躺平.

The concept struck other users as profound. It resonated in particular with college-educated but downwardly mobile young people who have spent their whole lives endeavoring to get good grades and a good job, only to find themselves either boxed out of the white-collar labor market or miserably overworked in it.

What would it be like to admit defeat, to drop out, to stop striving and simply exist?

Lying flat has since become an internet phenomenon and a media buzzword. Online communities of “lying flatists” have cropped up, trading advice about how to survive outside the traditional workforce. Memes have appeared across the web, mostly showing cute cats in prostrate poses.

The lying flatists’ declaration that they will no longer follow the script, including buying a house and car and starting a family, has alarmed some older people who view the trend as fatalistic and antisocial. Adherents say it beats sustaining or feigning optimism in pursuit of elusive success.

In late May, a poem published online titled “Lie Flat, Young Man!” distilled the essence of the idea. “Come, let’s lie down together, please don’t be depressed,” wrote the poet, who goes by the name Xiaopan. “Everyone has an ideal that is hard to let go. Work hard without complaint and get no reward. When the ideal becomes a trap designed by those in power, lying down is a good medicine for struggle.”

On the new nihilism.

It’s “turn on, tune in, drop out” 2.0: Darker and Edgier Edition.

2021-09-17T06:51:20+10:0017th September, 2021|Tags: |

Universal Basic Dystopia.

The market alone cannot be relied on to provide basic services for all people. That’s why we have fire departments, for example. Decent societies (that are wealthy enough) provide universal basic healthcare, because it is a basic human right, and because the market is not particularly good at valuing human life over profit. Australia ranks 7th in the world for life expectancy globally, for example, while the USA ranks 40th. Yet Australia spends far less in GDP terms (9%) than the States (17%) on health. The US relies more on the market, whereas Australia prefers a universal system (however flawed) geared to serve the public good.

I can see why libertarian types might see shrinking of government as a virtue: they believe it will empower the individual. But even from the libertarian perspective, this will not be the consequence of UBI. Into the vacuum of a retreating government we won’t see the individual, but Jeff Bezos, Zuckerberg, Larry Page, and all the rest. We’ll receive our services from Amazon, our news from Facebook, our scientific research via Google, and our moral compass via the fucking Disney corporation.

Tim Napper on universality.

Incidentally, my understanding of the US healthcare figure is that it’s a massive under-estimate of the total cost, because it’s only counting direct expenditure (more on which in a sec). The reasons it’s so high compared to other industrialized nations is a somewhat paradoxical combination of:

  1. people delaying early intervention treatments, which are significantly more cost-effective in the long-term, because they can’t afford to treat conditions until they become emergencies, and
  2. the private healthcare market having a vested interest in generating the most profit by selling the most services.

In other words, people who can’t afford healthcare are under-serviced, while people who can are over-serviced. Or, in other other words, the “market” is ridiculously inefficient at allocating the “right” amount of healthcare to the right people.

The other factor, which I believe is not (fully) captured in the GDP figure, is that an enormous quantity of US “health” expenditure actually goes to paying the middlemen and rentiers in the private insurance industry, which was worth a little over $8 trillion in 2018. Basically, paying all the salaries of all the bureaucrats — and, to be clear, just because they’re not government employees doesn’t mean they’re not bureaucrats — in every different insurer, and all the administrative staff in all the hospitals and doctors’ offices who have to deal with them (think about every nightmare story you’ve ever heard about itemized bills of “provider networks” or whatever other ridiculous red tape people in the US have to deal with the get basic healthcare).

Think about it this way: If you have one government provider, e.g. Medicare in Australia, you have one agency and one department doing most of the legwork. The Department of Health employs a little over 4,000 people, Services Australia a little over 30,000; both agencies do more than “just” administration of Medicare, so it’s hard to get the real number of staff from flicking through corporate reports, but you get the idea. Medicare serves as the main healthcare provider for about 25.6 million Australians, out of about 25.7 million total. So, like. Basically everyone.

Compare and contrast to the US, which has somewhere over nine hundred different health insurers. And, sure, the population is bigger and most of those insurers probably have less than 30,000 employees . . .1 but you’re telling me there’s no duplication of function in any of those companies? Multiple HR departments and IT departments and procurement and payments? C’mon.

The point here is that the argument for private healthcare fails on its own merits, when those merits are the ones spoken aloud (“efficiency in health services delivery”) rather the quiet parts (“making a small number of people extremely rich”).

And, yes, you may have also noticed that this argument — that a central single healthcare insurer — is more efficient is exactly the same argument right-wing types make for UBI (a single benefits scheme is more efficient than the current system of multiple types of claims).2 Almost like the whole thing is ideology-driven nonsense on the face of it . . .

  1. Excluding the health department numbers because, y’know. The US also has one. []
  2. Not to mention that “becoming a monopoly” is, like, the corporate strategic goal for basically every company on the planet. []
2021-09-14T07:41:56+10:0014th September, 2021|Tags: , |

Twitter famous.

Interesting profile on Yashar Ali, who’s one of those people you’ve surely come across if you’ve ever made the Poor Life Choice of spending a non-zero amount of time on left-wing Twitter, and yet who doesn’t really seem to exist outside of it . . .

2021-09-09T08:48:14+10:0011th September, 2021|Tags: , , |

Neon Dystopia.

In the 90’s, coming off of the Cold War, the dystopia we feared was iron-clad and totalitarian. It made no efforts to hide its dismal nature. The turn of the millennium, however, has proven to us that a more insidious dystopia waits for us, one where corporate control is no less tyrannical, but brings such glossy, colorful convenience that we’ll happily submit. Fantasy Flight abandoned the genre’s classic aesthetic but stayed true to its core.

But they were an outlier. Much like the musical scene it took half of its name from, cyberpunk elsewhere became commodified and reduced into a marketable aesthetic utterly divorced from its political origins. This year’s eponymous video game, after all, was produced by a studio that exploited its workers via grueling six-day workweeks and appealed to its edgiest, transphobic fans in its marketing. “Cyberpunk” became a shorthand for certain sci-fi tropes: cybernetic prostheses, neon kanji, and ruthless ultraviolence, all delivered with a snarky, devil-may-care attitude.

“If your ‘radical’ politics are not fundamentally rooted in love, I cannot trust you.” I’ve lost the source, but I saw someone say this several years back, and it’s stuck with me since. From the outside, radical leftist political movements can look frighteningly forceful. This summer, anti-fascist protesters donned gas masks and wielded handmade shields to defend themselves against police brutality. The history of the punk scene is rife with stories of aggressively ejecting Nazi skinheads from local hangouts. We see these hard tactics, so far from the comfortable civility we typically enjoy, and it’s easy to conflate their wielders’ outrage with hatred. If this is your understanding of radical politics–disaffected misanthropes aiming to tear down the world out of sheer anger–no wonder you’d think cyberpunk heroes must be smug and aloof.

Spencer Dub on the politics of love.

So I came across this article when I was, in fact, playing Cyberpunk 2077 and it was, amusingly, the first time it clicked for me that the game was a franchise adaptation. I’d thought it’s generic mish-mash of tropes was just its lazy worldbuilding, but no! Apparently it was just suffering from a heavy dose of Seinfeld Is Unfunny coupled with, well. Actually being unoriginal, mass-marketed, soulless drek that would’ve been improved by doing nothing new with its source material, as opposed to what it actually did.1

  1. The game has many, many sins but probably its biggest on this specific front is the fact one of its major characters “shows growth” by having the revelation that caring about profit-driven war crimes is, like, bad, actually. And this is portrayed as a good thing! Because apathy, or something. Anyway, the game was terrible. Don’t play it for a hundred hours like I did. Or if you do, some tell me about how terrible it is, because seriously I thought I was over venting but apparently not . . . []
2021-09-09T08:45:22+10:0010th September, 2021|Tags: , |

Untaxing.

*taps side of head* Don’t have to pay income tax if none of your earnings are income . . .

The tl;dr is that this is, incidentally, why all those stories of CEO’s “only” taking middle-class-ish salaries are PR bullshit. The thing about wealth is that you eventually get to a point where all your major assets are probably tied up in investments and/or corporate vehicles like ownership shares. This money sits there, making money money, until you need it (if you need it) for some kind of major purchase. Like a new private jet (which is, of course, a “business asset” and purchased through your company, not your personal wealth). If you’re taking a salary at all — as opposed to just living on the disbursements from your various investment trusts — you’re doing it to get pocket money to buy yachts and solid gold fountain pens or whatever.

Salaries, in other words, are for workers. The ruling class has money to make it more money, and money isn’t taxed nearly as hard (or, frequently, at all) as the proles . . .

2021-09-09T08:31:58+10:009th September, 2021|Tags: , |

Everybody is rich and no-one has money.

On BitClout, for instance, you can presumably profit from things like having interesting ideas and avoiding major scandals, which you might’ve once done for the mere pleasure of . . . existing in society. NFTs have made products of tweets, farts and selfies. Platforms like NewNew even let you sell off your mundane daily choices, like who to hang out with and what to eat.

It’s wonderful that some creators have made bank off this movement. I do not begrudge them their newfound wealth. But you gotta wonder about the assumption, common in these discussions, that monetizing someone’s every idea and utterance incentivizes *good* behavior (near the top of BitClout’s current rankings: David Portnoy, Donald Trump) or the conviction that undercompensated people will gain richer and more fulfilling lives when every aspect of them becomes . . . labor.

Caitlin Dewey on financializing people.

2021-09-01T07:12:30+10:004th September, 2021|Tags: , , |

Voiced.

The strange alchemy that renders a person into a voice patronizes them in two senses. First, it perverts their political actions and aspirations, flattening the complexity of their life into a mere voice uttered at a single time and place. Second, even more nefariously, it implies an authorial sponsorship of that voice — a kind of stewardship, if not outright ownership. How many works of history or social science betray the conceit of “giving voice” to their subjects, as if the subjects lived their entire lives on mute until the noble intervention of the scholar?

The language of “voices” may seem a welcome alternative to the contrived, mystifying talk of “bodies” that has littered so many expositions of the black past and present following the work of Ta-Nehisi Coates. But in the end, both tropes are similarly put to liberal ends. Whereas “bodies” are rendered politically inert — and racist oppression naturalized and unmoored from political economy, therefore unalterable — “voices” are accorded a veneer of agency for deployment in the abstract marketplace of ideas or highly mediated national dialogue. It’s how a spokesperson for Facebook can, in honor of Juneteenth, proclaim a “responsibility to help give voice to underrepresented communities around the world.”

Such remarks might be dismissed as shameless marketing pabulum. But the operative conceit, here and elsewhere, is that adding more voices to the “conversation” miraculously charts a course to a more just society, as if those in power are simply unaware of people’s hardships, and knowledge of such will inspire them to change. The entire project represents a liberal fantasy world wherein the only coin is righteousness, and power is conspicuously and conveniently absent from the economy.

Contrarian takes on what makes history.

2021-09-01T07:05:35+10:002nd September, 2021|Tags: |
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