Thursday, 14 July 2016

Neoliberalism vs. Happiness

The dominant ideology of our times, neoliberalism has a set of main values that may be quite anathema to a happy society.

The three main values of neoliberalism are competition, money-making, and objectification. Workers must compete with one another for jobs and promotions. Money is deified and constantly lauded in the mass media, with many popular songs having lyrics glorifying the accumulation of commodities as the be all and end all. The commodities purchased with the money are promoted almost to the status of the earthly relics of a god. For the objectification aspect, the workers are reified into interchangeable cogs, and their true life interests are never inquired about or encouraged by the system.

These values can be seen in action in many of the most popular smartphone games, such as Clash of Clans, as well as PC games such as World of Warcraft. The games follow the same formula, you compete, earn gold coins, and send minions to die as cannon fodder on your behalf (they are objectified). In other games such as HayDay, you keep the money-making increases by continually reinvesting earned money in more production. Finally, Grand Theft Auto, the best-selling game ever, features killing for money, and women as mere sex objects. Perhaps these games are so popular because competing, money-making, and objectifying is so much easier in the games than in a system where wealth inequality is increasing and wages are stagnating for the majority.

Compare those three main values with the three values for creating happiness given "The Economics of Happiness" 2011 documentary: personal growth, relationships, and a desire the improve society. As I mentioned above, the system has no interest to foster personal growth, only career growth so that you can pay more taxes and spend more on commodities. Relationships are under pressure in capitalism as people have to move for work, often ending up away from their families for extended periods. With the strains of working full-time (where one gets money from working, but no useful goods, as has to use further limited time outside of work to get the necessities) and raising a family at the same time, the divorce rate is close to 50% in many first world nations. Finally, a desire to improve society? Wow, that is where neoliberalism really fails, and it is a system for aggrandizing the wealthy at the expense of everyone else.

For myself however, a desire to improve society is why I write this blog. hopefully I can encourage critical thinking by pointing out the intense propaganda saturation and inanities of the neoliberal system.

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

Enemy Propaganda Determines the Content of the Media

Recently I got bored of the usually radio stations I listen to on the way to work, so I tuned into a country music station. I listened to it for about a week, and made some general observations about country music.

I noticed that a great deal of country music songs reference truck ownership, such as the joys of driving a truck down a dirt road. I thought it was rather infantile and shallow to prattle on about having a good time with a commodity like that. Unfortunately, song after song followed that pattern, although sometimes about boat ownership instead. And at every commercial segment, there was at least one advertisement for a truck or car dealership. 

I began to think that country music was lame, until I heard some country music on a college radio station. The music they played was soulful. It was about hard times as well as good times. I wondered why I hadn't heard such music on the main country music station. A search of the ownership of a main country music station uncovered that it was owned by a group that also owns 25 car dealerships, each of which would happily sell a pick-up truck.

Pick-up trucks, as with most other vehicles cause a lot of pollution in both their manufacture and operation. Their increased use also leads to the building of more roads, which wipes out land which could have other uses. Their use of petrol leads to geopolitical conflicts, oil spills, and greenhouse gas concentration increases. Accordingly, a message which tells people to purchase such a commodity is a harmful propaganda message - an enemy propaganda message.

For the radio station and auto dealer group, they want to hammer this message of truck purchasing into people's heads as much as they can. Thus for them, a 20-second commercial just isn't enough. And so, the songs themselves become 3-minute additions to their arsenal of propaganda messaging. A song about other aspects of life unrelated to the commodity fetish is not going to work to get people disposed to buying a truck, so those songs are not played by the main station, effectively censoring them out.

I would not be surprised if a modern country music artist was really just a hack backed by a public relations marketing firm working on behalf of the auto industry.

"We are the most propagandized people in history." -John Stauber

Enemy Propaganda in a Giant Tub of Cola

I recently watched what was considered the fifth most popular YouTube video in Canada. It was titled something like "Dude jumps in a giant pool of Coca-Cola". The video showed just that, a guy jump into an outdoor pool full of coke, takes a 2-litre bottle branded with the Coca-Cola logo on it and pours it over is head and goes on about how awesome it is.

In the comments section, viewers (of which there were over a million) lamented about how far YouTubers would go just to make a popular video, and how they would be willing to spend so much money on coke. I thought those commenters were rather naive, as there is enough evidence to show that the YouTuber didn't pay for the coke - the Coca-Cola company, or perhaps a public relations firm it hired did. Remember, this was not a pool of Pepsi, or simply a pool of a cola beverage, no, it was specifically a pool of Coca-Cola. Herein lies the genius of the enemy propaganda marketing messages - they are embedded in all aspects of the media, not just the commercials.

Advertisers know well that people are not big fans of commercials, and will often try to ignore or avoid them. And so, the advertisers turn what's know as public relations (PR) to ensure they get there propaganda messages into everyone's head. To this extent about half of the articles in the newspaper are actually PR messages, according to the documentary "Toxic Waste is Good for You." The main goal of the corporations marketing department is to get what's called top-of-mind-awareness of the commodity they sell. They will do this through advertising and PR messages. You will often sees these messages in tandem, such as where you see a glowing review for a car one page of a magazine, and an advertisement for that very same car on the very next page.

And so sadly, there is really no escape from enemy propaganda, as long as one consumes almost any mass media. Commercial free options like Netflix exist, but how many of those Netflix films or TV shows are depicting smoking as cool, or discussing Coca-Cola, or portraying the acquisition of any commodity as cool? It's certainly more than a few.

Self-sufficiency vs. Life in the Unemployed Reserve Army

At one point in time, one could provide for oneself and one's family without the need to turn to corporations to provide goods and services. This is no longer the case. What happened and why?

Key to the self-sufficient lifestyle is access to land for items like firewood, drinking water, and herding and gardening activities. In the middle ages there were common lands (no titled owners) that people (commoners) could access. Starting from the 17th century, a process known as the enclosure began. Wealthy landowners began getting title to lands and forcing the once free people on the land into serfs. The landowners got their title from the state, foreshadowing the corporate-state nexus we know so well today.

Taking away people's self sufficient paved the way for capitalism, because the capitalist system requires people to be dependent on it. The systems needs dependents to ensure there are enough labourers in the unemployed reserve army. This army of unemployed people desperate for work consists of people who are not self-sufficient, who cannot provide their own needs, and ideally are in debt. The members of the unemployed reserve army will try to out-bid one another in a race to the bottom when it comes to determining wages when selling their labour to the capitalists. This suits the capitalists perfectly, as they can make more profit when they pay the labourers less. In this case is one of the comparitively rare instances where state intervenes on behalf of the labourers, rather than the capitalists, by instituting a minimum wage. Some capitalists complain that the minimum wage is an unjust tax on them.

The members in the unemployed reserve army are awash in propaganda from the capitalists, promising them a wealth of commodities, gizmos and gadgets if only they would find a way to sell their labour, via non-stop marketing messages. Those that make it out of the unemployed reserve army into the work force find themselves continuously dependent on the system and unable to quit due to racking up of debts. Given that a typical mortgage amortization period is 30 years, it's mostly ensured the workers will continue to cooperatively trudge along most of their adult lives in their jobs no matter how little interest they have in their jobs.

And how to be free of periods of unemployment followed by alienating work? This would require being self-sufficient. But to be self-sufficient would require access to land (usually through title), and acceptance of a simpler less commodity-heavy lifestyle - two things the system certainly works to keep of of the reach of its labourers.

Thoughts on the Cowspiracy

This post is a bit a tangent from my usual topics - feel free to skip over it. I recently watched the 2014 documentary "Cowspiracy", as well as "If Slaughterhouses Had Glass Walls" by Paul McCartney. They are both propaganda films and they clearly espouse an ideology (veganism). However, these films don't seek to secretly sell you any commodity, so they are respectable in that sense.

After watching those films, I realized that meat is murder on five different levels:

1) Murder of the planet - The negative effect of the greenhouse gas emissions from animal agriculture (AA) is greater than that of the entire transportation industry. AA also leads to massive fresh water depletion (for instance, one cow can drink 150 litres of water in a single day). Also the slash and burn clear-cutting of pristine land to raise cattle contributes to species extinction.

2) Murder of the animal - This one is obvious. No matter how humane the slaughter technique used, it must be totally horrifying to the animal. The cruelty to animals while being raised is often comparable to being slowly tortured to death, and it is even considered normal in the AA industry for a sizable percentage of the animals to die before slaughter.

3) Murder of the souls of the people who work in AA - It's a brutal industry, focused on maximization. Being so poor and so without other options to have to sell your labour to the AA industry just to get by is an unfortunate position to be in, but one the wealthy owners in the system appreciate. If there was no unemployed reserve army so large that some of it's member would consider such work it would be for the best.

4) Murder of the people who eat the animal products - The animals are fed an unnatural diet and fatten up at an unnatural rate. This makes the meat more loaded with saturated fats than what our ancestors ate. Selective breeding, hormones, and constantly dished-out antibiotics make animal products available unlike those seen even a generation before. The combination of the massive amounts consumed and the high fat content make for a storm of high cholesterol, heart disease and countless obesity related illnesses such as bad knees. There's a sort of twisted poetic justice in getting sick and dying from eating animals that were cruelly raised.

5) Murder of the poor people who could have eaten the animal feed - The conversion of food energy to meat is very poor. If the food grown for the animals was fed to people directly, a lot of instances of starvation and famine could be alleviated. Here is a quote from Earthsave: "It takes 2,500 gallons of water, 12 pounds of grain, 35 pounds of topsoil and the energy equivalent of one gallon of gasoline to produce one pound of feedlot beef."

If you become a vegan, are you partaking on a spiritual mission to save the planet?

There are no 'farm animals', only 'farmed animals.'

Tuesday, 5 July 2016

Discpline Yourself and Obey

It is very common these days for individuals to end up in debt. Common debts are credit card debt, student debt, and mortgage debt. For the typical aspiring youth looking to get a good job and eventually own their own home, student and mortgage debt are nearly inevitable. For renters, a debt is created each month that needs to be quickly paid.

The capitalist system will greatly encourage its members to take on debts. The central bank makes policies that enable the banks to lend out money at low interest with only fractional reserves. This is because the system benefits from its members being in debt. Why is this? Because for capitalism to work, there must be a large reserve of poor workers eager to work. If everyone was wealthy, the system would collapse as companies could not find any workers to hire. Having a debt to pay off makes one eager to work hard.

Having a someone be in debt is an excellent way to keep them as a good worker. The worker in debt will usually discipline himself in order to pay off his debt. He will rise early each workday, put in a hard days work, obey his superiors, and not quit even if conditions are barely tolerable. This is because he wants desperately to earn the money needed to pay off his debt. His hard work enables two main things: One, the wealth generated by his labour power trickles up into the hands of the wealthy owners (for he is always paid less than the value of his work), and secondly, he pays lots of taxes.

Imagine a worker with no debt, and no rent, and some savings or say some earnings from investments. He might take years off to travel, switch jobs frequently as his interests in life change, and not work overly hard (as he would have less fear of being laid off or fired). Yikes, perish the thought! Better make sure he gets loaded with debt as soon as possible!

Wealth Inequality IS the System

Lately there is much talk in the news about controlling the increase of wealth inequality. Organizations such as Occupy get lots of coverage. It is suggested that if only taxes could be adjusted, off-shore tax havens regulated, or corporations limited, then all would be well. The unfortunate reality is that wealth inequality is not an undesirable side-effect of the system, it is the system.

It is not possible for one group of people to be rich unless another group of people is poor. This was pointed out by John Ruskin in 1860 in his series of essays Unto This Last. The original Unto This Last is difficult to read, but it was later translated by Gandhi into a paraphrase in Gujarati, which was later translated back into English under the title Unto This Last: A Paraphrase.

Ruskin describes wealth as being the power over the labour of others. This power is often symbolized by money. For instance, if I am rich and have lots of money, I can hire a poor person to clean my house. The poor person must do the work, as he needs my money to pay for food and shelter. The poor person can't hire me in return to clean his house, as, due to his lack of wealth, he does not have power over my labour because I don't need to bother getting money from him.

Ruskin further exposes that wealth inequality gets worse, because the wealthy can cause the poor to try to outbid each other and thus not get a fair wage. For instance, were I rich I could find out who would do the work for the least payment and hire only them. Outbidding each other like this, the poor could never get the wages needed to rise up the social ladder.

If you think there could be rich people without there being lots of poor people, just imagine that the state gave everyone 10 million dollars. No one could hire anyone to clean their house, because no one with millions of dollars would want to bother. The capitalist economy needs a reserve of poor people (preferably with many of them unemployed) to function, and thus the state, as long as the state is in the hands of capitalist interests, it will do little to address the roots of poverty and wealth inequality.

Friday, 1 July 2016

The Ritual

All cultures of the past that we know of had rituals. Their rituals involved a certain set behaviours accompanied often by special food and drink. When they performed their rituals, did they think of them as rituals? Or did they just do them, considering the actions as just part of daily life.

We moderns probably think we have no societal rituals. Perhaps our main ritual is one we don't think of as a ritual. Think about the main activity of just about everyone - getting up early to an alarm clock's ring and going to work for the day.

As with many rituals, our ritual usually starts with a special drink. After waking up to the alarm clock, we prepare a cup of coffee. The psychoactive ingredients (mainly caffeine) in the brew help us stay focused during the ritual. The next main step is to get into a car and drive until stuck in traffic with all the others performing the ritual in a slow procession. Instead of all heading to the same altar, the performers of the ritual will split off in their cars as they approach their individual destinations.

The next phase of the ritual is (for many) to sit about at a desk pressing various buttons. This part of the ritual continues for a staggering eight or more hours, which would probably have been enough time for an ancient to complete a minor vision quest. Then, it's back into the procession in what is sort of elaborate mechanical moving costume, the automobile.

Some say we should go back and research and perform the rituals of the ancients. But simply knowing the outward motions and doing them is not enough to understand and have the proper experience of the ritual. That would be like people of the future copying our ritual of going to work, but then having no idea what to do at the workplace once they sit down at the desk. Better to move on to new rituals.

Power Relations Messages

I recently read a self-improvement book that said that one should never say to one's family or to oneself "I have to go to work". Instead the book said everyone should say "I get to go to work", and to feel proud about it. The intent of the message is help people feel better about their situation of needing to sell their labour to get by. This may seem well-intended, but the message unfortunately has a dark side to it.

In the current job system, people can be generally lumped into two categories, labour sellers (workers), and labour purchasers (owners). The labour sellers do so because they are ultimately poor. They don't have wealth to generate the income or goodwill needed to furnish them with sustenance. If they don't go to work, they will not be able to pay their rent or mortgage or buy food. To try to obfuscate this situation by calling working a privilege is to take from the workers the desire to improve their situation of needing to sell their labour. Own way to alleviate the situation would be to improve wealth equality, especially including providing people access to or ownership of their own land. The situation of wealth inequality will not be alleviated if people are not aware of their relative wealth, or what it means to be truly wealthy.

So why tell people not to think they need to work when really they do? Anyone buying labour or benefiting from the labour of others would benefit from having happy complacent workers free of resentment about their predicament. And who is it that benefits from all the labour going on, all the extracting of resources and the adding of value to them? It is of course the wealthy elite, who do not themselves sell their own labour, but simply use their rent derived money to get the service and labour of the workers. The wealthy elite benefit from their position at the top, and will freely send out power relations messages to maintain the hierarchy.

Another message designed to maintain the wealth hierarchy is to tell workers who ask for more pay or less working hours to "be grateful for what they have," and compare their lot with those in terrible situations. This insistence on having workers compare themselves with the lowest common denominator, instead of aspiring to greater heights is simply a message to maintain the status quo. Also watch out for the rags-riches-stories that are constantly paraded out on the media. The power relation message being given there is "If you aren't a self-made millionaire, it's not the fault of a system that constantly increases wealth inequality, no, it's rather your own personal fault for not having enough initiative or hard work." Using endless rags-to-riches tales to get the wage-labourer victims blame themselves rather than work to better their class position is an effective yet psychotic way to maintain wealth hierarchy.

I recommend taking the self-improvement book author's message and those like it with a grain of salt.

Wage Labour as a Form of Prostitution

The concept of having a job is relatively new, dating only from the mid 1600's. The structure of a job is basically as such: one sells one's labour is exchange for money. Whether one is a computer programming or construction worker or cashier, the exchange works the same way as long as one is working for a wage. This exchange structure, incidentally is the very same as that for prostitution. The prostitute sells his or her labour to a john, in exchange for a payment of money. Prostitution differs from construction work in that it is considered unethical, but pause should be given to consider the similarities of the underlying mechanisms. Key to both the situation of the wage labourer (job holder) and the prostitute is that they both lack independent means to support themselves and must turn to selling their labour to sustain their existence. There is little escape from this system once one is in it, save suddenly becoming quite rich (an idea offered out by those in power as a carrot to keep the workers going, even though social mobility is diminishing more and more and wealth inequality is on the rise), and going on welfare.

Once getting their money, the worker then transforms roles from labour seller (prostitute) to labour purchaser (john). The worker goes out with his paycheque and gets other to sell their labour to him. The cashier and waiter must service him, whether or not it is their true desire or ambition, because they are ultimately poor and must find some way to sell their labour pay their rent somehow. The workers must compete with each other to sell their labours, which leads to workers having to specialize. This specialization system is encoded into the education system and can be a downfall for anyone with multiple interests who would like to try out many jobs over the course of their life.

And what about those in the society that don't sell their labour for money? Let's look at the rentier class, those who live off rents, patents, dividend payouts and capital gains. Whereas the rentiers do not need to prostitute themselves by selling their labour, they nonetheless encounter only those prostituting their labour wherever they go as they spend their money, on for example kitchen renovations. The rentiers are thereby alienated from a great portion of society, as they do not share the dual role of worker/consumer (prostitute/john) but act only as johns.

How could there be a path out of this job system? The answer is clearly to be found by looking at how people lived before around 1600. Modern tribes in remote regions also offer some clues. Simply put, the people had access to land to sustain themselves, and worked to support each other and provide for each other without any need for money of any sort. Without money, there can be no exploitative job system. Could we provide for each other without the need for money in our 21st century mass society? Or are we stuck with the job system we have forever?

Understanding Enemy Propaganda

This blog identifies the marketing messages of advertisements and public relations communications as a form of propaganda. And not a benign set of propaganda, but rather a malicious form of propaganda that is ultimately harmful to its human recipients. This propaganda is an integral part of the ideology of a system that degrades the planet we depend on for sustenance and wears down the people within the system through accelerating wealth inequality. Marketing messages are revealed by their true name - Enemy Propaganda.

Every day we are bombarded by dozens of marketing messages from the mass media, not just in the ads but also thoroughly embedded in the content (such as a car review). This media may include internet, radio, television, billboards, and storefront signage. These messages come in the forms instructional messages and emotional messages, but critically they also serve to normalize consumer capitalism and reduce independent thought by continually painting a picture of the same narrow world view based on rabid commodity consumption. Enemy propaganda intends to influence the future behaviour of the passive recipient. And what behaviour is desired? It is of course the behaviour to spend money, to consume products. This message is extremely important to the consumer capitalist system, because if consumers stop spending money, the entire economic system will collapse.

All commodity production, which is almost without exception harmful to the planet and harmful to the exploited workers, is in the end justified by the sales made to consumers. If consumers do not buy these commodities, then the wage labour and the resource extraction for these commodities will eventually cease. To avoid this situation, consumers are constantly bombarded by messages to continue consuming. Identifying these propaganda messages as enemy propaganda and blocking or replacing them by propaganda that is derived from an ideology that is instead beneficial to people and the planet is a must.