Category: General

Relationship Anarchy is not for fuckboys (or polyamorists)

This is really a great piece. Really great.

Real relationship anarchy is political. There’s just no way around it. How could it be otherwise, when it has roots in political anarchism? Relationship anarchy is not about getting your dick wet and looking cool while you do it. It’s not about sounding hipper than all the other polyamorists. You can do polyamory without any political consciousness whatsoever, and you can definitely do monogamy without it. You can be mono or poly in service of the capitalist hetero-patriarchy. Most people are. But you can’t do relationship anarchy without some awareness of the socio-political context you’re operating in and how you’re attempting to go against that grain out of a genuine belief in certain concrete principles. Those concrete principles are nothing so basic and shallow as “freedom” (to fuck) or “honesty.” They’re the kind of political principles that you can base an effective social movement on: a movement that offers an alternative to the capitalist hetero-patriarchy’s commodification of bodies, sex, and love; to the sabotage of female solidarity in friendship and romantic love; to neoliberal capitalism’s goal of the isolated couple and nuclear family; to the homophobia and toxic gender crap that prevents even nonsexual/nonromantic connection and intimacy between members of the same sex.

[…R]elationship anarchy resonates with me so much because its principles amount to a friendship ethic. The word “friendship” is widely used as a broad, vague, often meaningless term, but to me, friendship as this deep, intimate, important, positive bond between humans is described really well by the above set of principles. Friendship leans away from interpersonal coercion by default and can’t survive under the burden of it for long. Mutual aid and cooperation are in friendship’s very nature; you could even define friendship by those qualities: helping and supporting each other out of desire and not duty. And when friendship is committed, that commitment is done in a spirit of communication, not drawn up as a contract, which what marriage is: a legal contract binding romantic partners.

[…]

Being a relationship anarchist doesn’t mean you have to fuck more than one person at a time, because relationship anarchy is not about sexual nonmonogamy, even though it is usually inclusive of sexual nonmonogamy. Relationship anarchy is not polyamory sans the obvious hierarchy of romantic partners. It’s about doing relationships with community-centric values, not couple-centric values. Above all, it’s about relating to other human beings without coercive authority in play and without hierarchy in your group of relationships or in any relationship itself.

I fucking cringe when I read about polyamorous people defining “relationship anarchy” using nonhierarchal polyamory’s terms, just as I cringe when I hear stories of men pulling the RA card on their casual sexcapades. Not just because of how unbelievably inaccurate, apolitical, and ignorant it is but because in both cases, “relationship anarchy” is falsely used to describe the kind of romance supremacist, friendship-excluding, sex-centric lifestyles that are diametrically opposed to authentic relationship anarchy.

The capitalist, heteronormative, patriarchal state promotes relationship hierarchies based on romance supremacy and amatonormativity. It endorses treating sex like a product, protects heterosexual men in their consumption of female bodies as sexual objects, promotes the buying and selling of women’s sexualized bodies. The capitalist heteronormative patriarchal state WANTS you to invest all of your free time, energy, resources, and emotion into romantic couplehood, into marriage, into sex. It WANTS you to devalue friendship, to stay isolated from everyone who isn’t your romantic partner, to be a self-interested individual with no ties or commitments to anyone but your spouse. Why? Because friendship could lead to community and community could lead to collective political action, which could turn into revolution. And because friendship and community are almost impossible to commodify and harness for the purpose of feeding into the capitalist economy and creating bigger profits for the wealthy elite. Sex and romance make rich people money all day every day. They sell it to you every waking moment. They can’t use friendship and community to sell you shit. They can’t turn friendship and community into products. If they could, they would’ve spent the last century doing so, instead of teaching the public that friendship is worthless and money is more important than community.

So don’t tell me that you’re entitled to call your polyamory or your casual sex “relationship anarchy,” as you conduct your social life with anti-anarchism principles and the same amatonormativity that all the coupled up monogamists preach and believe in. Don’t tell me you’re a “relationship anarchist” when you don’t give a fuck about friendship or community or political resistance, just sex and romance and your freedom to be nonmonogamous.

Relationship anarchy is not a cover for fuckboys. And it is not nonhierarchical polyamory.

Look at how little the actual contents/merit of ideas matters to the Tumblr peanut gallery

Humor me for a few short minutes and let’s conduct an experiment. Have a look at these two posts. You don’t have to read them thoroughly if you don’t want to, just scroll through and skim them quickly. In fact, it’s better if you wait to read the two posts too closely until the end. Okay, ready?

  1. The first post is: A Sneak Peek at Better Angels’ Buoy: the private, enhanced 9-1-1 for your personal community
  2. The second post is: Buoy (the first?) anti-policing community-based crisis response system, now available in Spanish

Both were cross-posted to Tumblr. (Post 1, Post 2.) Both posts describe the same exact thing, a software tool (an “app”) for community-based crisis response. Both posts describe how it can be used instead of police intervention. Both posts even end with similar post scripts. The first post ends with this hidden message in the post’s tags:

Did you notice how incredibly toned-down this post was?

And the second post ends with this P.S.:

P.S. Did you notice how this post has a different tone than my original post announcing Buoy’s prototype release? Guess which one expresses how I really feel.

Now, have a look at some early Tumblr responses to each post.

Here are some representative responses that one of the posts got within 5 days of its publication:

  • From salchristina:

    This is great! Right now I’m working with some psychiatric survivors in Vermont to start an SMS crisis-support hotline so people can safely/easily contact a group of likeminded people, and hopefully have less interaction with crisis service / cops.

  • From limnrix:

    I kind of want to see if it’s possible to connect this to a volunteer medic system (and be one of those medics, although it doesn’t look like I’ll be renewing my certification)

Now, here’s a representative response that the other post got within 5 minutes of its publication:

  • From brazenautomaton:

    I don’t think someone whose views are this skewed can be trusted with… pretty much anything involving personal safety or protection from harm. […] American police, much like America as a whole, are terrible awful bad evil worst, until you compare them to any of the other things they can be compared to. The police are corrupt and need reform, don’t get me wrong. But saying that since they are corrupt, a better option is to cut them out altogether, is one of the worst ideas a person could ever have. […] And my personal heuristic is that any anarchists who are this smug about it cannot correctly assess anything and their perceptions cannot be trusted to any extent.

Quite a stark difference. Remember, these responses are both coming from relatively Left-leaning people who have never been exposed to Buoy before. The only difference is in which post about it they read first. And again, remember that the posts themselves contain relatively similar content relating to the software itself; both describe how the tool works, what its capabilities are, etc. Both posts explicitly discuss the potential for responding to crisis incidents without police getting involved. Both posts contain screenshots or videos showing the software in action.

Now go back and have another, more thorough read of the two posts themselves. Notice anything different about them? I’m sure you do. So, pop quiz: can you connect the dots and figure out which post the people having these reactions saw first?

Same ideas. Identical app. Different tone.

That is what tone policing looks like, people. The biggest strategic failure of so-called Left politics in this country is that so-called Leftists attack people who push politics to the Left literally within seconds of such speech being uttered. I mean, who needs to worry about the Religious Right when you have a political Left that does the Right’s job for them? And then these same leftists often wonder why politics is dominated by right-wing fanatics.

Duh!

Maybe y’all should be asking yourselves questions like, “Why is it that all it takes to radically swing my position from supporting something to being against that same thing is the tone with which it was presented and not the merits or the contents of the thing itself?” And, if you do that, maybe you’ll find an answer that explains why other people, such as those who work for advertisers and PR agencies, are able to manipulate and control everything about you with such ease, from the way you vote to the way you think to what you are even capable of imagining is possible.

Just saying.

Or, y’know, you could just keep scrolling through your dash. That’s probably just as good. Probably.

Just say OXI to capitalists: How to understand what’s happening in Greece and why it’s a big fucking deal

Greece gives austerity foisted on them by the Troika the middle finger.

Gotta admit, I haven’t been as excited about the result of a vote, of all things, as I am about the Greek referendum rejecting continued austerity through forced imperialist-capitalism. Here’s a brief roundup of articles explaining the situation that I liked, along with my own commentary sprinkled in for good measure.

Let’s start with an unusually easy-to-read and easy-to-understand article from Business Insider, whose headline is all but shouting from the rooftops in all-caps. Their article, GREECE JUST TAUGHT CAPITALISTS A LESSON ABOUT HOW CAPITALISM WORKS, reads as follows:

Greece has effectively voted to default on its debt to the IMF [which is the International Monetary Fund, basically a gigantic multi-national bank controlled by Western military powers like the USA] and the EU[, in other words, Greece voted to outright defy demands that it pay back money it borrowed], and it is a massive defeat for Germany’s Angela Merkel and the troika [“troika” is a nickname given to the three major capitalist banking institutions, of which the IMF is one] she led, which insisted there was no way out for Greece but to pay back its massive debts.

The vote is huge lesson for conservatives and anyone else who thinks this is about a dilettante government of left-wing idealists who think they can flout the law while staging some kind of Che Guevara-esque dream:

Wrong.

This is what capitalism is really about.

From the beginning, Merkel and the EU have operated from the position that because Greece took on debt, Greece now needs to pay it back. That position assumed — bizarrely, in hindsight — that debt only works one way: if you lend someone money, then they pay it back.

But that is NOT how free markets work.

Debt is not a guarantee of future payments in full. Rather, it is a risk that creditors take, in hopes of maybe being paid tomorrow.

The key word there is “risk.”

If you’re willing to take the risk, you’ll get a premium — in the form of interest.

But the downside of that risk is that you lose your money. And Greece just called Germany’s bluff.

The IMF loaned Greece 1.5 billion euros, due back in June, and Greece isn’t paying it back. Greece has another 3.5 billion due to the ECB in July, and that looks really doubtful right now. [The ECB is the European Central Bank, the bank that controls the Euro currency; the ECB is basically Europe’s version of the Federal Reserve, i.e., “the Fed,” that thing Libertarians hate.]

This is how capitalism works. The fact that it took a democratically elected government whose own offices are adorned with posters of Lenin, Engels and Guevara to teach this lesson to Germany is astonishing.

More astonishing still is that Merkel et al knew Greece could not pay back this debt before these negotiations started. The IMF’s own assessment of Greek debt, published just a few days ago, states: “Coming on top of the very high existing debt, these new financing needs render the debt dynamics unsustainable …”

“Unsustainable”! Germany’s own bankers knew Greece couldn’t pay this back. And yet Merkel persisted.

At this point you’re probably wondering, “Why on God’s green Earth would Merkel and other European political leaders agree to loan money to people they knew could not pay it back?” Well, do y’all remember that big “global financial crisis” in 2008? Yeah, so, about that:

There is another key fact that the Greeks are keenly aware of (but which everyone else has forgotten). This debt was initially owed to private investment banks, like Goldman Sachs. But the IMF and the ECB made the suicidal decision to let those private banks transfer that debt to EU institutions and the IMF to “rescue” Greece. As Business Insider reported back in April, former ECB president Jean-Claude Trichet insisted that the debt transfer take place:

The ECB president “blew up,” according to one attendee. “Trichet said, ‘We are an economic and monetary union, and there must be no debt restructuring!’” this person recalled. “He was shouting.”

[“Debt restructuring” is a euphemism that basically means the terms of a loan that was already made gets changed, usually to benefit the borrower, which has happened countless times throughout history and dates back to Biblical times, but that capitalist bankers basically never want to admit is possible because it means they don’t get their money back.] The result was that the ECB made this catastrophically stupid deal with Greece, according to our April report:

And so there was no restructuring agreed for Greece. The country paid off its immediate debts to the private financial sector — investment banks, basically — and replacement debt was laid onto European taxpayers [that is to say, instead of forcing the private sector’s big banks to account for their own financial losses, the financial records/”agreements” were altered so that the Greek government and thus the Greek taxpayer was held responsible for replacing the money that the non-Greek/big bank creditors lost]. The government [of Greece—which at the time was controlled primarily by corrupt conservatives, more on that in a moment—]agreed to a package of harsh government spending cuts and structural reforms [in other words, cutting social services, things we think of as “food stamps” and the like, and making daily life even harder for the already-poorest Greeks] in exchange for loans totalling €110 billion over three years.

Trichet made a colossal, elementary mistake. [Or so Business Insider likes to characterize it. But was it a “mistake,” or an economic power grab that ended up as an overreach thanks to Greek defiance? Hold that thought!] The right place for risky debt by definition is in the private markets, like Goldman. The entire point of private debt investment is that those creditors are prepared for a haircut. The risk absolutely should not be borne by central banks who rely on taxpayer money for bailouts.

In fact, had Trichet made the opposite decision — and left the Greek debt with Goldman et al — then today’s vote would be a footnote rather than a headline in history. “Goldman Sachs takes a bath on Greek debt.” Who cares? Goldman shareholders and clients, surely. But it would not have triggered a crisis at the heart of the EU. [In other words, if the ECB had let Goldman Sachs eat the losses they, themselves, brought on themselves, rather than demanding that already-poor countries like Greece make up for the lost revenue on Goldman’s behalf, Greek’s defiance today would not be a big deal, obviously. But since the ECB insisted that the public sector, i.e., regular working people, pay back the capitalist bankers’s own lost money, Greek’s vote to defy doing so is a major blow to the Troika’s power.]

Now Italy, Spain and Portugal are watching Greece closely, and thinking, hey, maybe we can get out of this mess too.

Not just the other EU states, though! The rest of the world, too. Like, say, American students saddled with student loan debt. After all, if an entire country can just refuse to pay back money it supposedly owes—even though they didn’t really owe any money to start with (it was really Goldman Sach’s debt), an important detail we’ll talk about in more detail a little later—why can’t you or I just refuse to pay back our student loans, or our credit cards? What’s stopping us from just saying we won’t pay back money we borrowed? It’s clearly not impossible to do just that! Look at what Greece is doing!

But of course, since this article is in Business Insider—which is basically capitalism’s version of a fetish magazine—despite being a fantastic summary of the history, its conclusions take a bizarre turn for the demagogically extreme against Greece’s defiance, predicting disaster for the Greek people:

Now, before we all start singing “The Red Flag” and breaking out old videos of “The Young Ones” in celebration, let’s inject a note of realism. Greece isn’t actually a country full of crazy socialists who don’t understand how the FX [that is, Foreign eXchange] markets work. In fact, a huge chunk of its tax collection problems[, which is one of the reasons the Greek economy has been shrinking for years] stem from the fact that there are two and a half times more self-employed and small business people in Greece than there are in the average country. And small businesses are expert at avoiding tax, Greece’s former tax collector told Business Insider’s Mike Bird recently. [Which may be true, but let’s not forget, dear capitalist wet dream magazine, that large businesses are even more expert at avoiding taxes, duh.]

Conservatives who hate paying taxes and who urge small businesses to pursue tax avoidance strategies take note: Your dream just came true in Greece.

If Greece was more socialist — more like Germany, with its giant corporations that have massive unionised workforces paying taxes off their payrolls — then tax collection would be a lot higher in Greece. [Eh, maybe, because let’s remember that tax collection, just like banking, is actually a “voluntary compliance” system, because agencies like the IRS don’t actually have a budget for hiring people to force citizens to pay taxes. Instead, the government, through a combination of its IRS auditors and law violence enforcement arms, can only retro-actively punish people for not paying taxes. This distinction matters because it’s actually exactly the same model as credit cards and debts: if you loan someone money and they don’t or can’t pay it back, what can you do about it? Sure, maybe you can afford to hire someone to break their legs, but the point is that, in America, the IRS literally can’t afford to do that to everyone who pays taxes. They can only afford to commit violence again (in the form of incarceration) or violently threaten, a few people who they are also able to catch not having paid taxes sometime in the past. And what if you loan money to an entire country and that entire country collectively declares it just won’t pay you back. What if every citizen of that country collectively decides, en-masse, they just won’t pay taxes anymore? Sound familiar to any Americans celebrating Independence day this weekend? No? Does a tea party sound good to you right about now? As the ruling government, what are you gonna do? Break the legs of every citizen in that country? Nuke it? Srsly, what you gonna do?]

Greece is now likely an international pariah on the debt markets. It may have to start printing its own devalued drachma currency. It will have no access to credit. Sure, olive oil, feta and raki will suddenly become incredibly cheap commodities on the export markets. Tourism in Greece is about to become awesome. But mostly it will be awful. Unemployment will increase as Greece’s economy implodes.

But the awfulness will be Greece’s alone. Greece is now on its own path. It is deciding its own fate.

There is something admirable about that.

Told you: Business Insider is predictably pessimistic about the Greek people’s own ability to make due without invading capitalist banking systems, almost to the point of outright racism. I mean, we can’t have people thinking a total break with capitalism will lead to anything other than death and starvation, now can we, Business Insider? But also, damn those dirty, untrustworthy, irresponsible Greeks, amirite? No. Just no. A blog post on Interfluidity perfectly sums up why not:

Greece is a remarkable country full of wonderful people, but along dimensions of development and governance, the place is plainly pretty fucked up. It has been fucked up that way for a long time, for decades at least. This has never been secret. Anyone who has visited Athens knows it has far more in common with Bucharest or Istanbul than with orderly Western European capitals. In the run up to Greece’s joining the Euro [i.e., abandoning their national currency in favor of the European Union’s joint currency], everyone who wanted to know knew that Greece’s qualifications to join the Eurozone were, shall we say, ambitious. Mainstream establishment banks “helped” Greece and other Southern European countries with accounting fudges that, while perhaps obscure, were not secret even at the time. Despite protestations when these deals hit the news in 2010 that officials were “shocked, shocked”, they were explicitly blessed by the agency that compiles the statistics on which Eurozone entrance was based in 2002 and Greece’s gaming was extensively reported in 2003 (ht Heidi Moore, both cites). The Euro was and ought to be primarily a political enterprise. In order to sell the common currency to Northern European elites, its architects required Eurozone members to meet strict “convergence criteria” and especially the requirements of the Stability and Growth Pact. But in practice, those criteria have always been interpreted flexibly. Most Eurozone members have broken their promises at one point or another, including both Germany and France. The Euro was a unification project, and erred (not unreasonably, I think) on the side of building a big tent.

Emphasis added because this is really important, my fellow navel-gazing Americans: the Eurozone and its unifying currency has always been about consolidating political power through economic power. That is, the whole point of the European Union is to be a single political union, not “a single monetary and economic one,” as former ECB president Jean-Claude Trichet screamed it was when denying Greece the courtesy of debt restructuring. As we’ll see, the presence of a unifying currency (the Euro) only benefits the rich members, while shitting on the poor members, despite all the promises to the contrary.

In simpler terms, what this means is that “the Eurozone” is like Europe’s version of the “United States.” Europe is a a lot of countries in a similar way as America is a lot of States. “Unifying” those smaller, disparate regional communities into one larger group of people has the effect of creating an even more powerful entity than all those that previously existed, but without being accountable to the smaller or less powerful constituent members. If the individual pieces of that entity all like, trust, and cooperate with one another, this kind of consolidation is a win-win, the very best of human ingenuity and empathy. But when there is animosity, resentment, or coercion between those groups, creating a larger super-group is bound to be, well, “problematic,” to put it mildly. This is pretty obvious stuff to anyone who’s ever tried playing a board game at a party one night with someone they can’t stand. And just as with the Euro, the value of a US dollar goes a lot farther in some States than it does in others, which tends to be good for richer States and bad for poorer ones.

Now, the way geopolitical power works today (in the model that world governments and nation states still operate under and have existed in since the Peace of Westphalia and the end of feudalism), is that, in basic terms, the amount of political power an entity such as a country has comes in part from sheer geographic size and in part from the unification of the beliefs and goals of the people in that geographic region. In other words, the more people in a single physical space that believe the same things, that want the same things, who make their goals the goals of their neighbors, the more political power that group has. If that unification of belief and goals is missing, there is, of course, an alternative: violence. Someone doesn’t agree with you? They won’t do what you want voluntary? Just force them to!

This is why empires colonize. It’s not rocket science, people. An empire is simply a nation state with a lot of people “belonging to” it (whatever that means) who have a lot of weapons and who use those weapons to project the power those weapons give them outside of their own home. In other word, they’re bullies. This rather bluntly describes the political foreign policy objectives of the United States and most of the richer Eurozone members like England, France, and Germany, and has throughout much of history. (World Wars. Crusades. Slave trade. And on, and on….) These are colonialist countries; they colonize other territories for the explicit purpose of increasing the amount of power they have.

Forget currency for a minute. Take one more step back, don’t think dollars. Think bullets. Forget debts. Think deaths. From a geopolitical perspective, currency and bullets are effectively two sides of the same coin. Whoever has the bullets sets the economic terms. The remarkable difference between the “barbarous” days of pre-history and today’s modern “civilization” is that, today, we have many more and different tools of violence and coercion than just big swords or guns (although we have those, too). We have tools like money, or to put it in even more euphemistically whitewashed terms, economic policy.

Which brings us back to the wrinkle that the Business Insider article conveniently overlooked: how did it come to be that the troika was able to just unilaterally decide that Greece had to pay back the debt that Goldman Sachs and other private sector banks actually incurred? How did that even happen? That’s like if you go out to dinner with three rich guys who all want to eat at a 5-star hotel restaurant (hey, they can afford it), and you want to go to a corner deli (because that’s the only thing within your budget), and somehow y’all hit up the 5-star hotel restaurant but you’re the one holding the bill at the end of the night. Like, hold the fucking phone, ya know?

The Interfluidity article described the issue here really nicely:

The European financial system was architected to make lending to Greece — and Spain and Portugal and Italy — a money machine for bankers with little career risk over a medium term. Sketchy credits tend to punch above their weight in terms of volume of issuance, so there was a lot of nice paper to buy. The bankers who lent to these states understood perfectly well that there was in fact a long-term risk, an uncertainty, a constructive ambiguity. They lent anyway, and took home very nice salaries and bonuses for doing so. It was conventional to lend, the mainstream consensus was that credit risk was over and worry warts were old-fashioned, Europe was strong and would work this out. If the worry warts turned out to be right, it was likely years away, IBGYBG.

When the game was up, when the global house of credit cards collapsed in the late Aughts, European leaders had a choice. They had knowingly and purposefully brought weak states into the Eurozone, because they genuinely, even nobly, wished to build a large, strong, United Europe. [Although who really still believes that it was about anything other than the money?] When they did so, they understood there would be crises. A unified Europe, they had always claimed, would be forged one crisis at a time. The right thing to have done for Europe at this point would have been to point out the regulatory errors and misaligned incentives that encouraged profligate lending and enabled corruption and waste among borrowers, and fix those. Banks that had made bad loans would acknowledge losses. The banks themselves would have to be restructured or bailed out.

But “bank restructuring” is a euphemism for imposing losses on wealthy creditors [i.e., “bank restructuring” is a way to say that those rich guys who stuck you with the bill should actually have to pay their own share of said bill]. And explicit bank bailouts are humiliations of elites, moments when the mask comes off and the usually tacit means by which states preserve and enhance the comfort of the comfortable must give way to very visible, very unpopular, direct cash flows.

The choice Europe’s leaders faced was to preserve the union or preserve the wealth, prestige, and status of the community of people who were their acquaintances and friends and selves but who are entirely unrepresentative of the European public. They chose themselves. The formal institutions of the EU endure, but European community is now failing fast.

It is difficult to overstate how deeply Europe’s leaders betrayed the ideals of European integration in their handing of the Greek crisis. The first and most fundamental goal of European integration was to blur the lines of national feeling and interest through commerce and interdependence, in order to prevent the fractures along ethnonational lines that made a charnel house of the continent, twice. [Two World Wars leaves a bunch of scars, after all….] That is the first thing, the main rule, that anyone who claims to represent the European project must abide: We solve problems as Europeans together, not as nations in conflict. Note that in the tale as told so far, there really was no meaningful national dimension. Regulatory mistakes and agency issues within banks encouraged poor credit decisions. Spanish banks lent into overpriced real estate, and German banks lent to a state they knew to be weak [that is, they lent to Greece]. Current account imbalances within the Eurozone — persistent and unlikely to reverse without policy attention — implied as a matter of arithmetic that there would be loan flows on a scale that might encourage a certain indifference to credit quality. [Which is to say, the math doesn’t equal out. Somewhere, someone’s debt is going to be forgiven. The question is whose? The rich banker shitfucks, or yours?] These were European problems, not national problems. But they were European problems that festered while the continent’s leaders gloated and took credit for a phantom prosperity. When the levee broke, instead of acknowledging errors and working to address them as a community, Europe’s elites — its politicians and civil servants, its bankers and financiers [the Goldman Sachs, the hedge funds, the corrupt politicians, the guys who just said “IBGYBG” and made off with mountains of cash in the process] — deflected the blame in the worst possible way. They turned a systemic problem of financial architecture[, an architecture that, due to the unaccountability of the big banks, systemically incentivized major corporate fraud that reached a head in 2008,] into a dispute between European nations. They brought back the very ghosts their predecessors spent half a century trying to dispell. Shame. Shame. Shame. Shame.

[…]

With respect to Greece, the precise thing that European elites did to set the current chain of events in motion was to replace private debt with public during the 2010 first “bailout of Greece”. [The taxpayer got stuck with the bill. Again. And this is that bait-and-switch again! How did they just “replace” it???] Prior to that event, it was obvious that blame was multipolar. Here are the banks, in France, in Germany, that foolishly lent. Not just to Greece, but to Goldman’s synthetic CDOs and every other piece of idiot paper they could carry with low risk-weights. In 2010, the EU, ECB, and IMF laundered a bailout of mostly French and German banks through the Greek fisc. Cash flowed into Greece only so it could flow out to rickety banks. Now, suddenly, the banks were absolved. There were very few bad loans left on the books of European lenders, everyone was clean, no bad actors at all. Except one. There were the institutions, the “troika”, clearly the good guys, so “helpful” with their generous offer of funds. And then there was Greece. What had been a mudwrestling match, everybody dirty, was transformed into mass of powdered wigs accusing a single filthy penitent [the Greeks] (or, when the people with their savings in just-rescued banks decide to be generous, a petulant misbehaving child). [antidote]

[…]

But don’t the Greeks want to borrow more? Isn’t that what all the fuss is about right now? No. The Greeks need to borrow money now only because old loans are coming due that they have to pay, and they have been trying to come to an agreement about that, rather than raise a middle finger and walk away. The Greek state itself is not trying to expand its borrowing. Greece’s citizens and businesses would like to expand the country’s borrowing indirectly, by withdrawing Euros from Greek banks that the Greek banks won’t be able to come up with unless they are allowed to expand their borrowing from the ECB. That is, Greece’s citizens are in precisely the place France’s citizens and Germany’s citizens were in 2010, at risk that personal savings maintained as bank deposits will not be repaid. Something was worked out for French and German citizens. Other than resorting to the ethnonational stereotypes that European elites have now revived in polite company, what is the justification for a Greek schoolteacher losing her savings that wouldn’t have applied just as strongly to a French schoolteacher five years ago? Because Greeks are responsible, as individuals, for what the governments they elect do? Well, then I deserve to be killed for what my government has done in Iraq and elsewhere. Is that where we want to go?

Put another way, France and Germany and the United Kingdom and Belgium and all these richer EU member countries didn’t get stuck with massive amounts of public debt when their banking systems came to a screeching halt due to the very same kind of banker malfeasance and political corruption that’s been plaguing Greece. Have a look at this chart showing the differences between the various “recoveries” that the troika’s “helpful” policies have provided for different EU member states:

Chart shows the Real gross domestic product of various EU member states following the 2008 global financial meltdown. Only the UK, Germany, Belgium and France have had growing economies. Greece's economy has plummetted.

That is to say, in the version of the three-rich-guys-take-you-out-to-dinner-story for French or German citizens, you (the citizen) didn’t get stuck with the bill. But in that version, you’re French, or German, or English. You weren’t Greek. Only in the Greek version of this story does the regular citizen, the worker, the taxpayer, only in the Greek version, the version of the story featuring an already-poor country, it’s only in that version where you get stuck with the bill at the end of the night. Because fuck Greek people, right?

And this is the ultimate answer to the puzzle of how the troika saddled Greek with public debt: because they had the political and economic power, backed by many, many more bullets than Greece has, to do it. When you peel away all the layers of bureaucratic and linguistic euphemisms, what it boils down to is the ability to muster sheer force to enact one’s will. In the case of the Eurozone, it is in the elite’s interest to stir up racist stereotypes of lazy, irresponsible Greeks because that pits Frenchman against Grecian. This is exactly what US politicians do when they invoke racist stereotypes of “welfare queens,” conveniently forgetting that welfare was very strongly supported by social conservatives so long as the public funds went only to widowed white women, keeping them in the kitchen and out of the workforce, which was the original intent of social welfare programs. It wasn’t until Black women got in on the deal that the narrative was flipped on its head. Point is, if you’re a banker who’s made mountains of cash while knowingly offloading long-term risk to your fellow citizens, it’s way better to have all Frenchmen hating all Greeks than to have all Frenchmen less wealthy than you are (which would be most of them) and all Greeks hating you. Just as if you’re a racist white demagogue politician in Amerikkka, it’s better to have poor white people hating poor Black people than have all Black people and poor white people hating you together. It’s a tactic right out of the classic colonial playbook: divide and conquer.

Hence why the Greeks’s collective refusal to accept the newly-horrific terms of their already-heartless creditors (the troika) is so meaningful: it shines the spotlight of culpability directly back on the creditors, avoiding the ethnonational and racial accusations that the capitalist bankers are using to wage their class war. The Greeks are not paying the bill they’ve been unfairly stuck with, and they damn well shouldn’t have to, not just because it’s unfair, but because it’s actually even worse for them than I’ve let on so far. Unlike the overly simplified analogy of the dinner bill, the actual Greek people—the schoolteachers that Interfluidity mentions and even the conservative small business owners that Business Insider mentions, I mean the actual humans that make up the Grecian population—these actual humans didn’t even get to enjoy the 5 star meal. They’ve been dealt cuts to social services imposed by the economic policies of their creditors. This latest “No” vote was not just a refusal to pay back debts that weren’t even fairly levied against them in the first place, but also to refuse to agree to even worse terms of the deal than they originally had.

Greece is supposedly the birthplace of the model of democracy that America likes to tout as delivering a truly free society. Well, there’s certainly something decidedly American about what’s happening in Greece, “where, in the Course of human events [it became] necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another.” This idea of national independence that was so eloquently composed by the American revolutionaries when they were colonies has now been adopted by the Greek populace, who correctly feel as though they’re being treated like a colony of an invading European (and American) Empire. Whether or not Greece chooses to leave the European Union formally, a so-called #Grexit, as Scotland almost did for similar reasons, remains to be seen, but there’s no question now that this will be determined in large part by just how heartless and sociopathic Greece’s creditors are.

And while there may be some historical analogies to draw here, many things are also decidedly different between the United States and Greece today. The biggest difference relates to who Greece’s creditors actually are, versus who America’s creditors really are. Again, Interfluidity hits the nail on the head:

If citizens aren’t going to be held responsible for their governments’ bad debts, how will sovereigns borrow at all? Well, how do firms raise equity, when an equity claim makes no promise whatsoever that any cash will be returned? People invest in shares not because they have any sword of Damocles to hold over the enterprise, but because they believe the firm will engage in activities sufficiently productive that throwing some cash back to investors will not be burdensome, and because firms know repayment enhances access to continued finance. The same is true of sovereigns like the United States or the UK, which borrow easily in currencies they can print any time. Nothing prevents the US from conjuring $100T USD and handing it out to citizens, engineering a one-time inflation that leaves outstanding bonds nearly worthless. It wouldn’t even constitute a default. But the US has organized itself in ways that persuade creditors that their funds will be treated reasonably. Inflexible debt sows seeds of coercion and enmity between borrower and lender. Equity-like arrangements, including “debt” denominated in securities issuable at will by the debtor, require and encourage trust and collaboration. Sovereign debt in particular should always look like the latter, not the former, given the regularity with which government borrowings are disbursed into insiders’ bank accounts rather than used to aid the publics who might be pressured to foot the bill.

The United States, the United Kingdom, and the Eurozone can all do something Greece simply cannot, or at least cannot if it remains agrees to remain under the strict control of the troika as things were until now: Greece cannot arbitrarily create more money. Remember, the United States can just print more money. Literally, that’s what the Fed does. If there’s a need for more dollars, the Fed just decrees, like God Himself, that the money exists, and it does. Why can’t Greece do that? Because Greece has basically no power in the troika; the IMF and the ECB are not Greek institutions. In contrast, the Fed is an American institution, so if the American government finds itself lacking dollars, it does not need to petition some external actor to create more of them. It just creates those dollars itself.

What’s bizarre here is that Britain has basically the same situation as the United States, because they trade in Pounds Sterling, not Euros, even though they’re a Eurozone member. Strange, right? What gives London the right to set its own economic policy, to decide its own monetary interest rate, while other Eurozone member states like Greece are forced to adopt the policies of the (largely British) troika? Again: bullets.

In other words, Greece’s creditors are, of course, the richer European countries and—surprise, surprise—the American government and its corporate puppet masters through their influence at institutions like the IMF (which is headquarted in Washington, D.C., by the way). Here’s what Interfluidity has to say about that:

Blaming victims for having insufficiently perfect leaders is standard fare for apologists of predation. Unfortunately, understanding this may be of little comfort to the disemboweled prey.

Europe’s creditors are behaving exactly as one might naively predict private creditors would behave, seeking to get as much blood from the stone as quickly as possible, indifferent to the cost in longer-term growth. And that, in fact, is a puzzle! Greece’s creditors are not nervous lenders panicked over their own financial situation, but public sector institutions representing primarily governments that are in no financial distress at all. They really shouldn’t be behaving like this.

I think the explanation is quite simple, though. Having recast a crisis caused by a combustible mix of regulatory failure and elite venality into a morality play about profligate Greeks who must be punished, Eurocrats are now engaged in what might be described as “loan-shark theater”. They are putting on a show for the electorates they inflamed in order to preserve their own prestige. The show must go on.

Throughout the crisis, European elites have faced a simple choice: Acknowledge and explain to electorates their own mistakes, which do not line up along national borders of virtue and vice, or revert to a much older playbook and manufacture scapegoats.

Such tiny, tiny people.

Tiny people. With fat wallets. Holding big guns.

Just say OXI.

Predator Alert: Mark Elrick (Albuquerque Police Officer) and Elizabeth Escogne (“Community Support Worker”)

This is a public service alert.

Meet Elizabeth Escogne (left) and Mark Elrick (right):

Elizabeth Escogne with Mark Elrick.

Mark Elrick is a cop in the Albuquerque Police Department. Elizabeth Escogne is a “Community Support Worker” employed by AgaveHealth, Inc., an Arizona-based company whose mission to provide “health care to communities within the state of New Mexico” would seem great at first blush, until you’re privy to the kinds of things their employees talk about with their cop friends when they think no one who cares is listening. What sorts of things? In the span of overhearing just one conversation, Elizabeth and Mark:

  • gloated over the fact that a group of anti-police brutality protesters in New York were physically attacked; they exchanged pictures on their smartphones and literally laughed out loud at the violence.
  • complained that people who were “homeless by choice” always “make their jobs difficult.” (boo hoo)
  • agreed that funding support services for houseless populations “is a bad idea.”

Their conversation ended when Mark remarked that he had to be on his way to harass a houseless family who have been living in an RV.

Elizabeth is a gun collector and cop apologist while Mark is, well, a cop. (So, y’know, ’nuff said). Both participate in “historical medieval battles” as part of a team team whose uniforms are patterned after the United States’ flag:

They’re basically what you would expect: a cross between murderous Crusaders and people who believe they’re real-life versions of Captain America. In other words, people who have drunk all the propagandistic kool-aide you can imagine, and then some.

I’m writing this on my blog instead of in the Facebook Cop Block Tool and the Predator Alert Tool for Facebook due to a bug in those pieces of software that will hopefully be fixed soon. Once fixed, please report these two to those databases if they’ve not yet been added by someone else.

Police do not equal protection. #PoliceArePredators

Knowledge is a seed. Sow it! SHARE THESE RESOURCES:

How Twitter “protects you from abusers” actually protects abusers

If you ever needed more proof that “the Internet is doing ‘report abuse’ wrong because its admins are corrupt,” here is a perfect case study.

Today I received the following email from Twitter:

Hello,

We have received a second complaint from an individual that your account, @maymaym, is in violation of the Twitter Rules (https://twitter.com/rules), specifically our rules regarding targeted harassment and abuse.

At this point, we have removed your account from Search.

Please be aware that continued abusive behavior may lead to your account being permanently suspended.

Thank you for your cooperation.

Thanks,

Twitter Trust & Safety

System Reference: ref:00DA0000000K0A8.500G000000Opgu6:ref

Here is my response, posted here because I’m sure I’ll need to refer to it later:

Hi,

Please be aware that the reports you are receiving about my account are from people who have specifically targeted my account in abusive ways. The tweets of mine they have reported to you are responses to tweets from them that are, themselves, abusive. I realize you are probably “just doing your job” but you should perhaps consider asking yourself whether or not the way you are currently doing your job enables or mitigates abusive behavior on your service.

Are the people whose accounts I have interacted with also being threatened with suspension? If not, can you explain why your enforcement of your Twitter rules is arbitrary rather than uniform?

Here are screenshots of the interactions in question along with links for your convenience:

There are, of course, many other examples. Since you are Twitter I know for a fact that you have the capability (even if you don’t have the desire) to actually examine the full context and history of the conversations excerpted above. The question is, since you have this capability, why aren’t you using it? Or, if you are using it, what reasoning have you used to determine the “abusive”-ness of the behavior involved, and, again, why in such a one-sided fashion if indeed it is so one-sided?

If Twitter, in fact, operates under a “whoever reported abuse first wins” model of moderation, perhaps Twitter should update its TOS to reflect its actual stance and not hollow populism?

Cheers,
-@maymaym

For those of you who still want to follow me “on Twitter” after I eventually get banned, you can do so here or here. (I told you these networks are already censored. Note especially how Tumblr censors you to protect rapists.)

See also:

The danger in saying “maybe we should all agree” is that it yields, necessarily, a certain violence. The will to community is a will to violence. At some point, it has to be, because at some point you have to give up something to join “the community.”

“Introduction to Practical Reasoning and Critical Analysis of Argument” by Daniel Coffeen

See also:

A lot of you think religious people are superstitious but you think numbers in a bank account are important and keep you alive?

A lot of you think religious people are superstitious but you think numbers in a bank account are important and keep you alive?

John Campbell, metaphorically self-immolating on the Internet in a gorgeous “protest [against] the values you use to determine how you feel about and interact with the world.” (Go read it. I’ll wait.)

Go home Social Justice Warrior, you’re drunk.

Tumblr Insult generator: "GET BENT, YOU OPPRESSIVE AMPUTEE-FETISHIZING, MALE-NORMATIVE DUDEBRO"

I literally LOL’ed at the Social Justice Warrior blog and Tumblr insult generator. I realize it was probably created by, well, oppressive heterosexist dudebros, if only because most people are oppressive and heterosexist and more of the ones who develop programs like this tend to be dudebros. Still, I can’t help but thinking: the obscene parody of the Internet’s pop social justice filter bubble that this site lays bare is…accurate.

And I guess, if this doesn’t embarrass you “Social Justice” Scene’sters, well, it kind of proves their point.

Go home Social Justice Warrior, you’re drunk. :P For anyone who wants to play with it, you can get the Tumblr Argument Generator’s source code, too.

Friend: Can I ask kind of an insecure question though?
Me: Sure.
Friend: Are you going to judge me on the company I keep?
Me: Of course.
Friend: …
Me: Don’t let that stop you from keeping the company you want, though.
Friend: Hrm. It’s been a while since I’ve had that kind of challenge. Thanks, I think.

I quit, Because Capitalism

One lazy Saturday morning in New York City not so long ago, I woke up hungry. I knew there was a great little bistro with delicious coffee and a $4 scrambled eggs breakfast special not far from where I was staying, so I figured I’d go eat there. I remembered the place because the last time I’d been there, on a weekday shortly after noon, it was empty, quiet, and the wait staff seemed to enjoy my company as I chilled in the back corner for several hours.

But as I approached the restaurant on this mid-day weekend, it was overflowing with people, and a hurried anxiousness was oozing from every smile the busy wait staff offered their customers. Augh, I thought to myself. It’s the weekend.

“I hate capitalism,” I said, invoking that now-clichéd phrase so many disaffected youth cite whenever, in many of the older generations’ eyes, they are “being lazy.” “And fuck the 9-5 workday,” I said. “And FUCK WORK!”

Who the fuck are you to say “fuck work”?

First of all, it’s important for me to mention near the start of this story—so this seems as good a place as any—that I’m a person with a sizeable chunk of class privilege. And yet, the reason for that may not be what you expect. Let me explain.

My parents are immigrants to America, first arriving in New York City in the early 1980’s with little more than the clothes on their backs and some savings in their pockets. In their own ways, both are artists. My mother is an art teacher and my father is a graphic designer.

By the time I was born, my father was working 70-hour-plus weeks for micromanaging bosses and my mother took a second teaching job to make sure our family could make ends meet. I didn’t grow up in squalor, but I didn’t grow up in splendor, either. When my brother was born, our studio apartment in the back of the first floor of an “inner-city” neighborhood was even more cramped.

I grew up hating my religious day school, hating god, and hating not just homework, but all work. However, I also grew up loving books, my parents, and any activity whatsoever that I could learn something doing. My favorite video game was SimEarth because it taught me about how a planet’s weather impacts the ability of lifeforms to survive and evolve. That’s why my favorite movie was “Jurassic Park.” For my birthday one year, a classmate gifted me with the Jurassic Park soundtrack on CD, and it served as my introduction to scores of John Williams soundtracks I’d later pirate off Napster, even before seeing their associated film.

My second favorite video game was SimTower, because it taught me about capitalism. SimTower, for those whose only familiarity with the “Sim” series of games is the “SimCity” classic, is a game where you play a real estate tycoon who’s purchased a plot of land and is trying to build a skyscraper. It’s basically SimCity-in-a-building. You place shops, elevators, stairways, fire escapes, and more in various places on the high-rise you build, floor by floor, all with the goal of watching your bottom-line soar.

Most people will never own a skyscraper. Hell, most people on Earth will never even walk into the lobby of one. But for a struggling child in a struggling family, getting to play a real estate tycoon was a helluva lot more fun than getting browbeaten into being at religious school at 8:15 in the morning to stand for 60 minutes of prayer I didn’t even believe in and then spend half the rest of my day in Bible class, day in and day out.

By the time I was 12 and in fourth grade, I’d had numerous different knowledge-fetishes, including archaeology, astronomy, and genetics. At that point, my newest obsession was biology. When our “science class” consisted of going to the park and outlining leaves with crayons, I was reading books like “Muscular Dystrophy,” and “Your Brain.”

But I digress. The point is that, eventually and with much familial infighting, I dropped out of school. Shortly thereafter, I began getting interested in computers and by the time I was finishing my teenage years I had moved out of my parents’ apartment into my own place in New York City’s West Village, and was running my own web design and development business with a focus on website accessibility for people with disabilities. And, to everyone’s amazement, I was actually breaking even.

One thing lead to another and within a few years I was a highly-sought after technology consultant who, during my heyday, spent my days sitting across from the Chief Technology Officer of a Fortune 100 company that no longer exists because they helped cause the financial crisis of 2008. I was 23 years old. I wore suits to work. I made boatloads of money. And I hated it.

If you ever want to avoid questions like, “Why did you drop out of school?” slip the fact that your desk was next to the desk of a CTO of a major multinational bank early in every conversation. Trust me, I speak from experience on this one.

What this all means in practice is that I’m no longer lower- or “lower-middle-class.” I’m solidly middle-class now. I know this is true because the first year I made more money in 6 months than my parents annual salaries combined, two things happened. First, they stopped pestering me about dropping out of school. And second, my taxes quadrupled.

But it also means, in a capitalist society dependent on technology to facilitate every major and minor function of its ongoing machinations, I’ll never be “poor.” Because even if I have no money—and there have been times in my life like that—I will always have the ability to access money in what is to many people an astonishingly short amount of time.

That’s class privilege. Class privilege is not what one spends one’s money on. Class privilege is not a number in one’s bank account. Class privilege is one’s ability to lose all one’s money and then get it back—and easily!—because when you have class privilege, you don’t even have to care about money, budgets, or personal finances. I’m pretty sure I have a 401K from those years in corporate jobs somewhere in my name, but I have no idea where and I don’t even need to know. That’s class privilege.

I’m not class-privileged because I come from a rich family. (I don’t.) I’m not class-privileged because I graduated from a fancy school. (I didn’t.) I’m class privileged because, in today’s Information Age, I’m a magical creature who can talk to computer systems and make them do what you want.

I’m employable. Or, put more crudely: I’m sellable. My service offering? Robot taskmaster. Overseer not only of machines, but of people-who-work-with-machines, too. When I was a highly-paid data center automation technician, my entire job function was to set up computer systems in such a way as to obsolete the jobs of scores of lower-level computer operators and system administrators. (Yeah, I know, it’s gross.)

Of course, if you know anything about me (and if you don’t, let me tell you), you know that I don’t currently have a “job.” I’m a “digital troubadour,” or the information age’s equivalent of a wandering minstrel. These days, I live on the streets, sleep under overpasses and on generous people’s couches, and my primary source of earned income is donations from, yes, people like you. People who read my writings, like this one, watch my advocacy videos, and send me electronic donations, or put money on my café gift cards to keep me caffeinated and fed. (And I’ll always take the opportunity, like now, to say: hey, thank you for that. So, hey, thank you for that.)

But recently, I got a job. I didn’t even last the month, because it reminded me of all the reasons why I really, truly, hate capitalism. Here’s what happened.

A “dream job” is just a different kind of nightmare.

Every so often, I’m asked if I’m available for a tech gig. Most gigs are just flat-out horrible. “Contract-to-perm” so-called “opportunities” to work on some mindless, meaningless, Machiavellian monetary “loyalty discount” system or another. A new social network project struggling to launch that needs a “rockstar” web developer. I ignore them all, because fuck you and your stupid idea.

All except one: a project my ex-partner Emma was working on, called the Gender Spectrum Lounge. She’d asked me, repeatedly over the course of years, if I had time to work on this project. They already had a developer but, frankly, he was horrible. So in late April, I finally said yes.

I had four main motivations for agreeing to the project. First, I was looking for a new project to work on, something technical and relatively low-key but that still offered a fun time to hack on some code. Second, I’ve been familiar with Gender Spectrum as an organization for years and I always liked their stated goals. Third, I wanted to get a car, because I’m really tired of hitchhiking and relying on the shitty public transit options in America. And fourth, I really missed working with Emma.

“You don’t understand,” Emma would tell me time and time again. “This project is over budget, it’s late, it doesn’t work the way we’ve asked. It seems like every time our developer makes a change, something else breaks. We go months without hearing from him. It’s a nightmare.”

The Gender Spectrum Lounge doesn’t even have complex project goals. It’s supposed to be a community who are supportive of gender variant people, or are genderqueer themselves. Gender Spectrum as an organization works largely on educational outreach and support programs for youth. The Lounge’s whole point was to have an online space where age-based groups could overlap in facilitated ways to allow for various kinds of interaction, such as between younger teens and young adults. I rarely see projects like this explicitly address cross-generational solidarity, and this project hit many of the things that are important to me personally, such as youth advocacy and mentorship.

Beyond all that, and despite its major technical issues, the Gender Spectrum Lounge seemed to be directly benefiting the lives of its participants. Emma shared some posts from the forums with me. A mother wrote about how hard it was to deal with the school district on behalf of her child’s discomfort with binarily-gendered bathrooms. Another mother consoled her, then cheered her on, telling her she was an amazing parent and doing the right thing. A youth described self-image concerns and another youth responded telling them they were beautiful. It was heartwarming. Reading some of the postings literally made my eyes water.

Even if I wasn’t going to get to participate in that directly (and I shouldn’t, it’s not my space), I knew I’d never get close to anything like that in the corrupt world of corporate IT. Burn the banks. Jail the CEOs. They are unmitigated evil, and I’m so fucking over being part of their disgusting globalized deception.

The Gender Spectrum Lounge was different in size, scope, and purpose from the big banks, but it was exactly the same as every other company that has to deal with technology. They hired technicians who don’t care, who half-assedly delivered an incredibly insecure and shitty result, all while overcharging for it. In Gender Spectrum’s case, not even the defaults in the, free, open source forum software they were using as the site’s platform were functioning properly because the developer had fucked it up so bad.

The developer they’d hired took totally free software that worked out-of-the-box, broke it, delivered the broken free thing months late, and charged them for it. And here’s what you gotta understand: that’s not rare. That’s the norm. After I left the Fortune 100 world I went back to doing freelance gigs, and for the next several years, I made money exclusively off “clean-up” jobs. These were gigs where I was hired for the sole and explicit purpose of fixing something a previous technical hire broke or failed to deliver. You might be amazed how well that pays.

That pattern of taking something that works by default, breaking it due to sheer ignorance, malice, or self-serving greed, and then charging for the fuck-up, is how every single for-profit exchange works when you have a builder who knows more about the thing they are selling than the person they are selling to.

It’s Capitalism 101. People seem to intuitively understand this with, for example, cars and mechanics. You know you’re gonna get screwed over if you don’t know the first thing about cars and you go to a mechanic who’s not your friend. This happens in the tech world, too. Only the tech world is a bazillion times worse because the gap in understanding is so much greater. And this pattern doesn’t just exist between individuals, but entire systems. Did you know that sending text messages costs the telcos nothing, but they’re still the most expensive part of many mobile phone contracts?

But I digress, again.

I went to work on the project. I restored some of the basic out-of-the-box functionality the original developer had broke. I built a development environment so that Gender Spectrum could have a place to make and test changes before deploying them to their users. I packaged some of their customizations into plug-ins that they could turn on or off without interrupting the rest of the system. And I did all this as part of necessary, preliminary arrangements (like using a code versioning system) in order to make it easier, faster, and more reliable to make future changes and for other developers to pick up and run with. It’s like Abraham Lincoln once said, “If you give me six hours to chop down a tree, I will spend the first four sharpening my axe.”

For instance, one thing Gender Spectrum needed to customize was the interface text of the software they were using. As you’d expect, every system unnecessarily defaults to binary gender pronouns; it will use “he,” and “she,” but not “zie,” or even the grammatically correct singular “they.” (Why? Because Sexism, but that’s another whole blog—which you should read, since I’ve already written it.)

So, naturally, organizations like Gender Spectrum hire someone to change the system’s use of pronouns because they can’t go around claiming to be gender-inclusive if their website is constantly misgendering their users. And naturally, because they hire developers who almost certainly don’t actually give a fuck about them, they never make the change in a way that’s repeatable, or sharable with any other organization. Rather than using the software’s built-in language customization features, the developer that Gender Spectrum hired changed the default language files, meaning that if Gender Spectrum were to ever update their website’s system software, the changes would have to be made all over again. It’s like getting double taxed.

Many organizations want to be gender-inclusive, but rather than one organization that uses phpBB, and one organization that runs off Drupal, and one organization that uses Joomla, or whatever, writing one gender neutral language pack that every single other organization that uses the same system software can use, each organization hires a shitty developer to make the same change to their one site only. This is fantastic for greedy capitalist scum like most web developers, but it’s horrendous for everyone else. And these developers can get away with it because nobody else knows what they’re doing, and the orgs don’t have access to other people who give a fuck, and they’re all small non-profits supporting marginalized peoples anyway so they just get screwed over, over and over again.

Why? Because Capitalism. Capitalism trains us not to give a fuck about human beings or human lives.

The ironic thing is if a group like Gender Spectrum comes to me and says, “We’d like not to have to deal with this gender neutral pronoun thing repeatedly. Can you write something that will solve this problem and distribute your solution to the Internet for free so we can use it?” I would’ve jumped for joy and probably would have enjoyed doing it with them.

I still would. (So, contact them and ask about the “en_us_x_gnp” language pack I wrote for phpBB3. And if you use phpBB3 and want to use gender neutral pronouns on your boards, let me know and I’ll help you get that set up. No charge.)

On “quotes,” “estimates,” and other bullshit

When I started the project with Gender Spectrum, I was asked for a quote. Here’s the thing: I don’t give quotes. Every quote you ever get from a developer is going to be straight-up bullshit, just some number they pulled out of their ass. Especially when you’re a freelancer, you have to get really good at pulling bullshit out of your ass.

Quotes and estimates are bullshit because nobody knows what’s going to come up out of the code. This is doubly true for “nightmare” projects where the premise of the work is “things are fucked up and we don’t know what’s wrong or how to fix it!” At that point, any reasonable estimates would be so broad as to be meaningless in the first place.

Since I wouldn’t give a quote, or a project estimate, I was asked to track my hours. Here’s the thing: I don’t track my hours, either. I don’t track my hours because I don’t work in hour, or even in minute, chunks. I do multiple things simultaneously. As any person who performs creative tasks like writing or painting or even having sex with a lover or with oneself will tell you, “hours” are a meaningless unit of measurement for such things. Do I charge for the hour where I took a walk and thought about the structure of the project’s codebase? How about the half hour I spent reading the internationalization and localization API of the system’s software?

Tracking hours is a distraction from actually doing the work. Tracking hours is additional hours of (busy)work. Tracking hours is an interruption. Charging “hourly” consistently makes the project longer, makes my work less good, and annoys the fuck out of me.

So when I was asked for a quote, I countered: “One thing I want from this project is a car. Don’t pay me anything other than a car, if you have to think of it as paying me something in the first place. If you agree to help me get a car, that’ll help me fix your website.”

Asking for help getting a car instead of asking for money for working on the website seemed like an obvious win for everybody. It was quite literally the best possible deal. I didn’t even want a fancy car. A hardy Honda Civic or trusty Toyota Camry would be fine for me. A couple thousand dollars, tops, plus help taking care of the bureaucratic red-tape of insurance and registration. The whole thing would’ve cost Gender Spectrum a few thousand dollars, including the stipend for whatever intern was assigned to help me out. In contrast, tracking my hours for the project at $125 per hour (my standard going rate, which is highly competitive with the $120 per hour their previous freelance developer charged them) would’ve easily put them over the $6,000 mark within the first two weeks of my employ.

Emma thought the car thing was a good idea, too. But the idea didn’t go over so well with her boss at Gender Spectrum. Her boss wanted to have a meeting with me, some vagueness about making sure I could “commit” to the project, and in the meantime Emma convinced me to just charge under an hourly rate agreement, which we both knew would net me more than enough money to buy a car. Using that money, I could then hire her to help me do the stressful logistics pieces for figuring out how to actually get this car.

This seemed like a good idea, with one major problem. The whole point of having a car was so that I would have enough stability and time to do the project in the first place. Remember how I’m sleeping under overpasses and on generous people’s couches? That actually takes a lot of time to make possible. Every day, I spend anywhere between 2 and 5 hours setting up different couchsurfing arrangements, orienting myself in physical space with different travel options, learning public transit routes or just fucking walking with my pack on the streets of whatever city I happen to be in. Not to mention the emotional and social energy it takes for an introvert like me to interact with the people who generously host me. After a few weeks of hopping from one person’s couch to another, sometimes all I want to do is curl up in a corner and not talk to anybody ever again. None of these are situations in which I can sit down and focus on writing code.

Having a car would mean a helluva lot more freedom to plop my ass down at a coffeeshop and just hack on some code. Having to work for money to get a car was a Catch-22. However, as circumstances had it, I lucked out and found myself with an opportunity to have a stable housing situation for the month of May, exactly when the Gender Spectrum project was due to spin up. So, I agreed to the hour-tracking fiasco.

I arrived at my stable housing situation. May 1st came and went. I began tracking hours. Within a week, I’d racked up an invoice for Gender Spectrum in the $3,000 range. And that’s when we needed to “have a meeting.” Another week came and went. We didn’t have a meeting because the boss was busy. And what was the meeting about anyway? The answer I got was more vagueness about being sure I could “commit” to the project.

This delay was a problem, because time was a factor, because I didn’t yet have a car. Throughout this delay, I made clear to Emma that I don’t “commit” to stuff. It’s ridiculous and insulting to be asked to “commit” to work if you know that it’s just as much a mirage to commit to work as it is to commit to paying for work. It’s all just a fucking agreement. Asking me to commit to work is no different than me asking you to commit to paying for the work. Haven’t we already worked that out?

So being asked whether or not I’d commit to a project I was already actively working on raised, in me, the following question: are you going to pay me for working on a project you already said you’d hire me to do?

This should be fucking obvious, but since it isn’t to capitalists, which is most people I’ve ever had the displeasure of interacting with, I apparently have to repeat it: agreements don’t mean shit without trust. Nothing, not even your punitive legal system of contract law, can give an agreement value without trust. You can strong-arm people into doing what you want if you have enough power over their environment to get them to servilely accept whatever increasingly shitty circumstances you’re putting them in, but that’s not trust, and it’s not an agreement. There is no such thing as freedom of choice in a “free market” where the only choices are employment or starvation. That’s not a choice, that’s a threat.

I don’t take well to being threatened, and that’s not some kind of moral fucking failing on my part. And being threatened was exactly what was happening. All the vagueness about “committing” to a project was certainly not reassuring, and I’ve been around the block enough to understand when business-speak is a facade on a fundamentally untrustworthy relationship.

Sure enough, that’s exactly what happened in our meeting, which we finally held in mid-May. Long before we spoke, I had communicated to Emma, who had told me she’d communicated to her boss, that I don’t commit indefinitely to future work. We had already drafted a Scope Of Work, another one of those business-y documents, useful for clarifying what work needs to be done but terribly inane when treated like a contract. I had already delivered a few of the line items and I had no intention of asking Gender Spectrum to pay me any monies until the scope of work was completed in full.

So why were we having this meeting? Lisa, the Gender Spectrum executive director, spoke to me about how she didn’t want high developer turnover. Everything she said to me made clear she didn’t know what the fuck she was talking about from a technology perspective. This is no surprise, of course, coming from someone whose other full-time job is the VP of Marketing at Genedata AG, Inc.

Fucking marketing professionals. Do humanity a favor and kill yourselves.

I tried to make it clear that developer turnover is a problem when you have shit developers who do crappy work that they don’t document or tell anyone about. It’s actually not a problem when you take knowledge transfer into account and actually include documentation as part of the scope of work—which we did. I thought the whole point of being hired was to empower them, not to make them dependant on me. I was beginning to deliver something that made developer turnover irrelevant. But if they didn’t trust me to do that, having a meeting about my feelings about commitments was, itself, irrelevant.

The meeting lasted an hour. I tried to reiterate my complete and total unwillingness to commit to any relationship with Gender Spectrum beyond the Scope of Work already laid out. It fell on deaf ears. Over and over again, I’d say something like, “I won’t be able to guarantee any work outside of the Scope of Work,” or “I’m not in a position where I can actually commit to working past the agreements I’ve already confirmed with Emma,” but nothing seemed to get through that thick marketer’s skull of hers.

An hour into the meeting, we were finally starting to wind down. Then I hear Lisa say, again, “Well, it sounds like, maymay, you need to think about it and tell us if you can commit to working with us for longer.”

And I just lost it.

“Lisa, I’m going to need to interject something here. Listen, I’ve been very clear with Emma for weeks and I’ve been very clear in this phone call that I’m not going to commit to an indefinite project with Gender Spectrum. There is nothing more I need to think about here. As I’ve been saying, I know exactly where I stand. We’ve been talking about this in circles for an hour. I have other things I need to do with my day. Unless there’s anything else someone on this call wants to tell me, I’m going to go.”

There was a short silence. “No, I think that’s everything,” I heard Emma say. “Lisa?”

“No, nothing else.” Lisa said.

“Great. Lisa, it was very nice to meet you,” I lied through my teeth. “Have a good day.” I hung up.

A couple days went by with no word from Gender Spectrum. By now, the end of the month I’d set aside specifically to work on tech projects was fast approaching. I was sick and tired of waiting on Gender Spectrum, so I got involved with the re-launch of the “I Am Bradley Manning” photo petition website I’d helped launch two years ago. You might have seen a news cycle about the celebrity Public Service Announcement video we made. You might have surfed on over to iam.BradleyManning.org when you saw it linked on your Facebook or Twitter. Well, now you know, I helped make that.

I didn’t work on it for money. I worked on it because I wanted to.

A couple days after the phone meeting, Emma told me Lisa thought the meeting was “kind of refreshing.” It was too late, though. Every single time Emma pinged me about Gender Spectrum over chat, we’d end up getting into a fight about it, or the project, or the meeting, or how little time I had left in the month to focus on code. I told her I’d gotten involved with the Bradley Manning Support Network’s new social media project. Hey, it was a techie project, and I had specifically set myself up with time to code this month, so I thought I should use that time to code this month. I told her I’d still do Gender Spectrum stuff but that I’d only do it until the end of May, and I’d only give it fifty percent of my attention, tops.

Emma said that was fine. She also said Lisa tentatively agreed to a pared-down Scope of Work, but would hire someone else after the fact, and didn’t want me to continue to work with them afterwards.

There was no longer any reason I should work specifically with the Gender Spectrum people, and therefore there was no reason I should work for them, either. Gender Spectrum showed themselves to be exactly the sort of people I don’t like and can’t communicate with. Any agreement I made with them would’ve been meaningless because I don’t want to work with people like that. The whole fucking point of refusing to sign contracts or make meaningless commitments is to avoid getting tied to some commitment I wasn’t going to keep. Agreeing to such things only constrains me, not them. I charge for work done, not work I will do. And I won’t commit to work I will do. I do work I want to do, and if I get additional benefits like financial compensation out of that, all’s the better for me.

The emotional and personal cost of interacting with this stupid system was high, and the “payoff” was non-existent.

What Lisa actually wanted out of our meeting was some kind of proof that I’m a trustworthy person to work with, but that’s not how trust works. You don’t make friends by passively-aggressively making people promise to be your friend. And yet that’s what employer/employee relationships are all about: coercively making people pretend to be friends, under the threat of starvation due to losing access to money. Bosses like to do this thing where they pretend that they’re not really your boss, just your friend and colleague with a different position in the company than you have.

Fuck that shit. The best bosses I’ve ever had knew they were my boss and didn’t try to sweep the fact of that being a non-consensual power relationship under the rug. I’m privileged enough to be able to lead a lifestyle that means I don’t have to do employer/employee relationships anymore—I hate having relationships where I voluntarily give up my agency for the sole purpose of getting taken advantage of—and I’m smart enough to usually figure out when I’m being asked to have one of those.

Money is a technology that destroys trust. Its entire purpose is to short-circuit human relationships in order to insert itself as a middleman. It makes everybody spend more money, at more emotional cost, for things that make them angry at each other. I love Emma. But every conversation we had turned into a fight. I am not exaggerating when I say that’s capitalism’s fault.

So, after the meeting, I quit. Not immediately, although I should have. And after Emma and I talked about it over chat, we realized that I should have quit the instant Lisa rejected my initial offer for helping me get a car as a way to collaborate on helping fix Gender Spectrum’s website. I have this blind spot because I love Emma where I believe she won’t hurt me. She wants to protect me. But because I’m a human, I’m irrational, and thus I somehow believed getting involved in an abusive relationship with capitalism was going to be fine just because Emma didn’t want to hurt me. In hindsight, it’s obvious that was a stupid mistake, because Emma and I had put ourselves into a situation in which she was effectively forced to try and hurt me, because it’s her job, and if she didn’t do her job, she couldn’t keep paying rent.

Here’s the thing. Capitalism doesn’t just harm people by bludgeoning us with money. It harms us by getting us to bludgeon each other and ourselves with money.

Epilogue

When I did finally communicate to Gender Spectrum that I’d quit, I did so by sending Lisa the following resignation letter:

Lisa,

Effective immediately, I will no longer be working on Gender Spectrum projects.

The work I have completed to date for Gender Spectrum includes fixing various bugs, removing obstacles to maintenance and future updates, and creating a development environment for Gender Spectrum to use in future development tasks. I tracked a total of 26.25 hours on this work. My hourly rate is $125.00 per hour.

You can choose whether or not to compensate me for my work. If you choose to compensate me for all or part of my work, make a cheque in the amount of your choosing payable to Meitar Moscovitz and send it addressed to me at:

> [ADDRESS REDACTED]

Sincerely,
-Meitar Moscovitz
Personal: http://maymay.net
Professional: http://MeitarMoscovitz.com

I know this sounds like an awkward resignation letter, but I actually spent almost a week carefully composing it. I didn’t want it to sound like an invoice, not because I think charging money for one’s time or labor is some unforgivable sin no one should ever do, but because doing that is unhealthy for me. Capitalism isn’t just bad in some objective sense of the word, it’s concretely harmful to the human life I care most about: mine.

Also, while drafting this piece, I got another email from a recruiter. I realized I’ll just keep getting emails from recruiters, and capitalism will still be there, like an abusive ex-partner, constantly trying to seduce me into bed with it again. For my own health and safety, I need some way to actively shield myself from getting job offers.

So, I’m starting a long-overdue revamp to my LinkedIn profile, which is where I assume these devil-spawn come from. Under the heading titled “Advice for contacting [user name]:”, I’ve written:

DO:

  1. Have an interesting project. Make it ambitious. Ambitions are interesting. Everything else is boring.
  2. Treat me like a friend and collaborator (not an employee or a magical creature who can talk to computers).

DON’T:

  1. Offer to pay me. Seriously. If you offer me money, I will decline on principle.
  2. Be a recruiter. First, I don’t answer recruiters. Second, I don’t want the job.
  3. Support capitalism. I am an avowed anti-capitalist. Yes, really. If your project so much as pretends to have a capitalistic agenda, I will tell you to go fuck yourself, and your project.

This is just a quick, off-the-cuff edit, and I eventually want to change the rest of my “tech professional” web presence to match that sentiment. Thing is, I’ll always be excited about working on all kinds of cool projects. But I absolutely hate money, everything to do with it, and everything it stands for.