Category Archives: persona non grata

Graffiti in Beirut – September 2014

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They call it “conspiracy theory” as an excuse not to listen to what the people are trying to tell them.

 

How many fingers am I holding up? or, Did you even see the video?

I didn’t want to watch another video of someone getting their head cut off. I was barely seventeen when video of WSJ journalist Daniel Pearl’s beheading was uploaded on the internet. The brutality of the Syrian Civil War, the children dead in pieces in Gaza, all of the other images of ISIS uploaded on to the internet were too much blood for me. And the fact that the video of James Foley kneeling in the hot sun next to a menacing, knife-wielding man was immediately yanked off of the internet meant for sure this video was more brutal than all the rest. Considering the sheer volume of grotesque imagery available on Youtube and Twitter, that which we cannot see must be more truly horrible. I asked a comrade if he saw the video, and he told me no, because that sort of thing wasn’t good for the mind. Everyone else said the same thing. And I had no desire to watch it. I could let others tell me about it.

But here’s my comrade telling me to watch it, go ahead and watch it. He sends me a live leak video. I watch it, and if James Foley really is dead, there is no conclusive evidence here – there is barely any gore, in fact no active representation of fatal violence (not counting Obama’s speech at the beginning). The only blood in the video is in the still image of a decapitated body whose face is covered in blood. And there is no way to say that it’s James Foley. As the shrouded menace grabs James Foley by the chin and begins to saw away at his neck, the movement is exaggerated and there is no blood. Fade to black. Fade up on the photo of a body that may be Foley’s. Fin.

Journalists now are either saying they have not seen the video or they are saying that the video clearly shows the beheading of James Foley.

A Jumbotron-sized screen in downtown Beijing shows the execution of American journalist James Foley on a continuous loop.

A gigantic video screen in downtown Beijing is showing gruesome footage of the beheading of American journalist James Foley by Muslim extremists and images of racially charged riots in the Missouri town of Ferguson. – “In busy Beijing, graphic video of James Foley’s beheading is shown over and over on a giant screen”  (NY Daily News)

 

…In the video Foley delivers a statement calling on his friends and family to “rise up against my real killers, the U.S. government.”

Then the ISIL member makes a statement. Speaking in what may possibly be a British accent, he identifies Foley and says his death is a direct result of American intervention in Iraq.

“So any attempt by you Obama, to deny the Muslims of living in safety under Islamic caliphate will result in the bloodshed of your people.”

He then beheads Foley. –“Video shows ISIL beheading of photojournalist James Foley” (Politico)

 

In the video posted Tuesday on YouTube, Foley is seen kneeling next to a man dressed in black. Foley reads a message, presumably scripted by his captors, that his “real killer” is America.

“I wish I had more time. I wish I could have the hope for freedom to see my family once again,” he can be heard saying in the video.

He is then shown being beheaded. –“Video shows ISIS beheading U.S. journalist James Foley” (CNN)

 

There is even an article in the BBC titled “Experts warn of trauma after watching Foley death video” – because while the footage of children hoisting decapitated heads high in Raqaa and stills from mass executions are brutal, sure, for some reason they don’t really compare to the trauma and brutality of watching a white American man allegedly begin to be murdered.

I don’t really know what has happened to James Foley, but the question of why we should pretend this video shows something that it does not deserves to be answered. Why the swift media blackout of the footage? Why the possible play-acting? Why the fake knife?

Maybe this all boils down to facts, and the refusal to share them with us, the refusal to follow-up on sources. Why was the media telling us that he was being held by the Syrian government until this video was released?

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Why are they still saying that?  Why is this man’s disappearance and alleged murder a casus belli that we are not allowed to review, one that journalists are steadfastly refusing to investigate?

And of course, we should ask the producer of this video – allegedly an ISIS guy – why bother to put something up that looked so weird, possibly fake? The organizing strategy of ISIS is clearly one of terror and nightmarish presentations of gore. Why did they leave it out for the Americans?

And now I really have to ask – how many fingers am I holding up? Do you see three? You’re wrong, it’s four. Try harder.

Nobody Politics

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You may learn in time that “activism” and militancy is the highest stage of alienation.

Do you really think it matters whether you “oppose” imperialism or not. Your yelling and “loud” opposition is utterly ineffectual and impotent.

She’s a bit too “enthusiastic“. I think she’s slightly over-estimating her self-importance and that of those she associates with.

What is a troll? Accused of anonymity and distasteful disagreement, a troll is a nobody. Nobodies inhabit the earth in billions, just numbers on a census, silenced from debate and discourse. A troll is a nobody who goes against what good nobodies are supposed to be doing: acquiescing, marching behind somebodies, those unique souls imbued with a sense of authority by the powers that be. This class of somebodies include tenured professors, experts, pundits, image-conscious journalists, celebrities and politicians.

I laughed when Professor Rechtenwald left the above paternalist comments on my recent essay on the urgent necessity of anti-imperialism. I currently pay for a shared studio with vermin on a street where people are murdered, I make $15 an hour as a temp in New York; no one has to tell me I’m alienated. I do not disagree that militancy and activism are results of alienation. Word on the street is that this is how revolutionaries live: cut off from all sorts of things, certainly from the teat of NYU positions. But his comments got me thinking about unimportant nobodies versus very important somebodies, and I’d like to make some comments about nobody politics.

As much as anyone wants to beat up on Stalin and Mao for “cults of personality”, we have a strange blind spot towards our utterly bizarre celebrity culture.

Celebrity is a gorgeous date for neoliberalism. The cult of the individual manifests itself as worshiping the individual traits of those we have never met or spoken with. We need to see cellulite, we need to read interviews, we need to breathlessly pour over family photos of intimate gatherings on their timelines. This cult of celebrity is encouraged by and exists for the purposes of capitalism. Celebrities mean celebrity endorsements, of course, but they also foster a sense of individual worship. The difference between Stalin and an American celebrity is that Stalin was seen as the embodiment of the Soviet Union and its values, while we love our celebrity because of her individual qualities, namely her saucy attitude, sizzling hot fashion sense, and her performances for us – be they on stage or on Instagram. Stalin never posed for centerfolds, he never gave out fashion tips or spoke about his family and personal relationships at length. He was a portrait, a ghost of an actual individual, an iconic face that meant nothing to most of us on an individual scale.

For sure, our present ruler in the United States indulges in this celebrity, playing to memes or appearing on ironic hipster webisodes. But mainly, we eat up our information from the New York Times op-ed pages. We are told how to think about things by columnists that indoctrinate us with capitalism’s smokescreens and lies, revealing just as much about themselves in the process. These are important people. This pundit class that gets asked to speak and sign autographs are very important people. Their opinions are considered authoritative and valid. They must be smarter, more hardworking than all of us. They must have access to different, better information. After all, they are there for a reason, no?

Much of the authority bestowed on us by capitalism correlates to our socio-economic status and relationship to the means of production. Law makers, politicians, professors, millionaires – by and large these actors come from a certain class, and are generally white and male. What then, of the other voices we see represented  – who are they meant to appeal to? Like the indigene begging for NATO intervention, feminists incessantly speaking about sex work, the person of color arguing that we are in a post-racial society: celebrity pundits must also appeal to power.

I wrote on this about a year back. I wrote about American radicalism and the sacrifices that had to be offered to count yourself among the likes of Assata Shakur, Malcolm X, Fred Hampton, John Brown, Bill Haywood, and others. I wrote that the person embraced and encouraged along by the imperialist machine would be suspect, because being an actual radical can be fatal. There are dead workers buried all over this country from crushed strikes that are testimony, among others in unmarked graves. But now there are radicals who promote Pussy Riot, who cheer on the bombing of Libya, who hustle hard for imperialism, who endorse products. Radicals who make lots of money on the stock market and buy brownstones (oh, maybe they give some of their money away, but probably not to the Naxalites). These people also happen to be Somebodies. They are pulled in towards the heart of Empire and so are rewarded not just with wealth and power, but also a platform to speak from. This is somebody politics.

But let’s talk about nobody politics. On the other end of the spectrum, we have those who are hungry, those who are poor and frustrated. These are nobodies. These are the alienated. They are the ones who die under NATO bombs. They are the ones vaccinated without giving informed consent, their signatures forged. These are the youth, the people of color, the poor. They are nobodies. Their voices are seen as insignificant.  Their opposition to imperialism and capitalism is, as Professor Rechtenwald tells me, meaningless, utterly ineffectual and impotent. The militant activists are alienated, not important.  Nobody politics are for nobodies. Somebody politics are for somebodies. So, if you’re a nobody, why not try shilling somebody politics for a change? It may even result in a respite from the alienation, may help one bootstrap their way into a book deal or high-paying job.

Or not. As the numbers tell us, opportunity for youth, people of color, and other oppressed communities is nonexistent compared to the exciting lives of our favorite celebrities. They jet around the world on company money, endorse products for easy cash, and spend an awful lot of time reinforcing to us how empire is blameless and there’s really no other way that things could be. You get the freelance journalists hustling for a staff position. You get the academics hustling for a book deal. You get a lot of hustle from lawmakers, artists – in fact let’s just call then “somebodies” – for just straight-up payoffs and bribes.

Meanwhile, the nobodies hustle for rent, debt, and hospital bills. In fact, the more of a nobody they are, the more they owe, the more they “hustle”. The nobodies hate capitalism. The nobodies hate imperialism. The nobodies hate racism, the nobodies hate sexism. The nobodies hate poverty. They hate hustling. Nobodies want free housing, education, healthcare, food and guaranteed employment. They hide their faces or don’t speak up because they know what they want goes against what those in power want for them. If they are too loud with their discontent, there is a crackdown, minute pressure points in society the people in power can press, releasing spurts of misogyny, racism, xenophobia, and mass incarceration. The somebodies know how to shut nobodies like me up – that’s how they stay in power.

So I laughed when Professor Rechtenwald tried to do me a favor and remind me how unimportant I am. Yes, professor: I have bed bugs, rats, a low-paying temp job, tens of thousands in debt, and unstable access to healthcare. Everything in my life serves to remind me of my unimportance, my alienation. I get it. I’m a nobody. And I live on a street in a neighborhood full of nobodies. A city and country, a world full of nobodies. I write under a pseudonym and I hide my face, among other reasons, because there really is nothing so special about me. I’m not important. Not much unique. I’m just one of many gunning for your class, gender, sexual, and racial privilege with my politics, which I have decided to speak up about. I’m not a celebrity, not quirky and sexy and talented and nodding along with empire, I’m a nobody. Now, move along. We’re talking nobody politics with other nobodies.

somatophobia IV: consumer-oriented ideology

Does everyone feel so replaceable?

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First introduced in 2010 after nearly a decade of development, the Roxxxy line now includes RoxxxyGold, RoxxxySilver, and RoxxxyPillow, as well as Rocky. Only RoxxxyGold comes equipped with a ‘personality,’ although RoxxxySilver will talk during sex. RoxxxyPillow, the least expensive model, is only the torso, head, and three ‘inputs’ – vagina, anus, and mouth. Unlike the other models, which are full-sized, RoxxxyPillow can be tucked away discreetly when not in use.

from Leah Reich

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Forty bucks and a car with a front seat can get you sucked off. But you want someone … nice. Pretty. “Classy.” Innocent enough. You’re a tech guy. You want a Stanford girl.

The good news: Cute, bored, slightly-short-on-cash Stanford girls are a dime a dozen. Plus $200 to $300 up front. But it’s not an easy thing, the blowjob. Here’s a step-by-step guide.

from Melissa Gira Grant

“narcotic earnestness” and the exclusion of working class people

from Le fond de l’air est rouge (1977) by Chris Marker

Two articles were published this week that featured similar takes on the emotional side of the socialist equation. Doug Henwood said he found the magazine-publishing left in Brooklyn encouraging because it offers an “intellectual seriousness without a narcotic earnestness”. Owen Jones wrote for the Independent saying that there’s nothing “personal” about socialism. What do they define as narcotic earnestness, as personal? Imagine a civil rights movement told to make racism “not personal”, telling people to settle down and see things logically for a change. Where’s the heart in it?

I suspect this lack of heart comes because of a distance from the idea. It’s no coincidence that people who are not workers, who have sometimes never even been workers, peddle these viewpoints of emotional disconnect and masculine affect. We would laugh off a white male who tries to tell us that feminism or anti-racism aren’t personal issues. A white male clearly has much less at stake in the fight against misogyny and racism than a woman of color. It would be no surprise to us if he could approach the situation without emotion – after all, what has he ever felt in his bones on the matter? So when a member of the privileged classes says that socialism is nothing personal, that narcotic earnestness is something to look down one’s nose at, we should have a similar reaction.

I believe that the reason the “new left” is pushed in the direction of academic dryness, blocked ears and inaction is precisely because those privileged classes, who have quite a different stake in the discussion, are the ones currently steering it. It’s a small, closed circle that is described by the New Statesmen as basically, “the wunderkind socialists of Brooklyn”. Workers are not included in this new left except as statistics and dehumanizing, baseless assumptions. Workers should be at the forefront of overthrowing capitalism, because they are the only ones who can do it. Those on the left who say “the left is dead” are, more often than not, those who benefit most as a class from the death of the left.

This is not to say the privileged classes who can afford to separate themselves so emotionally from socialism should be excluded entirely – far from it. But one should vigorously fight bourgeois ideas masquerading as “socialism” that spring from this source. If you cannot see the fight against capitalism as a fight to save your life, then you will never fight as hard. Without the inclusion of workers who have such a vital stake in overthrowing capitalism, the movement will remain on the pages of a magazine.

I happen to think that if there is such a thing as a “safe space” in this society, there should safe spaces on the left for people who are not bourgeois, people who come from working class backgrounds and people who are poor. I would like to see more workers’ journals, more workers’ panels. I believe that workers should be preferred recipients for writing and journalism grants. Workers are the ones who inevitably organize to accomplish socialism. After all, it is the people who have the most to lose who not only take socialism the most seriously, but also feel it the most personally. And workers know bullshit better than anybody; when you come around dispassionately speaking in a language meant to exclude them from things they care passionately about, they will turn their backs on you. Workers should be at the forefront of socialist ideology to defeat bourgeois ideas. Workers are the subject, not the object, of socialism.

Workers and the experiences of working people are erased daily in discourse on the left. They exist as statistics or as ignorant masses who need to be talked out of their own stupidity and shown “the way” by  wunderkind socialists of Brooklyn who (obviously) know more about capitalism than they do. It’s time to welcome workers into the discussion. They take socialism personally, they feel the blows on their bodies from capitalism daily. Most importantly, they bring the “narcotic earnestness” that pushes people into action.

Looking at what the average American worker consumes, very little of it represents their class interest. It is essential they be included in socialist discussions and organizing because they have the most to gain from socialism and because they can help articulate the heart in the theory.

I think the first step in this inclusion of workers should be for the rich to identify who they are on the left. I suggest a moneybag icon next to bylines of writers whose family wealth is more than $150,000. Doug Henwood, for example, attended Yale and makes his living as a financial advisor, yet is quoted in a story as offering authoritative views on this new left. There is nothing wrong with being born into money or having an advanced degree and speaking about leftism. It’s the “authoritative” part I take issue with. It’s the distance from the risk and reward and suggesting socialism isn’t personal, isn’t really about life or feelings, that poisons things. If one’s ideas aren’t bourgeois, there’s nothing to be afraid of by opening them up to challenge. If one can learn to speak to people simply and concisely, if one can listen well and not speak with condescension, then this is going to help. The art of self-criticism is lost on this generation of “new” leftists; we are terrified of critique or blacklisting ourselves out of academic institutions or publications. We tune out what we don’t want to hear, and hold tighter and more personally to our positions than we do to socialism. If we’re all on the same side, why the defensive posturing, why the lashing out?

There are two meanings of “taking it personally”, and one involves ego. A socialist should be eager to correct their ideological mistakes and take criticism from others. When criticism is painted as “trolling” and dismissed as “hysterical”, this is the ego talking. When the greatest stake you have in the conversation is whether or not you’re correct, then you have little to lose. The New Statesman article admits the socialist revival in Brooklyn seems to exist in the air, not in action, but fails to grasp that the lack of worker involvement, the beating heart of socialism, is why.

reality check: American radicalism

At the start of December 4th 1969, Fred Hampton was drugged by a FBI informant after teaching a political education course at a local church in Chicago. Later, when he was passed out, fourteen cops burst into his apartment and murdered him in his bed, next to his pregnant girlfriend. After two shots to the head to confirm his death, he was dragged into the hallway and left in a pool of blood. He was 21 years old.

Almost 100 years earlier, John Brown sat at his desk, waiting for execution at the age of 59. He wrote his last words to his wife. She was waiting nearby, but he was refused the right to spend the last night of his life with her, that refusal being the only time his stoic comportment threatened to break down. He had helped lead a militant uprising of enslaved people. He was hanged and then put in his coffin, noose still around his neck, and sent back north to be buried.

The list of American radicals who died in battle against a massive system of oppression is long and should be a source of pride for Americans who seek to follow a life fighting for economic and social justice. They were those who were expelled by the society they lived in because of their beliefs, because of the color of their skin, because of their sex, the list goes on. These were people willing to die for their beliefs. Even those who were possibly not ready still died sometimes. They were those whose death would perpetuate the American machine of oppression and pain.

What is a radical? A radical is a thorn in the side of what she opposes. The radical is pushed outward like a splinter under the skin. The radical accepts that she will live a life of lack unless she gives in and changes her mind. Even then, she might not make her way back into the fold. This is to be expected – a radical seeks to disrupt the reproduction of  oppression, not negotiate or change it warmly. As we edge closer to the abyss, as the planet itself threatens to crumble underneath our feet, those who would call themselves radicals must make a decision. Are they pleading or are they demanding? Are they negotiating or are they accusing?

When I was a little girl, I learned about my great-grandfather, shipped over from the old country as a child and sold to a mining company in Montana. He grew up to become an IWW organizer and was beaten, threatened and blacklisted. Blacklisted was the first radical word I learned. To be blacklisted is a heavy thing for sure, and my grandfather grew up in crushing poverty. My great-grandmother begged for food. No one offered him a warm hand because he was a thorn in the side of capitalism, because he demanded that workers have the right to the means of production and to the fruits of their labor. The labor movement was fighting for an eight-hour day. Now, as the eight-hour day slips through our fingers, today’s self-proclaimed radicals write television reviews for major American newspapers and hold court at academic conferences.

They claim they are interested in building a party – but where is the phone number? How do I get involved? Is it a party that will vote Democrat? The academics – and I am an academic, considering my education – fight over semantics and whether or not pornography is ethical. Meanwhile, people all over the country are ready for more. They are ready for disruption. Sectors of this generation see the ability to reproduce themselves being eroded away. Nearly seven million Americans are under correctional supervision. Schools are being closed. Poison is being poured in our lakes and rivers, in our oceans and all over our land. Be sure – this will not hold. It’s not sustainable. But the people in power will try every trick in the book to sustain themselves.

We’ve seen it before. We talk about women as if their biggest problem is what sort of clothes they’re wearing. We talk about race as if we have the first black president. Now the very term “radical” – a comforting dogwhistle nowadays for sleepy anticapitalists – is being appropriated, subsumed into the project of class reproduction. When you broadcast your opinions and find it thrilling that major media outlets have brought you on board, you need to consider your part to play in the reproduction of class. Do you make a living on your radicalism? Do you want to? My beloved once told me: “I want to be a low-level Soviet bureaucrat, but you live the life you have, not the life you want.”

There is nothing wrong with carving out a corner and trying to feed yourself. It is quite another project you are envisioning, however, when book deals with no outlines line up and event coordinators begin to court you. When you imagine a new party, one that appeals to the so-called masses through the capitalist propaganda machine, you must be very careful. When you start getting printed in the New York Times and Washington Post, when you see your face staring back at you as the primary photo accompanying a story, you must be even more careful. A story about you is not a story of the system of oppression that cracks skulls every day in this country.

When your critics become your trolls, this is because you somehow think your points are correct because you have more of a space to speak. You forget how you got this page space, you forget why it was given to you. You (yes, you dear reader!) are part of this machine now. The skin is not pushing you outwards, it is pulling you in towards its organs. Close your eyes and imagine what is is like to have paid staffers, then wonder why so many Black Panthers were sleeping in the same apartment that tragic night in Chicago. When you yell down that someone is a troll because they have less twitter followers than you, remember that you are calling yourself a radical and placing yourself in a pantheon of radicals who gave their lives to end capitalism. Wonder then, why Fred Hampton wasn’t published in the New York Times.

Slavoj Zizek is honest when he says that he thinks there must be a vanguard party because he himself wants nothing to do with struggle, with politics. He wants to be a boring man with a boring life somewhere. Who then, will execute the ideas of those who proclaim to be on the vanguard of the Left today – who are the radicals? Do they exist? The Left Forum is this weekend in New York, and Verso, the leading publisher of leftist books, sent out invitations to their after-party. Have we ever seen such a crowd of communists who are so willing and able to rationalize away their own inaction? Watch them drink cocktails and discuss the importance of this or that idea, watch them rally around positions like it’s some sort of game. I went to an ISO meeting in Brooklyn and met fund managers, people in advertising. We must look at the way that these “radical” ideas should shape our lives. What worth does a bunch of words on paper have when there is no one that is willing to put their thoughts into action? What do these “writers” even think of their own ideas when they do not even inspire themselves to make the necessary sacrifices, adopt the necessary discipline? Here we suddenly find shivering cowards, insisting that they are caught up in their everyday lives too much to put a shoulder to the wheel and push.

Overthrowing capitalism is about sacrifice and discipline. When we fantasize class revolution or wars against Nazis, we fancy ourselves willing to give our lives to the cause. Yet when it comes to choosing paths in our lives, we hesitate in committing fully to our positions. It becomes about this or that obligation, the desire and right, we bark defensively, to lead a normal boring life. Tough shit, comrade! If even Marx shivered in poverty while shoveling what money he had into failed revolutionary causes then surely you puffing up about twitter followers, an appearance on television or in the pages of a society magazine is nothing to brag about. If people like John Brown were willing to put their head in a noose, if strikers willing to be shot in the streets for demanding eight-hour workdays, if tens of millions of Soviets died fighting the Nazis, isn’t steering clear of a lifetime of normalcy and comfort the least you can do?

Audit This!!!

The following is written by packagedude69 and reprinted, with permission, from elsewhere…

When I read Capitalist Realism by Mark Fisher, I was expecting something like a Frankfurt School abstract examination of the totality of capitalist society, which is kind of how the book was marketed. But the book was way more concrete than I expected, and one of the book’s concrete-ier chapters dealt with the audit, from Fisher’s perspective of a minor functionary in a vast bureaucracy whose occasional byproduct is education.

I’m also a minor functionary, part clerk and part manual laborer, in a vast organization whose byproduct is the sorting and delivery of packages. Since my, ahem, work, is different, but the experience of the audit is ubiquitous, I have a slightly different perspective on what Fisher talks about in the concrete chapters of his book, and an experience a couple days ago allowed me to put together some things I’d been thinking about for a while but was unsure of.

The experience occurred during a pure audit situation, the ideal audit situation, when the auditors are present but their presence is unknown and things are truly proceeding as normal. I came back late from my pickup route to the sort, and missed the meeting where my manager told all of us “hey idiots, don’t throw packages, don’t cross the belt, if you see someone in a polo and khakis he’s an auditor and you should cough cough, do what you do every single day.” I was across the belt, and a huge package came down and there was only one person on the other side to handle it. The rule is that packages above 75 pounds have to be handled by two people, but honestly anything above 60 and sufficiently bulky can be basically unmanageable by one person at the speed at which the belt moves and given all the additional requirements of the sort (the requirement to place packages in ‘walls’ so they don’t all fall over later, etc.). So, I crossed the belt. About two seconds later a pudgy middle aged man with a goatee and a partially shaved head (have you ever seen a white male police officer?), in telltale khakis and polos, materialized next to me. He took down my employee number by saying “hey, we’re just checking training records, routine stuff, let me see your badge.” After he took my number down, shaking from the rush of witnessing a blatantly unsafe act, he told me that I’d cost my entire workgroup an entire section of the audit and that I should, quote “never cross the belt, especially not during an audit. it’s a major safety violation.”

Fisher says that the audit is self-referential. No data from the audit is ever used outside of the audit, the set of procedures by which the data is collected have relevance only to the audit and not the thing that the process being audited is supposed to produce, and after the audit is done the data is discarded, the process resumes, with the only change being disciplinary actions, in the form of pay cuts, firings, demotions, or the increased arbitrariness and “scrutiny” of authority. At all major package companies this is so obvious not even the auditors themselves or my bosses even bother to appeal to the relevance of the audit to the actual process. Fisher’s equivalent is his “laid-back” ex-hippie boss, who says “hey look, we’ve got to do this and it’s bullshit, but we might as well go on with it and make things as easy as possible for ourselves.” Fisher says that an attitude like this doesn’t actually challenge the legitimacy of the audit at all, or even make it less effective, since its purpose is not to improve the process or, in my case, make anything safer. A short review of the idea of safety, which Fisher doesn’t encounter but makes up the major component of my audit, will establish this.

Packages themselves are unsafe. Spilled dangerous goods, drill bits that dislocate shoulders when lifted, packages that adjust in transit and tumble down when the container is opened, slippery bullshit that crushes toes, etc. Driving is very unsafe, especially in our area, which includes mountainous areas with long driveways, unimproved roads and tons of crazy weather. And delivering is unsafe. People here frequently let huge dogs patrol their grounds like some sort of insane English lord on a quarter acre, in Oakland some routes are done out of armored cars instead of normal delivery trucks, and one dude got the police called on him when he was driving a rental vehicle, a white van of course, and someone thought it was suspicious that he was driving super slow in a deserted residential neighborhood in the early afternoon.

So all this is obvious. Leaving your house is dangerous. The question is not should we take any risks at all, do things that are inherently unsafe, because we have to. The question is how much should we risk to get the job done. Package companies have said, we can risk the health and safety of our workers to a pretty considerable degree to get the job done. We can give them guidelines, punish them if they do unsafe things, and give them seatbelts and purely cosmetic back braces but at the end of the day we have to get packages to where they need to be.

This is where the traditional socialist focus on things other than high wages puts itself head and shoulders above the grubby small-time crap that passes for militancy where I work. There is basically no amount of risk or injury that is defensible or reasonable in the face of about ninety five percent of the pure garbage we deliver every day.

A courier of very long standing snapped his leg on an icy driveway last year delivering a Kindle. He was well paid to do it and he recovered fully, generating thousands of dollars in extra business for insurance adjusters, surgeons, the guys who took over his route when he was gone, and Budweiser. So from the perspective of capitalism everything is working normally. But as soon as these benefits go away, and they are being eroded at non-union FedEx and at “Change To Win” UPS, the broken leg = delivered Kindle equation will appear even more absurd and grossly wasteful than it already is. Socialism’s demand to not only compensate workers fairly but reduce the amount of time they spend working, period, is the only real answer here. And it’s clear from the internal decisions of package companies that they are able to bear the reduction in work – or at least the reduction in the intensity of the work – that would make authentic safety possible. Let me explain how I know this.

Peak season, from Black Friday to Christmas, is really the happiest time of the year at any package company. Everyone gets Hours out the ass, management give almost free reign to employees, the audit is completely suspended (audits only happen during this time of the year, the slow time), and, most importantly, the intensity of work is reduced dramatically. The sort, which during slow times is compressed into a supercharged hour and a half to two hours at my station, is stretched to an almost criminally indulgent six or seven hours during peak season. We get way more packages but more people are working, and working longer, and as a result the time is much easier. Drivers don’t have to worry about running their routes twice (once for priority packages and once for all the other ones), but instead just waltz into their area, deliver everything in a straight shot, and come back after a couple hours of overtime to a happy family and welcome rest. Management fawns over us for a month. We get donuts or bagels every day, crates of frozen turkeys and coolers filled with burritos appear spontaneously, customers leave us holiday cookies on their doorsteps, we do donuts in the parking lot in our huge trucks, and the checks are fat. It’s labor aristocracy hog heaven.

Package companies are meticulously managed and this freedom would not be allowed if the company were not making enough money. But the point is that there is no reason why couriers must be rushed to, say, jog down an icy driveway instead of walk slowly, or why the sort has to be two hours instead of four, and conducted at a much safer, more leisurely pace. Or why the audit focuses on the individual actions of employees in a context created by the company to compel rule violations, corner cutting, and deliberate unsafety, and not the fact that delivering slave labor iPads or merger agreements is not worth any degree of risk to anyone whatsoever.