Tales from the American DMZ: It’s (Almost) All Economics

Editor’s Note: warning; this is going to be a long, rambling discussion and at the end of it, you may well be inclined to question my sanity; I’m not sure I’ve ever written a “thinkpiece” before and I’m only doing so now because of the tremendous weight on my conscience not discussing these issues has created.

I have never had any desire to be perceived as any sort of “pinko Alex Jones” style conspiracy theorist and I have no intention of doing so today; this article will be sourced quite heavily and I strongly encourage you to at least skim the links I’ve provided to back up what will no doubt appear to preposterous claims if you haven’t been following the news intently for several years.

This is new ground for me and frankly, I’m not really sure where the editor’s note ends and the article begins this time – so I ask that you bear with me while I try to get a handle on just what it is we’re doing here.

 

Surrendering My Silence

For several months now I’ve found myself disappointed by my own inability to make the necessary time to discuss two seemingly dissimilar but ultimately, intricately related issues; the rise of the American police state as well as what I believe will be a massive social re-ordering of the western world dictated by looming economic realities and the seemingly intractable behavior of wealthy western or globalist elites – yeah, that’s quite the mouthful.

If the truth be known, I’ve avoided these topics for a number of reasons that are probably still valid today; not the least of which is that some parts of the story aren’t really mine to tell. This is in part a discussion about economics and I am not an economist; it’s also in part a discussion about systemic racism that signals who in our society the police are allowed to abuse for profit (and why) – as a white (albeit post-op trans) woman living abroad; there’s a legitimate question in my mind whether what I have to say on this subject would be, or even should be taken seriously.

Finally, I’ve avoided these discussions because quite frankly they are just so damn big and so damn heavy, it is utterly terrifying to imagine even starting such a conversation. A whole bunch of the things I want to say to you guys are going to sound too evil to even contemplate believing if you haven’t done the research; even discussing what it all means involves, by necessity, projecting into our collective future. I’m a smart girl, I can make educated guesses but I’m by no means exaggerating even slightly when I say we live in *the* most corrupt time in our nation’s (if not global) history and the problems we’re about to face simply have no direct historical reference; although there are similarities that we can and will examine over time.

So, I have continued on with my safe facts, catching easy lies and focusing on the utter farce that is the American political class; keeping my head down and actively avoiding the role of unwanted doomsayer. Yet continually over time, the truth has picked away at the corners of my consciousness as I read more about unpunished violations, the (perceived) stability of our economic systems and the dark history of policing in America.

Yesterday I finally hit my breaking point as I realized that I could no longer escape the simple reality I’d been too afraid to write down until this moment; although the rise of the American police state (and similar systems throughout the western world) is typically portrayed in the news as either an unfortunate consequence of “rising” crime, or the misguided behavior of “a few rotten apples” – there truthfully exists a great deal of evidence that violent, militarized police forces who don’t give a flying fuck about civil liberties are in fact a purposeful outcome of the modern corporate-capitalist state; hey, I warned you this was going to get heavy, didn’t I?

The truth is, I don’t rightly know where to start and the sheer size of what we’re talking about probably means I’ll never finish; but I do know that I can no longer remain silent as the world around me turns into a real time, live-action production of V for Vendetta right in front of my eyes. Therefore, because I don’t even know where the beginning of this discussion lies, I’ll start with a very simple question that we can hopefully build some future discussions on – “considering the obvious political consequences and blatant social negatives; why would anyone (even corrupt government officials and their greedy corporate masters) want to create and empower a police state in the western world?”

 

Capitalism, the Role of Labor & Job-Killing Robots

If (like me) you are a student of history, it probably won’t shock you when I say that by and large capitalism, not democracy is the driving force in western society. Furthermore, if you’ve been paying any attention at all to US politics, you’re likely aware that corporations and large donors have what can politely be described as an overwhelming influence on government policy; I don’t really want to waste a lot of time debating these kind of simplified truisms here and if anything I just said shocks you – this discussion might be a little bit over your head.

Now, historically (or at least since the fall of feudalism and the end of slavery) labor has been a powerful force in capitalist societies; in the past, economies (whether agrarian or industrial) were utterly dependent on the “muscle power” of human workers to create saleable products and eventually, profit. Please remember that in this context (and presently) soldiers are also representative of labor because wealthy elites are no more capable of staffing their own security forces than they are tilling their own fields or manufacturing their own goods; it’s just a numbers game and for a very long time in human history the equation here could essentially be summed up very simply:

 

No People = No Labor = No Capitalism = No Profit

 

Although the specific influence of labor has waxed and waned throughout the course of western history, I feel it’s fair to say there is often an apparently direct correlation between the size of this demand for labor and the rights and freedoms begrudgingly granted to “the proletariat” as a result of this demand for muscle and later, mind power;  examples range from the Magna Carta to women’s suffrage, the right to organize as well as collectively bargain and even some aspects of the Civil Rights movement.

Is that something of an overtly simple generalization? Of course; in particular ignoring the role of racism, sexism and “otherness” in these discussions makes it impossible to get the whole, honest picture – but for the purposes of our conversation here today, this basic working theory will get us where we need to go; which is primarily understanding that for a very long time, the power of the common classes has generally risen as the demand for their “people power” has risen.

So, with this in mind and while ruminating on the general question of what could (and indeed, has) rolled back both the demand for labor as well as the political bargaining power of the proletariat – I’d like you to watch this entire, brilliant video by C.G.P. Grey:

 

 

First of all, let me say – holy shit, that is to put it fucking bluntly, not good.

Now, you may for a moment be tempted to say that this is just some two year old Youtube video that’s somehow amassed more than seven million views, but the simple truth is that many economists agree with our narrator and there’s a non-zero percent chance those who don’t are just having trouble accepting what the logical consequences of automation are; the robots are coming, they’re probably already capable of doing your job and the western world is about to presented with the largest glut of essentially “unemployable labor” since the first Crusade – more on this later.

Frankly, the problem is almost certainly more serious than you realize, or I have time to properly explore in this essay; it’s not just a question of millions of people who will no longer have money to spend on consumer goods – the very fabric of western society (and thus the methods by which much of it is controlled) is woven around labor, work and the act of working. It is thus entirely likely that suddenly removing a huge portion of society from the workforce with have a cascading series of economic and societal effects that we have almost no hope of predicting right now; that, is the size/degree of change we’re talking about here and it will undoubtedly affect the entire world.

 

Three Theoretical Solutions to a Terrifyingly Real Problem

Warning: rampant speculation ahead.

Okay, so you’re a wealthy elite having the time of your life in an era of historical inequity but there’s a very real goddamn chance the whole thing is about to come crashing down because automation is going to both lessen the importance of work (a primary form of social control) and take a massive source of revenue out of a global economy that grants you such staggering wealth and privilege – how are you and your fellow elites going to manage these problems while still maintaining control?

Well, the first thing you’d probably want to do is significantly reduce the power and importance of unwanted labor (the proles) in the societies you influence and control; this article isn’t designed to be a history lesson however so please allow me to assure you that destroying organized labor, completely buying the political system of the most important nation (and economy) in the world and shifting from a manufacturing to a financial industry based economy in “the West” are all pretty much accomplished goals at this point. Some of you may perhaps be saying to yourself “unions are still powerful in my country” or “there are controls on the political power of corporations where I live” but please be reminded that as the biggest economy, the most influential consumer culture in the world and while possessing the most powerful military force (many times over) on the planet – the United States has a staggeringly disproportionate influence on other western societies; things may work slightly differently from western nation to western nation, but at the end of the day the American answers to the problems automation presents are likely to set the tone for the entire West in addressing the chaos.

Furthermore, these solutions only mitigate your two major problems; after all shifting high-paying manufacturing jobs to low-paying service sector positions doesn’t work if those service positions are also staffed by robots! Sooner or later, you’re still going to be faced with millions of angry people who have no money and nothing to do; a situation that very may well end in torches and pitchforks unless real, permanent solutions are provided.

The easiest and in my humble opinion, sanest option is to simply guarantee a universal basic income to everyone in the country and eventually, the world; in other words, take money from wealthy elites or their corporations to pay people just for living and let them spend that money to keep the economy functioning as it does today. While the topic of how much income should be granted and precisely which methods of implementation for a universal basic income should be used is a much larger discussion than this essay could hope to cover, the benefits of a guaranteed income in terms of addressing automation are staggeringly obvious; people whose jobs are rendered obsolete by robots won’t have to starve to death and can continue to participate in the global economy.

Of course, the downsides for the kind of obscenely wealthy, greed-monsters who engage in the type of social engineering we’re talking about here are equally obvious; they’re going to have to give up some of their own wealth and a formerly compliant citizenry who used to spend almost every waking moment working or consuming will suddenly be left with a lot of free time on their hands – time they could spend to investigate just precisely why the rich keep getting richer and maybe even engage politically to address that inequity!

In other words; there’s almost no chance in hell this is the solution we’ll actually take.

This then brings us to our second and perhaps most “historical” solution to the dual primary problems of automation; draw huge portions of that otherwise unemployable labor force into bloody great armies to go off to fight in a long, massive war.

Don’t laugh, occupying and pacifying a large number of armed westerners who might otherwise threaten economic stability and western elites (at the time, the Catholic and Orthodox churches) was one of the primary reasons Pope Urban II called for the First Crusade and touched off hundreds of years (at least) of brutal, religious warfare all the way back in 1096 AD. More modern examples might include WWI, WWII and the Vietnam War; remember, we’re not talking about large scale conflict as being a good thing for the nations involved, but rather for monstrously unscrupulous rich people and corporations who generate massive wealth (in part) by billing the taxpayer for these wars and the nation-building operations that inevitably follow their conclusion.

In some ways, the “Crusader” solution to the coming problem of automation is actually very similar to simply guaranteeing a universal basic income; after all, paying people just for living and paying people to serve in unending military conflicts still involves paying a lot of people at the end of the day. The upside for detached, wealthy elites however comes not only in who pays for (anyone but them) and how much wealth they can extract from a given conflict, but also in numerous aspects of social engineering; including population control, reinforcement of the social order (typically in the form of myopic patriotism) and increased ability to reduce or eliminate civil liberties with little objection from terrified citizens. This concept can be taken even further by exploiting public fears and the very real dangers of war to create lasting governmental agencies that will continue to enforce these social engineering efforts long after the conflict for which they were created for ends; examples from American history might include the Military Industrial Complex, the American deep state apparatus or the modern NSA and FBI surveillance programs.

The downside of course is that your team might actually lose the conflict (which reduces long-term economic benefits and can expose elites to serious legal consequences) and shipping thousands of dead kids back home in body bags has a funny way of generating “significant” social unrest. At this point however, as long as you can keep the casualty numbers low enough on “your side” it doesn’t seem to matter if the war is legal or achieves any of your stated objectives; I’m still waiting for someone, anyone to be held responsible for the disastrous, illegal Iraq war in any tangible way for example.

Finally, there’s the small complication of convincing the people to fear someone or something enough to actually go fight a long, grindy and profitable (for the right people) war but as we’ve already discussed on this very website; having tremendous amount of control over and influence in the mainstream, corporate media makes selling a war more a question of effort rather than likelihood.

So, is the “Crusader option” on the table in response to the coming automation chaos? I really couldn’t say definitively because at this point in what may well be the late era of capitalism, the largest western powers (and in particular, the United States) are essentially always at war and/or selling the instruments of war as an important business. With that having been noted, in light of very public saber rattling against Russia and the recent, curious decision to amend a draft law no sane US politician should even consider using (to include women) I wouldn’t entirely rule out massive, large scale war as a possible result here; if not as an intentional, stated response (Urban II) then as a “profitable consequence” of mass automation.

The third solution, and if the truth be told the path I suspect at least the United States is on right now, is to do absolutely nothing and let the goddamn proles scavenge like fucking Morlocks in whatever wretched hovels they can afford; far away from you. The ensuing problems here are obvious but not entirely unmanageable; protests, violence, riots and massive waves of public discontent. You would need complete control over the political process to prevent the public from electing leaders who might address this growing inequity. You’d need to live apart from the proles, in gated communities and opulent, towering skyscrapers far away from the unrest your “do nothing and let them eat cake” policies create.

Mostly however, wealthy elites hoping to do precisely nothing and keep squeezing the public for maximum profit after essentially editing them out of the economy would need a violent, heavily armed/militarized police force prepared to do whatever it takes, legal or not to keep an outraged, vengeful public away from your idyllic life – because sooner or later, the goddamn proles are going to figure out that you’ve left them for dead and then the shit will really hit the fan.

Sure, it all sounds utterly absurd, even fantastical but bear with me a moment and start asking yourself some serious questions here. Why are citizens all over the west only being allowed to protest or demonstrate in designated areas, under heavy police guard? Why does your local police force suddenly need a fucking tank? Why are municipalities all over America allowed to budget fines that haven’t even occurred yet, ie “policing for profit?” Why are SWAT teams being deployed to serve warrants for fines against poor people? Why is it virtually impossible to convict a racist, murderous cop when video evidence and Department of Justice reports clearly put the blame on the police? Why is a billionaire shithead like Peter Thiel researching “floating cities?” What precisely the fuck are we going to do when (not if) the sea level rises due to climate catastrophe and an already overpopulated planet is suddenly presented with much less living space to work with?

Please understand that what I’m talking about here doesn’t have to be some sort of great, Illuminati-esque conspiracy; throughout human history like-minded individuals have been known to band together to further goals that serve their own self interests. There’s a reason rich people spend billions of dollars influencing western politics. There’s a reason Wall Street got bailed out and bankers walked while you could literally end up in jail for failing to pay your student loans. There’s a reason nobody is ever punished in any meaningful way, even politically, for never-ending war.

If you step back long enough and look at it with an honest eye, a reasonable argument could be made that wealthy elites have already declared war on the filthy masses and the current problem is that the proles just don’t know it, or more likely haven’t accepted it yet – but that would be crazy talk, wouldn’t it?

 

  • Nina Illingworth

 

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