Homemaking and Shadow Work

Rachel Wilkerson has tied together many threads — including work vs. labor, shadow work, blogging, feminism, and the cult of domesticity — in this post, which has a great section synthesizing Shannon Hayes’ thesis that modernity hasn’t really abolished the tyranny of the family, but instead has merely replaced it:

Last fall, I read Radical Homemakers, a book by Shannon Hayes that puts forth a feminist philosophy I don’t think most of us learned in our women’s studies classes. At the risk of overly simplifying the message, here’s a brief overview: Hayes argues that instead of relying on a man, modern women now rely on The Man—that is, to be independent from our male partners, we have become dependent on our employers who we know do not always have our best interests at heart. And in our pursuit of financial independence, we must rely on cheap convenience products that are bad for our health and the environment, and that are often made by low-wage workers.

I can make the point about meaningful work vs. laborious drudgery quite easily, simply by asking you, dear reader, if you’d drag yourself out of bed to go to your job every day if you didn’t have to. And yet we’ve outsourced most of our daily activities — or what would be our daily activities, if we lived more simply and sustainably — to others, mostly poor immigrant wage slaves even lower in the barrel, so that we can continue our “professional lifestyles”: never-ending cycles of work in exchange for money in exchange for cars so we can get to work and get money and exchange it for gas for our car so we can get to work.

Here’s a quote by Hakim Bay from The Information War, which nicely continues the point:

Americans and other “First World” types seem particularly susceptible to the rhetoric of a “metaphysical economy” because we can no longer see (or feel or smell) around us very much evidence of a physical world. Our architecture has become symbolic, we have enclosed ourselves in the manifestations of abstract thought (cars, apartments, offices, schools), we work at “service” or information-related jobs, helping in our little way to move disembodied symbols of wealth around an abstract grid of Capital, and we spend our leisure largely engrossed in Media rather than in direct experience of material reality.

The material world for us has come to symbolize catastrophe, as in our amazingly hysterical reaction to storms and hurricanes (proof that we’ve failed to “conquer Nature” entirely), or in our neo-Puritan fear of sexual otherness, or our taste for bland and denatured (almost abstract) food.

And yet, this “First World” economy is not self-sufficient. It depends for its position (top of the pyramid) on a vast substructure of old-fashioned material production. Mexican farmworkers grow and package all that Natural food for us so we can devote our time to stocks, insurance, law, computers, video games. Peons in Taiwan make silicon chips for our PCs. “Towel-heads” in the Middle East suffer and die for our sins.

Life? Oh, our servants do that for us. We have no life, only “lifestyle” – an abstraction of life, based on the sacred symbolism of the Commodity, mediated by the priesthood of the stars, those larger-than-life abstractions who rule our values and people our dreams – the media-archetypes; or perhaps “mediarchs” would be a better term.

Of course this Baudrillardian dystopia doesn’t really exist – yet. It’s surprising, however, to note how many social radicals consider it a desireable goal, at least as long as it’s called the “information revolution” or something equally inspiring. Leftists talk about seizing the means of information-production from the data monopolists. In truth, information is everywhere – even atom bombs can be constructed on plans available in public libraries. … Books on every conceivable subject can actually still be found through interlibrary loan. Meanwhile someone still has to grow pears and cobble shoes. Or, even if these “industries” can be completely mechanized, someone still has to eat pears and wear shoes. The body is still the basis of wealth. The idea of Images as wealth is a spectacular delusion.

Loads of Peak Oil Data, and a Warning

Here’s a good summary of peak oil by Chris Nelder: from SmartPlanet.

Here’s the end of the piece:

If U.S. consumers are able to tolerate, say, $5-7 a gallon for gasoline by 2020, then it’s possible that the production plateau could extend a bit farther, and my expectation that global supply will begin to slip around 2015 could be wrong. It won’t be off by much, and in the grand scheme of what it means for the global economy, a year or three plus or minus is essentially irrelevant. But if I am off by even six months, you can be sure that my detractors will come out of the woodwork to say I’m all wet, and that production is going to da moon.

But my bet is that U.S. and European consumers can’t tolerate significantly higher prices. Price tolerance is something that Cornucopians never talk about, so you won’t hear that argument from them. If I am correct on that point, then production will have to decline as prices become intolerable. By virtue of its upward pressure on price, unconventional oil production contributes to, not cures, peak oil.

I expect world oil production to rise, weakly, for another two years or so, as America falls into a deeper slumber believing that fracking has cured everything. The media will reinforce that belief. And when it comes, the wake-up call is going to be harsh. In the meantime we’re just going to be waiting for the punchline.

So to those who can grasp the data, here’s my final thought: How will you prepare yourself for The Great Contraction? You’ve got perhaps two good years left of business as usual, and maybe another three or four after that before things really get difficult. I encourage you to use them well, and do what you can to make yourself resilient and self-sufficient. What will you do 10 years from now if the price of gasoline is $10 a gallon?

Yes, we do need to have a serious talk about our values, hopes, beliefs, mythologies, and ambitions; about the embedded growth paradigm, the debt overhang, and economic theory in an age of diminishing marginal returns. Those are all important discussions. But let’s have them after we understand the facts about energy. Not before.

Whatever you do, don’t think that peak oil is dead just because some guy who doesn’t know what he’s talking about said so in a fact-free blog post. It’s coming. Later than some thought, but sooner than you think.

So we’ve got a few more years to prepare. Sound scary? Sound like scare-mongering? I’m not sure how soon it’s going to get bad, only that it will happen, considering the oligarchy and most of its subjects believe in infinite growth on a finite planet. Whether it’s four years or forty or four hundred, it’s going to be really, really ugly.  In the meantime, I’ll keep writing and thinking and getting ready–creating communities of support and learning as many skills as possible. The clock’s ticking!

Our Canary In the Mine Is Dead

Well, we’re fucked.

I could just write that and be done with it, on first thought, but after some introspection, it becomes apparent that more is needed, and not just a meager recap of vague “solutions,” as is the norm in the canon of nature writing (always end on a high note, they say), but rather a further investigation of the problem. We must face this apocalypse with eyes open, or simply perish in it.

Above the chalk board in my tenth-grade classroom (we had chalk boards back then), my teacher had tacked up a long strip of paper that read: for every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong. I found out years later, while punctuating a long bike ride on a sweltering summer day with a nice read in the cool, dark rooms of the main Enoch Pratt library in Baltimore, that this quote is one of several similar variations of something written by H.L. Mencken.

But we can unravel this quote even further, and say that for every complex problem, there are other complex problems related and connected to it, and so understanding the many long chains of problems is the first task, never mind solutions. In fact, we could also re-write the quote for time-saving purposes: for most complex problems, there are no solutions.

There is no solution to climate change. No solution to soil loss. No solution to the aforementioned massive die-off of honey bees. Or at least, no solution that humans will ever voluntarily put into action. It’s enough to make one chronically depressed, sure–but maybe it’s also the first step towards preventing paralysis and getting down to work. First things first: let’s discuss the nature of the problem. Then, realizing there are no solutions, let’s decide what is the most valuable use of our time.

“If I had an hour to solve a problem,” Einstein supposedly said, “I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and five minutes thinking about solutions.” While it’s certainly true that we may not have that much time left, as Einstein also supposedly said that if honey bees were wiped off the face of the Earth, humans would have only a few years before joining in their fate, we have no choice but operate with the premise that solutions are not attainable. Instead of seeking them (and waxing ad nauseam about the true definition of “eco friendly”), we should be highlighting and mitigating the nature of the problem. The best we can do at this point is soften the crash. But that’s quite a Herculean, worthwhile task itself, isn’t it?

Reading Nietzsche: the Übermensch

Shaw has popularized the ironic word “superman,” which has since become associated with Nietzsche and the comics without ever losing its sarcastic tinge. In the present translation the older term, “overman,” has been reinstated: it may help to bring out the close relation between Nietzsche’s conceptions of the overman and self-overcoming, and to recapture something of its rhapsodical play on the words “over” and “under,” particularly marked throughout the Prologue. Of the many “under” words, the German untergehen poses the greatest problem for translation: it is the ordinary word for the setting of the sun, and it also means “to perish”; but Nietzsche almost always uses it with the accent on “under”—either by way of echoing another “under” in the same sentence or, more often, by way of contrast with an “over” word, usually overman….

“Over” words, some of them coinages, are common in this work, and Übermensch has to be understood in its context. Mensch means human being as opposed to animal, and what is called for is not a super-brute but a human being who has created for himself that unique position in the cosmos which the Bible considered his divine birthright. The meaning of life is thus found on earth, in this life, not as the inevitable outcome of evolution, which might well give us the “last man” instead, but in the few human beings who raise themselves above the all-too-human mass.

– Walter Kaufman, Editor’s Note to Thus Spoke Zarathustra: First Part, The Portable Nietzsche

As Kaufman explains above, the popularization of the term Übermensch has probably been more of a curse for Nietzsche than a blessing; the oversimplified cartoon image of the mistranslated “superman” perpetuates the notion that Nietzsche was some kind of eugenicist (or worse). The overman is singular: it’s an individual’s rational triumph over superfluous group-think, a self-improvement through a rejection of afterworlds and an assigning/embracing of human meaning.

While I’m not particularly pleased with the idea of a “human being as opposed to animal,” since, after all, we are animals—like our kindred species and ancestors—it’s nevertheless still probably safe to say that more self-reflection and criticism of conventions couldn’t hurt, especially as we hurle ourselves towards the carrying capacity of our only planet. Actually, in that regard, humans should probably strive to be more like other animals, in that they don’t completely destroy ecosystems in exchange for little pieces of paper that they then exchange for pieces of plastic made by other humans on the other side of the globe. It all seems pretty silly, except that most species will probably go extinct as a result.

The Poem as Mask

A poem by Muriel Rukeyser:


When I wrote of the women in their dances and
      wildness, it was a mask,
on their mountain, gold-hunting, singing, in orgy,
it was a mask; when I wrote of the god,
fragmented, exiled from himself, his life, the love gone
      down with song,
it was myself, split open, unable to speak, in exile from
There is no mountain, there is no god, there is memory
of my torn life, myself split open in sleep, the rescued
beside me among the doctors, and a word
of rescue from the great eyes.
No more masks! No more mythologies!
Now, for the first time, the god lifts his hand,
the fragments join in me with their own music
From Mona Eltahawy (thanks)

Did Monsanto Buy Blackwater? Yes, No–Does It Matter?

Amid speculation that Monsanto has contracted the mercenary “security” army known as Blackwater, I did some research and found the following links:

Earth First! confirms The Nation‘s report that they did

Activist Post says that they, in fact, did not

This Drudge Retort post says they didn’t, but kind of did, but don’t need to anyway

The real question is not whether Monsanto has hired a mercenary army, but whether it would surprise you if they did; which begs the further question: Do they really need an extra goon squad, when they can already use local, state, and federal “law enforcement” agencies to protect their genetically modified fiefdom? One of the perks of being a large corporation, it must be pointed out, is the security force that comes with it, a ready-conscripted army with no moral qualms whatsoever.

Someone’s living on–or even standing on–a piece of Earth you want to monocrop? Easy, just have the local sheriff show up to flash his badge (and gun), and if that doesn’t work, declare that person a terrorist and have the SWAT unit show up to bash their head in with tear gas canisters… er, to calm down the situation. Violence going down the hierarchy is perfectly acceptable, and local residents will most likely cheer the officers’ actions, because honestly, if that person didn’t want to get bashed in the head, she wouldn’t have been standing there (anarchists, tsk tsk…).

Monsanto doesn’t need Blackwater because Monsanto already is Blackwater. They’re symbiotic auxilliaries of the same machine: two divisions of the same army.