Shouldn’t They Just Leave For Better Work?
“Mothers and children trapped in poverty in our inner cities, rusted-out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation […] This American carnage stops right here and stops right now.” — Donald Trump
Upon consideration of the duality of his choice, one becomes painfully aware of the absurdity of his precariousness — standing as he does, behind the rainbow gleam of stuff. Feeding it. Consuming it. Consumed by it. He hardly considers his shackles.
The true fight against capitalist subjectivation is being fought in the heart of Trump’s America.
In rustbelt manufacturing towns still shimmering with the folksy mirages of 1950s sitcom trope, concerns are now shifting towards the conceptual, the global.
Capital rots here. It is rotting in the leftover factory buildings; it rots in foreclosed homes. And in the pink apish vessels where it still swims about, out of home, into cars and bed, calling itself labor? Here, the rot of once thriving Capital assumes the appearance of person. Eating, speaking, living — these fleshy half-corpse consumer-commodities go on existing as if they haven’t heard the news: Capital is leaving you.
And it does leave. Ripping from the flesh to leave bloodied and hollowing the rust-belt worker as if he were a victim of X-Men’s Morpheus.
As for those who choose not to will beyond or despite Capital? These understandably concerned rust belt masses are those who, in taking measure of their draining vitality and their hardship’s cause to be geographical, have chosen to abandon their homes in a grand display of migratory refuge (figure A).
And what could be more natural? One of humanity’s most dedicated tropes (alongside war and discontent) is the displacement of once sedentary peoples: the Irish who found refuge across an ocean after their land turned sour, after the farmer’s yield of Capital tended towards impotence; the colonized Indians who were helpless to an increasingly arid landscape, doubly taxed by a changing climate and England’s demand for a share in their now meager crop (of which only the English pronounced it ‘Capital’) and so migrated north.
History has largely been a story of movement. And, as the truism goes, it is also a story of repetition. Still, there’s a datedness to these stories, something indistinguishably historical in their telling. Haven’t we left this kind of tragedy behind? (At least we in the global north?).
Case in point:
To us, the product-consumer class, our vital resources are no longer painstakingly raised, foraged, nor grown — crucially they are not for our subsistence ourselves. Instead the material support of our very existence resides aa cans among an unimaginable mass of cans produced to such an excess and with such efficiency as to leave a greater-than two-thirds share of U.S. employment to find work in that far-removed corner of the economy we call the service-sector.
And we recognize the amazement of our place in space-time. Recall this famous (above) of Boris Yeltsin throwing his arms up, seemingly in awe, as he stares down the mind numbingly ordinary of a Randall’s grocery store. What draws us to this photo?
One might find the answer to our draw within the reassuring but smug reminder inscribed within the photo’s negative, which reads, “the rhythm of our daily mundane is situated within the extraordinary.” And this is our reality. We in America live in an abundance, not a lack — of food, of shelter.
It is only in looking to find meaningful channels for which individuals may prove themselves worthy of a healthy share of these resources that we find ourselves at a loss.
Despite an ample (and nauseatingly diverse) supply of commodities willingly marketed to nearly every resident of nearly every city across this vast nation, there still exists no Randall’s, no Amazon, no Target nor Walmart, of work. Granted, this is an admittedly unequivocal conflation, and these commodity distributors do offer plentiful employment — still it’s maddening to consider the lopsided relationship between products and jobs within the market. In terms of diversity, availability, and accessibility, the consumer is offered vastly more choice than the worker.
Upon consideration of the duity of his choice, one becomes painfully aware of the absurdity of his precariousness — standing, as it does, behind the rainbow gleam of stuff. Feeding it. Consuming it. Consumed by it. He hardly considers his shackles.
Once, we had the comfort of drama.
Meaning could be readily inscribed within our lives through an ad hoc epistemology — less empirical than mythopoetic. Since dew levels weren’t recorded, a failing crop could find its origins in a farmer’s sins; or maybe the farmer’s lot sat between the warring sun and moon and the crops were the tragic victims of collateral damage.
The celestial divide, which confines the victim to one metaphysical plane and the agent of violence to another, leaves little room for protest.
So when mythic Man’s geography turns adversarial, the only actions left are to take flight and tell his tale. He does both at once, spinning along his travels, his tales of splintered heavens, of the sun’s violent jealousy, of the tendril arms which have reached out from the underworld, suffocating his once fertile home.
Everywhere the mythic man looks, should he be looking hard enough, he discerns the play of gods.
Even now, at this very moment, there are gods at play.
We know of their play precisely because we’ve listened closely to the sermons of our loudest and most proud heretical church: the rational choir of market fundamentalists.
There are no heavens, these pedantic priests yell through condescending mouths and into our television screens, always mocking us for our unrelenting stupidity. No, no. In fact, we found our gods dead long ago. Lead to their tombs by a novel, rathonal power, we were shown the useless corpses which on e hid within dumb minds. We were shown, too, our own deception. Lastly, our rational power led us out of the dark tombs to set our eyes upon a new horizon. The sun burnt upon our pale skin and as we reddened, as saw the sun within ourselves, tranferred by rays. A new reign! All things are interconnected! We can understand the universe if only we understand a few basic principles: transcendental laws!
And with this marriage of spirit and rationality, what we once understood as the whimsy or spite of celestial lore is secularized. Now, it os understood as the whimsy and tiresome non-zero sum games of economics. Each religion is always playing catch-up, rewriting our past into established story arcs; and each outlines our future, finding a skeleton beneath the logic of the story’s progression. I prefer the excitement of the Sirens, but the inclusion of statistics, psychology, and mathematics into our new story does carry an appeal, even a use.
One troublesome difference between the drama of yesterday and that of today’s exists within the strict formalization of basic narrative structures. Today, a certain language-form must be adopted in order to author any extension within the mythological cannon. One is forced to start each story with an allusion to certain founding myths (the myth of the rational consumer; whichever story of money passes more for cannon at the moment, etc). Further one shouldn’t contradict other volumes within the myth’s cannon. A world of walls springs up around aspiring authors. And as the intersection of mythic story arcs form tighter and tighter impasses, we’re buried deeper beneath a past both cumbersome and arbitrary in much of its form.
Each extension into neoliberalism’s serial myth is at once new and entirely salvaged. We write our lives and inform our futures in much the same way a sitcom re-enacting a few drab cliche’s might provided the show were to live on until the sun engulfs its cast and time comes to a standstill (so basically Friends only forever and you can’t change the channel).
Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno explore the self-applied shackles of post-mythic myth in Dialectic of Enlightenment:
The subsumption of the actual, whether under mythical prehistory or under mathematical formalism […] makes the new appear as something predetermined which therefore is really the old.
The insistence of the liberal to only carve beneath the existing strata of totem — and crucially, to carve a subject strictly informed by its antecedents higher up on the totem — effectively entraps the mind within a prison of self-reference and inbred ideation. This is
“…the arid wisdom which acknowledges nothing new under the sun, because all the pieces in the meaningless game have been played out, all the great thoughts have been thought, all possible discoveries can be construed in advance. […] Ultimately this barren wisdom merely reproduces the fantastic doctrine it rejects: the sanction of fate which, through retribution, incessantly reinstates what always was” (Horkheimer and Adorno).
We killed our gods to repeat another’s story.
Conservative governance has found a stable footing in appeals to the divine will and logic of the markets.
“We understand how markets work,” they say, “so lets let them work!” Beyond the incredibly lame dullness of learning about the galaxy only to ultimately mutter, “now lets watch it go!” as you lift the telescope to your eye, this submission is also dangerous. While it would be a mischaracterization to claim that the only action of our most market-talking politicians is actually inaction, there does exist a discernible consensus will to not interfere with the market’s status quo. Often pleas for change call for less democratic involvement in market structures, not more.
The progressive ethos self-celebrated by the Democrats have at times proven more compassionate than their partners across the aisle, but in terms of providing a challenge to the standard religious devotion to neoliberal narrative-form, the democrat falls far short of revolutionary. Instead, while the Democrat strides out in front, distinguishing himself from his republican colleague, his only promise, spoken at a whisper, is to legislate the existing capitalist skeleton into some vaguely nicer shape. The liberal democrat faults the Republican for his inaction, but ultimately each is speaking the same language. Each writes within the cannon.
Among the list of go-to Keynesian fixes (infrastructure projects, increased accessibility to education, providing certain tax incentives for businesses to move in or stay) the focus is on steering the invisible hand by laying out costly treats or grooming us into attractive rings so we can join the grace of capitalist nirvana. What’s absent these incentives is a clear program extolling the right of a community to thrive where Capital’s hand aims to flee. This is indicative of our Government’s willing subordination to a tired, fallible logic: let the markets turn to you, but don’t hold it down before it turns entirely away.
What’s worse, the same democrats and tactful republicans who oversee the space capitalists plan to drain of vitality only laugh and sneer when disenchanted rust-belt workers wax poetic for an figure so personally beyond comprehensible market logic and so willing to write outside of myth’s tired cannon. Trump (at least to anyone smart enough to live near Trader Joe’s’) may be flamboyantly cheap and sleazy, but he’s also willing to take up the task of (at least acting) the part of a modern Homer, ready to carry us into a new epic—one free of the qualifications which plague similar promises by candidates too sensible to forego nods to our governing myth.
Just beyond Trump stands a body of water for which the main attraction resides in its not being already developed land. The liberal should take note: the Trump supporter yearns for a will beyond market logic. Though this will-beyond now finds its outlet in a single TV personality’s bravado and hate, it should nonetheless be reassuring to the left that the routinized gut submission to a false-capitalist naturalism is waking to challenged among an increasingly disaffected population. The same milieu of voters who make up a significant base of the Republican party, the loudest and proudest capitalist party of two proud capitalist parties, may only yet be comrades.
A companion piece can be found here
Edits have been made intermittently for clarity.