Tag Archives: capitalism

Why the Rich Love Burning Man

Writing in Jacobin, Managing Editor Keith Spencer discusses why Burning Man became a festival that rich libertarians love:

In principle the annual Burning Man festival sounds a bit like a socialist utopia: bring thousands of people to an empty desert to create an alternative society. Ban money and advertisements and make it a gift economy. Encourage members to bring the necessary ingredients of this new world with them, according to their ability.

So why do rich libertarians love it unironically? Perhaps because the way that the city is created charitably allows them to build the world that they desire, unimpeded by the pesky democratic process or the protestations of the proletariat; in other words, it provides a model for the sort of laissez-faire, top-down economy they want to live in: .

This is the dark heart of Burning Man, the reason that high-powered capitalists — and especially capitalist libertarians — love Burning Man so much. It heralds their ideal world: one where vague notions of participation replace real democracy, and the only form of taxation is self-imposed charity. Recall Whole Foods CEO John Mackey’s op-ed, in the wake of the Obamacare announcement, in which he proposed a healthcare system reliant on “voluntary, tax-deductible donations.”

This is the dream of libertarians and the 1 percent, and it reifies itself at Burning Man — the lower caste of Burners who want to partake in the festival are dependent on the whims and fantasies of the wealthy to create Black Rock City.

Read the full piece over at Jacobin.

Fictional Politics and Politicized Fictions: “House of Cards” and “Scandal”

Politicians debating

Photo courtesy Beto O’Rourke.

Since 2013, critics have been comparing and contrasting the hit shows House of Cards and Scandal. Both deal with the seedy, often immoral world of Washington politics, and the ambitions and passions of those playing the game. But aside from these surface similarities, critics have often dismissed them as radically different shows. House of Cards is a sleek, efficient portrayal of Democrat Frank Underwood’s rise to the presidency. Scandal tells the passionate, if trashy, tale of how Olivia Pope and a cabal of players made Republican Fitzgerald Grant president, and the fallout (both personal and political) of their machinations. With their differing tones, visual styles, and intended audiences, critics can often overlook what connects these two shows at their hearts: their fictional depictions of American liberalism in action.

Liberalism in the United States is difficult to define, but can be broadly summarized as service to the individual, encapsulated in America’s self-appointed nickname “Land of Opportunity.” Individuals in America have the opportunity to vote for their elected officials, to speak freely without fear of government censorship, to advance within the class system through education or hard work. The liberal narrative is Horatio Alger’s rags-to-riches archetype retold: Frank Underwood can go from Gaffney, South Carolina to the White House, simply by being more clever and ruthless than those around him; Olivia Pope can become the most powerful woman in Washington by working twice as hard and being twice as good as her white contemporaries. The writers imply that America is a meritocracy, because if anyone else was as devious as Underwood, or worked as hard as Olivia, they would be in the same positions of power.

In both cases, the characters gain their social and political power through their actions, rather than the legacies left to them by their parents or the class boundaries inherent in capitalism. Frank Underwood’s father was an abusive alcoholic, but he overcame; Olivia’s mother died when she was young, and her father was manipulative and controlling, but she overcame. In overcoming, both characters choose success over morality. House of Card’s Frank Underwood knows that he can lead the United States better than Garrett Walker, the man he helped get elected, so he resorts to extreme measures and careful gambles throughout season two to ensure his place as Walker’s replacement. Scandal’s Olivia knows that Fitz is the man that America needs as president, so she rigs voting machines to ensure his place in the election. Continue reading

Fear of a Capitalist Planet

Martian Canals

A map of the so-called Martian canals, an optical illusion witnessed by astronomers in the late 19th century. Image courtesy NASA.

Managing Editor Keith A. Spencer writes in Jacobin how scientists and businessmen project our economic system onto the stars:

Have you ever seen an alien? Scientists haven’t, but that hasn’t stopped them from speculating that imperialist extraterrestrials could be on the way.

With the exception of one inconclusive blip in 1977, we haven’t detected signs of alien intelligence. Having scoured our solar system with probes and turned up empty, extraterrestrial (ET) signal searchers now survey the galaxy on the radio portion of the electromagnetic spectrum, where photons can traverse interstellar distances and arrive on Earth unscathed.

The most prominent and well-funded organized effort to search radio bands is led by the SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) Institute, a private nonprofit foundation that borrows time on radio telescopes or scans the skies using their own arrays.

While the SETI Institute has been actively searching for forty years, there have been few attempts to send out focused radio signals of our own towards presumptive inhabited worlds. This poses a conundrum: why should humans expect aliens to send out focused “hello” signals of their own, if we do not do it ourselves? This idea, that we should send out messages in addition to listen for them, is known as “Active SETI.” Continue reading

Finding Fandom

OR: HOW I LEARNED TO STOP WORRYING AND LOVE THE A’s

By Lark Omura

When it comes to sports, calling me a fair-weather fan would probably be… well, fair. At the last Super Bowl party I attended, I announced my intent to leave after the next inning, to the chagrin of everyone around me. I was swiftly corrected, my colleagues seemingly less concerned over my departure than my attempt to count the innings in football. I’d thought it was simple: there were four. Continue reading

The Salesperson’s Stories

Article Illustration 3With a wallet freshly fattened by my first commission check, I proudly marched into my place of employ for the first time not as a salesperson, but as a customer. My feet springing on the buoyant surface of the socioeconomic level to which I had ascended, I readied myself to at last engage in the ritual to which my newly heightened stature earned exclusive participatory rights. In so many words, I prepared myself to make a purchase. But this wasn’t just any purchase. For I wouldn’t return to the grand threshold of Barneys New York with eggs or bread, pots or pans, socks or underwear. My purpose at this moment was singular in its irreverent flouting of necessity for the sake of paying worship to its opposite. Luxury, a quality that I saw living and breathing in the seams of that Fall 2010 Balenciaga dress. A design roused from the house’s storied archives, it was classic, it was modern, it was fabulous. It was most definitely worth $1,395.

The concept of such an object’s value, ensconced as it is within the artificial structures of  production and consumption that gird the tenuous constructs of the capitalist economy, is necessarily divorced from the reality of its utility.  Rather, the value assigned stems from a collective illusion, internally generated and externally sustained, of the worth of that object’s possession.  Such worth is illusory because the desire to own an object is preceded by the desire to acquire the object.  In other words, the desire to have obscures the more pressing desire to shop. Continue reading