Saturday, August 31, 2013

Where Do the Homeless Come From?

“... Capitalism will behave antisocially if it is profitable for it to do so, and that can now mean human devastation on an unimaginable scale. What used to be apocalyptic fantasy is today no more than sober realism....”   -Terry Eagleton

I've been asked to deliver a talk on the causes of homelessness at the end of September. Half jokingly, I wrote on my Facebook page:

"Been invited to talk to a local church about the causes of homelessness. Basically, I am going to blame it all on capitalism'.

But later--as I began to prepare for the talk--I thought, 'Shit. This really is capitalism's fault'.

What you typically hear in a discussion of the causes of homelessness is statistics about mental health and substance abuse, along with a little bit of information about laborers who have aged out of the workforce and women fleeing domestic violence. More daring speakers may get into issues of racism, homophobia, and sexism too. These are all key contributors to homelessness. What do they have to do with capitalism? Everything. Unfortunately, most speakers are not daring enough to completely indict our entire social system.

Capitalism is a socioeconomic system that understands the basic law of the jungle: eat or be eaten. Only the strong survive. These two precepts are in the very cells of capitalism. Capitalism is also inherently an exploitative system: For someone to be on top, another person has to be on the bottom. Staying on the top cannot be done without ensuring that those who begin on the bottom stay on the bottom. Capitalism can be compared to a machine that must keep moving in order to prevent from collapsing. The fuel it uses to keep it moving is the lives of the exploited classes. As it moves, it grinds up bodies. In order to stay on top, the exploiters must become much more vicious. In order to rise to the top in this system, a person must almost by definition be a perfect sociopath. Bear in mind: you are statistically likely to die in the same class you are born into. 'The American Dream' is more myth than it is a possibility.

  Things like mental illness, substance abuse, racism, sexism, and domestic violence affect everyone across all classes (although you do not find many laborers aged out of their professions in the 1%). The difference between the way the 1% handles these issues and the extreme poor (a necessary byproduct of capitalism) handle these issues are vast.

Like everything else, the quality of services available to the very rich (the richest of whom have inherited their wealth, not earned it) is far superior to the quality of services available to the rest of us. You will not find many folks from very wealthy families in our shelter system. You will not find many women from the 1% fleeing abuse into our shelter system. Rich folks with mental illness and substance abuse problems handle them much more differently. They have the resources.

There are homeless people in so-called socialist countries, but there are no real socialist countries in the world. Capitalism taints everything. It is like a cancer that spreads even into the most egalitarian environments. It is this system--built off of our basest qualities--that fills our shelters and sidewalks with homeless people.

There is enough wealth in the United States to end extreme poverty the world over. Venezuela ended extreme poverty by nationalizing oil and oil production. Imagine if we were to follow suit? The wars we have engaged in over the past few years cost more than the projected cost of Obamacare, yet we were willing to pay for those. The money is there. Karl Marx predicted that real communism would only be possible in a country that had accumulated a vast amount of capital via the capitalist system. America fits that bill perfectly. It's just a matter of redistributing it. Really, it's just a matter of priorities.

All of those typically listed causes of homelessness can be addressed. We just need the resources. We have the resources, but only if we start to think collectively and humanistically. The resources are there, but are they there for us, or for them?

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Most Americans Don't Understand Freedom

[re-blogged from April]

Again and again I hear Americans--especially of the conservative bent--talk about freedom as if it is an either/or proposition; "Homosexuals should be free to marry", or "the government cannot infringe upon our freedom to own guns", or "we should have the freedom to drive any kind of car we would like", and on and on.

The thing many folks don't understand is that whenever a person or population endorses one freedom, they are denying another one. Take our examples one by one: to allow homosexuals to marry, the freedom of bigots to force their subjective moral choices upon our culture is infringed upon. When a government does not regulate gun ownership, the freedom of citizens to live in communities without automatic and semi-automatic weapons is infringed upon. The freedom to drive any kind of car you like--with whatever mode of propulsion--infringes upon your freedom to breathe clean air.

There is no such thing as a free society. The libertarian worldview is truly a fantasy. Every freedom granted to a population or person comes with a freedom denied. What needs to be decided is what the underlying philosophy of the freedoms afforded a population are. A totally free society is not possible, but a just society is.

It is an infringement on the freedom of the wealthy to accumulate and horde wealth to re-distribute that wealth. It is an infringement on the freedom of those whom the wealthy exploit to accumulate and horde their wealth to self determine and self actualize by not re-distributing the wealth concentrated amongst such a small percentage of our population.

The question we have to ask ourselves is 'Why should we grant freedom in one area in this scenario and not the other?'

My personal operating philosophy when it comes to supporting certain freedoms and opposing others are as follows: I support freedoms that promote equality, justice, and human potential. I oppose freedoms that cause harm to others while unfairly benefiting a specific empowered group. I support freedoms that allow individuals to self actualize, and oppose freedoms that cause individuals to stagnate.

I'm sure there are other aspects to my personal view of how freedoms should be allocated, but that's a good snapshot of my personal metric.

We should all have such a metric, and should all understand that when you're talking about freedom, you're not just talking about positives and negatives. With each positive comes a negative, and vice versa.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Why Live?

As Creed asked whenever Creed was asking things, 'What's this life for?'--and who wants to be in a world where there is Creed?

Attempting to comfort a suffering friend recently, I found myself jumping into a conversation with him with the intent on lightening his load, but found my mind immediately filled with questions of a different nature.

All of the platitudes a person offers someone going through a tough time felt hollow to me. I was calling myself out on bullshit left and right. Eventually, I came to feel like someone who stepped out on a ledge to talk someone else out of jumping, but then decided, 'hey, maybe I should jump too'.

These thoughts occur to me. There are philosophical answers to the question of whether or not we should go on living, but philosophical answers are of small consequence when the embrace of life and the retraction from it is something that is more felt in the blood than experienced in the brain.

This, it turns out, is actually much more than a metaphor:
"Because of the brain's complexity and inaccessibility, the search for predictors of suicide risk has instead focused on molecular signs, or biomarkers. These biomarkers help to indicate which people are at even higher risk. Niculescu and his colleagues have found six such biomarkers in blood that they say can identify people at risk of committing suicide."
So once again it comes down to the domain of science. Telling a person with depression that they 'have to make their own happiness' or 'fake it 'til you make it' is really weak tea. The problem of suicide is really something that is literally in the blood, and does not boil down to merely a conscious 'yes' or 'no' to the problem of existence.

And for many of us existence is a problem. It is a problem that comes bundled with a series of other problems too. There is not only the question of 'should I live', but there is the question of 'how should I live', and at every step along the line there is a chance for our answers to those questions to turn one way or the other.

I want to comfort my friends when they are suffering, but I understand the pull of existential crises entirely. When in the grips of a crisis, word barely suffice. Good advice can only go so far, and often feels more like it is intended to bolster the self worth of the advice giver than the person who is suffering. Is it best to simply be there for a person in crisis, to listen to them, to sympathize, or should we be rifling through our working memory for anecdotes and Facebook quotes that will make it sound like we've figured out something that we in no way have?

Sunday, August 18, 2013

My Conservative Issues

I spend a lot of time advocating for Marxist and liberal (there is a difference!) policies. I thought it might be worthwhile to highlight the political stances I have that might be considered more conservative, at least in a modern American context.

So here we go.

1. Death Penalty: I love the death penalty. In fact, I think we should use it more often, for larger segments of the criminal population. Example: rapists, pedophiles, and money criminals. If I were king, there would be executions of sex criminals and crooked CEO's and wall street bankers.

2. 'Teach the Controversy' in school: I think creationism is bullshit, but I think it would be beneficial to go over the controversy (as long as there is one) in science class. No sense in sexing up information by denying it a place in the public square. In fact, I think there should be comparative religion classes and bible study in public schools too, although I don't think the outcome of such a thing would be what the religious might hope for.

3. Guns: Buy all the guns you want. I'm a civil libertarian across the board. In fact, buy a bazooka if you can afford it.

4. Gay Marriage: Wait, what!? Is this some kind of trick? No. I agree with the conservative argument that marriage is a fundamental building block of society. That's why I believe it should be available to straight and gay families alike. More marriages, more stability, more loving houses for kids to grow up in. Simple.

5. Drill, baby, drill: I support drilling the shit out of our natural resources. Get all the oil out of the country in as clean and safe a way as possible, and use it for the benefit of our nation. Make us solvent. Also, go nuclear. Why not? It's true I believe these natural resources should also be nationalized and used to pay for universal healthcare, universal education, and universal housing, but when conservatives talk about pipelines and drilling, I'm right on board with them.

So those are at least 5 of my conservative issues. My general thought is that if you find yourself 100% in agreement with any party platform, you're probably a mindless sheep. How many issues do you disagree with your particular social group on? 

Friday, August 9, 2013

Choose Your Drugs Wisely

We're all getting fucked up in one way or the other. Some of us drink, some of us smoke, some of us shoot and snort. Some of us turn to religion. Some of us get our opiates in the political realm. Sometimes we need a little boost. Sometimes we need to come down.

I used to be a drinker, until I realized I was going to commit suicide if I didn't quit. I was drinking every night. It was ruining my life. I woke up with pains in my liver and depression every morning. It took a few attempts, but eventually I did it. Without groups and without Jesus. I know some people need groups and Jesus to quit, but I didn't, and I don't think everyone does. I've been sober for 2+ years now.

Now I'm going back and forth on caffeine. There's no real reason for me to quit my daily sugar free energy drink, but I feel compelled to. Back when I was a christian, I thought it was all about stripping away--getting rid of the things that stood between you and God. Maybe I'm still in that habit, and still trying to strip away things to get closer to something I don't even believe in anymore. Isn't that weird? Maybe that's what I'm doing.

But caffeine is not a horrible drug. There are tons of good drugs. Caffeine. The mood stabilizer I take every night. The antidepressant I take every morning, Antihistamines. Antibiotics. Stuff like that. And there are some drugs that are worse than others.

'No pills or powders' is what Harold Ramis's character in Knocked Up advises Seth Rogen's character. That seems to be a generally safe rule of thumb. Heroin, Meth, and Crack are awful. I've seen too many lives ruined and ended by those drugs. Then there's alcohol--way worse than marijuana, if you ask me. I would be more upset to find out my sons had been drinking booze than smoking a little pot; maybe it's because of the damage I have seen alcohol do to myself and people close to me.

But we will all get high. 'Everybody must get stoned', as Bob Dylan put it. Think about the shit that is in the food you eat. Talk about some fucked up drugs. We put horrible things into our bodies. And what about the shit we put in the air? Christ, we breathe in some horrible things. Then there are the ideas. We get high on those, too. Some are good, some are bad. We have to choose our ideas carefully. At least as carefully as we should choose our drugs


Sunday, August 4, 2013


I'm jealous of dogs and their ability
To form habits; they know
Just when it's time to eat, to sleep,
To shit, to go for a walk.
They are eager for these daily landmarks.
Me, the only habit I have ever succeeded at
Is drinking, and I've quit that.
I do not exercise, I do not meditate,
I do not clean the house or shave,
I do not review the paperwork
In a timely fashion.
Only drinking, and I've quit that.
Drinking, and being alive.
Those are my only habits,
And I am not a dog; I am no good at habits.