In a Moment of Truth, Jeff Dorchen rolls into town with a crate of late capitalist snake oil, and promises infinite benefits - eternal youth! omniscience! non-poisoned water! - for the low price of a couple hundred million dollars, a little bit of suffering, and faith, all the faith you got. Deal of a lifetime. Limited supply. No refunds.
Welcome to the Moment of Truth: the thirst that is the drink.
Adam Smith didn't invent capitalism. I know this, not because I've read The Wealth of Nations, but because I had PJ O'Rourke read it to me. And I fell asleep. A lot. Because PJ's voice, while very like the punctuated drone of a band saw suffering sporadic power outages in a thunderstorm, cloaked me in its jaggedness, like thunder in a thunderstorm, and soothed me just because I knew it was there, like a stern God, whether I was paying attention or not.
Scottish philosophers fall into two camps: those who shag sheep, and those who don't. Adam Smith was by all accounts a non-sheep-shagging Scotsman. It doesn't seem like he shagged anything or anybody. No judgment there. If I were a homosexual Scottish philosopher in the 18th Century I would probably keep it to myself, or even keep it from myself. I'm not saying Smith was gay, I'm saying if I were a gay 18th-century Scottish philosopher, I mean, if I were in his shoes – those shiny black slippers with the silver buckles and those saucy white knee-socks – I wouldn't confront my sexuality at all. I'd just hang out with my mother a lot.
Mr. Smith had a utopian project: to examine a world in which a great deal was cruel and wrong and describe it as a world in which everything was on course to be as it should. Smith did not invent capitalism, but rather described an ideal version of it. That's my take-away, and remember, I'm notorious for maliciously misunderstanding the work of those of superior mentality, which includes everyone of any consequence. This essay will be no exception. It's already too late for this essay to be an exception.
In the century before Smith wrote his magnum opus, Rene Descartes, a fancy-pants Frenchman who wore big shirt-collars that extended down to his tits, took on the project of doubting everything. I judge Descartes harshly on one point, and that is when he abdicated his doubt for an invented God. He didn't invent God, he just used an old one someone else had invented to bridge the gap between godless mystery and the fact that existence itself exists. He was so close to discovering the meaninglessness of existence, but just as he was about to dig it up, he put the shovel down and said, "Well, somebody made all this dirt I'm digging around in. Let's just leave it at that."
In 1972 – (45 years ago) – in Osaka, Japan, a fire at the Sennichi Department Store killed 118 people. The fire started in the dress department and quickly spread to other areas in the building that were being remodeled, where burning construction materials filled the stairwells with poisonous fumes. The building had no fire sprinklers. In a nightclub on the seventh floor, patrons found the fire exits locked, and in desperation they began jumping from the windows. It took firefighters three days to put out the blaze. Ninety-six people were found dead inside the nightclub, twenty-two died from jumping, and another seventy-eight were injured, including twenty-seven firefighters. Three managers of the building later went to prison for criminal negligence and accidental homicide.
In 1985 – (32 years ago) – Philadelphia police bombed the headquarters of MOVE, a radical commune that advocated black liberation and shunned modern technology. The group was well stocked with guns and ammo, and nine members had already gone to prison for third-degree murder in the death of a cop. The group occupied a row house in West Philadelphia, where neighbors complained to the police about their rooftop bullhorn political speeches. When police arrived and were denied entry, they resorted to fire hoses and tear gas, and were answered with bullets. The resulting shootout led to a two-day armed standoff, which ended when a state police helicopter dropped two one-pound bombs on the house, sparking a fire that quickly spread across the neighborhood. With orders to hold off, firefighters stood by and watched the police gun down commune members who came running out of the burning house. Eleven people, including five children, were killed; some sixty-five houses were destroyed; and more than 250 people were left homeless. Eleven years later, a federal jury found that the city had used excessive force and violated the Fourth Amendment. It ordered payment of $1.5 million to three commune survivors, and Philadelphia briefly became known as “The City That Bombed Itself.” Mayor Wilson Goode issued a formal apology, but nobody in the city government was ever criminally charged.
Rotten History is written by Renaldo Migaldi
Nnennaya worked with BYP100 DC on a local fundraising effort, part of a larger national campaign by the group Southerners On New Ground.
Julia wrote the article How Tax Policy Created the 1% for Dissent.
Mark wrote the articles Curb Your Enthusiasm: Macron Is Just The Beginning Of A New Fight For France And Europe for Huffington Post and How the Eurozone Damaged French Politics—and This Year’s Presidential Election for The Nation.
Karina wrote the artilce A Politics of Solidarity for Jacobin.
Bill wrote the book Cannibalism: A Perfectly Natural History from Algonquin Books.
Sharon wrote the article The Plant Next Door for The Intercept.
Jeff is hosting the "What Is Capitalism" Contest at Seattle's Red May on Sunday.
Welcome to the Moment of Truth: the thirst that is the drink.
Our definition of mental illness is broadening every day even as its subdivisions divide into ever finer specificities. That's great, because we're all crazy now, and we can each identify our particular mental deformity. But we also have more accurate ways to describe the mental deformities of others. We don't like insanity. And we don't tolerate evidence of it. We don't tolerate people who evince insanity – it's fine to be crazy, just don't act crazy. I understand why. We're trying to create a rational civil society. But I think all this emphasis on sane behavior is making us crazy.
A couple of friends of mine were telling me about the book they're writing for a musical. I was pleasantly surprised by its operatic, melodramatic, Shakespearean or Jacobean themes: murder, rape, incest, betrayal, mutilation, seduction, revenge – reminiscent of palace intrigue – the kind of plot elements many people who hate Game of Thrones complain about. Yet Game of Thrones is an extremely popular fantasy. Dostoyevsky's novels were often occupied with such elements of high melodramatic tragedy as well. The more compelling work of Dickens divulged weird family secrets, and relied on cruelty of a type modern audiences consider the stuff of either fantastic tales or stories set in the developing world.
Take, for instance, the movie Lion, about an impoverished family whose child disappears and is raised by a family in New Zealand. The emotional second half, dominated by Dev Patel's performance of self-discovery, search for his original family, torment on their behalf as he ponders their torment, and shrieking in his hapless girlfriend's face, dramatizes the abject emotional upheaval within privileged civil society when it feels invaded by the kind of suffering it considers unthinkable. The only thing believable about Patel's performance of distress is the feeling it evokes in the audience of being subjected to the polemic of a socially-conscious activist about the injustices inflicted by the imperial West upon the rest of the world. We see his foaming at the mouth and misdirected anger as juvenile, the way we think of many of those we might deride as "social justice warriors."
We stigmatize sexual relationship infidelity, certain types of passion, anger, vengeful scheming, secret addictions, as "drama." "I don't need any drama... read more
In 1527 – (490 years ago) – mutinous troops of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V invaded and sacked the city of Rome, which at the time was part of the Papal States. Pope Clement VII had allied with the Kingdom of France to resist growing pressure from the northern empire and the Habsburg dynasty, so he was seen as an enemy by Charles’s troops, who numbered some twenty to thirty thousand and — to make matters worse — were angry because they weren’t getting paid on time. The unruly soldiers poured into Rome, killing everyone they encountered, and forcing almost two hundred of the Vatican’s Swiss Guards into desperate hand-to-hand combat on the very steps of Saint Peter’s Basilica. Before being massacred, the Swiss Guards managed to hold off the intruders long enough for the pope to escape to his bunker. But Rome was devastated, and some forty-five thousand people were killed, wounded, or exiled. The invaders remained for months as corpses lay rotting in the streets, until the city was finally overcome by the plague.
In 1757 – (260 years ago) – the English poet Christopher Smart, having been deemed insane, was committed to Saint Luke’s Hospital for Lunatics, in London, one of two asylums where he would be confined for the next six years. It was a time of great debate about the nature of mental illness, but methods of treatment were still primitive, and some doctors even advocated physical beating. For his part, Smart never considered himself insane, and some acquaintances felt he’d been sent to the asylum without due cause. During his years there he was given to intense religious fervor, and he wrote obsessively, producing what are seen today as his greatest works — including the long poem “Jubilate Agno,” which was not published until 1939.
In 1937 – (80 years ago) – the German airship Hindenburg was about to land at Lakehurst, New Jersey, when it mysteriously caught fire and went down in a hellish inferno, killing thirty-six of its ninety-seven passengers and crew. The Hindenburg used explosive hydrogen as its lifting gas, instead of the much safer helium, because the United States had a worldwide monopoly on helium and would not export it to Nazi Germany. Even so, the builders of the Hindenburg were so confident in its safety that the high-end amenities included not only a... read more
Kate is author of Doughnut Economics: Seven Ways to Think Like a 21st-Century Economist from Chelsea Green.
Ralph is author of Breaking Through Power: It's Easier Than We Think from City Lights.
Dave got teargassed twice, if you were wondering about his credentials.
Eugenia is author of Beyond Infinity: An Expedition to the Outer Limits of Mathematics from Basic Books.
Christine wrote the article The High Costs of US Warmongering Against North Korea for Truthout.
Jeffy is hosting the "What Is Capitalism" Contest at Seattle's Red May next weekend. Go to it.
Welcome to the Moment of Truth: the thirst that is the drink.
Don't cook if you can't cook without filling the apartment with choking smoke. What are you doing, burning oil with hot chili flakes in it? I'm gagging over here. I can't inhale without coughing.
It's your sausages. I don't think you know what you're doing with those. They're raw, you should steam them first. Then you wouldn't have to char them beyond recognition like a dog found after a house fire.
I think you punched a whole in our house's lung. Do you hear that whistling? No, that's not me. I don't know what it is. It started as you were cremating your dinner.
Lungs are so over. Lungs are finished, lungs are done. I sent mine on the road to perdition when I swept up some kind of cinderblock dust that had accumulated since the 1950s on a concrete floor in a toxic back room of the type connected to so many "garden" apartments in Wicker Park. "Garden Apartment" is the ghastly sardonic moniker, or "sardoniker," for a basement with little windows above head-height providing insufficient light or ventilation for terrestrial life forms to thrive. People who live in them go blind, all pigment drains from their skin, and they walk on the ceiling, having no reference for what is up and what is down.
The chamber filled with a fog of chalk particulate, and I inhaled it for an hour, hacking up cakey phlegm for another four hours afterward. I was also a pack-a-day smoker, back in the days when even a part-time ESL teacher could afford a pack a day.
Every time you cook, my lungs fill with fluid, and it takes days of hacking for me to breathe without a coughing fit. I'm underwater, here. I can't breathe underwater. I can't breathe water. My pipes are not adapted to it. I'm not a bearded fountain seamonster. But you are turning me into one with your mustard gas cuisine.
We're burning everything. Plastic, coal, mercury, all kinds of viscous syrups, French- toast-scented sickly-sweet wet garbage. One day soon the entire planet will be smoke. We'll be indistinguishable from the atmosphere. All will be languid formlessness. We'll hover without boundaries, black ghosts on black vapor strata.
We're burning glass, or just blowing glass dust into the air. We're burning water. We're burning chlorine. We have men strapped into harnesses, marching armies of men, roaring motors on their backs spewing clouds of carbon monoxide and half-combusted kerosene,... read more