Sunday, March 1, 2009

Down Time on Sunday Morning - I Quit! (Manana, Domani,Tomorrow)

 . . . the only time I have to think. I wonder, almost all the time, what is the point to labor. On this day of rest, I struggle to get on top of my reading, and to take some time to compose my thoughts, but today it seems like such a hopeless endeavor. 

God's day of rest, and I remain convinced of two things: first that there is almost no way that I will ever resolve my thinking to the point where it is quite worth reading. I mean that in an economic sense. There are so many many more intelligent, practiced, readable, and most of all more disciplined thinkers than I. To aspire to their ranks would be as foolish as for me to want to sing in public. I've watched such things; charming among children, they become embarrassments for adults.

Trued accomplishment happens over time, as the result of a lifetime's sense of purpose and direction. A lifetime's enthusiasm, or simple joy at the exercise of what might have started as a talent, but which became a passion. For sure, we elevate the stars too high, and leave too many graceful souls ground down, but the proper alternative should never be to lower the bar. Local venues though inspired by, still spiting mass media might provide a good model. So long as the mass is mediated with honest transparency (I just don't want payola shoved down my throat all the time) . . . but wait there's more to tell.

The second thing of which I remain convinced is that this thing I wish to resolve, intelligibly, is both functionally and structurally equivalent to the Jesus message to which my writing - this thing I struggle with - is so opposed. The Jesus message being a short circuit, by enthusiasm alone, to any rational thought at all, apparently. There is so much bloviation and so many lives wasted on what can never change the world again, and might prevent its changing now . . . 

. . . It has shaped our world, this Jesus message now full complete. Not always for the best. And well beyond the cartoon version which it is so trite to skewer, there are still those very disciplined thinkers, on the Jesus side, who could and would and likely should prick the the bubble of my wild thinking, so that its own heated air may escape confinement in my fevered skull. 

Why not just believe, and keep the passion from the rational thought? 'It works for me,' so many claim (though fewer demonstrate).   This Jesus' Passion, internalized to guide and calm and temper our bestial hearts. The story works, though nevermore for me, for whom it promises more intolerance than love; more patriarchal ruin of matriarchal earth.  Too many launchings up and out and away into pure abstract release anymore, well beyond the blood of its formation.

Or is it that we approach just too imperfectly what the message was, still trueing; still to come? And that it is the hollow hulk with Christianity's momentum, hurtling us now against the wall. 

But it has been my lifetime's purpose and winding direction to resolve this thing, though not to discipline my writing. Very much in the way that I troubleshoot computer network issues, I've gathered clues, and paid close attention, especially to what gets held back or slanted as defense against embarrassment or guilt. I've done this all my life, and now as my short term memory shows signs of swift decline - which oddly hasn't affected the network troubleshooting, since I seem to hold those clues in mind much better than my younger peers who lack enough scaffolding I guess - I feel such urgency. Such pressure toward expression.

All gassy metaphors aside, I am, as you might have heard, quite convinced that money earned is no true measure of value given anymore, if it ever was. By any standard. My daily grind, for sure, is quite nearly worthless to the earth, and might even be harmful. But I wonder if there even remains any way to measure fair exchange in monetary terms. There are many many different ways to go at this observation, but let's try just a few:

First of all is the truly bizarre and seemingly terminal final disconnect between money and anything which could rightly be called value. Well beyond my own cranky complaints about Christmas gifting, sale pricing, and the utterly nil marginal dollar cost to produce that next plastic thing or electronic gadget, is the current grotesque disproportion of clear and obvious in your face events. Economic meltdown. 

Top the list with the sheer scope and size of the stimulus package. Even divided into its share for each of us individually, it's a stunning tally. How did the value evaporate, which this spending of new minted money sets out to offset? What could possibly account for so much loss, and how can the value of dollars left behind anymore be set in any way to inspire much confidence or sense?

Next on that list, this reminded from the Corporation documentary, but readily available anywhere, is the minuscule proportion of any modern product represented by dollars and cents (mostly cents) recompense for actual human labor. Even the auto company bailout talk skirts around the truly minuscule proportion of each car which actually represents the labor to put it together; as the unions not only get bashed, but seem willing to bend over and take it. 

Supposing the car to be on one end, and the electronic gadget or athletic shoe on the other, there is still a clear trend toward all the capital being intellectual and concentrated. I don't mean what progressive income taxation might redress, I mean in actual tangible fact, even before any distributions. Let me say this again: by our very system, capital is concentrated even before its representation by money ever gets counted. That's what money means - for proof cash in your credit score.  Money has potential rather than actual value. Conceptual rather than hard content.

Marx not only dead and gone, but the value of his thought quite as ethereal as market capital. Laughable. The labor theory of value would be mockery to defend, except: flip around the facts of the marketplace, and you should see that actual human labor could be valued at, let's be conservative here, say $10 per hour without even beginning to affect the cost of the item produced. 

So great is the disparity between recompense for human inputs and price. It's that middle space where redistribution can and should and must be accomplished. It's that middle ground where want gets defined.  Who doesn't want and doesn't move defines capital. Gravitational mass. (the quote today from Einstein says that "Gravitation is not responsible for people falling in love." Einstein might be wrong again, though always with a twinkle in his eye)

It's the iron law of markets makes it so, for so long as the alternative remains starvation and misery. Surely it is already clear that it is and always has been a search for this hard wall which capital mindlessly seeks. There must be clear and present misery as alternative to labor's sale, else labor, like coyote, would sing 'fuck you' and go fishing. As with the drug cartels in Mexico, it's not the drugs they want to sell. It's the power their sale affords them. As with the terrorists strapping bombs to their bodies, it's the only kind of want which can't be regulated. It's way too primal, way too raw, and way too deep.

Even our rhetorically people-powered President Obama can't resist the urge to stack his cabinet with Ivy Leaguers, who have by all reports and tests of value, usurped and concentrated there in among elite Universities where the Logo got invented, all the intellectual capital which might have remained distributed across the land, but hasn't. Its value is its brand. Go ahead. Test it.

So, by any measure, value is that thing which signals want. The marketing, pet rock, Steve Jobs Nike hit to the (dopamine?) pleasure centers of consumer hoards. It is not so very far from the drug culture we pretend to war against, and with whose terrorist troops forsaken of all hope we overfill our domestic Gitmos. Measure the want in drugs, and by our prison population you can mirror the greater good.  This is no mistake or shortfall in compassion. It is by very design.

The schematic cleverly worked out, organic oil-derived plastic and silicon heavy metals reproduced, such that there truly is no need for anything like even intellectual labor beyond the peak accomplishment of the designer, or concentrated design team. That's how our economy runs now, baubles mass produced. Carpeting. Chips. Fertilizer. Designer drugs. Organic molecules now patentable for fitting better to our internal chemistry of identity and pleasure. This is not so very complicated, dear reader, though you will resist my conclusions, as well, I'm certain, you should.

The only leverage earth holds in her defense against carcinogenic mankind is that the natural opiates still give a better high. The rare-species derived drugs still match our chemistry better. The cancers naturally occurring fall readily into background noise against those stimulated by our careless industrial leavings. 

Oh please, and I should treat my food as medicine, and exercise, preferably on some treadmill to rehearse the rat race all the hours of my life, and not just on the virtual one while what? Working??? Remind me, which is the fun and which the work, and when did I agree that it's all my personal responsibility as consumer? I protest, terrorist of your soul, body wrapped in fatty bombs, fed carcinogenically because it's all I can spare, of time as well as dollars. Fuck you, oh beautiful personal trainer self as logo accomplished success stories. Fuck you and the horse you rode in on.

I strap myself with bombs of your making and laugh in your face as my heart blows. But I digress.

Somehow, the system, whatever that might mean, very much wants each of us to work work work, and the harder, by far, the better. Where hard seems to be a measure of the extent to which we've internalized the Logo we work for and add to its value, as measured, yet again, well, by what?  Even economists talk out loud and without apology now, that it's all a confidence game.

So OK, taking it back down to the local, as I was told when I took my first IT job at the University, there were plenty of other non-Ivy educated and perhaps of more richly colored skin who needed and likely deserved the job far more (only at universities, temporarily, are we allowed to think this way). What a concept! I was way on the wrong side of that fence. Good God forgive me for I knew not what I was doing. I did squander those privileges much more than skin deep, and deployed them, from fear and insecurity, against my fellow man. The politically correct were absolutely right, and I should be ashamed. 

I showed myself to be a slave in recompense. I did. Though it must have been my fated journey toward some kind of re-awakening. I can only hope.

So here's the second point. Not only is my labor worthless, but it's theft, since I for sure can do many other things which would put me on the selfsame edge of those whose opportunity I, by virtue - yeah call it that - of my dilettantishness alone usurped. I could use my privilege for something of value. I hope that I still can.

Now I get paid quite well enough though not as much as my work accounts for. I have proven myself over and again to be better than a dilettante and much much more accountable. My Logo is the Church now, how ironic, and the beneficiaries of my designs are Charities which help the dispossessed. But and here's the rub, the thing that would most help their mission is the thing they want me least to do. 

My thinking gets resisted, and I'm not talking cranky thinking here, just common sense principles for better efficiency and more results. And my very efficient labors are wanted to be still more efficient, within their proper confines. That's simply how it is. There is no escaping, except perhaps in certain bureaucratic enclaves of government, this fully now internalized speeding up and franticizing of our lives. I'm made (note passive voice) to fear my unemployment, and fully now have realized that this economic catastrophe perfects what the capitalist system always wanted. The machines have enslaved us. There is no spirit remaining. 

We must hold on, for dear life, to what we've already got, and hoard every bit of what we earn anew, and temper our want. And we must temper our want. Here I am in full agreement with what passive voice does guide me, though I must shout out in protest that we cannot allow our spirit to be destroyed. Not that.

So now, for value added, I should and could and actually do work the intellectual capital side, but that's resisted, I guess by patriarchal hierarchy (this organization perfected that design) since those prerogatives are owned elsewhere, and what's wanted is the sort of thing which can and should be gotten from a cloned replacement for my skills.  This network design and maintenance is pretty well systematized, and its support near fully commoditized. In a room, we all look the same. And, I think, to challenge systems of the Catholic Church is several steps more ridiculous than to challenge city hall.

This sounds like a complaint, I'm sure, but the complaint I'm trying to make is only against myself (yeah, sort of like mental illness is all individual, and so are health matters of any sort, according to the ownership society grand narrative). So, to continue on; I still put dollars in a retirement account, and laugh that this achieves the magic to burn two dollar bills for each one I light afire (counting the rapid decline of the funds already burning). With confidence, I suppose that what I'm getting in return is many more diminutive shares for each dollar spent, which once they're pumped again could make me rich, though you still have to wonder what sense it makes to leave the money already there aflame. 

I guess that's my contribution to the economy. Yet another hidden tax. Like millions of others who delegate their thinking to expert managers elsewhere, it is rather by my neglect than by my strenuous thinking that the stock market hasn't and doesn't plummet further. At least someone is getting and keeping some money to play with. By the neglect of the working class, now deprived of even retirement.

Except that how come in the current distribution of ownership in the capital markets, it all keeps concentrating further?  Well, I think we've covered that, but there's one more thing. The taking out of the capital which can get accomplished when you're paying attention and properly gaming the system, ratchets down the value of my holdings, right? Isn't there a hierarchy of managers too, like that guy at Yale, Swenson, who in admonishments toward his less well endowed comperes in the capital managment business, reminds that you have to be BIG enough to follow the long-term strategy he did, and to focus on illiquid lengthy bets. With amounts large enough, this surely changes the value equation for the rest of us.

Major tektonic shifts of capital keep happening well over my head. And these were already well and long underway when tsunami tidal flows pumped up American real-estate capitalization. That oversmartened packaged and repackaged and derived confidence sure proved overblown, no? But it's hard to rebuff confidence granted. Throw caution to the wind, you've won! We all thought that at least an actual piece of the real American Pie would have some basic worth! Not even!

I know that economists have a kind of faith that the "true" value of the dollar will be found again. that it will settle back to some clear acreage of land or ounce of gold or purchasing power of something which can, statistically, be related back, perhaps to food or hourly work or something fundamental. 

I have absolutely none. The economy, like the earth, has shifted beneath our very feet.

I think, more likely, that there is some near perfect correlation between the growth that is universally regarded as essential to our economy's health, and expenditures of oil's reserves. That almost everything relates, in essence, if not to earth's superficial real-estate, then to her hidden treasure, which was life's capitalization, over eons, of entropy's contest, which game is already foretold by uncontrovertable physical equations, right? Right? Not so simple, it turns out.

So, then. The value of my labor qua labor is reduced to that commodity part of me which is full like any other. That much is clear.  That's what working income means. That's what absracted value amounts to. And the value of my head-work is proven quite literally limitless, provided that it gets shaped by years of goal oriented discipline. Great gamers get rewarded almost without limit. Great singing voices. Great golfers. Great beauty. Great marketing instincts. Even great ideas. That's what identity means. Authenticity. Faces and patentable schemes. Shapes uniquely desireable. Jesus ultimately. Our history is a contest, and let's confess, it's God we lately challenge. I think we must lose that one by definition if not sour grapes.

Subatomic particles, by definition, are all identical. So are dollars.

While there used to be a smooth curve along this incline from Fordist hands (leave home the heart and head) through professional exercise of discipline (teachers, doctors, engineers) to pinnacle success (owners of capital, architects of technology, breakers through of wilderness in thought and in geography), there is now this very sharply steep statistical hump, which leaves so much of humanity immisserated. Not by comparison, but in actual fact compared to whatever measure of brutish that humanity is meant (passive voice please note) to be distinct from.

I made my bargain for head labor pure and simple; to pay the bills I had to stay in the rat race. I'm somewhere in between the Fordist and the professional. For sure, I work the technology which facilitates diminished value for work of hands alone. Making at least ironic the fact that I do it for Charities. Which run in terror from suggestion of union for their workers. As technolgists do from any thought that they too should and must unionize if they wish to have any boundaries around their work.  They don't.

I do, and so I now must quit. And here's my new conviction: That there is no value in trade without enthusiasm. There is no bargain that's fair which asks for human spirit in trade. There is no wealth without confidence, earned or stolen outright.  These phrases all cut both ways, and we collectively must decide what we want. To screw around or to passionately embrace, just for example. A slave or actual colleague?  I mean, fun is good and all, but the game cannot be the whole darned thing. (I'll take mine now and then dear Church, and I'll thank you to not act all holy when I screw around for fun)

I think the Fordist arrangement was made quite fair for so long as unions redressed the inequities in the balance between capital and labor. For so long as handy laborers were able to purchase some leisure and homes to match the American Dream. Now that is gone, and what is wanted, and what will be gotten - for aren't we all exhorted by televangelistic personal financial advisors to make ourselves the very most valuable worker at the office as primary hedge against recession - is our very soul at work.

The margins are reduced by the self-same regimens which work to trim the fat from our fast-food diet. The battle is as absurd. There is no value to our labor, as has been demonstrated over and over again. There is value only for so long as each of us remains unwilling to take from the other what he needs as well. I relinqush my usurpation of other's work, then, and turn to my own enthusiasms. I cannot sit by and listen any longer to colleagues beg for decreases in salary so as not to be viewed with envy. I cannot bear this whittling down of humanity's worth, in trade for oil to power the machinery of our collective destruction.

And I do remain convinced that it need not be this way. 

This Grand Universal Theorem of mine mine mine, comes down to this. Yes there must be particulate physical reality. Yes there must be some medium for exchange, and medium being the message, the particles themselves are their own media, since ether's been disproved as, well, ethereal. They simply get exchanged, these particles. 

Now, speaking of money, so very much depends on which standard gets used for valuation. I suggest the energy equivalent of a barrel of oil for starters. Denominate in that, and all else gets resolved. But hold on, since that would mean that oil cannot be held or owned except in and by the Global Commons, along with air and water and wind.  And let's go one abstraction further, then, to mitigate this denomination in joules of energy, by how much input the earth can take up against how much it can radiate away. That's what computers are good for, so let them do it. Include the greenhouse breathings out and fartings.

We need not, oh please, take control of all the eco-systems of planet earth, but for certain we need to learn how not to interfere with some of the larger more impactful ones, of which the largest must be climactic balance. So any person is worth not only the manual energy output he can produce from inputs he ingests, but also gets a global credit for breathings out on his behalf which he avoids by intelligent deployment of those hands. This carbon tax should get built in, in other words, to the value of everything.  Intelligence is the balancer of want, and it too should get rewarded, extravagantly if need be, but by these corrected tokens.

Now, and here's the kicker. The cosmos, very like the economy writ small, does not run so much on exchange of particles as it does on movements to and fro of the larger more massive aggregations. These depend on forces, once thought fields, which the exchange of particles defines. Up to the very weakest whose attenuations are so fully offset by grandiose mass. Gravity's particles are so very hard to find. Instead, the ground itself gets shaped, in mind alone immeasurably.  

Energy is what passes. Energy is what moves.

But the connection is conceptual by priority and perceptual only looking back. It is emotion which does the drawing first. 

And so it must be my conclusion that without caring about what I do, not only do I add no value, but I move destruction. It is not my soul alone which gets destroyed, but the spirit which is collective. 

And so - this is moral imperative now - I quit.

Yep. You can take this rat race and shove it, because by the time that labor's been revalued down to nil, there will be no human being left to work it. There will be no heart. There will be nothing but ash and a howling void where once stories got told. Where once there was some fire.

Full Stop.

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