Saturday, March 15, 2014

Utopia or Bust

Interview with Ben Kunkel. I especially like the last two paragraphs.
Several times you say that the next crisis is the one that will lead to some kind of Marxist intervention. Do you worry about that being infinitely delayed?

That I’m not too worried about. There’s no strict definition of a crisis, and clearly some people feel that the crisis has passed. But the crisis that began in 2008 has not passed in Europe. In a sense it seems to be deepening in what they call emerging markets. Unemployment remains tremendously high here. It looks like there might be a permanent generational aspect to the crisis. So I’m certainly not worried about capitalism just making everybody so happy that they’re not interested in books like this one anymore.

Are you worried about band-aid solutions like the bank bailout?

It seems like plenty of people who are not on the left, just sane people, have worried that our solution to the last acute crisis may make the next one worse. Banks that were too big to fail are now much bigger. People like Elizabeth Warren are worried about this; you don’t have to be a Marxist to be worried about it. The income gains since 2008 have gone, not just to the one percent, but mainly to the point one percent. The last thing I’m worried about is capitalism just invalidating the left ferment of recent years by creating a smooth-running, prosperous neoliberal Utopia.


You talk a lot about ecology, but you don’t devote a chapter to it.

That’s because I’m devoting a book that I’m writing to it. There was a time when this book might have been longer, and I thought about adding a new essay, but I decided that the book was long enough. You don’t want a handbook to be too long.

The next book, God willing, is a much more ecological and economic book.

My sentiments about peak oil are no longer as apocalyptic as they were. But I think it’s very na├»ve for people who write about energy to pretend that, because we can now frack these wells that have very swift depletion rates, this means that we’re not going to have much lower energy rates per capita sometime soon.

I don’t think we’re going to have increasing energy for everyone forever. This doesn’t mean that I think we should start scolding people in some Malthusian way for having too many children. People in wealthy countries need to think about how they’re going to consume less, or people in less wealthy countries need to think about how they’re going to forcibly make people in wealthy countries consume less.

In praising Fredric Jameson, you mention that he had “reserves of synthesizing energy that simply outstripped anyone else’s.” That struck me as a provocatively capitalist metaphor.

Blake said that energy is eternal delight. A lot of the things we identify as capitalist aren’t—a kind of dynamism, a kind of versatility of desire, energy, even creative destruction. I allude a couple times to the stationary state, an economy that no longer grows, and some people wonder whether that wouldn’t become tedious and boring. I think, by no means. No more than if you have a certain income, you have to spend it in the same way every year. No more than when we cease to grow physically in our late teens, we cease to be able to do interesting things with our bodies. I’m not worried about post-capitalist society being boring or less energetic. Maybe less exhausting. Maybe you’ll get better sleep.

I was talking more about the implicit competition. That Jameson is better than anyone else.

I consider myself a market socialist. Firms can go bankrupt, people can be fired. It doesn’t mean that the people who are fired suddenly become poor. Some of the existential risk disappears. But competition is a feature of human life. The competition among artists, among athletes, sexual competition, these things exist independently of capital. Writers are going to want to write better than other writers, thinkers are going to want to be more intelligent than other thinkers. Makers of craft beer are going to want to make better craft beer than other makers of craft beer.

The Olympics are going on right now, and I’m old enough to remember when they required that athletes not have gone pro to compete. It’s not as though everyone just loped towards the finish line.
What Time Is The Revolution (The Awl)

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