The body politic.

What matters here is not just the fact that we inhabit a world in crisis. It’s that we ‘live in a world where the language of crisis has become the most common way of representing a series of situations we face’, as the French anthropologist Didier Fassin has observed. The ubiquity of this language, he says, ‘tells us something about the actuality and the imaginary of contemporary societies’. The way we subjectively experience these feelings of uncertainty and crisis has a tangible effect on political animals of the 21st century. It places us in a state of ‘allostatic load’ – a constant state of accumulated high stress that comes from desperately trying to keep the body within its homeostatic safe zone. This exposure to chronic or repeated challenges, which the individual experiences as stressful, eventually wears out the body and brain. If one of the key functions of the brain is to serve the body by maintaining a healthy body budget, then chronic stress burns through cash. Without a healthy balance sheet, our options narrow as our organism can no longer rely on its increasingly depleted reserves. As a consequence, we lose our ability to flexibly regulate our bodies, and this loss contributes to poor health, emotional dysregulation and cognitive decline – a vicious cycle that exacerbates the conditions that promoted allostatic load in the first place. The strikingly increased prevalence of hypertension among African Americans compared with other Americans can’t be accounted for by genetic differences; instead, they reflect the sociopolitical tensions that such groups experience.

The fact that the human body and the body politic are intertwined means that systematically depleting our body budget has far-reaching consequences. For example, insufficient sleep isn’t just a private matter, but also affects political engagement such as citizens’ willingness to vote, to sign petitions and to donate to charities. Relatedly, a major study spanning 170 countries between 1980 and 2016 showed that the presence of democratic governance explains more than does GDP the variations in mortality for cardiovascular diseases, transport injuries, cancers, cirrhosis and other non-communicable diseases. Several empirical studies also show that population-level epidemiological profiles of infectious diseases can structure individual-level psychological preferences for authoritarianism as well as authoritarian governance.

On visceral politics.

2021-04-23T08:39:50+10:006th May, 2021|Tags: , |

Lessons.

How about this: Why don’t we stop treating it as entirely normal that the more obviously one’s work benefits others, the less one is likely to be paid for it; or insisting that financial markets are the best way to direct long-term investment even as they are propelling us to destroy most life on Earth?

Why not instead, once the current emergency is declared over, actually remember what we’ve learned: that if “the economy” means anything, it is the way we provide each other with what we need to be alive (in every sense of the term), that what we call “the market” is largely just a way of tabulating the aggregate desires of rich people, most of whom are at least slightly pathological, and the most powerful of whom were already completing the designs for the bunkers they plan to escape to if we continue to be foolish enough to believe their minions’ lectures that we were all, collectively, too lacking in basic common sense do anything about oncoming catastrophes.

This time around, can we please just ignore them?

The last work of David Graeber.

F in chat, Graeber.

2021-04-20T09:14:58+10:003rd May, 2021|Tags: , |

Bread and culture wars (and hold the bread).

These are not real stories. Taking Aunt Jemima off of a syrup bottle, rebranding Mr. Potato Head or changing the name of the Washington football team, doesn’t tell us anything foreboding about our culture other than the fact that, like all cultures, it evolves. America is becoming more racially diverse, and as a result, many Americans have a lower tolerance for racism. Traditional gender roles, long shifting, continue to shift. Companies that are trying to sell their products into this changing market respond.

But the American right has become the all-out party of gender and racial grievance, and they are hyper focused on two things: maintaining power, and not actually being held accountable for governing.

That’s why they obsess over culture war stories like Dr. Seuss: There’s no legislative solution (unless they want to nationalize the children’s book industry), so there’s no way for the Republican Party to have failed to deliver on a promise; there’s only finger-pointing at perceived enemies (liberals, wokes, Democrats), which rallies the troops. What are they being rallied for? They’re not quite sure — but they know who they’re against.

On distractions.

2021-04-20T08:06:12+10:001st May, 2021|Tags: , |

Cut on the exchange.

I am also somewhat concerned, as readers may be aware, of this platform-mediated content culture: if you subscribe (paid) to my Substack, and I subscribe to your Substack, we both net negative, and Substack earns two commissions. Umair Haque, who has gotten prickly in his old age, recently remarked something on the order of “tech companies making us beg each other for pennies” (a line he seems to use a lot, apparently), to which I add, “and take a cut every time.”

Dorian Taylor on who profits.

This is that bleak non-joke I’ve heard mostly in the trans community, which is that everyone is just “passing each other the same $20 on GoFundMe.”

Except it’s not actually the “same $20” at all, is it? Because GoFundMe takes about 44c off that transaction, so it’s actually $20, then $19.56, then $19.12, then $18.68, then—

You get the picture.

The name for this is “rentier capitalism,” incidentally. At the end of the day, platforms like GoFundMe and Patreon don’t really provide anything. You can argue that they make it easier for people who could have already capitalised on online/parasocial relationships to do so but, trust me, people were doing that long before these platforms became a thing. Patreon is basically a version of Tumblr that (even more blatantly) squats on intellectual property to extract rents, and because it needs to affect and air of “exclusiveness” it does so by forcing both producers and consumers into its closed ecosystem.1 And all of these sites solve “problems” that should be fixed by literally any other vehicle than rentier capitalism. GoFundMe basically exists as a replacement for the welfare state, particularly in the US. Substack because of a combination of venture capital, public defunding, and the Google-Facebook ad duopoly asset-stripping and hyper-consolidating traditional journalism. PayPal does nothing that more traditional banking couldn’t (or, in some cases, isn’t). Patreon exists because of similar reasons to Substack, extending into the creative arts, and both it and Etsy and even Ebay exist because two generations of unpicked labor laws have shrunk the middle class2, eroded the local public sphere, and flooded the world in unfulfilling, poorly paid, precarious work.

None of which is to say that there’s no room whatsoever for any of these “platforms”; sometimes you really do just gotta extract some rents. Only that the current scale and social place of them does not say good things about our world . . .

  1. Though, incidentally; note how many of the most successful “creators” on Patreon actually primarily post content on more open platforms. In other words, Patreon is not providing value to creators in, e.g., discoverability. It’s extracting rents for the ones who’ve already “made it.” []
  2. Comfortably middle-class people have much more freedom to pursue arts and crafts for fun and family, not as something that needs to be monetised to pay their bills. []
2021-04-20T07:58:34+10:0030th April, 2021|Tags: , , |

Pink dollar, rainbow riot.

On the financilization of Mardi Gras . . . and the organisations moving to try and stop it.

2021-04-19T07:57:35+10:0028th April, 2021|Tags: , , |
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