Last March I went to the Left Forum in New York, which is a yearly gathering of liberals, progressives, anarchists, socialists, communists, hippies, punks, mystics, conspiracy theorists and anti-conspiracy theorists who are all trying to figure out how to get to a decent future from the indecent present. Nobody, of course, knows how to do that. There may not even be a path to a decent future from the indecent present, but I always find the Left Forum hopeful because a few thousand people in one place are at least putting their minds to the problem.
The panel discussion I most wanted to see (out of 300 or so) was called “The Crisis That Gives the Capitalist Class Nightmares,” because Michael Hudson was speaking. Whenever Hudson writes something, I read it, because he’s one of a tiny number of economists with academic credentials who predicted the present debt crisis. (Apparently not predicting crises is necessary for tenure in most economic departments these days.) At the panel, he explained that when labor is squeezed to the point that it can’t purchase anything, the capitalist is left with nothing to invest in, except more debt, and so we end up with Wall Street creating ever more complicated, ever more leveraged, ever more worthless junk for its gambling habit. When this collapses, as it must, half the hospitals in Latvia (which Hudson advises) have to shut down for lack of funds.
The next guy to speak was Hillel Ticktin, an emeritus professor of Marxist Studies at the University of Glasgow. Whip smart, grumpy and funny, Ticktin expanded on the theme of “fictitious capital,” as Marx called money made from money with no value added. Ticktin said we had reached the last stage of empire with this humongous array of empty numbers in computers that is our economy and recommended we all read Volume 3 of Capital. Then he closed with a question: “Does the ruling class really want to commit suicide?”
Every time I have watched the news since March, I think back to that question and have an anxiety attack.
Because, yes, the ruling class is trying to commit suicide. In and of itself, this would be a great boon to mankind. Imagine if the ruling class admitted their abject failure to get anything right, and did the honorable thing. Top management at Wall Street, the elite of both major parties, their lobbyists, the big pr firms, the worst hacks of the corporate press, most CEOs and COOs–what if they all just got in a big bathtub, conceded defeat and opened up a vein like Frank Pentangeli in The Godfather II? Who would miss them?
So suicide isn’t the problem, exactly. The problem is that they don’t know they’re trying to kill themselves, and it doesn’t occur to them to behave honorably. The ruling class is not Frank Pentangeli. The ruling class is the husband who is failing at work, having his home foreclosed, his car repossessed, his children are getting humiliated at school because they aren’t wearing the right clothes, the self-help books have failed, the church offers no solace, television won’t acknowledge his existence–so he shoots his wife and four kids and then puts the gun in his mouth.
Thus the problem is murder suicide. The husband wants to kill the only people in his life more powerless than himself, because they are living reminders of his own shame.
Let me spell that out. The ruling class is the husband. Everyone who works in the productive economy is the wife and four kids. The ruling class wants to commit suicide because it has so completely failed and because everything it believes is so obviously wrong. One part of the ruling class brain knows it doesn’t do anything worth doing, and another part of the ruling class brain doesn’t want to be reminded and lives in terror of being exposed. This is called denial. To keep the denial in place, evidence of failure must be destroyed. If you, oh reader, are the living evidence of ruling class failure, it is a dangerous situation.
The ruling class wrecked the economy. That was a stupendous failure, but at least they were wrecking a social construct that deserved wrecking. Organizing labor on the principle that the guy with the most money gets to tell everyone else what to do–how did that come to be considered a good idea? How did that get equated with freedom? Every major religion warns against greed, and somehow most of the United States has come to believe that letting the greedheads run everything is efficient.
That’s so 20th century.
The bigger problem is that the ruling class, in its murder suicide frenzy, is killing nature. Nature is not a social construct. It’s really there. It’s alive. As such, it is too painful for the ruling class to look at, so they are killing it. Anything that reminds them of life, anything that isn’t money, has to go.
It’s a mistake to fetishize all this evil and project it onto BP. BP is one sociopath in a culture of sociopathy. If you read its “plan” for dealing with oil spills in the Gulf, as some enterprising reporters did for the Associated Press, it is a contemptuous joke from beginning to end. It is full of bizarre lies and mistakes. The corporate flunkies who accepted it at the Minerals Management Service should be in prison. The company that wrote it, the company that had no plan whatsoever for dealing with a deep blowout in the Gulf of Mexico, cares about brown pelicans like Joran van der Sloot cares about young women.
The chorus of energy companies denying global warming wasn’t killing nature fast enough for BP, so it invited nature into a hotel room and strangled her.
A prophecy: At some point this summer, a hurricane is going to blow through the Gulf of Mexico. It’s going to drown New Orleans in carcinogenic sludge, again, and a day later it’s going to be raining tar balls on Nashville. People all over the South will go to church and demand that Jesus save them. Jesus will choose this moment to make his return to earth: “Hey, I told you 2000 years ago that it’s easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to get into heaven. I told you that the poor are blessed. I told you that as you treat the least of these, you have treated me. That means if you oppress the poor, you oppress me. That means if you drown pelicans in oil, you’re drowning me. But you didn’t read that part of the New Testament. You only read that weird symbolism in the Book of Revelations and argued about nothing while the ruling class destroyed everything. You came to believe that my teachings were somehow consistent with capitalism. I mean, where did you get that from? I’m the guy who threw the money changers out of the temple. You think the money changers of Wall Street are going to save you when the ocean dies? You think I’m going to save you with some kind of rapture and vacuum the believers into heaven? Not a chance. But you do have a choice. You can deal with the ruling class now, or you can burn in a hell of your own creation.”