Air Date 2/14/2022
JAY TOMLINSON - HOST, BEST OF THE LEFT: Welcome to this episode of the award-winning Best of the Left Podcast, in which we shall take a look at some origins, alternatives, and misunderstandings of capitalism from the Dutch East India Company to Adam Smith, and up through the planned obsolescence and marketing that have tricked us all into working far harder than necessary, all while failing to make us happy.
Clips today are from Upstream, Revolutionary Left Radio, UnF*cking the Republic, OFF-KILTER, and Economic Update with an additional members only clip from Revolutionary Left Radio. And stay tuned to the end where I'll discuss the value of opening yourself up to indigenous thinking.
Indigenous Economics with Tyson Yunkaporta (In Conversation) - Upstream - Air Date 11-10-21
Della Duncan: When you think about the imperialism and colonization, growth industrial society, and you go upstream from that, what is it that is causing these downstream problems that we see and experience?
TYSON YUNKAPORTA: My clan, if I go back 500 years, my clan, the Apalach clan, [00:01:00] at the top of Australia there, we started that. 500 years ago the Dutch came there and tried to establish trade, and they were trying to get us interested in rice and soap, for example, tobacco, things like this, but it wasn't as good as the tobacco that we had, so nobody liked it. The rice was yucky because we hadn't cooked it, just trying to eat it dried and it wasn't very nice and the soap was like, clearly that was made from fat. So we tried to eat that and then we were blowing bubbles. And so it was a pretty crappy sort of a deal.
And a lot of the Dutch then decided because in Europe at that time, women were chattel. And that was a concept that was just completely alien to us here, and particularly alien to our women who did not take kindly to the idea of these Dutchmen suddenly seizing them and trying to carry them off as payment for [00:02:00] rice and soap that we didn't even like. And so the women took exception to that and fought back, as you do. And, it wasn't long before most of those Dutchmen on that ship were speared to death.
And so there was basically a handful of them managed to sail their ship back to Holland. And, of course, they had a lot they lost their cargo, lost their crew, and the whole thing was a disaster, and they owed a lot of money on that voyage and were bringing back no profits. They and they didn't want to go to debtor's prison or whatever, so they had to figure out a way to get around that and to outsource the accountability for that entropic mission. They had to try and outsource that somewhere else.
So they created a third party like that would take the blame for that and take it off their shoulders, and so that was the world's first corporation was invented, which is this, which has personhood. So that created the world's first corporation, the Dutch East India Company started up, and then, of course, the British followed suit with the British [00:03:00] East India Company. This was incorporated into the big push to go to the new world and try and settle all their debts from the wars they've been fighting for centuries, the big banks that they owed money to and moneylenders and all that kind of thing.
And so, yeah, off it all went. And it was all our fault here and Western Cape York in Australia. If we hadn't speared those Dutchmen, you know, and if we'd been more amenable to the idea of women as chattle, like to be treated like dogs or horses to be traded or whatever, then, you know, maybe we wouldn't have ended up with the world's first corporation and the Dutch wouldn't have invented finance. They also invented art speculation, by the way. So those two things, they invented both of them. And therefore, I blame the Dutch for NFTs. They're responsible.
But our women didn't like them. They thought they just smelled vaguely of, feces and pancake mix and pipe tobacco. So, nobody really wanted to go with them, unfortunately. And that kind of ruined the world. [00:04:00] So that's our fault. And we should apologize for that. Probably shouldn't have speared those Dutchmen there.
And yeah. Now so that's when I look upstream. Now, what came out of that then was, these corporations were taking lands and they had to figure out how they would be able to... because the only way to escape the debt then was to leverage capital for more debt. But there wasn't enough capital in the world, so "what could we use for capital?" they we're thinking, and so they went with land. Before that, land was inalienable. If you if you had land that could not be seized or you know, someone could kill you and live on the land instead, you could do that, but you could never, seize somebody's land, you know, for failure pay off a debt, so you couldn't secure a debt with land.
So they invented this sort of financial instrument whereby debts could be secured, that mortgage on the land. So you had, land became capital to secure debt. And then they employed, as [00:05:00] technologies improved, they employed surveying technologies to survey every single bit of land in the world and divide up into these sort of blocks. So each unit of land, had a certain value, and the closer that was to the desirable places to live were the most wealthy places lived, the more value it had, and so that created this sort of real estate market. Every inch of land became capital. All these blocks of land were enclosed, so they interfered with the flows within the landscape, just as it was interfering with the flows of value, currency, exchange, trade. And that's not free trade if the flows of trade and value in relation are blocked. It's not free trade if monopolies are created and there's just horrendous antitrust stuff going on, which kind of came all out of that backdrop.
So if you look upstream, I look upstream 500 years and I see that developing. And you can go 500 years before [00:06:00] that as well and look at things coming out of the Middle Ages of Europe, and you can start to see, with things the church was doing to break up intense kin networks and to change the culture of extended families and break it down to more nuclear families, and make sure that individuals could own capital. So that then therefore, when they died, the church could inherit that, to guarantee that person went to heaven, etc.
You can keep going back and back and start to see this sort of perfect storm of generator functions, that built up and built up into this massive system of perverse incentives that became so complex that it became a self-organizing system. So I mean, a lot of people are looking for conspiracies and rooms full of little men who are working who are developing these. They were conspiring to design these systems, but this system wasn't designed. It was like a learning, like machine learning. It was like a learning algorithm, and kept building itself.
Once it became complex enough to become selforganizing, then [00:07:00] it basically just took care of its original operating protocol and its, its prime directive of when it was originally created by these Dutch, and that was to grow, that's all it has to do. That's its prime directive and its very creative at selforganizing and to make sure that everything it does just goes towards that singular objective of growth.
Transcending Capitalism Insights from Buddhism and Marxism - Revolutionary Left Radio - Air Date 1-3-23
BREHT O SEAGHDHA - HOST, REV LEFT RADIO: A core theme of this text and of our show is a principled anti-capitalism articulated from different directions, socioeconomic, political, environmental, spiritual, et cetera. Can you simply remind us what capitalism is, why it cannot serve humanity, and why it must be transcended?
GRAHAM PRIEST: Sure. So what is it? Well, it's a socioeconomic system which is driven by units of capital, whose rationale is growth. So if you want to personalize it, you can talk about capitalists, but it's always seemed to me that it's not the individual capitalist there is the [00:08:00] issue. It's the way that the logic of capitalism works, which is growth.
The people who own and manage capital aim to increase the capital. So in the sense, the capital itself, the aim of capital is to grow. And the capital can grow because the owners of capital need to employ workers. But because they own the means of production, they keep whatever is produced and then can sell it, make more money because of the labor that's been put into the commodities. But the money that's made, the profit of the surplus value if you want -- which are not the same thing, but we don't need to go into that here -- is reinvested to make more money. So the point of capital is growth. The point of capital is simply to make more capital, and people are used in the process.
So the point of capital is not the good of people. People work for capital, not vice versa. And in the process, people are used, abused. What we could do with social wealth could be used [00:09:00] so much more in a much more humane and rational way for the benefit of people. So our socioeconomic system should work for people, not for simply capital growth.
BREHT O SEAGHDHA - HOST, REV LEFT RADIO: So what can Buddhism offer us in terms of an anti-capitalist critique?
GRAHAM PRIEST: Well, I've already explained how Buddhist ethics really undergirds a trenchant critique of capitalism. And that's one thing. More generally, Buddhism is based on something called the Four Noble Truths, which is the analysis of the way the world works. The last of these is called the Eightfold Noble Path, which are eight things you can do to help get rid of suffering, your own and then other people's as well. And the first of the Eightfold Noble Path is Right View. What that means is understand the world in which you live.
So Buddhism tells us something about the world in which we live.
Marxism tells us something about the world in which we [00:10:00] live, and by and large, they have different parts of the picture, as it were. So you can put these together.
Let me come back to Buddhism in a second, but let me talk about something else for a moment, which is ideology. So when I was writing this book, I became convinced that one of the biggest obstacles to progress is ideology.
How do you keep control of a society? Well, you can use violence, okay? And sometimes capitalism uses violence. But the striking thing about capitalism is that it doesn't, by and large use violence. If you can control people's minds, you don't need to control their bodies. And that's precisely what ideology does in a capitalist society. People are conditioned into thinking that capitalism is, fill in the blanks: just inevitable, good for everybody, fair, et cetera, et cetera. And the more you think about this, especially if you apply the principles of Buddhist ethics, that really is not true.
Coming [00:11:00] back to Right View, one thing I think that Buddhism can do is an emphasis on understanding the world in which we live. Okay, now, there are a number of aspects of that. But one thing that Buddhism emphasizes is interdependence. So the Sanskrit term is Pratītyasamutpāda. It's sometimes translated as dependent arising, dependent conditioning. But everything that you do is a result of multitude effects, and everything you do has multitude effects. And we live in a social and natural world where we are thoroughly dependent on other people, on a natural environment.
Marxism emphasizes very much dependence on other people, not so much dependence on the environment. But that's becoming, of course, painfully obvious with the very imminent ecological [00:12:00] disaster we're facing.
So in Marx, you find a critique of something that's often called social atomism, the view that people are essentially autonomous, independent, and have interests pursuing which is the point of society. So Marx emphasizes the interdependence of the social independence of people. And what Buddhism does is kind of generalize this, not just to social independence, but to a much bigger interdependence. The social stuff is there certainly, but also the natural world is important. As I said earlier, we're now coming to see.
Those are some of the things that I would say in answer to your question.
BREHT O SEAGHDHA - HOST, REV LEFT RADIO: And I agree with those wholeheartedly. And I would also add in Buddhism it's known by different terms, but one of the terms it's known by is the Three Poisons of delusion, ill will, and greed. And we can see how those three poisons exist within ourselves, and as they exist in the socioeconomic collective. [00:13:00] So we can see how capitalism takes these three poisons and turns them into these totalizing structures that dominate our lives. I mean, what is capitalism-imperialism -- I use that with a hyphen: capitalism-imperialism as one term -- if not greed, delusion and hatred, dominating on the geopolitical and global level. And so if we want to attack greed, delusion, and Ill will at that level, it certainly helps to be able to root it out of ourselves. And of course, the Buddhist meditation practices are ways in which we can actively seek out that ability, to cultivate that capacity to uproot greed, delusion, and ill will within ourselves, and thus at least contribute a little bit to the uprooting it of among the collective. But also in and of itself, of course, I could be the perfect person -- I could be Buddha himself -- it's not going to change what's happening in Yemen or how the mode of production operates in the US, et cetera. So, just by changing myself, it can [00:14:00] certainly lend itself toward changing the world, but in and of itself is insufficient. And so you need a collective political struggle, program, organization to confront these things at scale, if you will. And so I see this is another way in which Marxism and Buddhism can complement each other. Because if you are somebody that is greedy and deluded and full of hate yourself, you're not going to be very effective in trying to rid those qualities from the world at the political level, and vice versa. So I think that's one way in which they can help each other as well.
We don't understand Capitalism. Part One - UNFTR - Air Date 1-27-23
MAX - HOST, UNFTR: Today I wanna level set on one of the most misunderstood labels in political and economic theory: capitalism. In our short attention span world, capitalism is usually thought of in one of two ways: either it has ushered in an era of unsurpassed technological advances and prosperity, inspired innovation, and made the United States the most powerful and awesome nation in human history; or, capitalism, by design, creates massive inequality, destroys the planet by consuming natural resources, abuses [00:15:00] the working class, and co-ops the political process for its own self-serving interests.
So which is it? How about neither? At least as it was originally intended. The lazy and reductive way that the right, especially, talks about capitalism is usually in response to socialism or communism. And you've heard it all before: socialism has never succeeded. Look at communist China. Look at the Soviet Union, Venezuela, Cuba. Ergo, capitalism is the most successful economic model in human history. But contrast isn't a positive argument. It's a contrasting negative, and that's fine. But it should be noted that Venezuela under Chavez and Maduro or Cuba under the Castros, that's not pure socialism. Moreover, China isn't, and the Soviet Union wasn't, purely communism. But that's for another day.
Viewing it in a positive light, and I don't mean favorable, I mean practical and independently, the United States has operated with shades of capitalism, but we're still pretty far afield from the origins of the philosophy. And on this, we don't have to [00:16:00] guess. A fella named Adam Smith left us a pretty decent book on the whole thing called The Wealth of Nations.
Smith was an Enlightenment thinker from Scotland who was witnessing the decline of the European nation states and the birth of the New World in America in real time. A new world with abundant resources was fertile ground for the great minds of the day to break from the feudal shackles of prior periods. But Smith's period also meant that his lens was exclusively agrarian in economic terms during the first industrial revolution. So this is still a hundred years prior to the second industrial revolution, and understand that he was a social theorist, primarily. The field of economics, usually referred to as the dismal science, would develop much, much later. Smith and others in his time, like Beccaria, Bentham, Russo, and Kant, were building on social theories explored by earlier thinkers such as Locke, Hobbs, and Decartes. Smith was in the world's slowest and longest conversation with these other [00:17:00] philosophers trying to make sense of the ever expanding world coming out of the Renaissance.
So where Renaissance thinkers were making sense of the world after the Middle Ages and grappling with questions of human existence in God, Enlightenment theorists were beginning to formulate thoughts on political and economic systems that could improve life on Earth. If you haven't guessed, I like looking at history like it's a series of conversations. Great thinkers responding to the ones that came before, like Milton Friedman writing in response to Keynes, and Keynes responding to the end of monarchical rule in the Great Depression.
Now, Marx and Engels, for example, were writing a full century after Smith at the dawn of the second industrial revolution. So their context was entirely different, as the early stages of industry were especially brutal to the working class. But back to capitalism, importantly, and this one usually turns some heads, Marx was a proponent of capitalism. He actually believed that it was necessary to lift the world out of death, despair, and abject poverty. Yeah, he really did. But he also had a keen grasp of human nature and [00:18:00] understood that, left to its own devices, capitalism would necessarily oppress the working class by creating the conditions of inequality. Early Marx was less activist and more theorist. He wasn't advocating for revolution then as much as he was predicting it.
Your Work Is Not Your Worth - OFF-KILTER w/ Rebecca Vallas - Air Date 10-21-22
REBECCA VALLAS - HOST, OFF-KILTER: So, Aisha, talk to me a little bit about that as a limiting belief, and how that's showing up today in American society.
AISHA NYANDORO: I think it's shown up in the through line and thread line in so many of our policies right now. And I think the ideal of worth coming from work is definitely among this country's most limiting beliefs. But relatedly, whose work we see is worthy is another major challenge. Black women participate in the labor market at far greater numbers than their counterpart, yet the disparities as it relates to income stability and wealth acquisition demonstrates that as a society, we actually don't value their labor efforts. And I think this pandemic has helped us see that those we have far so long [00:19:00] held up as the pinnacle of success in America, the white collar workers and those individuals with their corner offices, are not actually those who are keeping the economy afloat and society afloat. It's our teachers, our hospital workers, our grocery store clerks, all of those individuals who we deemed as frontline workers at the beginning of the pandemic.
And while the public is finally recognizing this critical labor, we also need our corporations to do the same by paying workers a living wage and offering them the benefits that they need to go about actualizing the American dream, which is closely tied to the population I serve, since so many of the women that we work with are black women, overrepresented, and these low-paying jobs that have no benefits in a lot of instances.
And you know, I think though another issue as it relates to a long health relief within this country is that's truly understanding how poverty works. I think the pandemic has helped me understand that most Americans just fundamentally do not understand a role of policies and determining financial stability and economic mobility. [00:20:00] And we still do poverty as a personal failing of an individual rather than a collective failure of society.
REBECCA VALLAS - HOST, OFF-KILTER: Oh, that is so well said. And we need to spend some time on that piece as well.
Dorian, where do you want to take that? We spent some time last week really drawing the line straight through from slavery to present day and that is probably fairly obvious to anyone who's listening and thinking about where that might have come from in the US. But this isn't just an incredibly toxic, limiting belief for communities of color; it's got toxicity that impacts all of us. Talk a little bit about how this shows up in American society for you.
DORIAN WARREN: Well, I'll actually start where you just left off in a way, in terms of the through line from slavery, because it's a good example. And I'll raise childcare and early learning as an example where you can root the origins of our childcare system, or frankly, lack thereof, excuse me, to slavery and to the role of enslaved black domestic workers, black [00:21:00] women, and doing the care work for the country's children, and the lack of worth attached to that care work from the very founding of this country. And so it's not a surprise that we are sitting here in the 21st century with a privatized childcare system, with a devaluation of the vastly super majority female workforce, particularly of women of color in the childcare and home care industries. We have still not made the policy and political choices to value that work.
And again, there's a through line to domestic workers, enslaved black women, in slavery for hundreds of years doing that work for free.
The other pun I make here is -- and Rebecca, you made me think of this book I read many years ago in grad school called Belated Feudalism. It's very academic work, by a political scientist, a woman named Karen Orren. But here's the crux of the argument. I'm gonna make it plain. We basically imported [00:22:00] employment and labor law from England, in the 17th, 18th centuries here. And that labor and employment law was rooted in a system, not of capitalism, but of feudalism, where the vast majority of "subjects" in a society had no rights. And in fact, there were stories made up to justify that system of exploitation and unfreedom. And that's part of the origin of these notions around work and why dignity comes from work. It's because there have been systems throughout human history that were created to force and compel people to work for others' profits and benefits, and then just making up a story about why that was somehow a good thing. And we've been combating that for hundreds of years.
Now there was a little bit of an innovation with this thing called the "Protestant work ethic," that's been written about for many, many decades now, and there's a unique American version of that where we were mostly [00:23:00] defined, we grew up hearing these stories and are mostly defined by work, by notions of hard work as opposed to having the dignity that should be afforded every human being regardless of work. So we have these really dominant narratives and stories about why work is supposedly worth so much, even though we don't want to pay people for it, that justifies, frankly, exploitation and the benefit of a very few group of people at the top who benefit from all of our labor. And that seems to me to be our long-term challenge is really busting through these narratives that have held sway for way too long and have justified so much misery and suffering for not just hundreds of years, but frankly -- I can count back about four or five generations in my own family in this country who were all hard workers, but never valued, never valued for the work that they did.
So maybe I'll end this way and to pick up on what Aisha said: we in this [00:24:00] moment need that radical imagination of what it would mean to decouple one's worth from work. What would it mean to say we are all, by virtue of being human beings, valued, have dignity, have the same rights and opportunities as everybody else. And I think that is the narrative challenge in front of us.
We don't understand Capitalism. Part Two. - UNFTR - Air Date 1-27-23
MAX - HOST, UNFTR: Now, before we hit the high notes, let's look at some of his less controversial, but extremely impactful ideas to show what a boss he was.
First off, Adam Smith created the concept of GDP. Not bad. Smith was the first to include labor costs in the cost of capital. He was also the first to explain how specialization leads to productivity gains by reducing costs. Are you a blacksmith? Be a blacksmith and just do it really well. Are you a farmer? Farm the hell out of that land. Let others along the way add value to the process with their specialties and suddenly you have a system. A system, by the way, that grew into what we refer to [00:25:00] today as a market economy.
Understand that these were monumental concepts. It's hard to appreciate the contributions of Smith like it's hard to appreciate The Beatles if you're listening to them for the first time today. Smith viewed trade as a way to provide to each according to their needs. Whoa. Slow down. That's some Marxist talk right there. No, it's true. Smith even viewed trade as a kind of economic justice that moved goods and services around the world efficiently, depending on the needs of those on both sides of the transaction. I need a tool. You need food. We both win. The idea of equity was central to his calculation of building a just society, which is the part that modern proponents of capitalism forget. And because direct trade is not always feasible, a commercial system that creates common value, currency that we all acknowledge, can facilitate trade.
So knowing this, how do you think Smith would characterize our system of [00:26:00] trade today? Well, at first glance, he would be floored by the movement of goods around the world. Now, for that matter, I also imagine he would be pretty pumped about pooping indoors. But things like unilateral trade agreements, punitive tariffs, price fixing, fiat currency, these things would bewilder Smith. He would call BS immediately on fossil fuel and agriculture subsidies and see our military invasions as the ultimate perversion of the free markets.
But today, these are defined characteristics of our system and part of the reason that I can confidently say that what we have really isn't capitalism. So what about the rights of the poor in the working class? Here again, Smith is a pretty complicated cat. On the one hand, there's great evidence in his writing, especially in his earlier and no less influential work, the Theory of Moral Sentiments that Smith was suspicious of the monied class. Once again, however, it's important to understand that Smith was an elitist, like the other Enlightenment figures of the [00:27:00] time who believed in a moral society that provided for all so long as it was on the terms of the opulent minority. Nevertheless, to quote Smith directly, "No society can surely be flourishing and happy of which the far greater part of the members are poor and miserable".
Contrary to the version of Smith sold to us today, he was suspicious of merchants and landowners. He believed that they would share their gains to a certain extent, get what they needed from labor, but they wouldn't necessarily share the increases in productivity, that surplus capital, without being forced to. Aha. Smith was a socialist. Mmm, sorry, Charlie. As much as Smith was suspicious of the merchant class, he was even more suspicious of organized labor.
Remember, he was an elitist who didn't much trust the masses either. Very similar to the founding fathers, protecting the upper class and giving just enough to the working class to prevent uprising and dissent. That's the history of America more than [00:28:00] anything.
Okay, so, what about taxes? We know that he was in favor of enriching the merchant class and landowners, but Smith also believed the government had a legitimate role in promoting and protecting a free market system, and government obviously has a cost.
So let's check the boxes. He believed that government should provide for the common defense of the nation. Check. It should preserve property rights. Check. A government should levy taxes for public works like roads, bridges, and canals. Check. And taxes should provide free education to young and old, regardless of class with a particular emphasis on the arts because art is a sign of a functioning and healthy society. Whoa.
The one thing to understand about Smith or the vast majority of philosophers is that they're all attempting to solve the problem of inequality in their own ways. None of these theorists would be in favor of the massive accumulation of wealth that we have today. None would support a system that destroys the planet and our fragile [00:29:00] ecosystem. None would support invading countries to steal their natural resources, but most of them would be supportive of free education, funding of the arts, healthcare is a right, and ensuring a dignified retirement, especially Adam Smith.
Economics for a New Year - Economic Update with Richard Wolff - Air Date 1-19-23
RICHARD WOLFF - HOST, ECONOMIC UPDATE: Here's how it works. A company makes something, a capitalist enterprise, let's say refrigerators, why not? And it makes a refrigerator, which is fundamentally a fairly simple machine, a motor, a condenser, a unit that cools, and then the space in which you keep your food at a cool temperature. It is possible, and it has been for many, many years, to produce a refrigerator that lasts a lifetime. And even if it doesn't, that is easily replaceable with parts, if and when they wear [00:30:00] out. But long ago, companies quickly understood that in capitalism, the way you succeed as a business, the way you compete successfully against others, if you sell more than they do; more units. The more you sell, the more profits you have. The more profits you have, the more you can invest in technology that saves you on labor or develop new gimmicks to put in the refrigerator to sell even more. In other words, the struggle of capitalism as a system that pits each producer against the other puts a pressure on them to sell more.
So guess what they did? There was a researcher 40, 50 years ago named Vance Packard who wrote books about all this, and they were very popular for a while. [00:31:00] But then people stopped paying attention. But not because the argument wasn't valid and not because it doesn't continue. It was, and it does.
Here's a simple story: You make the machine to wear out much sooner than it needs to. So it has to be replaced sooner than it needs to. That may be a waste of resources, but it's profitable. The company that can get you to buy more because what it sold you didn't last as long as it might have, is the successful profiteering company.
Pretty soon other companies who might have tried to produce the longer-lasting machine, discover that they can't compete. The company with planned obsolescence also has a little something new each time: instead of a [00:32:00] white refrigerator, how about one that's an avocado color or a stainless steel one, or one that has a built-in radio? You get the picture? You produce in order to sell. That's the capitalist way. You don't produce so it lasts forever. That is not the way the system works. That's why we have fashion. That's why everything imaginable that's made, finds the company making them advertising the new and better version of it; maybe better, maybe new. The point is: sell more.
If there's going to be selling more, then there has to be -- ready? -- the next quality of capitalism: advertising. We've never seen advertising in slavery or in feudalism on the scale we see in capitalism. Advertising assaults [00:33:00] you from every corner, every radio program, every television program, every billboard, everything you look at in the course of the day or listen to is full of advertisements. And advertising is a highly developed operation, utilizing the latest research in psychology and in mental health and mental processes.
Long ago, capitalists learned to associate in your mind through the images and pictures they present the notion that the needs you have -- some of your deepest needs -- for love, for admiration, for appreciation, for good relationships with other people -- can be met by buying this or buying that. The whole idea that you should buy your way to personal growth, you should buy your way to happiness. This is all a part of [00:34:00] capitalism. That didn't drop out of the sky under some other economic system. Capitalism needs to keep selling. Every capitalist's nightmare is to produce stuff in the factory and then be unable to sell it.
And you hire advertisers to go out there and make sure that all you've been able to produce will be purchased by someone, because otherwise you die. Which means that the people that we speak to are people who have been and are being bombarded all day every day: buy this, buy this, buy that. You're not popular? Buy this, you will be. You're not loved? Buy this, you will be. You're not happy? Buy this, you will be. Endlessly. Over and over.
Yeah, you can blame people for being complicit. You can blame them for going out and filling their medicine chest with [00:35:00] creams that are supposed to transform their sex life. But blaming the people is a little bit of blaming the victim.
Now, let me take that back. It's a lot of blaming the victim.
Why are we putting people under such pressure? Why isn't the system one that produces goods that last a long time? Yeah, they may not be the latest, they may not have all the bells and whistles. But if people were not wasting their time and energy and their money on accumulating more goods than they know what to do with, which is the situation for millions of us, we might be a lot happier society. We've been a society producing like you never saw, but unhappy, lonely, and now worried that we're destroying the planet we depend on. Aren't these enough reasons to begin to say, let's change a system that [00:36:00] makes people complicit with over-consumption? They weren't born that way.
Now, here's another one. Capitalism is a system that produces inequality. You know that. For the last 40 years, every statistic, whether collected by a left-winger, a right-winger or someone in the center, demonstrates that the gap between rich and poor has gotten much worse. We now have people, the Jeffrey Bezos, the Elon Musks, who count their wealth in hundreds of billions of dollars. You have to go back to ancient Egypt, pharaohs, to get levels of wealth like this. And of course, they show you their wealth in their 500-foot yachts and their private airplanes and -- and you know what that does? That creates in the minds of millions of other people [00:37:00] envy. It's a standard. It becomes a measure of how hard you work, how well you work, how successful you have been, how sharp and smart you might be.
And all of those get shown by the level of consumption. You have the biggest mansions, you have more of them, the biggest boats, the biggest you name it. And of course for the mass of other people, this becomes a standard of emulation. I want that too. Or at least to get closer to it.
You know, the psychologists teach us that Americans are very lonely people. What they really need and want are relationships. They need the time to relate to their families more, to their friends more. They need relief from the consumption for the other [00:38:00] things in life that matter more. Many of our religious leaders, they grasp that also and talk about it.
But you know, telling people to be more focused on their family is not gonna cut it. It hasn't. And telling people not to be complicit with consumerism, it's not gonna work real well either, and it hasn't. You know why? It's not that it's wrong. We are complicit. We're complicit with the capitalism into which we were born, in which we rose up and developed our ways of thinking. You can appeal to us to change, but it's a bit cruel to appeal to us to change when you haven't changed the system that makes us the way we are. That's not fair and it doesn't work.
That's why folks like us focus on capitalism. Change the [00:39:00] system. Let's not have a system based on profit. Let's have a system that directly says: If what people need are basically supports -- a sufficient standard of life, the freedom to develop their relationships, their love relationships, their creativity, their leisure, their artistic capabilities -- then let's create a system that they can become complicit with doing what they need, rather than a system that demands of them complicity with consumption.
Indigenous Economics with Tyson Yunkaporta (In Conversation) Part 2 - Upstream - Air Date 11-10-21
Della Duncan: You mentioned that you're doing this work on indigenous thinking and the economy. And you mentioned complexity theory system thinking. So what would be some of the offerings from indigenous thinking in that, in light of economic systems and the economy, what would be just some of the tenants we might dive into?
TYSON YUNKAPORTA: Yeah, Well, [00:40:00] basically, it's a it's about relationality. There's a protocol in our our trading system, which still survives today, even in the most colonized communities, it survives in the form of what a lot of people called demand sharing. You know, so demand sharing means like no person can accumulate anything. So I haven't been able to keep any of the royalties from my book, for example, because that's you know, that's a surplus that's coming into one member of the extended family and that must be distributed, so, if I have ten thousand dollars, and somebody asks me for five, I have to give it to them.
There's no " oh, no, I'm saving that for my kids college," or anything like that, there's no accumulation of things. There's that understanding that when my kids go to college and they need money for books or tuition, then I ask around the family. So any that means means that there's a principle of a really high velocity of any unit of exchange. So [00:41:00] every dollar in an extended family, but then in a community made up of extended families, every dollar changes hands and is exchanged like a thousand times.
The dollar has very high velocity in our economic systems, even today. Our internal economies and our communities are sort of a pale shadow of what was, \ so that kind of demand sharing economy from before, that that starts at the individual level of you acquire or accumulate something, and then it goes into that relational pair that you might have with, let's say, your nephew. So he puts his hand up and you pass that on, later he might do something for you as well, but mean, that just happens all the time. You're always doing things for each other.
So it's that pair, but then there's you and your grandmother and that grandmother, grandson sort of pair, and you're in all these different pairs. So it's a network of pairs that make up your extended family. There's a kind of internal economy in there and then that scales up to clan, and [00:42:00] then to your tribe, but then your regional group. And these are all networked.
And so there's a principle of, it's important to note that there aren't permanent hierarchies in needs. They might hierarchies emerge temporarily for different purposes, like in ceremony, trade or managing different parts of the land that are cared for by different people. So as you're moving through that country, then that leadership will shift. It's not really leadership, it's like a cultural authority. It's not power, because power's distributed in the same way that goods services value is distributed, always distributed throughout, and is always moving.
So like we always say, no boss for me. So you have no boss. That's like against the law. You can't boss anybody ever, even if you have really high status in my authority, all you do is you share that knowledge because that's what you have, you've accumulated and that's your value, your store of value as a person [00:43:00] who is the knowledge keeper. But you share that knowledge and make sure and that person has such authority that everybody respects that and does what and usually will follow that knowledge. But there's no bosses.
You have that complete autonomy. So if you can imagine that as it keeps scaling up, so each family has complete autonomy but is bound in obligations and relationships in the clan, each clan has complete autonomy, however, it's bound in obligations the rest of the tribe. And then that keeps scaling up and then that goes to the next region. You know, each regional group, language group is completely autonomous and their territory cannot be annexed under that continental common law.
That's not really separate from the landscape because that's patterned on the landscape, that's patterned on the ecosystem and the complex systems of patterns of land and creation and the spirit that drives that, and then that governance model sort of sits, has the same topography. Sits on that there are layers of abstraction of ideologies [00:44:00] and, culture wars and things like that, we don't have culture wars. It just sits yeah, another layer in the landscape that's not separate from the landscape.
And yet economy sits, on top of that as well. So there's all these layers, like a stack, but without separation between the layers, if that makes any sense. So if you think about the layers in Internet systems or something like that, and you need protocols in between each layer so that each layer can talk to the other. And those protocols, in computer language, that's like these are layers of abstraction there. And it's the same way with Western economy, not Western economies, but, you know, the global economic system that's here now and covering the entire planet. That has all these layers of abstraction, and some of it's like weird mystical wizardry kind of stuff, as a lot of the magical equations, equilibrium and all that sort of thing is, is weird and magical thinking.
And, I don't know that the rising tide lifts all boats, the trickle [00:45:00] down stuff, the you know, the horse droppings on the road and the birds and all that sort of thing. It's a really weird mythology behind this global economic system that doesn't make much sense to us, because we have that fractalized kind of thing that scales fractally, and bound in within those sort of natural laws and that law of the land that is inalienable and ineffable and you just can't change it. So you have to go with those flows. Anything that you acquire, it's not yours. You know what I mean? You're not extracting it because you are in the landscape, and that landscape is something that you are in relation with. And so therefore, that plant, that tree, that place, that river, it's giving up these things for you. It's giving you these allowances, that in that season, the river can share these fish with you, but not next season. Next season you're putting something back into the river, on the river banks, you know, you're doing things to care for that place. So there's that reciprocal relationship going on. There's [00:46:00] always that exchange.
So basically, an economy is like I say, it's that it's a way of tracking, tracking value within relationships. I guess that's more of a now tracking value, that's more of a currency, isn't it. That's a better description of the currency. An economy would be the system within that series of flows of currencies.
Transcending Capitalism Insights from Buddhism and Marxism Part 2 - Revolutionary Left Radio - Air Date 1-3-23
BREHT O SEAGHDHA - HOST, REV LEFT RADIO: You bring up in the text, of course, anarchism. And this is something we haven't talked about. We're more of a Marxist podcast. But I found this part very interesting and worthwhile, especially in part two, you bring up anarchism, the state, and bottom-up v. top-down approaches to socioeconomic and political transformation.
Can you talk about this, what anarchism might contribute to this discussion and what benefits and drawbacks might come with a bottom-up approach?
GRAHAM PRIEST: Yeah, so maybe this is where I would diverge most significantly from standard Marxist groups. But go back to the First International, it turned into a conflict between Marx and Bakunin. A lot of this was driven by personalities, but there was a [00:47:00] significant point of difference between them. I mean, they both agreed on roughly how capitalism works and its punishers and so on. The debate was how you should change things. But the anarchist view was always that let's put it the other way around. The Marxist view was that, to change things, you need some kind of sudden change. You need some kind of power structure run by the cognizanty who would then run things for the good of humanity, not themselves. And the anarchist critique was always, look, once you set up a power structure, then it's a feature of power structures that, even if they were set up with the best will in the world, they start to run things for their own benefit.
As you know, the British politician Lord Acton said a hundred years ago, 150 years ago, "Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely." [00:48:00] And one thing we have seen in the last 150 years, I guess, is, in a sense, Bakunin's predictions coming true about systems that started off calling themselves as Marxist, but established power structures which then benefited the nomenclatura. So the obvious example is Russia. If you expect to change things for the better by setting up a power structure, then almost certainly this is not going to work.
I think the anarchists like Bakunin and subsequent anarchists got this exactly right. Of course that makes change really difficult, because there are no magic bullets. You're not gonna create a better society, a significantly better society overnight. You can't do it, you can't expect it to be up from the top-down power structure. So you've got to work slowly by building up bottom-up power, by [00:49:00] building bottom-up decision-making processes, communities, and so on.
So change has gotta grow from the bottom up.
BREHT O SEAGHDHA - HOST, REV LEFT RADIO: Yeah. And I think [there's] plenty of space within Marxism for this emphasis on the bottom-up approach. I think there are tendencies within Marxism that emphasize it more than others. I would just say a couple things, and I'd love to get your thoughts on this as well, because I'm coming from a Marxist perspective here.
Anarchism seems to have the limitation of being unable to challenge capitalism and imperialism on a global level, precisely, perhaps, because of this emphasis on complete bottom-up processes that often result in sort of localism. Anarchists have taken over territories perhaps, or cities like in the Spanish Civil War, but have been unable to challenge capitalism-imperialism on that global scale like Marxism has, with all of its warts and tragedies and errors and mistakes. Marxism has been [00:50:00] able to do that, and anarchism hasn't. So I wonder what we can learn from the -- and I think in your book, you actually make room for this, so we might end up agreeing -- the dialectical relationship between top-down and bottom-up.
So somebody from an anarchist perspective is not going to necessarily like revolutionary China under Mao, but I think one of the things that Mao did precisely because he saw the bureaucratic malaise and the revisionism of the Soviet state, is that he was trying to actively continue the revolutionary process through this bottom-up approach and this top-down approach. So of course we think Maoism, we think top-down, but we think Cultural Revolution, we think bottom-up. The great leap forward, we think bottom-up.
Now, of course, those things came with plenty of negative baggage. This is a revolutionary and messy process. But I think in something like that historical moment, you see at least this attempt to do both. And I think if you just try to do the bottom-up and totally move off the board any role of the [00:51:00] state or any role of an organization or a vanguard party, you're going to run into errors. And if you do the opposite mistake of completely doing top-down and imposing your will on people, you're going to see the obvious mistakes of that form of authoritarianism.
So do you have any thoughts on that?
GRAHAM PRIEST: Yeah, look, there are several points there. The first is, you say that Marxism can critique capitalism from the top down and anarchism can't. Now, top-down attempts to change capitalism have failed, at least in the last 150 years. The Soviet Union collapsed and has now reverted to a very brutal form of capitalism. China is a capitalist country. So they haven't really challenged capitalism from the top down.
That said, as I indicated, it's really hard to change things from the bottom up. There's no magic bullet. It is gonna be a distributive process, so you don't expect it to happen the same way all over the place. Because, for example, Bangladesh is in a very different situation from the United States, [00:52:00] which is a very different situation from South Africa, for example. Situations on the ground are different. And you've got to work with what you've got there to produce functioning, distributed democratic collectives.
But of course, the hope is that these groups will know about each other, will learn from each other, and will gradually grow organically into something which does replace capitalism.
And final thing about using top-down power structures, there have been some anarchists who've said, as long as you've got a top-down power structure, you should not cooperate with it. You should destroy it, and let things evolve naturally. I think that's probably a recipe for disaster. We are currently in a world with big top-down power structures, and that doesn't mean we can't use them to do good things. So, for example, there have been [00:53:00] times when governments have, well take the British Attlee government after the Second World War. It introduced the national healthcare system. It nationalized the railways and the power structure. It got rid of university fees or it's gotten paid, and so on. It did a lot of good things.
So where top-down power structures can do good things, let's make use of it. Let's do the things that the top-down power structures can do.
But in the end, if you expect the top-down power structures to help you, it ain't gonna work. I mean, nearly all of the working class gains of post World War II Britain have been clawed back in the post-Thatcher years.
JAY TOMLINSON - HOST, BEST OF THE LEFT: We've just heard clips today, starting with Upstream breaking down 500 years of capitalism forming into a complex self-perpetuating system. Revolutionary Left Radio discussed lessons that Marxists could learn from Buddhist. UnF*cking the Republic, in two parts, explained why [00:54:00] Adam Smith was misunderstood, as well as some of his lesser known beliefs. OFF-KILTER made the connection between our labor laws and how they were originally imported from futile England. Richard Wolff on Economic Update explained the modus operandi of capitalism through planned obsolescence, marketing, overwork, over consumption, and unhappiness. And Upstream dove into an alternative indigenous perspective on the structure of an economy.
That's what everybody heard, but members also heard about his clip from Revolutionary Left Radio discussing a debate between Marxists and anarchists over the value of power structures. To hear that and have all of our bonus content delivered seamlessly to the new members only podcast feed that you'll receive, sign up to support the show at bestoftheleft.com/support, or shoot me an email requesting a financial hardship membership because we don't let a lack of funds stand in the way of hearing more information.
And now, we'll hear from you.[00:55:00]
Stolen children and native cultures - Alan from Connecticut
JAY TOMLINSON - HOST, BEST OF THE LEFT: Hey Jay, it's Alan from Connecticut calling in on 1539, "Stolen Children". Uh, you know, I want to thank you for these episodes on Indigenous people and I'm always learning new things and, you know, I'm much aware of the stolen children and sisters and so forth. But I'm always learning more about Native cultures through you through these episodes, in ways that I wouldn't get them otherwise. And so thank you for that. It's always been an interest of mine that I haven't really had the time to pursue and I hope to be able to someday, but it's nice to get that in these kind of feeds. So, thank you. Keep up the great work, and stay awesome.
Thoughts on the reasons for Cop City - V from Central New York
JAY TOMLINSON - HOST, BEST OF THE LEFT: Hello, Jay, this is V from Central New York. How are you doing? I am catching up as I often do with your back episodes. I was calling in about episode [00:56:00] 1541, your most recent episode on Cop City. Thank you very much for producing that episode. I gotta first say it's really a testament to your commitment to bring radical truth forward to the public. Many people may not know what Cop City is, so, thank you. You are doing a great job in educating them. A couple of points I would encourage your listeners to download the free Global Trends 2040 report. It'll give you a great, great birds eye view as to why Cop City may indeed be built and why it is in the [00:57:00] process of being built. I will not go into what the global trends say specifically, but I think you would probably guess right to assume that global warming plays a huge role in those global trends. Also though, one of the global trends, which I guess I have to talk about is the recognition by generations, millennials and forward, that the, not necessarily the lifestyle, but the level of comfort and the opportunities and possibilities that capitalism has been promising them for 300+ years, there is going to come a time in the not-too-distant future when these generations will realize that that is not true and there [00:58:00] will be, not maybe, but will be some sort of a social protest backlash that could see citizens clashing with law enforcement. That is one of the primary reasons I believe this civilian military institution is being planned. That's all I have to say about it. Keep up the great work, Jay. I know this one is quite short, but seriously, keep up the great work man. Peace.
Final comments on the value of being open to understanding indigenous thinking
JAY TOMLINSON - HOST, BEST OF THE LEFT: Thanks to all those who called into the voicemail line or wrote in their messages to be played as of VoicedMails. If you'd like to leave a comment or question of your own to be played on the show, you can record or text us a message at (202) 999-3991 or send an email to [email protected]
Thanks of course to Alan [00:59:00] and V who we just heard from, and finally I just have a couple of somewhat disjointed thoughts for you—they started out disjointed, but I think I can time together relatively nicely. So if you left this episode struggling to imagine what a post capitalist society could look like, don't worry, you are not alone. There is an old saying that it's easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism. So even those who dedicate their lives to opposing capitalism often struggle to articulate a clear vision of what should come next. I mean, it's far more difficult to imagine a new paradigm while stuck inside an old paradigm, than it is to understand why the old paradigm isn't serving the needs of people in the best way possible.
Secondly, I just wanna mention that it seems that we're in a unique period of time where both the left and the right of society seem to be extremely dissatisfied with how things are going, and I would argue [01:00:00] for largely the same reasons—related to the alienation, inherent in the human experience under capitalism. But we have very different explanations for our dissatisfaction, which is why we are on opposing sides of this ideological spectrum. But even though the left may usually be more right in their assessment, they've still been pretty far off the mark for a while now, I think, because weekends and the 40 hour work week, while improvements over the previous status quo, certainly didn't free us from alienation, and nor will better workplace diversity and childcare support. Again, better than the previous status quo, but not actually the change we need because we haven't been thinking big enough.
So, hold that thought for a moment while I tell this story. I was professionally in the climate movement from around 2007 to 2009, and at that time [01:01:00] it was an extremely White movement. We knew it and there were efforts at the time to connect a vision of green jobs to underserved communities that had been impacted by environmental racism. So the idea was for the benefits of a Green New Deal, though I don't think it had that name yet, would be felt most strongly by those who had been the most harmed by the previous status quo.
So we were trying, but there was a major shift in my perspective on the movement in 2014 when there was a major climate march in New York City. Indigenous climate activists. By design of the coalition of organizers, at the very front of the march. And the symbolism was extremely intentional. The point was that native peoples have been stewards and defenders of the lands on which they have lived in ways that mainstream society needs to learn from for thousands of years. [01:02:00] At the time, the focus was on simply defending land, preventing extraction, and there's an alliance called the Cowboys and Indians Alliance between native and other rural peoples who both see value in protecting the land from exploitation. And again, that's great. A whole lot better than the previous status quo, but again, I would argue that it's not quite far enough, but moving in the right direction.
Now, in more recent years, I think we are getting closer as calls for coming to more deeply understand Indigenous worldviews beyond. Protection of land has been gained steam, and that's what was touched on today in our final clip. The description of an economy that is scalable, robust, and connected to the human need for community and connection.
And this is a drumbeat that I've been hearing slowly emerged over the past several years. This isn't the first guy to make this [01:03:00] case by a long shot, but I think the idea is starting to catch on now more than ever, and this speaker is representative of that movement. While we strain to imagine a future that could exist post-capitalism, I think we would do extremely well to start by looking backward.
Now, I haven't had a chance to read it yet, but that speaker, Tyson Yunkaporta, has a book out on the topic called Sand Talk: How Indigenous Thinking Can Save the World. So, in yet another deeply ironic active capitalism amidst calls for an end to that system. I must mention that Sand Talk is available on both the book selling websites that I believe in support and partner with, with the use of affiliate Links. Bookshop is the place to get your physical books, while their sister company Libro has audio books. They both help support local brick and mortar bookshops with their online sales, [01:04:00] and shopping at either helps support this show if you get there through our affiliate links, which are in the show notes.
But seriously, regardless of how you get there or even which specific book you read on the topic, Braiding Sweetgrass is another title that's been getting a lot of attention recently for very similar reasons, I just hope that more and more people will begin to open themselves up to ways of thinking that will be new to them, but are actually as old as humans themselves, so that we can start having an easier time imagining something outside of our own paradigm, because we certainly need to.
As always, keep the comments coming in. You can leave us a voicemail as always, or you can now send us a text message through standard sms. Find us on WhatsApp or the Signal messaging app, all with the same number, (202) 999-3991. Or keep it old school by emailing me to [email protected]
That is gonna be it for today. Thanks to everyone for listening. Thanks to Deon Clark and Erin [01:05:00] Clayton for their research work for the show, and participation in our bonus episodes. Thanks to the Monosyllabic Transcriptionist Trio, Ben, Ken and Brian for their volunteer work, helping put our transcripts together. Thanks to Amanda Hoffman for all of her work on our social media outlets, activism segments, graphic designing, web mastering, and bonus show co-hosting. And thanks to those who support the show by becoming a member or purchasing gift memberships at bestoftheleft.com/support, through our Patreon page, or from right inside the Apple podcast app. Membership is how you get instant access to our incredibly good bonus episodes, in addition to there being extra content and no ads in all of our regular episodes, all through your regular podcast player. If you want to continue the discussion, join our Discord community. There's a link to join in the show notes.
So coming to you from far outside the conventional wisdom of Washington, DC. My name is Jay!, and this has been the Best of the Left podcast coming to you twice weekly. Thanks entirely to the members and donors to the show from [01:06:00] bestoftheleft.com.
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