Tuesday, 28 November 2017

Don't buy what the system is sells

When you buy something, you most likely simply think of your money as mainly going to cover the production cost of the product you are buying. This is likely out of a sense of fairness of what the value of something should be derived from. However, this is quite far off from the truth. In reality, only a small portion of the price of something goes to cover the cost of making it. The majority of what you pay goes to a collection of persons that didn't involve in the production at all.

Here is a list of several of the other things you are paying for when you buy something at a store:

1) All the advertising that worked to influence you to buy it. (If you weren't yourself exposed to the advertising, then you are still paying to expose countless other people you don't know to the advertising. For example, when you buy a fast food meal, you are paying for someone in front of their television somewhere to see a commercial for that fast food meal. Is that really how you want to spend your money?)

2) The rent to the landlord who owns the commercial property which is being leased out to the store you are buying the product from. (This person of course did nothing to produce the product, but you need to help pay for his new luxury SUV nonetheless)

3) Dividends to the shareholders who own stock in the company you bought the product from, or who own stock in the manufacturer of the product (These moneyed traders did nothing to make the product)

Now let's look at the setup of the manufacturer of the product themselves. Usually, only half or less of the staff actually make the product. It would be great if the production staff could self-organize and self-manage, negating the need for management. It would also be great if the product was of enough real value to people that it doesn't need massive sales and marketing efforts to get people to buy it, but usually it does. Here is an example of an existing craft brewery in Canada, which shows that only 28% of the staff are involved in the actual production of the beer (along with the supply chain and quality assurance, the percentage is still only 44%, less than half). So when you buy a beer, over half your money is going to sales, accounting, and other non-brewing related jobs.



The above 44% of money that goes to actual production gets diluted down much further when the retail aspect is taken into account. The beer is sold nationwide, and is thus transported over massive distances. As beer is liquid, it weighs about 1 Kilogram per 1 Liter, making it very carbon intensive to move by internal combustion engines. When you buy the beer, you are paying for all that transportation, which can be measured in carbon-miles. Finally you pay for the all aspects associated with the retailing, including your own transportation costs to get there and back.

Compare this system with buying a beer a couple hundred years ago. A couple hundred years ago, you would walk down the street to the local brewpub, buy the beer directly from the brewers who did there own bookkeeping, and no marketing was required it was simply natural to buy the beer of your local community. The current system, by comparison has no much massive waste and unnecessary involvement from so many people. So how does the current system manage to work? Two things: 1) Increased production due to technology, whereby beer can be brewed on a larger scale due to automation of the process (It appears that for every one job saved in production by automation, about two jobs are created in non-production roles such as marketing and accounting. 2) Job specialization, whereby workers must educate themselves in one particular field, whereby they invest so much in that role that they can never switch positions, even if they want to (Example: Someone studies for many years to be an accountant. After being an accountant at the brewery for a while, they decide they want to involve in the actual brewing. They won't be able to make this shift, because they need to keep earning at the maximum they can to pay off their student loans and maintain their standard of living, as switching to a new role that they don't have specialized education in invariably would lead to a smaller pay cheque, and 3) Easy availability of fossil fuels. So, it appears that for every one job saved in production by automation, about two jobs are created in non-production roles such as marketing and accounting. Also, the fossil fuel use is not sustainable and is super-heating the planet. The system may work by its own internal logic, but it has enough flaws to make it clear that it is not an ideal system. So what is a better system?

What can you buy that doesn't involve a massive system where only a fraction of your money goes to the actual product? A good example is a local farmers' market.  Buying food directly from a local farmer cuts out the middle-men positions (the registration fee for most setting up a table at a farmer's market is usually fairly minor), and thus gives the farmer the best share possible, which seems to be the most fair way to distribute from the cost of the product. There aren't too many other selling arrangements similar to farmers' markets, but by seeking them out, your money can be spent more fairly, and some wind can be taken out of the system's sails.


Saturday, 25 November 2017

The animal slave body

"Because we can no longer stand the sight of slaves, we suppress them." (Nietzsche)

If a slave is someone who does work for you without compensation other than room and board, then are not all the farm animals our slaves? What is the work they do? They transform plant matter into meat. Rather than at a workbench, the inside of the animals' bodies is where the slave work occurs.

And what about the fish? Are they not our free range slaves? They transform nutrients in the ocean into food for us. Our long line trawlers and massive nets ensure they have no escape.

Dialectic:
Q: What about if a tiger catches a deer, is the tiger making that deer his slave?
A: This is an apples-to-oranges comparison. The tiger directly apprehends the deer for his immediate survival. He does not commodify the deer. He does not sell it. He does not modify the habitat of the deer to maximize the amount of deer he can eat. He does not enclose the deer into pens and feed them an unnatural diet of rendered animal products.
Q: What if a human catches one fish for dinner? Is that slavery?
A: Again, this is so far outside how the masses eat from supermarkets. It doesn't compare in quantity or quality. Any sort of subsistence hunting or gathering is not comparable to the situation industrial agriculture is.

Thought experiment:
If you could go back in time to the time of clear-cut human slavery, and you gave each slave a smart phone (on top of their room and board), would they still be slaves? What if you moved their encampment further away from the work place, and then provided them with free cars so they could commute in heavy traffic? Would they still be slaves? What if instead of giving them food, you setup a grocery store where they could drive to on the weekend (on their own time off) to get free food? And add a vacation every second year - still slaves? If you take enter money into these equations, and the money balances out with the room and board and a few extras, are they still really free? If, as modern people can choose their own employer, if the slaves could choose for themselves the masters to which they were enslaved, would that have made them not truly slaves? Or is it all slavery under any system related to capitalism?
How about a universal income that provides adequate room and board and some extras for things like hobbies? Wouldn't that be a solution to give people the dignity that comes from the free will to choose how to go about their lives?

A universal income may be the only reform that can make capitalism half-decent for human flourishing. Wouldn't the system rather have one reform then to be radically replaced? Or is a universal income really such a change that it is radical rather than a reform?

Thursday, 2 November 2017

Declaration of the end of oppression in all its forms

“Vous avez détruit la beauté du monde!” -Huguette Gaulin Bergeron

The animals are oppressed. Their habitats are being destroyed, they are relentlessly poached. Species are rapidly being extirpated en masse. Animals are farmed in horrifying oppression. The oppression of animals stops now. They will not be farmed for food or their products any more. Their dwindling habitats will no longer be defiled.


The ocean is being oppressed, it is being filled with plastic garbage it doesn't want or need. No more plastic will be manufactured. The mountains and forests are being oppressed, they are being cut to pieces for raw materials. The wholesale slaughter of ecosystems stops now.

The people are oppressed. The people are above all else oppressed by the commodity-form -of-life. They are forced to submit to bosses they don't respect, to make products they don't want or need. They must buy destructive products they could do without because their society has been sculpted in such a way as to make these frivolous commodities false necessities. The car is queen of the commodity realm. The car is the ultimate habitat destroyer, child murderer, environmental polluter, and financial oppressor.

People's self-sufficiency is to be returned to them from the State, which takes away their ability to be self-sufficient through property rights backed up by police oppression which allocate common land to landlords. They must have all their debts eliminated. They must live without money. They must live without a State. They must live with live without heirarchy or social classes. They must live sustainable simple lives in harmony with nature and the planet.

The outcome of continued oppression is prolonged suffering for the masses and the death of the planet.

Is oppressing the oppressor's right to oppress just more oppression? Or is it liberation?

Friday, 23 June 2017

The Lentils Economy

“Before our white brothers arrived to make us civilized men, we didn't have any kind of prison. Because of this, we didn't have any delinquents. Without a prison, there can't be no delinquents. We had no locks nor keys therefore among us there were no thieves. When someone was so poor that he couldn't afford a horse, a tent or a blanket, he would, in that case, receive it all as a gift. We were too uncivilized to give great importance to private property. We didn't know any kind of money and consequently, the value of a human being was not determined by his wealth. We had no written laws laid down, no lawyers, no politicians, therefore we were not able to cheat and swindle one another. We were really in bad shape before the white man arrived and I don't know how to explain how we were able to manage without these fundamental things that (so they tell us) are so necessary for a civilized society."
-John Fire Lame Deer

In my earlier blog posts, I wrote about capitalism being a system that is ecologically unsustainable and dependent on socially harmful wealth inequality. A common response to this by pro-capitalists is that capitalism may not be perfect, but it's the best system we can have. They then point to communism as being a dismal failure. I would agree that communism (as the better known state bureaucratic communism model) is a failure, because it has the same ideological underpinning as capitalism, which is that the Earth and life on it ought to be transformed into a set of commodities. Capitalism and communism both agree that the accumulation of material possessions is of utmost importance for happiness. The fact that they disagree on how to go about maximizing material possessions is only a secondary characteristic of the two systems.

Beyond capitalism and communism, dozens of other economic systems have been proposed, yet they all tend to focus on a standard of living measured by the accumulation of material possessions. Factors such as social cohesion, quality of relations, quality of life, and mental and physical health are secondary considerations if considered at all.
I would like to propose an economic system founded on the principle of the maximization of leisure time. To clarify, I mean leisure time in the strict sense of 'time' rather than how one spends that time or what one does during that time. I call this economic system the Lentils Economy.

In the Lentils Economy, maximizing leisure time and creating time for building social relationships requires the minimization of work time; work time being defined as time spent on producing or accumulating material possessions. For this to occur, work time must only be spent on producing the essential commodities, as given in the list below:

-Food, such as unprocessed easy to produce and easy to store natural foods such as nutritious dried lentils. These lentils and basic grains such as barley would be eaten by people and not used as they are now in great amounts to feed food animals (such as cows and pigs), as the conversion to animal protein is not very efficient and is associated with climate change accelerating methane emissions. The "farm animals"* in the Lentils Economy would be mainly draft and pack animals to help with growing crops, along with pets, and they would all be treated well.

-Shelter, durable and made of sustainable materials such as clay, straw, and earth.

-Clothing, again must be durable and made of sustainably grown natural fibres such as cotton or linen (from flax or hemp)

-Basic personal items such as soap and toothbrushes, and basic medical first aid equipment. Dental equipment would not be needed as much as people stop eating the refined sugar products which are no longer produced in the Lentils Economy.

Once decent surpluses are built-up of the above items, people would then have no shortage of leisure time. I would also propose that social systems and living arrangements, such as neighbourhood soup kitchens where volunteers take turn making meals for a large group, would be integrated with the Lentils Economy to further reduce time spent on laborious tasks not directly tied to accumulating fundamentally useful commodities, such as cooking and cleaning.

To contrast the Lentils Economy with the capitalist system, in the Lentils Economy the following items would be mostly or entirely absent:

-Marketing (no one needs to have someone create a commercial telling people they ought to eat lentils if they want to be happy)

-Money (If people can freely get unlimited amounts of all the food and shelter and basic life goods they need, then there's no need for money to restrict people's purchasing abilities. If someone wanted to take 100 blankets, he or she would find there would be no one to sell them to, because everyone else could go and get a blanket from the communal store for free. There would be no taxation and few if any accountants)

-Politicians (People would democratically among themselves be able to work how to produce the basic food shelter and clothing they need without any equivalent to today's pandering politicians)

-Cars (cars are not needed to grow food, build shelter, or produce clothing. The manufacture and resource extraction involved is nothing but a ton of unnecessary work. Walking or jogging are excellent healthy alternatives to sitting in a car)

-Electricity (The building and running of power plants and the building and maintenance of transmission lines is tedious. Humanity lived for hundreds of thousands of years without electricity, and in recorded history it is not found that the lack of electricity made people depressed and anxious [anxiety and depression being common traits of people living under capitalism])

-Large amounts of metal (the smelting of metals is laborious and releases much fumes. Items typically made of metal, such as utensils could easily be made of wood instead. Metal farming implements such as hoes, rakes, shovels and axes would be useful, but they could be salvaged from the wreck of the capitalist economy, as the Lentils Economy would follow or replace the capitalist system rather than arise ex nihilo)

-Plastic (again, wood or other natural plant fibres would be used instead and the plants and trees cut down would be replanted. Say goodbye to concerns of phtalates, BPAs, and there being increasingly more plastic than fish in the ocean by mass)

-Toxic waste (there would be virtually no manufacturing outside of basic cottage industries, so no toxic waste would be created. Waterways and oceans would not contain methylmercury or dioxins)

-Privately owned recorded music (the electronic devices for playing the music are processed using many toxic chemicals [see above] and therefore would not be built). People would still want to listen to music, so local musicians individually or in groups playing acoustic instruments would flourish. People who otherwise couldn't afford privately owned music would then be able to listen in for free. Without the marketing system, there would be no way to create a global superstar, so people would instead listen to musicians near them, and there would be no crowded concerts and no need for concert tickets)

In the new system, some things are lost, and some are gained (clean air, water, and soil, and much more leisure time). The question to ask is, what things really matter? What things don't really matter so much? Reflect on that a bit, and maybe some aspects of the Lentils Economy will appeal to you.


*Some have argued that the food animals that are currently called "farm animals" (chickens, sheep, pigs, cows, etc.) should really be more accurately referred to as "farmed animals". See: http://www.abolitionistapproach.com/farmed-animals-vs-farm-animals/

Saturday, 25 March 2017

One path to wealth equality

"When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why they are poor, they call me a communist."
-Archbishop Hélder Câmara

The answer to why the poor are poor is that the poor are a critical ingredient for a capitalist society to exist. There must a large pool of unemployed labourers who haven't the means to provide for themselves willing to sell their labour to capitalists. The capitalists in turn derive surplus value (profit) through paying the workers less than the value of labour that the workers provide. The capitalists (from their perspective) would ideally pay the workers the bare minimum needed to survive. Fortunately for the workers, the government intervenes with policies such as the minimum wage and employment insurance. The capitalists certain appreciate it then, when groups such as the church provide money for the poor, because it gets the capitalists off the hook for providing welfare through their taxes, so they can get away more easily with hiding their money in offshore tax havens.

To keep the pool of unemployed large, capitalist countries must have either a positive population growth rate, or very limited upward mobility for the poor. Upward mobility is a negative issue for the system and the capitalists, because if the children of the those who precariously lived in the labour pool go on to become rentiers, then they need to be replaced by more landless labourers (or they cannot easily collect rents). The system is happy for people to be downwardly mobile, such as in the case of the middle class getting crushed down into the lower class.

Here is a way, in theory, of how to restore some balance by arranging that the process of the rich getting richer and the poor poorer at least be temporarily halted by a reset. The first method is to reset everyone's bank account to the same value (could be zero, but $1000 each would allow for spending on basic necessities). The second is to redistribute the land more equitably, and to resolve the socially parasitic drain of absentee land owners. This could be done by reassigning any second properties to a government agency, who would expropriate the properties and redistribute them. In the case that those second properties are rented out to tenants, it might make sense to simply assign those current renters as the new owners. Because both the accounts and the land registry are saved in computers, two algorithms, which could be used to insert codes at the appropriate places (all banks and all land registries) would look this:

A) Bank Account Reset Algorithm (Set everyone's balance to $1000).

While (AccountNumber <= TotalAccounts) {
    AccountNumber.setBalanceValue (1000);
    }

B) Land Registry Reset Algorithm (Assigns ownership to government agency, or current tenants if it's rented).

Flag RegistryNumber.Owner(multiple properties);

While (FlaggedRegistryNumber <= TotalFlaggedRegistries) {
    if FlaggedRegistryNumber = rented
          FlaggedRegistryNumber.setOwner (CurrentTenants);
    else
    FlaggedRegistryNumber.setOwner (GovernmentAgency);
   }

The purpose of the above code samples is merely to show that there are ways to bring about more equality, that the fundamental systems can indeed be changed. Where there's a will, there's a way.

Saturday, 25 February 2017

What is the news?

“To be GOVERNED is to be watched, inspected, spied upon, directed, law-driven, numbered, regulated, enrolled, indoctrinated, preached at, controlled, checked, estimated, valued, censured, commanded, by creatures who have neither the right nor the wisdom nor the virtue to do so. To be GOVERNED is to be at every operation, at every transaction noted, registered, counted, taxed, stamped, measured, numbered, assessed, licensed, authorized, admonished, prevented, forbidden, reformed, corrected, punished. It is, under pretext of public utility, and in the name of the general interest, to be place under contribution, drilled, fleeced, exploited, monopolized, extorted from, squeezed, hoaxed, robbed; then, at the slightest resistance, the first word of complaint, to be repressed, fined, vilified, harassed, hunted down, abused, clubbed, disarmed, bound, choked, imprisoned, judged, condemned, shot, deported, sacrificed, sold, betrayed; and to crown all, mocked, ridiculed, derided, outraged, dishonored. That is government; that is its justice; that is its morality."
-Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, from The General Idea of the Revolution (1851):

Due to my aversion to exposing myself advertisements, I listen to an ad-free government funded public music radio station. Despite the lack of ads, the station (CBC Radio 2), always stops on the hour every hour to deliver the news, in exactly the same manner as a private radio station never fails to stop for a commercial break.

While listening to the news, I noticed an intriguing trend. I noticed that whenever something happens in a country, the action or comment by the head of state of that country is always given. For instance, if a plane crash ever happens is Russia, the CBC News never fails to report how Vladimir Putin expressed in condolences, and possibly how Putin himself personally ordered an investigation. It is likewise for other countries. If there is a terrorist attack, the CBC News always reports how the head of state of whatever country it happened in made a speech condemning the attack. It just about never occurs that the head-of-state-commentary-free factual event alone is reported.

So why must we always know what the heads of states have to say about everything? And what is the universal message of these heads of state? Whether the message is from your own head of state of another state, the message is the same, just as an advertisement for one particular brand of car is still an ad for the overall lifestyle of car driving and road paving. The message given time and time again is that these heads of state are paternally caring for us, as though we are endangered children, who are dependent on them. The head of state is the representation of the state and of the embodiment of the concept of the state. We must keep hearing this same message over and over again because it is how the states justify themselves. The states keeps us in a system of increasing wealth inequality, and ensures through their enforcement of capitalist relations (carried on with the unspoken threat of police action in case of any serious dissent) that the rentiers become richer and the workers poorer. We must hear about the state this, and the state that, so that we gradually cease to imagine a world without these capitalist states intervening in everything. 

When we allow ourselves to constantly be informed of frightening things such as daily mass shootings, and then be consoled by the state, we become like a patient who is covertly made sick by his doctor, and then always looking for his doctor to cure him. Avoiding the news altogether is the best way to avoid being sucked in to such a stultifying cycle.


Tuesday, 27 December 2016

Living on the commons

In my earlier blog posts, I have demonstrated the problems with the consumer capitalist system. Namely, that everyone in it must enter into monetary relations where one alienatingly functions alternately as a john or a prostitute, where wealth inequality increases as the rentiers get richer and the renters get poorer, and where the planet gets wrecked - all in a wash of pro-consumer propaganda that leaves little room for imagination. In this blog, I'll work through a thought experiment to investigate alternative ways of being.

in the book the Republic by Plato, Socrates asks some people he meets to give a definition of justice. Socrates in turn finds weaknesses in the various definitions and refutes them. Next, Thrasymachus provides a definition of justice as "Justice is what the powerful say justice is, so as to advantage themselves". Socrates stumbles and can't refute this. Socrates also can't come up with a better alternative definition, so he spends the rest of the Republic describing an ideal society that is just to its core on the basis of its design.

So while today, the exorbitantly wealthy neoliberal proponents with their ability to influence governments may be taking Thrasymachus' definition of justice to heart and molding a society that suits them, let's see through their unequal consumer-capitalist world to a truly a just society. Let's look at society where collaboration rather than competition determines relations, the obsession with jobs dropped, the delusion of exponential growth on a finite planet given up, and where equality and harmony with nature are highly valued.

When examining societies, a key feature to look for is the technologies used. Technologies in our modern neoliberal have two key features: They are on a scale that is outside the control of an individual or small group and require massive bureaucratic organization requiring a rigid division of labour to produce, and they are unsustainable and deleterious to the planet. A just and harmonious society cannot have such technologies. All technologies in the new society must be able to be created, repaired, and run by the individual members of the society or in small groups or guilds, the way cottage industries were at the start of the industrial revolution.

The technologies available for the new society are therefore much reduced from the present system. To avoid excessive labour, the number of technologies should be kept at a minimum. To select the technologies to be used, the fundamental needs of the society should be examined. For example, food, clothing, and basic medical supplies such as disinfectant. Food technologies would be basic, seed saving, basic farming implements, organic growing techniques focusing on encouraging beneficial insects to inhabit the area to eliminate pesticide requirements, and recycling nutrients to replenish the soil. As for clothing, the growing of flax, cotton, or raising wool in an ecological sustainable way, and extracting, refining, and weaving all with technologies that can be made by the community itself, such as a wooden loom. I'll examine making disinfectant as a special case.

The creation of a chemical plant would require a large capital investment, an army of unemployed looking for work, human resource department, bosses, a regimented education system focusing on job skills rather than human flourishing, lots of time spent apart from family, mind-numbing 24-hour shift work to keep the plant running to justify the investment and enrich the investors, marketing, and long-distance distribution. As all of the above are inimical to a just and harmonious society, something smaller scale must be considered. After reviewing the list of antiseptics and their production methods and raw materials, it appears ethanol may be the best option, so let's examine how to make it on a human scale, as an example of analyzing and selecting a reasonable technology.

There are likely several methods of chemically synthesizing ethanol, but the method of fermenting grains and distilling the result is best for a small-scale production. The grains used can be barley, oats, wheat, potatoes, or sugar beets. Critically, the starches in the grains must be cooked and saccharified by an amylaze enzyme. The enzyme can come from malted barley. Malting barley can be done on a small scale without the need of experts, following techniques developed during medieval times. The malted barely then used for the fermentation of an all-barley mash, or it is mixed in with another cooked grain, for instance potatoes, and left for a while so that the enzymes from the malted barley can act on the potatoes. The next step in the fermentation is the addition of yeast. In mass society, one would buy a yeast packet from a store. This seemingly simple act however includes a huge chain of labour and social relations based upon capitalist values that we are trying to avoid. So how could a society not using money get yeast? The answer is not so simple. Wild yeast could be collected from the air, but it would likely be contaminated with mold and bacteria. Even if the society could start off with a single packet of commercial yeast* it would be a challenge to maintain the strain as there would be no refrigeration. Storing some of the yeast dormant in a cool underground area, and culturing it out into many glass jars of nutrient solution would be feasible with a bit of practice. Back to the process - after the mash has been treated with the malt enzymes, some yeast is mixed in and a few days later the result is ready to be distilled. An airlock would be useful to prevent contamination during the latter stages of the fermentation. This could be made from glass - which requires an entire glass making process. You are probably wondering what the mash was cooked in and what it was fermented it. Cooking pots and banded wooden barrels require metal. Extracting ores (not usually located right near the surface of the earth) and refining them in a blast furnace, then shaping the metal is no small task. This in itself would require the efforts of a substantial number of people, but it could be done by worker organization without bosses or capitalist investors. The metal producing worker collective would need to be initially self-sufficient in their basic needs of food and clothing, and would then be free from financial pressures to exchange their advanced products without needing to resort to marketing schemes. The next required technology is the still, usually made of copper, requiring at least bronze age production techniques. Finally glass would be the ideal storage medium to avoid evaporation of the alcohol. 

The preceding example of alcohol production shows that technologies are interrelated and rely upon each other. The point to be emphasized is that the limitation of technology is shows that be generated by people freely working under their own direction without coercion, technologies whereby people do not become the tools of their tools (such as where constant maintenance is required), as well as the limitation against technologies requiring huge investments with long-term payouts that benefit a monied minority who don't do the actual work.


In my next post, I'll look at ways to reform the consumer-capitalist system to make it more liveable, in contrast to this post, which examines a way to escape entirely away from the system and start anew. For example, setting up a communal house in a neighbourhood where all food preparation would take place, so as to obviate the need for grocery stores or restaurants. The communal house would save food preparation labour, reduce food waste, and spare people from work at grocery stores and restaurants, where much of the time is spent waiting around doing nothing.

*The new society would not be starting ex nihilo, and even though it would have the goal of being self-sufficient and not dependent on the remnants of the capitalist world, it would initially collect a set of useful items and tools