Thinking Like a Capitalist

There are some questions that keep me up at night. Why does change happen so slowly? Why is it an uphill battle to help people realize that another and better world is possible? Why is it that, in spite of the changing attitudes on issues of women’s rights and queer rights, the fundamentalists still outnumber us?

I believe part of the problem is that we who are not capitalists are forced to think like capitalists in order to survive. And we do, but we don’t do a good job of it.

We think like capitalists in that we buy into the scarcity myth. We work for a living, we hoard resources into savings and retirement accounts, or if we don’t make enough money for that, we still hoard resources because we know we don’t have the safety net of a savings account. All this focus on our own individual well-being keeps us from focusing on the needs of our neighbors.

Not that we neglect the needs of our neighbors. We give to charity when we can; we do volunteer work. And yet, it is never our primary focus, because survival must take precedence.

There is one way we do not think like capitalists. Having a mindset of tolerance, believing everyone is entitled to their own opinion, even if that opinion is grounded in ignorance, is antithetical to winning hearts and minds. Megachurches are able to grow because those who promote them are passionate about what they are doing, adamantly believe that they can change hearts and minds, and believe that doing so is a matter of life and death. They are so passionate about winning more souls for Christ, because to fail in that means (in their minds) that the people they’ve failed to convince are condemned to an eternity of torment in hell.

This is not to say we need to be pushy assholes. It is to say we need to be earnest in our belief that what we are doing can and will make a difference. If we look at our current situation and our current numbers, and we go into every interaction with a defeatist attitude, we’ve already lost.

One of the most beautiful, and most dangerous, things about the Occupy movement is that, because it was an encampment, people dedicated their whole lives to it. Morning to night they were all together in one place, sharing resources and spreading the message that capitalism has failed them. The upper-middle-class suburban people, so far removed from what was happening, told them to go home and get a job. Many of them had no home to go to, and have not been able to find sustainable work after years of trying. It took the violent repression of former Mayor Bloomberg and the NYPD to disperse the encampment and violate their Second Amendment right. (Yes, I know the argument that they still had the right to assemble, but not set up tents. This prohibition of tents violates their rights in that it says the very poor and homeless effectively cannot assemble for an indefinite amount of time.)

The moral of the story is, unless we continue to dedicate our entire life to our causes, and believe we can win, then we’ve already lost. If we continue to operate as though our causes are only a small part of our lives, we might as well give up now.

I am not ready to give up.

Our Greatest Obstacle

I am a progressive queer Christian. I am also a Marxist. Either one of these facts means I hold a minority position in this country, and that I find myself constantly on the defensive when the subject comes up in conversation (or, if not on the defensive, at least in a position where I have to explain myself more so than most people have to explain their religious, political, or economic beliefs).

Why are so many people surprised that there are Christians and churches that actively support the rights of LGBTIQ persons? Why are there so many people that, although disenchanted with our current political and economic system, know virtually nothing about Marxism and still believe the old Cold War propaganda that equates Marxism with state capitalism?

I believe the answer to both these questions have a great deal to do with the fact that those for whom this political and economic system has worked well naturally have more resources (access to mainstream media, etc.), and have a vested interest in keeping this system working well for them. Naturally, they will use these resources to convince as many people as possible that, even as bad as things may be (ie. 2008 financial crisis, unemployment, housing crisis, student debt, etc.), there is no viable alternative. Communism is dead. (As though what Marx called communism had anything to do with what happened in USSR. It would be like looking at the Crusades and thinking that captured the essence of Christianity.) We, on the other hand, do not have access to that privilege and influence. We are left fighting an uphill battle of trying to reach people, all the while trying to work enough and save enough just to survive.

Case in point: Look at which books on Christianity are available for free on e-book readers. Look at how Bible Crusade and Watchtower are able to distribute their books and resources for free. Now look at the alternative resources. Look at the small socialist organizations selling newspapers at rallies and conferences.

The Internet, and the free and open source software movement, gave us some valuable resources to share information. People began to aggregate public domain resources like those on the Marxists Internet Archive (MIA). When I was a young Marxist living in suburbia with little money for books and no access to good libraries, that website was priceless for me, and I supported it whenever I could. As wonderful as these resources are, getting the word out is still a challenge, as is convincing people that they should read things instead of taking for granted what others have told them about those things.

And because we live in a capitalist world, sometimes, sites like the MIA get cease-and-desist orders from the publishing companies that have a claim to the copyright, even when the works in question are long out of print. Recently, Lawrence & Wishart, the copyright holders of the Marx Engels Collected Works, have ordered the deletion of the MECW. Cory Doctorow wrote a wonderfully succinct post about this.

All is not lost. This will not wipe out the archive. The public domain English translations of Marx and Engels that were taken from other sources will still be available. It also will not eliminate the availability of the texts, as torrents have already been posted, but it will make them more difficult to find and reference outside of the academy.

Lawrence & Wishart recently issued a statement explaining the decision. I’ll save tearing apart their statement for another day, but I’d like to highlight one thing they write:

We are currently negotiating an agreement with a distributor that will offer a digital version of the Collected Works to university libraries worldwide. This will have the effect of maintaining a public presence of the Works, in the public sphere of the academic library, paid for by public funds. This is a model of commons that reimburses publishers, authors and translators for the work that has gone into creating a book or series of books.

The publishers, authors, and translators of the MECW? Forty years later, they really need to be reimbursed at this point? And the “academic library” is not a “public sphere.” Those of us who are fortunate enough to be in the academy have access to them for the time we are in the academy. Not everyone has that luxury, and very few of those who would benefit most from free access to these works have that.

They defend their position and history as a radical publisher. As Jesus said, “You will know them by their fruits.” (Matthew 7.16)

Yes, virtually every socialist and progressive organization is struggling for funds. Yes, the deal L&W has struck will, no doubt, help fund other radical texts. The end does not justify the means.

Our greatest obstacle is not the lack of resources, as great as that obstacle is. Our greatest obstacle is the refusal to live into the values we hold and share the limited resources we do have. Whatever the motivation, L&W has failed in this regard. It’s not the first time a radical organization has done this, and it sadly won’t be the last.

The Hell that is the Job Hunt

Now that I’ve reactivated my accounts on Monster and other sites, I’m reminded of how much I abhor recruiters, whether they are HR people in a company or working as a headhunter in a recruiting firm. They are the one profession that has made sending spam a standard professional practice. They know that there are enough people in dire need of employment, they can get away with doing so. Here are the sorts of horribly unprofessional things that end up in my inbox:

  1. The generic greeting: receiving an e-mail from someone who says they read my resume and they think I would be a good fit for a position in the company, when that e-mail doesn’t even mention my name! This tells me that the person probably didn’t read my resume, searched to aggregate e-mail addresses from resumes that matched some keyword, and then sent out mass e-mails to people who got matched. This often leads to…
  2. Not qualified: Need someone with 10 years of corporate experience, or .NET experience, or something that clearly isn’t on my resume? The recruiter’s attention to detail is clearly lacking, and if they were so careless in reading my resume, how can I trust them to find a position for me that is a good match, or that they would be fair in representing me to other companies?
  3. The “exciting new career” in X: X is of course not anything in my field, not anything I’ve expressed even remotely as an interest, or is obviously some variation of advance fee scam: includes mystery shopper, life insurance sales representative, “international student” tutor scam, legal representative scam. Related to that is…
  4. The “exciting career opportunity”: Unlike #3, I have experience in this field, and I don’t necessarily hate the field, but if I get this e-mail now, it’s told me a number of things about the recruiter’s perception of reality. First, they didn’t read my statement saying I’m a full-time student looking for temporary work to carry me through the Summer. Second, they think people in New York have careers. Most of us have jobs which last a few years, and we move on to another opportunity, or we piece together a living by doing various different kinds of (odd)jobs.
  5. The opportunity in another state: Again, they didn’t read my profile. I’m looking for a position in New York metro area, because that is where I am. It’s even worse when it’s contract-to-hire (and it often is).
  6. Any and every tutoring agency in existence: When I work as a tutor, I only work on a freelance basis directly with clients, because every agency is exploitative. I say this without hyperbole. I’ve worked for one agency, and never again. I don’t get much by way of job offers from these agencies, but the ones I have are ridiculous. They will charge $60 – $200+, and pay the tutors $15-20/hr. One agency wanted me to pay for the required background check, and stated that, even if hired, they could not guarantee steady (or even any) work.

It’s almost enough to make me want to get back in retail. And it may come to that, depending on what I can find when I actually have time to work.

The Dilemma

Dino is in Florida, finishing up his degree. I am in New York, working on mine. Summer is bringing with it opportunities for conferences and preaching engagements, things I shouldn’t miss if I’m serious about following through with this vocation. Summer is also bringing with it financial burdens – there is no financial aid for students during the summer months. I will need to find work, on top of getting my end-of-semester work done. Finding work is difficult. Finding well-paying temporary work that won’t make me want to pull my hair out is very difficult.

Or, I could just say “fuck it,” put my stuff into storage for the Summer, cancel my preaching engagements, and move down to Florida. I’d get to be with Dino, find work in a place where cost of living is much lower, and maybe save up some money and pay down some debts. I miss Dino, and we’re probably not going to be able to see each other much over the next few years. In theory, I could go down to Florida, and fly up the few weekends I need to be here, and probably spend less than actually living in New York. Yet I can’t help but feel there would be missed opportunities and connections if I’m not in New York.

This sucks.

I’ve applied for summer housing, and I’m leaning towards that option. I do not like uprooting every few months. I want access to my library, and my own space to work, think, and write. I also want my husband. I wish life were simpler. I wish I could bring myself to drop everything and follow him wherever, but I know I can’t, and I really don’t want to do that. For the same reason, I know he can’t drop everything and come back here.

I also know, after everything else we’ve been through, we’ll get through this. This too shall pass.

Just the act of writing all this out helps me process it. I’ll be staying in New York this Summer. I’ll visit Dino when I can; he’ll visit me when he can. I’ll find work.

Forgiveness

[To those of you who know the format of this blog, I typically don't talk God or church stuff. I'm making an exception this time, but only for the first paragraph.]
Today is Maundy Thursday, and Advent Lutheran Church and Broadway United Church of Christ will be holding their joint worship service. Since we are celebrating with Lutherans, there will be an element of the service not typically found in UCC services – the Assurance of Pardon. Usually this would take the form of the worship leader (often the minister) saying something along the lines of “I absolve you of your sins in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” In our tradition, we don’t absolve sins; God does. So I will be saying something different.
As I was looking into various phrases for this part, I got to wondering why it is sometimes difficult to forgive others. There are some people who have been in my life who, for various reasons, I am no longer communicating with; some people who, the thought of encountering them again, fills me with anxiety. Some were cruel and abusive; others were thoughtless; and perhaps some remind me of my own failings, my own less-than-mature responses to being hurt, whether malicious or not. I should make my peace, because life is too short, and Love your enemies, etc.
Sometimes the best way to love someone is to put distance between yourself and them, to stop creating situations where you continue to hurt each other. And yet, even when a relationship comes to that especially when a relationship comes to that, it is still critically important to love and forgive. Harboring hate and anger only hurts oneself, and gives control of one’s life and emotions to another.
Anger has a purpose, and in the face of injustice, anger is the correct response. Hatred serves no purpose. Unchecked, anger quicky becomes hate.
Forgiveness isn’t about being a doormat. On the contrary, it’s about being free from the control of the hurt others have inflicted upon you by refusing to inflict more hurt on yourself. It is about living your life in spite of cruelty, and not out of spite because of cruelty.
When we forgive, we are free to fight oppression with clear heads, to love with radical passion, to create the world anew.

Priorities – Shutting Down Business for a While

I had a little downtime to think about some things I do and why I do them. It’s been a weird process, because I’m pursuing an M. Div. and ordination, and I don’t fully understand why. I continue to record programming tutorial videos when I can, with the hopes of developing online courses, but I’ve not progressed on generating the content for those courses. I started taking a free online course on MongoDB, but lately I’ve started asking myself, “Why? When am I ever going to use this?” I dropped the course today.

I feel like I don’t want to completely let go of programming, because it can be a lucrative career (although I hated working in the field, I still like to code, tinker, and learn). Computing was something I was always good at, but my passion for it has waned. Teaching computing is something I’m good at, but my passion for that has waned as well.

Am I clinging to this because I don’t want to feel as though my M. Sci. was a waste of time? Is it because I don’t know why I’m pursuing this new path, apart from the fact that I feel I have to?

As I look back on the past academic year, and how much I had to work for my grades, and how much even the little outside work I was doing seemed to be distracting me from my studies, I have to ask if the work is worth it?

If I were just in it to get the M. Div. and become a minister, then it probably would be. Yet, I’m planning on continuing for a doctorate in theology. Aside from a lifetime of being a Christian and a minor in philosophy, this is all new ground for me. I need to focus my energy on studying theology and the bible. I’m accumulating too much debt to half-ass this.

So here’s what I’m going to do:

  1. I’m still going to record YouTube tutorials, because they’ve been getting attention, and good reviews.
  2. I am going to still tinker and code, but I’m going to greatly reduce the amount of time I spend doing that, and probably do it through exploring things like JSword.
  3. I may or may not still do the Udemy courses. If I do, the first one will be the Basic Mathematics free course, which will be a public service for those who need help in remedial mathematics.
  4. I will stop tutoring altogether for a while.

The last one was a difficult decision to make, but I’ve come to realize it as a necessary one. I cannot commit the time and energy to do a proper job of it, and to continue to work without that ability to commit would be a disservice to my students.

Perhaps I will restart tutoring once my internship is complete this year, but for now, it is the best thing to do.