Even before traffic stopped on the freeway on the drive up to Sacramento on Friday afternoon, I was in a funk. The entire route I could see nothing but the detritus of industrial capitalism, which is to say, the world in which we all live. I was thinking about all the concrete and steel everywhere, not only around me but worldwide. Not only is so much of the world built by industrial capitalism ugly, it’s been built by ruthlessly exploiting resources and labor.
I suppose the horrible effects of industrial capitalism are familiar. We have lived our whole lives steeped in pollution, poison, and garbage. No one really has to read Marx to understand that working people are exploited. All of that is plain to anyone who just looks around and thinks.
At times, what upsets me most is the futility of it. In that mood, when I consider what I do for a living, what it enables other people to do for a living, and how our lives intertwine socially and productively, none of it seems worthwhile. Some students of mine have told me that my classes have deeply changed their outlooks on the world, and that they feel benefitted by this. I appreciate that, but then I am sometimes struck by the fact that all of us are forced to live by means of the monstrous enterprise, and having a changed outlook on it does not seem helpful. Some faculty I have represented have told me that they were grateful I helped them through whatever jam they were in at the university. But my help is a way of assuring that they can continue to function in a system that destroys.
I come to believe that people are committed irrevocably to a life of plunder, rushing to consume more, with the only possible end result making the world uninhabitable. I become suspicious of pleasure, not out of guilt but on the basis of understanding that our pleasures are disastrous. I think of the unfathomable quantities of liquor or cotton or paper we produce, how wide spread they are, how they are made, and what they ultimately do for us. It’s as if we have a psychotic notion that if we produce and consume ever more, we or our species will survive forever.
Even if that were true, the logic of this form of civilization commands that our survival is at the expense of the planet as well as ourselves. We somehow trick ourselves into believing otherwise, but still have no way to respond to the question: what for? After all, it makes just as much sense to conclude that the ultimate goal of industrial capitalism is to make me stuck in traffic.