I don't think I'm one of them either. I'm one of mine.

Category: Capitalism Is Bullshit

Healthcare’s weight fixation is a scam

Take a cosmetic feature considered undesirable in a given society. Pressure people into making their bodies more attractive to meet society’s cosmetic standards, and berate them if they don’t. Create an entire industry that pushes people to conform to this cosmetic standard. After these efforts fail and fail again, they declare an “epidemic” of a new health condition, using a common insult as an “objective” medical term. With its new medical authority, the same industry continues to enforce this cosmetic standard, though it’s now tied to moral imperatives in ways it wasn’t before. Stuff this term of abuse in nearly every health article you can find online—and those who complain are being unreasonable because “doctors use it.” And by harping on this cosmetically offensive feature, you have now pushed your hapless victims to identify with their outward appearances in ways that are sometimes counterproductive (but not nearly as counterproductive as the fraudulent, bullying medical practices that pushed them in this direction). And you continue to profit because people are worried they’ll head to an early grave unless they fit their society’s attractiveness standards.

If you’re defending the use of insults as diagnostic terms, you’re a bully. (And taking a lot of regular, well-meaning doctors and researchers for a ride because they don’t know what it really means.) If you make money off people’s insecurities based on a “condition” that serves your financial interests, you are a scammer. I have zero respect for bullies or scammers.

Forget “fat acceptance.” (It’s too identitarian and superficial for me, and you can’t fight superficiality with more of it.) Try for something broader: don’t be an asshole. That should be good enough.

About freedom

We talk a lot about freedom, but what kinds of freedom matter?

Freedom of speech. Freedom of association. Freedom from poverty. Freedom from unemployment. Freedom to hire and fire as one wishes. Freedom to be an entrepreneur. Freedom from homelessness. Freedom of assembly. Freedom to set the definitions of one’s labour.

There are two kinds of freedom: positive freedoms and negative freedoms. Positive freedoms are the “freedoms to”: freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of association. Liberals, centrists, right-libertarians, and moderate conservatives focus on positive freedoms, often disdaining negative freedoms as an unwanted constraint on individual (or corporate) liberties. The rhetoric of Marxists, some progressives, and other leftists focuses on negative freedoms, or the “freedoms from”: freedom from hunger, freedom from poverty, freedom from homelessness, freedom from illness. Traditionalist conservatives and fascists care neither about positive freedoms nor negative freedoms, except for the ruling class.

Both positive and negative freedoms are necessary for a functioning society. They are not mutually exclusive; in fact, they are synergistic (and I use this word advisedly; it’s not just business jargon if you use the term to say “these things work together and the whole is more than the sum of its parts.” Without negative freedoms, you have a lot of rights that won’t put food in your belly, keep a roof over your head, protect you from preventable diseases, or keep you safe from domestic violence—and others may have the right to exploit your labour, refuse to serve you because of your race, rip you off because there are no regulations on the books. Wage slavery deprives people’s lives of meaning. Without positive freedoms, you can’t speak truth to power. You can’t make your own choices about how you live. Everything you do is tightly regimented. With no choice, you may see life as futile.

Lopsided freedoms make people’s lives miserable.

If you’re homeless, starving, and hungry, is that really freedom? Even if you are not constrained by the law—after all, under “at-will” employment, you are just as free to quit as your company is to fire you—you are constrained by your material conditions. Free speech matters—after all, leaders need to be held accountable—but you can’t eat free speech. But under a dictator, you are under both the constraints of an authoritarian regime AND your material circumstances. If the state assigns you a job and you end up hating it, how do you find fulfilment when you’re occupied with tedium eight hours a day, even when there is no risk of being fired? Instead of these nightmarish scenarios, it’s better to give companies some discretion, but ban workplace discrimination and provide a generous social safety net for those who can’t find fulfilling work or simply can’t work at all. This way there is freedom from want and freedom of association.

This is why I vehemently disagree with both tankies and libertarians about their idea of freedom: their utopias are dystopias for everyone… including them.

Bullet-point thoughts too short for independent posts

… really, these could just be shitposts, but they’re too serious for that, so I’m combining them into a convenient bullet-pointed list.

  • Russia and Ukraine are both using cultural and ethnic minorities as scapegoats to keep the public in line. The Russians are notorious for systematically targeting LGBTQ+ people as a symbol of “Western decadence” and “extremism.” They’re also a convenient sacrificial lamb for the ultraconservative, rural Orthodox Christian voters that Putin depends on. The Ukrainians, meanwhile, are doing the same with ethnic Russians, as well as Russian-speaking Ukrainians and socialists who are critical of the government. Although some of these opponents are pro-Russian, not all are. To keep the support of the hardline nationalists, especially in the West, the central government will happily sacrifice these “superfluous Ukrainians.” I expect this from Russia, since its human-rights record has been spotty for a long time, but Ukraine’s actions disappoint me more because I expected better from a country that aspires to be more democratic than its former ruler. Being of Russian descent, speaking Russian, or preferring socialism over capitalism is not the same thing as supporting the Putin regime. (See also my comments about the Ukraine War being Russia’s proxy war against the West, and the own-goals by Ukraine and Russia.)
  • People who support terrorists are assholes? Who would’ve thought? I hate to say this, but I have seen more empathy and compassion from progressive Zionists than anti-Zionists or hardline Netanyahu supporters. Every day I continue to be dumbfounded at how cruel, vengeful and inhumane some anti-Zionists can be. I can’t side with anyone who’s being that cruel and vindictive. Not in an anodyne “why don’t we all just get along when the Israeli government is doing monstrous things” way, but the idea that it is morally acceptable to kill civilians or take hostages for being “settlers.” I know there are several anti-Zionisms, but I am talking about the people who support or do nothing but make apologies for Hamas. I shouldn’t expect humane behaviour or decency from anyone who actively supports a terrorist organisation. I have said this before and I will say it again: this isn’t Nelson Mandela. Mandela wanted to make a South Africa for everyone. His goal was not to kill everyone in sight and kick out non-Black South Africans. Hamas’s goal is to eliminate and destroy, not merely to liberate.
  • Western countries should drop sanctions against Iran, North Korea, and Russia. Not because anyone should approve of these countries’ practices (I certainly don’t, which is obvious to anyone who’s read this blog), but because the main people who suffer from these sanctions are ordinary Russians, North Koreans, and Iranians, not their leadership or oligarchs. Russia has enough global influence (and oil) to make up for the revenue lost from sanctions. The South African sanctions worked, but that’s probably because South Africa had historical ties to the West. American and British pressure worked. There’s no love lost between Iran/North Korea and the West, and the relationship between Russia and the West has been adversarial since at least 2014, after the Obama administration’s “Russian reset.”
  • Many Marxists can be reductive and dismissive about any relationship of dominance and oppression that isn’t economic, but their universalism is refreshing in a polarised society. I’d like to see a communism that keeps some of Marx’s ideas but makes them more expansive, easier to understand and responsive to today’s modern needs.
  • There’s a difference between being a supporter of human rights and being an identitarian woke-scold. In the first case, you acknowledge systemic oppression and want to rectify it. You do this by implementing policies that allow the historically oppressed group to be a full member of their society. It’s about including everyone, not acting at someone else’s expense. Identitarians, on the other hand, use real grievances to justify an eye-for-an-eye, dog-eat-dog, hyphenated-thing-to-reflect-violent-actions morality. Gandhi never said, “An eye for an eye will leave the whole world blind,” but it fits all the same. Social equity is not a zero-sum game. (This kind of violent “morality” is an own-goal by social justice activists… and I think that will be my next full post.)
  • FUCK HAMAS, FUCK PUTIN, FUCK ZELENSKY, FUCK NETANYAHU. (I couldn’t resist.)

Why the American left struggles to win the “proletariat”

Despite all the claims to fight for the working class, a lot of American leftists don’t know how to talk to or about your average working-class person. (This probably applies to other countries that were on the left side of the Iron Curtain too, though I can’t be 100% sure.) And no, this has nothing to do with identity politics—that’s for later. Right now, I’m focusing on the struggles of daily life.

I grew up working class. I knew very few adults, other than teachers and medical professionals (and a single relative), who had bachelor’s degrees, much less master’s degrees and PhDs. Having a degree was a big deal; most of these people finished high school and went straight into the workforce if they didn’t do a stint at a community college first. People do not throw around terms like “bourgeoisie,” “proletariat,” and “material conditions.” Instead, they’ll say “the little guy” and “the bosses.” People talk plainly and clearly; they don’t go in circles using management-speak and Marxist jargon.

When working-class people talk about their material conditions, they give concrete examples, not turgid treatises on Engels and Žižek:

“When I was growing up in the 1960s, you could get a burger for 16 cents. Now you’ll be lucky to get one for $6.”

“They closed down the factory 20 years ago because they outsourced all the work to China. Dad had a hard time getting a job after that and needed to go on benefits.”

“I broke my hip and couldn’t do my job any more, but unemployment couldn’t cover my rent. I got evicted and had to stay in a shelter just to stay alive.”

“They’ve got us under surveillance all the time. You can’t even get up to go to the bathroom without logging it on a time sheet.”

“I’m getting early and late shifts stacked together at Amazon and can’t get any sleep.”

“I need to see the doctor, but my job doesn’t give me benefits, my state didn’t expand Medicaid, and I can’t afford an Obamacare plan.”

Despite their purported focus on material conditions, many leftists (especially Marxists) spend more time spouting academic-sounding jargon rather than listening to the people they want to defend. I’ve lived in the professional middle-class world for just over a decade now. But I’ve tried not to forget where I came from or what my values were. I still detest jargon and doublespeak and piles of abstractions that sound pretty on paper but mean nothing in practice.

Want to support the working class? Then listen. Don’t call them the “proletariat.” Say “you and me,” “your average person,” “the little guy.” Don’t talk about the “bourgeoisie.” Say “the bosses,” “the big guys,” or give names: Donald Trump, Elon Musk, Warren Buffett. It’s a lot easier to grasp it if you talk about specific people rather than a nebulous “bourgeoisie.” Put down Das Kapital and the Communist Manifesto. Talk plainly. Speak from the heart. Make it easy for people to imagine a better world. If you want to talk about material conditions, then fucking describe them. If you want to talk about how companies exploit their employees, then give examples. Some leftists do this, but it’s typically covered in a pile of jargon.

And your average working-class American isn’t going to be thrilled to talk about communism or socialism, either, especially if they’re older. The same people who want the government to provide them with healthcare and housing, or their unions to protect their rights, are the same ones who will turn around and denounce communism. “The country’s becoming more communist every minute,” someone—a sixtyish woman working in a unionised job—said to me recently. Communism isn’t a concrete set of political demands; it’s an abstract evil force that they associate with the Soviet Union (though they’ll usually call it “Russia”) and the Cold War. Like it or not, Marx’s better ideas have been tainted by association with the terrors inflicted by Stalin and his imitators. “Dictatorship of the proletariat” is going to make people think of Stalin, not workers’ taking control over what they produce, as they do in worker-owned cooperatives. When you ask them to think of a socialist country, they’ll think about dictatorial regimes like the USSR and North Korea.

This isn’t to say that working-class people are stupid because they think of Stalin and Kim Jong Un when you mention socialism.  Quite the contrary. They may not have read a word of Marx, but they can tell you exactly how alienated they are from their job, how exploited they feel by their bosses, how much they want to put food on the table without accounting for every penny, how frustrated they are when they talk and no one listens.

If you want workers to rise up against unfair conditions, if you want to spur a mass movement, you need to be able to meet people where they are. You can’t just wait for everything to suck so much that people will join the Socialist Equity Party of Liberation instead of voting for the tried-and-true Republicans and Democrats who actually know how to win an election. They’re just going to pull the lever for Biden or Trump. It’s impossible to have a mass movement if you don’t know how to reach the masses, but a lot of “materialist” leftists don’t seem to get that—they’re trapped in the ivory tower as much as their “pseudo-leftist” progressive counterparts are.

Talk plainly. Speak from the heart. Ditch the jargon. And then you’ll have a movement.

My horse, my horse, my kingdom for a horse…

…I mean, a left movement that manages to avoid the following things:

  • Praising Hamas or other theocratic terrorist organisations (eg, Al-Qaeda, ISIS, Boko Haram, Palestinian Islamic Jihad or Hezbollah)
  • Writing in a way that’s inaccessible to the people they claim to stand for (usually the working class, and sometimes disabled people if it’s disability-studies scholars who sound no different from their non-disabled counterparts in all the worst ways)
  • Politicising identity to the point that people turn into two-dimensional “oppressor” and “oppressed” classes (usually based on ethnicity, race, or gender) without nuance or distinction
  • Thinking that YELLING LOUDLY WITHOUT CLARIFYING YOUR POSITION is a GOOD WAY TO MAKE A POINT IN AN ARGUMENT. Extra points if you use the clapping 👏 hand 👏 emoji 👏 or repeat your sentence three times, first time in regular type, then italicised, then boldfaced
  • Promoting ideas that are impossible to implement on a large scale unless there’s a transitional period between the current and ideal states
  • Claiming that state propaganda organs like RT (Russia), Sputnik (Russia), TASS (Russia), the Korean Central News Agency (North Korea), Xinhua (China), Press TV (Iran), Global Times (China), TeleSUR (Venezuela), Prensa Latina (Cuba), Al Mayadeen (Lebanon), or Orinoco Tribune (Venezuela) are real “anti-imperialist news”
  • In contrast, relying solely or primarily on Western state media like Radio Liberty/Radio Free Asia (USA), BBC (UK), Deutsche Welle (Germany), or France 24, though this is more of a centre-left phenomenon. Although these sources are much more reliable than their Russian, Chinese, or Iranian equivalents, they tend to gloss over the faults of pro-Western regimes like Ukraine, South Korea, Japan, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia
  • Using only pro-government sources (there are sites that criticise the government without defending Russia) about the Ukrainian conflict, including Kyiv Independent, Kyiv Post, Ukraine Crisis Media Centre, Euromaidan Press, and Ukrainska Pravda. Ukrainian propaganda is less likely to make shit up than Russian propaganda, but it often treats Kiev’s repression and ethnocentric nationalism as a good thing
  • Using conspiracy-theory-laden websites like The Greyzone, MintPress News, Donbass Insider, and Moon of Alabama as reliable sources about China, Russia, or Syria
  • Spreading conspiracy theories in the name of “anti-imperialism,” including debunked claims about Syria’s gas killings and Ukraine’s purported biolabs
  • Treating activism like the Oppression Olympics, even though that’s a game nobody actually wants to win
  • Creating new political parties instead of trying to push existing ones further to the left (yes, I’m kind of an entryist; deal with it)
  • Related to the last point, running presidential or other candidates that have no chance of winning—why run anyone for office if you know damn well that a candidate from the People’s Socialist Party of Freedom, Equality and Liberation has zero chance of winning against the Democrat or Republican (or mainstream equivalents in other countries, like the Tories and Labour in the UK, or the German Christian Democrats and Social Democrats)
  • Refusing to build coalitions across the left because purity politics makes it impossible, thereby allowing the right to split us up and indirectly help leaders like Donald Trump, Geert Wilders and Jair Bolsonaro come to power
  • Expressing essentialist ideas about genders, races or cultures (“Russian culture exists to oppress Ukrainians,” “Indigenous Americans are noble sages,” “men are all rapists,” “‘real’ women are delicate flowers who need ‘sex-based rights’ to protect them from evil trans women”)
  • Calling anyone who disagrees with them “reactionary” or “pseudo-left” (Trotskyists do this a lot)
  • Focusing more on style than substance (“trans women” versus “transwoman”, #KyivNotKiev)
  • Venerating past and present tyrannical dictators like Joseph Stalin, Mao Zedong, “respected comrade” Kim Jong Un and the rest of his family, Bashar al-Assad, Vladimir Putin (who isn’t even a leftist, much less a communist), Xi Jinping, Ho Chi Minh, Fidel Castro, Hugo Chavez, Nicolas Maduro, Daniel Ortega, ad nauseam
  • Focusing on foreign policy to the exclusion of domestic policy
  • Focusing on domestic policy to the exclusion of foreign policy
  • Treating Volodymyr Zelensky (and by extension the bumbling Ukrainian central government) as though the were the second coming of Winston Churchill
  • Throwing around jargon like “anti-imperialist,” “settler colonial,” “decolonise,” “bourgeois,” “proletarian,” “imperialist,” “neoliberal,” and “geopolitical economy” without being clear about what they mean
  • Reducing all relationships of dominance and oppression to the control of the means of production or the lack thereof (which is silly, since racism, all sexisms and xenophobia can occur under any economic system, including socialism)
  • Supporting right-wing authoritarian states because they’re opposed to US policy (mostly Russia and Iran)
  • Supporting authoritarian communist or socialist states because they’re opposed to US policy (mostly China, North Korea, Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Syria)
  • Treating politics like a sports game
  • Spouting ableist views—including fat-shaming—because their concept of class or identity organising completely ignores the idea that disability is political
  • Treating the writings of Marx and Engels (or sometimes Lenin, Stalin, and Mao) as holy writ
  • Siding with anti-Western states because they’re “anti-imperialist” (as though China and Russia weren’t expansionist empires, which is the analogue of Japanese, Ukrainian or Taiwanese boosting of Western imperialisms because they’re against China and Russia)
  • Supporting reactionary, xenophobic movements like Brexit (a common view among some British communists, as well as the perennial candidate and professional fruitcake and anti-vaxxer Jill Stein) because they’re against the EU’s neoliberalism
  • Dismissing reports of sexual abuse because they’re a “distraction” from the class struggle
  • Denying genocidal actions of anti-US regimes (China in particular)
  • Claiming that their movement, whether Trotskyism, orthodox Marxism–Leninism, anarchism, or any other tendency, is the only way to solve society’s problems
  • Uncritically defending Ukraine or other pro-Western countries with deeply problematic policies (more common in North American and Western European mainstream media, though views like this sometimes appear among social democrats and other more moderate leftists)
  • Dismissing, defending or promoting racism, misogyny, homophobia or transphobia on the grounds that feminism, pro-LGBTQ activism and antiracism distract from the class struggle
  • Constantly putting political one-upmanship over the real lives, concerns and feelings of actual human beings

Unfortunately, this seems impossible to find, at least for now. I know I can’t agree with everything I find, but the lacuna between my views and theirs is staggering. (But mainstream centre-left politics leaves me unsatisfied, too, and anything on the right is obviously out of the question.)

Right-libertarianism and Marxism are more similar than you’d expect

I use “Marxism” and “right-libertarian” loosely to refer to ideas that, respectively, focus on the dichotomous struggle between the bourgeoisie (owners of the means of production, especially people who extract labour from their employees or consumers) and the proletariat (people who have nothing but their work to give), or the dichotomous struggle between the winners (those who benefit from capitalist conditions) and losers (those who have not managed to pull themselves up by their bootstraps).

Both these ideologies present a zero-sum view of humanity, though they take different perspectives: Marxists focus on the conflict between collectives, and right-libertarians seem these conflicts as individual. Both have a zero-sum character that reminds me of Social Darwinism. For one to survive, the other must be eliminated. This kind of winner-takes-all thinking is pervasive and seems to have brought us nowhere.

The frustrating thing is that right-libertarians often have valuable things to say about freedom of speech and expression, though they are often dismissive of how groups of people experience systemic oppression. A lot of them think that sexism, racism, homophobia and transphobia will be vanquished in the free marketplace of ideas—or that these forms of prejudice are even justifiable because they continue to exist. And Marxists have an acute understanding of how economic inequality and exploitation lead to poverty, suffering and misery—but they don’t always care about individual rights and support the suppression of dissent. And like their right-libertarian counterparts, they may pooh-pooh racism and other systemic oppressions—or uphold them—because they’re secondary to the class struggle. (And then you have the identity-reductionist counterparts, but they are distinct enough from Marxists and right-libertarians that I’ll deal with them separately.) All these are counterproductive, reductive mindsets that ignore the complexities inherent to human existence.