Sunday, December 18, 2011

Who is Giving to Society and Who is Leeching?

People often try to identify society's parasites - the people who take more than they deserve or contribute, those who are straining the system - whether that be "welfare queens," Wall Street execs, artists, academics, CEOs, or union members, depending on who is making the judgement.  Likewise, people locate the "providers," the selfless and generous members of society, and commonly attribute these properties to philanthropists, non-profit employees, "job creators" (i.e. CEOs), scientists, politicians, and volunteer workers.  When I look at the world from a Marxist perspective, my lists do not resemble either of those above.

The Leeches
From a global perspective, I would say that a leech is anyone making more than a living wage in the industrialized world.  Anyone who drives, in a car with GPS, listening to their iPod, to a job that enables them to sit and pee when they want to, to go home and order Thai food in the evening, and take the weekend off to sit on their leather sofa and watch Blu-Ray movies on their flat screen tv.  Anyone who has more than what they could produce by themselves (given existing level of technology) is by definition a leech.  They are taking more than their fair share and leaving the rest of the world with less.

The Givers
Obviously, I would not put the so-called "job creators" in that category because, far from actually being job-creators in any predictable sense, they are most responsible for Third World poverty, pollution, materialism, urban poverty and crime, inaccessible medical care, the alienation of the elderly, war, and violence in general.

I also do not think that scientists are contributing to society in any general sense, once you get to the end of the balance sheet.  (Click here, here, and here for a refresher on my attitude toward science.)  A lot of new technology is only enjoyed by a tiny fraction of the global population, and the production of new technologies - including even medical treatments and pharmaceuticals - is done in the service of capitalist interests, not the "common good."  In fact, the "common good" is threatened by pollution, advanced weaponry, rising costs of health care, increasing poverty, and that unquestionable "voice of authority" that has naturalized concepts of race, gender, and sexuality to the detriment of all but white, straight, middle-class males.

Academics in general are leeches.  Those with a "social interest" claim that they are going to use their research to transform society.  But who, in the whole history of academia, has actually made a dent in the social order?  Even Marx, the paragon of socially radical scholars, whose work is STILL relevant as a critique of the world system, has failed even more than a century later to actually change that system.  Intellectuals and politicians who have acted in the name of Marx have done nothing more than create some of the most violent forms of capitalism ever to have existed.  And a very scant few of the academics today are in the same league as Marx.  Most spend their days doing busy-work - rehashing their dissertation into a million dull, uninspiring variations, while participating in conferences, seminars, and journals that try to pass these turds off as Belgian chocolate - and they do all this "important" work while making a pretty nice salary, wearing clothes made by Indonesians who can barely leave the factory, eating at restaurants where they are served by people working two jobs a day, etc.  So many people are putting so many hours of labor into the material things they take for granted; and they believe they are contributing something back to those people by writing a few articles for esoteric journals.  Academics live in a comfortable cocoon.

Even philanthropists, foundations, and non-profits are NOT contributing in any meaningful way to society.  They may redistribute an insignificantly tiny fraction of the world's wealth back (yes, back) to those in need, but mostly they stand as a huge road block to systemic change.  They are a visible symbol of the possibility of progress within the current system (a lie).  They pacify and make people complacent.  The are ultimately beholden to corporate interests, and, consciously or not, actively work to maintain the status quo.  (Go here and here for more detailed discussion.)

Now, on the other hand, people who work on their own, for no salary, to comfort and aid those around them, certainly are doing something commendable.  They are contributing something.

Those who engage in protest, speak their minds, and challenge the social order are at least making attempts in the right direction.

But most of all, the biggest contributors to society are those who work hard, doing menial labor for a pittance, so that the privileged may eat, be entertained, clothe themselves, be transported, and keep their homes clean all the more easily and affordably.  In some sense these are de facto slave laborers, and they form a majority of the world's population.  The real Givers are all the assembly line workers, garment makers, servers, dishwashers, maids, auto mechanics, bus and cab drivers, grocery stockers, construction workers, miners, plantation laborers, couriers, janitors, yard workers... and I would even include teachers.

They may not choose their lifestyles and jobs (they would probably give anything for something better), but they give more than they receive, nonetheless.  And anyone who does not have the balls to work a crappy, low-paying job should never talk about "giving back," "making a difference," or "contributing" to society.

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