"Do You Consider Yourself Anti-Capitalist?": On Making Political Art


They say it's greed that keeps people turnin'

Feeds the lonely and the beasts of burden

East of Eden, but at least we're earnin'

The ice is meltin'

And the trees are burnin'

—Sims, “Future Shock

My parents are renovating the house I grew up in, and their kitchen has been unusable for some time. As Edgar can attest, one of my primary means of showing affection is making food for people: for me, nothing shows care quite so much as sharing a home-made meal, so I brought them dinner (vegetarian chili, with a small container of browned beef alongside it, in case they didn’t want to have it vegetarian.)

While there, I spoke to my mother about the ongoing loneliness epidemic that has been on my mind lately: I’m an adjunct instructor, and I’ve recently gotten a crop of so-called “Generation Z” students. These young people are (according to experts,) the most isolated generation in recorded history, and who have the most precarious mental health situation of any living generation, succumbing in record numbers to anxiety and depression. I am I feel, not improperly, worried about them. This discussion led me back to some of the reading that I’ve been doing lately — the one that leaped to mind immediately was Mark Fisher’s idea of “depressive hedonia” from his book, Capitalist Realism:

Many of the teenage students I encountered seemed to be in a state of what I would call depressive hedonia. Depression is usually characterized as a state of anhedonia, but the condition I’m referring to is constituted not by an inability to get pleasure so much as it [is] by an inability to do anything else except pursue pleasure. There is a sense that ‘something is missing’. . . In large part this is a consequence of students’ ambiguous structural position, stranded between their old role as subjects of disciplinary institutions and their new status as consumers of services. (Fisher 21-22)

An illustration: I challenged one student about why he always wore headphones in class. He replied that it didn’t matter, because he wasn’t actually playing any music. In another lesson, he was playing music at very low volume through the headphones, without wearing them. When I asked him to switch it off, he replied that even he couldn’t hear it. Why wear the headphones without playing music or play music without wearing the headphones? Because the presence of the phones on the ears or the knowledge that the music is playing (even if he couldn’t hear it) was a reassurance that the matrix [of sensation-stimulus] was still there, within reach. Besides, in a classic example of interpassivity, if the music was still playing, even if he couldn’t hear it, then the player could still enjoy it on his behalf. (24)

I must stop myself before I quote the whole book — Fisher is a writer of amazing clarity and penetrating insight (though his essay “Exiting the Vampire Castle” fills me with mixed feelings. While he makes an excellent point about the ostracizing tendencies of people on the left, his construction of the “Vampire Castle” is an architectural metaphor that calls to mind Curtis Yarvin/Mencius Moldbug and Nick Land’s conception of “The Cathedral” for me. But that’s a nightmare for another day).

And so, when conversation with my mother turned, and I was posed the question “Do you consider yourself anti-capitalist?” Fisher was the first person to spring to mind.

The conversation was interrupted after I replied with, “Of course.”

I didn’t get to launch into my too-philosophical thoughts on the matter, agony for a pedant like myself. I didn’t get to discuss Frederic Jameson’s oh-so-on-point, and oh-so-postmodern quote “it has become easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism,” or how modern corporate culture has exiled us into a Market-Stalinist Empire of Signs, or some similar overwrought point.

I’ll make it simple, because this is writing and I can revise it down. I’m anti-capitalist because I was raised Catholic and it says that it’s easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than get into heaven. I’m anti-capitalist because it’s impossible to become a billionaire through hard work. I’m anti-capitalist because capitalism is killing us and we don’t have to be complicit.

While I’m not about to ostracize someone for disagreeing with me, I honestly feel that people who don’t at least have a deep suspicion of capitalism may be willfully ignoring its detrimental effects. There are many reasons for my stance, both structural (we have eleven years to fix climate change, working people haven’t seen real wage growth in about 40 years, and let’s not forget that our economic system is more than a bit racist,) and personal (I’ve worked minimum wage jobs more recently than any member of my immediate family [which came with tip theft and spending my own money to do the job — hell, there are days I left poorer than I went in,] I’m the only one still stuck on the rental treadmill, and — oh yeah! — I work three jobs and still have to rely on Edgar for help with bills for at least one month out of the year.)

In addition, between the two of us, we have enough debt that we could have bought a very nice house. Instead, we’re in a decrepit third story walk-up, cursing with each step up or down the stairs because of joint pain.

This is the background noise we work in — this is why our villains are greedy and well-dressed, why they’re agents of law and order. These are the people who, while they don’t really want us dead, have no problem making our living situations almost unlivable.

Of course, I am always struck by the realization that the people responsible for it aren’t necessarily 100% responsible. Maybe about 60 or 75%: they didn’t pick this system, but it benefits them and they move to profit from it, which means that they take actions that turn up the heat on us a bit. A few degrees here or there, and all of a sudden the air is on fire.

And of course, while the money will never trickle down, the attitude does, leading to the crabs-in-a-pot attitude that means our apartment has had a broken window for more than a year, that is why the roads around all the new construction in our neighborhood are riddled with potholes, that are why I got written up for being late to an old job on a day when I couldn’t leave my apartment because there was a police sniper outside my door (luckily that whole incident ended relatively non-violently, but still).

Which is the inhuman system that is personalized in Perdition’s Teeth as the Radio Man, and which shows up in so much of our fiction. This awful thing with power over us should be despised, but I don’t want to starve and I don’t want to be homeless, so I guess I’ve got to go to work. But of course, going to work just feeds this thing, and allows it to tap into our creativity and enthusiasm and pull it out of us.

So, small as it is, Broken Hands is the method of resistance I’ve got, and even when we do start selling things on this website (we have some books forthcoming), we’re always going to do our best to make sure there’s something here that’s free.