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“As it turns out, we don’t "all" have to pay our debts. Only some of us do.”
"How, then, do you expect a young American voter to feel, after casting a vote for a fundamental change to our political and economic system, on discovering that in fact, they have elected a man who twenty years ago would have been considered a moderate conservative?
I mean that word, “conservative,” in its literal sense by the way. This literal sense is now rarely used. Nowadays, in the US, “conservative” has come to mean “right-wing radical,” but it used to mean someone whose main political imperative is to conserve existing institutions, more or less exactly as they are—and this is precisely what Obama has turned out to be. Almost all his greatest political efforts have been aimed in one way or another at preserving some institutional structure under threat of radical transformation: the banking system, the auto industry, even the health insurance industry, since Obama’s main argument in pushing for health care reform was that the US health care system, based on for-profit, private insurers, was not economically viable over the long term, and indeed, what he ended up doing was preserving exactly that for-profit system in a way that it might endure for at least another generation. Considering the state of the US economy in 2008, it required genuinely heroic efforts not to change anything. Yet Obama did expend those heroic efforts, and the result was no structural change in existing institutions of any kind at all."
"The politics of direct action is based, to a certain degree, on a faith that freedom is contagious. It is almost impossible to convince the average American that a truly democratic society would be possible. One can only show them."
“Money has no essence. It’s not "really" anything; therefore, its nature has always been and presumably always will be a matter of political contention.”
"Still, this might explain the outrage at government’s alliance with the financial sector—the fact that bribery has, effectively, been made legal in America, a country that nonetheless presumes to go around the world pretending it is some sort of beacon of democracy."
"Consumer debt is the lifeblood of our economy. All modern nation states are built on deficit spending. Debt has come to be the central issue of international politics. But nobody seems to know exactly what it is, or how to think about it."
"In fact, our standard account of monetary history is precisely backwards. We did not begin with barter, discover money, and then eventually develop credit systems. It happened precisely the other way around."
"Karl Marx, who knew quite a bit about the human tendency to fall down and worship our own creations, wrote Das Capital in an attempt to demonstrate that, even if we start from the economists’ utopian vision, so long as we also allow some people to control productive capital, and, again, leave others with nothing to sell but but their brains and bodies, the results will be in very many ways barely distinguishable from slavery, and the whole system will eventually destroy itself."
"It is rather striking to think that the very core of the Christian message, salvation itself, the sacrifice of God’s own son to rescue humanity from eternal damnation, should be framed in the language of a financial transaction." [Chapter Four, "Cruelty and Redemption", p. 80]
"All societies based on slavery tend to be marked by this agonizing double consciousness: the awareness that the highest things one has to strive for are also, ultimately, wrong; but at the same time, the feeling that this is simply the nature of reality."
"Slavery is the ultimate form of being ripped from one’s context, and thus from all the social relationships that make one a human being."
"Honor is the same as credit; it’s one’s ability to keep ones promises, but also, in the case of a wrong, to ‘get even’."
"The attentive reader may have noticed that the core period of Jasper’s Axial age—the lifetimes of Pythagoras, Confucius, and the Buddha—corresponds almost exactly to the period in which coinage was invented."
"The one thing that’s clear is that new ideas won’t emerge without the jettisoning of much of our accustomed categories of thought-which have become mostly sheer dead weight, if not intrinsic parts of the very apparatus of hopelessness-and formulating new ones. This is why I spent so much of this book talking about the market, but also about the false choice between state and market that so monopolized political ideology for the last centuries that it made it difficult to argue about anything else."
"One element, however, tends to go flagrantly missing in even the most vivid conspiracy theories about the banking system, let alone in official accounts: that is, the role of military power. There’s a reason why the wizard has such a strange capacity to create money out of nothing. Behind him there is a man with a gun."
"In other words, there seems to have been a profound contradiction between the political imperative of establishing capitalism as the only possible way to manage anything, and capitalism’s own unacknowledged need to limit its future horizons lest speculation, predictably, go haywire. Once it did, and the whole machine imploded, we were left in the strange situation of not being able to even imagine any other way that things might be arranged. About the only thing we can imagine is catastrophe."
"Meanwhile, the U.S. debt remains, as it has been since 1790, a war debt: the United States continues to spend more on its military than do all other nations on earth put together, and military expenditures are not only the basis of the government’s industrial policy; they also take up such a huge proportion of the budget that by many estimations, were it not for them, the United States would not run a deficit at all."
"The essence of U.S. military predominance in the world is, ultimately, the fact that it can, at will, drop bombs, with only a few hours’ notice, at absolutely any point on the surface of the planet. No other government has ever had anything remotely like this sort of capability. In fact, a case could well be made that it is this very power that holds the entire world monetary system, organized around the dollar, together."
"By the end of World War II, the specter of an imminent working class uprising that had so haunted the ruling classes of Europe and North America for the previous century had largely disappeared. This was because class war was suspended by a tacit settlement. To put it crudely: the white working class of the North Atlantic countries, from the United States to West Germany, were offered a deal. If they agreed to set aside any fantasies of fundamentally changing the nature of the system, then they would be allowed to keep their unions, enjoy a wide variety of social benefits (pensions, vacations, health care. . .), and, perhaps most important, through generously funded and ever-expanding public educational institutions, know that their children had a reasonable chance of leaving the working class entirely. One key element in all this was a tacit guarantee that increases in workers’ productivity would be met by increases in wages: a guarantee that held good until the late 1970s. Largely as a result, the period saw both rapidly rising productivity and rapidly rising incomes, laying the basis for the consumer economy of today."
"There is very good reason to believe that, in a generation or so, capitalism itself will no longer exist-most obviously, as ecologists keep reminding us, because it’s impossible to maintain an engine of perpetual growth forever on a finite planet, and the current form of capitalism doesn’t seem to be capable of generating the kind of vast technological breakthroughs and mobilizations that would be required for us to start finding and colonizing any other planets. Yet faced with the prospect of capitalism actually ending, the most common reaction-even from those who call themselves "progressives"-is simply fear. We cling to what exists because we can no longer imagine an alternative that wouldn’t be even worse."
“Traditional hedonism…was based on the direct experience of pleasure: wine, women and song; sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll; or whatever the local variant. The problem, from a capitalist perspective, is that there are inherent limits to all this. People become sated, bored…Modern self-illusory hedonism solves this dilemma because here, what one is really consuming are fantasies and day-dreams about what having a certain product would be like.”
"This is a great trap of the twentieth century: on one side is the logic of the market, where we like to imagine we all start out as individuals who don’t owe each other anything. On the other is the logic of the state, where we all begin with a debt we can never truly pay. We are constantly told that they are opposites, and that between them they contain the only real human possibilities. But it’s a false dichotomy. States created markets. Markets require states. Neither could continue without the other, at least, in anything like the forms we would recognize today."
“If history shows anything, it is that there’s no better way to justify relations founded on violence, to make such relations seem moral, than by reframing them in the language of debt—above all, because it immediately makes it seem that it’s the victim who’s doing something wrong.”
“The theory of exodus proposes that the most effective way of opposing capitalism and the liberal state is not through direct confrontation but by means of what Paolo Virno has called “engaged withdrawal,”mass defection by those wishing to create new forms of community. One need only glance at the historical record to confirm that most successful forms of popular resistance have taken precisely this form. They have not involved challenging power head on (this usually leads to being slaughtered, or if not, turning into some—often even uglier—variant of the very thing one first challenged) but from one or another strategy of slipping away from its grasp, from flight, desertion, the founding of new communities.”
“Normally, when you challenge the conventional wisdom—that the current economic and political system is the only possible one—the first reaction you are likely to get is a demand for a detailed architectural blueprint of how an alternative system would work, down to the nature of its financial instruments, energy supplies, and policies of sewer maintenance. Next, you are likely to be asked for a detailed program of how this system will be brought into existence. Historically, this is ridiculous. When has social change ever happened according to someone’s blueprint? It’s not as if a small circle of visionaries in Renaissance Florence conceived of something they called “capitalism,” figured out the details of how the stock exchange and factories would someday work, and then put in place a program to bring their visions into reality. In fact, the idea is so absurd we might well ask ourselves how it ever occurred to us to imagine this is how change happens to begin.”
“A revolution on a world scale will take a very long time. But it is also possible to recognize that it is already starting to happen. The easiest way to get our minds around it is to stop thinking about revolution as a thing — “the” revolution, the great cataclysmic break—and instead ask “what is revolutionary action?” We could then
suggest: revolutionary action is any collective action which rejects, and therefore confronts, some form of power or domination and in doing so, reconstitutes social relations—even within the collectivity—in that light. Revolutionary action does not necessarily have to aim to topple governments. Attempts to create autonomous communities in the face of power (using Castoriadis’ definition here: ones that constitute themselves, collectively make their own rules or principles of operation, and continually reexamine them), would, for instance, be almost by definition revolutionary acts. And history shows us that the continual accumulation of such acts can change (almost) everything.”
“For me, this is exactly what’s so pernicious about the morality of debt: the way that financial imperatives constantly try to reduce us all, despite ourselves, to the equivalent of pillagers, eyeing the world simply for what can be turned into money — and then tell us that it’s only those who are willing to see the world as pillagers who deserve access to the resources required to pursue anything in life other than money.”
“In fact this is precisely the logic on which the Bank of England—the first successful modern central bank—was originally founded. In 1694, a consortium of English bankers made a loan of £1,200,000 to the king. In return they received a royal monopoly on the issuance of banknotes. What this meant in practice was they had the right to advance IOUs for a portion of the money the king now owed them to any inhabitant of the kingdom willing to borrow from them, or willing to deposit their own money in the bank—in effect, to circulate or "monetize" the newly created royal debt. This was a great deal for the bankers (they got to charge the king 8 percent annual interest for the original loan and simultaneously charge interest on the same money to the clients who borrowed it) , but it only worked as long as the original loan remained outstanding. To this day, this loan has never been paid back. It cannot be. If it ever were, the entire monetary system of Great Britain would cease to exist.”
“Say a king wishes to support a standing army of fifty thousand men. Under ancient or medieval conditions, feeding such a force was an enormous problem—unless they were on the march, one would need to employ almost as many men and animals just to locate, acquire, and transport the necessary provisions. On the other hand, if one simply hands out coins to the soldiers and then demands that every family in the kingdom was obliged to pay one of those coins back to you, one would, in one blow, turn one’s entire national economy into a vast machine for the provisioning of soldiers, since now every family, in order to get their hands on the coins, must find some way to contribute to the general effort to provide soldiers with things they want. Markets are brought into existence as a side effect.”
“At this point we can finally see what’s really at stake in our peculiar habit of defining ourselves simultaneously as master and slave, reduplicating the most brutal aspects of the ancient household in our very concept of ourselves, as masters of our freedoms, or as owners of our very selves. It is the only way that we can imagine ourselves as completely isolated beings. There is a direct line from the new Roman conception of liberty – not as the ability to form mutual relationships with others, but as the kind of absolute power of "use and abuse" over the conquered chattel who make up the bulk of a wealthy Roman man’s household – to the strange fantasies of liberal philosophers like Hobbes, Locke, and Smith, about the origins of human society in some collection of thirty- or forty-year-old males who seem to have sprung from the earth fully formed, then have to decide whether to kill each other or begin to swap beaver pelts.”
“Tally sticks were quite explicitly IOUs: both parties to a transaction would take a hazelwood twig, notch it to indicate the amount owed, and then split it in half. The creditor would keep one half, called "the stock" (hence the origin of the term "stock holder") and the debtor kept the other, called "the stub" (hence the origin of the term "ticket stub.)”
“Thomas Jefferson, that owner of many slaves, chose to begin the Declaration of Independence by directly contradicting the moral basis of slavery, writing "we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, and that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights …" thus undercutting simultaneously any argument that Africans were racially inferior, and also that they or their ancestors could ever have been justly and legally deprived of their freedom. In doing so, however, he did not propose some radically new conception of rights and liberties. Neither have subsequent political philosophers. For the most part, we’ve just kept the old ones, but with the word "not" inserted here and there. Most of our most precious rights and freedoms are a series of exceptions to an overall moral and legal framework that suggests we shouldn’t really have them in the first place.”
“The criminalization of debt, then, was the criminalization of the very basis of human society. It cannot be overemphasized that in a small community, everyone normally was both a lender and borrower. One can only imagine the tensions and temptations that must have existed in a community—and communities, much though they are based on love, in fact because they are based on love, will always also be full of hatred, rivalry and passion—when it became clear that with sufficiently clever scheming, manipulation, and perhaps a bit of strategic bribery, they could arrange to have almost anyone they hated imprisoned or even hanged.”
“Even in the Bible, the admonition in the Ten Commandments not to ‘covet thy neighbor’s wife’ clearly referred not to lust in one’s heart (adultery had already been covered in commandment number seven), but to the prospect of taking her as a debt-peon—in other words, as a servant to sweep one’s yard and hang out the laundry.”
"What is a debt, anyway? A debt is just the perversion of a promise. It is a promise corrupted by both math and violence."
"I like to describe myself precisely as a “small-a anarchist.” That is, I believe in anarchist principles—mutual aid, direct action, the idea building the new, free society in the shell of the old—but I’ve never felt a need to declare allegiance to any particular anarchist school (Syndicalists, Platformists, etc). Above all, I am happy to work with anyone, whatever they call themselves, willing to work on anarchist principles—which in America today, has largely come to mean, a refusal to work with or through the government or other institutions which ultimately rely on the threat of force, and a dedication to horizontal democracy, to treating each other as we believe free men and women in a genuinely free society would treat each other. Even the commitment to direct action, so often confused with breaking windows or the like, really refers to the refusal of any politics of protest, that merely appeals to the authorities to behave differently, and the determination instead to act for oneself, and to do what one thinks is right, regardless of law and authority. Gandhi’s salt march, for example, is a classic example of direct action. So was squatting Zuccotti Park. It’s a public space; we were the public; the public shouldn’t have to ask permission to engage in peaceful political assembly in its own park; so we didn’t. By doing so we not only acted in the way we felt was right, we aimed to set an example to others: to begin to reclaim communal resources that have been appropriated for purposes of private profit to once again serve for communal use—as in a truly free society, they would be—and to set an example of what genuine communal use might actually be like. For those who desire to create a society based on the principle of human freedom, direct action is simply the defiant insistence on acting as if one is already free."
"Say what you will about Americans, and one can say many things, this is a country of deeply democratic sensibilities. The idea that we are, or are supposed to be, a democratic society is at the very core of what makes us proud to be Americans. If Occupy Wall Street has spread to every city in America, it’s because our financial overlords have brought us to such a pass that anarchists, pagan priestesses, and tree-sitters are about the only Americans left still holding out for the idea that a genuinely democratic society might be possible."
Are we slaves to debt? David Graeber on the history of spending more than we have => www.pbs.org/wnet/need-to-know/economy/video-are-we-slaves…