All the Time in the World

Here’s an essay on the modern manipulation of time and its affects on regular people. It’s a bit grandiose sounding, but it was written for a literary magazine, so cut me some slack.

Yesterday I committed a great modern day sin; I forgot my watch. Not just any watch, this was my Casio “waveceptor”, a digital and analog wristwatch complete with a daily radio update from the atomic clock in Colorado. It’s not an especially expensive watch but it is imperative that I remember to carry it with me at all times. Why? Because without the ability to reliably tell time, I can’t function in this society and neither can you. Modern industrial society dictates that we all must be wary of the time at all times. We as a civilization have become time obsessed. We’ve subdivided our days and nights into progressively smaller chunks of regulated and restricted time. Without a direct connection to this time matrix we’re left adrift in a complex dance we don’t know or understand the moves to.

The measurement and regulation of time is the driving force in any modern industrial society. So much so that modern societies break down most all-natural elements of time and in their dust create new and far more intricate groupings of minutes, seconds and nanoseconds. In earlier epochs life was measured and largely regulated by the seasons, day and night, the shape of the moon etc. You sew the fields in spring, ate salted fish during the winter and harvested the crops in the fall. When it was day you were awake and when it was night you would go to sleep. All very simple things.

Yet with the continuous evolution of civilization, time became more and more artificial. Soon religious holidays and days of religious observance were introduced by the priest or shaman caste. You had to worship in this way on this date at this time. That is if you didn’t want the gods to smite you. Then the state got involved and started dictating that citizens perform this duty (normally forced labor of some sort) for a certain period of time and that x group of people must attend schooling for y number of years. Finally with the introduction of commerce, the rule of the market dictated that people show up to work at this time, eat lunch at another time and leave for home at a later time.

All of these changes are quite minor in comparison to the current state of things. Our status quo is the complete management of time and the definitive meaning of that time. That is to say that in our modern society all time is an artificial vacuum, in which each second is measured and counted so that every waking moment of our lives is spent in some of predetermined activity at some predetermined hour. It’s a not a hard thing to observe if you look out for it. First examine how our means of production have smashed all natural signs of time. What ever happened to the night? In all other ages of human development, day and night held near hegemonic sway. Now the night is a mere annoyance, a nuisance to be fought off with headlights and batteries. We could live in a underground bunker and feel little different if that was what was required of us. It might be a bit psychologically offsetting, but we could deal. For those of us in “modern society”, the concept of seasons is on the way out too. Remember how people used to get cold during the winter? Even in their homes? And how during the summer people actually wore pants and heavy woolen clothing? Nowadays you pop the thermostat up or down and all is right with the realm. Oh sure you wear coat or a T-shirt when you’re out “braving the elements”, but so long as you stay within the artificial confines of the human “habitat” and keep on playing halo, you wouldn’t know the difference.

Without the normal barriers and guideposts the natural world provides us, society has unceasingly drove towards a time that is ever more complex and ever more controlled. Think about any portion of your typical day. You wake up at a prearranged time regardless of the weather or the absence of sunlight. You do so, not because you want to wake up, but because it has been declared that you must wake up this time each day in order to arrived at school at your correct prearranged “start time”. If this time clashes with your “life” you’re most probably scolded and eventually punished by those who set the “start time”. Meanwhile in school you spend your hours situated in a series of uniform blocks of time in specified and predetermined subjects. English 8th period, government 9th period math 10th period etc.etc.etc. Once more, if you do not follow this appropriate time frame, you are singled out and targeted by those in authority.

After school you go to work, and begin your “shift”. You may or may not spend specified periods of time within this “shift’ doing various assigned tasks. You might even get some “break time” which is exactly 15 minutes long, no more, no less. After ours of drudgery you finally reach quitting time at which it is acceptable to “clock out”. Of course if you violate any of these time regulations you face stiff sanctions. Nobody wants anyone to come in late or take off early.

Most telling is the concept of “free time”. Free time is possibly the most deceptive of lures that our controlling forces have thrown in our face. “Don’t worry!” we’re told. ”You’ll have plenty of free time once work is over,” This is unadulterated bull. In a modern industrial society there is no free time. All chunks of time already have predetermined lengths and predetermined social meanings. Free time is that time you think is ‘free’, but actually is more akin to indirect control by same societal forces that already directly control all other aspects of your life. Examine any portion of your “free” time and notice how much of that free time was spent either consuming commercial products, or consuming commercial entertainment. Most people would say that the vast majority of their free time is spent in this manner.

And yet where is the freedom in that? Buying consumer products feeds the engine of commerce, the same engine that already controls your workday and work schedule. How is this time ‘free’ if we spend it feeding the forces of oppression? Watching entertainment is not much better. Where’s the freedom and originally in using all your time and scheduling your whole night, around the public relations spewing of commercial entities? Are you really free when you spend every Monday at 10 PM watching “Medium”? What’s so bad about all of this is that of all these favored pastime activities, few can be enjoyed for free? Last I noticed Loews Cinema costs 20 dollars for a ticket with some popcorn and soda, how much does it cost to feel a truly enriching experience? 2,000? 20,000? Unless you’re someone that sets the meaning of time (Corporate executives, the pope, the president, etc.) you don’t have much of a chance to earn that kind of money.

Now please don’t take this as a wholesale assault on the idea of time. Time is the 5th dimension of space. It’s a universal concept; you can’t just throw it away. However the complete hegemony of artificial time and artificially defined time is something that we as a society must address. Time is all that we have and to mismanage it for the benefit of a religious/state/corporate elite is the greatest crime against the human spirit. A truly free and prosperous society must acknowledge the need for extensive free time. Not a free time that merely mimics freedom but in reality bolsters the forces of control. But a freedom of the most exalted sort, where you can feel enthused and enriched every minute and every second. You may call it utopian, but what have you got to loose? More “free” time?

Welcome to the Wall Street Casino and Resort

I think it’s funny how everyone pays so much attention to the stock market and yet we know so little about it. The stock market is not an indicator of the health of the economy, not for real people at least. The stock market is an indicator of the speculative investments of a very wealthy few and the mutual funds of the poor schmoes trying to save for retirement. The stock market doesn’t really mean anything, its gambling with an MBA. Now some will argue that the stock market keeps companies honest, that it reflects their value and performance, while providing the necessary capital to keep them going. To some degree, yes this is true, but not really.

The stock market only represents the perceived value of a company. The perception of a company’s profitability is never its actual value. A company’s stock will go up and down according to the whims of stock traders. If they feel like a stock is worth more, they’ll buy/sell high and visa versa. Why they feel this way, doesn’t matter. Often it doesn’t correspond to reality. That’s why we have things like market crashes. Folk buy up stock on the assumption that they’ll keep going up. Not because the company is actually worth anything, but because investors think they can sell to the next guy for a higher price. That is until the bubble bursts and there’s no one else to buy the stock. A stock market bubble is essentially a pyramid scheme; the new guys fund the profits of the old guys till the whole thing falls apart.

What’s worse is that the stock market doesn’t really apply to you or me. Its health is never our health. Corporate stocks go up when profits go up, and raising profits is often accomplished through unsavory means. When GE lays off a thousand workers, it’s stock shoots up 2-3 dollars at least. New labor saving technology cuts costs, boosts stock and undercuts labor’s bargaining power. If a logging company chops down a national forest, then the money rolls on in. We all suffer from increased environmental destruction, but hey, DuPont’s up 3 points!

The media’s fascination with the stock market demonstrates its upper class bias. They don’t really care about the little people. If they did, more journalists would talk about unemployment, gentrification, and all the not so fun symptoms of a healthy stock. But they don’t, because the news media, especially the business media, is owned and controlled by 5 large corporations, staffed largely by relatively well off reporters and driven solely by profit motive. It’s a bit different at the local newspaper where reporters make pretty modest salaries, but those newspapers aren’t in the business of investigative reporting, corporate HQ wants to make money, and stories like that could only upset advertisers.

It’s all part of a growing and willful ignorance amongst most of the population on all matters of economics. Few people, let alone the reporters themselves, notice that capitalism today isn’t about making things anymore. That’s not where the big money is. Most investment today is in speculation. Now that may involve speculation on productive assets like companies and land, but its still speculation. The problem with speculation is that it doesn’t add any value. At least industrial capitalists build stuff and develop technologies. But speculation is just blackjack with much higher bets, an exclusive casino for the ultra wealthy.

The danger is that over speculation isn’t only unproductive, it’s also incredibly risky. Imagine the economy as a line on a graph, going up and down in a cyclical stable line. Well, the more speculation you add, the deeper and longer those bumps and troughs get. Speculation doesn’t create value, but it is very good at creating volatility. The reason is pretty simple, if you have 50 people trading a stock, its range isn’t going to differ that much over a day or a week, there’s only so many people and so much money. But if you had 50,000 people, you could generate wild fluctuations. Those are the fluctuations that cause a Black Tuesday or an East Asia crisis. If you don’t know about the East Asia crisis, basically around 1997 a bunch of currency speculators drained most of the capital out of the region in a matter of weeks. Factories were sold off piecemeal, bank after bank collapsed, there was hyper unemployment. It wasn’t very fun. Especially when it cascaded into Russia, causing the ruble to crash and eviscerating any gains those poor folk had managed to claw out of the capitalist “shock therapy” of 1992.

Obviously we’ve got a bit of a problem here. We have an economy built on speculation and it’s ready to blow. The cracks have already appeared; in fact they’re fissures at this point. The housing bubble was built on speculation and that has come back to destroy several large mortgage companies (Countrywide is a good example). Fuel prices continue to skyrocket. Why? In the long term its lower supplies and increased demand from India and China. But that’s not the case right now, actually right now its oil speculators bidding up the price and hoarding oil futures because they’re anticipating that increased demand. Food? Yeah that too, in 2004 there was 15 billion sloshing around the food commodities markets, now it’s 150 billion. Of course there are many other problems, but speculation is one of the root causes for about every economic calamity we’ve got right now.

This is dangerous, because speculation is not the cause of people’s problems. Capitalism, oppression, exploitation are the problems. But during these depressions and panics certain sections of the ruling class, the industrialists and the small time owners, start to wax about the power of the “evil bankers.” They start saying that all of you disaffected industrial workers are loosing your jobs and your way of life to that evil transnational banking elite. And we gotta ally together to fight those dastardly bankers, and secure the health of the nation, which only grows more powerful through the strength of industry and the hard working values of traditional heartland folk. If you haven’t realized, this is what we call fascism, add some comments about “jewish bankers” and you get Nazism. During times of capitalist crisis the industrialists and other capitalists co opt parts of the working class, usually the more disaffected, conservative sections, and then brutally assault leftist/revolutionary working people. There’s a reason why Hitler called it “National Socialism,” he actually brought some workers along with him. However Hitler did wipe out the more “socialist” elements during the Night of Long Knives. But hey, I’ll take a dead Nazi however I can get em.

Anyway, before this gets too meandering and silly, let me sum it up. Speculative capital is bad, and it is going to cause another recession, if not another depression sometime soon. The problem is we cannot allow conservative reactionary types to derail working folk into some sort of right wing, neo fascist movement. When the shit hits the fan, we need to articulate a vision that is revolutionary and makes it clear that speculation isn’t the problem, but a problem, a symptom of the larger disaster known as capitalism and hierarchy. Getting rid of speculation won’t end layoffs, wage cuts, racial hatred, etc. It just strengthens one section of the rulers against another.

Middle Class?

I am sick and tired of people on the American left yapping about the middle class. They either don’t know what the middle class is or they see the middle class as some social democratic aspiration. Union MadeAmerican Unions consistently talk about the need to “rebuild the middle class,” and that the demise of organized industry is the demise of the American middle class. There’s something wrong when the unions, representatives of the workers, think themselves representatives of the middle class. Clearly they don’t want their members to become small shop owners, or middle management? Well perhaps the UAW, but they’re fools.

So then what does all this jargon about the middle class mean? Well I think it has a lot to do with the weakness of class analysis these days. The trade unions in America have bought into the same fable that all Americans have bought into, that there’s this mystical middle class that we all can attain. The vast majority of Americans, rich, poor, or in between, all state their impassioned belief that they are middle class. Why? Because middle class isn’t a real class, but a cultural archetype. It contains everything that it means to be American ie everything that it means to be a good capitalist. The Middle Class Man aka Homo Mediatus is everything that capitalism values. He is independent, he is a property owner, he is educated and most importantly, he is entrepreneurial. Homo Mediatus is an enterprising and dynamic individual; he is Horatio Alger and Andrew Carnegie. He is not rich and aristocratic, living off his wealth, contributing nothing, fighting innovations that harm his bottom line. Nor is a whining worker, too stupid to rise above his means, trying to suck money from the government and his employer.

Yet the middle class as a social class does not exist. It never has. People merely think they have middle class status because they own some kind of middling property (aka a house) or they hold some sort of autonomy on the job. Or they own a lot of property, but don’t consider themselves “rich” because they still “work for a living.” None of this has anything to do with proper revolutionary class analysis. Your class is based on your relationship to capital. Do you own it or control it? If you own some, do you own enough to live off of it? If you primarily work for capital, what sort of work do you do? Do you have power over others; can you hire and fire them? The list goes on.

The middle class is a combination of several classes all mixed into one. A small portion is petit bourgeoisie, small business owners that can’t seem to win out against the big capitalists. These people are scum, as they’re nothing but weak capitalists. Most or a large minority of the middle class is actually working class. They may have a higher degree of work autonomy and they may garner higher wages, but they work for a living, and they aren’t the boss of anyone. Folks like medical technicians, middling to low level engineers, school teachers, skilled tradesmen (carpenters, plumbers etc.), technical writers, freelance writers, many newspaper and script writers etc are working class. All of these people get lumped in with the “middle class” and as a result are inculcated into the cult of conservatism and moderation.

The other part of the middle class is the real middle class. These folks are the coordinator class. They hold a weird contradictory position in society. On the one hand they don’t own enough capital to just sit around, nor are they workers in the traditional sense. They occupy a middle ground peculiar to modern capitalism. Coordinators are the folks who you see everyday and HATE. They’re the management, the politicians, the middle to upper bureaucrats, lawyers, doctors and occasionally professors, though they occupy a weird position. And of course those dirty cops.

The coordinator class serves two functions, 1 they supervise everyone else. They manage capital and labor while the capitalists learn modern art. They beat in skulls while the capitalists gather at Davos. 2 the coordinators take on the “really tough” stuff. They’re the specialists of the specialists; their multiple title degrees give them prerogative to make decisions and take initiative. Tom Wetzel sums it up well when he says “The power of the coordinator class is not based on ownership but on a relative monopolization of levers of decision-making and other empowering forms of work. ”

The coordinators are the guardians, and administrators of power. They typically ally with the capitalists, acting as a bulwark of strength. However in times where their work is routinized and pay degraded, they side with workers. They also have their own class interests, as was enshrined in various state socialist regimes. State socialist governments didn’t represent working class people, they represented coordinators. The industrial managers, military personnel, and commissars of Soviet Russia, red China, and Batshit Crazy Albania, were coordinators. They didn’t own the means of production individually, but instead controlled them through access to exclusive education, and exclusive social networks. This is especially pertinent with Maoism, where the revolutionary core literally resides within a group of dissatisfied coordinators.

I’m so pissed off about the misapprehension of the American middle class because it forces an ever larger number of people into a false coordinator class, and petit bourgeoisie consciousnesses. With capitalism becoming ever more skilled, folks will soon need a college degree to apply for a job at Wendys. More and more Americans are getting a college education, at ever higher prices. A whole generation of white collar, debt riddled workers are popping out of the universities, ready for a life of doomed struggle, as they run like hamsters on a wheel toward their rightful dream of middle class respectability. If we’re to rebuild our class, we need to first dispel this illusion. We shouldn’t enshrine our victory as the rebuilding of a conservative and exclusive middle class, especially when that class “proves” the utility and fairness of modern capitalism. There is no middle class, and the sooner we realize it the better off labor will be.