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Educational Examples

Biased science.

Science is always biased. Yeah, even if there’s a lot of math in it. I’m not anti-math or anti-science…quite the opposite, really. And while I don’t really care to go into my personal background too much here, suffice to say I have a lot of experience in scientific research and mathematical modeling. And while I’m opposed to professionalization barring people from discussing science (why will likely be made clear by the end of this essay), my point is that I am what most would consider to be a professional scientist and/or mathematician. Getting to that point was difficult: my family’s never had enough money, and they’ve never put much weight on academic achievement. That’s not to say they weren’t supportive, more that it was often pretty blurry to them what they were even supporting me to do. I mean, it was blurry even to me. It still feels like I stumbled through schooling, all just to wind up poorer than my high school dropout older brother. But I kept doing it, not because I’m a high-achiever or a hard worker. I’m not, which was a real fucking disappointment to a lot of project advisors and professors, honestly. I just liked it. And despite my chronic disinterest in attaining any sort of official marker of success, I’d make myself push through all sorts of bullshit if it meant I got to keep doing research. 

However, I take issue with a lot of this sort of “mythos” around scientific research, tech development, and modeling. It’s not objective and unbiased. I don’t even mean that it’s sometimes biased, I’m saying it’s always biased. It just is. In the words of Ben Shapiro, noted opinion-haver, facts don’t care about your feelings. You can’t avoid it.  

All scientific research, and all mathematical models require assumptions. And the prevailing ideology of the culture you live in is going to influence what assumptions you make. This isn’t necessarily bad, it simply is. However, science, models, and tech-development tend to go bad when we decide that those assumptions don’t matter, when they do, or when we insist there is no value-judgement motivating the assumptions (e.g. that these assumptions are universal, rather than relative to some sort of ideology/value system). This can be as seemingly-mundane as the assumption that knowing what a molecular bond structure looks like matters. If it didn’t matter, then why bother to create the electron microscope? Why bother to use an electron microscope when you’re studying a molecular compound? Why assume zooming-in on the substance will be more useful than, say, eating it? Why do we even care about the substance? Do we think it can be useful to medicine, and want to improve medical treatments? Do we think this knowledge is intellectually valuable independent of application? You can’t begin a research project without making value judgements on what matters. 

Consider a more specific example: painkillers. Deciding that treating physical pain matters, even if it doesn’t address physical damage, is highly motivated by ideology. It’s only logical to pursue pain treatment if you’ve already made the value judgement: does it matter if someone’s in physical pain? Keep in mind that saying no doesn’t mean you’re more objective. Deciding that it doesn’t matter is still a value-judgement. There’s no objective answer, and if you’re in search of one…buddy, that’s ideology (1) making you think such objectivity is valuable, and (2) masking what subjective values are actually driving your decision-making process. If you ask me, it’s bad to blind yourself from your own system of values. And my saying that is, itself, a value judgement. 

This may seem pedantic until you realize how much these assumptions can impact actual people. For example, consider the concept of “predictive policing.” In the city of Chicago, violent crime and limited police officers motivated the Chicago Police to invest in crime-predicting software:


The Chicago police will use data and computer analysis to identify neighborhoods that are more likely to experience violent crime, assigning additional police patrols in those areas.

How Big Bad Data Could Make Policing Worse, Fast Company

This may sound all well and good to a lot of people; however, an algorithm like this requires the assumption that the data we have on violent crime in Chicago is representative of all violent crime in Chicago. Further, patrolling could be based on violent crime data, but police would still be capable of arresting people for, say, underage drinking, once they’re there patrolling the area…are we assuming more run-ins with police at a young age will have no influence on a person later in life? Are we assuming it doesn’t matter if it does? Also, what counts as violent crime? According to the US Bureau of Justice Statistics, violent crime includes “murder, rape and sexual assault, robbery, and assault.” Rape is considered to be the most underreported of all violent crime, so data would almost certainly underrepresent acts of sexual assault. Does that matter? Whatever your answer is, that is a value-judgement. Further, wealth will often mean you have the means to (1) not get caught, and (2) argue the severity of the charges down in court, or even have them completely dropped. On (1), if you murder someone on your private estate, you’re less likely to be caught than if you do it on the streets. On (2), consider Jeffrey Epstein (deceased), the financier arrested for sex trafficking in 2019. 


Epstein’s arrest has brought his many high-level connections into scrutiny. Epstein counts many famous figures in his social circle, including President Donald Trump—who once referred to him as a “terrific guy” —Prince Andrew and former President Bill Clinton, who took trips on his private jet. 

Here’s What to Know About the Sex Trafficking Case Against Jeffrey Epstein, Time

There is credible rape allegations against high-profile people (like Joe Biden and Donald Trump), and more often than not, these people are never convicted. Even ignoring the role of corruption, this is unsurprising. A private jet isn’t going to have witnesses, surveillance footage, or police patrolling capable of catching criminals in the act. If we don’t acknowledge what assumptions go into this model, “predictive policing” can quickly turn into the over-policing of poor, black neighborhoods under the guise of “math.” It could also lead us to severely underestimate violence done by the very wealthy. Which, really bold assumption to deem that insignificant.

Algorithms like this have actually been proposed for non-violent crime-prediction (see the book Weapons of Math Destruction). This requires even more ideological value-assumptions. For instance, do we want police cracking down more on drug usage? A homeless person doing drugs is far more likely to have a run-in with police than someone doing drugs inside their own home, and this would skew police drug-usage data. Should homeless people be subjected to more policing than the wealthy? Should we invest in more police, or housing? Should we do neither? How do we invest? Do we tax the rich? Or do we prohibit the rich from profiting off wage labor entirely? 

Are capitalists valuable to society? 

Ideology influences how you observe something. If you believe racial differences play a fundamental role in behavior, this is going to change how you interpret both the present and the past. If you believe achievement is primarily based on merit, then you may ignore other factors leading to someone’s accomplishments. Ideology is deeply-ingrained, and often only subconsciously influences how we see the world. And just as you can’t set up a scientific experiment without making assumptions, you can’t navigate through the world without some sort of ideology…you can’t overcome ideological thinking.

But you can and (based on my own value judgement) should aim to be aware of what assumptions/values go into your own ideology, as well as the ideology motivating others (especially at the societal-level). For instance, do you think it’s bad to be angry? Is it good to be happy? Is it your responsibility to be happy, so as to not interfere with someone else’s happiness? Do you think people always act in self-interest? Do people even know what they want? What do you mean when you say someone is optimistic? Does civility matter? Are evictions inherently violent? What does it mean to be patriotic? 

Is Harry Potter cool? The answer is no. Who imagines a world where magic is real, and everything is still regulated by bureaucrats. That’s fucking lame as shit.


For a look at how ideology relates to our response to the COVID-19 crisis, check out the following articles:

Isolating COVID-19: alienated crises, and the crisis of alienation

“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.” ― Helen Keller Neoliberalism largely functions via alienation, and crisis is not excluded from this. The inherent instability of capitalism inevitably leads to crisis; however, the experience of crisis is very often isolatedㅡby geographical region, time, or type. For example, economic expansion requires […]


Categories
System Assessments

10 ways COVID-19 is showing us the cracks in a global capitalist system.

Pictures added by Regina Larsen.

In the past few months, the pandemic has laid bare the horrors of our global neoliberal system. Here’s some lessons I’ve learned since the outbreak of COVID-19:


(1) All the resources and labor funneled into the military has done little to protect us from this crisis, and may even wind up exacerbating the spread.

Instead of investing in healthcare, workers’ time and energy has been wasted on  nuclear bombs, costly wars based on manufactured threats (that fail to even accomplish their real goals), and marketing meant to sway public opinion in favor of the war industry. 


(2) The US military is more concerned with its public image than the lives of its soldiers, or the lives of the American people.

As this disease rapidly spreads, militaries can’t even be bothered to protect their own soldiers and sailors, with the US Navy going so far as to fire Capt. Brett Crozier for trying to protect his sailors from infection after several aboard the aircraft carrier tested positive for the novel coronavirus.


“More than a dozen soldiers at installations across the United States and overseas told Army Times they’re frustrated with commanders still sending troops to the field, forcing soldiers to come to work to do mundane tasks that aren’t mission essential, and failing to test potentially sick individuals.”

Soldiers’ fears grow as commanders train through coronavirus outbreak, Army Times

A soldier assigned to 2nd Infantry Division on the joint base told Army Times, “in terms of PT and daily battle rhythm, absolutely nothing has changed.” The soldier goes on, “this is all taking place at a base which is in the epicenter of the outbreak in the US. We have over 100 cases in the two counties that surround JBLM and where a majority of families live, and over a thousand cases throughout the rest of Washington.” Apparently it’s “good leadership” to needlessly put thousands of soldiers and civilians at risk of infection so long as you don’t hurt public perception. According to a US Navy veteran we spoke to (who wishes to remain anonymous), this focus on public image at the expense of public safety has always been how the military operates, especially when it comes to the recruits themselves:


“The military wants to be able to control the soldiers; that’s what the chain of command is all about. You’re basically not a US citizen, you’re owned by the military. It’s a propaganda issue [in regards to Capt. Crozier being relieved of duty] is what it is. […]

“They’re less concerned with the lives of sailors or soldiers; they’re more concerned with the propaganda. […] I mean, that goes way back. Look at Vietnam. They [just] cared about selling a war to America.”


He further remarks on how US military conditions are simply not capable of handling a disease outbreak like this, highlighting, again, that retaliatory measures against those speaking out is more about controlling soldiers “through fear” than it is about a genuine security risk that could harm the American people. 


“What do we do with all these soldiers in basic training? In barracks? They don’t want to be there. […]

“Your living quarters are very small in a military ship. They don’t have [their own] rooms—there’s like 30 guys living in this small space. It’s worse than prison, really, as far as proximity goes. They’re all gonna get infected…there’s no way around it. […] I mean, look at [the spread of the virus in] cruise ships, and a Navy ship is even worse.

“All these people in small spaces. […] When you’re in basic…[training is] going on 12 months a year—all branches of the service. […] You have 80-100 guys living in barracks of bunkbeds, so yeah, it [COVID-19] gets in there, it spreads like wildfire.”


It’s worth considering that pneumonia and influenza killed more soldiers and sailors in the first World War than did enemy weapons, and that many researchers believe the spread of Spanish Influenza was significantly aided by wartime conditions (e.g. cramped quarters, and the war taking precedent over containing the outbreak).


(3) So-called first world countries have extremely poor healthcare systems.

These wealthy neoliberal countries seem almost entirely unable to address this public health crisis. In Italy, political officials delayed early containment, allowing the disease to spread quickly. In the US, faulty and delayed testing has led to widespread confusion. Containment was also severely worsened by political officials and media coverage downplaying the severity of the virus. Further issues are brought on by the US for-profit healthcare system, particularly tying health coverage to employment:


“More than three million Americans just lost their jobs in the middle of a global pandemic. For those whose jobs offered benefits, that also probably means they’re losing their health insurance, too — exposing yet another way in which the US health system is vulnerable amid a public health emergency.”

How do 3 million newly unemployed people get health care?, Vox News


(4) Capitalist governments are more concerned with corporate profits than the actual people they govern.

Many political officials seem more concerned with protecting their personal assets, than their people. Healthcare workers are struggling to find/keep housing with landlords viewing them as a liability, and of course, capitalism doesn’t guarantee housing…even if you’re on the frontline protecting people from a public health crisis. 


“These are the same people who are going to take care of you if you wind up in the hospital, or God forbid the ICU. And if I’m sleeping in my car, I’m not functioning my best. … If you want people to help, they have to have a place to live.”

nurse from Hawaii who recently faced eviction (no name given to respect request for anonymity)

While the death toll rises, people are hoarding resources to try to make a profit off the pandemic, while major media outlets continue to address the real victims of this crisis—the wealthy. For example, this article by The New York Times frames a guy hoarding hand sanitizer (with the intention of price-gouging) as the victim, while a headline by The Washington Post reads The struggle to argue for opening the economy without sounding as if you’re okay with more people dying…the article itself is behind a paywall, naturally.  


(5) Capitalist unity ranges from fragile to nonexistent; the European Union appears to be nothing more than lip service.

The European Union has all but abandoned Italy, with no plans to send medical assistance or supplies despite Italy being one of the worst-hit countries. Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic bitterly commented: “European solidarity does not exist. It was a fairytale.”


“This is a shocking failure of European solidarity. The impression in Italy, Spain and Serbia and so on is that the weaker links will be left alone.”

— head of a European think tank

Meanwhile, China and Cuba, long depicted by capitalist countries as anti-humanitarian, have stepped up, sending medical equipment and personnel to combat the outbreak in Italy. 


(6) The United Nation and the World Health Organization are not the peaceful, humanitarian organizations they pretend to be.

Iran is facing US economic sanctions on top of the COVID-19 breakout. Over 3000 Iranians have already died from the disease, and sanctions make the novel coronavirus all the more deadly.  


“Following correspondence about the U.S. government’s illegal sanctions against the Islamic Republic of Iran and its direct impact on the health of the Iranian people, unfortunately, so far, the United Nations and other relevant organizations including the World Health Organization, which claim to defend the rights of humanity, have taken no effective measures to lift the cruel sanctions against our dear children, women, men and patients.

“Instead, despite the urging of scientists, physicians and even some elected US officials to lift sanctions amid a worldwide Covid-19 disease pandemic, this irrational, ruthless American government has further tightened sanctions against the Iranian people.”

Alireza Marandi, President of The Academy of Medical Sciences of Iran

Now the Iranian government is being forced to request emergency funding from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Considering the IMF collaborates with the United Nations, and the IMF’s decades-long track record of “imposing unnecessary and often harmful conditions on borrowing countries,” silence from the UN is very likely the real solidarity of capitalists. That is, the US has long been obsessed with gaining control in Iran, and thanks to the corporatization within the UN, it’s unsurprising the UN is complacent with the US waging economic (and now medical) warfare against the Iranian people. 


(7) The US is falling back on racism and xenophobia, blaming China in an attempt to derail how both the Republicans and the Democrats have put Americans at risk, while protecting corporate interests. The government is further using the crisis to push policy through under the radar.

While Republicans downplayed the servety of the outbreak, the Democrats held primaries in several states during the coronavirus outbreak (bringing the legitimacy of the Democratic primaries into question). A close up during a recent press briefing revealed Trump had crossed out “corona” and replaced it with “Chinese” in his notes, indicating his calling the disease “Chinese Virus” is an intentional ploy to redirect blame onto China for the US’s inability to slow the spread of the virus. 

Blaming China is an especially nonsensical response, seeing as the pandemic is linked to capitalist land development and agricultural practices, climate change, and the US’s defunded and privatized healthcare system. Sentiments that China is covering up conditions, ignores that this is happening in the US now thanks to hospital privatization.

Further, agricultural practices in the US have actually been specifically noted as a risk for novel diseases. 

The following video by The Real News Network goes over how anti-Chinese racism around coronavirus is an extension of colonialist and racist sentiments built into the US socioeconomic system. It’s also worth noting that building up China as a threat relates to (2), that is, this outside “threat” is likely being leveraged as a way to control military recruits who are becoming increasingly frustrated with poor leadership. All branches continue to insist many members are “essential” despite there being a lack of pressing tasks for these members to even attend to…is the GOP using China as a manufactured threat to bolster the military’s both internal and external credibility amid growing concerns from soldiers that leadership is recklessly managing the crisis? 

The US government is not just utilizing China to divert blame from its own inability to stop the spread of the virus, the government is using the crisis itself to mask huge political moves from the public-eye (e.g. Shock Capitalism). The following image depicts just one example of this disturbing push towards quietly implementing neoconservative policies, such as increasing surveillance and policing.

Shock capitalism is a concern everywhere. Israel’s lockdown over coronavirus has halted Palestinian human rights work, but hasn’t ended over-policing and violent abuse


(8) We have been lied to about what matters.

Many of the institutions and ideologies we’ve been told are vital to society are only hindering a response to the outbreak. Lack of paid sick leave, largely justified as being a privilege one needs to earn rather than a right, is worsening the spread of the disease in the US. Aggressive policing in New York City isn’t protecting people, it’s worsening the spread of the virus, thereby putting more people at risk. And prisons aren’t the closed systems people seem to think they are, and, unsurprisingly, cramped living quarters, unsanitary/violent conditions, and poor healthcareseverely increase the risk of prisons becoming hotspots for the disease

Further, the shutdown of many businesses is proving (1) many of this work is not necessary (e.g. corporate lawyers, lobbyists), and (2) Marx’s labor theory of value is extremely relevant today.


(9) The pain many people are experiencing did not start with coronavirus.

We all depend on each other every single day, often in ways we don’t even consider. This disconnect begins to look like a caricature with the outbreak hitting countries like the US and Italy. Consider the farming co-operative near Rome, started by formerly exploited African fruit farmer:


“Many of the founders took part in the Rosarno revolt, an uprising in January 2010 in which hundreds of African fruit pickers whose labour was being exploited in Italy’s citrus groves rose up in support of a workmate seriously injured in a racist attack. The rebellion broke the silence surrounding the conditions of immigrant workers in the Italian countryside.”

“A beautiful thing”: the African migrants getting healthy food to Italians, The Guardian 

These workers are now working “twice as hard” in response to the COVID-19 outbreak because they want to, and because they care about the scarcity many local households are facing. Don’t be grateful for grocery store workers putting their health at risk to give you food…stand in solidarity with them and demand working conditions be made safer. Stop with this notion that people are only willing to work if they’re treated like garbage, or showered with wealth. Stop with the guilt-complexes, the superiority-complexes…morality, shame, and narcissism do nothing but obscure the system hurting people. 

Don’t be grateful for their exploitation feeding you or making your medical supplies, which is essentially what the sentiment “be grateful, there’s children starving in Africa” boils down to. Join hands together in the fight for workers rights…children in Africa don’t need to be starving in order for you to eat and it’s high time we realize that. Right now there are people in refugee camps worried about the outbreak worsening already poor living conditions, there’s elderly people in Italy more fearful of loneliness than the virus, and in Africa, many of us are more worried about starvation than coronavirus thanks to Western oil companies polluting the farmlands and waterways forcing us to become reliant on imports…keep in mind we don’t profit off oil extraction, we’re just left with the consequences.


(10) This is a class war…workers need to stand together in solidarity; further, this crisis really highlights how many people think pessimistic escapism is optimism.

The working class are all feeling the same pain, even if we’re isolated from one another by country, citizenship, race, religion, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, etc. The problem is capitalism. We—workers, students, the unemployed, professionals—we need to stand together. This is a class war that we did not start. We need to stand together in solidarity right now, and we need to reject the ruling class’ plea that “we are in this together.” We, the workers, are in this together…if the exploiters would like to join in our fight for socialism, then they must do so on our terms. Corporations telling you “we are in this together” are trying to maintain the system that gives them all the power.

Be wary of the media telling you about the small business owner and the landlord that is only renting out the second floor of their house…they are using these people as a bludgeon against the working class. These people are not the ruling class, and we urge them to join together with us in solidarity. It is the international corporations that make it near-impossible for small businesses to survive. It is the ruling class that has led to the proletarianization of physicians, forcing doctors and nurses to work under exploitative and overly-demanding conditions

While it often seems as if the ruling classes aren’t themselves even happy, they are nonetheless the class with power. They are the class with a monopoly on violence that they’re quick to use if their power comes into question (e.g. police, military, etc.)…I don’t refrain from taking food from Bill Gates because I respect him, I refrain from doing so because I would be beaten, imprisoned, and/or killed. The ruling class is hoarding resources, enabling them to induce scarcity in areas to force people to do labor under conditions they would not normally agree to. They are manufacturing consent, and the COVID-19 crisis is making that glaringly obvious. 

Corporations telling us “we are in this together” are not being optimistic. Optimism is not pretending the world is already just when there is overwhelming evidence that it is not! That is the Just-World Phenomenon, and it is a way of excusing inequality. It is either cruel or pessimistic. That is, it is pessimistic to fall back on pretending the world is already just because that means it is you that thinks there is no hope of it getting better. If you cannot see hope in people discussing exploitation with passionate anger, it is you who is negative, not the people who are outraged…that outrage is fueled by the positive-thinking that things can get better if we stand together in solidarity and fight to make them better. 

There is a violent class war happening, and people need to realize socialists didn’t start it…socialists want to end it. Wealth is not an identity like race, religion, or sexuality. It is the material hoarding of resources at the expense of others. 

And if that doesn’t make you angry, you’re just not paying attention. 


Categories
System Assessments

Isolating COVID-19: alienated crises, and the crisis of alienation

“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.”

― Helen Keller

Neoliberalism largely functions via alienation, and crisis is not excluded from this. The inherent instability of capitalism inevitably leads to crisis; however, the experience of crisis is very often isolatedㅡby geographical region, time, or type. For example, economic expansion requires environmental exploitation, but for many, this exploitation is happening over there. They don’t see it and they don’t experience the direct negative consequences of it, so even if they’re aware it’s happening, it feels distant. They are physically isolated from the crisis of an oil spill. We can also feel temporal isolation from a shared crisis. The majority of people will feel the crisis of being unable to find work at some point in their life. Yet, the unemployment crisis often feels like a personal crisis because we are the only one feeling the crisis in the moment. Time separates our experience of the crisis. Then there is the most complex way crises are alienatedㅡthat is, by type. Homelessness, incarceration, routine hunger, being without care during a medical illness, drug addiction…while these are all crises, they’re very often viewed as completely independent and unrelated experiences. In reality, these crises are not unrelated, and for the Left, the relationship is obvious. A capitalist economic system directly causes (or severely exacerbates) all of these crises (see footnote [1], as well as Capital by Karl Marx, or for a soft-intro on the concepts of capitalism and alienation, check out Pod Damn America’s podcast episode Matt Christman’s Softcore History).

The Spectacle of Crisis

“By alienation is meant a mode of experience in which the person experiences himself as an alien. […] The alienated person is out of touch with himself as he is out of touch with any other person. He, like the others, are experienced as things are experienced; with the senses and with common sense, but at the same time without being related to oneself and to the world outside positively.”

― Erich Fromm, The Sane Society 

The segregation of crisis experience keeps people alienated from one another, and from a shared reality. The individual in crisis can’t help but feel alone, unable to relate to the experiences conveyed by others. Beyond loneliness, this can further lend to feelings of rejection, shame, or resentment. Feeling emotionally defensive, the individual will now be even more likely to dismiss or minimize the emotions of others in crisisㅡthe alienation from crisis recognition. Alternatively, they may feel unable to convey solidarity with wordsㅡthe alienation from language[2]. Capitalism alienates us from ourselves, from each other, from our labor…but it also isolates us from collective reality, leaving us with the spectacle in the absence of shared experience. The spectacle is “separation perfected,” or,

“In societies where modern conditions of production prevail, all of life presents itself as an immense accumulation of spectacles. Everything that was directly lived has moved away into a representation. […]

The spectacle presents itself simultaneously as all of society, as part of society, and as instrument of unification. As a part of society it is specifically the sector which concentrates all gazing and all consciousness. Due to the very fact that this sector is separate, it is the common ground of the deceived gaze and of false consciousness, and the unification it achieves is nothing but an official language of generalized separation.”

― Guy Debord, The Society of the Spectacle


Note: Guy Debord’s The Society of the Spectacle can be a difficult text to comprehend…for a very approachable and entertaining intro to the ideas it covers, check out Peter Coffin’s youtube channelㅡspecifically his video Cultural Appropriation and The Spectacle


In the midst of social distancing recommendations, COVID-19 is actually connecting crises that we generally experience as segmented, unrelated personal crises. Unemployment, food shortages, inability to access adequate treatment/care, loneliness, boredom…instead of experiencing these crises as a series of personal experiences, we are made all too aware of their connection to the pandemic. Connect this pandemic to our economic system of production, and class consciousness becomes increasingly likely. Why are authority figures acting like “business as usual”, when we all know someone who’s been laid off? Why is there relief going towards stabilizing the stock market, but the elderly are still being forced to go into public spaces to buy groceries? How can we shift to online schooling when there’s families without the computers/technology necessary for this to be a viable option? What good is good healthcare when so many people can’t afford to see a doctor, or to even self-quarantine? ICE agents continue to make arrestsㅡwon’t this type of policing prevent many from seeking testing when they show symptoms? What are containment measures for the incarcerated? Where do I get tested? How am I supposed to pay for an ambulance ride when I have to make rent and my hours have been cut down? I might be sick, but how am I going to pay for groceries if I miss my shift and pay a babysitter now that my kid’s out of school? 

Right now, the depressed person that feels socially alone, the sick person made to keep going to work, the hungry person worried about how she’ll feed her kids without school lunch…these crises are always happening under capitalism. Yet they normally appear segmented, and therefore seem unrelated and uncommon. But now the obvious relation these crises have to the COVID-19 pandemic links them all. Crisis alienation is worn down by a crisis we know is happening everywhereㅡthe illusion that these are personal crises cannot be maintained in the way it normally is.

One may argue that there are frequent shared crises to look back onㅡthe collapse of the World Trade Center on 9/11 may come to mind if you’re American. Putting aside the fact that this being an American crisis means it was a physically isolated crisis, let’s consider that manyㅡperhaps mostㅡAmericans felt alienated from this event. The spectacle of crisis always has this way of feeling performative, even optional. We can choose to partake in this communal crisis (and we’ll often want to because we’re isolated and therefore seek out social connection); however, the knowledge that you can “opt out” is always there. Even if opting out isn’t an option for you, the knowledge that it is for other people gives the crisis this sense of artificiality. This has nothing to do with whether or not one should partake, rather the material and mental option to “opt out” and resume “business as usual” is concretely there, whether or not you think that option is a moral one. For the vast majority of Americans, the option to “opt out” of the crisis of 9/11 existed. While far less spectacular, COVID-19 isn’t a crisis most people can ignore. They can’t ignore that their spouse or roommate lost their job. They can’t ignore that their parent or college professor is in a high-risk pool of individuals. They can’t ignore their children being out of school. These aren’t choices, they’re crises acting upon them, whether they like it or not. This isn’t just spectacle, and for many well-off people in the US, this may be the first “national crisis” they genuinely can’t choose to “opt out” ofㅡhopefully this clarifies the distinction here between shared crises and the spectacle of shared crisis (which can still very much be real crises for a great many people).

Cultural Myths and Independence

For many, the COVID-19 crisis is being experienced in physical quarantine, yet this crisis may push many towards a more social, less individualistic understanding of human connection. That is, one where human relation goes beyond the exchange of goods and services. The pandemic makes it clear just how reliant we are on one another. Not only is the lone wolf a myth, it’s a dangerous one. Human love is central to everything we do on this earth…you can only “opt out” by living your life in delusion. The compulsion to control all the wealth on earth for one’s own consumption is just that, a compulsion. The nationalist fixation on “securing the border,” the stockpiling of weapons of mass destruction, and, perhaps most peculiar, the wealthy scrambling to purchase fallout bunkers and helicopter escape pads…this is the neurotic behavior of an obsessive-compulsive. It is the physical manifestation of a debilitating mental obsession that one is entirely self-reliant in the face of the obvious lived reality that one is simply not. Not only will these material pursuits not lead to salvation, there is also the obvious reality that other people produced these things. No one person can build a luxury fallout shelter on his own (you couldn’t even extract the natural resources needed on your own!), and this unavoidable reality leads one to the schizophrenic fascination with commodity ownershipㅡhoarding. We need a global reconciliation of our relationships with our fellow men, and this is going to require a conscious reduction of materialism, e.g. the endless pursuit of possessions, not that we ought to abandon material analysis in favor of philosophical idealism.


Note: It is interesting how modern capitalism has muddied the meaning of the terms idealism and materialism, such that colloquial usage is almost directly opposed to the original philosophical meaningㅡsee the article Why was Marx a materialist?. This is arguably, on the societal-scale, an indication of how neoliberalism has alienated us from language[1], as it has alienated us from the material world (reality) on the whole. 


“The need for speed and newness, which can only be satisfied by consumerism, reflects restlessness, the inner flight from oneself.”

― Erich Fromm, To Have or to Be? The Nature of the Psyche 

Perhaps COVID-19 will make clear to more people that capitalism is not a rational system, so much as it is a rationalizing system, and, in the words of Erich Fromm, “rationalizing is not a tool for penetration of reality but a post-factum attempt to harmonize one’s own wishes with existing reality.” Previously it was unimaginable that labor pause for even a moment, lest we risk our supposedly-fragile social ties to one another and inevitably devolve into violent chaos. Yet, with the closing of factories, schools, churches/Mosques, football stadiums, amusement parks, and resorts, this century-long assumption is dissolving. And in fact, it’s becoming more clear that we don’t need police, lawyers, and military to “maintain order”…we don’t need professionals to negotiate the distance between us, as it’s this thinking that’s caused that social alienation to begin with. We don’t need the authority of capitalism to enforce labor because production in pursuit of obscene wealth doesn’t actually create systems that care for people.

This isn’t a rational economic arrangement, rather it’s the rationalization of the addict, the obsessive-compulsive…it’s no surprise that late-stage capitalism is marked by an exponential rise in mental health crises. Further, it’s no surprise that reduced isolation (such as in the form of a support group like Alcoholics Anonymous) is more often than not the remedy to a “personal” mental crisis. Neoliberalism and its fixation on hyper-individualism is the delusion and the crisisㅡthe lone wolf, the entrepreneur, the self-made man, the girl boss…these are selfish aspirations. This isn’t a moral judgement, it’s an acknowledgment that excessive self-interest, as well as excessive self-evaluation, are both compulsive responses to severe alienationㅡfrom oneself, other beings, and reality:

“The failure of modern culture lies not in its principle of individualism, not in the idea that moral virtue is the same as the pursuit of self-interest, but in the deterioration of the meaning of self-interest; not in the fact that people are too much concerned with their self-interest, but that they are not concerned enough with the interest of their real self; not in the fact that they are too selfish, but that they do not love themselves. […] Selfish persons are incapable of loving others, but they are not capable of loving themselves either”

― Erich Fromm, Man for Himself: An Inquiry into the Psychology of Ethics

“Selfishness is not identical with self-love but with its very opposite. Selfishness is one kind of greediness. Like all greediness, it contains an insatiability, as a consequence of which there is never any real satisfaction. Greed is a bottomless pit which exhausts the person in an endless effort to satisfy the need without ever reaching satisfaction.”

― Erich Fromm, Escape from Freedom 

People often repeat the phrase “ignorance is bliss,” but ignorance of neoliberalism’s far-reaching influence on all aspects of life will not end in a personal feeling of well-being. Pursuit of personal happiness exclusively will not lead to happiness. The fact that anyone thinks otherwise is a testament to just how alienated we are from ourselves. The classification of narcissism and greed as morally wrong, but still personally beneficial, is a collective delusion. One that signals the complete infiltration of capitalist dogma into every last aspect of life. You’re not apolitical, you’re not moderate or practical, and you’re not uninterested…you very likely don’t know enough to even make such a claim. You’re distracting yourself because the only thing you fear more than non-existence is existence. The only thing scarier than death is life.

“Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.”

― Helen Keller

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[1] “Once the primary bonds which gave security to the individual are severed, once the individual faces the world outside of himself as a completely separate entity, two courses re-open to him since he has to overcome the unbearable state of powerlessness and aloneness. By one course he can progress to “positive freedom”; he can relate himself spontaneously to the world in love and work, in the genuine expression of his emotional, sensuous and intellectual capacities; he can thus become one again with man, nature, and himself, without giving up the independence and integrity of his individual self. The other course open to him is to fall back, to give up his freedom, and to try to overcome his aloneness by eliminating the gap that has arisen between his individual self and the world. This second course never reunites him with the world in the way he was related to it before he merged as an “individual,” for the fact of his separateness cannot be reversed; it is an escape from an unbearable situation which would make life impossible if it were prolonged. This course of escape, therefore, is characterized by its compulsive character, like every escape from threatening panic; it is also characterized by the more or less complete surrender of individuality and the integrity of the self. Thus it is not a solution which leads to happiness and positive freedom; it is, in principle, a solution which is to be found in all neurotic phenomena. It assuages an unbearable anxiety and makes life possible by avoiding panic; yet it does not solve the underlying problem and is paid for by a kind of life that often consists only of automatic or compulsive activities.”

― Erich Fromm, Escape from Freedom 


[2] “Among the many forms of alienation, the most frequent one is alienation in language. If I express a feeling with a word, let us say, if I say “I love you,” the word is meant to be an indication of the reality which exists within myself, the power of my loving. The word “love” is meant to be a symbol of the fact love, but as soon as it is spoken it tends to assume a life of its own, it becomes a reality. I am under the illusion that the saying of the word is the equivalent of the experience, and soon I say the word and feel nothing, except the thought of love which the word expresses. The alienation of language shows the whole complexity of alienation. Language is one of the most precious human achievements; to avoid alienation by not speaking would be foolish — yet one must be always aware of the danger of the spoken word, that it threatens to substitute itself for the living experience. The same holds true for all other achievements of man; ideas, art, any kind of man-made objects. They are man’s creations; they are valuable aids for life, yet each one of them is also a trap, a temptation to confuse life with things, experience with artifacts, feeling with surrender and submission.” ― Erich Fromm, Marx’s Concept of Man 

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COVID-19 is showing us just how flawed the US economic system really is.

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to the near shutdown of the service industry. This has similarly led to mass unemployment in nearly every industry. Further, many people seeking work are now finding HR departments aren’t hiring, and many workers doing freelance/commission work have seen a standstill in project requests. Many of these people do not […]

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Rogue reviewer: radical or recuperation?

Climate change commodified


The global movement demanding action be taken to combat climate change has been gaining momentum. It has also sparked a conversation around socialism—people are striking for real change, not just un-serious technocratic solutions.

There has also been a disturbing recuperation of the movement. Capitalists and class traitors are attempting to redirect the movement—these people are not interested in saving people nor the environment, rather, they are interested in saving capitalism. Business seeks only to commodify the movement, thereby diluting the revolutionary message.

While the environmental crisis threatens the lives of the proletariat classes, capitalists continue to exacerbate the problem, all while toting “green” versions of products. This frames the problem as a consumer choice, and obscures the real power dynamics at play; that is, that the very wealthy profit off of environmental degradation and that, in much of the world, the extremely wealthy drive production. It’s supply and demand, as in, the wealthy and powerful demand, and us workers supply. Or, as equity researchers in a citigroup industry note gleefully put it, “we hear so often about ‘the consumer’. But when we examine the data, there is no such thing as ‘the consumer’ in the U.S. or UK, or other plutonomy countries. There are rich consumers, and there are the rest. The rich are getting richer, we have contended, and they dominate consumption.” [1]

We cannot let the current energy towards the climate crisis be absorbed by “green capitalism”. Let us not mince words here, “green capitalism” is, at its best, a PR tool meant to shift the problem away from those actually responsible. While their profits are concentrated, they wish to redistribute blame equally. The “human race” has not caused this threat, capitalism has. “Green capitalism” is merely a cynical attempt by the wealthy and powerful to raid our collective piggy banks and channel trillions of pounds and dollars into the pockets of venture capitalists, who have leapt aboard the “climate justice” bandwagon in the hope of getting very rich, very quick.

These people are not serious about addressing climate change, for if they were, they would admit that free-market capitalism, privatization, and deregulation have all led to the mass extinction event we are currently in. They will destroy the earth, and run off to luxury survival bunkers[2] if we allow them to dictate the direction of the climate movement—we cannot stand by and allow this to happen. Doing this will lead to death and suffering, and we cannot continue to pretend otherwise.

[1] https://delong.typepad.com/plutonomy-1.pdf

[2] https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/01/30/doomsday-prep-for-the-super-rich