We Face A Choice

“Labor is prior to, and independent of, capital.
Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed.
Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration.”

Abraham Lincoln

   We face a choice: we change distribution of necessities like food and housing or we have increasing numbers of people starving and homeless. The path forward grows increasingly stark: either we bring true democracy and sharing into our workplace and our economy or corporations will eliminate democracy and sharing everywhere.
This requires a new language; because *communal* or *collective* carry immense amounts of emotional and intellectual baggage. It is nearly impossible to discuss changing our economy to focus on sharing rather than selling because of the emphasis placed on personal responsibility and the stigma placed on prioritizing *us* over *me*.
But notice: both America and *Communist* Russia used the same industry, what differed between them was the relationship between people and machine. And don’t conflate a communist government with a communist economy. It was a short transition from communist USSR to capitalist Russia because the industrial, material base did not change; only how decisions were made and who *owns* the means of production had to change. This is a hopeful aspect; hopeful in that any transition from capitalism to a means of sharing and providing our community needs will similarly only need to change in such a simple fashion.
I write *simple fashion* not because it will, in fact, be easily accomplished, but because all it takes is a change of heart. What I point to here is *economic communism*, not political. I point to bringing democracy and ownership held by our community rather than individuals, not our current fascist system or a dictatorship. In America we are proud of democracy in our political system; yet we never ask why we so abhor democracy in our workplaces. We spend very few moments each day in the political world and the majority of time in our work environment; one would think if we value democracy so much, we would use it in the primary aspects of our lives, family and work. Yet we do not.
Capitalism is founded on the concept of *value*. Goods or services are exchanged and their *value* is measured by the worth of the labor involved in production. Strangely, we fail to value all labor equally; we prize managerial, intellectual, and decision-making *work* more highly than caregiving of all types and the real, gritty, physical labor that makes our world actually function. Because the notion of *production* only came into consciousness with the advent of machines (before machines, food was *produced* but that isn’t what we refer to when using the term *production*), capitalism has only been around for about 500 years. Before capitalism Europe was feudal: a social contract between serfs and lords held that serfs would work land they did not own, some for themselves and some for their lord, the *landowner*, who granted them the grace of life in return. Land was worthless if not worked, yet the nobility could not work it themselves. In return for the labor of the serfs the lord would provide security from marauding bands or meager food when crops had failed. There was not enough *value* in the system to create a true *market*.
Today’s global market arises from *exchange value*, not *use value*, which again derives from labor. But robots have begun to eliminate labor as a component of production, rendering the proper exchange value of produced goods and services zero. There can be no legitimate price assigned to raw materials provided by Nature, placed in our Commons, and somehow *owned* only by social convention. What is the true value of clean air and water? What is the value leaving ecosystems teeming with life whole and able to regenerate our air and water? Even in industries not yet roboticized, outsourcing, or sending production to places where labor costs are nearly free, accomplishes much the same result. Clearly the exchange value of a car made by humans is much more than the many cars that are made by robots in the same amount of time. We recognize this implicitly, if not overtly, anytime we place higher value on *handmade* when purchasing something. Yet in nearly every case, we will buy the auto that is least expensive, the one assembled by robots. The problem for capitalism is that robots don’t buy cars, at least not yet. Henry Ford is famous for paying his assembly line workers more than the average wage. His theory was that the workers must be able to afford to buy the product, or the mass-production model would quickly fail. This is quite the conundrum: if no workers are paid to produce, who will buy the result of production? If no humans work, because they *cost too much*, who forms the market for the goods produced? What good are cheap prices if no one has money to spend? In America, productivity of workers has skyrocketed in the past forty years while wages, in real purchasing power, have declined. We are growing an underclass of human beings who are excluded from production. Without a stake in the market, and lacking meaningful inclusion in our common social contact, at some point they become ungovernable. The fear felt by the landed gentry that these people might rebel drives the increasingly violent police oppression we see. This trend will continue until productivity, wages, or oppressed peoples hit the wall: productivity is maximized, wages can’t go lower, or there are so many blockades, sit-ins, and strikes that business-as-usual collapses. That would mean the end of capitalism, but not the end of life. The Great Depression did not occur because we lacked resources, workers, production facilities, or ideas. It only happened because there was a lack of invest-able capital; a truly insane limit upon our collective creativity and energy. This is key: there are alternatives to capital that leverage robotic production of necessities and meet our human needs without requiring worker exploitation by capitalists.
So what is to be our future when no one has to work? How are we to survive? How will you get the things you need? As automation takes over production, the only way we attain peace, freedom, and democracy is through taking back and expanding our commons, the aspects of life we all share, through collective action. Solidarity, cooperation, sharing, gifting, whatever you want to use in place of collective is fine, but we have to get beyond the divide-and-conquer tactics used today to keep us from exercising our inherent power as human beings. Time, nature, food and water, shelter, health care, education, relationship; these are needs, not wants. We all have a need to contribute, to give of our talents and energy to help others. How can we recognize our ability to meet our collective and individual needs without capital and the capitalists who control it and, by extension, us?
It begins with questioning a premise of this capitalist system: this is a world of each person out for themselves. Those with more money and power worked harder than you to claim it. This is a meritocracy where you get only what you deserve, and if you deserve more then you are entitled to it no matter your beliefs or access to resources. For most people, this is not a society in which they wish to live. Like me, you want a sustainable life full of democracy, opportunity, deep relationships, sharing, kindness, and love. You don’t want selfish, materialistic, and isolated people controlling and limiting your ability to live as you wish. Yet we adopt their views because we are bombarded with their propaganda constantly and we even bring their values home into our deepest and most intimate relationships. What we want is community. We want the safety and security we feel when we know our tribe has our back. We want to share our gifts and talents with people who value us for who we are, not what we do. We want to fill our blessed lives with personal interactions, not merely survive a lonely life filled with impersonal material and monetary transactions. You know how unsatisfactory that life is; you don’t get much, if any, satisfaction from your material possessions, and most moments when you feel alone are really, really difficult. It’s really hard right now, for all of us. Because capitalism operates best when individuals feel isolated and alone and need material solace, we are often unable even to dream of a world whose primary values are love, compassion, kindness, generosity, and relationships. Today capitalism values efficiency, productivity, and property instead; and it measures those values by how much money and power you have accumulated. News Flash: money is not why we are here on Earth. Money does not leave us satisfied or happy. We can’t eat money, and it doesn’t keep us warm and dry. Money is not a value or a reason to live. Life is not a competition aimed at maximum utility or efficient production; it is about relationship to others and to Nature and about experiencing overwhelming, unconditional love for all of life. With this understanding, it is clear that our system of living needs a major make-over. The old must be replaced with a new foundation built on our shared human values and needs; using our values to guide how we provide every life with what it needs to thrive, including human, animal, plant, and Earth.
A key problem with many people is that they dismiss this idea as being *religious* or *psychobabble*. Again, we must be wary of the baggage borne by the words we use. But how can we describe the feelings we have in our hearts for others without speaking of love? How can we describe sharing or gifts and resources without saying communal? How can we build relationships that call us to let the majority will be done no matter its impact on us as individuals without calling it collective?
Capitalism is not working; we all know this. Yet we blame this dysfunction on ourselves because we have accepted the myth of meritocracy. Somehow I am defective, I am inefficient, I am unmotivated to return to my chains and labor for the benefit and profit of others; and thus somehow my struggles with anger, depression and isolation are all my fault. So many of us self-medicate through drugs or alcohol, abusing others, shopping, or sex addictions; in so many ways we distract ourselves from the pain inflicted by the system. How can we acknowledge that there are alternatives? That life doesn’t have to be this way? Our anger at how we are manipulated is righteous and justified; but let’s not continue to direct it towards the wrong targets; ourselves, the other political party, the immigrants, and so on. Instead let’s work to awaken everyone to the understanding of what capitalism must do to survive, and then let’s make sure it no longer feeds on our community.

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One Response to We Face A Choice

  1. Paul Heft says:

    “…we are often unable even to dream of a world whose primary values are love, compassion, kindness, generosity, and relationships.” “Capitalism is not working; we all know this. Yet we blame this dysfunction on ourselves …” Yes, people’s imaginations are limited, we blame ourselves, and (don’t forget) we also blame others–convenient scapegoats. The challenge is to “awaken” everyone to your truer view, but how is that going to happen? My fear is that too many of us are running on automatic, driven by our conditioning–thus posing a tremendous inertia to overcome. I’m having trouble imagining how that will change, short of experiencing a “wake up call” through real catastrophe.

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