Tonight I attended a presentation on the ideas of Karl Marx put on by the Asheville Socialists. The turnout was pretty good compared to the last AS event I went to – I counted upwards of 20 people. The presentation itself was a bit lacking. The guy who spoke, while definitely intelligent and full of good ideas, is a pretty bad public speaker. He read straight from his notes and went so fast that it was pretty hard to latch onto anything he said. There was a lengthy group discussion afterward, but there were so many different trains of thought going at once that again it was hard to follow. Perhaps someone taking notes might have gotten more out of it, but oh well. The most successful thing about this meeting was that it was very thought-provoking. So now that I’ve had a little time to reflect on some of what was said (which just so happens to line up nicely with the book I’m reading, Reinventing Collapse by Dmitry Orlov)  and to let my mind wander into my own little corners of political thinking, I figured I’d present a few random thoughts about the state of the world today…

  • Our basic Capitalist economy dictates that some things are overproduced while others underproduced, but growing income disparity paradoxically is leading to the very things that are overproduced being out of reach for most people. Thousands of houses sit vacant, yet for the average American, home ownership is becoming a pipe dream. Junkyards are full of cars that your average person can’t afford. In a purely Socialist economy, surpluses (if they exist at all) would go to the people. Under Capitalism, surpluses sit to collect dust while the majority of the population does without.
  • Government subsidies are killing industry, farmland, and the environment as we know it. For decades we’ve subsidized the corn industry, which leads to ridiculous surpluses that can’t be used. We’ve turned that surplus corn into fuel (ethanol) and sugar (high fructose corn syrup.) In the process, thousands of acres of farmland is destroyed and unable to yield any other crop besides corn.
  • Zoning laws have ruined the lives of millions and are fast contributing to our falling status among the developed nations. Years ago mixed zoning – residential and commercial in the same zone – was the norm. Today it’s extremely rare, and when it does exist it serves little actual purpose. We’ve created a suburban culture where a car (or access to public transportation) is needed to get anything you need, be it food, clothing, appliances, or whatever. Our grandparents’ generation could walk a few blocks to a market and grab some fresh food, whereas we have to drive several miles. Americans walk less, which negatively affects their health, and drive more, which negatively affects their wallets and the environment. And because of the fact that people are driving from several miles away, shopping centers are no longer the source of fresh, local goods. They are full of things that are imported, and inevitably artificial. The only mixed zoning we see these days is in the downtown area of large cities, but downtown apartments are too pricey for the average person. The suburban culture we have created forces us to work longer for low wages so we can afford the automobiles which take us far away to purchase goods that don’t benefit the local economy and fill our bodies with poison, in hopes that we will one day strike it rich and be able to live in a swank penthouse downtown and walk to the nearest five-star restaurant or fashion boutique.
  • Currency is quickly becoming irrelevant. Most nations don’t use any sort of gold standard, instead using a debt based system. Exchange rates flux and weaker economies crumble, and these debt notes become either more or less valuable, depending on which side of the equation you’re on. But when the global economy crashes, all of this will be meaningless. Without real goods and services backing up these slips of paper they won’t mean much of anything. Society’s outcasts and criminals provide a good working model of what a post-economic collapse economy might look like. Sure, drug dealers and pimps get plenty of money. But it’s the goods and services they supply that are truly valuable. An addict with no means of earning a stable paycheck will turn to prostitution or robbery to support their addiction. Money might change hands, but it’s really the goods and services that fuel the economy. When our economy collapses, (when, not if) our paper money won’t be nearly as valuable as the ability to build a house, fix a computer, cook a meal, etc.
  • Our political system has ceased to be anything other than an advertising campaign. Whoever throws the most money at the mass media will win.
  • Art was once about ideas. Cultures were preserved because of their art. Our modern society has turned art into a commodity, putting a price tag on products while ignoring the ideas behind them. The arts in general have been bought out by the entertainment industry, with artists ceasing to spread ideas and now only placating and dumbing down the populace. Where once great talent might have gone to shedding light on conditions (think Orwell, the Realist painters, Guthrie, Dylan, even early Kubrick) it now goes to distracting us from conditions. Rather than bringing injustice to our attention, art today has been turned into a reality show in which we vote for our favorites and swallow whatever the advertisers tell us.
  • In the discussion someone brought up intellectual property, a concept which he called bullshit. He said that when you quote someone, don’t give the source. In theory, this could be a great and valuable concept. When you cite your source you bring attention to them, rather than the idea they present. While generations have understood the concept of life being mysterious, we have turned it into a quote from Forrest Gump about life being a box of chocolates. The idea is lost, but the person who said it is remembered, and we all collectively chuckle as we remember the scene. Maybe we need less citation and more free exchange and spread of ideas.
  • A revolution is possible, and within our grasp. The Occupy movement has shown that there is mass discontent. But we’ve been fed generations worth of lies. Our two major political parties are both crooked and useless, but we’re told that voting for anyone outside of the two-party system is throwing one’s vote away. Thousands of people took to the streets in solidarity. If every one of them dismissed this lie and voted for an independent candidate it would send shock waves through our political system. But while we have the numbers, they have the money, power, and resources. Our system has existed as it is for so long that it might be impossible to overturn without having to turn to violence. I’m a pacifist myself, but my pessimist nature makes me question if we will ever accomplish anything without a show of brute force.
  • Someone at the meeting spoke of fear. We all have fears that keep us playing by the rules. Fear of losing one’s job, going to jail, you name it. The institutions of this society use that fear to keep us in check. But they have fears too, and when we as the populace can figure out how to harness those fears and use them, then we will have a true revolution.

So yeah. That’s just some of what I was thinking. I’m no political scientist, I probably don’t know what I’m talking about. But when I see countries around the world toppling crooked regimes, it makes me wonder why that can’t happen here. I like our current president, but he’s just a pawn in the system. I honestly don’t know if Americans have it in them to change things. We’ll probably just be glued to the TV while things around us crumble. Even the internet, the powerful tool that it is, is used more often for funny pictures of cats and porn than for spreading any real ideas. I think that’s our real deficit – ideas and action. Until we catch up to the rest of the world in those departments, we’re doomed to sink lower and lower in stature, until one day we’re just not relevant as a culture and we fall apart. It’s a sinking ship. The question is, would I rather work to patch the holes, or swim to land? Lately I’ve been thinking that swimming might be the best option.