It is only right that I am drawn to learning about the ascension
and decline of civilizations, as a I saw my community
Oakland, California, and my family, in many ways,
destroyed by the crack epidemic and the war on
drugs in the 1980’s.
What as happened to post industrial to Detroit,
Oakland, Philly, Newark, Los Angeles and Baltimore, is
the closest thing to the decline of civilization I have seen,
in my short lifetime.
Last week I spent much of my time writing about pop culture,
Drake, Black women, which is what I do. I write critically
about race, class and power. Imus, The Duke rape case,
Nelly, Oscar Grant, Rihanna, Slavery, Capitalism and what
the life of being a writer looks and feels like. Then, after reading
one book it felt like what I was writing about was pointless.
As you can guess this isn’t a good moment for a writer, in
fact, it felt quite awful.
Artist make art, regardless of whether they are being paid for it. ~Rafi Kam.
I am an impressionable reader. So last month, when I noticed
that Ta-Nehisi was reading about The Civil War, I wanted to
start reading about the civil war. It seemed as if, given the
fact that Obama is president, and that we are in the midst
of a huge change, that it would be helpful to read and learn
more about our countries origins.
I came across a book, The Founding Brothers, which
was fascinating because it talked about the conversations
that the founding fathers, Jefferson, Madison, Franklin,
had about slavery, emancipation the American Revolution.
(I will talk more about this book in a later post, as it deserves it.)
I needed to mention The Founding Brothers because,
a couple weeks later, I was in Birkhold’s car, I saw, a book
on the seat and began to read it. You know the seven stages
I think I experienced a remixed version of it after reading this book. I was
excited, then angry, then sad, then cynical, then I accepted it.
A few more days passed and I was ready to make moves. It also
helped that I read Gramsci’s wiki entry. Fortunately, Gramsci
makes it clear that culture is important, just as important as politics,
because it is through culture that we decide and reaffirm what is
normal. Gramsci also believes that we need organic intellectuals.
After I read that, I did the robot.
The book that, forced me to question it all is American Revolution:
Notes from a Negro Workers Note Book. It’s central argument is
that automation will make our society a jobless society, and as a
result we will have to organize our society into one which is based
our needs instead of our wants. A year ago, I would have thought
this book was far fetched and or outdated, just based on the title.
I would have thought this book was far fetched if I haven’t been a
waitress for the last month, the only waitress in a white restaurant
largely managed by, ran by and servicing working class white folks.
Most of my exposure to white folks has been middle class, affluent, and
the elite. So working with the working class has forced me to rethink
work, race, assimilation and American social progress.
I would have thought this book was far fetched if I didn’t have two
Black men, to good family men in my family, who have felonies.
This means that every time they apply for a job that they are
qualified for, more than likely they will not get it because the legal
system requires for them to be branded as felons, felon’s for life,
even IF they have paid their debt to society, even if they have reformed,
even if they infraction occurred almost twenty years ago.
I would have thought this book was far fetched, if I hadn’t been laid off
from an awesome job last year. The job was with an organization that
served high achieving low income kids. I still remember the irony
washing over me when I realized that as a young person I was a
high achieving low income kid. Given that, I asked myself, why couldn’t
they figure out a way for me to remain and make a contribution?
I would have thought this book was far fetched if I hadn’t been denied
my unemployment extension last year. I had a hearing and everything.
The judge, bless his heart, told me that if it were up to him, that he
would grant it to me, based on my argument. But according to
California legislation, an employee has to earn 40 times her weekly
base salary in order to qualify for an extension, which meant that I
would had to have earned 80K to get an extension. Right? right.
I would have thought this book was far fetched if my father, a resident of
California moved to Las Vegas last month, after coming to California
in 1970 after the Air Force, because it became clear to him that that state
is only for the affluent and the people, mainly hardworking immigrants,
who serve them. Earlier this year, it became clear to him that as a semi retired
man, there was no way for him to survive in that 2009 California economy.
I would have thought this was far fetched if I didn’t personally know
6 under or un employed Black people, who have recently been laid
off. All have advanced degrees or five to ten years experience in their fields.
The above evidence is anecdotal, at best. However it underscores
the large system in which we live, which is why I wrote about them.
Black unemployment is at 14.7%.
Schwarzeneggger is gutting public assistance.
AIG is begging for more bonus money, again.
2.6 Million jobs were lost in 2008.
GM is now by and large a government ran company.
The American Revolution is important because it provides
a theoretical framework for understanding what the above
The book was written in 1964, so we have the pleasure,
or perhaps, the horror of seeing the phenomena he has
written about come alive today in 2009. His writing is so
straight forward, that I have decided to include
excerpts below, preceded by a contextualizing sentence.
James Boggs on our automated society:
America today is headed towards an automated society, and it cannot
be stopped by feather bedding, by refusing to work overtime, by sabotage,
or by shortening the work week by a few hours. America today is rapidly
reaching a point where, in order to defend the warfare state and the
capitalist system, there will be automation on top of automation. The
dilemma before the workers and the American people is: How can
we have automation and still earn our livings? It is not simply a
question of retraining or changing from one form of work to another.
For automation definitely eliminates the need for vast numbers of
workers, including semi skilled unskilled, and middle class clerical
On organizations and change:
All organizations that spring up in a capitalist society and do not take absolute
power, but rather fight only on one tangential or essential aspect of the society
are eventually incorporated into the society.
On the unions and pensions:
They cannot get it in their heads the these old workers, who use
to be so militant are now a vanishing herd who know that they
are a vanishing herd, who know that because of automation,
the days of workers like themselves in manufacturing are numbered,
and who have therefore decided that all they can do now
is to fight to protect their pensions and seniority and hope the company
will need them to work until they are old enough to retire or die, which
ever comes first.
On automation in the past vs. new automation:
Automation replaces men. This of course is nothing new. What is
new is that now, unlike most earlier periods, these displaced men
have no where to go. The farmers displaced by mechanization of
the farms of the20’s could go to the cities, and man the assembly
lines….But automation displaces people even when they have
been made expendable by the system.
On coming discord between the tax payers and the dependents:
Growing in numbers all the time, these displaced persons have to
be maintained, becoming tremendous drain on the whole working
population, and creating growing antagonism between those who
have jobs and those who do not. This antagonism in the population
between those who have to be supported and those have to
support them is one of the inevitable antagonisms of capitalism.
On the end of the demand for labor:
It is easy to accept that a man should move from one form of
labor to another, but it is hard to accept that there will no longer
be a mass demand for any labor.
…They still assume that the majority of the population of such
goods will still remain the heart of society. They have not been able
to face the fact that even if the workers took over the plants they
would be faced with the problem of what do with themselves now that
work is becoming socially unnecessarily.
Lastly, on American citizens and politics:
…In the United States…everyman is a policeman over himself,
a prisoner of his own fears. He is afraid to think because he is
afraid of what his neighbors might think if they found out what
he was thinking, or what his boss might think, or what the police
might think, or the FBI or the CIA. All because he thinks
he has a lot ot lose. He thinks he has to choose between material
goods and political freedom. And when the two are counterposed,
Americans will choose material goods. Believing that they have
much to lose, Americans find excuses where there are no
excuses, evade issues before issues arise, shun situations and
conversations which could lead to conflict, leave politics and
political decisions to politicians. They will not regain membership
in the human race until they recognize that the greatest need
is to no longer to make material goods but to make politics.
I hope, after reading these excerpts you can see why my
dungeon shook a little bit. In thinking about the above
quotes, and experience of reading this book I am thinking,
honestly about sustainable local, artistic, communities that
are organized to serve our needs vs. our wants.
A community garden here and there ain’t gonna cut it.
I look forward to hearing your thoughts.
What do you think of the idea of a jobless society?
What does a society look like that places our needs
above our wants?
What is the greatest obstacle to achieving such a society?
When you eat out do you tip 18%?(personal question, lols)