Debt: The First 5000 Years covers a vast sweep of history, anthropology, and political economy, arguing not so much for a single thesis as for a braid of complementary ideas. Among them are:
That money originated as “social currencies” used to rearrange relationships among human beings (marriage, funerals, blood money, and other social functions), and was not used to buy and sell things. Indeed, this kind of money is to be found even in societies without a significant division of labor.
That the first money used for commerce took the form of credit: tallies of transactions and loans denominated in a common unit of account and periodically settled by delivery of various commodities.
That the conflation of these two different kinds of money led to debt peonage, slavery, the demotion of women’s status, and other iniquities that one might expect to happen when human relationships are mediated by the same currency as commercial transactions.
That much of the psychology and morality around money traces its origins to the violence and slavery that have been part of creditor-debtor relationships for thousands of years. War and slavery were crucial in creating the economy we know today, which should not be surprising, as our economic habits still encode the anxiety one might expect from such origins. As well, they perpetuate violence and, if not outright slavery, debt servitude to this day.
That history has alternated between periods of credit money and coinage, with the latter corresponding to times of greater violence, social chaos, slavery, and the repression of women. So for example, the Middle Ages saw the virtual abolition of slavery and the flowering of complex credit relationships facilitating trade across the Indian Ocean and beyond. Coins were seldom used. Compared to the Axial Age that preceded it, it was a time of relative peace and prosperity, ending with the rise of Europe and the influx of vast amounts of silver from the New World. A new age of coinage began.
That markets have never been “free” in the sense of being separate from government, but, to the contrary, were created by governments to facilitate their acquisition of various goods (especially for their armies). They have been intertwined ever since.
That all major world religions grew in response to money, whether informed by the beliefs of people living in a money economy, or in reaction to its evils.
That the origin of capitalism as we know it today is “the story of how an economy of credit was converted into an economy of interest.” Debt, he says, is the primary instrument of colonization whether internal or abroad – keeping in mind that behind the man with the ledger is a man with a gun. Moreover, the enforcement of debts is key to maintaining the political power relationships the prevail today.
That the invasion of market relations into every sphere of life has always been accompanied by violence. War, debt, and the market are inextricably linked. Even today, our money system is based mainly on the monetization of government war debts. If there is one persistent theme to this book, it is that our association of debt repayment with morality is false; that, indeed, the debt relations that hold today are rooted in a history of violence; that debt and money itself are social creations and not unalterable facts of nature; that our understanding of human nature is deeply colored by the market-based, debt-based world we live in. The world could be different. We are right to want it to be different.
OMFG, this post really nails everything that I have been thinking about in terms in over sharing & preformative “authenticity,” ethics, and the false dichotomy between the individual and the group. I had a difficult time deciding what to bold because pretty much the entire thing rings so fucking true.
The “victimhood-as-cultural-currency thing” to me seemsrelated to or a reflection of the ways any kind of attention itself has become valued specifically (or maybe initially) in Western/American pop culture — reality TV has previously been mentioned, but also celebrity mags, celebrity Twitters, blogging (Tumblr followers, Facebook likes, etc.) and so on… and as far as marketing and “the Mainstream Media,” there has been this obvious shift towards performing authenticity and genuineness in order to appeal to a generation of consumers who can no longer be fooled by advertising’s promise to make life happier or easier via products, so instead the tactic is to market the concept of building an honest identity via certain products— the right kinds of products — and I’m also talking about this relative to zines/radical ‘blogging’ because at least on Tumblr (which, to me, sometimes seems like nothing more than a virtual roomful of self-absorbed twentysomethings obsessed with performing their identities [sorry, been there done that, IDGAF anymore] ) — I don’t know what’s radical about posting so so many GPOYs and listing All The Things You’re Wearing and where it came from and Name Brands, etc. Like, not to totally invalidate your identity-building personal effects, but I can’t relate to how a particular brand of lipstick or underwear or shoe or vinyl record or herbal tea is empowering; I just Don’t Get It.
I relate these acts of consumption — or maybe it’s still a kind of pro-sumption? — to the currency of confessional stories, the currency of victimhood, and performing or presenting a kind of authenticity, sort of like how advertisers want me to identify with a particular car or programming line-up or credit card.In radical venues (especially on Tumblr I guess — note that I’ve been out of the zine-loop for about five years due to a personal unwillingness to share, but more on that later) I am encouraged to identify with an ever-increasing vocabulary, some kind of dichotomous key that will describe in an instant exactly who I am and where I’m coming from. & again, I don’t think this kind of identity politic is invalid across the board but… I’m just Not That Into It & it feels intimidating sometimes (eg, am I boring and irrelevant now because I don’t want to broadcast every defined aspect of myself everywhere all the time?)
"Having an image steadily became more rewarding than being a person; people have problems but images just have spectators" Gary Indiana
It is crystal clear that white supremacy exists. It seeps through every pore in our society. It infects every social relationship. It obviously affects Occupy Wall Street.
Everyone knows the wealth divide, the incarceration numbers, gentrification, the education gap and more are part of the class and racial oppression of the United States. All this is obvious. More politically contentious matters are the social interactions, which are racialized in negative ways in society and specifically in OWS. It is always painful, because at best we hope movement spaces are places where people can finally engage with one another on universal-human terms. However, it is not a surprise that even in movement spaces people experience white supremacy. Our society is saturated with it, so to expect non-racialized human relations in the movement would be utopian.
The combination of structural oppression based on race and class, the history of white supremacy and capitalism, and how that affects people’s interactions with one another, has led to a school of thought called Privilege theory. Privilege theory recognizes structural and historical oppression, but has an undue focus on individual behavior and thoughts as a major way of addressing white supremacy (and other oppressions, but I will tend to focus on white supremacy and class). Privilege theory has a set of basic principles: a) Privilege theory argues that movement spaces should be safe for all oppressed groups. One way to make such a space safe is by negotiating one anothers’ actions in non-oppressive ways. For example, this means straight white men should talk less or think about the privileges they have when discussing an action or political question. b) Privilege theory justifies that militancy and political sophistication is the domain of a privileged elite based on class, gender and racial privileges. c) Privilege theory roots political and strategic mistakes in the personal privileges that people bring into the movement. d) Privilege theory seeks to deal with these issues primarily through education, teach-ins and conversations. This piece will point out key failures in all four principles of Privilege theory. It will tentatively lay out some ways forward, while recognizing more research and, more importantly, more struggle is needed to resolve some of the outstanding problems facing the movement.
Optimistic theorists of cognitive capitalism, such as Hardt and Negri, believe that the positive externalities or spill-over effects associated with immaterial production create the conditions for a new commons. Efforts to measure and privatize human, intellectual and cultural resources must ultimately fail; the hegemonic character of immaterial labour means that the most valuable economic resources are becoming socialized, despite the best efforts of capital to prevent this. The proposition I wish to investigate here is in some ways the inverse: while policy-makers, doctors and economists seek to contain the negative externality of unhappiness as a measurable psychological deficiency and economic cost, it has inherently political and sociological qualities that lend it critical potential. One contradiction of neo-liberalism is that it demands levels of enthusiasm, energy and hope whose conditions it destroys through insecurity, powerlessness and the valorization of unattainable ego ideals via advertising. What is most intriguing about the turn towards happiness amongst political elites and orthodox economists is that it is bringing this truth to the fore, and granting it official statistical endorsement. Even a cursory examination of the evidence on unhappiness in neo-liberal societies draws the observer beyond the limits of psychology, and into questions of political economy.
“One contradiction of neo-liberalism is that it demands levels of enthusiasm, energy and hope whose conditions it destroys through insecurity, powerlessness and the valorization of unattainable ego ideals via advertising”—william davies
The domestic violence charity Refuge could face closure this summer amid funding cuts of 50%, its chief executive has warned.
The charity, which supports 1,600 women and children, has seen funds decimated and is now “fighting for our very survival”, Sandra Horley said.
She spoke out after reports that hundreds of domestic violence victims are being turned away from women’s refuges every day because of a lack of spaces.
The Guardian revealed earlier this year that funding from local authorities to organisations working with domestic-violence and victims of sexual abuse fell from £7.8m in 2010-11 to £5.4m in the current financial year.
The cuts have prompted accusations that the coalition’s austerity measures are unfairly affecting women, and putting them directly at risk.
Horley said: “As CEO of Refuge for nearly three decades, I have never been so worried about our future.
"The domestic violence sector is being decimated. Refuge is stretched to breaking point. We are now fighting for our very survival, desperately trying to raise voluntary funds to keep our doors open. If we don’t do this by the summer, we may face closure.
"What kind of a world do we live in where women and children are beaten and funding for services to protect them is being withdrawn? Britain is in danger of returning to the days of Cathy Come Home when the vulnerable were forced to sleep rough. Abused women could find themselves in a dilemma: stay at home and risk being killed or flee with their children to sleep on the streets."
Horley also questioned the government’s intention to introduce Clare’s law – a new disclosure scheme which enables women to request information from the police about their partner’s previous convictions.
She said the domestic violence sector did not support the initiative and she believed funding would be better invested in improving the basic police response to domestic violence, “which is still extremely poor in forces across the country”.
Last year two refuges, looking after women from ethnic-minority backgrounds, were closed. Official estimates suggested there were 400,000 incidents of domestic violence in the UK last year.
Around 230 women seeking refuge from abusive partners were turned away because of lack of spaces every day, campaigners said.
Earlier this year, Lynne Featherstone, the Home Office minister for equality, denied there was a crisis in the domestic violence support sector.
She said: “I would rebut very firmly that the sector is in crisis, this government is putting its best foot forward and is committed to ending violence against women and girls”.
But Vivienne Hayes, the chief executive of the Women’s Resource Centre, which represents 350 small charities and community groups, said: “Government cuts have impacted more negatively on women than men. You have to wonder whether this is a case of institutional sexism.”
Just when i thought my disgust a politicians and the state couldn’t go any deeper.
One of the world’s largest ever strikes began at midnight on Monday 27th Feb and will end at midnight tonight. Up to 100,000,000 Indian workers from different sectors and industries are calling for a national minimum wage, permanent jobs, and much more.
“We have a huge barrel of wine, but no cups.
That’s fine with us. Every morning
we glow and in the evening we glow again.
They say there’s no future for us. They’re right.
Which is fine with us.”—Rumi (via cbile)
“People with Asperger’s syndrome, a high functioning form of autism, are often stereotyped as distant loners or robotic geeks. But what if what looks like coldness to the outside world is a response to being overwhelmed by emotion – an excess of empathy, not a lack of it?
This idea resonates with many people suffering from autism-spectrum disorders and their families. It also jibes with the “intense world” theory, a new way of thinking about the nature of autism.
As posited by Henry and Kamila Markram of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, the theory suggests that the fundamental problem in autism-spectrum disorders is not a social deficiency but, rather, a hypersensitivity to experience, which includes an overwhelming fear response.
“But the concept of ‘affective labor’ strips the feminist analysis of housework of all its demystifying power. In fact, it brings reproductive work back into the world of mystification, suggesting that reproducing people is just a matter of producing ‘emotions,’ feelings.’ It used to be called ‘a labor of love;’ Hardt and Negri instead have discovered ‘affection.’ The feminist analysis of the function of the sexual division of labor, the function of gender hierarchies, the analysis of the way capitalism has used the wage to mobilize women’s work in the reproduction of the labor force—all of this is lost under the label of ‘affective labor.’ When we said that housework is actually work for capital, that although it is unpaid work it contributes to the accumulation of capital, we established something extremely important about the nature of capitalism as a system of production. We established that capitalism is built on an immense amount of unpaid labor. Also, when we said that housework is the work that reproduces not just ‘life,’ but ‘labor-power,’ we began to separate two different spheres of our lives and work that seemed inextricably connected. We became able to conceive of a fight against housework now understood as the reproduction of labor-power, the reproduction of the most important commodity capital has: the worker’s ‘capacity to work,’ the worker’s capacity to be exploited. In other words, by recognizing that what we call ‘reproductive labor’ is a terrain of accumulation and therefore a terrain of exploitation, we were able to also see reproduction as a terrain of struggle, and, to conceive of an anti-capitalist struggle against reproductive labor that would not destroy ourselves or our communities.”—
I was watching a documentary on Lucian Freud last night and it picked up on a recurring theme when portraying white men, both fictional and actual characters. So Lucian, like countless other white men, particular men portrayed as intelligent or creative, is, on the surface, unemotional, in control, even cold, perhaps a bit cruel. However underneath it all you see, he is actually a deeply sensitive, deeply emotional, poor suffering angsty person. And sooo much respect is given to him, the tortured genius.
It’s interesting cos it’s the polar opposite of representations of white women, who are overemotional and oversensitive, even hysterical, at least on the outside. However, try to dig deeper and you will find they’re just vacuous and shallow.
‘The long-foreseen moment has arrived when capitalism is on the point of seeing its development arrested by impassable barriers. In whatever way we interpret the phenomenon of accumulation, it is clear that capitalism stands essentially for economic expansion and that capitalist expansion has now nearly reached the point where it will be halted by the actual limits of the earth’s surface. And yet never have there been fewer premonitory signs of the advent of socialism. We are in a period of transition; but a transition towards what? No one has the slightest idea. All the more striking, therefore, the carefree security with which we settle down in this transition period as though it were a definite stage, so much so that considerations concerning the crisis of the system have almost everywhere become commonplaces. Certainly, we can always go on believing that socialism will arrive the day after tomorrow, and make a duty or a virtue of this belief; so long as we go on taking, day by day, the day after tomorrow to mean the next day but one after today, we shall not be disappointed; but such a state of mind is difficult to distinguish from that of those worthy people who believe, for instance, in the Last Judgement.’
Simone Weil, ‘PROSPECTS: Are we heading for the proletarian revolution’, August 1933, in La Révolution Prolétarienne, collected in Oppression and Liberty, (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1958)
“What settler colonialism does is that it sets a ceiling on what the future can be such that we cannot even imagine a future without genocide. This tendency then leaves us to develop critical visions only within the constraints of the possible and then infects all the work that we do. For instance if we look at the Academic Industrial Complex. We whine and complain about how racist it is. As if the only problem is a few racist administrators who need to be fired. And if we just convince them how great Ethnic Studies is, they’d just give us more money. But if we were actually to imagine a liberatory educational system would this be it? Professors, do we say, “Tenure was the most fun thing I’ve ever done, I wish I could do it again”? Do students say, “You know, I love it when I work really hard for my finals and then get a bad grade anyway, how empowering was that”? We don’t even try to imagine building an alternative to the Academic Industrial Complex. We act as if the problem is that there is racism in the academy, not that the academy is structured by racism. And here’s where we can learn from the Prison Industrial Complex. Is not that the organizing against the Prison Industrial Complex puts forth a model of abolition that doesn’t just say that it’s about tearing down prison walls now but it’s about building alternatives that squeeze out the current system. Similarly, while we might have day jobs in the academic system, why can’t we start building alternatives to this system, build the educational system that we would actually like to see that could then squeeze out the current system as it develops. So, for instance, when Arizona says something like they’re going to ban Ethnic Studies, we think, “Oh no, there’s not going to be Ethnic Studies because the State says so!” We presume the state owns Ethnic Studies and it actually can ban it. We don’t say, “Uh, whatever, Arizona! Ethnic Studies is not a gift from the Academic Industrial Complex or from the state. It’s a product of social movements for social justice, and as long as they exist there will be Ethnic Studies wherever and whenever we go.” And did we ever really think Ethnic Studies was going to be legitimate in a white supremacist and settler colonialist academy? And if ever did become legitimate, we would know we had failed in our task.”
Andrea Smith plenary talk at Critical Ethnic Studies and the Future of Genocide, Thursday, March 10, 2011 (via zombifuntime)
Reading this after facilitating/participating in some liberatory education. Lots to think about.
“Of course, this is one of the profound ways in which oppression works—to mire us in body hatred. Homophobia is all about defining queer bodies as wrong, perverse, immoral. Transphobia, about defining trans bodies as unnatural, monstrous, or the product of delusion. Ableism, about defining disabled bodies as broken and tragic. Class warfare, about defining the bodies of workers as expendable. Racism, about defining the bodies of people of color as primitive, exotic, or worthless. Sexism, about defining female bodies as pliable objects. These messages sink beneath our skin.”—
“The adaptation and interpretation of Islamic texts by average Muslims, denied by Hirsi Ali, Kelek et al., is an everyday practice across the world, including Europe: Islam’s positions on women’s rights and homosexuality are already vigorously debated in Muslim communities, often invisible to a dominant society still not ready to enter an open dialogue—and to a gay and lesbian community not ready to include Muslim queers. Instead, there is a muted reaction whenever these voices try to enter a mainstream that seems largely preoccupied with Islam’s inherent homophobia. Repeating the model described in the last section with regard to Muslim women, homophobia among Muslims is defined as inevitably produced by their culture/religion, Islam itself representing the threat, which in turn, is present in every Muslim—and every Muslim is held fully responsible for the behavior of the community as a whole. While gay voices such as U.S. journalist Bruce Bawer or politician Pim Fortuyn gain additional credibility when supporting the image of Islam’s inherent intolerance, Muslim queers—like women wearing the hijab—appear as silenced victims, their only salvation the rejection of Islam and their ethnic community and the embrace of a majoritarian gay identity.
“Within this binary discursive formation, the Western LGBT community has the role of civilizer, while queer Muslims have nothing to offer, as they, like all Muslims, are products of a culture that is fundamentally inferior to the secular West. This dichotomy puts all nonwhite, non-Western queers in a similar predicament: communities of color appear as by default homophobic and heterosexual, the queer community as by default white, reflecting a global discourse of progress and human rights in which the white West invariably takes the lead, maybe not always progressively enough, but certainly always more so than anyone else. The trope can be reinforced quickly because it references well-known clichés perceived as truth, since they align with the overarching binary discourse affirming Europe’s status as the center of progress and humanism. A successful challenge to this mechanism therefore requires a simultaneous engagement with all of these discursive tropes and their anchoring in European conceptions of public space and time used to subordinate the rest of the world and people of color.”
- Secular Submissions: Muslim Europeans, Female Bodies, and Performative Politics
Over the course of the next 40 years, Gandhi and his movement were regularly denounced in the media, just as non-violent anarchists are also always denounced in the media (and I might remark here that while not an anarchist himself, Gandhi was strongly influenced by anarchists like Kropotkin and Tolstoy), as a mere front for more violent, terroristic elements, with whom he was said to be secretly collaborating. He was regularly challenged to prove his non-violent credentials by assisting the authorities in suppressing such elements. Here Gandhi remained resolute. It is always morally superior, he insisted, to oppose injustice through non-violent means than through violent means. However, to oppose injustice through violent means is still morally superior to not doing anything to oppose injustice at all.
And Gandhi was talking about people who were blowing up trains, or assassinating government officials. Not damaging windows or spray-painting rude things about the police.
Familiarity and facility with computer technology is becoming an increasingly general primary qualification for work in dominant countries. Even when direct contact with computers is not involved, the manipulation of symbols and information along the model of computer operation is extremely widespread. In an earlier era workers learned how to act like machines both inside and outside the factory. We even learned (with the help of Muybridge’s photos, for example) to recognize human activity in general as mechanical. Today we increasingly think like computers, while communication technologies and their model of interaction are becoming more and more central to laboring activities. One novel aspect of the computers is that it can continually modify its own operation through its use. Even the most rudimentary forms of artificial intelligence allow the computer to expand and perfect its operations based on its interaction with its user and its environment. The same kind of continual interactivity characterizes a wide range of contemporary productive activities, whether computer hardware is directly involved or not. The computer and communication revolution of production has transformed laboring practices in such a way that they all tend toward the model of information and communication technologies. Interactive and cybernetic machines become a new prosthesis integrated into our bodies and minds and a lens through which to redefine our bodies and minds themselves. The anthropology of cyberspace is really recognition of the new human condition.
“The basic question: Is Facebook more like a newspaper or more like a factory? The liberal answer: it’s a newspaper in that it gathers stories about people and circulates those stories back to its readers while leveraging reader attention for advertising dollars. Profit flows in from advertisers and the value of the company is determined by the marketplace. The progressive answer: it’s a factory in that it demands unpaid micro labor from its users, extracting surplus value from such labor. Profit flows from commons-based peer production and thus value is ultimately produced by users (making the ads merely the “last mile” of valorization). NYT claims the former, obviously. But it’s very important that we understand FB as a factory, not just another form of mass media.”—Alexander Galloway, from Facebook (via nsrnicek)