Seceding from Capitalism
For the many years Sue Moon served as editor of Turning Wheel, the magazine was known for being interested in personal story as an entry point to understanding the 10,000 joys and 10,000 sorrows of the world we live in. Telling our stories to each other is healing; we feel not so alone in our suffering. In telling our stories, we begin to recognize that our lives are not entirely of our own making (yet another lie that builds empire), and that there are common structural conditions that contribute to our suffering. And as this offering from Zappa Montag reveals, when we open to our stories, we open up our ability to imagine a different future.
Seceding from Capitalism
aka the co co mo Zapfesto … a beginners guide to moving on
By Zappa Montag
I have been thinking about collective survival for some time, and bouncing some ideas around in my head. Over the last few months I have tried to put these ideas into words, even as a simple facebook post, or blog entry. I started writing this 8 times, in 5 different ways, in 2 different mediums, but I experienced a writer’s block. Should I write from the beginning , the end, cryptically, pseudo cryptically, dogmatically, catmatically, cartoon copy, … ? Should I bother writing anything at all?
The answer turned out to be yes … of course write … writers write right? … but maybe cut it into small sections … Maybe eventually to be published as a book, or a manifesto, or humanifesto? Or my personal Zapfesto about building the Co Co Mo (Collective Communal Movement) Intergalactic … a Pro collective, non-capitalist way of life, for future dwellers, starting now!
Maybe as an individual maybe I can’t write about collective/communalism, without input from, well, everybody. And who am I but one person hanging on to reality by a thread … I think I got answers for society? Ha! Maybe I should write that sci fi novel first.
But in the end, this is a modern saga, and I am living it … and it is not unlike many other peoples experiences in our troubled times, so
Co Co Mo or bust!
Basically I am a failure at capitalism. I suck at it for many reasons, and over time I have been reduced to being a pawn in the making money game called “life in america.” To the powers that be, I am an inconsequential, low-level consumer, who has made bad economic choices, leaving me living paycheck to paycheck, and with few realistic prospects of regaining economic viability by most standards. Of course maybe that describes many of us? I think it may …
which brings me back to a few years ago when I started tripping off this collective survival stuff that I am trying to express …
it was around 2008… Do you remember when….
Obama became president, and the Great Recession hit full stride? I was recently unemployed, after a long stint in public education. The economy tanked soon after I began searching for a new job. Finding work had never been hard for me before, but I quickly realized that I was not in the desirable, easy hire realm, anymore. I was old and experienced, opinionated and unsettled. The few jobs that may have been available to me were uninspiring, paid less than unemployment, lacked benefits, and created child care issues for me as a single parent. I soon stopped looking for work.
Truth be told, I wasn’t that bummed about the lack of work thing after a while. With the extensions given to those of us on unemployment, I had a small but steady income, and time on my hands. I began to recall what a precious thing time is, (even though it is more plentiful than air, we always seem short on time). Plus, there were lots of us jobless folks. Hey, if you are on facebook all day, you might not be employed, and facebook was poppin all day, every day. We bonded over our new found downward mobility. We got in hustle mode and made do. It became less of stigma to be broke as heck. It became ok to talk about how uncool, and porkulent, most rich people were. Us long term jobless were called the 99ers, after the cut off from unemployment benefits that we would face if we lasted jobless after 99 weeks. I figured I could do that easy, and so I decided to ride out the recession as an unemployed, black bohemian.
I would fill my time with music, and socializing, practicing creative pursuits, and getting healthy. What could be better? I sang, danced, and I met lots of artists and musicians types; I went out and drank and partied with my people who, like me, probably shouldn’t have been spending our small cash holdings on booze and parties. It sure was good to be home in my element again, back with my riff raff roots. I mentally gave up on getting a “good job.” Never had believed in that stuff anyway. Ya know? Make payments on time for twenty years so I can have enough money to fade away in cheeseball American style. Eh? The great Jim Morrison said it best in Roadhouse Blues, “the future is uncertain and the end is always near.” Planning ahead is for those who believe in America, and capitalism, and boredom over freedom.
At the same time however, my money issues, which included, times when I couldn’t find (literally) gas money for my car, and times with no car at all, incessant collection notices and calls, and other daily mental beatdowns from my nemesis, capitalism. The daily money stress, along with my fears of not being a real “provider” to my kids as broke as I was, led me down a path of intermittent isolation and depression. I was living the best and worst of all worlds: Free, happy, depressed, worried. When I was finally kicked off unemployment after the 99 week deadline, the negative vibe began to win. I was overwhelmed, and anxious, unable to carry about activities that I knew were imperative to my ability to provide for my family. As a single father, it was a hard time in many ways.
The upside, though, to being broke as flock, and jobless and with child dependents, was that I was now eligible for welfare, and thus health benefits for the first time in several years. Yep, I became a Welfare King!! Not where I envisioned myself at age 42 or so, but I got over it. I needed the monthly 500 dollars in cash, 350 in food stamps, the doctor’s visits, the mental health counseling, and the meds to treat my depression and anxiety. The irony was not lost on me that I was indeed now finally broke enough to get some help from the government. And being trained, and over educated in the ways of Babylon, I was able to jump through the bureaucratic hoops that were required of us indigents. Unlike many of the more long-term, or truly impoverished folks who should have gotten more aid and help than they often received.
The flip side was that if I made even a pitiful sum of money working, I would lose the benefits, and the cash aid. Either way, poverty was inevitable. I also now felt the Welfare stigma. One didn’t have to discuss this to know it existed and I rarely mentioned that I was a recipient to even close friends. Unemployment was bad enough, but welfare? As an able-bodied man, in a male dominated society that values so-called “self-sufficiency” and rugged individualism, there is shame to be on welfare. And being black only added to that. Just as I am sure that there is shame for women, especially black women, who are the most stereotyped in regards to welfare. Believe me though; the aid is not sufficient to survive. If you don’t have several side hustles, or benefactors, you will starve on welfare. It really is a setup for poverty and legal entanglement, and it puts the bureaucratic state all up in your business.
The health benefits did help me though. (Turns out health benefits are beneficial…even for poor folks.) I got some decent doctoring, weekly mental health therapy, and meds which allowed me just enough of a temporary boost to face going out, dealing with reality, and finding a job, and starting over, at age 40 something. Of course I was now deeper in debt, my credit was, is, and always will be, totally shot, and I had little hope of ever getting back on the economic good foot. In fact, if debtor’s prison ever came back, I began to think I was an excellent candidate. Escape across the border to Mexico as an economic refugee became a viable long term plan in my mind. Eventually, though, I was able to find a crappy paying, part time, education job which involved commuting long miles daily. Considering that there were times that I thought nobody would ever hire me again, it felt good to be making a check anyhow.
I still knew that as far as America, and the dream, I was economic road kill; my piddling job was no fix for that. The illusion of fairness was further swept away by the “Great Recession.” The rich got richer, and everybody else got poorer. After living through decades of open class warfare by the uber rich against the lower classes, many of us had started to vocally resist the twisted rhetoric of the elite, and began to lay blame for our massive social dysfunction at the feet of the super-rich. This to me was a long time coming. They belittle our aspirations for peace and unity, and they are callous to our suffering, and believe in their own superiority, despite the obvious fact that the system is rigged in their total favor.
Fueled by lack of options, and a desire for some minor retribution, I began to go back to my more vocal, anti-American, anti-capitalist political mindset, which I had cultivated when I was younger, but had toned down around the time my kids were born. I felt like I had little to lose by talking smack at this point, and there were many others feeling similarly bold.
Right around then the Occupy movement hit, giving international voice to the sentiments that many Americans were feeling. I joined up enthusiastically, but I realized that I was tripping off some ideas that were not being expressed that much in the occupy movement. The ideas that kept circulating through my thoughts had to do with creating a new “economy” (although I have begun to despise the term “economy” which I associate with money based systems … we don’t want a new economy, we want to live life, and fulfill our human potential … but what to call that? Life?). The broad cross section of people who initially supported Occupy gave us a glimpse or a vision of a possible alternative, and escape from a very bleak future. Many “regular” people were pissed off at the big money, and had a renewed belief in each other instead, and seemed ready to behave in a new way, and to cease to be so compliant to the needs or edicts of the financial elites. Was there a chance that we could cooperate across society’s many artificial divides for the common good? Or at least for our individual self interest and survival? I began to wonder if we could set up an economic method that would cut our expenses by, say, 2/3 of the current cost of living. That would free up a lot of people power to devote towards building the next phase.
My thinking was/is that by copying methods that had been employed by groups such as immigrants groups in urban areas, hippies in country areas, and nomadic global and of course Intergalactic travelers, we could create a new way which eliminated much of the need for money, and thus pointless jobs and annoyances from Babylon’s endless enforcers of rules and regulations. Could we do it in such a way that could challenge the existing prevailing mentality, and possibly destabilize the evil forces at the helm? Why not? We could act collectively and pack people into houses, and generally live cheaply and collectivize our resources. And then maybe begin to create a new inter communal society which would blur and eliminate national and civic borders, and strengthen human bonds of cooperation and unity. Hey why not?
We could create an alternative, semi nomadic society, in which people spent time in the city, time in the country, and time traveling. Using urban houses as a base and hub, we would learn to do what many folks already do, which is to collectively cut expenses, and raise funds to create or sustain a network. This network would be borderless and would include people who lived in the city in our base dwellings, with an emphasis on care and protection for children and the elderly. A second group would live in rural areas in larger groups, and with lowered expenses, i.e. camping, and off the grid, and they would either learn marketable skills or create goods to sell in the city. This group would be hearty and flexible, with an emphasis on nature and gardening for the outdoorsy types who like a little “discomfort.” Finally we would have a group of people who were traveling at any given time, learning skills and culture, creating networks, enjoying the planet, and engaging in fair commerce and trade to sustain the network. The nice thing is that everyone would get a chance to live in all three realities at times, thus becoming a better-rounded, adventurous type of human society.
We already know that there are only so many ways to do the human reality thing. We can compete, or we can cooperate, we can stay in one place and accumulate stuff, or we can stay light and move about. We can try to play by the rules of a crooked and malignant game which hurts everything, or we can walk away and let the game play out without us. No matter what we choose to do, life will not be easy in these coming times. This is a crucial moment. We see the futility and folly of our current ways, and we see the impossibility of systemic self-correction anywhere near radical enough to alter the path of destruction we now face. Do we really have a choice but to build a new way? The capitalist economy has long stopped being efficient or sustainable in any way. We have built more stuff than we will ever need. We have created jobs, and in fact entire industries, that enrich a tiny few, sustain a handful of others, and endanger billions. We don’t need more pointless jobs, making more stuff that we don’t need. It is time to stop making stuff, and buying stuff. We see the effects of this lifestyle every day. We see how out of control the rabid machine of consumerism is across the planet. It will kill all of us humans if we don’t unplug it quick.
We can’t enact these types of changes as individuals, or even as small groups. There really has to be a critical mass of non-cooperation with Babylon laws, and the Wall Street gangsters and warmongers. A co-op here, a collective there, a hippie house in the hills, a punk rock squat in the hood, are not enough. Neither are individual acts of morality and decency, and most forms of charitable do gooderism. Many small acts of unheralded sanity do not sufficiently challenge the ever tightening grip of the power mongers on our human reality. Possibly a direct challenge to the social code, by large amounts of folks, pursuing actions of non-compliance with the financial criminality of the prison industrial complex, will be effective. Peace on Earth may require an open defiant and steadfast refusal to be part of the silent march to human oblivion by many people all over the world. We are past the point of protesting to those who won’t listen, and we know that a military fight is hopelessly skewed in favor of the firepower of the capitalists and warmongers.
So what if we just declare a new way? Secede from contradictory, and unsatisfying mindset of hyper-elitism, aka capitalism. We are too wise, and we love life too much, to be ruled by the most fearful and unimaginative human elements any longer. Let’s be realistic. We are cool, they are not so cool. Our treasure: Collective Communal Coolness, makes money seem like a piece of paper with some bad art stamped on it. You seen one dollar bill, you seen em all. Time to move on…
Where we moving on to? Well, the Exodus might involve publicly declaring our intent to be independent of current financial constructs, and to begin collectivizing our needs locally, building networks, and sharing big ideas. And also share cars, houses, land, ideas, work, food. Refuse to follow rules that hinder our ability to be safe, and to protect each other. Certain ideas that Libertarian types talk about make some sense in terms of government over regulation. The problem is that they are focused on the exact opposite of what we need. They want to protect the rights of individuals to do whatever they see fit, but it is actually the rights of the group that need protection. The laws are geared to prohibit collective survival unless corporate profit is maximized. For instance, if we wanted to replace fast food as a dietary staple in poor communities by providing an alternative, and we began to collect funds to buy in bulk, and used people homes to cook communal meals on a large-scale daily? We would be saving a lot of money, serving hungry folks, and creating community. However, we can all be sure that several laws would prohibit us from doing this, and these laws would be aggressively enforced. They would throw health and safety violations at us, make us get permits, pay for inspections, and bring us to a grinding halt. Nobody would get fed if they had their way. And still McDonald’s is allowed to kill citizens with impunity.
What if we had enough people who refused to comply with the rules, and we kept collecting communal food funds, and cooking and serving communal meals? What if we shared our cars and vehicles (and cool stereo systems ) communally, and started our own collective transportation network, without getting the proper permits, and without paying the fees and taxes, simply because we have people who need rides, people with cars that need riders, and air that needs less cars on the road? What if we declared capital free zones, and refused to allow money transactions in designated areas? What if we gathered together for safety and camped out in our parks, and used our open spaces at night? What if we made music and art, and happy children, instead of plastic spoons, and horsecowslop burgers, and PTSD? and…..
What if we just seceded from capitalism?
TO BE CONTINUED.
Zappa Montag was born in New York City in 1969, and moved to California soon after. He has spent his time between Mendocino County and the East Bay. Besides writing, Zappa mostly enjoys music, family, friends, and the outdoors, and he aspires to spend a lot of time doing things that incorporate as many aspects of those inspirations as possible.