On Being a Millennial Turning 30

I have written two full length books and 160 articles for this website but I walk dogs for a living. Part of this was leaving college in the wake of the financial crash, part of this was refusing to water down my politics to suit an increasingly regressive employment culture, part of this was journalistic institutions shunning my job applications when I got out of college due to my heavy involvement in Occupy Wall Street.

I wish it paid more, but I’m pretty happy walking dogs. The dogs themselves are great, I get exercise, I get to be outside, and it gives me a lot of flexibility in my schedule. It doesn’t really leave me with much of an economic future, but few things in this economy do, and most of them are more greedy for your time.

And it was a pretty cozy arrangement for a couple years. But like most other things in my life, the repeated terrible decisions humanity has made since the dawn of the 20th century, particularly brute forcing society to revolve around personal automobiles and the advent of the internet surveillance economy, have fucked it up.

The heat wave this summer has been so bad that when I get to the dogs, as often as not they literally do not want to go outside. They get out quickly, do their business, then look up as if to say “What else do you want from me?” Sometimes the sidewalk is so hot they rightly refuse to step on it and tug the leash as if they were telling me to check my shoe privilege.

Sometimes it has been so hot that I don’t feel right even taking them outside for the full time I’m contracted for and I’ve had to get creative, walking them around the hallways of their apartment complexes or mapping out what sidewalks will be shaded at what time of day in my head.

If you’ve ever owned or met a dog, you know that pretty much every dog always wants to go outside all the time. But that’s the reality of climate change. Everything has its limits.

People frequently ask me if I work for Wag, a rent-seeking, parasitic “platform” company that most people seem to trust despite the fact that literally all they do is siphon money from professional dog walkers and leave your pets with people they have not really vetted at all. I hear horror stories about Wag walkers not actually showing up, sleeping in peoples’ homes when they’re not there, or hitting the animals.

Yet people are hooked on platform companies like they were heroin. And that addiction has worked out to economic warfare against my generation.

The generation that gave birth to most of the Millennials, the Baby Boomers, have turned out to be the most selfish generation in human history. They value their own comfort and convenience over the lives and futures of their children. They ignored climate change until…until shit. They’re still ignoring it.

“Tune out, turn off, fuck you I got mine” seems to be the refrain going through their heads. They run around gleefully shitting on everything, reveling in the fact they may well be the last generation that gets to die restfully on their own terms.

I want to be a positive and inspiring voice, but I don’t see much in the future to be optimistic about. US infrastructure is still crumbling. Every year the drinking water becomes less safe to drink, the outdoors become less hospitable to walk in, the people I meet seem to have retreated into the cocoon of their phones and endless window shopping. Everyone (or at least everyone I’m around) sees their standard of living rapidly decreasing to subsistence level. Kids get eviscerated by automatic weapons in schools on a daily basis and all the 1% see are more dollar signs. Should I expect anything different? The same 1% are lining up to push us into World War III, Holocaust II, and complete environmental collapse like they were rides at an amusement park.

As they always have, the 1% get off almost sexually on our suffering in and of itself, perhaps even more than they get off on profiting from it.

Like Ted Bundy, the ability to inflict pain makes them feel powerful and secure.

Perhaps at least this time they will be cooked alive with us. Such are the small consolations that run through the Millennial and Gen Z mind.

And beyond the environmental collapse, there has been a collapse of the social infrastructure as well. People used to connect socially by entertaining each other, but who has the energy for that when “entertainment” surrounds them in a claustrophobic cycle of emotional manipulation? Why would anyone spend the time and effort to know someone when they’ve been conditioned to know there will always be something shinier around the corner when they swipe right?

The greatest social effect of the cell phone has been to privilege communications of those people who are nowhere near us over those close to us, as if every text message were a dire emergency. And we’ve rolled over and accepted this as the new normal. We purposely distance ourselves from others so we can become complicit in exploiting them despite the fact they are us. Exploitative internet apps like Uber give us little tastes of what it feels like to be the one doing the exploiting in drips and drabs and it turned out that was enough to buy us off. We haven’t forgotten the children in cages at the border, we have ghosted them.

The timidity of those who favored self advancement and personal comfort over supporting those of us who have chosen to fight will be remembered harshly by history, presuming anyone’s still there to write it.

Yet I have great hope for Gen Z. They have grown up with no illusions about the dire situation we face. They have no choice but to struggle.

My resolution for my 30s is to throw in my lot with them.

How is the New Fascism Different?

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Ippolito Caffi, “Interior of the Colosseum”, 1850s, National Gallery
Fascism has been frequently defined as “the merger of state and corporate power.” This phrase is commonly attributed to Mussolini, though there’s no evidence he said it. Regardless, this soundbite has resonated exists as the most common coherent definition of fascism and works well as a still object against which I can attempt to measure society’s current rapid motion.

The current fascist consolidation isn’t the same as the one that rose in the first half of the 20th century. The earlier fascism rose in a cultural moment of technological ascension that was genuinely convincing. The possibility of utopia seemed real in concrete ways that hadn’t prior; in just a generation the material constraints that had defined humanity had lifted. This possibility also contrasted with what historians of WWI have dubbed “the possibility of total annihilation” and that Eric Hobsbawm discusses in The Age of Extremes-the act of warfare was now the possibility of complete annihilation without even a corpse as a remnant. This tide of fascism was effectively bookended with the ultimate realization of total physical annihilation-the atom bomb. While regional fascisms continued after WWII, fascism in toto was seen until recently as a response to the interwar period. Until 2016 anyway.

What has changed in the interim and how do we need to adjust our understanding of fascism so we can effectively respond to it? I feel like the current situation is primarily driven by two factors: 1) A population that consciously/subconsciously understands that there is a very strong possibility of an extinction event or at least severe version of what evolution science calls “a bottleneck”. 2) The overt merger of corporate and state power being caused by the transition/collapse of capitalism into what I would call competitive feudalism.

Both of these subjects could and have been the core of numerous long books. For brevity’s sake I’m going to lay out the bones of my argument in numbered observations:

1. Fascism in its initial incarnation was Marxism-Leninism-Stalinism/Maoism’s mirror image. Each saw the possibility of social perfection in the broader project of mass industrialization but defined utopia differently. Nazism was aesthetically an attempt by a society to embody the orderly image of standardized mechanical production, as opposed to Stalinism/Maoism’s attempts to rapidly industrialize so that industrialization could be (at least in theory) harnessed for the good of the majority population. This note is strictly referring to the projected self-image of these three movements and not their actualities, which, as we all know, were far messier and eventually catastrophic. The “alt-right” fascism of 2016 was born out of chaos and is happy to project an outward image of chaos-Donald Trump’s bizarre self-contradiction and embrace of domestic terrorist organizations not directly under his command is much closer to Mao’s tactics for consolidating power during the Chinese Cultural Revolution than Hitler’s deification of orderly militarism.

2. The new fascism has grown in a period defined by the proliferation of very possible (probable?) end of human civilization, and possibly life on Earth itself. This would be either through a third world war going nuclear or an unseen multiplier effect to climate change. This isn’t an argument on the probability of either event-their omnipresence in discussion and mass consciousness is more than enough to engender complex and bizarre effects. Increasingly erratic weather can’t help but give a morbid pall to even sunny warm days, particularly when they’re falling in the middle of February. Pretending that the chaotic novelty of recent politics isn’t related to climate change or the clear end of the viability of capitalism just because its adherents claim not to believe in climate change or the potential that capitalism could ever end is ridiculous. The zombie-neoliberalism-professionalism of the Democrats and the lulz-racism-deathcult of the Republicans are both clearly responses to the constant obvious reminders of the very real possibility none of us are going to reach our sell-by date. The Democrats think that rigid adherence to capitalism as it was will rise a dead thing, or worse that technological accelerationism will save us just in the nick of time. The Republicans/neo-fascist parties worldwide think that if they can ritually cleanse society of people/things that annoy them or their constituents (everything from the guy serving them at McDonalds having an accent to invented wars on Christmas) they can return to an imagined and fictional happy equilibrium. Confusing correlation with causation isn’t a result of ignorance but a psychological tool for releasing cognitive dissonance. The feeling of “powerlessness” among young white men is not solely attributable to economic prospects declining but to the larger cultural sense that there very well could not be a future.

3. The new fascism is not a politics of possibility but a politics of exhaustion. It’s not founded in the shadow of imagined utopia but in the shadow of imagined extinction. Hitler had Speer drawing up plans for a grand new Berlin, Trump can’t even say whether he’s going to actually do any of that infrastructure whatever he was vaguely talking about.

4. The ready accessibility of more information than can possibly be processed even by people who spend all day trying to make sense of what’s going on, compounded by the strong probability most of this information is fake or misleading compounds this sense of helplessness. The internet has shifted from an object of liberation hopes to one of Orwellian control that Orwell didn’t have enough of the puzzle pieces to put together. Instead of a TV that watches us, we have a dispassionate TV where we flail up and down to get its attention-several thousand people do this for a living now. Social media as a primary distribution outlet for information is incompatible

5. The best way to measure this breakdown of public trust in well…the very concept of trust: satire requires a social narrative with clear boundaries regarding what can credibly be accepted as real. These boundaries have broken down. This is the age of #nottheonion, an age featuring traits both of Baudrillard’s simulacra and Debord’s Spectacle, where reality has finally outpaced speculative fiction. We are in the thing after satire and after capitalism, not because either collapsed but because both have triumphantly ascended to omnipresence and by doing so lost the other whose differance defined them.

6. The way that power is distributed through media, due to #4, is basically a thing that can only be mastered by a small group of people with extremely specialized skill sets. Social media as a primary distribution outlet for information is incompatible with representative democracy. The famous line is “Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one.” Now that everyone ostensibly owns a printing press, outside of the questionable credibility of something going “viral”, access to readership is pretty much entirely a matter of training in and adherence to what were once termed counterinsurgency principles or the money to continually push posts. Access to the kind of AI/data crunching capabilities that allow someone like Robert Mercer to get Donald Trump elected or get Britain to decide to leave the EU cost several million dollars at the bare minimum and is limited to those who have the infrastructure and the highly qualified/extremely limited number of individuals that can run such an operation. The more polarized and scared the country is, the more money Facebook makes.

7. Accordingly, the practice of psychology has revealed itself as being a tool of mass control first and a sort of therapeutic thing second. The part that benefits the ruling classes is not the therapeutic part and much of the “progress” that has occurred in the last 150 years both in the social and hard sciences rewrite society in a manner more akin to Adorno’s Negative Dialectics than a coming tech utopia or “luxury communism”.

8. The fact that the current business model of the largest companies in the country is “disrupt and then take advantage of however long we can maintain a monopoly” speaks to the fact that there isn’t any more space for capital to expand. The fact that the capitalist warlords can directly govern now instead of ruling through proxies speaks more to where the country was already headed than any huge seismic shift caused by Trumpism. Much of the country feels powerless because in terms of the broad levers of power, they are. The struggles going on between the tech and oil/old-new money takes on an apocalyptic Twilight of the Idols feel. They’re fighting over who gets to own the pie when the turnover of capitalism settles into a single totalistic owner-subject state not given over to whatever struggles of consolidation in the marketplace are still left.

Late Victorian Holocausts (2000)

The recent debate over Germany’s decision to legalize publication of Mein Kampf is a sobering reminder that no book should use the word “holocaust” lightly, especially in its title. From the end of 1942 until 1945, over six million Jews were herded into concentration camps where they were systematically exterminated for no reason other than their ethnicity and religion. It shouldn’t have surprised anybody. Most of the war crimes that the Nazis eventually committed in Eastern Europe had already been laid out in the poorly written but ideologically toxic autobiography Adolf Hitler wrote in 1925, but there is book that has been responsible for even more deaths than Mein Kampf. Worse yet, this book is taught to undergraduates at major universities all over the United States by tenured professors who believe that it is still valuable for educating future leaders on how our society should be run. I’m talking of course about The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith.

Ever since its publication in 1776, the Wealth of Nations has been an ideological blueprint for genocide. In 1847, when a potato blight killed over a million people in Ireland, the British government under Lord John Russell not only refused to provide relief for fear of upsetting the “free market.” It exported food back to England. Even worse than the Irish potato famine of 1847 was the “Great Famine” that, between the years 1876 – 1878, left southwestern India in a state of apocalyptic desolation. According to the most conservative estimates, 5.5 million people died, and it was probably closer to 10 million. Similar to his earlier counterparts in Ireland ,and out of a fanatical devotion to the “free market,” Lord Lytton, the British Governor General of India, exported food back to England while refusing to provide relief to the starving Indian peasants, who were dying by the millions. To this day among the Indian people, Robert Bulwer-Lytton, 1st Earl of Lytton, who was quite possibly addicted to opium, and almost certainly demented, is known as “The Nero of India.”

I can already anticipate your objections. Sure, the British Empire committed crimes all over the world, especially in India, where it pitted Hindus against Muslims, destroyed the native textile industry, and overtaxed the poor to fund the “Great Game” against the Russians in Afghanistan. The behavior of the British government in Ireland was inexcusable, but still, you argue, none of this can be compared to the Holocaust. The “passive resistance” of Mahatma Gandhi, which eventually worked against the British, would never have worked against the Nazis. The Third Reich was a singular evil. The British Raj was just another empire. As bad as he was, Lord Lytton didn’t actually set up a system of industrialized system of mass extermination for people he considered to be an inferior race.

Actually that’s exactly what he did.

When Lord Lytton sent Sir Richard Temple to the famine afflicted Deccan he left him with strict instructions to put saving money ahead of saving lives. Temple, who had actually saved hundreds of thousands of lives during an earlier famine in 1874, and almost lost his career as a result, decided never to make the same mistake again. In 1876, he was the model of a modern laissez faire ideologue. He not only set up famine relief camps that made the Victorian workhouse look humane by comparison — you had to do hard coolie labor on less than 1500 calories a day, fewer calories than inmates received at Buchenwald — he required them to walk at least 10 miles from their homes even to be considered for admittance. The goal, as George Monbiot points out, was to “reduce the surplus population.”

When an El Nino drought destituted the farmers of the Deccan plateau in 1876 there was a net surplus of rice and wheat in India. But the viceroy, Lord Lytton, insisted that nothing should prevent its export to England. In 1877 and 1878, at height of the famine, grain merchants exported a record 6.4 million hundredweight of wheat. As the peasants began to starve, government officials were ordered “to discourage relief works in every possible way”(2). The Anti-Charitable Contributions Act of 1877 prohibited “at the pain of imprisonment private relief donations that potentially interfered with the market fixing of grain prices.” The only relief permitted in most districts was hard labour, from which anyone in an advanced state of starvation was turned away. Within the labour camps, the workers were given less food than the inmates of Buchenwald. In 1877, monthly mortality in the camps equated to an annual death rate of 94%.

http://www.monbiot.com/2005/12/27/how-britain-denies-its-holocausts/

While the hundreds of million people killed by British imperialism and free-market capitalism are still widely known in India and in the “third world,” and used to be discussed in Great Britain and the United States, they largely disappeared from our consciousness during the Cold War, where our propagandists set up a Manichean distinction between the “free world” and communism. Most Americans know all about the 20 million people who died during the Great Leap Forward Famine under Mao and the Holodomor under Stalin, but I doubt 1 in 20 has ever heard the name Sir Richard Temple or Lord Lytton.

Late Victorian Holocausts by Mike Davis probably won’t do anything to change that. Davis is one of the most important American writers on the left, but he’s no Bruce Catton or Shelby Foote. He’s not a great narrative historian with a fair for telling stories who can force consciousness of these appalling events back into the minds of the English speaking world. This is not a book aimed at the general reader. It was tough going for me, and I know Nineteenth Century history. Davis is trying to do a lot in 397 pages, but his intention is not write popular narrative history. Published in the year 2000, three years after the massive El Nino of 1997, Late Victorian Holocausts is an attempt to synthesize history and climatology, to interpret three massive waives of drought/famine in the Late Victorian era in light of the new understanding of ENSO, El Nino Southern Oscillation, that we have gained since the 1960s. For Davis, the leftist attack on the British Empire I opened this essay with would be crude and reductionist. It doesn’t take into account the confluence between the Great Famine and a massive El Nino in the late 1870s that destroyed subsistence agriculture, not only in India, but all over what is now known as “the third world,” causing a worldwide death toll of 20-30 million people. On the other hand, Davis would also argue that the view of the traditional defenders of the British Empire, that the “Great Famine” was caused by climate and only climate, is just as reductionist and simplistic.

“Is is bad climate or bad system,” Davis quotes a Chinese historian as saying, and comes to the conclusion that it’s both. What happened in the late 1870s, then twice in the 1890s, was a temporary climate shift caused by El Nino that created the conditions for a worldwide disaster at the precise moment when Europe and the west were strong arming the “third world” into imperial capitalism. Millions of people died in India in the late 1870s, not only because the El Nino caused the monsoon to fail, but because the destruction of traditional Indian society by the British Empire had also destroyed the ability of people to respond to the failure of the monsoon. Millions more died in China because the Qing dynasty had been so weakened, first by the Taiping Rebellion, then by a British and French invasion, that they could not maintain the “ever normal granaries,” the system of relief the dynasty had administered so effectively the century before. It was truly a worldwide disaster, or, rather, two worldwide disasters that, working together, permanently reduced the global south to a standard of living far below the global north. It’s a grim story, all the more terrifying because, as Davis makes clear, it’s not over yet. While we don’t fully understand how the temporary shifts in climate caused by El Nino will be affected by the permanent shifts caused by man-made global warming, we can probably count on future disasters that will make the “Great Famine” of 1876 to 1878 look like child’s play.

Late Victorian Holocausts is not only an angry reappraisal of the crimes of the British Empire. It’s a sober warning about the future.