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The Government Isn't Getting Worse: Let Me Explain

The Government Isn't Getting Worse: Let Me Explain

It seems like there have been a spate of days in which Joe Biden's administration has made it clearer and clearer that they don't give a tinker's dam about you. First there was that note to the unvaccinated (which, sure, probably isn't you), then there was the CDC dropping halved isolation recommendations for all of us–after Delta requested it in the wake of so many canceled flights. And probably since I've started writing this there's another thing. But I want to make something clear: the government isn't failing, or screwing up, or suddenly doing a poorer job; it's only the government's relationship to you that has changed. You are, thanks to the pandemic, now being treated in much closer alignment with how the government feels and treats its minority citizens, virtually all residents of its territories, and basically every other country on the planet. You are a cog, and a cog that doesn't work gets removed.

I think I've said this before, and certainly other people have, but we cannot mistake the decisions of this government for blunders. I don't think Joe Biden is doing poorly. I don't think he's an ignoramus. He, and everyone below him, are doing exactly what they intend to do. They don't care about you. They never have. They care about your wellbeing only insofar as it enables them to continue to enrich themselves, and because that calculus involves millions of other Americans, it means that you, individually, matter almost not at all. That's why vaccines were pushed and lockdowns discontinued–most of the vaccinated are going to survive infection with COVID, so it doesn't matter that going back to work or back to the store or the movie theater is a risk. What matters is that we make, and spend, money. The fuel of this engine has always been lives; white, straight, abled people are only just now realizing we've been included in that gamble.

Picture of a tweet with an ad from the CDC depicting a masked worker saying "I'm not letting COVID take my shifts."

Post-Post-Scarcity Anarchism

Capitalism, and the governments that prop it up, will never be reformed such that they remove risk to its participants. Capitalism requires growth, and that growth is predicated upon the subjugation of others–because with profit prioritized, workers must be exploited. It requires that work be rewarded below its true value, below its esteem. Whatever arguments you can make toward capitalism improving the world, I think we can agree that those improvements were made incidentally. Henry Ford didn't raise wages because he wanted his workers lifted from poverty; he wanted a captive, stable workforce. (Enlarging the market for his products, as it turns out, was likely just gravy to him.)

If the pandemic showed us anything–and it showed us many things–it's that nothing about the system at large is for us. Virtually all safety nets are rigged to ensure that we can return to work, or to ensure that the fewest people possible are able to utilize them. To be clear, work is not a bad thing; I think most of us need to work in some capacity to feel fulfilled in our lives. But for the government to purport to care for us, to pretend their purpose is to protect us, and then in their actions make it clear that's not the case? It proves we're only drones, that we're not meant to pursue happiness–only to struggle after it if there is profit to be had.

Which is why the essence of our economic and governmental system needs to change (I mean, obviously it does. It does for other reasons too). The model of both needs to change from a motive for profit to a motive for care. We have got to replace the drive for "more" with a drive toward equity. And while it's true we live in an unstable time, it's also true that we live in a time of great potential.

Murray Bookchin wrote in the 1960s that we can achieve a utopian anarchism he referred to as post-scarcity, because technological and scientific innovations in the past couple centuries have made it possible for huge increases in production with nominal–if any–increases in labor. We could feed, clothe, house, and support the world with what's made today, and we all know that. In Bookchin's utopia, that happens, we all work a five-hour day, and then we fart around. Renewable energy provides us with clean lights and heat. People do what they want because the enormous excesses of capitalism are meted out for the whole world, and technological innovation make up the rest. Once basic needs are met with relatively little effort, the rest of the trappings of civilization are our heart's labor–if we want.

Unfortunately, post-scarcity anarchism won't happen. Not just because anarchism is an ideal unlikely to come about in our lifetimes, but because we're no longer in the post-scarcity window of opportunity. Thirty, forty years ago, maybe, we could have set out to build a renewable infrastructure that allowed for an increased standard of living while still keeping the environment largely intact. But that's just not possible now. For all the reasons collapse is inevitable, post-scarcity is impossible. We're just too big, we've used up too much, and the planet is too close to the brink for us to start such a massive endeavor. This is also why virtually any Green New Deal-style electric vehicle revolution is DOA–it fundamentally misunderstands where we are in our consumption of resources. The only solution to our problems is de-growth. Which, of course, sucks.

An Economics of Empathy

While we're not in a position to reach utopia anymore, I don't think that means that we can't live lives that have some comfort, and that are, importantly, more equitable and just. But I don't think that we can expect any of that to arise from our extant systems; nor do I believe that we should be hoping for a civil war, for the collapse, for some big, horrendous event to finally push us down the hole we know is in front of us, rather than stand at the precipice any longer. I get that feeling, I get wanting the relief of that, I do. But it brings millions, if not billions, down with you.

Which is why where we are now, as individuals and communities, is important. If we can't reach utopia any longer, we have got to be willing to make the best of the dystopian. We have got to be prepared, after the fires are put out, to trust one another, to help one another, to create, in the wake of everything, a society that runs on empathy over empowerment. I'll admit that on a large scale, I don't know how that looks, or how it works–I'm not even sure that it does. But I know that if we don't attempt to create communities that are built on trust and empathy, a system will be created in that vacuum, and it will not be one that is favorable to all.

Recently I had a discussion with someone who shares my beliefs, largely. We're both leftists at least, and we both believe that a collapse is likely. Over the course of our discussion we talked about how exactly things might go down and how inevitable, he felt, horrific violence would be. He's a pacifist, treats the idea of guns probably the way you and I treat Nazism. Confronted with that inevitable violence and his beliefs, he said he will opt out. Which is his right. And while our primary differences are in the lengths we'd go to in order to defend ourselves and our loved ones, I couldn't help but be flummoxed by his focus on violence. I told him I felt community was our best way forward, and he just shook his head. I think that he thinks, ultimately, that roving bands of red-hatted chuds will go door to door until everyone is dead or following them. But I don't believe that. Not only because I believe in self and community defense, but because I don't believe that many people are taken with fascism. They're a powerful force, to be clear, but not the sole inheritors of a fallen America or world. We'll still be here. And, maybe, if we are a big enough presence in our communities, people will choose empathy instead of enmity.