On shopping


What this article does not go into is a major problem of the 20th century: how to sell the massive overproduction of industrial capitalism. One answer was advertising, and all the marketing strategies listed here. There is also planned obsolescence and a constant increase in essential trivial ‘improvements.’ Once consumers have bought a handful of durable goods — a car, a fridge, a washer and dryer — how can you get them to buy more? You sell them on improvements. You sell them by having the durable goods break down. You sell them on buying as a solution to life’s problems.

There was a genuine fear at the end of WWII that the US would go back into a depression without a war to dispose of factory outputs. (The good thing about war is it destroys a lot of capital goods.) The answer was government spending, especially on more war goods, the so-called permanent war economy, and on the interstate highway system, and on help for white workers, especially the returning vets: government loans for education and housing.

Women were kicked out of the factories, so the returning guys had jobs. Unions, many formed during the Depression, made sure workers — not all, but many — had a living wage, with enough left over to shop for cars, made necessary by the new suburbs. (We are talking about white workers here, though many Black people ended in the factories of the north.)

Then, around 1980, the people in charge decided the system ran itself and didn’t need government help. Anyway, the system broke down, and here we are, with lots of pissed off consumers.

I forgot the new information technology. It was supposed to save the US economy. The trouble with it is, it uses less stuff. You used to be able to look at new car orders and know how the economy was going to do: car orders determined production of steel, glass, and rubber, production at all the companies that made auto parts, and production at the car plants themselves. That was a lot of jobs. You can tell by prices: a new car costs $40,000. (I just looked it up, and it’s hard to believe.) A new computer costs $400 to $4,000. That’s the cost of the materials and labor and profit for the bosses. The computer is a lot less. In addition, the materials are produced in the third world, and the assembly is done there. The only thing that remains American is the profit for the bosses.

Capitalism and SFF


“Capitalism is often interpreted as a religion. However, if religion is understood in terms of Religare, as something that binds, then capitalism is anything but a religion because it lacks any force to assemble, to create community…And what is essential to religion is contemplative rest, but this is the antithesis of Capital. Capital never rests. It is in its nature that it must always work and continue moving. To the extent that they lose the capacity for contemplative rest, humans conform to Capital. The distinction between the sacred and profane is also an essential characteristic of religion. The sacred unites those things and values that give validity to a community. The formation of community is its essential trait. Capitalism, by contrast, erases the distinction between the sacred and the profane by totalizing the profane. It makes everything comparable to everything else and thus equal to everything else. Capitalism brings forth a hell of the same.

— Byung-Chul Han, The Disappearance of Rituals, October 26, 2020

I like the quote from Byung-Chul Han and am thinking it might be a good idea to read his book. Otherwise, I found the essay I have linked to above dark, maybe too dark.

And I wonder if science fiction and fantasy are a way of dealing with “the hell of the same.” They provide us with myths. They are set in time, rather than an endless, chaotic present. At their best, they help us see the present and imagine a future that is different.

I think the author of this essay confuses the tendency of capitalism with the current reality. The complete breakdown of society has not yet happened. This society would have a hard time operating without a lot of unpaid or underpaid social labor, which happens because people still feel connected to each other: caring for families, doing community work, putting on SFF cons… A perfect capitalist society would require feral children and old people dying in the streets. (Read Dickens. Those things happen in his books. In some ways, Victorian England was more perfectly capitalist than our current society.) I would say we are still engaged in a struggle with capitalism, still trying to maintain a society in the face of Thatcher’s famous quote: “There’s no such thing as society. There are individual men and women and there are families.” She is wrong. We only function with cooperation, including cooperation with people we don’t know

Going Down Unfamiliar Streets

When I was a kid in Minneapolis I found a grain elevator I didn’t know about every time I went down a new street. (Or so it seemed) When I lived in Detroit I found a car plant I didn’t know about every time I went down a new street. Now I find a new five over one apartment building every time I go down a new street. This is not a sustainable economy.