Monday, August 3, 2015

This Is How It Is

There are some things I'm mentally allergic to. I can't abide having them pop up in conversation, and I take their appearance as a sign that someone is not engaging in good faith. I can tune out a lot of things, like whatever misconception about trans people is currently in vogue; but there is one thing in particular that I can't ignore and have to engage with.

The thing is "this is just how it is". It can be offered in response to absolutely anything at all; but after The End Of History, you will mostly see it in defence of the neoliberal status quo. This is the last time I say "neoliberal" in this article, because too often we say it when we really want to say "capitalist".

Status quo bias is real and pervasive. People under its influence see the current situation as the best possible one, even if it is verifiably worse than things were 30 years ago. "No!", they say, "it got worse for other reasons, it has nothing to do with this!".

The Dutch are the masters of this. In 2006, we killed our public healthcare system. It had existed since 1945, and there was absolutely nothing wrong with it. We were simply riding the wave of privatizing absolutely everything. We had done it to utilities, regionally-owned power companies, and the parts of the railway and postal service that make money. They constructed an elaborate system where the government would barter with health insurance companies to best manage the 'rising costs of healthcare'. The government would set limits, and define things that MUST be covered in the most basic package.

This was a disaster. Prices for everything immediately went up. The new insurance companies demanded that people both pay a monthly fee and a co-pay in case they actually accessed healthcare. Both of these fees have been steadily rising since 2006. The things that are funded from the most basic healthcare insurance package you can buy have been cut substantially. They are even advertising 'budget' insurance that covers even less.

Why? The real reason, of course, is that if you allow for-profit healthcare, people will do these things to make profit. There are already deals between health insurance companies and INDIVIDUAL HOSPITALS so that they can get a 'better deal' (and deny funding the procedure in other hospitals).

But this is not what government infomercials and private insurance commercials say. No, they claim, the Dutch are just using too much healthcare. We must be more aware of how much we spend on healthcare. Costs are rising and we need to pay attention to our spending! That way, healthcare can remain sustainable! (there was briefly even a plan to make people pay a fee for visiting their physicians).

They also warned that the middle-aged should start saving up for healthcare expenses in their future.

These are the monstrous things that happen if we do not see "this is just how it is" as dangerous rhetoric. Anyone who speaks these words must be attacked, taken from their platform and never allowed back there again. These are the people who's ideological project is not in any way associated with the world we live in, and who can so never hope to positively influence it.

But there are even worse ways this sentiment can be expressed, and it too is often used to defend capitalism: "this is just human nature".

This posits that human beings - who apparently have a single definable nature despite having lived in dramatically different environments throughout their existence - somehow lifted themselves out of the hunter-gatherer condition while being averse to cooperation and unity. They claim that this imaginary human being, one who would say "no we have to privatize everything because that makes sense", would also have said "we should maybe settle", "let's dig this well" or "I have the inescapable feeling that I am part of this". This is a bizarre belief, and you should never let it go unpunished.

This statement sweeps all of our worst acts under the rug and claims that they simply Happened. There is no reason for them, they didn't emerge and they can't go away. No, deep inside every human being is a weird hateful thing that automatically and irrevocably generates complex assumptions like "it is best for the economy to subjugate the working class" or "black people are literally some sort of inferior shadow cast by my radiance and I'd rather not be near them". Obviously.

This sort of thinking leads to fatalism. Nothing is to be done. Nothing CAN be done. The best this world can be is a world where a momentary experience of comfort is the carrot, and homelessness and starvation the stick. These two instruments lead you to, every day, pool your labor into a organization of productive forces that is set up explicitly to benefit only a few. This is how it must be, then.

But this is not a neutral way of thinking. Insomuch that that is even possible, surely you can't arrive at such a place by starting with the assumption that the way things are laid out are just The Way Things Are. There is no Way Things Are that can be put into language, and to assume otherwise automatically blinds you to almost everything that is going on around you.

What we CAN put into language is our experience. Currently, many human beings experience the following:

They have to sell their labor to survive; and this is complicated by the intersecting circumstances of rent (which ever increases), of food (which may not even be continuously available to you in a 'prosperous' nation) of physical and mental stress (which both compound each other and make less work possible) and of the varying ways in which they differ from the default human - of which every differing aspect in humanity is the inferior counterpart (which can affect any of the previously mentioned things). Sometimes, things just get worse. A new government may be friendlier to the people who want to close the factory you work in, a western nation may arrive to destabilize your country and turn it over to fascists, or you are suddenly the subject of genocide.

None of this is Just The Way Things Are. All of these experiences required deliberate acts by governments, businesspeople; and those who, despite sharing your situation, are nevertheless enticed to go into business for themselves (more often than not, they are really going into business for someone else). Whenever we explain away the atrocities integral to the status quo in this way, we make ourselves helpless.

If you have ever found yourself saying "this is just how it is" or "that's human nature", ask yourself why you did. You may have been doing it to escape the natural feeling of despair one has at living in our current situation. Humanity, you automatically cognate, is capable of sending its own into the void of space, of gaining power from the sun as plants do; and yet a very large group of people lives in worse conditions than your great-grandfather did. This is terrible. "Oh, we must just be like this", you think.

But we are not like this. We cannot allow ourselves to think this way. Not for our own comfort, and especially not for the comfort of billionaire fuckups who concern themselves entirely with the well-being of the capital we have collectively agreed is valuable (more valuable than the people who are able to generate it in the first place).

Consider what had to occur for you to be reading this. Well over a million and a half years ago, the primates with hardware capable of running the human spirit arrived in this world. At some point, they controlled fire, used other things in the world to extend themselves, and created language. They crossed unimaginable distances on foot without ever being certain there would be anything there, or if it would be anything like what they had seen before. How could they do this? Would you think modern humans capable of this? Surely not if you believe that our nature is something defined, like "violent" or "selfish".

No, we are none of those things. The only thing human nature can be is something that allows us to be all of the things we are. Something that allows us to adapt to a changing environment. Something that does not exclude or favor any of the behavior we have seen human beings perform: because otherwise, we would not be capable of doing them all. Taking this assumption, we then recognize that we have survived for well over a million years.

Is this the species that can do no better than capitalism? Is this REALLY what you believe?

Some believe that no, we could do better - but CIVILIZATION has made us EVIL. These primitivists imagine removing these malignant growths on humanity, after which we will be free and h- sorry, I meant "after which everyone who in any way depends on technology or the sophisticated organization of human labor and thought of any kind will die".

But there are also people who actually DO believe that we can do better; that the pieces we have divided the world into can fit together in different ways, more useful ways. These are people who look at the early humans and see how they, though each possessed of an individual self, transcended the limitations the structure of their organism had dictated to them. That by somehow merging the contradictory opposites of one and many, they achieved more together than would have been possible if one of them had worked at it for the duration of the universe. These people feel that this is a thing we are always able to do. They point out that we DO do this, but usually only in service of the capitalist class. They point out that there is NO REASON to restrict our use of this tremendous power in such a way. That if this power is turned to the betterment of all humanity, our future as a species would be unimaginably bright.

We call these people Communists. I am one of them, and I would very much like for you to be as well ♥


  1. This article is astoundingly well written. I adore everything about it (except the second sentence, which is very off-putting and serves no positive purpose).

    Capitalism is a cancerous and symbiotic disease which has grown too large for its host to sustain. It desperately needs to be destroyed.

    1. I like how the first bit reads now better.