Processed World #30

Processed World issue number 30, Winter 1992-3.

Submitted by Steven. on December 26, 2010

Table of Contents

Submitted by ludd on December 29, 2010

Shitting Heads
intro & editorial by primitivo morales, et. al.

from our readers

Looting: A Martian Analysis
comic by h. d'andrade

Out Of Line at the Earth Summit: A Processed Diary
report from the earth summit in rio de janeiro, by jon christensen, w/ jeremy narby & glen switkes

Nine Guides to Saving the Planet (Not!)
book reviews by jon christensen

Owning Ideas: A Debate
a debate on intellectual property rights, by jon christensen & primitivo morales

A Shit Raiser Speaks!
interview with Judi Bari, by chris carlsson & med-o

Processed Shit: Capitalism, Racism & Entropy
analysis by adam cornford

Thrifters: Second-Hand Shit
fiction by marina lazzara

by dale w. russell, richard osborn hood,
muriel karr, john m. bennett, d.s.
black, dave linn, edward mycue,
richard wool, david fox, scott c.
holstad & jack evans

God's Work
tale of toil: supervising the mentally hanicapped, by jeff kelly

Confessions of a Sperm Donor
tail of toil by iguana mente

The Let's Get small Press Department,
'zine reviews by d.s. black

American Dream
review of american dream, a video about the hormel strike, by chris carlsson

The Productivity Work-Over
review of juliet b. schor's the overworked american, by mickey d.

A River's Revenge: Surrealist Implications of the Chicago Flood
by the chicago surrealist group

fiction by david alan goldstein

* creative employment opportunities
* macotage
* time thieves corner
* and more!

Avon Calling: From Hell!
tale of toil: avon factory, by donald phillips

Rustbelt Archipelago
analysis by p.m., zurich, switxerland

satirical poem by primitivo morales (apologies to e.a. poe)

What Work Matters?
analysis by chris carlsson



Submitted by Steven. on December 26, 2010


Dear Editors:

I am only in the middle of my second issue of Processed World. Oh how I wish I had found your magazine earlier! Maybe I could have escaped my materialistic consumerism-driven middle class (maxed out on my credit cards) existence a little earlier. But to do what? I hungrily devour everything in your magazine, but all it does is come back up in a kind of wet burp. I've read the letters from people of my generation--yes we're all aimless, seemingly apathetic, brain dead from years of watching the Brady Bunch and thinking life's problems would always be solved by mom and dad's neat little catch-all phrases (Mom always said, "don't play ball in the house!"). We should have known better--I mean, did you ever see Mike or Carol Brady actually working at anything? Of course they were good parents, not like our own that slaved away to provide us with our Barbie Dolls and our G.I. Joe's, then took their work frustrations out on us without realizing that Barbie Dolls didn't spiritually satisfy us, anyway (they were too busy thinking the swimming pool in the backyard and the station wagon in the driveway would make them happy). All of this throbbing pulsating energy, all of this dissatisfaction just eating away at our insides--can't we channel it somehow? Are we that impotent or have we just been brainwashed by the powers that be to believe we are? The government wants to get rid of radical art, eradicate mind-expanding drugs, abolish anything that will actually make us more aware and wake us up to how we're being screwed, but the question is: Will anything wake us up?

Let's look at L.A. and the recent riots. All of the pent-up frustrations, the anger, the fear that these people have been living with, the disempowerment they've had to deal with erupted with one foul swoop of an unjust verdict. But instead of channeling that anger towards the people and institutions that deserve it, the rioters and looters destroyed their own community! I bet Buchanan, Bush and the fascists that run our country got a big chuckle over that one. For years they've been allowing guns and crack to circulate freely through big city minority communities, just waiting for them to wipe themselves out. now they make a token effort by pouring money, ever the capitalists' solution, on the problem. You can't buy self-esteem. The children of the middle class learned that lesson the hard way. A very wise friend of mine believes L.A. was just the foreshadowing of a future civil/race war. To me, that would be a misdirected revolution! How would those of us who are white and therefore represent the power structure let the other side know, "Hey! We're with you!" Any full-scale revolt needs to be organized and with full cooperation of blacks and whites, rich and poor, anyone who's sick and tired of what our system has become (and don't fool yourself into thinking a vote for Ross Perot is truly an attempt to overhaul the system!).

This country is a powder keg ready to erupt, and I am ready for it. It can't happen soon enough for me. I've been watching the events in Eastern Europe, wondering why it can't happen here. Citizens sat back for too long while their leaders ran amuck, oppressing them by instituting controls over everything they saw, said, did, heard, while at the same time bestowing special favors on themselves (look at the Congressional check kiting scandal) and breeding corruption (see Contragate, the S&Ls, BCCI, Clarence Thomas hearings) JUST AS OUR OWN GOVERNMENT IS DOING NOW. Finally the corrupt Communist governments got their comeuppance. Just because we live in a so-called "Democracy" don't think "It can't happen here." I'm hoping that Processed World can go further than you do now (and I know this is an awesome responsibility for one publication to bear--[no kidding!--eds.]) and help organize the revolt when/if it comes. Grumbling about your crappy jobs and the state of our society is fine, but when push comes to shove you'd better be ready to make a change.

I just quit my job last Friday. I spent a year (any more and I would have been brain dead) working for a big business trade association, doing things like xeroxing memos to business owners telling them why they needed to support the styrofoam industry (never mind that if the environment goes, we all go with it, and then where will you relocate your business? To the moon, maybe?) and lobby against national health care, etc. At first I thought it didn't matter that I didn't believe in anything my employer represented, but the constant stomach aches, headaches, depression I felt told me otherwise. Your job can be detrimental to your health--I'm living proof. I'm not sure what I'll do now but I do know I've never felt better in my life.

I almost didn't write this letter. I had to overcome the fear that now the FBI will put my name in some kind of "radical" file and when they implement the internment of radical thinkers (like some kind of Soviet gulag), I'll be the first to go. But I've realized that that kind of fear will accomplish nothing. I say, more power to Processed World and its readers--go forth without fear, my children.

S.W.--Richmond, Virginia


Dear Process World(ers),

I've been impressed by several back issues which a friend lent to me. One of the most interesting and heartening features of PW is the letters page: it's so good to see that there are people out there trying to fuck over "the system." I thought I might add a new voice to the saboteurs' chorus.

I moved to the U.S. from Liverpool, England in 1987, after spending most of my time since leaving school in dead-end jobs: factories, clerical etc. In 1990 I returned to Britain for a few months, reluctantly in search of a job. All I could find was a temp job sending out the first Poll Tax bills. Along with about ten other people I was expected to take addresses and ID numbers off a computer printout, and copy it onto the forms which would then be sent to the victims. The recipients of the forms were advised to quote the ID number in future correspondence. I happily spent seven hours a day writing the wrong numbers on all of the forms whilst getting paid. Toward the end of the contract went for a few drinks with some of my co-workers, and discovered that they had been doing the same thing. Our combined efforts must have created about 50,000 future problems for the poll tax system. This one could run and run. . .!

I'm now back in the U.S. and trying to destabilize everything.

Yours frater(mi)nally,

M.L.--Lewiston, Maine


Dear PW,

What a delightful magazine! From it I discovered how un-unique I am. It seems I've stumbled into a beehive of malcontents, that is, frustrated artists and intellectuals. What a treat! Bohemia is alive and well, though processed through the postal system.

I'm a blue-collar worker by accident. After attending a college prep school, with four years of Latin, French, and English, I wanted to be an interpreter. After a couple years in college, I joined the navy with the hopes of more schooling and eventual duty hobnobbing in global circles as a translator. Instead they decided I'd make a better electrician, and, 26 years later, I'm still an electrician. However, I'm a high prole, or as Paul Fussel described us in Class: ". . .they'are not consumed with worry about choosing the correct status emblems, these people can be remarkably relaxed and unself-conscious. They can do, say, wear, and look like pretty much anthing they want without undue feelings of shame, which belongs to their betters, the middle class, shame being largely a bourgeois feeling."

As a master construction electrician, I have certain liberties not found with lower proles and middle class, namely, I don't have a supervisor. I supervise myself. Nor do I go to the same building every day and punch a clock. I wire buildings and leave when I'm done. Two years ago, for instance, after wiring a district educational building for nearly a year, I left for Eastern Europe for a month.

I get no benefits, such as medical insurance, sick days, paid vacation and the like. Instead they begrudgingly pay me $27.09 an hour. On the other hand, I tell the boss for how long and when I'm going on vacation. Sometimes I don't show up for work; maybe it's simply too cold outside, or perhaps I have a bad hangover. I never use an alarm clock. For eight years, from 9- to 17-years-old, I delivered the Chicago Tribune at the beck and call of an alarm clock. In snow, sleet, and darkness, I delivered like clockwork. I promised myself that when I became an adult I'd never use an alarm clock, and I don't. If I'm late for work, I readily explain that my body refused to wake up at the anointed hour, sorry. They get used to it in a short time. They learn that I'll show up, eventually.

More importantly, however, is not what I do, but rather where I've been and what I've seen. My work has not only taken me into the homes and offices of every strata of American society, I have also witnessed first-hand the daily bowel movement of America, the sewage treatment plant. And then there's work that I simply refuse to do, wire a house for a wealthy person, for example. I find wealthy people obnoxious and consumed with conspicuous gluttony. To install a $5,000 fixture from the 20 foot ceiling in the entry of some lawyer's palatial mansion, while poor people fill the jails, goes against my grain. The incarcerated paid for that dangling brass and crystal with 60 some flickering candle-like bulbs (the bulbs alone are over $300). Of course there's also the hot tub, pool, sauna, and the dumb waiter to carry firewood to the second and third floor fireplaces, to name but a few of the luxuries.

Interestingly, in the past year, I've seen the inside of the jail as both an inmate (ten days for drunk driving), and as an electrician wiring a new guard station within the laundry facilities. The contrasting viewponts exhibit a vivid portrait of class distinction. There were no lawyers, doctors, accountants, or advertising executives in jail. I was processed through the system with other drunk drivers--overwhelmingly blue collar workers--and drug dealers. We're considered the scum of society and treated as such. The guards, or correction officers as they like to call themselves, display tyrannical attitudes and enforce petty rules, such as proper bed-making, with the utmost seriousness.

To enforce their rules, there are a half dozen jails in town, each one worse than the next. The already bad food gets worse as does the confinement and rules. People who consistently violate the rules are sent down the ladder till eventually they're in solitary confinement with little more than bread and water.

A few months later, as an electrician going to jail everyday to do construction, the view was much different. Instead of inside looking up, now I was outside looking down. The guards, no longer masters of my destiny, became bottom of the barrel unskilled proletarians. As one guard told me after I asked him if he experienced much inmate trouble, "Naw, we're just babysitters. Most of these guys are harmless drunks and drug users."

Yours Truly,

J.A.--Portland, Oregon


To Whom It May Concern:

Please cancel my subscription to Processed World. Your magazine has a good premise--alienation--but the execution falls short. It's the Revenge idea that bothers me. I'm experienced enough to know that in revenge, make sure the screwing that you give is worth the screwing that you will inevitably get.

It's hard to be optimistic in modern society--managers that don't, friends that aren't, take-home pay that can't, but JESUS why make it worse? If you hate that job so badly, quit. If your boss is a jerk, welcome to the club.

Your 'zine shows a lot of talent. Too bad it's hard to see it through all the weird, existentialist whining about wage-slavery.


C.H.--Aspen, Colorado


Processed Dudes--

You guys & gals are so great--you've been such an inspiration to me. I'd never have survived my dead-end job at the University of California without your moral support.

During the dull hours--the especially dull hours--I cranked out propaganda, such as the sticker [reprinted below]. I then used UC's campus mail system to send them to Regents, university presidents, cafeteria dishwashers, and executive secretaries. For a while they sprouted like beautiful weeds on campuses from San Diego to L.A. & beyond.

Keep it up!

R.F.--Berkeley, California


Dear PW,

I just picked up PW and I really want you to know how much I enjoyed it. Unfortunately, my partner and I are truly "UP AGAINST IT." I spent most of yesterday agonizing about whether to engage our family in the teeth of federal and state bureaucracy and apply for aid at Social Services. We don't want "aid," we want jobs, but. . .oh hell.

After reading several of the articles in PW, I noticed that I was feeling things I hadn't felt since High School! There was an idealism about changing our society that existed within me when I was much younger, and I guess I've lost it along the way without even realizing it. (Scary!) So I stand in your debt for turning my consciousness upside down and backwards (towards my own past) although I can't say yet where this might lead. Survival presses and leaves little room for any thought or feeling about the Bigger Picture, at least for now.

My favorite PW item remains Tom Tomorrow cartoons, especially the one on page 38 (#29), with the guy's watch beeping. I laugh, but it hurts.

Anyway, here's to the future, however dark, and thanks again for allowing me to plug into PW. I applaud your efforts.

Faye Manning--Springfield, OR

P.S. If 75%+ of PW's budget comes from subscriptions, where does the 25%- come from?? [distributor/bookstore sales, the occasional donation and loan--Many thanks to the 5 people who recently bought $150 lifetime subscriptions. It made a big difference in financing this issue--eds.]


Yo, Fellow PoMo Proles!

I came across Bad Attitude: The Processed World Anthology while browsing in a local alternative bookstore. I knew instantly that it was some kind of chop-busting satirical masterpiece, cast in the blithe spirit of the Church of Bob. But it took me a couple of leavings and returnings before I finally got a fix on your politics, and it all made sense.

A week later, I heard an editor interviewed on the radio. That interview nailed it. I took a deep breath, coughed up the $20, and reeled in this queer fish, still heaving and panting on the deck. I've discovered that as long as I store it in the freezer, I don't have to continue holding my breath!

But seriously. . .thanks for one of the most uproarious and xeroxable fonts of wit, wisdom, mayhem, mischief and subversion that I've ever blundered upon by happy happenstance. You might be curious to know something about my situation (Tough tuna. . .I'll tell you anyway!):

I have two college degrees, including a graduate degree in literature from Yale, and I spent the last twelve years working as a professional typesetter and freelance writer. 15 months ago, my full-time paying gig with a once-politically-alternative newspaper, where ten years ago we used to smoke pot on lunch break, but which now supports itself by running pages of phone sex ads, finally fell apart. I spent the following year trying to get a simple clerical position, preferably at one of the five colleges here in depression-wracked western Massachusetts.

With two college degrees, 100 wpm typing, high computer literacy, and 12 years full-time office experience, I was nevertheless LITERALLY UNABLE TO LAND A JOB--ANY JOB WHATSOEVER--for 15 months. We're talking about hundreds of custom tailored resumes filed, with about six interviews actually obtained for all that wasted effort.

My most memorable interview was with the lady who runs the Hampshire County Registry of Deeds. She had advertised for what amounted to a "gofer/photocopier" position. Embarrassed, she held up a huge stack of more than a hundred resumes.

"I really felt I owed you an interview," she said. "But I'm embarrassed to be talking to you." Almost all of the applications in her stack were from college graduates. A minority were from starving Ph.D.s, clamoring to become gofers in the photocopy room.

Needless to say, this profoundly harrowing and sobering experience has re-colored my political complexion from PC pink to deep burning red. I am furious as hell about the way we're all being pushed and shoved and drawn and quartered by the leverage-driven corporate restructuring of our planet. If I believed in the death penalty, I would have no trouble arguing that Ronald Reagan ought to be shot for high treason.

Just to provide some closure on my personal odyssey, I was rescued from the brink of ruin at the last possible minute. I managed to land a job as an administrative paralegal, for an attorney who specializes in transportation law, with a large national client base. It's all civil and contract law, it's a completely clean practice, and the dude himself is a distinguished old school gentleman with a GREAT attitude toward his three paralegals. It's more like a family office than an adversarial battlefield. There is absolutely no backstabbing politics going on among the staff, and we even have paid medical insurance and profit sharing!

So I lucked out. My humanist background, Yale degree and exceptional computer skills put me on top of this particular stack. But it still took 15 months for me to get there. And the year I spent pounding the streets among the jobless has permanently changed my life. It's not only deepened my compassion for the folks who are getting screwed to death out there, but it's given me a new resolve to try to DO something about it, to the best of my ability.

There is the further telling irony that at a point in my life cycle when a typical Yale grad should be making a salary in at least the 50 to 60K range, I'm celebrating my ability to land what amounts to an entry level position in a new field, at a salary level (20K) which would be considered low end for a BRAND NEW college graduate with no work history.

Still, a lot of people would kill for the relatively modest job I finally managed to land. I mean, shit, in the crumbling cities, people kill for SNEAKERS and JACKETS--never mind what they'd do for a job.

Into this challenging frame of reference in my life, your book suddenly drops, like a sinister angel appearing on my left shoulder. And it sets me to thinking about the degree to which your political message pertains, or does not, in these horribly depressed times.

Although I enjoyed your book immensely, it also bemuses me. In the office where I work now, Bad Attitude makes no sense. When you're treated with genuine decency and respect, and as a valued member of a team effort, what possible incentive can there be to sabotage this feeling of trust?

Am I going to blame this attorney for the fact that I'm only making 20K, when I should be making 60? Hell no. I made a choice to bypass the high-pressure career track, and opt for a human-sized lifestyle, many years ago. I stand by my decision, even though the upturned corporate economy of the New World Order (didn't Hitler call it "Mein Kampf?") now makes it likely that I will end up penniless and bereft of support in my old age.

I'm certainly not the only one though. Just wait until all the hell-on-wheels political activists of the '60s reach retirement age, and discover how badly they're being screwed and shoved around by their government. I predict here and now that we will see a sudden wrathful last-burst-of-glory rekindling of their youthful social agitation, activism, and organizational savvy, turned against an entirely new set of social grievances in the year 2010. Count on it! The baby boomers are not about to trudge meekly down the path of impecunious oblivion plotted for them by the junk bond bandits who looted our treasury. There will be blood in the streets when they find themselves 65 and starving.

Finally, from my own office experience, past and present, I think I can say that the impulse to assume Bad Attitude lies not in the inherent nature of process work itself, but in the particular quality of one's human relationships with both employers and peers.

What I hear again and again, as I read through Bad Attitude, is the degree to which the contributing workers are treated abominally by fellow humans, who insist on acting as though they were robotic agents of some extraterrestrial force. The problem of alienation is not inherent with the new technology. The problem is inherent with human beings who have simply forgotten how to ACT like human beings--if they even learned that human role as children in the first place.

Human beings at their best are irreverent, humorous and caring, as well as justly proud of their natural competence, and hungry for a community of mutual support. When any or all of these tendencies are crushed by the debased nature of an employment situation, that situation becomes diabolical. And if Bad Attitude is the most natural, gut-gratifying response, I hardly think it's the most fulfilling or productive approach to making this planet human and whole again.

I do find it at once supremely ironic, and supremely hopeful, that so many of your contributors who find themselves stuck in "dead-end" or "meaningless" jobs turn out to be such gifted and eloquent writers, in so many different genres--from acute political analysis to side-splitting, pants-wetting comedy! It's clear that your contributors are not bubble-gum-snapping functional illiterates, condemned by paucity of wit or genetic endowment to a life of minimum wage slavery. There is just an ENORMOUS pool of creative talent in this nation, begging to be put to work on a worthy human enterprise.

It seems as though we're waiting for the charismatic leadership we badly need to turn this American community around. We are all leaders, of course. As a devout Buddhist myself, as well as a humanist-oriented bisexual man, I might find it somewhat easier than a Marxist ideologue to see the lurking potential for human personhood in even the most mind-numbed bureaucratic buttfuck, if one can just locate the resonant frequency where his or her humanity can be accessed.

I'd say your book is a clarion call to our troubled humanity, sounding an alarm on all known hailing frequencies! I'm glad I found you. And I'm glad I finally found a job that put the 20 bucks in my pocket, which I could spend on such a guilty and unjustifiable piece of discretionary pleasure, in these depressed and starving times.

Bad Attitude, of course, would prompt a bitter prole to "Steal This Book." And how, pray tell, would you folks feel about being ripped off like that, considering what you invested to write and publish it? [Well, we're more interested in people reading it than paying for it, if we have to choose--eds.]

You see, that's my point. Bad Attitude solves nothing in the long run. Responsibility for each other, and for the consequences of our actions, and for the quality of our commitments, has got to be the winning solution that brings us home to our humanity.

In the meantime, and on your own terms, you're one of the best reads I've encountered in years. Your book is a wonderful meal to nourish the spirit of compassionate mischief that keeps our humanity alive. Write on!

In love and solidarity,

D.D.B.--Amherst, Massachusetts


Dear PW Crew:

I'm (still) a secretary in a sales office located in a beautiful brownstone building in Loisaida (Lower East Side, or "the East Village"as the trendies term it), Manhattan. I'm not compartmentalized in a cubicle, I mostly work on my own (though not always at a leisurely pace) and, although I work long hours, I manage to "steal back" enough time and resources (use of my computer, the fax and photocopier, etc.) to make up for a somewhat fair but (subjectively) low salary. I manage to put out various 'zines for four amateur press alliances (APAs) to which my husband and I currently belong, and I put out two newsletters--one for ten years, one for six--largely on "office time."

I was raised with a good work ethic, which means I take care and pride in everything I do, whether it's editorial letters and "APAzines" or drone-work for The Corporation. I'm known for the speed at which I get my job done, and through my nine years here I've been given steady raises and more diversified responsibilities (i.e., not just mindless typing) as well as perks (free books, free invites to various yuppie-affairs, etc.) and a credible reputation. I'm usually relatively discreet about my hobbies, which has let me get away with a lot without pissing anybody off. I come from a frugal family, and I'm anal-retentively organized, which means I've saved the company lots of money on things like office and household supplies (all of which I'm now in charge) and can therefore splurge on supplies for myself now and again (I'm not a conspicuous consumer, so there aren't a lot of material things I crave).

I'm also in charge of hiring temps, sometimes to replace me if I take a mental health or actual sick day, which brings me to the main reason I'm writing: the story in your DOWNTIME! section called "Paperslutting" by Stella. This really pissed me off, and started me to wondering, if her Bad Attitude is what PW readers are supposed to admire and emulate, maybe PW and I have grown apart in recent years; the thought saddens me.

Stella is correct in thinking of herself as a paper slut. Despite the good folks at COYOTE [Call Off Your Old Tired Ethics, a prostitute's rights group], and people like Jane in your Sabotage section, I would think many prostitutes have rather low images of themselves, and this, obviously, contributes to the already-low image others have of them. Perhaps Stella was attempting to "reclaim" a word that commonly has a negative connotation, but it didn't seem like it to me. It seemed like she just didn't give a shit about anything other than pride in what she could get away with by being nasty and "subversive" to some faceless corporation.

Let me tell you something, Stella--I'm not a faceless corporation. I'm a cog in the machine just like you. My machine happens to be shinier than a lot of others I know, and believe me, I'm happy about that. It's nice not to have a totally shitty job, to get four weeks plus sick time plus medical bennies plus "stolen back" time. It's not cushy, it's not earth-shaking, but it's a decent living. When I hire a temp to help me or sub for me, I'm the one who has to "clean up" after her/him. If he/she fucks up the system, they're not fucking the corporation, they're fucking me. My corporation may be paying for a good time (i.e., an 8-hour day) from Stella Slut, but I'm the one getting abused in the end.

It's hard for me to attempt common courtesy with someone apparently out to treat her peers as shittily as she expects (and wants?) to be treated herself, but come on, Stella. I'm not your enemy. I'm not a bureaucrat, I'm a flesh and blood person just like you. I don't treat temps like dirt; when I call a temp agency, I expect intelligent people with common sense to help me out with my overflow. If I'm in, I'll give temps a tour of the house, sometimes I go to lunch with them, and I don't assign people monumental tasks (I leave those for myself). A temp isn't working for me, she/he is working with me. You, however, are working against me, and it's just not fair for me to, say, come back from vacation and have to clean up your shit. I don't deserve it. And you, Stella, deserve a better self-image. But do all us workers with civility a favor--get out of temping first.

Thanks for letting me say my piece.

E.W-C.--Brooklyn, New York


Dear Processed World,

Thanks for PW, which made good holiday reading. I regret, however, that I must turn down your appeal for a subscription, since I note that PW makes no provision for paying writers.

If you and your collective wish to go unpaid, I have no objections. But, as one who must struggle constantly to make a marginal living with his pen, I will not, on principle, send any of that hard earned cash to a publication that has no money for its writers. I have been doing this work long enough to know that writers seldom receive large sums, but the notion that they are to give their services for nothing, while printers, postmen, landlords, etc. are paid, is simply unacceptable to me.

On the other hand, I certainly wish you and PW well. I found the magazine worthwhile, but, as a member of the National Writers Union as well as the IWW, I feel unable to go against my principles in this matter.


J.G.--N. Miami, Florida


Hello Processed World,

Your publication is obscure, confusing and disturbing. In short, I love it. My experiences with a sporadical APM demonstrated the difficulty of producing worthwhile material of a periodic nature. At any rate, you guys do it well. I'm glad to see you don't pay for your material. I agree. It's the only way to get anything that's worth something. I know it may seem untrue sometimes, but there really are still people who read. What you have reassured me about is that there are still people who can write.

Smiling Holocaust--P.O. Box 3297, Berkeley, California 94703


Dear Processed World:

Loved issue 29! An especially fine and trenchant selection of toons. My favorite was on p. 4 by J.F. Batellier--the workers on the auction blocks--this is the future, baby! Also enjoyed the Wobbly-PW dialogue--won't get that in any damn Time-Life pubs! But the best, the very BEST thing of all was the piece on Sabotage in the American Workplace. I'll have you know I proudly word-processed and faxed this while at "werk" ((sic)k) at a government think-tank. Keep putting out the best damn magazine around about modern work and me and my friends will keep buying it.

Good luck to you, senores!

B.E., Process Resistor, Ellicot City, Maryland



Fiction for Processed World.

Submitted by Steven. on December 26, 2010

"Hello, how are ya? You have reached the Hoffman residence. I bill my time at two hundred dollars per hour. All my time. So knowing that, if you have anything worth saying, wait for the beep and leave a message . . . Hey, wait a minute, don't hang up, only kidding. If you are not mentally ill, contagiously sick, or a member of the Communist Party . . . beeeep."

"Roger, this is your wife. Cute, real cute. Could you please erase that before I get home. I'll be late tonight, honey. The casserole is in the fridge. Just have to heat it. You can handle it."

"Rita Hoffman's office. I'm away from my desk. Leave a message."

"Hi, dear. It's me. Casserole was great, really it was. Those correspondence cooking lessons really paid off. [Laughs.] Oh yeah, too bad you couldn't make it to the game. Rog Junior hit a two-run homer. You shoulda . . . "

* * *

"Rita objected to yesterday's tape. This one is simple: Start talking!"

"Hi, hon, it's me. Love your new tape. Really, Roger. Could you pick up Jenny at daycare? I'll be late again tonight. God, I hope you're home before after-school gets out. I'm counting on you, Roger. You did leave a message on my office machine saying you'd be home early. I'm counting on you. Gotta run, hon. They're waiting for me. Big molto meeting. Love ya."

"Rita objected to yesterday's tape. This one is simple: Start talking!"

"Hello, Mr. Hoffman. I'm going to leave a message on your machine. It's five thirty, Mr. Hoffman. We close at five o'clock. I thought we came to an understanding about this once before. This is the last time. I'll wait here with Jenny until six. See you at six, Mr. Hoffman."

"Rita objected to yesterday's tape. This one is simple: Start talking!"

"Hon, Mrs. Mitchell called. She left a message on my machine. I'm sure she left one at home, too--I mean on your own machine. You were supposed to pick up Jenny, remember?"

"Rita objected to yesterday's tape. This one is simple: Start talking!"

"Daddy, where are you? It's six thirty."

* * *

"Rita Hoffman's office. I'm away from my desk. Leave a message."

"Rita, I just picked up the messages off the machine. I did not, repeat, did not agree to pick Jenny up. That is your interpretation. An expansion, really an expansion of our exchange of messages. I will not be blamed by you, by Jenny, by that Mrs. Mitchell. Do you hear me, Rita? Let me . . . "

"Rita Hoffman's office. I'm away from my desk. Leave a message."

"Mommy, why don't you ever pick up the phone? It's six thirty. I got your message at school that Daddy's picking me up, but he isn't here. I'll be at the Mitchell's. Can one of you please pick me up?"

"Rita Hoffman's office. I'm away from my desk. Leave a message."

"Hon, it's me. Roger. It's seven fifteen. Look, something came up. I have to be on the coast for that merger. Plane outta here at nine o'clock. I don'thave time to stop at Mitchell's. You take care of it, O.K., hon? See you Tuesday. Counting on you; see you Tuesday."

* * *

"Rita objected to yesterday's tape. This one is simple: Start talking!"

"Folks, this is Mrs. Mitchell calling. Jenny is at Protective Services. That's Protective Services. You'll find it in the phone book under California, State of. You still owe me a check for October. This is Mrs. Mitchell. 'Bye now."

"Rita objected to yesterday's tape. This one is simple. Start talking!"

"Roger, how dare you!"

"Rita objected to yesterday's tape. This one is simple: Start talking!"

"Daddy, you were supposed to pick me up. I don't know where I am, Daddy." [Pause.]

"Mr. Hoffman, this is Sergeant Beard. Call me at 642-8001."

"Rita objected to yesterday's tape. This one is simple: Start talking!"

"Damn, I hate that tape. I landed, honey. Hope this doesn't wake you. Jenny all right? Oh yeah, I ordered the car phone. Love ya!"

* * *

"Rita Hoffman's office. I'm away from my desk. Leave a message."

"Mommy, where are you?"

* * *

"Rita objected to yesterday's tape. This one is simple: Start talking!"

"Mommy, Daddy, Mommy, Daddy, where are you?"

--David Alan Goldstein


A river's revenge! Surrealist implications of the great flood

Chicago surrealists on the flooding of the city in 1992.

Submitted by Steven. on December 26, 2010

"This isn't funny."

--Mayor Richard Daley, 13 April 1992, in his first statement to the press on the flood.

"As the offices emptied, there was little sense of the alarm or panic usually associated with major disasters. . .More typical was the humor and even giddiness with which many greeted the unexpected holiday."--Chicago Tribune, 14 April 1992, page 1

"I feel like a kid getting out of school because of snow."--a woman telephone worker, quoted in the Tribune, 14 April 1992

Any sudden end of "business as usual" ushers in possibilities for everything that is neither business nor usual. Every interruption in the "normal functioning" of government and commerce reveals glimpses of a new society that is the very negation of such sorry afflictions. Momentarily freed of the stultifying routine of "making a living," people find themselves confronted with a rare opportunity to live.

In these unmanageable situations, the absolute superfluousness of all "management" becomes hilariously obvious. Uninhibited by the presence of bosses, supervisors and other agents of hierarchical power, those who have rarely been more than exploited victims of a slave system begin to act like free human beings, relying--in many cases for the first time since childhood--on their own initiative, their own resources.

With the chains of authority broken, or at least in disuse, the wonders of solidarity and mutual aid are rediscovered as if by magic. Long-time prisoners of the insufferable workaday world revel in the inexhaustible pleasures of not working. Spontaneously and joyfully, those who have always been "bored to death" reinvent, starting from zero, a life worth living. The oppressive tyranny of obligations, rules, sacrifice, obedience, realism and a multitude of so-called "lesser evils" gives way to the creative anarchy of desire. The "everyday" begins--however fleetingly--to fulfill the promise of poetry and our wildest dreams.


"Poetry is neither tempest nor cyclone. It is a majestic and fertile river."

--Isidore Ducasse, Poesies

"I knew there were big problems when we got reports of fish in basements."

--Chicago Police Superintendent Matt Rodriguez, 13 April 1992

For an entire exalting week, with the whole world watching, the Chicago River had the city's central business district at its mercy. The rising of this tormented, much-maligned waterway revealed the fragility and precariousness of the foundations not only of a city, but of a whole society, an entire civilization. With the power off and the lights out, the unruly river showed us how much of what affects our lives is dark and underground and hidden from view. This "freak accident" demonstrated that the seemingly vast and monolithic power of this society's repressive forces is largely an illusion maintained by the ignorance and disorganization of those who are accustomed to being repressed.

In passing, the Great Flood exposed yet again the utter worthlessness of all bureaucracy and statism in solving any fundamental problem. The raging torrents of the river's murky waters thus brought only clarification in their wake.

In a social set-up based on inequality and exploitation, "natural calamities" generally victimize the poor. The Chicago flood, however, hurt only the prosperous and powerful. Businessmen, cops, bankers, politicians and officials of the Board of Trade called it a "tragedy" and a "nightmare," but just about everyone else had a grand old time. Many described it as an adventure that they wouldn't have missed for anything. Thanks to the flood, some 250,000 workers enjoyed at least one extra day off, with pay, and many of the homeless savored their finest meals in years (with refrigeration turned off, restaurant-owners found it cheaper to give food away than to pay for its removal).

From the start this "different kind of disaster," as someone dubbed it, was perceived by everyone but the ruling class as an image or symbol of their own latent urge to revolt.

In the river's subterranean fury every rebel against unfreedom has sensed a kindred spirit.

The river's refusal to stay in its manmade cage will long remain an inspiration for all who reject domestication and other forms of unnatural confinement. In the rising of the river we recognize the eruption and triumph of all that is forbidden, outlawed, suppressed by the enforcers of a racist, sexist, exploitative, militaristic and ecocidal Law 'n' Order. Like the Great Snow of '67, the Flood of '92 is a grand moment in the struggle to resolve the contradiction between nature and human nature. As long as nature is enslaved, humankind cannot be free. An injury to one is an injury to all!

The majesty and fertility of the river is as irrepressible as the desire for freedom. Dreamers of the world, dream like the flood!

--The Chicago Surrealist Group

May 1992, Address all inquiries c/o Black Swan Press, POB 6424, Evanston, IL 60204.


Announcing... The Union of Time Thieves Local #00

Announcement of the first "local" of the union for work-time stealers.

Submitted by Steven. on December 26, 2010

Why Time Theft? Isn't That Illegal?

Time theft is common enough on most jobs. When we come to work late, leave early, extend our breaks and lunch hours, conduct "personal business" on the clock, we expand the time dedicated to enriching our own humanity. At the same time we make off with bits of creative human energy, stealing it back from the all- devouring machine of The Economy.

To The Economy, most of us are no more than employees of companies and consumers of goods. The premise of this arrangement is that during our time on the job we will help create wealth in excess of what we are paid. This additional wealth is the profit that The Economy demands, in fact requires, and it is stolen from us by design. The circle is completed when we buy back the goods that we contributed producing in the first place. Of course we then pay more than the goods "cost'' to produce, because the companies that pay people to make, ship and sell them, to keep track of the money, pensions, taxes, and so on, all have a "right" to make a profit. Somewhere between the bottom and the upper-middle echelons of business life almost all of us are toiling away in this web of absurdity, while our right to a good life is buried beneath more powerful "rights."

During the last century there's been an incredible increase in the productivity of human labor, to the point where we are almost in sight of self-reproducing robots. Since 1948, labor productivity has more than doubled, yet today we are working an average of five weeks longer per year than we were in 1972. WHY IS THIS?!?

It is widely recognized that the system needs an "army of unemployed," both as a pool of cheap and eager labor to draw on in case of a business upturn—or a strike—and as a terrifying example to hold up to the still employed. In spite of this, the Economy is actually an incredible work creator. The Economy is a self-perpetuating way of "life" that depends on growth and profit. Human goals like good relations between people, deep and satisfying emotional and sex lives, or anything not reducible to economic numbers, are at best incidental to our work lives. Having thoroughly streamlined industrial production, reducing humans to animated machine parts in the process, economic logic is invading every part of the globe and our lives. From the search for cheap biogenetic materials in the deepest tropical jungles to the emergence of new products and services such as "career counseling" or new variations on fast food, less and less human activity goes on outside the realm of the marketplace. Paid-for "professional services" medicalize family and personal problems that often have their roots in the overwork, financial stress, and hopelessness produced by The Economy.

Time thieves recognize this dynamic and combat it every way we can. The most direct resistance available to us is to take back as much time as possible from the logic of the marketplace, beginning immediately on our own jobs.

We need to alter the pace of work to suit our own needs. Sometimes we can secretly eliminate unnecessary activities; other times we may pull a slow-down. Psycho-wars between groups of workers and their managers are essential to gradually (or abruptly) changing productivity expectations.

When we control our worktime, we can structure our activities to increase free time, hiding our efficiency to retain its benefits for ourselves. Why should our ingenuity strengthen The Economy? When such efforts become organized across the boundaries of workplaces, occupations, industries, and finally national borders, we will be approaching a new way of life in which people freely choose and creatively pursue the work that together they decide they want done—the only work worth doing.

Why A Union?

Unions have become ineffective and generally corrupt institutions designed to facilitate the sale of our time to an economy over which we have no control. They have failed to challenge the absurd and inhuman division of labor that has grown up under 200 years of capitalism. Unionism must address the bald fact that most work done today is so wasteful and harmful that it has to be eliminated, not simply reformed through improved or less brutal conditions or even workers' control. Time thieves already know that their "real lives" happen outside of what they do for money, i.e. work. The pursuit of free time and less work is a continuing statement about the basic uselessness of most jobs, and our need for greater meaning and fulfillment. Unionism based on specific jobs or industries has divided workers and often led to self-defeat. But a union of time thieves naturally unites kindred spirits across the artificial boundaries imposed by The Economy.

A UNION OF TIME THIEVES restores the original meaning of the word "union." Once again it becomes a practical association among individuals seeking a common goal—in this case the expansion of autonomous time under our own control while on the job. To systematically increase free, creative time takes cooperation and collaboration, hence the need for a union of time thieves.

Why Local #00?

Each zero has its own meaning:
* The first 0 represents the usefulness of most of the work we do for this society.
* The second 0 indicates what percentage of our time we are willing to leave under the control of people and institutions other than ourselves.

Won't you join us?

Combat the ravenous and insatiable appetite of The Economy which attempts to subject all aspects of human life to the dictatorship of its logic!



Union of Time Thieves Local #00
c/o 1310 Mission Street
San Francisco, CA 94103


Avon calling… from hell!!!

A tale of toil by Donald Phillips, a worker in an Avon factory.

Submitted by Steven. on December 26, 2010

My life took an abrupt turn for the worse after I graduated from Miami University in the spring of 1987. A liberal arts major with poor grades, I couldn't maintain a set of accounting books, design hair dryers, or trade commodities. The help wanted ads didn't look very promising. There was a large demand for nurses, engineers, cost accountants, security guards, and little else. None of it interested me in the least, but I had to apply for something.

A few small-to-medium-sized factories were advertising for unskilled laborers, and I certainly fit the bill. After failing to get a job after applying with them directly, a "friend" suggested that I check out temporary agencies. Another "friend"referred me to Olson Temporary Services, claiming it has the "best" assignments. Olson had placed his girlfriend at General Electric's jet engine plant in Cincinnati and she ended up getting into GE's executive management trainee program. I didn't believe I was capable of landing such a position owing to a basic defect of character--a complete lack of the work ethic, at least a positive one. But at this point, anything would do.

The nearest Olson office was in Fairfield, a Cincinnati suburb in the Forest Fair Mall, the largest mall in the United States, probably containing almost as much concrete as the Hoover Dam. A monument to consumer excess, its developer went belly up and wrote off$1.5 billion-worth of junk bonds that had been used to finance its construction on a couple hundred acres of former corn and soybean fields. Its combination of highly polished marble, loud, abrasive music, and flashing lights had given half a dozen children epileptic fits.

Forest Fair Mall is Fairfield's largest minimum wage employer, and Olson Temporary Services is strategically placed within it, right between the Jiffy Lube and the State Farm Insurance office. The mall's architectural style was "lowest common denominator"--as uninspiring as possible, particularly if thirty cents can be saved, and Olson's office was a perfect example of it. When I walked through Olson's door, I noticed a small waiting area with eight people in the typical uncomfortable plastic chairs. A few of their occupants were leafing absentmindedly through People and Reader's Digest; some just stared out into space with dead chicken eyes. My three-hour wait was thoroughly horrible. Making people wait needlessly is the petty bureaucrat's means of exerting a modicum of authority over the powerless.

Although I passed the basic skills and word processing tests Olson gave me, they didn't have an immediate job assignment, and told me to call the next day to check for openings. Being anxious to get out of the Olson office, I played the obedient, ignorant worker and left without asking any questions. This was neither the time nor the place to be antagonistic. That would come later.

Following my instructions to the letter, I called Olson at around 2:30 the following afternoon. After being on hold for half an eternity, subjected to the drone of a "light rock" station, a human voice informed me of a potential assignment at a nearby Avon cosmetics factory. The assignment would last for two to three weeks, and I was informed that it was considered "choice" because it didn't require you to wear a hard hat and steel-toed shoes. I accepted the assignment, which was to begin the next Monday, giving me one last weekend of freedom.

Not knowing what the early morning traffic would be like, I allowed plenty of time to arrive at the factory that Monday. Olson had stressed showing up fifteen minutes early to convey a "positive attitude." As I headed toward the factory, the gray-toned cover of early dawn prevented me from getting a very good look at the other drivers barreling down the expressway. They all looked the same: silhouettes taking gulps of coffee from spill-proof containers, looking for another radio station or just staring ahead while negotiating the umbilical cord between home and job. Humans are alone when they're born and when they die, and also when they drive to work at 5:40 Monday morning.

The Avon factory sat on an expansive plot of land skirting two major interstates. It looked more like a vast office complex than the traditional factory replete with smokestacks and water towers. Of course, most funeral homes also conceal what actually goes on behind their closed doors.

The parking lot was already quite full when I arrived, with newer cars safeguarded in its outer periphery to prevent being scratched and bumped by the many don't-give-a-damn jalopies parked closer to the employee entrance. Probably half of many employees' weekly earnings went out the exhaust pipe of monthly car loan payments and repair bills. Which comes first--the job that necessitates having the car or the car that necessitates having the job? Either way, it's a vicious circle.

By this time, the sun was on the job, turning shades of gray into colors. As I parked my car I could see the faces of the people sitting in the relative safety of their cars, savoring those last few minutes of freedom. Not knowing where to report, I followed the herd heading toward an entrance, hoping to figure things out without having to ask questions. Like most factories, Avon's workforce was composed of two classes: the non-productive managerial and clerk class, most of whom dressed like appliance salespersons at Sears, and the workers, many also non-productive, who dressed like people who purchase appliances at Sears. Taking note of a few other confused people congregated around the security desk, I went over to try to glean some information from listening to their questions. One of the disinterested guards told a confused temp to sign in and take an identity badge, to be worn "in a prominent place" whenever on the factory floor.

On my way to the assigned break area where the temporary employee orientation was to be given, I took a long look at the factory floor. It was clean, well-ventilated, and amply lit. Its large south-facing window overlooked a well-manicured lawn. Avon certainly defied the factory stereotype.

It was early October, and a production increase was in the works to meet the large influx of orders expected from Avon's legion of salespersons. From a business standpoint, hiring temporary workers to meet peak production needs makes perfect business sense--after all, temps receive rock-bottom wages and marginal benefits, if any. With that attitude, it should have been no surprise when most personnel departments changed their names to Human Resources.

Early in the history of this "modern" factory, the workforce went on a long and bitter strike that cost Avon a lot of money and taught its management the importance of minimizing the possibility of future strikes. Central to this new managerial philosophy was the replacement of tenured employees with a large pool of temps who would be trained to perform an elementary assembly line function in less than fifteen minutes--and summarily dismissed if they ever questioned the status quo. The remaining tenured employees were, in the meantime, pacified into a state of bovine docility and quite frankly didn't give a hoot in hell how the temps were treated.

A group of twenty to thirty temps sat or stood around, nervously spouting the mindless chatter of parrots or appliance salesmen at Sears. Many of them knew one another, having worked together on other temporary jobs in the past. Others, such as myself, didn't know anyone and just stood around looking as dumb as the machines to which we would soon be chained.

Everyone shut up as soon as two official-looking women walked into the break area. The first was frumpy and well into middle age, probably a company person who'd worked her way up through the ranks. Walking a few feet behind was a substantially younger woman who, while looking just as official (i.e., hollow eyed and mannequin faced), possessed the body of an aerobics fanatic who lived on yogurt and diet sodas. Her face was much more taut than that of the marshmallow-complexioned woman in front. I could tell immediately that the young woman was all business and saw her current position as a necessary evil to be tolerated only until something better came along. The older woman probably looked upon her current position as a career pinnacle, the fruit of twenty-five years with the company, something to brag about during Saturday morning appointments with the beautician.

The employee orientation was conducted on much the same infantile level as the one at Olson: very structured, very authoritarian, and very boring. Among the items stressed was the need to sign in and out at both the guard station and supervisor's desk, to promptly return from breaks, and to display a positive attitude at all times owing to the large number of "dignitaries" who tour the factory on a daily basis. The orientation broke up after fifteen minutes, and we were split up into teams of five temps each.

After fifteen minutes of "training," my team was assigned to a machine that was operated by a tenured employee behind a control console and watched over by a machine repairman. Our job involved snapping one plastic piece onto another as it passed our respective workstations on a conveyor belt to another temp who neatly arranged them in boxes. The assembly involved a simple pump that would eventually be attached to a perfume bottle on another assembly line. A highly indifferent, late-middle-aged woman controlled the assembly line's speed and initially kept it down to what was considered an inefficient pace while the temps acquired the basic rote skills and machine-like rhythms to accomplish the task at hand.

After less than five minutes, it was painfully boring and I was looking for a clock to mark the time until the first break, still two and a half hours away. The two temps setting on either side of me were engaged in some inane conversation through which they could perhaps make things go by more quickly. They covered such well-worn topics as missed daytime dramas, planned shopping excursions on the upcoming weekend, and anticipated purchases from the Avon Employee Store.

In spite of the finite nature of such conversational topics, they were able to sustain their chitter-chatter for a full two and a half hours until the first break, somewhere around 10:30, although I had completely lost track of empirical time. The temps sitting in the break area closest to my assembly line were acting like shell-shocked soldiers. The tenured employees didn't look any better, and in fact, looked shell-shocked all the time--both on and off the job. While earning almost double per hour what the temps earned and having slightly better jobs, they had the distinct disadvantage of having done it for years if not decades and wore the effects like fashion models wear skin-tight clothes: puffy faces, cream-cheese complexions, raccoon-like rings around oil-slick eyes, atrophied muscles, poor posture, deformed hands.

The temps returned from the break with the reluctance of cattle being herded into a slaughterhouse killing line. The tenured employees who knew what was in store were the last to come back, extending the break for another five minutes. I too was less than eager to return to that godforsaken assembly line, which was now being speeded up to a minimally acceptable production speed.

In front of each of the nine assembly lines was a desk. Behind each desk was a machine supervisor, whose job it was to see that production quotas and quality control standards were met. As long as everything was within acceptable production ranges, they didn't have to do very much, and indeed didn't do much besides standing around trying to look necessary. They didn't convince me. Sure, one of them would take periodic walks around the line, write on clipboards, and occasionally inquire how everything was going. I wasn't asked, but wouldn't have told the truth anyway; they didn't want to hear anything other than "OK."

By 1:30 I was working like a robot and paying no attention to the quality of my workmanship. Quality control was a luxury I hadn't the time or inclination to engage in. Frankly, I displayed the finesse of a drunken Russian coal miner. If the correct fitting was made, OK; if the incorrect fitting was made, OK.

With the buzzing of the end-of-shift signal, both tenured and temporary employees dropped everything and dashed for the exits with a reason for living that they otherwise lacked during the course of the working day. While leaving the Avon factory did signal the attainment of a degree of freedom, it also meant driving through bumper-to-bumper traffic, preparing the evening meal, washing dishes, taking children to sports practice, watching four to six hours of television, thinking about sex--maybe even going through the motions--and falling asleep on the couch by 10:00. By 9:30, I was thoroughly lost in dreamless slumber land.

Morning came around in much the same way it had twenty-four hours earlier, only I was more tired, two cups of jet black coffee notwithstanding. Arriving five minutes later than yesterday forced me to park further back in the parking lot and walk what seemed like half a mile to the employee entrance. As for my state of mind, I didn't really have one the second day, most of which was spent filling boxes with shampoo bottles and jars of facial cream coming off a conveyor belt with the velocity of machine gun bullets. Falling behind within fifteen minutes of the beginning of the shift necessitated my working like mad to avoid being the "weak link" in the chain. I shouldn't have given a damn, but did--a major character flaw I hope to eliminate soon.

This was only Tuesday morning, but the concept of weekends had lost its significance in my struggle to keep up with the mechanized beast. Unlike the two assembly lines flanking the one I was bound to, mine wasn't breaking down very frequently; it just kept on going. The two temps working near me had long since ceased talking and instead just concentrated on the task at hand, trying to survive until the next break. By quitting time I knew why Fred Flintstone shouted "Yabba Dabba Doo!" when his shift ended and he could get away from his drudgery.

Once home, riding my bike was still possible, but I mostly thought about the job while biking and didn't really enjoy myself. Reading was entirely out of the question. Watching television was stretching my capabilities, but was made possible by having a remote control unit within arm's reach. Falling asleep by 9:00, my night was once again dreamless.

Early Wednesday morning, while assembling lunch (the food in the Avon cafeteria was truly wretched) and dreading my appointment with yet another machine, I realized that this couldn't go on much longer if my sanity were to be preserved. At the same time, however, the alternatives seemed to be equally unattractive. There was really only one alternative--another shit job.

Wednesday morning actually started out OK, because I was pulled away from the assembly line and assigned to help a tenured employee construct boxes. The machine had broken down, and she told me to just act like I was working in the meantime. My holiday lasted until the first break, after which I was chained to the machine for which I had previously constructed boxes. This new job involved screwing lids onto jars of cold cream. It was another situation in which I immediately fell behind and had to bust ass to avoid falling behind even further. As luck would have it, the machine broke down again when one of the jars got caught in a chute and created a substantial traffic jam. After carefully listening to the repairman explain to the machine operator why the jam occurred, I made a mental note of his instructions.

Only then did I notice the sexual composition of the factory floor's two job classifications: repair (men) and operations (women). Because being a repairman was deemed more "difficult," they were paid more than operators, who, while earning more than the temps, earned about one-third less than the repairmen. The supervisors were predominantly female, but earned little more than the repairmen, who mainly stood around drinking coffee and making sexist remarks.

Once the machine was unclogged, it ran smoothly--except when I sabotaged it by creating a jam. But this provided only the most temporary relief. I could only break the machine down for about 15 minutes an hour without giving myself away to management; this meant having to work for 45 minutes an hour, which was intolerable as far as I was concerned. So as soon as the half-hour lunch break began, I casually gathered up my jacket and bag and took one last look around the place. There was really no need to sign out. I didn't believe I'd get paid by Olson anyway owing to some silly breach of contract clause in the employment forms. So be it!

The first object I noticed upon getting out of Avon was an enormous oak tree towering over the parking lot. Perfectly proportioned, it must have been seventy years old and possessed a dignity denied to the people bound to the hum-drum life inside. I marveled that it hadn't been bulldozed during the construction of the parking lot, probably a concession to '70s environmentalists designed to project a "good corporate image" while Avon's products filled up landfills across the nation and much of the ocean floor off the New Jersey coast.

As I walked towards my car, granted, I had almost no money and few prospects for getting any in the near future, but I was free for the afternoon--and that was enough for the time being.

--Donald Phillips



Submitted by Steven. on December 26, 2010

Prag-Mac-tic Anarchism or MACotage

As long as we're slave-labor drones, we might as well take what we can. Following are some ways in which Mac users can appropriate software and computer use resources for their own amusement and gain:

Fun with networked printers: Since printers are tied in to computer networks, and those networks are networked, you can print on printers other than in your own office.

Fun on file servers: It's remarkable just how forgetful, careless or ignorant system administrators and other networked users can be, even when it comes to important or confidential data. Depending on your level of access, you can move things around, copy things to your hard drive, rename files, or move folders inside folders. Fun huh? Some organizations (such as universities) actually have file servers with shareware archives that anyone can freely copy.

Fun with mail and communications: QuickMail will allow you to "attach" documents to whatever mail message you're sending. If you're at a large organization or university, you've almost certainly got Internet access. Using QuickMail's "Address Book--Special Address" feature, you can create your very own address book with Internet e-mail addresses. Then you can send mail and/or attachments to yourself and your friends while at work. You could even e-mail confidential financial documents to your inside contact at a competing company. Fax software such a MaxFax will allow you to fax most any document to any fax number.

This is a short excerpt of a longer document. For the entire document, or more information, please contact: How Do You Spell It Productions, PO Box 460896, San Francisco, CA 94146-0896, U.S.A.

Majority Of Mothers "Do Not Want To Take A Job"

Two out of three mothers would choose to stay at home with their children and nor work if they could afford to do so. But 40 percent went back to work within three months of their baby being born. According to a survey, a third of working mothers feel guilty about being away from home and 60 percent say that child benefit payments are "very important"--9 percent more than a survey found last year. Only 15 percent of mothers were "very keen" to return to work, 40 percent "quite keen," 24 percent "not very keen" and 20 percent "not at all" keen. Even though a large number of women said they would rather be at home, half of all the mothers who worked believed their ability to be a parent was enhanced by the change in environment, mental stimulation and social contact.

from The Times, London


How to actually enjoy your incredibly inane and stupid job now and then without becoming a brainwashed zombie

Greta Christina's 30 ways to improve your working life.

Submitted by Steven. on December 26, 2010

"If there's something you've got to do and a way to enjoy it, you'd be a fool to do it any other way."
Thomas Disch, "On Wings of Song"

Hello, and welcome to the Creative Employment Opportunity (CEO) School of Employee Empowerment. The following techniques will help make it possible for you to actually enjoy a reasonable portion of the long and tedious hours you spend creating profit for other people. With regular practice and steady application of these methods, you should be able to turn to your advantage any number of work situations that at best you'd rather not be at and at worst you despise down to the very nuclei of your blood cells. Please note: None of these techniques involves developing a good attitude, cultivating a genuine commitment to the company, or taking your job seriously.

1. Have sex fantasies (if you work in the sex industry, castration fantasies may be more effective for you).

2. Go into the bathroom and masturbate.

3. Call your friends on the phone.

4. Experiment with just how much you can make a personal phone call sound like company business.

5. Make friends with the people you work with. (Many pop psychologists disparage closeness with workmates, claiming that it dissolves important boundaries or creates a confusing work environment. This is corporate propaganda and, as such, should be ignored. It may not be a great idea to actually fuck the people you work with, but having genuine friends at your job can make working there somewhat less fossilizing and perhaps even marginally pleasant. It also makes it easier to waste valuable company time).

6. Impersonate your boss. (It is essential that you complete step 5 before attempting this technique. Failure to do so may result in severe embarrassment and/or loss of your job.

7. Talk about your life. This will help you remember that you have one. It has the additional benefit of wasting valuable company time. However, for the sake of your intelligence and imagination as well as the sanity of your workmates, please severely limit the amount of time you spend discussing television shows.

8. Have more sex fantasies. (Yes, we know, we said this already, but it's an important technique and is worth repeating. If you haven't had a good sex fantasy in the last hour, it's time for another. Try the one about the 13th century French Crusader and the Arabian aristocrat.)

9. Have non-sexual fantasies. Make up an elaborate imaginary world in which you are brilliant and fearless and noble and wise and charming and passionate and gifted and graceful and hauntingly beautiful to boot; a world in which everyone you touch is changed forever, even your enemies grudgingly admire you, and anyone who ever sneered at you finally realizes just how much they've misjudged you.

10. Make faces at people you talk to on the telephone.

11. Make faces at people who are trying to talk on the telephone.

12. Make faces at your boss behind his/her back.

13. Stare blankly out the window (assuming you have access to one. If you don't, the wall will do almost as well.) Hold a pen thoughtfully and purposefully in your hand: done correctly, this will deceive your boss into believing that you're actually thinking about your job.

14. Play weird little mind games with your mindless tasks. If you slave over endless pages of essentially random numbers, try to find weird mathematical patterns in them. If you word process, see how many paragraphs begin with the letter "W." If you do data entry, play a few good rollicking rounds of Guess The Zip Code. If you empty the wastebaskets, try to imagine the personalities of the people who use them.

15. Invent time-saving efficiency working techniques to give you more time in which to fuck off.

16. Invent new ways of making your personal projects look like company business.

17. Have even more sex fantasies. (I really can't emphasize strongly enough the importance of this technique. Keeping your libido alive is probably the most fun you can have subverting the dominant paradigm. If you're bored with the Crusades, try the one about the FBI agent and the bootlegger's lover.)

18. Experiment with just how far you can push the dress code.

19. Experiment with just how far you can stretch your breaktime/lunchtime/arrival-and-departure time.

20. Experiment with just how drunk/high you can get on your lunch hour without fucking up your position. (This technique only works if you are not an addict. If you are an addict, it will most likely have very limited entertainment value.)

21. Go into the bathroom and masturbate some more. (What are they going to do, give you grief about the amount of time you spend on the crapper? Well, okay, they might. If this happens, explain that you have stress-related constipation, and issue vaguely threatening hints about workman's compensation, rising insurance costs, and/or possible lawsuits.)

22. Use the word processor to write letters to your friends. Use the postage machine to mail them.

23. Find new and ingenious ways to annoy your boss that you can't actually be fired for.

24. Computer games, computer games, computer games!

25. Have another sex fantasy. Don't be shy--you owe it to yourself! Always remember that you are a beautiful and unique human being, no matter how crummy your job makes you feel. You deserve to have dozens of sex fantasies every day of your life.

26. Plan your evening.

27. Plan your weekend.

28. Plan your next vacation.

29. Plan your life after the workers' revolution comes and you don't have to work at this stupid fucking job anymore!

30. Plot the workers' revolution.

If you feel that this lesson has been helpful but are in need of further assistance, please consult our second-level instruction manuals, How To Look Industrious And Responsible While Doing Your Own Creative Work On Company Time and 101 Sex Fantasies To Keep You Entertained During An Otherwise Tedious Workday.

--Greta Christina

Many thanks to Marian Phillips for her valuable assistance, invaluable companionship, and really weird outlook on life.



12 years 1 month ago

In reply to by

Submitted by Steven. on April 23, 2012

This is a great article. Does anyone know where any of these people who contributed to/wrote Processed World are now?

(Also bump as I added a picture, inspired by point 9)


12 years 1 month ago

In reply to by

Submitted by Steven. on April 23, 2012

Actually, I switch the picture as I found a photo of a female office worker which seems more appropriate given the gender of the author. However I kind of think the one with the male office worker was a better picture…

Chilli Sauce

12 years 1 month ago

In reply to by

Submitted by Chilli Sauce on April 23, 2012

2. Go into the bathroom and masturbate.

So this came up recently and I was shocked how many people in my friendship circle had done this while at work. Not surprisingly it was more common with males, but female friends, too...

jef costello

12 years 1 month ago

In reply to by

Submitted by jef costello on April 23, 2012

Thanks, I'm a big fan of processed world.


12 years 1 month ago

In reply to by

Submitted by Choccy on April 23, 2012

We had a few things that used to make our shop work go easier, even Revol jumped in ona few of these (he was always following my lead cos he looked up to me):

- serve customers in foreign accents while trying to keep a straight face
- throw invented words into dialogue with customers and see if they double-take
- when your workmate turns round to get some goods at the till (usually cigarettes), mash the keypad on their till so they ring in 5000000 packets and have to get a manager to come and cancel it
- take all the out of date stuff into the alleyway (the stuff you aren't taking home) and just smash it (we were actually pretty right-on and took most stuff to the local homeless shelter)
-take out of date stuff up 7 floors to the top of the fire escape and drop it, or throw it at the windows of the building opposite
- go exploring in your building, finds some rooms you've never been in, see if you can get on the roof
- in the stock room, put one of your mates up to doing a STUNTMAN DIVE into all the crisps
- play baseball with a broom handle and assorted pieces of stock
- play penalty shootouts with some chairs and assorted stock
- randomly change the volume on the shop music


12 years 1 month ago

In reply to by

Submitted by Tart on April 23, 2012

When working in a grey prison of a warehouse we developed a series of games to pass the time- some for when the management were about and some for when they were absent. Pallet racing was a favourite- the building was built with a natural slope from goods in to goods out- with an area for splitting into orders in the middle. You could start the pallet truck rolling as you took it off the truck and build up speed until you hit despatch then the skill was to drop the pallet enough to break the speed but not enough to strand the pallet and let the pallet truck carry on.
When we had slow moving goods in the store we would build the boxes into a labyrinth with a small room inside for card schools and sleeping.
We drew a target high on a wall and every time we took a pallet of nail varnish past (at speed) we would try to hit the target .
We took a delivery of thousands (literally thousands) of scatter cushions, we climbed into the roof and dived into the pile- free style bungee jumping- one colleague got his nose broken during a spectacular tandem dive so we staged an accident by turning a truck over and he got three weeks off and a compensation pay out and a new pair of specs- we also used the accident as evidence that we needed a designated cleaner to keep the work space safe.
If the boss was not around we just played football.
The best day I spent there was when one of the lads was clearing out the loft space above the office suite and discovered a pot of blue dye and the feed tank to the bosses personal shower. - I just remembered that when we closed down for a week all the batteries from the trucks were gone when we came back- I wondered how the drivers managed to get the whole crew drunk on the last Friday with our crap wages.

Chilli Sauce

12 years 1 month ago

In reply to by

Submitted by Chilli Sauce on April 23, 2012

You and Revol worked together?! Fuck me, your poor manager.

I used to sell riding lawn mowers and we'd have competitions to see who could work the term "jerk you off" while giving a product demonstrations. As in, "You really have to be careful shifting gears while you're still moving because it will stall and jerk you off the machine". Probably inappropriate and pretty damn childish, but it did pass the time.

Joseph Kay

12 years 1 month ago

In reply to by

Submitted by Joseph Kay on April 23, 2012

When I used to work in Argos, we used to draw a dart board onto flatpack furniture and play darts with those little pens.

Chilli Sauce

12 years 1 month ago

In reply to by

Submitted by Chilli Sauce on April 23, 2012

Chilli Sauce

2. Go into the bathroom and masturbate.

So this came up recently and I was shocked how many people in my friendship circle had done this while at work. Not surprisingly it was more common with males, but female friends, too...

What? Why is this getting upped?! I just don't understand!


12 years 1 month ago

In reply to by

Submitted by Steven. on April 23, 2012


We took a delivery of thousands (literally thousands) of scatter cushions, we climbed into the roof and dived into the pile- free style bungee jumping- one colleague got his nose broken during a spectacular tandem dive so we staged an accident by turning a truck over and he got three weeks off and a compensation pay out and a new pair of specs- we also used the accident as evidence that we needed a designated cleaner to keep the work space safe.



11 years 6 months ago

In reply to by

Submitted by jonglier on December 7, 2012

"15. Invent time-saving efficiency working techniques to give you more time in which to fuck off."

When, formerly, I worked in a small shop, I used to work out ways of being less efficient. I was there to serve customers, but there were often no customers in the shop, at which times I was expected to stock the shelves. The thing was, I used to enjoy going into the back room, getting the step ladder out, and getting the boxes of crisps down from the top shelf. It was certainly more exciting than standing around in the shop. All the flavours of crisps were in boxes on the top shelf, in a line next to each other. So if I needed to stock up three flavours of crisps, I would go to the back room, get the stepladder out, climb it, take down the box of one required flavour, climb down the stepladder, put the stepladder away, then I would take the crisps and restock them. Then I would repeat the entire operation again, twice, once for each of the other two required flavours of crisp.

Noah Fence

10 years 8 months ago

In reply to by

Submitted by Noah Fence on October 9, 2013

In my first ever job in a fruit and veg shop my workmates invented some excellent ways to pass the time and make their jobs more enjoyable. These included putting teaspoons in a boiled kettle and then holding them on my neck until my skin blistered and hosing me down in the yard until i was soaked to the skin in the middle of winter.
I know this sounds a bit harsh but was justifiable really because as they pointed out, 'that's what you get for being a fucking poof.'
I suppose it was fair enough but I really would have preferred it if they had gone in to the toilet to masturbate.

Noah Fence

10 years 8 months ago

In reply to by

Submitted by Noah Fence on October 9, 2013

What? Why is this getting upped?! I just don't understand!

My guess is that it's because everyone loves getting paid for wanking in the carsi.

Intellectual property rights: a debate

Primitivo Morales and Jon Christensen debate intellectual property rights in Processed World magazine.

Submitted by Steven. on December 26, 2010

Treaty Favors TNCs

Despite being cast as the lone villain in a global village, the United States had a surprising ally in opposing the controversial biodiversity treaty at the Earth Summit. Indigenous people from the tropical forests of the world took a similar position against the treaty in a meeting just before the official summit.

Like the United States, the Indians want a guarantee of respect for "intellectual property rights" or patents. This convergence highlights a fatal flaw in the convention on biological diversity.

The treaty will be signed by governments seeking control of burgeoning markets and profits in biotechnology. But it will bypass the only players who really count in the production and marketing process--indigenous people who know how to tap the great diversity of the tropical forests, and industries that can bring forest products to market.

Treaty advocates in Rio cited what they call a clear-cut case of "bioimperialism." The multinational pharmaceutical giant, Merck & Co., manufactures a treatment for glaucoma based on an alkaloid extracted from jaborandi, a bush found exclusively in the Amazon. Kayapo and Guajajara Indians, who first used the plant as a medicine, now harvest and sell the leaves to Merck under conditions anthropologists describe as "near slavery." In Germany, the alkaloid is refined and made into eyedrops that Brazil, among other countries, imports.

The most effective way to undercut this bioimperialism would be to make sure that those who first brought the jaborandi to the attention of international chemists--the Indians--receive patents and royalties. Instead, the biodiversity treaty compels the industrialized nations to compensate Brazil and other governments of developing nations where the raw materials are found.

Advocates portray the treaty controversy as another round in the battle between North and South. The North seeks to protect biological patents and profits while insisting that the South preserve its tropical forests. And the South protests attempts to lock up its genetic resources in patents and preserves while insisting that the North share the wealth generated from these raw materials.

Ironically, what this debate ignores is the new common ground that has emerged between the "North of the North"--the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries of the developed world--and the "South of the South"--the indigenous people of the tropical forests.

Roughly three-quarters of the compounds in the modern global pharmacopoeia originally derived from plants "discovered" through research on the use of plants by indigenous people. The value of such genetic resources is predicted to reach $50 billion by the year 2000. Yet it is estimated that only 2% of the plants in the Amazon alone have been studied by scientists. The indigenous people of the tropical forests hold the keys to much of the rest.

Ethno-botanists and pharmacologists have only begun to tap the complex database of indigenous empirical knowledge. When their knowledge is used for profit, indigenous people say they should have just as much right to a patent for "intellectual property rights"--knowledge of how to use or process a plant--as the pharmaceutical companies now enjoy.

To be successful, a treaty on biodiversity would have to include not only the governments of the North and the South, but also indigenous people and companies that use their biological resources and knowledge. By giving all the power over biodiversity to governments--many of which, like Brazil, have a dismal track record of honoring either patents or indigenous property rights--the biodiversity treaty is set up to fail.

U.S. objections to the treaty cover only half of the equation--the "intellectual property rights" of biotechnology companies. The other half involves recognizing indigenous people's demand to those same rights.

Respecting the patent rights of both would provide a financial incentive for conserving and developing biodiversity at the ground level in the South. And royalties on patents would provide the return flow of hard cash from the North to the South that new markets for genetic wealth will generate.

Many delegates protested that it is too late to amend the biodiversity treaty. But a fundamentally flawed treaty should not have been signed in a rush to save the appearance that something was being accomplished at the Earth Summit. Mutual recognition of property rights would do more concrete good than all the high-minded rhetoric about preservation and equity in the current biodiversity treaty.

--Jon Christensen

Intellectual Property Rites

There has recently been a flurry of discussion around Intellectual Property Rights (IPRs, in the jargon of the day). At the recent Earth Summit the United States refused to sign a treaty on biodiversity because of proposed restrictions on patents of pharmaceuticals derived from plants. Curiously, however, the advocates (e.g. the anthropologists of Cultural Survival) are not limited to the profit-hungry corporations; there are those who see IPRs as a possible tool in giving indigenous people more control over the use of traditional lands.

It is not an auspicious time for the idea of intellectual property. Computer programs and data which can be copied and distributed electronically; the ubiquitous copy machines and faxes; audio and video (re-)recording devices; and countries which are not members of various treaty conventions on copyrights and the like (India, China, etc.); the use of "sampling" in music and "back-engineering" in technology; have all made a mockery of this extension of property relations into the realm of intellectual creation.

Even within the United States there is much conflicting law and practice. The original concept of copyrights has its origin in the idea that ideas must not remain the exclusive property of the "inventor," for, as Jefferson wrote, "one may take another's idea without leaving the first poorer" (his analogy of one candle lighting another comes to mind). Such "ownership" was limited to the author's life plus a fixed number of years; patent law explicitly requires the public statement of the invention and (often) the best way of producing the object, and allows the inventor a limited period of control. Some of the basic concepts of patents included denying patents for natural products, for inventions which were obvious or commonplace, and for other people's creations.

Recently, however, there has been a burgeoning of US patents and copyrights on more subtle concepts: processes and methods, as well as naturally occurring chemicals and substances. People (usually corporations, or their proxies) have recently been awarded patents on algorithms (which previously have been regarded as "discovered" rather than invented), and on "new" biological organisms and species (which are, in fact, only new combinations of previously existing genetic material). The relentless drive for profit and control has even led to such absurdities as the "look-and-feel" law suits of Apple and Microsoft dealing with concepts of controlling computers which neither party devised (Xerox's Palo Alto Research Center has that distinction). And in an apparent reversal of the idea of not patenting natural products, two corporations have been granted patents on chemicals (one derived, one synthesized) from the Brazilian Neem tree. Many of uses of chemicals from such plants have long been known to natives of the area for exactly the same reasons; granting patents would seem to violate the principle that commonplace uses may not be patented. Although the US has always regarded the rest of the planet as its hunting ground, this usurpation of indigenous discoveries would also seem to be patenting someone else's work.

Some recent advocates of IPRs argue that because many of the biological products are derived from plants known by indigenous people (and sometimes used by them for the same purpose) the original "discoverers" (and often inventors, for the use of these drugs is often the result of generations of effort)should be awarded commensurately. Some have also argued that food crops may be seen this way: the result of centuries of refinement and experimentation by indigenous people around the world. Some even see this archaic legal concept as a possible reinforcement of these people in their fight for survival and control over their lands.

Perhaps . . .but this begs the question of whether such "rights" are legitimate. It can be argued that even as such ideas are being hailed in the "third" world, they are being shown as outmoded impediments in the techno-sphere: information moves faster, and with more ambiguous ownership all the time. Indeed, given that human knowledge is such an enormously socialized (and historical) creation, no invention can be said to be independent. The need for capital to harness such creations to make a profit is indisputable, and we should never forget the crucial question: "quo vadis?" ("who gains?").

Nor am I hopeful about the possibilities of enforcing such putative rights as may be won by what-ever collective group. The ability to enforce such contracts is a precise measure of social power; groups with no power will find those rights insupportable. Countries like Brazil, with its long history of mistreatment of indigenous peoples, no less than the US, which has a long and almost unbroken record of ignoring its treaties with North American Indians, are not promising arenas for indigenous people to play out power relations. When one side writes the laws, owns the courts, and licenses the lawyers, as well as allowing the vast budgets of the corporations free play, the other side, even if it is able to buy a few attorneys, cannot be said to be an equal. Bakunin's comment is relevant: "The law, in its majestic impartiality, forbids the rich as well as the poor from sleeping under bridges, begging, and stealing bread."

Casting the importance of nature in terms of property relations strengthens the abhorrent concept that wilderness and primal nature deserve protection because they are--or might be--useful.

There are further problems with imposing this western model on traditional societies: just as some North American tribes were never granted recognition by the US government because they had no leaders, the requirements of marketing and legal representation of IPRs will impose unique stresses on indigenous communities. Given movements towards control of traditional music and copyrighting materials, etc., the only aspects of traditional life that will survive may well be corporation's names, and a few patented commodities. Imagine a scenario in which some village elder sues another for copyright violations for performing a traditional song; perhaps in the name of ancestral spirits.

Such talk of "rights" also ignores some crucial questions about what the concept means: such "rights" are certainly not immutable things handed to us by nature; to the extent that there are any rights, it is because the common folk have fought for them. They were not, and never will be, given to us by benevolent masters. Those rights have always proved to be worthless in the absence of people willing to defend themselves (often outside of any legal process).

To frame our thinking about the exploitation of the other parts of the world in terms of ethics among property owners is to ignore the imperative of business: to make money. To try to use the very tools of business (law, property rights) to stop business, can't work.

It seems most unlikely that the road to human freedom and dignity passes through a courtroom and patent office. I regret that I have no better ideas for helping the poor people of such "developing" parts of the world as Brazil, but the idea that the concept of property, extended to more parts of the world, and to new "objects," will help preserve the parts not yet destroyed by the world capitalists, is not a sensible one. Perhaps this can be a tool of limited use, but to present it uncritically does us all a disservice.

--Primitivo Morales


Maybe this is not a very auspicious time (or place) to speak in favor of intellectual property. Of course, the argument could be extended. Across the political spectrum, we seem to be facing the 21st century with ideas inherited from the 19th century. It's fun to run in ideological circles, dancing with romanticism, communism, anarchism, nihilism, capitalism, post-this-and-thatism, careering from optimism to pessimism and back again, and throwing up our hands when pressed for direction. But have we learned anything in the 20th century? Perhaps something about pragmatism.

In the first place, the argument in favor of recognizing the intellectual property rights of indigenous people was made by them, not us. Of course, one can trace the concept's history to the door of capitalism. But it is a system most indigenous people have trucked with quite extensively over the last century or more.

Intellectual property rights may be an argument of the moment. More likely, indigenous people see property as a tool they can grasp to increase their own power. In any case, the demand for intellectual property rights emerges logically from their demands for recognition of their property rights in land as well, which have also been an inconvenience to some. Now they seek recognition of their knowledge, which until lately usually has been devalued even as it has been used by profiteers.

Unfortunately, pharmaceutical companies such as Merck and national governments such as Costa Rica are quickly cutting deals leaving out the local people who live in the tropical forests that are the sources of much of the world's biodiversity. And why not? The messy world of people vying for life in some backwoods is really just so much trouble. You're so right. There are too many practical problems with identifying the "inventors" of traditional knowledge, not to mention compensating often fractious communities.

But indigenous people have an inconvenient way of asserting themselves, especially it seems as we confront the millennium with such an intense love-hate relationship with technology and the nation state. Even as many late 20th century thinkers continue to see indigenous people somehow representing a state of society outside the market system, their demand for property rights presents a nagging problem.

Perhaps global positions--such as worshipping or demonizing the market in all cases--attempt to reach too far. Property rights can be a basic means of preserving local control. But property rights are clearly not a panacea, as history shows.

Information--and for that matter all kinds of property--may want to be free, as they like to say in Silicon Valley at the end of the 20th century. But property has costs and consequences and if you're lucky maybe benefits and profits. As a writer, marketing my words, I stand on the side of intellectual property rights, even though I will write for free. There are more important things than money and property. But that doesn't mean we have to turn our backs on them.

--Jon Christensen


Nine Guides to Saving the Planet (Not!)

Nine book reviews for Processed World.

Submitted by Steven. on December 26, 2010

Reviewed by Jon Christensen

Pity the poor soul who embarks here. You could spend the rest of your life reading about saving the planet. I only wasted a summer. In these books, the reader floats uneasily in the ocean of facts that make up our ever more crowded world, with its temperature rising, its ozone layer balding, its biological and cultural diversity vanishing. Remarkably, for such a complicated and controversial subject as the future of the world, these books share many of the same views, with a couple of notable exceptions. Maybe that's why we need a sea change in environmental consciousness. The school of global ecological management rules. What it is.

1. OUR COMMON FUTURE. The World Commission on Environment and Development. Oxford University Press: Oxford, 1987.

This was the document that enshrined the notion of sustainable development and set the tack for the Earth Summit. It reflects the positivist perspective of believers in the United Nations. Chaired by the vice-president of the Socialist International, Gro Harlem Brundtland, the commission reports that poverty is the principal cause of environmental degradation. Equity is the answer to the tragedy of the commons. But we must face the limits to growth. It is all there, the entire basic argument for worldwide solutions to the crisis of the environment and human misery. Comprised of blue-ribbon representatives from 28 countries, the commission eschews confrontation. It is not that there is one set of villains and another of victims, they say. While giving good lip service to public participation, the model promoted here is global governance. The Commission enshrines Public Hearings as its trademark. But one gets the worrying feeling that all of this might be a mere sideshow to the real consolidation of power under green regimes, not unlike the relationship of the Global Forum's eco-bazaar to the Earth Summit in Rio 92.

2. THE GLOBAL PARTNERSHIP: A Guide to Agenda 21. United Nations Conference on Environment and Development. United Nations Publications: New York, 1992.

UNCED's megaglobalmaniac agenda for the 21st century was to be signed by world leaders at the Earth Summit. This guide to Agenda 21 boils the lofty goals down to seven priority areas: Revitalizing Growth with Sustainability (The Prospering World!), Sustainable Living (The Just World!), Human Settlements (The Habitable World!), Efficient Resource Use (The Fertile World!) , Global and Regional Resources (The Shared World!), Managing Chemicals and Waste (The Clean World!), and People Participation and Responsibility (The People's World!). It sounds like an overly stimulated cross between the Comintern and Exxon. No doubt there are some good ideas here. But when it came down to negotiating the actual 800-plus-page agenda, all the controversial parts were simply bracketed. Finally, the document was adopted by acclamation [sans controversial sections and any budget commitments]. Hailed as a blueprint for the planet, the vacuously wordy result goes to show that the future is not likely to be decided by consensus. What is interesting about this huge undertaking is what has been taken out since Our Common Future. Sections on population and the military were essentially gutted. The ongoing adaptation of Agenda 21 to political exigencies was captured on-line by Econet. Also available are the Rio Declaration (a short homily to U.N. cliches), Forest Principles, Treaty on Biological Diversity, and the Convention on Global Climate Change.

3. BEYOND THE LIMITS: Confronting the Global Collapse, Envisioning a Sustainable Future. Donella Meadows et al. Chelsea Green: Post Mills, Vermont, 1992

Twenty years ago, in The Limits to Growth, the authors predicted that we only had 20 years to change our ways. Now the sequel to the international bestseller proclaims that we only have 20 years to change our ways. Would it be safe to predict that 20 years from now the dire predictions will continue? Or will millenial fever die down when the planet soars past the year 2000? It seems unlikely. We've already overshot our limits, warn Meadows and company. And don't say we didn't warn you. This is the basic premise behind the whole worldwide debate for which the Earth Summit was supposed to be the apotheosis. The word comes from a computer program called World3. In computers, we trust. Tellingly for the times, however, the number crunchers conclude that saving the world will require changes in consciousness and spirituality. This is the mantra of the New Age Order, which seems destined to be ruled by ecotechnocrats using the rhetoric of religion.

4. ONLY ONE WORLD: Our Own to Make and to Keep. Gerard Piel. W.H. Freeman: New York, 1992.

The author was the founder of Scientific American. His earnest balancing act strives for the middle of the road, carefully weighing historical evidence, tendencies to environmental hysteria, and the apparent limits to management. But in the final analysis, Piel demonstrates how the scientific establishment has been the driving force behind the effort to enshrine ecological management as the ne plus ultra of global governance in the future. Naturally, since scientific technocrats have much to gain in that revolution, if we may be so bold as to call it that. Piel eschews the spiritual dimension in favor of hard facts. And he is more optimistic than many of the others. He puts his faith in economic growth and human development so he fears not a doubling of world population, projected for the end of the 21st century. But then we will have reached the limits, he asserts. We have not much more than a century to find our way to the steady-state, Piel warns. Listen good now.

5. SAVING THE PLANET: How to Shape an Environmentally Sustainable Global Economy. Lester Brown et al. W.W. Norton: New York, 1991.

Today's politically correct policy wonk hews to the Worldwatch line. The Institute seems perfectly positioned for the next think-tank wave inside the Washington beltway. Apres l'American Enterprise Institute, nous, Worldwatchers were the darlings of the Earth Summit circuit (and they had the best lunch for the press). It all seems so simple when they speak. For the most part plain spoken and relatively jargon free, Worldwatch is widely read and quoted. We can see the future, they say. Best believe. Place your bets. As advertisers are fond of saying, they say, this is a limited time offer. It will soon expire.

6. TOP GUNS AND TOXIC WHALES: The Environment and Global Security. Gwyn Prins and Robbie Stamp. Earthscan: London, 1991.

Another popular line for the most up-to-date pundits sounds more than a little like ecology for Rambo. If the environment is a security issue, why not let the security forces handle it? Gung-ho military men can now embrace their new mission: saving the earth. That way we can save the military too. The peace dividend should be invested in the environmental-security agenda, the authors argue. Prins, a security don at Cambridge, imagines a Green War Room, monitoring environmental crises worldwide. A computer program called CASSANDRA tracks these security threats. And a Green Police Force under the United Nations is deployed to enforce rules. This book was designed as a companion to a TV show by Ted Turner's Better World Society. And it reads like a TV show, with lots of pictures, graphs, computer screens and boxes.

7. EARTH IN THE BALANCE: Ecology and the Human Spirit. Senator Al Gore. Houghton Mifflin: New York, 1992.

Here, the wannabe environmental vice-president lays out his vision for the new age in excruciatingly earnest prose. Talk about family values. Gore analyzes the world as a dysfunctional family that must heal itself to save itself. He seems an apt personification of this moment in ecology. He seems to have fashioned his line in an encounter group of the world's trendiest environmentalists. He rubs elbows with Ted and Jane, Shirley and the Dalai. This globe-trotting parliamentarian's bottom line is personal change. And his Global Marshall Plan for saving the environment is a market basket of hip proposals including carbon taxes, virgin materials fees, full life-cycle costs, efficiency standards throughout the economy. Look at how Mr. Military Appropriations has transformed himself into the Green Candidate!

8. CHANGING COURSE: A Global Business Perspective on Development and Environment. Stephan Schmidheiny with the Business Council for Sustainable Development. MIT Press: Cambridge, 1992.

This is the new face of green capitalism. While the stereotype continues to be of industries keeping costs low, the smart money bets on passing on costs and garnering profits from environmental regulation. The themes of this new business environment: the polluter pays, open markets are crucial for sustainable development, environmental costs are internalized and reflected in prices and within the evaluations of capital markets. The report analyzes how these changes can be managed, and what the implications are for production, investment and trade. The BCSD calls for broadening and deepening the relationships between buyers and sellers and long-term partnerships to boost both economic development and environmental standards in the developing world. So this is s'posed to be the new world?

9. ENVIRONMENT AND DEMOCRACY. Organized by Henri Acselrad. IBASE: Rio de Janeiro, 1992.

This collection of essays by the Brazilian Institute of Social and Economic Analyses--the country’s preeminent NGO--was produced to reflect the Third World, and more specifically Brazilian, perspective on the Earth Summit. It is an excellent example of the adaptation of the left-wing, anti-imperialist, popular movement line to the changing times. In an era when the rhetoric of ecology reigns supreme, this book and the Brazilian experience show that socialists are not going to be left out. The right is not wrong in pointing out how quickly red has turned green. Shifting rhetoric and jargon included in these essays provide a trenchant Third World take on current environmental debates about poverty and development, energy and timber, Indians and the Amazon, GATT and free markets, global governance and the grass roots.


Processed shit: capitalism, racism, and entropy

Analysis by Adam Cornford.

Submitted by Steven. on December 26, 2010

Dedicurse: this essay is dedicated to the hope that, if there is an afterlife, Daniel Moynihan, Mickey Kaus, and all the other black underclass pathology demagogues will spend it on welfare in a public housing project, trying to find a job and to avoid getting beaten or shot by the police.

The Heart of Whiteness

Judeo-Christian culture has long had a problem with dirt and darkness. Whiteness has been Europe's symbol of purity, goodness, life, order, and the divine. (By contrast, consider classical Chinese culture, in which whiteness symbolizes death, and is worn at funerals.) Blackness or darkness, on the other hand, have traditionally connoted impurity, evil, death, disorder, and the satanic. For centuries, the dominant European ideal of human beauty stressed white skin. The most obvious reason for this is that reddened or tanned skin meant exposure to sun, wind, and rain. Since feudal society was agrarian, such exposure in a young person (or in a woman of any age) implied work commonly in the fields. The arbiters of taste were aristocrats, for whom the absolute avoidance of work was crucial to class self-definition. The aristocratic ideal of beauty, still current today, was shaped by all the signs of distance from work the build athletic rather than massive in a man, narrow-boned yet voluptuously fleshed in a woman, the hands small or at any rate narrow, with tapered fingers, and so forth. Distance from work in a mainly agricultural society also meant distance from dirt, from contact with the soil. To this day, soiled means dirty, just as dark means evil or threatening. (Signifiers of class and wealth still underlie our aesthetic and moral values. Consider the terms noble and base as applied to human conduct, the derivation of our word villain from vileyn, serf, and the convergence of vileyn with vile through the Latin vilis, cheap.)

This cultural complex allowed Europeans to enslave and slaughter Africans and Native Americans with a clearer conscience than would otherwise have been possible. Of course the expansionist and exclusive character of institutionalized Christianity was the ideological linchpin of the Age of Discovery, as it had been of the Age of the Crusades. (In fairness, it is worth remembering that during the Crusades Christian culture was fighting a severe challenge by another expansionist and much more sophisticated culture, Islam.) Christianity divides human beings into wheat and chaff, Saved and Damned, allowing them no middle ground once the Word of the One True God has been preached to them. This absolute division of the world, with its own white/black symbolism, was superimposed on the aristocratic dualism of white = noble, dark = base.

Underlying the Christian and aristocratic dichotomies was another more ancient one, the Graeco-Roman division of humanity into civilized versus barbarian or savage peoples. (The derivations of the latter put-downs are, respectively, people whose speech sounds to us like animal noises and people who live in the forest instead of cultivating fields.) For several centuries before the Age of Slavery, the European ruling classes had been convincing themselves that they were the civilized and that the Arabs and Persians, despite their splendid architecture, literature, science, and mathematics, were the barbarians. Encountering the tribal peoples of West Africa, Eastern North America, and Mexico, who neither used the wheel nor smelted iron, the Discoverers could feel sure of their superiority and God-given right to exploit. Better yet, these peoples were possessed of more melanin in their skins than most Europeans, and so could be fitted into the cultural slot labelled black or dark which meant at best chaotic, ignorant, dirty, and impure, at and worst menacing, vicious, and evil.

The wealth looted from the land, artifacts, and bodies of Africa and America provided the fuel for the lift-off of commerce in Europe. The gold and silver mined by Indian slaves in Mexico and Peru, the cotton, sugar, and tobacco harvested by African slaves in the Caribbean, created the wealth that was used to buy pale-skinned wage labor. It was in the seventeenth century, when the slave trade was soaring, that the notion of Europeans as white first appeared. The aristocratic signifier had been spread to include all Europeans, whether noble, base, or in between. Thus, alongside capitalism, twinned with it, was born modern racism.

As Europeans and Euro-Americans lived with African slaves and fought Native Americans for undisputed control of the continent the process of stereotyping and otherizing advanced rapidly. By the middle of the nineteenth century Euro-Americans seem to have been almost incapable of seeing African-Americans, slave or free, as human beings. Even Mark Twain, conceiving a sympathetic figure in Jim, can only show the runaway slave as a pathetic victim. Jim's very speech is misrepresented, and by the writer who first set down varieties of Euro-American vernacular with such care. Yet describing the episode when Huck listens to the white raft-men talking, Twain gives the game away. It's the raft-men's game, a ritual of trading hyperbolic and poetic boasts, and it comes straight out of West Africa. The repressed returns, announcing that Twains blindness and deafness are willful; they are necessitated by guilty awareness of slavery's intimate and inextricable role in the founding of a free nation and by the fact that, as Albert Murray observes in The Omni-Americans, American culture . . . is, regardless of all the hysterical protestations those who would have it otherwise, incontestably mulatto.

In his White Racism: A Psychohistory, Joel Kovel has shown how U.S. racism bifurcates between North and South. In the South, where whites grew up in intimate daily contact with black slaves and servants, the signifier of difference is supposed relative intelligence and development: Africans are childlike and must be ruled by whites for their own good. They are not feared or loathed as such, except when they get uppity and don't know their place. Racial contact pollutes in only one way: through sex. Euro-patriarchy must not be challenged, either by the legitimation of mixed-race offspring (though children from a long-term liaison with a female slave may be treated with the kindness due pets) or above all by sex between a black man and a white woman. In the North, where despite the historically better legal status of black people the races have actually had less contact, a subliminal fear of dirt and pollution is characteristic of what Kovel calls aversive racism. Studies of Northern racist whites reveal bizarre fantasies of black skin color rubbing off on them when touched. The psychodynamic connection between these two forms of racism can be intuitively grasped when we remember that dirty in Anglo-American culture is a synonym for openly erotic.

Social Thermodynamics

Nothing I have said so far is new. Less easily recognized is the relationship between how European or Euro-American culture understands dirt and the thermodynamical principle of entropy as applied to political economy and culture.

Thermodynamics defines entropy as a measure of the disorder in a closed thermodynamical system. Since no system is 100% efficient, some energy must eventually become unavailable for work (meaning here the self-reproduction of the systems order). Energy that is not available for work causes disorder. To maintain order, therefore, a system must expel this disorder. For example, exhaust products (carbon monoxide and dioxide and waste heat) are entropy expelled by a working auto engine to maintain its order as a system. The living human body sheds entropy as heat, as excreta (carbon dioxide, sweat and urine), as mucus carrying dead bacteria and other rejected matter, as dead skin cells, and of course as shit.

Human societies are organized self-reproducing systems. In principle, then, this thermodynamical model can be extended to cover any society. What changes from one to another is the mode of order, and therefore what each one defines as work and energy. Capitalist industrial society, which engendered thermodynamical theory in the first place, defines real work as activity that gives rise to profit and is performed in exchange for money. Activity necessary for social reproduction that fails to meet one or both of these criteria is experienced as a drain on the system. This includes all the work of government, all paid nonprofit work such as public education or health care, unpaid cultural activity like writing poems or playing music for one's friends, and of course unpaid domestic work.

Activity that gives rise to profit has evolved as capitalism has developed. To begin with, such activity was virtually synonymous with the production and distribution of material goods. Marx, however, was quick to see that production for capitalism means above all the production of capital, which in turn (and more profoundly) means the reproduction of capitalist social relationships: paid work and the universal market. What is more, said Marx, because profits plateau and decline as industries mature, this reproduction depends on growth. It cannot maintain itself in a steady state. Growth for capitalism means more profit for capitalists, more work done, more commodities sold but this depends on more people being wage earners and commodity consumers, more areas of the world and of social existence being brought into the cycle of work-pay-sell-buy-profit. Capitalism must, therefore, convert more and more kinds of human activity into work.

While constantly redefining work, capitalism also constantly strives to reduce the amount of work-time taken to produce any given commodity and to shorten the time capital needs to circulate from work done, via merchandise sold, to profit taken. Consequently capitalism is, as its publicists never cease to remind us, always creating technological revolutions. This technological dynamism means that capitalism continually redefines energy as well, which in a thermodynamic sense means not only power sources but raw materials.

A global system that must perpetually expand and change in order to survive, that is continually creating new technologies, and that defines work at once so narrowly and so broadly, is likely to generate many forms of entropy. Most obviously, this means all sorts of industrial waste: traditional emissions like heat, carbon dioxide, and soot, an ever-widening rainbow of toxic chemicals, and various radiation hazards. Increasingly such pollutants are rivalled in destructiveness by consumption waste such as packaging and disposables of all sorts, carbon dioxide and nitrous/nitric oxide from car exhausts, and toxic household cleaners.

This entropic Niagara produces other lethal disorders, not least in the human body. Work-related illnesses from silicosis to carpal-tunnel syndrome, the cancer clusters blooming around refineries and nuclear plants, join the traditional diseases of malnutrition and overcrowding triggered by three centuries of market forces shoving people off their land or out of their jobs. And as everyone knows, the disorder spewed out by the frantic global search for profits is ripping huge holes in the ecological fabric holes in the ozone layer, holes in the rainforests, holes in the webs of animal and plant species, and holes in the census figures around places like Bhopal or Chernobyl.

Beyond these, capitalist economics also generate behavioral and social forms of energy unavailable for work in the other sense of social reproduction. These include property crime from car burglary to securities fraud; violent crime caused by poverty and frustration; and, in a feedback loop with these, drug and alcohol addiction. Shifts in land and labor prices also engender forced migration and homelessness immense disruptions in demographic patterns and in people's daily lives. The other immense disruption, of course, is war, whether fought directly over markets and resources, or over some ethnic rivalry with economic shock and stress as a contributing cause.

Yet any thermodynamical system actually has two options in regard to energy that becomes unavailable for work: dumping it, or recycling it.

Just now, capitalism is not doing very well at recycling much of its entropy, especially the chemical varieties. At recycling people, however, capitalism has always been unsurpassed. In the fifteenth, sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, rich English landowners turned many of their tenants loose because the shift from diverse farming to the more profitable monoculture of sheep required more range and fewer workers. They also expelled freeholding peasants from traditionally common land they had enclosed for their own use. This dumped surplus population wandered the countryside as beggars and thieves, causing a perpetual problem for the rural social order. Some drifted into the towns, where they were likewise experienced as entropic. But gradually, nascent manufacturing began recycling them as wage-workers. Once capitalism in both agriculture and industry got off the ground in the late eighteenth century, the flow of work-energy from the land to the cities became a flood, which continues to this day.

Capitalism is so effective at recycling work-energy because it treats work as a commodity and therefore as abstract. Kinds of work are interchangeable, valued solely according to their ability to produce profit. (Thermodynamics, as the Midnight Notes group has pointed out, originated during the same epoch as Frederick Taylor's scientific management, which aimed to break industrial work down into small, mindless units for greater efficiency.) In fact, Harry Braverman, David Noble, and others have shown how the whole history of capitalist technology and management techniques is the effort to make labor more interchangeable and thereby to make workers more dispensable and less powerful. However, capital's recycling of work-energy runs afoul of the systems periodic crises. Theorists differ as to the inner cause of these crises. All of them, though, appear as a situation in which there is plenty of plant and equipment on one side and plenty of workers on the other, but in which the liquid capital cannot be found to bring the two together. The result is very high rates of both unemployment and corporate bankruptcy.

If the crisis is short enough, the effects for the system can be quite beneficial; and today, governments are able through fiscal and monetary policy to manage crisis to capitals advantage, even to bring on recessions at will (as the Federal Reserve did in 1979-82). Perhaps the most important benefit of a controlled crisis is its disciplining of workers. High unemployment makes resistance to intensified exploitation difficult, and wages can be reduced because workers are desperate. Once the new cycle starts, moreover, there is a large pool of labor available for new ventures and for expansion. But if the crisis becomes too deep and prolonged, like the Great Depression of the 30s, the human energy made unavailable for work becomes violently entropic. The unemployed and the poor demonstrate and riot; and if they form alliances with the employed, as they did then, there is potential for mass strikes and even insurrection. Keeping the entropic energy of the unemployed and the poor from contaminating the employed working class is a continuing project for the system.

Dealing Dirt & Getting Shit

Having outlined something of the range of socially generated entropy and the ways capitalism deals with it, I would like to stretch the notion a little further to cover the realms of culture and the personality. Once again I must retrace some familiar ground. Capitalist culture, as the likes of Max Weber and R.H. Tawney have demonstrated, rests on the Protestant revolution of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, which adapted the basic structures of Judeo-Christian patriarchy to fit new psychosocial needs. Protestantism, especially Calvinism, exalts thrift, the accumulation of wealth, and hard work. That is, it favors the exchange of living time for congealed dead time in the form of commodities and money, which are then accumulated. As a corollary, Protestantism preaches sexual continence, the conservation of erotic energy. Patriarchal cultures have often been anxious about the release of sperm, the Hindu theory of prana is one example. But in bourgeois-Protestant culture, sperm is viewed as a form of capital, which must, in the seventeenth-century phrase, be spent productively in begetting children. And if sperm is capital, the womb for patriarchy has always been land, the realest of real property. By making the womb-soil fruitful, the Protestant bourgeois not only continues his bloodline the aim of all patriarchs but invests in the future, founds or continues a family firm.

All this requires strict discipline. Thus, mainline Protestant culture from Luther on inculcates hierarchical obedience to ones elders and betters, beginning with the State so long as the State permits one to worship the Protestant God and accumulate a Godly fortune. It also demands, as Freud saw, deferral of gratification to a degree rare in precapitalist societies, and thus much emotional and sensual repression and rechanneling. The personality created in this image is controlled primarily through guilt, though shame is also an important spur. To inculcate and reinforce self-discipline, violence is often necessary. As in most patriarchies, death and mutilation are a State monopoly, but lesser violence such as beating are the prerogatives of every father-husband.

For this configuration, which I will call accumulationist, cultural entropy consists first of all of wasteful or unproductive behavior: free spending rather than saving, sexual promiscuity and sensuality, the open expression of passionate feeling, and of course laziness. Female sexuality is viewed with fascinated dread, since it can lead to all the other forms of cultural disorder, beginning with illegitimate children. Sex between men is an abomination. Since the accumulation of property is the chief goal of life, lack of respect for property, such as trespass, is crime on a par with violence against ones betters, and theft must be savagely punished. The flouting of hierarchy (once feudalism and the Church of Rome have been defeated) is likewise a dire threat, as is the unlicensed use of violence.

One common way for cultures and individuals to deal with anxiety about forbidden traits or behaviors is to project them outwards as defining attributes of some demonized Other. As capitalism developed through the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, the European and Euro-American bourgeoisies came to project entropic characteristics onto the poor of their own cities as well as onto the peoples of Africa and India they were colonizing. Half devil and half child, Kipling would call these peoples in The White Mans Burden; but nineteenth-century manufacturers said much the same of their workers (many of whom up to the 1860s were actual children). Poor people were viewed by the propertied classes as lazy, promiscuous, larcenous, drunken, and spendthrift.

There was truth, of a kind, to the stereotype. Long hours of repetitive toil produce boredom, exhaustion, and consequent sluggishness. People who live from week to week cannot save their money even if they had the incentive. Poverty and forced migration in search of work disrupt familial and communal ties and drive people to theft and prostitution. Drunkenness and senseless violence are consequences of deprivation and despair. Unlicensed forms of sexual behavior offer some of the few pleasures that can be had without money.

This unruly proletariat, mostly only one generation removed from the countryside, was only converted into a stable and respectable working class through a long acculturation. It also involved enormous State violence. In the end, relative stability was only achieved by introducing machinery that made it possible to squeeze more production out of workers without lengthening the working day.

Once the respectable working class was established in the U.S. during the last third of the nineteenth century, the same entropic characteristics were projected onto other Others: onto the lumpen proletariat or criminal classes; onto the Irish; onto immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe; onto Indians and Mexicans; and above all and continuously, onto black people. And, as in the case of the earlier projection onto the poor, the projective fantasy was partly self-fulfilling, a materialized ill-wish or exorcism.

There is one crucial component to this exorcism that I have not mentioned: dirt. As we have seen, feudalism defined dirt (at least on face, hands, or clothes) as a signifier of low social status. The rising capitalist class, by its nature, had to be a lot closer to work than had the aristocracy and it had to reverse the polarity of the aristocracy's disdain for money-grubbing. It developed an even more passionate aversion to dirt, summed up in the famous Victorian maxim Cleanliness is next to Godliness. But feudal dirt differs from capitalist dirt. Feudal dirt is the sign of closeness to work and the earth. Capitalist dirt, being mostly industrial effluent or the grime of destitution, is likewise associated with work but also with poverty, waste, and the absence of Protestant bourgeois values. It is, one might say, visible entropy. Like the poor themselves, dirt is a product of capitalist accumulation that the capitalist class does not want to see or smell.

The dirtiest dirt, of course, is shit. Shits meaning in capitalist culture, however, is profoundly ambiguous. In The Ontogenesis of Money, the psychologist Sandor Ferenczi suggests that the anal retentive stage of infancy lays the foundation for the accumulationist, exchange-oriented bourgeois personality. When the child being toilet-trained deliberately holds her shit back, she gains attention and rewards for releasing it at the set time. Thus she learns to retain, to delay gratification, and to exchange one pleasure for another. She also becomes more self-contained, more aware of her own desires as distinct from those of others. To the bourgeois unconscious, then, shit is wealth but only when you cant see it.

Bourgeois wealth grows out of shit, and produces shit. Capitalism, Marx says, creates wealth at one pole of accumulation and poverty at the other. One could paraphrase this by saying that capitalist accumulation produces order at one pole and entropy at the other or else organized shit (capital) at one pole and disorganized shit (misery and pollution) at the other. The symbolic shittiness of wealth is the dirty secret of white-capitalist-patriarchal culture. Milan Kundera, in The Unbearable Lightness of Being, says that kitsch is the denial of shit. In the Stalinist Czechoslovakia of which Kundera was writing, shit meant secret police, political prisoners, few choices, shortages, stupid jobs, pollution; kitsch meant red flags flying, patriotic songs and icons of Lenin, hymns to industry and progress. In market-capitalist societies shit means violence, apolitical prisoners, meaningless choices, poverty, stupid jobs, pollution; kitsch means shopping malls, sitcoms, blockbuster comic-book movies, advertising, telectoral pseudopolitics. In either case, kitsch formulaic, sentimental, one-dimensional, cosily reassuring even at its sexiest or most brutal serves to conceal shit, which is why it is one-dimensional.

Besides the usual late-capitalist shit, white kitsch in the United States is also, as noted earlier, a denial of original crime genocide and slavery and of the fact that, as Harold Cruse put it in The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual, the white Protestant Anglo-Saxon in America has nothing in his native American tradition that is aesthetically and culturally original, except that which derives from the Negro presence. White (not European) American accumulationist culture is defined by its utter blandness and avoidance of controversy or risk, by its cleanliness-as-absence.

This blandest-common-denominator culture is, notoriously, the behavioral and stylistic norm of the suburb, to which even the older, run-down exurban developments aspire. It is, besides, the ambience of the modern corporate office, where niceness rules or rather, is the means of rule. In the white-collar workplace everyone must act white: quiet, polite, cheerful, emotionally masked, sensually numb, perpetually busy, willing to tolerate any humiliation as long as its done with a smile. Controversial topics are rigidly avoided, and the ultimate taboo is discussing salaries. The excremental significance of money is apparent from the fact that good corporate citizens would rather tell you how much they get laid than how much they get paid.

The truth of wealth, however, is made historically manifest in the proletariat, the class of shitworkers. These are the people who are supposedly only fit for what the sociology texts call supervised routine tasks, which means numbingly dull, frequently health-damaging drudgery not only in the factory but at the keyboard and behind the counter. Their energy is made available for work only by fierce economic compulsion backed up by a never-ending bombardment of ideology, beginning in schools whose function is to convince them they are incapable of anything else. You ain't shit, the American insult goes, meaning you are the lowest of the low. Eat shit and like it. Shit is processed or disposed of by inferiors who are contaminated by it, who metaphorically eat it, and who metonymically (by association) become it.

No surprise, then, that black people have always been at or near the bottom of the proletarian heap in the US. Occupying at best the next level up or in many places the same level are Indians, Mexicans, Central Americans, and Puerto Ricans, also in the racist mind shit-colored. Just above them are the poor white trash, another entropy-word. All are to this day routinely represented as dishonest, loud-mouthed, lazy, lustful, stupid, booze-and-drug sodden brutes. The psychic consequences of this projection onto working-class people, and especially onto women and African-Americans, are devastating. Yet these despised creatures have been a prime source of capitalist wealth.

This wealth is not only economic but cultural. To give only the most familiar example: black people, working from the African traditions they were able to retain, created the country's most important some might say only indigenous musical forms.

Recycling In Mass Culture: The Case of Black Music

There is no need to rehash the vast and continuing expropriation of African-American music to the profit of (mostly) white-owned capital and for the entertainment of white audiences. Anyone with the slightest knowledge of U.S. music history can cite examples, from the bleaching of Ellington's and Basie's orchestral jazz into bland Glenn-Miller style big-band pop in the 30s and 40s to the endless recycling by white guitarists of blues riffs lifted from Robert Johnson or B.B. King. White baby-boomers howl with outrage when the rock anthems of their adolescence are converted into commercials; but this is much the same experience that black musicians and audiences have been having for nearly a century. (Michael Jackson represents the paroxysm of this process: an African-American who tries to eradicate from his face and body the traces of race while producing a color-blind dance music ingeniously constructed out of all the hot pop trends of the moment and then recycling it almost immediately into ad jingles.)

Viewed from a cultural-thermodynamic perspective, this expropriation appears if anything even more horrific. We see a dominant culture and political economy that imported Africans as slaves, worked them to death, bred them like animals, tortured them in every conceivable way for two centuries. Then for another century and a half this culture and political economy systematically exploited the descendants of the slaves as the lowest shitworkers, denying them economic opportunity and political rights wherever possible, meanwhile projecting onto them its own repressed fears and furies, loathings and longings. At the same time, this social order extracted from African-Americans the brilliant music and language they created as a way of surviving their misery. It is as if the Nazis had, while gassing the Jews and extracting their gold teeth, sold off the artwork they had created in the camps, and marketed recordings of the string quartets they had formed there to entertain the guards.

But how did African-American culture become at least in watered-down forms not merely acceptable to U.S. commercial mass culture but central to it, its semi-occult driving force? As I have tried to show, the accumulationist personality structure is profoundly hostile to Blackness as white people read into/project onto it shamelessly sensual and hedonistic, incipiently violent and uncontrollable. It is also hostile to the culture black people have themselves experienced and created. This culture is a far more complex amalgam of traits, one that varies widely by class, caste, and region and that includes distinct patterns of emotional revelation and concealment, anger and tenderness, community and individuality, reason and intuition. One major factor underlying its common differences from Euro-American cultures may be the preservation of African cultural traits, in particular the communal and ecstatic character of West African religion. But black culture is not simply or even at this point primarily transplanted African-ness. As Stanley Crouch has controversially pointed out, it is, like U.S. culture in its entirety, a mulatto phenomenon.

Black culture has been created under the pressure of African-American people's situation within the U.S. within whiteness. Under this pressure, exerted at first through slavery and later through institutions such as schooling, African-Americans have continually transformed what they have been able to preserve of their own heritage: for example, shifting African linguistic forms into English to create black vernacular. At the same time they have absorbed influences and materials not only from Euro-America but from Native people and from Mexico and the Caribbean, producing one of the richest and most complex cultures in the world. The pressure has also taken commercial form, the more so as institutional racism has become subtler in its strategies. Countless black musicians, dancers, actors, and even writers have had to flavor their work to white tastes in order to survive, often concealing subversive content through a signifying process.

A complex and revealing example is the various uses made of the myth of Staggerlee, the footloose, fearless, defiantly individualistic black man who hustles his way through life, loving women, siring children, and dealing ruthlessly with his enemies including, in later variants, the white sheriff. This figure, of course, is the ultimate racist nightmare and justification, the specter looming over a thousand lynchings and behind the phobic prose of contemporary conservative and neoliberal pundits. Yet the image is also vitally important to African-American tradition and has been attractive to a minority of whites. Numerous versions of the Staggerlee tale appeared in blues of the 20s. Muddy Waters classic urban blues Rolling Stone represented a less violent version of this character, inspiring not only the name of one of the most famous bands in rock history and that of the pioneer counterculture-corporate fusion magazine, but also numerous lesser rock songs of the 50s and 60s, of which The Wanderer is as good an example as any. Greil Marcus points out in Mystery Train that Staggerlee-Rolling Stone appeals positively to whites as well as blacks because he is a crudely antithetical but powerful image of freedom both for adolescent boys and for shitworking, shit-eating men of any color. The popularity of ultraviolent, misogynistic gangsta rap among white suburban teenage boys probably stems from analogous causes, including the excruciating boredom of their milieu and the dismal future most face as adults.

Breaking Loose vs. Hanging Tight

Such sensational use of negatively signed images of black life merely tips an iceberg. Blackness, in the dual sense in which I have employed the term, has been appropriated more broadly by the culture industry. In my view this is owing to a profound and deepening contradiction in capitalist culture and economy since the 20s. In order to expand after World War I, U.S. business needed new mass markets for consumer goods. To create these markets within the U.S. it had to stimulate in huge masses of people what John Maynard Keynes, the great economic strategist of mid-century capitalism, called the propensity to consume. The most immediate aim was to sell the consumer durables that could now be turned out cheaply en masse using the assembly-line methods developed by Henry Ford. This strategy, known to many analysts as Fordism, aimed at a car in every garage and a refrigerator in every kitchen, bought with the wages earned producing the cars and refrigerators.

At first, Fordist consumerism could be consistent with the accumulationist social personality (as it still is to some extent). Every worker could assume the trappings of Property, hallmark of virtue. As Stewart and Mary Ewen have shown, advertising between the wars (and well into the 50s for some products) played on the insecurities in this social personality: anxiety about dirt and pollution, work ethic, desire to emulate the next income level up, need to conform. Ford cars (always black) were initially sold as a more efficient form of transportation, refrigerators (always white) as promoters of hygiene and order.

But already another set of buttons was being pushed. In The Road to Wigan Pier, published in 1937, George Orwell noted how English working-class youth were opting for colorful, stylish, if shoddily made clothing rather than the somber but durable uniforms worn by their elders. Though they wore out quickly, such glad rags were cheap enough that new and fashionable ones could be bought easily. Like their U.S. counterparts, these young people liked to dance, mostly to jazz and big-band swing, and their dancing was becoming increasingly wild. They went to the movies and did their best to imitate the images of glamor and romance they saw there.

The new consumption and leisure habits growing among late Depression-era young people foreshadowed the direction merchandising was to take after World War II. The sober accumulationist consumerism of the previous generation was no longer enough to absorb the vast output of increasingly automated mass production, which had learned unprecedented efficiency while making weapons. To achieve the necessary speed of turnover, consumer goods generally had to become matters of fashion, as they had always been for the aristocracy and the upper reaches of the bourgeoisie. By the late 50s, this meant the application of planned obsolescence, previously confined to items like nylons, light bulbs, and razor blades, to durable goods like automobiles and vacuum cleaners. At the level of advertising, it meant that desire of all sorts had to be stimulated. Accumulationist repression was loosened, and the exploitation of hedonist impulses, begun cautiously in certain market sectors before the war, accelerated.

This hedonist ascendance can be viewed as a partial reappropriation of shadow characteristics banished from the white accumulationist social personality more open sexuality and sensuality, orientation toward immediate rather than deferred gratification, flaunting rather than reticence in personal style, propensity to spend and consume rather than save and acquire. But such tendencies were in sharp contradiction to the accumulationist values that still dominated political, religious, and civic discourse as well as much advertising.

The collision between accumulationist and hedonist messages helps to explain the sheer weirdness of later 50s mass culture: the heavy, finned cars like space fortresses in pastel colors; the demurely sexy TV moms mopping the kitchen floor in tight sweaters and high heels; and of course Elvis on the Ed Sullivan Show with his gyrating hips blacked out. Another indicator of the change was the literally Biblical circulation enjoyed by Dr. Spock's Baby and Child Care, which advocated accommodation to the child's own physiological and developmental rhythms in toilet training rather than the rigid timetabling practiced by previous generations.

A large minority of the generation of whites that grew up in consumerist (relative) abundance partly absorbed the hedonist messages but by and large rejected the accumulationist ones. That is, they synthesized from pleasure-oriented advertising and the imaginary of rock-n-roll a notion of freedom that implied the absence of hierarchical accountability (say, to a parent or a boss) or customary commitment (say, to a spouse). Perhaps even more important, they absorbed images of satisfaction that focused on abandonment to experience rather than acquisition of goods, on the present rather than the future. To paraphrase the old ad-mans saying, they wanted the sizzle without buying the steak. In the context of the times, this hedonist gestalt fused temporarily with social idealism and a will to experimentation in daily life to help create what Theodore Roszak called the counter-culture.

Alongside the ascending curve of hedonism rose another, in complex relation to it. Ever since the Jazz Age, the appropriation of African-American music and style into U.S. mass culture had been on the increase. This appropriation, to be sure, was mediated by the culture industry, which bleached it for Euro-American tastes. However, significant minorities of whites always managed to gain access to the real thing. In this way they served unwittingly as feeders of new trends to the industry, rather as Bohemian types open up marginal neighborhoods to gentrification. They also consistently projected their own hedonist values onto black culture, in a partial inversion of the psychic shit-dumping practiced by the majority. The '20s Bohemians who flocked to Harlem saw jazz as exotic, wild, primitive, an image of the escape they sought from white bourgeois mores. In the 50s, the Beats who congregated around bebop musicians admired the spontaneity in their improvisations, but often failed to recognize the mastery of an entire musical language developed over generations that made the spontaneity possible.

At about the same time, working-class Southern whites like Elvis were blending with white country music the jump blues they heard in black juke joints while still talking about niggers. As Greil Marcus puts it, Even if Elvis South was filled with Puritans, it was also filled with hedonists, and the same people were both. Rock-n-roll was born. Black-derived music (and music by actual black performers) was providing the soundtrack for hedonist marketing strategies; and the soundtrack itself was becoming a hugely lucrative commodity in its own right.

The new energy of post World-War-II black popular music, though, was in part political, or at any rate pre-political. Even as rhythm and blues evolved in complex feedback loops between Memphis, New Orleans, and Chicago, the ground was being laid for the Montgomery, Alabama bus boycott of 1955 and the decade-long explosion that followed. This explosion, the Civil Rights movement, was the other force that created the counter-culture. To some extent the transmission was direct, via the white student veterans of the Southern voter registration campaigns. For many more young middle-class whites, it came via the televised images of thousands of black people standing up to clubs, dogs, firehoses, bullets, and firebombs and refusing to back down. These images, contradicting everything they had been taught, not only filled them with anger and a desire for social justice, but offered them, however vaguely, a model of revolt, of another way to be. Even where this revolt took off in quietist (Orientalizing-meditative) or self-destructive (drug-abusing) directions, it was given much of its initial kick by African-American rebellion anticipated and transmitted in the mulatto music of rock-n-roll.

From the early rock-n-roll period through about 1970, the two curves, hedonism and black influence, moved intermittently close together, exchanging energy via figures such as Chuck Berry, Elvis, and later Jimi Hendrix and Sly Stone. Yet despite its partial rejection of white accumulationist values and behavior and much superficial admiration for spades the counter-culture remained overwhelmingly Euro-American. Its music, while still blues-based, was leagues away in feeling from the black pop of the period, typified by Motown, which smoothed out Gospel into sweet, danceable crossover tunes. Sly and the Family Stone were virtually alone in synthesizing the two strains of cultural energy, in a string of hits that carried the band to Woodstock in 1969.

Then, in 1971-3, fueled by the last surge of Black Power and the politicizing of the white counter-culture via the anti-war movement, black musicians briefly took over the pop airwaves with exciting, challenging, politically potent songs: Edwin Starr's War, Marvin Gaye's Inner City Blues, Wars The World Is A Ghetto, to name a few. Among these songs was the Temptations grim, eerie Papa Was A Rollin Stone, which brilliantly critiqued the Staggerlee myth even as it acknowledged the myths basis in reality. In the song, a black mother gathers her children at the grave of their absent father, and they want to know more about him. When he died, all he left us was alone, she replies. At a cultural node where white notions of Blackness and white men's escape fantasies fed on actual black experience and black men's fantasies about themselves, the Temptations were cutting one pipeline while pouring truth down another. Hitherto, the culture industry's selective appropriation of black culture had mostly been limited to those features that could be fitted, however incompletely, into the hedonist gestalt. The cultural-political surge of the early 70s both allowed black artists to speak and perform more freely and opened a channel wide enough that their newly undiluted music directly touched more whites than ever before.

This breaching of the cultural firewalls was preceded and accompanied by a massive breakdown of work discipline. The postwar boom was the first (and only) period in which capital had tried to manage labor under conditions of generalized abundance, in which the spur of destitution was softened by near-full employment and by social welfare programs. The experiment failed. From about 1967 on, the colorful revolt of the counter-culture, Black Power, and the mass movement against the Vietnam War both concealed and helped propagate a revolt on the job. Beginning mainly in the auto industry, waves of sabotage, absenteeism, and wildcat strikes spread through the U.S. economy. These waves were initiated especially by black workers, who had formed their own semilegal shop-floor organizations to resist the racism of both their supervisors and their unions and the superexploitation to which they were often consigned. They were increasingly joined in their rebellion by newly urbanized white trash workers, as well as by urban working-class freaks who had drifted back into the factories. Hedonist mass culture and its countercultural offshoots had combined with African-American revolt and the weakening of economic compulsion to make more and more social and cultural energy literally unavailable for work. Fordism was shattered.

The early-to-mid-70s, in fact, marked a point of real danger for capitalism in the developed countries. But crises are the other thing capitalism has always been good at recycling. The threatening entropic energy of the oil shock and the Third World debt crisis in 1974-6 was turned, with the aid of computers and telecommunications, into a global reorganization of the system. The oil-price recession of 1974 began the process of restoring work discipline, especially though the hysterical atmosphere of scarcity created by the mass media and by such measures as gasoline rationing. Meanwhile, U.S.-based multinationals intensified their export of capital and of what had been high-wage manufacturing jobs to the Asian Pacific Rim and Latin America. Still, inflation, bane of the accumulationist mindset, continued to eat away at U.S. capital assets until the Federal Reserve raised interest rates in 1979, causing unemployment to soar as several jolts of recession shot through the economy.

The result was that millions of workers, especially black ones, were tossed out of the factories while the remainder were bullied into line, their already sclerotic and corrupt unions broken. Hedged in by new legislation and hostile courts and bureaucracies, strikes were made virtually illegal. The centers of industrial power that Fordism had created were scattered one after another, as the Smokestack Belt became the Rust Belt. Second-wave feminism, which had started out with radical criticisms of the ruling order, had already been sidetracked into opportunity ideology for professional-class women on the one hand, and cultural feminist separatism on the other. Now the brief surge of woman-oriented office-worker organizing that began in the late 70s was halted. A ferocious assault on entitlements and social programs was launched. Real wages fell, even as housing prices soared. The shift of capital from industrial investment to frenzied speculation began. Capitals bipolar shit-machine went into high gear, spewing money and obedience out of one end and every sort of entropic foulness and horror out of the other.

Cultural control was also being re-established. A version of the accumulationist social personality was set up as the norm by closing the loop between accumulation and pleasure, by making the process of accumulation the supreme pleasure. Like the miswired psychopath in The Terminal Man, who gets an orgasmic rush from the implant in his brain whenever he murders, the looter-heroes of 80s casino capitalism shuddered with ecstasy as they made killings on the market. Most white proletarians, their solidary links with fellow-workers weakened, terrorized by the prospect of homelessness, fell easy prey to vertical identification with the rich and with the nation-state. The Reagan's presided over this Scheissfest as the wish-dream of the ageing white suburban middle classold but looking good, rich but relaxed, stylish but virtuous.

The Global Dump

The new phase of capital accumulation that began around 1979 is characterized, as theorists like David Harvey have noted, by its great flexibility and unprecedented global reach. These are made possible by the new power and cheapness of computers and by the speed of worldwide telecommunications, as well as by the breaking of working-class power in the developed countries. Capital, in the form of money, materials, and product specifications, can be switched around the planet so fast that no existing worker strategies or organizations can keep pace. As Harvey puts it in The Condition of Postmodernity, The same shirt designs can be produced by large-scale factories in India, cooperative production in the Third Italy, sweatshops in New York and London, or family labor systems in Hong Kong.

Capital's new freedom of action generates unprecedented amounts of social and ecological entropy. Developing countries have not been able to afford much in the way of environmental or worker protection, because their industries have lacked the economies of scale and technologically based productivity that would allow them to compete successfully with transnational corporations even in their own markets. Now, desperate for investment, they are permitting the transnationals to draw on their pools of underemployed cheap labor while benefiting from the lower operating costs imposed by their largely unregulated economies. The result is the pollution and hopeless overcrowding of places like Mexico City or So Paolo on one side, and the deforestation of Southeast Asia or the Amazon Basin on the other.

Both the sale of toxic or hazardous commodities and the disposal of wastes are often referred to as dumpingin the U.S., also a slang term for shitting. Dumping is a central process of post-Fordist capital. The developed countries relationship to the periphery (including their own underdeveloping regions and populations) is not merely exploitative and extractive, but excretive. Peripheral countries are used for particularly hazardous kinds of production, like the pesticides Union Carbide was making at Bhopal. Also, they are sold discount merchandise no longer saleable in the countries of its manufacture because of toxicity or other hazards; and they are bribed to become disposal sites for toxic waste. More subtly but just as devastatingly, they have been victims of the economic entropy dumped on them by a global system convulsing itself in the effort to boost profit rates and locate capital for investmentas artificially depressed prices for raw materials, as mountains of debt, and finally as IMF-imposed austerity plans. This translates to the dumping of millions of former peasants into the shanty-towns that ring Third World cities.

Each of these excretive processes has its analogy in poor African-American and Latino neighborhoods. Not only are toxic-waste sites and polluting factories concentrated in or near them, but the misery and poor education of many of their residents is being exploited by drug merchants legal and illegal, who are dumping their merchandise principally tobacco, alcohol, and cocaine there as middle-class suburban markets soften. Meanwhile, with the exception of the Great Society period under Lyndon Johnson, these neighborhoods have been systematically starved of resources as Federal housing-loan policies virtually bribed whites to abandon the inner cities while deliberately preventing blacks from doing so, as industry followed the whites into the suburbs over the next twenty years, as financial institutions redlined the neighborhoods into slums, and as social programs and public education have been sliced to ribbons over the last decade. Finally, it is much of the black and Latino working class itself that has been dumped, flushed down the toilet, as its unreliable work-energy has been expelled from the wage system. Now these workers are recycled as low-octane fuel in the sweatshops that bring one final excremental insult to the inner cities shit jobs.

All this, following on other adaptations forced by the history of slavery and then by the constant brutal pressures of poverty and discrimination that followed, has allowed white projections a limited basis in reality the materialized ill-wish I spoke of earlier. To grasp this idea, suppose a woman's face has after repeated beatings healed with a bent nose, accretions of scar tissue, and broken veins. Suppose also that understandably, her habitual expression is one of bitterness and anger. Then suppose that the woman is forced by her abuser to wear a translucent mask that grotesquely exaggerates every result of her injuries to create a laughable and frightening caricature, obliterating the beauty and strength that persist under the scars.

One example of this caricatured semi-reality is black extended family networks, in which children have been somewhat more likely than their white counterparts to be raised by a relative other than their biological parents, and in which fathers have (supposedly) been more often absent. This difference is routinely inflated by racist demagogues, starting with the liberal Daniel Patrick Moynihan, into the irresponsible, licentious pathology of the black family, responsible for most ills of the underclass. Yet as similar sorts of prolonged economic dislocation, insecurity, and hopelessness hit white working-class people, their family structures and childrearing practices have begun to alter in the same ways. (There are certainly more white deadbeat dads than black ones.) What's more, the pathologist commentators make little mention of the evident familial loyalty and devotion of black alternative childrearers like aunts and grandmothers.

Another example is the higher per capita rates of crime by black people, asserted by these same apologists to be part of the underclass pathology; a more reasonable explanation is the decrepit public education in the inner cities and the catastrophic levels of unemployment faced by young black men. (At the height of the Civil Rights movement in the early to mid-1960s, in a surge of hope and social solidarity, crime fell by as much as half in many black communities.)

Both the fatherless or matriarchal black family and black criminality have been the raw material for countless movies and TV shows during the last twenty-five years, in what Ishmael Reed aptly calls black pathology entertainment. This is how poverty-entropy and crime-entropy are recycled by capital as social and ideological terrorism. The revived Staggerlee image of the ruthless, sociopathic black criminal, most recently personified in Willie Horton, has proved a reliable way to drill white working people into alliance with their exploiters and to suppress the possibility of a cross-racial class alliance. Audience-participation verité cop shows like America's Most Wanted, whose viewers work as snitches to turn in alleged criminals, promote vertical identification with the State and the police. The LAPD trial, depending as it did on a negrophobic and authoritarian reading of the Rodney King tape, can be seen as an extension of these shows into the courtroom. In the stop-motion ritualistic dance video the prosecution made of the tape, violence was slowed down until the viciousness of the cops faded and was replaced by the threat conjured from Kings every movement.

Conclusion: Fucking Shit Up

Where a margin of profit or political gain is foreseeable, capitalism tries to reabsorb or recycle energy that has become unavailable for work. The waste recycling and pollution cleanup industries are the most obvious example, but the ways deviant subcultures are recycled into commercial fashion are probably more economically important. When recycling does not seem desirable, capitalism does its best to make the energy unusable for any alternate system or order that, is, an order outside the circuits of corporate power and money value. This tendency is visible in a thousand petty and gross acts of waste, from tearing the covers off unsold books to destroying surplus agricultural commodities that could feed tens of thousands of hungry people.

The single most dangerous form of entropy for capitalism is large-scale organized revolt, typically provoked by (and provoking) economic and political crisis. But even this energy can be harnessed, if its own internal organization and scale does not carry it beyond the terms of capitalist social relationships. The long and bitter struggle of nineteenth-century wage-slaves to shorten the working day proved a huge spur to mechanization, which in turn made possible the opening up of vast new markets and, arguably, the survival of the system for another century. Likewise, the containment of the industrial revolts of the 30s within the CIO unionization drive facilitated the shop-floor discipline needed to produce for World War II and the Fordist deal that came after, in which intensified work and longer hours were traded for wage increases.

The case of the black rebellion of the 60s and 70s is more complex. To some extent, the U.S. capitalist class has been able to channel the rebellions energy into a spectacle of equal opportunity and tolerance built on the civil rights legislation passed between 1959 and 1975, with additional use being made of a suitably edited icon of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. But this spectacle masks a vicious if politically useful division of the African-American population into middle-class workers on the one hand and ghetto poor on the other most of whom are still working for wages, but much lower ones. Also, of course, money is being made off the resurgence of Black Nationalist ideology among rap groups like Public Enemy. But by and large it is the second tendency that has been followed: to make surplus African-American proletarians unavailable for any other order by allotting them social conditions so intolerable that they collectively self-destruct through addiction, alcoholism, psychosis, hypertension, internecine violence, and imprisonment. Both the success and the limits of this strategy can be seen in the L.A. uprising.

As various black radicals have long pointed out, the systems treatment of black people is the extreme case and testing ground of what it is doing to all of us, and has been doing to all working-class people for generations. Conversely, African-Americans provide countless brilliant examples of how people can recycle the shit dumped on them into an alternate order for themselves, as speech, as art, and as strategy. African America's unabsorbed, vivid, rich, poor, damaged, surviving presence is a constant reminder that capitalism depends for its daily perpetuation on brutalizing people in every conceivable way and that this brutalization can be resisted. Capitalism's central brutality consists in forcing people to choose between giving up most of their lives to mind-numbing, body-destroying toil or scrabbling for scraps like rats in a garbage heap. This choice is what the LAPD and all its kindred bodies exist to enforce, and this choice is what we must collectively refuse.

How can we refuse it? The history of black people in the U.S. also teaches Euro-Americans that their whiteness is not an ethnicity but a dominance category and a denial mechanism; in other words, that it is empty of everything but power and forgetting. This forgetting really only benefits the few at the top of the social pyramid, and must be reproduced by a constant blizzard of white noise in the mass media, as well as by every mechanism of geographical, educational, and economic segregation the system can bring to bear. Whenever whiteness starts to break down, as it did during the Sixties, danger looms for the system, because new forms of order, involving the refusal of work and the direct assertion of collective need, tend to appear. The young whites in their reversed baseball caps and baggy shorts who ran furiously through the streets after the LAPD verdict was announced, who cheerfully looted supermarkets alongside their black and Latino neighbors, had for the time being ceased to be white. To me they are a source of pride and hope, an emblem of the fruitful disorder to come.

--Adam Cornford


The sh*t raiser speaks! Interview with Judi Bari

Chris Carlsson and Med-o interview workplace and environmental activist Judy Bari on April 20, 1992 in Mendocino County.

Submitted by Steven. on December 26, 2010

Judi Bari was born in Baltimore in 1949. She attended the University of Maryland, where she majored in anti-Vietnam War rioting. Since college credit is rarely given for such activities, Judi was soon forced to drop out of college with a political education but no degree. She then embarked on a 20-year career as a blue-collar worker. During that time she became active in the union movement and helped lead two strikes--one of 17,000 grocery clerks in the Maryland/D.C./Virginia area (unsuccessful, smashed by the union bureaucrats) and one (successful) wildcat strike against the U.S. Postal Service at the Washington D.C. Bulk Mail Center.

In 1979 Judi moved to Northern California, got married and had babies. After her divorce in 1988, she supported her children by working as a carpenter building yuppie houses out of old-growth redwood. It was this contradiction that sparked her interest in Earth First!

As an Earth First! organizer, Judi became a thorn in the side of Big Timber by bringing her labor experience and sympathies into the environmental movement. She built alliances with timber workers while blockading their operations, and named the timber corporations and their chief executive officers as being responsible for the destruction of the forest.

In 1990, while on a publicity tour for Earth First! Redwood Summer, Judi was nearly killed in a car-bomb assassination attempt. Although all evidence showed that the bomb was hidden under Judi's car seat and intended to kill her, police and FBI arrested her (and colleague Darryl Cherney) for the bombing, saying that it was their bomb and they were knowingly carrying it. For the next eight weeks they were subjected to a police- orchestrated campaign in the national and local press to make them appear guilty of the bombing. Finally the district attorney declined to press charges for lack of evidence. To this day the police have conducted no serious investigation of the bombing, and the bomber remains at large.

Crippled for life by the explosion, Judi has returned to her home in the redwood region and resumed her work in defense of the forest. She and Darryl are also suing the FBI and other police agencies for false arrest, presumption of guilt, and civil rights violations. Judi now lives in Willits, California with her two children.

Chris Carlsson: Where do you stand on the Work Ethic?

Judi Bari: Totally against it. It is absolutely sick!

CC: What do you think of as “human nature” when it comes to work and useful activities? How does the existing order encourage or obstruct this “nature”? How does workplace organizing tap into this “nature”?

JB: I think people like to work if work is not alienated, not artificially construed by the system that makes it pure hell, that goes against every instinct. But I think that work, meaning like what you need to do to provide sustenance, that in itself as a concept is not something that people mind. I think that working ridiculous amounts of hours including 8 a day or 40 a week is not “natural,” but I think working is something that's natural and enjoyable and I think that without any work people in general would not feel comfortable. But work needs to be completely redefined from what it is right now. Now it is pure oppression, what did you say, 80% of work is unnecessary?, absolutely TRUE! Not only is it absolutely unnecessary but the method by which it's organized is horrible. It goes against everything, you have to suppress every instinct of enjoyment that you have in your being to go and put yourself in one of these stupid jobs. [laughter]

CC: And workplace organizing?

JB: Hey it makes work fun. I only had one job when I actually liked the job itself and that was being a carpenter. I enjoyed the job, I enjoyed being able to build something that was beautiful and I was proud of myself for being able to read the plans and figure it out. But all the other jobs I had I hated. Physically standing at a cash register, or unloading a truck or whatever, or standing at a bottling line, making the same motion over and over all day long. The jobs totally sucked, but organizing was really fun. It gave me something to think about and do at work. I'm not saying “would the end result of organizing under capitalism be an enjoyable job?” -- No! We have to completely rearrange the way we work and what we call work before it would be enjoyable. But what do we do in the meantime while we're waiting for the revolution? The only way to be able to stand a job is to raise shit there. That's just personal experience, that's not political theory. [laughter]

I [had] a job at a post office factory. Everybody worked under one roof and the conditions were outrageous. It was 85% black, mostly from the inner city, right across the Maryland line in the inner suburbs. We didn't even bother with any of the three different unions or their meetings. We did direct action on the workroom floor, put out an outrageous newsletter [Postal Strife] that was real funny, lampooning management. We weren't allowed to strike against the government, that was illegal and we'd get fired, so we had a “walk-in” where we met on both shifts and walked into the manager's office. We had sick-outs and slow-downs and trash-ins and sabotage days, and we got control of the whole factory--it also took about one- and-a-half years. It peaked in a wildcat strike which was actually successful.

[Postal Strife] wasn't just reporting on things. . . it was instigating things. When we first started to get power, at one point “Miz Julie” decided to be generous and offer us all a Xmas party. So on company time we were forced to attend this party. We weren't allowed to go outside and smoke pot or to go out to lunch, and this was her big generous thing. Then it turned out that it was illegal, because on company time she wasn't allowed to do that because we would have to work all this overtime because the machinery didn't work, so she was going to get in a lot of trouble. So she changed her mind and decided it was off the clock, and she was going to dock us all for two hours because she had forced us to go to this party. People were really pissed. She called in the union to break the news to them, to tell them “this is the problem, and what can we do about it?” and the union rep said “oh, it's ok, you can have the hour.” But then Miss Julie realized that that wouldn't mean anything. So she did something completely illegal in a plant with a recognized bargaining unit, she called in the leaders of Postal Strife [our newsletter/group] because she knew that if we didn't agree to it that it wasn't going to fly. We came in as dirty as we could and sprawled on her white couches. She said she wanted her hour back, and we said “well, what are you going to give us? How about 15 minute breaks?” We had no authority to bargain at all. So she said, “OK, I can't officially give you 15 minute breaks but unofficially we won't make you go back, we'll give you an extra 5 minutes, but it'll be under the table.” We said we can't talk for people on the shop floor, and we had to talk to them and see what they would say. So we walk out. Then she discovers that she's made another mistake: it's totally illegal to bargain with us when there's an exclusive bargaining agent. So she's pleading with us not to tell anyone, and we wrote the whole story up and drew a picture of her crying, “please give me my hour back!” [laughter] We really began to erode their power and gain power way before we gained official power.

CC: That's a question I always find interesting. Don't you think there's actually more power at that moment than what you had with formal control?

JB: No, the most power we got was afterwards, because first we did this actual real work--there was a peak and an ebb--first there was this peak of real live worker control because--We had a quote of the month in the paper, which was “the way I look at overtime, is the first 8 hours I got to put up with them, the last 2 hours they got to put up with me.” That really was the truth. They couldn't get anyone to do any work on overtime, and not much the rest of the day when they were giving us overtime. One time the safe was locked (with our paychecks) and we were on night shift, and the only key was at Miss Julie's house, she lived in Virginia, so we formed a posse in the middle of the workroom floor, and we were about to walk out and drive to her house at 11:30 at night, and they suddenly found the key. [laughter] We had real raw power, OK? When we had the strike, and after we walked out on strike the union fell apart and we got the control of the union. That's when we really got power. Then we had the official power, and the respect of the workers, which was based on real direct action and real self-empowerment, so we started substantially changing the working conditions, including sneaking a Jack Anderson reporter in and got two national articles written about the place.

I didn't have to work anymore. I used to spend my whole day on the shop floor. I used to have to sneak out to do these little things, but then when I was Shop Steward I could spend the whole day, 8 hours a day, raising hell, it was great! I got paid for it! We really changed the working conditions, we changed the personnel, and they weren't getting away with shit. And what happened is that the working conditions got better.

I was the Chief Shop Steward and the coalition began settling for things and selling out and things began to fall apart, so now we worked 40 hours a week instead of 60-80, the supervisors weren't as nasty to us, it wasn't as dangerous and the new people that came in started to be more conservative. Some of the real radicals started to be less radical. I knew, the manager didn't know, but I knew that we no longer had the support on the shop floor. So I was living on a shell, I could get this guy to give up grievances because he thought that I could mobilize the workroom floor with the snap of a finger. The fact is I couldn't anymore, because people had gotten way conservative because working conditions were better. I quit to move to California before he figured out that we didn't really have rank and file power anymore. But we really did, and the peak was when we assumed official power after the strike, before it got so soft that people got conservative.

CC: In retrospect, do you imagine you should have gone in a different direction after you got official power to avoid this “bourgeois-ification”?

JB: I don't know. The problem is that our goals were limited. It doesn't matter how good we were, the biggest thing we were asking for was better working conditions for our factory that employed 800 people. We weren't asking to overthrow the wage system, we didn't have a political context in which we were operating, other than using very radical tactics to win workers' demands. Maybe it would have moved someplace else, maybe another factory that we were working with, or maybe it would be another issue, but we would have had to have some kind of thing that went beyond those narrow demands.

CC: Because those are satisfiable, essentially?

JB: Yeah, without changing the basic problem, y'know, which is this whole industrial organization, etc.

CC: Did you keep in touch with this place after you left? Did they go through a big wave of automation and restructuring?

JB: I still have some friends there, but no, it's still the same old machinery. They combined some of the functions, but it's basically the same structure. All of the gains that were made, were all lost. The bulk mail wave of restructuring was in the '70s, I don't know what happened in the '80s except that we lost all the gains. All the bulk mail centers had these really bad working conditions, and throughout the history of them there were lots of spontaneous walkouts, that never led to better conditions. The difference was that our effort did. There were 3 places that went on strike when we did: New York, Richmond California and us, and we were the only ones that didn't get fired. The rest of them all got fired. They lost their demands. Since we were not even part of a larger postal group, we weren't even part of a TDU [Teamsters for a Democratic Union]. We were just a single factory, we communicated with the other ones that went on strike, but there wasn't any larger organization at all, there wasn't even a way of spreading it throughout the postal workers, much less expanding it to larger demands. I think that's one of the reasons why it was so easy and successful, is that it was such a small movement with limited demands. But that doesn't mean it wasn't a good thing to do because it gave people the experience of successful collective action, probably the first in their lives.

CC: Maybe their last.

JB: Yeah, right. Now it's this legend, this thing that happened in the past, and everything settled back to the way it used to be . . . and the postal workers have lost a lot of ground. The postal workers had a nationwide wildcat strike, it was the most recent nationwide wildcat, in the 1970s, and that's when they won collective bargaining rights, believe it or not, it was in 1970. They didn't even have integrated unions in 1970. The US Post Office had a black union and a white union! Isn't that amazing? There was a spontaneous rebellion against really bad conditions, but back in 1970 the postal workers had a lot of power, a lot more than they knew, because at any one time 25% of the U.S.'s monetary supply was tied up in the mail, OK? When they called in the Army to break the strike (the postal workers have an inordinate number of Army veterans because they give you a 10 point preference on the test if you're a veteran), a lot of them were sympathetic because of the other Army people that worked there. So the Army people that were brought in--well, the workers sabbed [sabotaged the stuff as much as they could, and a lot of the Army people contributed to sabbing it, and fucked everything up. So they got really fucked up in a very short time, it was like a one week strike, and the whole mail was tied up in knots, and a big piece of the monetary supply, so they had to settle the strike, and they recognized bargaining power in 1970 for a national union. I don't know of any other national union that was first recognized in 1970, or even anywhere near that. Now, with fax machines and electronic funds transfer, the postal workers have much less economic power than they did in 1970. They wouldn't even have the capacity to pull off such a strike if they wanted to.

CC: Get ready for the privatization of mail.

JB: Oh, absolutely!

CC: The fact is that most of what we do is a waste of time. Our politics has to really emphasize the uselessness of work. That has to be upfront.

JB: We really do our political work in different cultures. Yours is one that is at the forward end of the techological bullshit, in the evolution of the society from industrial to technological. But I'm working with retro, with what's left of the old industrial proletariat. So I think there's different value systems at play. The work ethic is very important. One of the reasons why the timber workers will relate to me more than most environmentalists is because they know I am by career a blue collar worker. The idea of not working is really offensive to them, in fact, that's the big thing they always say to the hippies, “why don't these people get a job?” So what do we say? “Cut your job, get some hair!” [laughter I live in a place where they shaved hippies' dreadlocks in jail, I mean, what year is this? We're living in a time warp. Really, we're talking about different centuries here, certainly different decades.

Med-o: Chris and I have talked about this a lot: How do you organize people to get rid of their jobs? How do workers get organized with their main purpose to eliminate their jobs?

JB: There needs to be some other vision of what there is to do. I don't really see us at that stage yet. We know this is wrong. We know that this is NOT it, whatever it is, it's not this. [laughter]And I think people can relate to that, and it gives them room for their own creativity. I think I have a problem with organizers feeling like they have to have all the answers, NOW. Part of the problem is that we have to think collectively and figure it out, and it has to be based on our collective experience. And we haven't even had that experience yet!

CC: How do you feel about the average person's ability to participate in a process like that? I think everybody's got a great capacity for thought, but I don't think very many people have much experience or practice or natural native talent for cooperative group processes.

JB: Well, I don't know about native talent, it's certainly been bred out of us. It's a problem trying to organize in this society--I don't think there's ever been a society as brainwashed as this one. The whole workplace, the way it's set up is designed to make you into an automaton. It's hard but those little glimmers that we do get ARE so much more fun and so much more fulfilling than anything anybody's done in their life.

CC: A lot of time the things that cause people to band together in union, whether it's a legal institution or not (I personally favor the informal approach)--I think a lot of times the impulses that get people motivated to take that kind of action are somewhat conservative. They're worried, they're afraid, they want to defend themselves. They're not really looking at the big picture, and saying “well, jeez, this whole way of life is ridiculous and some bigger change has to happen.” Now I'm not saying some kind of religious transformation has to take place across the planet--all of a sudden everybody agrees that it's all bullshit and let's stop and do something else, but I don't see much hope for a political movement based on worker organizing that doesn't have at least its eyes set on that goal.

JB: Yeah because the whole way we work is ridiculous. People are really alienated from the way that they work because it's ridiculous.

CC: People are pretty afraid to embrace that kind of vision.

JB: Because you don't just start from that. You have to start where people are. You have to have one eye on where people are and one eye on where we wanna be. To try to start from way here, that may scare people off. But after they have a little experience with self-empowerment through a movement, then more broad ideas come up and begin to be discussed, and people become more open to more ideas when they start seeing change and start seeing that they're able to make change. It doesn't mean you have to start within these little narrow confines, but you can't be so miles out in front of people that they can't relate to what you're saying.

CC: I agree with that, but often times an idea as simple and direct as “most of the work we do is a waste of time and no one should do it” is treated as an out-of-bounds idea.

JB: No people love it! Everybody agrees. But after that idea comes, you have to ask “can we do anything about it?"

CC: Right.

JB: I guess that's where it's an out-of-bounds idea, is that they don't think that there's anything they can do about it. I think that's because people haven't experienced collective action.

CC: You said that we have to go to where people are. Now that's often a code expression for bread and butter issues.

JB: No, I didn't say we have to go where people are, I said we have to keep one eye on where people are and one eye on where we wanna be, that's different than saying we have to go where people are.

CC: You're still in a perspective where you're making certain analytical judgments about where people are, and trying to reach to that position from another position that you don't think they're ready for yet.

JB: No, it's not that I don't think they're ready for my vision of a perfect world, since I don't even know my vision yet. I gotta interact with the people to find out WHAT we are collectively capable of doing. It's not just my ideas to be imposed on the group, it's that we're gonna get this group together and see where our collective ideas take us.

CC: The incredible power of recuperation . . . That's why I keep stumbling around these questions of vision, what's going to inspire people in a passionate way to get out of the box? The logic of immediate issues whatever they might be, tend to be rooted in a conservative impulse, a defensive strategy. The notion that people are gonna somehow engage in a “process” around that, and that's going to lead to a day when they have a broader, more assertive life . . . I don't see why one would lead to the other at all.

JB: OK. Well, let's look at it up here, because this is a different situation, it's much less a traditional workerist kind of thing. What we have is this dual economy and dual culture--marijuana, timber, hippies, stompers, so we have these two kind of parallel things. The most significant thing that this small group that I work with has done is to link the two. We've got this back-to-the-land movement grown up 20 years, a whole generation older now with adult kids. People have experimented with “simple lifestyles,” and ended up in hippie palaces. There's kind of this vision of ecotopia, of a society that lives in harmony with the earth and with each other, and offers a new way of relating and organizing the whole of society, right? It's a larger vision. The shorter thing we've fought life and death battles over is the survival of the ecosystem--really trial by fire out here. We've won some really important victories, but by and large the county's been clearcut. Now what's happening is that the timber companies are leaving, they're done, they're packing up and leaving. Normally what happens at this stage is gentrification comes in, the wineries and the yuppies, and all that stuff, and marching behind that comes real estate development.

So now we're at a turning point, and I am absolutely not predicting that this is going to happen because we're up against tremendous forces, including the fact that they're willing to kill and use sophisticated psychological operations and all this other stuff. So now we're at this place where the timber companies are leaving, and what is there in their place? Well there's this big movement now for some economy based on restoration. The money of course is going to have to come from outside, because our resource base has been removed via clearcutting. There's lots of poverty pimp money being thrown for other things, they're talking about spending $200 million to buy forest parcels from Hurwitz, and we say he doesn't own it, he crashed an S&L to get the money to work with Michael Milkin to take over Pacific Lumber, so debt-for-nature swap--don't give any money to Hurwitz, the same money you've got to pay off Hurwitz should go to the community to fund an economy based on restoring the forest. In the process of restoration there's some products that can come out of it, but I don't think there's enough to base an economy on. But some kind of alternative economy--Willits calls itself the Solar Capital of the World, and they have all these little solar experiments, and solar cars. Then there's the marijuana economy, and the hemp movement. So now we're at this juncture where it can either go the traditional way of moving into gentrification or if we could seize the initiative here at this particular juncture to turn away from the traditional capitalist model and try to find another way to do it, then I think it could be theoretically possible. I think the only way it could happen, what I think I got almost killed for, is you've got all this timber land that's totally trashed out, and if it isn't held in trust for a long time the whole ecosystem is going to collapse. The only way that [getting the land into trust could happen would be if the county used its power of eminent domain to seize all the corporate timberlands . . . Well, I guess they'd come in with the tanks, it would never happen, would it?

CC: So what's going to excite people now? Certainly it's not because they're workers that they're going to get involved with anything. On the other hand, as we know perfectly well, the real social power that exists to really fuck with the system is found in the workplace. So there's strategic power there, but it's not necessary that there be this psychological identification . . . It's basic to Wobbly philosophy and to most proponents of labor organizing, that you have to somehow act on your social function as a worker, as opposed to thinking about taking advantage of the strategic power at work as a part of something else--

JB: We worked with the workers on workplace issues, and we formed alliances on broader issues, and pretty soon the workers that we were defending on the PCB spills were defending us on the destruction of the forest. So the people in Earth First! who say I'm a sell-out for wanting to work with workers in extractive industries, well, I call it the “Future Ex-Logger Coalition” because by the time that they're ready to work with us, they've had it with the job.

CC: So do you think they really embrace an ecological agenda?

JB: Oh well they certainly do, yeah. In fact, interestingly . . . when I interviewed workers I asked about working conditions. But what made them begin to question the company in many cases were sentiments like “I went out to my favorite spot and it was gone. You know I used to take my son fishing, and now there's no more fish.” One of the episodes at the Fort Bragg rally, the famous dramatic confrontation in the middle of town when the Earth First! rally comes face to face with the yellow-ribbon-waving - crazed - drunk - alcoholic -abusive ranting and raving, and we offer them the microphone. These three loggers get up there and the first two just rage, and then the third one gets up, and he's 5th generation with the whole accent, and the whole trip, (we didn't know him, he was not a plant, he was somebody we'd never worked with before), and he said “You all know me, I grew up with you,” he addressed the loggers, and he said “I used to log in the summer and fish in the winter, and now there's no more logs and no more fish. I never wanted to put my family on welfare, but I put my family in welfare because I can't do this anymore, I can't keep destroying this place I love,” and he said he was going to dedicate his life to opening a recycling center, so he can have right livelihoood. There is a group of ex-timber workers who want to do some kind of reparations and right livelihood. The coalition of people who criticized us from the enviromental movement, who criticized us for advocating the interests of extractive industry workers, they don't understand what we're doing at all. Not in any way, shape or form are we advocating traditional unionism, even though we had Georgia Pacific workers wearing IWW buttons to work. These [logging companies are almost done, they're outta here. Right now Georgia Pacific's redwood section is less than 1% of the overall operation. It's basically a pulp and paper company, primarily based in the south. Then they have this little Western Division up here that does redwood, and it consists of one big mill. Before they would recognize a Wobbly union they would definitely close the mill. There's just no question that we don't have a single chance in organizing for traditional labor goals. We're looking at an industry that's on its way out. What we're talking about is what we're going to do after it leaves, and how we're going to seize control of our community so that we CAN do what we think needs to be done after it leaves. That's the broader question that we're working, is community control of our community so that it won't be turned into yuppies, and the timber workers won't be displaced. Right now we're controlled by out-of-state corporations.

CC: I wonder how you imagine controlling the outside capital that might be coming in?

JB: I don't think you can solve all the problems without a revolution! We advocated for the workers who got PCB dumped on them, we advocated for the worker who got killed in a Ukiah mill and got criminal charges brought against Louisiana-Pacific, we interviewed workers about their working conditions, but that's the narrower thing, and we're also talking about this broader thing of resource destruction, of out-of-town evil corporation. The alliance with workers based on workplace issues has been translated into a larger question of the resource base, and the height that it got to was demanding the eminent domain seizure of the timber industry by the county.

CC: Socialism in Mendocino County!

JB: You know what happened after we did that, besides that they tried to kill me for it . . . We started from workplace problems, we went to resource destruction, and then we started to demand eminent domain seizure. That was certainly taking it into a broader context!


What work matters?

Chris Carlsson on the futility of much work under capitalism.

Submitted by Steven. on December 26, 2010

The Labor Movement has stopped moving. Institutions, primarily AFL-CIO trade unions, long ago replaced workers as the "active'' part of the "movement.'' In the past two decades unions and organized workers have been completely outflanked by the widespread restructuring of work through automation and relocation. This institutional legacy of earlier struggles by average folks is incapable of reconceptualizing the nature of social opposition; to expect otherwise is naive.

What do we want and how do we get it? We want to take back our labor. It's ours, and we want to decide what society does! It is strategically disempowering--dare I say "stupid''--to begin from the premise that our revolutionary activity must rest on our subordinate positions. Trying to get improved wages or conditions within an absurd, toxic and wasteful division of labor over which no one has any meaningful control is to pursue a future of childlike dependence on either rulers or the abstraction known as The Economy. What is The Economy? It is all of us doing all this work--a lot of it a waste of time! But the media tells a different story: we are chided for lacking "consumer confidence'' and scolded for "hurting The Economy,'' or perhaps we are counseled that "it's bad right now,'' as though The Economy was suffering a transient medical problem that will pass just like a cold.

Government as we know it is a major part of the problem, not because it stands in the way of business and the market, but because it offers them the ultimate guarantee of force, and has proven its willingness to act. Unions are also part of this. They have clear legal responsibilities, primarily negotiating and upholding legal contracts with large companies, ensuring "labor peace''; they cling to the law, hoping that eventually the government will change the laws and then enforce them to allow a new wave of unionization. They imagine that they will someday be allowed back in the club and once again enjoy a piece of an expanding economic pie as they did during the post-war period, when they played an important role in crafting U.S. foreign and domestic policies by purging radicals and communists and becoming ardent cold warriors.

Labor-management cooperation succeeds when there is increasing wealth to divide up at the bargaining table, and workers are content to exchange control over their work for increased purchasing power. Those days are gone forever. The U.S.'s much-vaunted "high standard of living''--the trough at which trade unionism has fed its formerly fat face so voraciously--is sinking fast.

Falling living standards are no accident. The effect of expanding international trade is to gradually equalize wages and working conditions world-wide. The demise of union strength, attributable in part to the emergence of this world market with its billions of low-wage workers, is also in part a result of unions themselves. Union bureaucrats who have helped pursue the im-perialist policies of the U.S. through the American Institute for Free Labor Development (AIFLD) and campaigns for "democratic unions,'' have contributed to a process which has already greatly increased "Third World'' conditions in U.S. cities.

The reduction of high-wage industrial work in favor of low-wage, part-time service and information work was in response to the equalizing forces of the world market. As capital flows to areas of optimal profitability, living conditions worsen in its wake, creating a two-tiered society that signals misery for the majority. It is a process that cannot be derailed by an "honest'' or even "progressive'' government enmeshed in the unforgiving world market. Union leaders who campaign for "jobs'' are either cynics or genuinely myopic. They know as well as anyone who reads the daily papers that the wave of restructuring that helped produce this "downturn in The Economy'' has permanently reduced the number of workers needed.

Today people band together as workers and take action when they are attacked and enraged, or desperately frightened (and not always then). By the time they are pushed to this extreme, a large team of lawyers and managers has already been planning for months or years on using management's strategic power to increase control and profits. Workers' actions under union (and legal) control invariably correspond closely to the script being written by the company lawyers.

Of course no one expects radical ideas from union leaders, whose primary concerns are personal survival, pensions, their kids' college tuitions, etc. As every wave of layoffs, automation and concessions hurls more people into the daily transience and uncertainty that increasingly characterize daily life in the U.S., union bureaucrats merely seek long-term guarantees for themselves as institutional players at the Table of Consensus. Any contract will do, as long as the dues keep getting checked off. Maybe they'll have to "tighten their belts,'' lay off a secretary or two.

For these reasons a new wave of social opposition must identify its strategic concerns as distinct from those of unions. Those that do the work should assume comprehensive control, through their own activity, of their (our) work, their purposes, and organization. Workers have to begin thinking beyond the logic of the system in which they find themselves entrapped.

Time at the paid job is akin to "jail'' versus the "freedom'' of time after work. Work is war. If it's only a game now, it's because i's so difficult to seriously challenge the power and designs of the owners and their representatives.

Many people already pursue activities and "work'' that they rarely, if ever, get paid for. In spite of the lack of "demand'' for this "work,'' they put serious committed energy into developing various talents, skills, or tendencies because their engagement with life demands it--the satisfaction of their full humanity depends on it! What if the passion that leads us to become musicians or artists, or to pursue "second careers,'' or "pay our dues'' in the fields we are interested in, were unleashed to redesign life itself?!

As the people who "have better things to do than work,'' we have to develop our sense of self-interest, in stark opposition to the consensus for a "strong economy.'' Tactics to expand our freedom RIGHT NOW will become clearer as we share what we already know about points of vulnerability, openings and spaces, creative obfuscation, unfettered self-expression, utopian fantasizing, and LIVING WELL NOW. Sometimes we'll find allies at work, other times the pursuit of our goals may need "outside help.''

Given the sweeping changes of the past two decades (computerization and just-in-time production to name but two examples), the fear of losing increasingly scarce jobs, and the thorough amnesia that afflicts U.S. workers, liberals, and even radicals, it seems unlikely that social movements that break with the logic of the marketplace will arise ON THE JOB. However, such movements will still face the question of work.

The French writer Andre Gorz has argued that the extreme socialization of modern industry and its reduction of human labor to completely controlled machine-like behavior has eliminated the once radical vision of true workers' control of industry and society. The way most work is structured in the global factory precludes the possibility of a collective appropriation of the means of production. In other words, "taking over'' this messed-up world and running it "democratically'' is neither truly possible, nor desirable. A more thoroughgoing transformation of human activity and society will be required. To look at institutional solutions at the state level or its opposite, is to gaze into the past. Those ideas were born embedded in a division of labor and social system that has consistently promoted extreme centralization, stratification, and hierarchy based on power, wealth, race and gender.

If it is hopelessly anachronistic to believe in the possibility of One Big Union, or even a good government, how do we democratically organize our lives? What does democratic organization really mean? How come when we "talk politics'' we don't talk about real issues like what do we do and why? How can we "freely participate'' in a system of highly socialized labor and creatively redesign the fabric of our lives at the same time?

The marketplace and wage-labor impose a fatal break between our inclinations and duties. We are objects cast about in the rough seas of the market, rather than thoughtful subjects considering the zillions of ways in which our lives could be better immediately, and organizing ourselves to help bring it about. We are locked into "careers,'' or perhaps vicious cycles of underemployment, unemployment and bad luck, instead of choosing from a smorgasbord of useful activities needing attention, from cooking, cleaning and caretaking, to planting and building, along with a variety of well-stocked workshops for easy "self-production'' of essential items.

Why isn't it a common discussion among people that life is so dismal when it could be so fine?

Perhaps we can get something from Gorz's concept of dualism at work. It's a dualism we already face, but relatively unconsciously. On the one hand, there are certain basic tasks that must be done "efficiently'' to accommodate basic human needs worldwide--clean water and sewage treatment, sustainable agriculture, adequate shelter and clothing, and so on. On the other, are the countless ways humans have developed to satisfy themselves and improve life, from culture and music to home improvements and do-it-yourself-ism. In today's society, this dualism is experienced as an unavoidable division between what we do to "make a living,'' and what we do when work is over and we are "free.'' Of course, that "free'' time is most often defined by the flipside of alienated work, i.e. shopping, or other forms of alienated consumption. Nevertheless, it is outside of work that most of us construct the identities that we really care about and that give us our sense of meaning.

Calling what we do as work now "necessary labor'' is a confusing misnomer in our society since millions of jobs are a waste of time at best. But if a social movement arises with enough strength to create new ways of social life, then the activities that belong on the list of "necessary labor'' could ultimately be decided upon by a new, radically democratic society. Once these tasks are identified and agreed upon, we can go about the business of reducing unpleasant work to a minimum, making it as enjoyable as possible, and sharing it as equally as possible.

Such a new society would eliminate billions of hours of useless work required by The Economy, from banking to advertising, from excessive packaging to unnecessarily wide distribution networks, from military hardware and software to durable goods built to break down within a few years or even months. Hundreds of areas of human activity can be drastically reduced, altered or simply eliminated.

Imagine how easy it would be to take care of medical problems if there were no money or insurance, merely the provision of services to those who needed them? There would still be medical record-keeping, but it would only track information needed for health needs, not information to be used for the pernicious ends of insurance disqualification, or other standard business crimes. Hospitals would take care of people, not process insurance forms, imagine! With the elimination of so much wasted effort and resources, real needs become much easier to meet. Material security is guaranteed to all. (There's plenty to go around already--but thanks to the market most of us can't afford much.)

With this kind of revolution the wrong-headed demand for "jobs'' vanishes into thin air. Instead we are overwhelmed (at least at first) by all the work we need to do to create this new free society--a great deal of it involving the development of many new forms of social decision-making and collective work.

When we get things more or less the way we like them our "necessary labor'' will fall to something like an easy five hours a week each. Our free time then stretches out before us with almost unlimited possibilities. Most of us will get involved in lots of different things. As people begin "working'' at all the things they like to do, under their own pace and control, society discovers the pleasant surprise that "necessary labor'' is shrinking since so much of what people are doing freely is having the effect of reducing the need for highly socialized, machine-like work. Juliet Schor has discovered some interesting statistics in her book, The Overworked American. A 1978 Dept. of Labor study showed that 84% of respondents would willingly exchange some or all of future wage increases for increased free time. Nearly half would trade ALL of a 10% pay increase for free time. Only 16% refuse free time in exchange for more money.

In spite of overwhelming sociological evidence of a widespread preference for less work and more fun, many people still fervently clutch the work ethic. For them the connection between working and getting paid, earning your own living, is deeply ingrained as a basic element of self-respect. This sense of self-respect is extremely vital knowledge for human happiness, but somehow capitalism managed to link it to WAGE-LABOR. They want us to express our self-respect through our ability to do THEIR WORK, ON THEIR TERMS. We deserve respect, from others and from ourselves, but not because we can do stupid jobs well. When that happens our self-respect has been bought and sold back to us as a self-defeating ideology.

Nobody ever does anything that is truly "theirs.'' Every part of human culture and daily life, especially work, is a product of millions of people interacting over generations. The fact that some individuals invent things or "have ideas'' that become influential, doesn't make those breakthroughs any less a social product. That inventor's consciousness is very much a product of the lives and work of all those around him or her, present and past.

If this is true, then what is the basis for enforcing the link between specific kinds of work and specific levels of access to goods? In other words, why do some people make so much more money than others? More interesting still, in a society freed from the mass psychosis known affectionately as The Economy, what relationship do we want to establish between work, skill, initiative, longevity, etc. and ACCESS TO GOODS?

Obviously I'm not arguing for comparable worth, or any strategy that gears itself to simple wage increases as a goal. In the exchange of wages for work we lose any say over what work is done and why; at this point in history we must redesign how we live, and we have to do it intelligently or we will surely not survive as a human civilization (it's barbaric enough already!).

A prosperous global society that is not dominated by a world government AND is fun to live in, AND doesn't require an abstract devotion to work for its own sake, is within our grasp. We have to think about the social power that still lies at work in spite of our desire to transform it into something quite different. If we are not organizing ourselves on the basis of our jobs, how do we begin to make real an alternative movement based on what we do value? How can this new "labor movement'' grow organically out of our efforts to subvert the current system?

The unions, from conservative to "radical,'' still believe in and insist on the centrality of the work ethic. They cannot conceive alternatives to the work-and-pay society because as institutions, unions are embedded within and defined by that society. Radicals clinging to the security blanket of "workers' organizing'' (especially in the hopeless direction of rank-and-file trade unionism) are embracing a dying society and its obsolete division of labor. Why pursue at this late date the stabilization and maintenance (let alone improvement!) of a deal with capitalism, when it's clearer than ever that we need deep, systemic change that goes beyond mere "economics''?

Never has it been more appropriate to place on the front burner the classic critiques of wage-labor and capitalist society. The work ethic is a perverse holdover from the worst extremes of the narrow puritanism that contributed greatly to the founding of this culture. The compulsion to work--for its own sake and as an ideological cattle prod--is the battery acid that keeps this society afloat even while it leads to widespread corrosion within our hearts, relationships, and neighborhoods.

Although I attack the work ethic, I do not attack hard work. Without doubt, a free society will be a great deal of work, involving both the free, creative and fun stuff, and a fair share of the grind-it-out rehabbing, reconstructing, and reinhabiting of our cities and countrysides. People are not afraid or incapable of hard, worthwhile work. Even the most onerous tasks can be made more enjoyable. Many, if not most, enjoy work, in reasonable and self-managed doses. But few are able or willing to give that passionate extra effort when they are being paid to do a job all their lives. Degradation accompanies being left out of basic decisions about how you spend your life, and perpetually being told what to do.

Most of us go through life without finding meaning or satisfaction at work, or if we're really lucky, we get some in small amounts now and then. The good things that happen at work in this society are almost invariably IN SPITE of the organization, its activities, and the way it's run. When real human connections are made and real needs fulfilled, that is the essence of what all work should be. Of course it will be difficult to feel that way about lots of important things, like tending toxic waste dumps. But society's goal, and the target of a new social opposition, should be a good life for everyone. An ecologically sound material abundance, based on non-mandatory but widely shared short work shifts at democratically determined "necessary labor,'' is possible right now.

The forms of our political activity and direct resistance must take seriously the basic questions of social power. It's pretty obvious who's got the guns and that they're comfortable using them. We'll never win a military conflict. Pleasure is our strongest weapon. Life could be so great! Symbolic efforts may be useful at first, but if we are serious about radical change we will eventually have to grasp the levers of power found at work.

--Chris Carlsson * Triple Mixed Metaphor Award for PW #30!