There’s an old song that goes, “I’m tired and I wanna go home. I’m tired and a I wanna go home.”
Good gravy, I’m tired. I’m tired of the world, I’m tired of work, I’m tired of war, I’m tired of the ceaseless erosion of my humanity and the humanity of others, I’m tired of this fucking pandemic, I’m tired of fascism, I’m tired of cleaning the kitchen, I’m tired of trying to eat healthy, I’m tired of doctor’s and appointments, I’m tired of loved ones being unwell, I’m tired of friends beating themselves up for not being superhuman and constantly 24/7 productive. I’m tired of the Eschaton. Or the Jackpot if you prefer Gibson’s term.
I’m even tired of telling stories. I’m just tired.
I want to sit on the couch and watch cooking videos on youtube for at least a month. There’s no gas in the tank. There’s no funk in my funky. There’s no bomp in my bomp bah bomp bah bomp and no ram in my rama lama ding dong.
You know, I bet you’re tired too.
The other day I was thinking about classism and racism and intersectionality and the concept of “grit,” of “get ‘er done,” of “sisu.” Whatever you want to call it. Sundays too my father got up early/and put on his clothes in the blueblack cold.
I’m a working class kid, and I feel like that is a working-class value. Not hustle, not what I once described as Charlie the Tuna trying to make himself palatable enough to be devoured by the industrial food machine as the perfect metaphor for metastatic capitalism, but doing the dumb thing you gotta do. (Touch the puppethead.)
(For everybody too young to remember 1990 clearly, I encourage you to google those last two references. There are rewards.)
The idea of “grit” has been appropriated by the gilded overlords (even the Met Gala knows this is Gilded Age 2.0, which… oh, the irony. Oh, the despair. Robber baronage is okay if you’re doing it ironically? If you’re nice and know better?) as a stick to beat underpaid, overworked, marginalized “essential workers” into hustling harder, and that’s a hell of a thing. No, it doesn’t actually matter if you work six minimum wage jobs while going to night school: the system in rigged to keep you in debt and working like a dog until you pitch over. And we’re going to make sure you have no access to birth control, health care, mental health care, or abortions so you’re sick and depressed and have more kids than you care for too, just to really keep you on the ropes.
And you can have a little cascading climate catastrophe. As a treat.
Horatio Alger is a lie.
But I still maintain that real grit is valuable. The ability to Do Thing even when it’s nearly impossible is a skill that has served me well in this life. The thing is, it needs to be counterbalanced with the ability to let ourselves rest—and to force others to let us rest. Because they won’t: our entire society is designed to wring profit out of us, because we have moved into a cultural space where the only value is growth and shareholder profit, even if extracting those things destroys the organism.
I don’t think capitalism is evil per se, any more than I think socialism is evil. I think they are economic strategies that work best in conjunction with one another, and by “best,” I mean “increase the well-being of the maximum number of individuals.” I think wealth extraction is evil, and I think what I refer to as metastatic capitalism is evil.
I think large businesses can be great, when they have a corporate mission that is not “shareholder dollars” and a vision that extends beyond This Fiscal Quarter.
I think small businesses are great. I run one. I essentially am one.
I refer to the post-Milton-Friedman (fuck that guy) neo-liberal religion as metastatic capitalism because it is all about unchecked growth, consumption, and not giving anything back to the commonwealth. (Have you noticed that nobody ever talks about the commonwealth any more? Let’s bring that back.) Metastatic capitalism devours, destroys, and eventually kills the host. We see its real apotheosis in Russia right now, where inequality is (astoundingly) even worse than in America, where if you build a successful small business six will get you twenty that somebody with more money and more power will just come along and take it from you (and maybe send you to jail for a crime you didn’t commit).
There’s always a worse cyberpunk dystopia, if you’re willing to do a little digging.
Not that ours is great, mind. Forty or fifty years of Greed Is Good have not been kind to our society or the well-being of our people. And we’re brainwashed into thinking this is just how it is, and just how it ought to be. And that techbro billionaires are gonna save us. (Spoiler alert. I’m being handed an envelope now…)
I don’t know how to fix it, but the first step is in recognizing the problem and putting a name on it. The second step is organizing, building coalitions, and embracing solidarity.
And other steps… well, we’ve seen this in history before. This is not our first go-round with robber barons, with fascists, or with imperial ambitions. I won’t say I have faith that everything will turn out fine, because I don’t. But I do believe in grit, in sisu, in 89-year-old Ukrainian grandmothers picking up rifles, in people who individually and collectively will not back down.
I’m tired too. But it’s probably time to get serious and to dig in. It’s not going to get any easier from here.