They Dress in Luxury
Liberals and left-identified activists have been undergoing paroxysms of cheer since images came out of one AOC's dress at the Met Gala, which reads "Tax the Rich" squarely across her behind.
There's a sentence I never thought I would write...
The whole thing has strong "early 20th century modern artist pretend-disrupting the wealthy" vibes.
Did the dress cause a controversy? Yes and no. Most liberals were positively apoplectic; Owen Jones, Britain's unofficial leader of the activist Left, said "What an icon". And no, it wasn't sarcasm. I checked.
The few who have less than positive opinions on it don't seem to have a coherent narrative. So that's where I step in, to provide the real Left with coherent narratives. It's kinda my job. You're welcome.
Let's briefly look at another event that you never heard of: Aaron Bastani's wedding.
Bastani is one of the founder's of Novara Media, a lefty media company that grew out of the Corbyn years. Before Corbyn, the online left was solely Owen Jones. But Corbyn changed the narrative, which created enough room in the conversation for a whole team of left-leaning commentators, most of whom were invited to the wedding.
Now I don't want to look at Bastani's wedding per se because I don't believe people's private lives should be fair game for criticism just because they take a somewhat public role.
I would leave him well alone were it not for the book he wrote, literally titled "Fully Automated Luxury Communism".
And there it is, that word: "luxury". The core of what I want to talk about.
Whether Bastani's wedding was or wasn't luxurious, is not important to me. What is important is that it was not outside of the “luxury” continuum. A luxury that industrialisation under Capitalism has made possible. A world Bastani seems to think we can just recreate for the entirety of humanity. A world AOC seems to think we can reach just by redistributing the spoils of Capitalism.
As if the problems with industrialisation and Capitalism rested solely in how many people benefit from it. This is the root ideology of AOC, reflected perfectly in the dress. The event? Made up by and for wealthy people. The dress? Made possible through industrialisation and Capitalism. The message? Just allow a few more people to benefit from this bounty, why don't you!
And this is it, right there: the "conservative" core of their ideologies, regardless of whether they self-identify as "democratic socialist" or "communist".
They exist in a continuum between "middle-class to wealthy” Imperial Core lifestyle made possible by industrialisation, Capitalism, slavery, empire. It's as if nothing exists outside of this world.
And that's a problem.
What would happen if the rich were taxed a bit more? America would return to the 60s... a time when, famously, there were absolutely no problems for any Americans.
What would happen if we could automate luxury? Well, we can't, that's fantasy, because "luxury" is the problem, the gordian knot, the thorn on the side of our psyche. It must be eliminated.
The Soviet Union
I've spoken to many people from the ex-Soviet Union, some of whom actually lived through it. And due to having grown up in South America I am far better qualified at understanding what their lives looked like than, say, Americans or Brits because we are talking about a relatively poor country.
Some of their objections have merit, yes, but among those objections you will find... whining. The classic whining of comfortable people in the non-Imperial Core who feel salty because they don't have easy access to the luxury items abundant inside the Imperial Core. Imported perfumes. Fancy make-up. In other words... luxury.
I recognise it because it's the same whining you find among the well-off in South America. People who are safe, healthy, comfortable, well-fed... but who whine, because they can't have unlimited, effortless access to "toys”.1
This, if nothing else, shows you the unequivocal success of Communism: it took millions of peasant farmers and made them comfortable and plump enough that they could afford to whine about the absence of luxuries.
Yes, the whining for luxuries shows you Communism's success... and its biggest failure.
Very, very few people agree with me on this but Communism's failure did not lie with just about any nonsense imperial-core people attribute to it, but with its inability to build a strong, healthy culture. 2
Put plainly: in healthy cultures people do not hanker for luxuries.
The "Left-Left" Spectrum
Let's look at the left side of the spectrum, on one end we have AOC with her "democratic socialism" that means "let's make America more like Europe" and on the left of her we have Bastani's "let's make Communism, but more luxurious".
And now let's place in there the most left thing to exist, ever, the actual Soviet Union.
What do they all have in common?
The people hankering for luxury.
It's obvious that we need to look elsewhere for answers. If the most mild of the mildest of leftists go gaga over luxury, and the most radical of radicals also lose it over luxury then this is clearly an issue that won't be solved with leftwing ideology.
We need a different spectrum.
It goes from "industrialised" to "non-industrialised", and it aligns quite nicely with another spectrum that goes "insane" to "sane".
It answers a question even the left doesn't want to acknowledge: why are people in wealthy, egalitarian, pristine countries such as Scandinavia so miserable? What about Switzerland? Everyone is wealthy, everyone is blond and they eat lots of chocolate. So what is the problem?
The problem is industrialisation, and that won't go away so long as we keep feeding more of the natural world to the machine.
The “Real Left” Says
Some people on the "Real Left" have been pointing out that AOC's gesture is meaningless. Yes, that is true. And that she shouldn't be hobnobbing with the elites. That's true also.
Ultimately, AOC's gesture is entirely meaningless in today's political reality. All it does is reify "Capitalist Realism" as Mark Fisher defined it. It says "we can change the system and still hold these events, we can have our cake and let the peasants eat it too".
The main point of her presence in the political circus (which I believe to be artificially orchestrated) is to say "this is as far as we can possibly go: empty gestures are where activism begins and ends". It's designed to dis-empower the masses by diverting their attention to meaningless gestures. Soon she will wear old Chanel and become Nancy Pelosi, and the people will sink into cynicism and accept their fate: real change is impossible, all politicians are corrupt, but if you become famous you too can cash in.
But the question goes further than "what should a socialist do when invited to the Met Gala".
The question is: how are my actions re-creating the illusion that "wealth" is desirable, that luxury is fundamentally a good thing, that "being rich" is a worthy investment of one's life energy? In other words: how are my actions re-creating the old story?
Wealth is no substitute for culture
Neither is luxury.
It's no good saying the likes of AOC "have no choice" to go where they go and act how they do.
Do you want to talk about someone who didn't have "choices"?
Evo Morales, former president of Bolivia, the first indigenous president of a country in the whole American continent.
Stop there for a minute and think. When Evo Morales became president of Bolivia, he was the very first indigenous person to do so in a country where 95% of the people are indigenous. That means that every single president before him was a white man.
Here's something he didn't do: he did not wear suits.
Even in official events, even in photos with other heads of state, he remained the sole person not wearing the un-official business suit of the empire.
Instead he would dress in traditional clothing.
On his Twitter account you see him posting about taking part in the traditional rituals of his culture.
Here's an example, under a photo of him dressed in traditional indigenous clothes by his old childhood home:
"Uno debe siempre volver a sus raíces para fortalecer su ajayu (alma) con la historia de sus ancestros."
Translation: "One must always return to one's roots to strengthen their 'ajayu' (soul) with the story of their ancestors".
Now AOC is not indigenous, granted. Still, she could engage in some form of ritual, help build traditions and create culture. The same is true for Bastani.
The "Other Left"
The political spectrum has been looking a bit "weird" for years now, but the discourse has been slow in picking up this "weirdness".
I'm talking about how parts of the right are now the "alt-right" and parts of the left are "the world of woo".
I've been meaning to properly write about this for years, but every time I pitched the idea I got rejected, so don’t blame me.
Now, since the Covid crisis, this needs to be investigated more than ever.
The summary is this: there's a portion of the "unofficial left" that has been going into weird places. Imagine the hippie movement and take away the politics.
Some of it is environmentalism, with a big focus on de-growth, getting closer to the natural world, practising sustainable agriculture. Some of it consists of practising shamanism and learning old mythology. Some of it is centred around alternative healing, with a focus on reiki, meditation, yoga, somatic movement, breathing, tantra.
(Since Covid it’s all become weird, what with about half the people supporting mainstream science and the other half believing Covid conspiracy theories. )
Nevertheless there is a point here: a lot of left-leaning people have been veering "off course", away from politics and into Greener pastures, literally.
What with the "real Left" in retreat since the collapse of Communism, the rise of Neoliberalism, and the environmental crisis approaching, some of us have had to find succour in other fields of thought, where radical ideas can still flourish.
It is paying off.
We are finding new ways of thinking, new ways of being. We are addressing the spiritual crisis of our culture that is leading us to the brink of extinction. We are learning how to live in harmony with the land, how to find meaning in our everyday life, how to be satisfied with less.
An alternative to the Met Gala, for example, could take place in nature, on some sacred cairn. People could make offers, rituals and prayers to gods and goddesses. They could practice gratitude in some form. Candles, fires, poems, incense. A prayer tree to which everyone contributes. Mandalas made of flowers.
I imagine you, the person reading this, are finding the above paragraph somewhat challenging. "Practice what???", you may be thinking.
That's OK, it can take time to see these rituals and practices as "normal". We haven't been raised on them, and so our mind immediately turns to judgement and derision.
Just remind yourself that this is how every single culture on the planet used to behave before industrialised Western capitalism. We are the odd ones out, not them. And remember: they were a lot saner, not to mention they kept the natural world a lot healthier. So maybe they were on to something.
The important question is: are we building culture away from industrialised Western imperialism? Or are we staying inside the same story and arguing for a bit of change?
We need to create alternatives to "luxury"
Because… luxury is no substitute for culture.
There's no part in the human system, no organ in our human bodies, that needs "luxury" to function.
We must excise from our psyche the craving for "luxury" and comfort that relies on the exploitation of other humans.
We need culture, we need meaning, we need "the sacred". But we do not need luxury.
Yet so many people who claim to want change cannot actually imagine a different world. Not even in the one aspect where it would be easy to do so, since most of us have little experience with "luxury" and we know it to be fundamentally unattainable.
At some point our thirst for social change, our commitment to a different, better world, has to include doing away with outdated notions of comfort, wealth and "luxury" and be replaced with the "real" alternative.
At first it won't be something we can easily recognise. But we must keep going.
Because only then we will build a world worth living in.
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Something interesting, by which I mean “strange”, goes on in the psyche of people who are materially comfortable: they whine about increasingly bizarre things. For an example you will easily recognise, check out the whining of the Boomer generation in Britain. Most are asset rich, time rich, and have lived their lives in the biggest increase in living standards in human history. And yet they whine about incoherent nonsense, like “Brexit” or “the metric system”. This is another sign of an unhealthy culture.
I’ve only ever head of one person saying this, the ex president of Uruguay, Jose Mujica, known across the world for going viral on social media proclaiming him to be "the best president in the world”.