It would be negligent to write about the myth of capitalism and not dig into the myth of the consumer. And I can't think of a better time than in the afterglow of the Black-Friday-and-now-Black-Thursday-and-Small-Business-Saturday-and-Cyber-Monday-and-now-Cyber-Sunday-and-Cyber-December-also-why-not holiday consumer Hunger Games bloodbath.

It's easy to look at the extreme behavior that has become the norm and condemn it as a manic and gluttonous binge on materials goods. But another spin is actually even darker: this is the only stretch of time during the year when some people can afford basic purchases—like a decent new pair of shoes—without having to compromise paying bills on-time or buying groceries. That is to say, there's an entire class of people who are only served by the market during this brief window. Who are forced to circle like vultures, anxiously waiting for an opening—literally—so they can descend and scavenge what's left on the retail carcass (side note: who wants to illustrate a propoganda poster?).

We've spun ourselves a web that creates a consumption-as-survival culture (as evidenced by the literal fight-or-flight scenario of Black Friday shopping), while simultaneously promoting consumption-as-expression. If you don't consume, the story you tell about yourself will evaporate. Oh, and you'll probably die.

What if the energy needed to produce essential goods was nominal in cost and abundant (see: 3D printed renewable energy)? What if we had outlets for individual expression that weren't mediated by social media conglomerate "content feeds"?

If we can disentangle our Maslow's needs (safety, love, esteem, etc) from the accumulation-of-capital-at-all-costs motive of our aging 20th century economic system, we just might see a flourishing of human potential that's been subjugated to the needs of the corporation. Also, a lot of people will probably live entirely in virtual game worlds. But that's ok, too.

Required watching

Hey look, a way we can disintermediate our economic transacting! Raise your hand if you feel confident explaining cryptocurrency and/or the underlying blockchain technology to a n00b. That's what I thought. Now I'm far from an expert, but I know a *bit* after a considerate amount of reading and conversing. And at this point, I'm certain of two things: 1) blockchain technology has massive potential to usher in a new era of value exchange; and 2) the more we collectively understand the underlying concepts behind these potentially-world-changing innovations, the less likely we are to end up in wild capitalist speculation frenzies (see: Bitcoin, now; also see: Dutch Tulip bubble of 1636-37; also, also see: all the time, everywhere).

Bettina Warburg—political scientist and blockchain researcher—was challenged by WIRED Magazine to explain blockchain to five different people: a child, a teen, a college student, a grad student, and an expert. She does an incredible job of leveling up the lesson so that you can start learning at whatever grade you feel most comfortable (no shame if it's "child").

Storytelling makes you hot

Just some more fodder to support the raison d'être of this here newsletter. A great piece by Ed Yong of The Atlantic exploring the desirability of storytellers in hunter-gatherer society.
Good storytellers were twice as likely to be named as ideal living companions as more pedestrian tale spinners, and storytelling acumen mattered far more all the other skills. “It was highly valued, twice as much as being a good hunter,” says Migliano.
Storytelling is our most powerful creation as a species, and we should remind ourselves of that fact as often as possible.

This is just a test

Stockton, CA, pictured here on the eve of the apocalypse, was the first city to declare bankruptcy in the wake of the 2008 recession. A few weeks back they announced a government-funded basic income test of their own, starting up in just a few weeks. Michael Tubbs, their "charismatic young mayor," cited Martin Luther King, Jr's last book, in which he makes a case for guaranteed income to combat poverty, as inspiration for the project.

The design phase will start in early 2018 and will run for six to nine months, at which point 25 to 100 families will receive a monthly basic income for between a year and a half and five years. The $1 million grant comes from the Economic Security Project, which is the same organization behind Y-Combinator's Oakland study.

People often forget that one of the core values of basic income is its predictability. One of the most destabilizing forces—causing feelings of precarity and diminishing mental health—is the unpredictability of work and income. The acknowledgement of basic income's potential to address these problems by a city government is a big step forward.

Deep thoughts

Fully Automated Luxury Communism—or FALC, if you're into forgettable acronyms—is a pretty hard phrase to ignore. For those not familiar, it represents a utopian ideal in which all human labor is replaced with machines (both physical and virtual), and humans are left to bask in an abundance of time and material goods. It's a new ideal.

Communism, the originating ideal, collapsed under the weight of, let's call it the "I don't feel like doing that work" complex—as well as the human tendency to horde scarce resources. FALC, however, conveniently eliminates both of those problematic conditions. (Marx in fact wrote that the end-state was one in which humans were freed from wage labor completely, but the great experiments of the 20th century were never technologically advanced enough to test this, and so "communism" is for now a non-starter, branding-wise.)

Now it's still early enough in the run up to full automation that skeptics have plenty of fodder, but even a cursory glance at where we are right now (e.g., Uber piloting driverless service in major cities) should give them pause. And I think that instead of arguing the whether-or-not of automation, we should be exploring the what-ifs. In short, we need a healthy dose of idealism to balance our incrementalism. And a hot new phrase like FALC (or what it stands for, rather) might just do the trick.

Brian Merchant, of VICE's Motherboard science and technology channel, explored the idea way back in 2015.

“But if you say, well look, if you want this, what you need to do is seize the means of production. We need to get automation and make it subordinate to human needs, not the profit motive. It’s about seizing the bakery rather than stealing the bread.” With robots presumably kneading the dough.

The key here is—as it always has been—who owns the means of production (or in this case, the means of automation). Peter Frase explores this idea in his very approachable book, Four Futures. As he notes, if we trend toward abundance (which it seems like we are if our robot overlords don't enslave us), but maintain the hierarchies of 20th century capitalism, we'll be renters forever.

I'll leave you with a representation of our inevitable symbiotic human-machine alliance, an image—for those who know me—I obviously had little choice in including here...


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