organization of humans that finally offers equality and freedom to all. Many bourgeois thinkers will state that capitalism is the best of all the bad economies. That assumes that the current most dominant economic and social systems must be the most functional and must have been implemented democratically, which are easily deniable. Capitalism has helped the most powerful members maintain and gain power over industrial history. If a population is starting off in a state with existing powers, moving to one that further accentuates that inequality makes sense for the only people able to change the system. However, we as a people are capable of living without the hierarchies of capitalism, the state, and gender and race inequality. Technology and data makes it more possible than ever, and crises caused by capitalism expose its laws as being fallible and flawed power structures of their time, not as the core part of human nature we’re taught they were.

AUTOMATION

Written in the early beginnings of industrialization, Karl Marx’s “Fragment on Machines,” chapter of his unpublished Grundrisse papers offers an ever relevant view on the long term viability of capitalism. Since the work’s time, abstract knowledge has become the main force of production, while menial labor has been forced to the fringes by automation, used only where it’s still cheaper (notably in places with a desperate population and few labor laws, like the US was before socialist movements). Under automated capital, “labour no longer appears so much to be included within the production process; rather, the human being comes to relate more as watchman and regulator to the production process itself.”

Marx noted the luddite, “workers’ struggle against machinery,” with Fordism dividing labor so it can make the process simple enough for automation to replace the worker, devaluing once skilled professionals.  Marx proposed “the general intellect” as the greatest nemesis to cognitive capital. Scientific progress makes a system that demands the cheapest and littlest amount of labor impossible to maintain. A single worker means nothing to the bosses, but annihilating the working class does that same to their privilege and profit. Yet, capital acts without thinking of societal externalities, so every individualistic corporation will do so. While this process destroys capitalism’s mechanism, it makes any socialistic effort offer an improved quality of life, as Marx concluded, “This will redound to the benefit of emancipated labour, and is the condition of its emancipation.” (Grundrisse)

Marx saw automation as a means for all people to enjoy a better life, stating a system that reduces, “the necessary labor of society to a minimum,” will set free artistic and scientific development for all. This was not just utopian idealistic thinking, but rather our capitalistic system, “is the moving contradiction, [in] that it presses to reduce labour time to a minimum, while it posits labour time, on the other side, as sole measure and source of wealth” (Grundrisse). Under an idealistically functioning market, workers can live abundantly by trading the wealth they obtained by producing something of value for the things they need, and with constant economic growth there’s always enough demand for labor that workers have some leverage to live well. That is impossible when the workforce is automated, so only the top capitalists get anything, until the remainder of society is in complete poverty. Marx’s posit rings true, but the revolutionary consequences have yet to manifest.

Russian philosopher Peter Kropotkin (1842-1921) saw the then upcoming prevalence of electric light, central heating, and the dish and clothes washing machines as the end of domestic slavery that has controlled the lives of women (The Conquest of Bread). In the 1950s, these machines became incredibly prevalent, but they were still marketed towards housewives. The technology shift was not enough, culture had to change as well. In this era, Betty Friedan’s Feminine Mystique noted the crisis of depression in suburban housewives, describing a stifling lack of fulfillment with, “as she made the beds, shopped for groceries … she was afraid to ask even of herself the silent question — ‘Is this all?” (Feminine Mystique).

However, Kropotkin believed the future would bring something greater than personal machines of convenience, expressing, “It would only be necessary to create a department for every block of houses. A cart would come to each door and take the boots to be blacked, the crockery to be washed up, the linen to be washed, the carpets to be brushed, and the next morning would bring back the things entrusted to it all well cleaned. A few hours later your hot coffee and your eggs done to a nicety would appear on your table.” (The Conquest of Bread)

He went on to describe the absolutely misogynistic setup of familia kitchen, “‘Fifty fires burn,’ wrote an American woman the other day, ‘where one would suffice!’ Why should these fifty women waste their whole morning to prepare a few cups of coffee and a simple meal! Why fifty fires, when two people and one single fire would suffice to cook all these pieces of meat and all these vegetables? Why has woman’s work never been of any account? Because those who want to emancipate mankind have not included woman in their dream of emancipation, and consider it beneath their superior masculine dignity to think ‘of those kitchen arrangements,’ which they have rayed on the shoulders of that drudge-woman,” (The Conquest of Bread). Technology solved the brute work of this domestic slavery in the postwar era, which perhaps made the ensued cultural revolution of 2nd Wave Feminism possible. Still, our families bear a greater amount of work than necessary, and women receive the brunt of that load. Anarchist poet Oscar Wilde declared civilization and culture as requiring slavery, and a good future being one where that slavery is of the machine. The tools for this exist, but instead they’re being used to impoverish and displace the middle class, and cause environmental havoc. The creative powers have been taken away from workers, making their job meaningless, proprietary, and each employee replaceable, instead of allowing society to simply work less. With Marx’s vision unrealized, another possible path has become apparent: the rich individualistically and decadently living off of the automation they possess, no longer dependent on the impoverished masses. Employment in developed countries is now based mostly on the control of information, rather than the creation of tangible goods.

THE INFORMATION ERA

Information–art, science, medicine, and technology schematics–has a cost of production, but none of reproduction. This destroys the classic “price formation” based on supply and demand with physical scarcity. Under a perfectly functioning free market, there would be no reason to create shareable information, a horrific dystopia. The solution has been to rely on government backed monopolies through intellectual property rights to profit off of invention. The ideal of capitalism is for demand to lead to competition, driving down profit margins across the board, referred to as “toasterization”. However, a record company has exclusive rights to distribute a song, and will only allow it to sell for $1, because they have the exclusive legal right to it. In 1962, mainstream economist Kennith Arrow said that in a free market economy, the purpose of invention is to create intellectual property rights, and success of this is the under-utilization of information, an objectively bad thing for the world. As Paul Mason demonstrated in Postcapitalism, our economy is designed to prevent the abundance of otherwise freely replicable information (Paul Mason, Postcapitalism).

The entire arts industry, the thing that arguably makes life worth living, has to survive on monopolies. The supply of a song or film is infinite, and because of the monopolies that sell it (labels setting prices to each distributor), it doesn’t even fluctuate to maximize sales. Tech companies have made it easier to obey the law than break it through walled garden ecosystems like iTunes, Netflix, Google Play, cable, etc., while lobbying to track and prosecute the pirates. These companies rely on copyright law. When Popcorn Time, an open-source, community maintained torrent (a protocol that uses every user as a server) streaming application, offered an even easier experience than Netflix without paying, and with a full content library no single streaming service has, companies fought tooth and nail to kill it, never fully succeeding. Monopolies are the only way industries function with information capitalism. Sure, you can buy the same movie on iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, etc., but you’ll find the prices are set identically. This is because of the very few record and film labels that artists need to give exclusivity to to survive. AT&T/Bell was the phone company, Google is the search/ad company, Facebook is the social company, Spotify is the music streaming company, Apple is the cellphone company (they make 90% of the profits for the industry. Everyone else sells toasters powered by Google, who profits on ads). In your neighborhood, there’s one internet company. They’re divided into territories. When Comcast tried to buy Time Warner, they argued that there wasn’t a single address where both of them offered services in the whole country, so it wouldn’t change their monopolies on providing a dumb pipe. In a different system, every human on Earth could have access to every film, song, and book ever made for very little extra necessary labor time. (Paul Mason, Postcapitalism)

The creation of that information is inherently social, influenced by other works. Music, software, and hardware designs are all derivative of prior works, changed just enough to not violate copyright or patent law. While a single person or company owns the code for a site they develop, that site was made possible by the work of thousands of people before them, creating the languages and frameworks, many of whom were part of government or acted collectively as part of the Free Open Source movement (like Wikipedia). Rewarding a single developer is a disingenuous application of these communal tools. Marx described these social advances as “the general intellect,” and capitalism as an economic model truly doesn’t seem applicable to it. While a worker may be paid to create something for a company, they still possess the ideas in their mind, able to rewrite on their own time. Once a creation goes into the public domain, its social value is priceless, but its market value is worthless. Turing Pharmaceutical implemented a 60-fold increase in price on an HIV medication it acquired that was already vastly overpriced, and despite being out of patent, had no generic equivalent because there simply weren’t enough customers for other companies to find the profit dwindling method of competing worth it, when investing in the monopoly is an option (Kliff). Shortly after this dystopic controversy, then-Turing CEO Martin Shkreli purchased the sole copy of Wu Tang Clan’s 2015 album for $2 million, giving him exclusive access to it for the next 88 years. He vows to never listen to it, minimizing the use value to humanity to zero.  Collectively supported creation of information for all could ensure its continued development and wide distribution, as it has done so with Wikipedia, a communist model that no private company can compete with. The market only develops things when it has capital and trust that there’s demand for it. Hence, the transistor that made all computers possible didn’t come along until the military created it. Everything from canned food to the McRib have been government efforts (Edwards). The internet started as military and was developed by educational institutions before it was realized private industry would benefit. The established powers don’t have much interest in truly shaking things up and changing the predominant industries, and they’re the only ones with the wealth to do so. (Mason)

NEO-LIBERALISM

Neoliberal policies, inspired by the Austrian School of economics and kicked off by Milton Friedman and Reagan, include union crushing, global trade deal creating, financial deregulation, and implementing regressive tax breaks under the fallacy of trickle down economics. Noam Chomsky points out, that despite what capitalists say, the US and other developed countries were not built on free markets, but rather protectionism. From early slavery and annexing Texas for a larger monopoly on cotton, to Reagan putting 100% tariffs on Japanese electronics while the US semiconductor industry was in crisis, stating “The health and vitality of the U.S. semiconductor industry are essential to America’s future competitiveness. We cannot allow it to be jeopardized by unfair trading practices,” (the unfair trade practice he describes is capitalism), success has been built on the back of public efforts. The US implements free trade when it’s on top, to reduce tariffs its exports, but does not apply the same rule to itself. Effectively, we socialize upfront cost and risk, but privatize the profit, just as capitalists want it. After World War II took us out of the depression, it was understood that any government stimulus spending works and is necessary for employment. To capitalists, social spending has the downsides of redistributing wealth, promoting democracy, and offering no direct benefit to corporations. Military spending is quite opposite. Stuart Symington, the first secretary of the Air Force, said in January 1948, “The word to talk was not ‘subsidy’; the word to talk was ‘security’. If you can get people to tremble in fear, you can carry out the subsidy,” and we can see this practice continuing today. Replacing public jobs with private contractors, from individual mercenaries to SpaceX’s ships for NASA, is by no means a “free market”.  The Pentagon has silently protected and developed almost every US industry. Boeing was given contracts for building military gear because of its prominence in the commercial industry, meaning the new technology paid for by the people would make it to the private sector. Almost every piece of technology in a modern smartphone was developed at one point by DARPA or MIT, and handed over to the private industry. The true technical leaps we’ve made are not from entrepreneurs, but by the government selling them to the public on fear. This is just how the private industry wants it to be. In a truly stateless capitalist system, corporations are going to want a state as soon as people realize there’s nothing to stop them from pirating information, no one to take the risk on innovation for them, or when the working class has been completely depleted of purchasing power. A government is natural to capitalism. (Noam Chomsky Neoliberalism & the Global Order talk)

While Reagan was no purist, he did implement some of the neoliberal policies he praised, including tax cuts for the wealthiest, firing of all 11,359 unionized air traffic controllers (Politico), passing the Garn-St. Germain Depository Institutions Act that removed New Deal-era regulations on the savings and loans industry, and the US-Canada free trade agreement (Wikipedia). All of these policies continued and escalated under the Clinton and both Bush administrations, and have had a massive human toll. While Americans could save around 10% of their income in the ‘70s, these policies brought that to zero. Real wages, previously perfectly aligned with the linearly increasing productivity (output per worker hour), have fallen and stagnated since the beginning of the neoliberal period. With modern technology and more information, the working class is creating 2.5x greater GDP for their bosses than when Reagan was elected, but take home no more of the revenue (The Atlantic). Suicide rates have risen 60% since 1970. With its hyper-competitive “way things are” that forces individuals to produce more and more with the goal of out-succeeding everyone else, physiologists have linked suicide and nihilistic mass murders to these policies, finding the permanent work and financial stresses of life lead to a few that break (Heroes: Mass Murder and Suicide, Berardi). (Noam Chomsky Neoliberalism & the Global Order talk)

Every time there’s an economic collapse caused by deregulation, the responses are austerity measures (cutting public services to mitigate government debt), wage cuts, and and government intervention in the form of bailouts to the corporations that took too much risk. This doomsday cycle only hurts the victims further and teaches the free-market perpetrators to keep making bigger risks, as the market will become suddenly more supervised when something goes wrong. Researchers Klaus Fischer and Martin Chénard studied the behavior of 73 banks from five countries that implemented financial liberalization policies, and created a mathematical model for the resulting boom and bust of economies. Over a decade before the 2008 crash in the US, they described the exact process, causes, and results, analyzing that, “The symptoms are typical: following financial liberalization, rapid growth of banking assets, large increases in interest rates, rapid deterioration in the quality of the loan portfolio, often undercapitalization of banks and, if the rules of the game allow it, excessive lending to bank-affiliated companies and then, failures. Then come the rescue measures: introduction of a government funded deposit insurance scheme, creation of body to handle rescue operations, injection of capital, etc., most likely preventing liquidation of banks by all means, all resulting in a huge transfer of resources from the economy to the financial sector.” (Financial Liberalization Causes Banking System Fragility).  Bloomberg concluded from an International Monetary Fund study that perhaps “the largest US banks aren’t really profitable at all. What if the billions of dollars they allegedly earn for their shareholders were almost entirely a gift from US taxpayers?” Martin Wolf of the Financial Times graphically described, “”an out-of-control financial sector is eating out the modern market economy from inside, just as the larva of the spider wasp eats out the host in which it has been laid.” In the recurrent times of economic crisis, the laws of value under capitalism, taught to us as part of human nature, are exposed as being flawed temporal power structures. The capitalist state must take the place of this with brutality to maintain the status quo, as we’ve seen at Occupy movements. The so-called purest form of capitalism is a complete failure, and in the less pure reality, the state is primarily a tool for corporations.

DEMOCRACY

Democracy is inherently incompatible with capitalism. Capitalism is based on inequality and the exploitation of others. The decisions of individuals are not in a vacuum, and advertising bought by the wealthy can shift the ideas of the public in ways an non-privileged persons voice cannot reach. If you have a so-called democracy, those with greater wealth will obtain greater power than others. This theory is directly observable: the better funded congressional candidate wins 91% of the time, and on average winning candidates outspent their opponents by 20:1. 60 individual donations have made up a third of 2016 campaign cash across all candidates, and half of money comes from donations above $100k—amounts only the ultra elite are giving. Lobbying to create gerrymandering that alters the power of different groups of people is another symptom, This has real life effects on representation.  One study from Stanford and Northwestern declared the US an oligarchy, finding public support has absolutely no sway on the likelihood of a bill passing. (Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens, Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page)

Gilens and Page conclude:

The preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy. Americans do enjoy many features central to democratic governance, such as regular elections, freedom of speech and association and a widespread (if still contested) franchise. But we believe that if policymaking is dominated by powerful business organisations and a small number of affluent Americans, then America’s claims to being a democratic society are seriously threatened.

Some members of the establishment are even proud of this—conservative commentator Ann Coulter and PayPal neoliberal billionaire Peter Thiel frequently express how they long for an America without political rights for women.

Further showing a lack of coherent democracy, a candidate’s media air time is perfectly correlated to their polling position. While it may not seem like intentional foul play, for many, these reports are where people first hear about candidates, creating a self-perpetuated, chicken or egg-like situation. From Fox News and CNN’s 24 hour cycle to Bill Maher’s weekly plead that the media stop talking about Trump (while devoting time to him), the only motive here is profit. Controversial candidates and their often prejudiced comments drove the record high ratings that CNN got during the second debate, and the following media coverage drove a shift in polls that skyrocketed Fiorina and sacked “Jeb!”. Ultimately, the ruthless maximization of profit and attention is the decider of representative elections. This sensationalist-demanding game leads perhaps the poorest people for the job to the top. John Dewey, a prominent 19th-20th century American philosopher and psychologist that was influential in reforming our education system, called for workers to be the masters of their own fate with all institutions under public control. Short of this, politics, “will remain the shadow cast by big business over society,” this is the state we’re in. Capitalism is supposedly supported by informed consumers making logical decisions. However, advertising that makes artificial and emotional distinctions between products and brands manipulates every consumer, so there’s no real logic. (Chomsky)

FREEDOM AND EXPLOITATION

We’re told that all of these issues are just a consequence of freedom. Sure, we’re offered some superficial choices. When we go to the grocery store to spend whatever we left from our wage after the necessaries of rent, transportation, taxes, and necessities, we can choose to enjoy either a Coke or Pepsi, and we gain desires for one or the other based on what unavoidable advertising and society teaches us. We can even choose between a Hyundai or a Honda. What the market doesn’t let us decide is a mass transit system, or anything else that requires communal, public decision making. Because of this, our infrastructure has completely stagnated for 60 years, and is far behind almost every other western developed nation. If this is the ultimate peak of human freedom, that’s not saying much about the concept. We don’t get an option of choosing the market as a system, and blind laws of economics that maintain the status quo, like private property and hyper-competition, are forced on us by the authorities using institutional arrangements. (Chomsky Can Capitalism Survive 21st Century) In societies before capitalism, individuals owned their own means of production, making something useful for themselves and trading the excess for other necessities. That empowerment has been stripped from the working class. (Kapitalism 101: Marx Law of Value)

Capitalism has continued the stark power differences between people of color and whites. Through the lasting impacts of slavery,  still recent redlining that prevented black people from buying homes, institutional racism in drug sentencing, the resegregation of schools, and increased difficulty getting employed, there’s a stark difference between the median net worth of the average white and black household at every single income bracket. Additionally, white people are more able to borrow money from family or friends in an emergency. White families have on average 13x the wealth of black families. This means that loss of employment can immediately put even middle class black people in debt, debt that can grow 40x over and be garnished from wages that were barely livable whole, in a way it simply doesn’t do to white people. Authorities benefit from dividing the people and creating racial tensions that keep their eyes down or on their own own level. (https://www.propublica.org/article/debt-collection-lawsuits-squeeze-black-neighborhoods)

Under Marx’s Law of Value theory, commodities have three values: use (meeting a social need), intrinsic (the hours of human labor that went into the product), and exchange (creating a comparison between the value of two things). Exchange value is unique to capitalism. Under it, production occurs solely to create exchange value, not for use. We have no inherent interest in the usefulness of our labor, only in its ability to reward us with exchange labor. Our job is not a means for personal satisfaction, but a means to buy it in the market with various products. Exchange value creates an arbitrary comparison between products. You read books to learn or be entertained, and you drive cars to commute, and both are considered necessities, yet cars exchange for hundreds of books. Aspects like desire and usefulness cannot be quantifiably compared across unrelated things, but the market relies on it. Individual’s labor power also has separate use and exchange values. A profitable company gets more use value out of a worker than the worker is receiving in exchange. This is the process of exploitation, and means bosses and workers have inherently opposing interests. This is quite different from terms like “free market” that suggest only informed, consenting individuals making mutually beneficial exchanges. (Kapitalism 101: Marx Law of Value)

There are plenty of empty homes that lay vacant to house all the homeless people of the world, yet the prospecting owners only care about the exchange value of the home. The use value of an unoccupied home is absolutely zero. We have enough food on the planet to feed everyone, yet millions starve because farmers don’t grow crops to feed people, they grow them to obtain exchange value. Giving excess food to people that need it costs more than throwing it away, so useful food is thrown away. We have the technology (wind, solar, hydro, electric cars, mass transit, trees) to solve climate change, yet energy production doesn’t shift for that communal concern, because energy production is not undertaken to directly meet human needs, but for profit. Our job is abstract  and our livelihood is meaningless to the people that control it.  It’s easy to forget that capitalism is just one of many methods to coordinate human productive activity. The quality of life for individuals and externalities from production are completely ignored in this method. (Kapitalism 101: Marx Law of Value)

Under a society producing for communal ownership, work would not exist to exchange, but to offer use value for society and a better life for every individual. Our society is most fascinated by artists, actors, athletes, musicians, inventors, and authors. These are the rare people that have fulfilling work meant to better themselves and society. Under another organization of labor, such experience of work could become universal. (Kapitalism 101: Marx Law of Value)

CLIMATE CHANGE

A 2012 World Bank report stated that if we continue on our path to 1,000 parts per million of CO2 in the atmosphere, we’re in for “extreme heat-waves, declining global food stocks, loss of ecosystems and biodiversity, and life-threatening sea level rise,” all, “tilted against many of the world’s poorest regions.” In November 2015, 63% of Americans accepted climate change as the serious problem it is, compared to Latin America’s 74%, yet not a single major candidate for the largest US political party sides with the public’s acceptance of fact.

This is an issue for corporations who rely on coal, oil, and loose emissions standards. As Chomsky put it, there’s a, “dangerous tendency of public to pay attention to science.” They’ve got a solution. A recent research study found an overlapping network of the 164 organizations that create the most noise in denying climate change. The two sources that made up almost the entirety of the these organization’s funding are ExxonMobil, an oil company that itself has known the fact of climate change since 1981 and no longer publicly denies it, as well as the Koch Brothers, who have allocated $1 billion to spend on the 2016 presidential election (Bloomberg). Meanwhile, $120m coming from anonymous billionaires was routed through Donors  Trust and Donors Capital Fund to over 100 anti-science groups wanting to redefine facts as a polarizing issue. “We exist to help donors promote liberty which we understand to be limited government, personal responsibility, and free enterprise,” an executive of Donors Trust defended the dark money organization that now beats Koch and ExxonMobil’s efforts seven times over. (The Guardian)

They don’t stop at dedicated organizations. The American Legislative Exchange Council and Heartland Institute have successfully lobbied to implement an alternative counter to factual science in science education curriculum. The House Committee on Science is lead by Lamar Smith, a crusader against factually dealing with global warming and evolution. 109 countries are on a renewable energy plan, the US is not included. Unlike China, the US refused to ratify the Kyoto Protocol treaty to fight global warming. The powerful are worried about having 100 years of oil in our own soil, without thinking about what the world will look like after another hundred years of using oil. In 2012, applause was recorded in a transcript of  Obama telling us that, “producing more oil and gas here at home has been, and will continue to be, a critical part of an all-of-the-above energy strategy. (Applause.) Now, under my administration, America is producing more oil today than at any time in the last eight years. (Applause.) Over the last three years, I’ve directed my administration to open up millions of acres for gas and oil exploration across 23 different states.  We’re opening up more than 75 percent of our potential oil resources offshore. We’ve added enough new oil and gas pipeline to encircle the Earth and then some,” (Whitehouse). These comments and the actions they speak of already sound disgustingly out of touch, and will mar our present political situation in the history books. Even with strong regulations, corporations will continue ignoring the externalities of their profit maximization, getting cleverer in the process. VW was subject to the set of emissions regulations that ended smog and acid rain in our cities, yet they specifically developed technology to break the regulation, having incorrectly calculated a maximization of profit, with no care for the human costs. Eyes open and marching for disaster, this is, and without revolutionary action will continue to be, the norm until the failure of the species, a bust that cannot be bailed out by firing teachers and firefighters.

CONCLUSION

Humans are not inherently greedy. In a time of racially-motivated social Darwinism that argued “survival of the fittest” meant competition and greed was built into our biology, Kropotkin offered inner-species cooperation as the true evolutionary need.

“In the animal world we have seen that the vast majority of species live in societies, and that they find in association the best arms for the struggle for life: understood, of course, in its wide Darwinian sense — not as a struggle for the sheer means of existence, but as a struggle against all natural conditions unfavourable to the species. The animal species, in which individual struggle has been reduced to its narrowest limits, and the practice of mutual aid has attained the greatest development, are invariably the most numerous, the most prosperous, and the most open to further progress.” (Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution, 1902)

If every family of the human species competed with each other for useful territory and reproduced only within its line, our species would quickly obliterate.

At this point, continuing to accept our rulers can only lead to negative outcomes for the vast majority of us in climate, work experience, and democracy. We’re at unique spot in history that offers every human easier education and a greater ability to organize than ever before. There exist systems of production organization and democracy that reject the authorities that separate and marginalize people and ideas. They’ve been carefully thought up by great minds and have existed and succeeded in places and times far less hospitable production technology, like the Ukrainian Free Territory, Revolutionary Catalonia, and Paris Commune, each example ended only by larger powers in WW2. Today, Wikipedia, Linux, the Zapatista autonomous municipalities of Chiapas, Mexico with a population of around 150,000, and many existing housing and work collectives thrive on the same models of participatory democracy.
Goods can considered best off sustaining whoever they can, effectively ending the concept of stealing. An hour of everyone’s work can be equally respected, whether they bake bread, teach a child, or write a book, as all are incomparable and crucial aspects of human life. Information can become accessible to all and have its use value, rather than exclusive profit maximized. We have the solutions to climate change, we just need the collective decision making ability to implement them. The needs of people can be understood communally and unfulfilled ones can be met without capital, government injection, or a profitable market being seen. This is why there’s an updated Wikipedia article on almost every subject that benefited no individual in exchange value, but rather every single human with internet in use value. Our modern technology can help organize this and reduce the true menial work to a minimum, even in places where it wouldn’t be profitable to in our current system. We have a moral imperative to reject the power hierarchies of capital, state, gender, and physical appearance that make life arbitrarily more or less difficult for people born into different families.