Monday, January 21, 2013

Django Unchained? How About Us Unchained?

Imagine a white guy in the American South, say Alabama, in 1850. He's not rich, but he saves up enough money to buy a slave. Now if the guy is "smart" – if he has "merit" and potential for "success" – he will figure out how much having the slave costs in terms of housing, food, and "security," and then endeavor to use the slave in ways that make more money than those costs. That's the whole point of having a slave – to make more money than s/he costs. It's capitalism pure and simple! Slavery was capitalism pure and simple! Back then, with a frontier, a slave could theoretically run away and find some alternative way to survive, so the owners needed to use chains and mounted posses to keep people at work, to keep their people profitable. Nowadays, the frontier is gone; there's nowhere to escape the global plutocratic management of population for profit. The owners don't have to officially enslave people who have nowhere else to go (or who think they have nowhere else to go). It's a captive population. That's the reality of modern life – unless you have a big chunk of money to live off of, you have to work for money to survive. That's modern life and it's not in any meaningful way a "choice." We never get to vote on it. So: modern capitalist life was built on slavery and in real and significant ways it continues to depend on relations organized for profit that are practically identical to slavery. It's a dreary situation. But we can create benevolent paths away from where we are – one of the first steps is acknowledging the fundamental theoretical, practical, and moral problems that infect capitalist modernity as a way of organizing society and everyday life.


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