Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Less Stressed + More Happiness = Socialism

Previously published in The Socialist online at www.thesocialist.us on April 6, 2014

I never thought I would be one of those people. The people who get an expensive Master’s degree so they can start a career they like and can pay their bills but then can’t find a good job related to the field of one’s study, and then are forced to take a job they don’t want that won’t even cover the cost of their bills. But I have become that person. As much as I have tried to resist it and find another way … I am there.

Now I am one of those people who has to apply to jobs I am super over-qualified for. Now I have to hope I can get part-time jobs and string them together into one great patchwork that, hopefully, generates enough money to get me through another day. Of course I will keep trying to apply to social work jobs, but for now I am facing a reality of “do whatever it takes” to survive, and it sucks!

This all started when I was let go from my last job, had a hell of a time trying to get another one, and got my unemployment cut when Congress didn’t renew benefit extensions. So I got a contract job in my field, for which I was grateful. But that made me all of $1,000 in a month, which merely matched my unemployment. Then the referrals of clients dried up — a “slow period” they called it. I call it being effectively laid off, only there is no unemployment for me to claim this time.

So now I have a job that isn’t giving me any clients to see, which means I don’t have an income. It means my options have run out in terms of doing what I was trained to do — social work. Now I am finding myself applying to be a caregiver for the elderly and a receptionist at an animal hospital, which are both part time and lower paying than the job I was trained to do — you know, the one for which I am in 40K worth of debt. The loans I can never pay back because I can’t get a full-time social work job. When your options become which job would you like more out of two jobs you don’t want, things aren’t good. These are the craptastic choices under capitalism.

It reminds me of all the other choices people are forced to make in a capitalist society. It’s always a choice between “two evils.” Do I pay this bill or that one? Do I buy more unhealthy food that costs less or have less to eat but more healthy food? Do I not fix my car and try to live without it or fix it and have to go into more debt when I put it on a credit card? Do I get my medications refilled or pay my rent? Do I move in with family or friends, live in my car, or go into a shelter? Do I ask my parents or my friends for money? Do I skip breakfast so I can afford to feed my kids? Do I just skip my shower/meal/medications because I can’t afford to pay for someone to help me and I’m too frail to do it myself?

Let’s be honest, these choices suck! They aren’t choices anyone wants to make. They aren’t choices anyone should make, ever, period. The fact that we have accepted them as just a regular part of life shows just how much we have adjusted to a sick system. We “suck it up” and just trudge through the days acting as if this is just “the way life is” and there is no other choice. Many struggle in silence, never asking for help.

I think there are other choices. There are alternatives to such a cruel and inhumane system. There are policies in the short term that would ease our suffering. Things like universal health care, universal child care, universal tax payer funded higher education, guaranteed income, full employment, and programs that ensure that no one goes without food, clothing, shelter, or help for basic necessities of life. Longer term, we need a socialist transformation.

Capitalism offers no alternatives. It forces us to take jobs we hate — if we can even find jobs. Those jobs pay us crap because the greedy bosses steal it all from us and hoard it for themselves. Capitalism takes from us and gives to the rich, making them richer and making us poorer. It sets up a system of desperation and drudgery. It is not set up to meet human needs. Capitalism puts profit above people.

On the other hand, socialism is a system based on human needs, where we all can share the collective wealth of society. Socialism gives us better choices. Choices that give us dignity and work we enjoy. Choices that gives us enough money and enough free time as well. Choices that allow us to live, and not just get by. These are real choices. Capitalism forces us into choices we don’t want. Socialism gives us choices we do want. It’s that simple.

Some people have wishful thinking when it comes to capitalism. They think we can just get rid of the “bad” parts of capitalism and what’s left will be the good stuff. They claim we can just highly regulate capitalism and then it will be good for everyone. Sure, it could improve a few things, but it would still not be what we need and deserve as human beings. Capitalism creates hierarchies; and if we are ever going to be truly liberated, power must be distributed more horizontally, and not top down.

People trick themselves into believing capitalism can be reformed. It cannot be reformed out of its essential exploitative nature and its priority of profit above all else. It must be abolished and replaced with a better system — one that is based upon our social needs as human beings. I propose socialism, of course.

Some say, well socialism has been tried and it didn’t work. It has actually never been officially tried in the modern era in any industrialized nation. What was labeled as socialism, and what some people incorrectly perceive as socialism, was actually a mixed market economy of some sort, some countries with more capitalistic aspects and some with less.

Some industrialized countries, such as Finland and Denmark, could be called “socialistic” but still have capitalist aspects. They practice what we call social democracy, but not socialism. Moreover, some countries traditionally thought of as “socialist” were actually totalitarian societies ran with extremely hierarchical – sometimes fascist — dictatorships and were, thus, not democratic. Socialism is inherently democratic.

Some people raise another objection by saying “human nature” makes us “greedy.” Actually, what we call human nature depends on the society one grows up in. Culture not only changes our behavior, but it also literally shapes our brains as we develop. So we can make up our society in any way we choose and, thus, our “nature” any way we choose, and our brains will adapt. That can happen if we all get together and decide it needs to be different than it is now, and we make it so. That is our challenge.

We need to stop accepting this crappy reality and create a new one. The future is up to us. And I, for one, am sick of scraping by and experiencing unnecessary suffering when I could be much less stressed and much more happy. I need more people to join with me so we can all be less stressed and happier together.

No Room for Judgment in a Movement for Justice

Previously published in The Socialist online at www.thesocialist.us on February 8, 2014

American actor, Philip Seymour Hoffman, recently died of a drug overdose. I was one of the people who had an immediate reaction of shock and sadness over his death, as I felt he was one of the best actors of our generation and we just suffered a great loss. He was a very relatable man and his character development was intense. I noticed many people took to social media to express their grief, which I felt comforted by. Unfortunately, I also noticed a lot of people expressing  horror, distain, and judgment for the way he died — a drug overdose.

Many people tend to be very judgmental of substance users/abusers and those who are addicted to drugs. One person even said, “If I had all that money, I would be traveling the world, not shooting heroin.”
This shows a fundamental lack of understanding and empathy for those who suffer from substance issues. Many say Hoffman was just “stupid” to make such a “bad choice.” It’s sad to me that our society has such a lack of regard for others. I feel that this stems from a lack of knowledge about substance abuse. I think if more people understood addiction, it would lead to more understanding and compassion for people struggling with one.

First of all, substance abuse is classified as a mental illness. That is because drugs alter the brain and the body systems. In addition, it is chronic and relapse is common. Also, many drugs have been found to be psychologically and physically addicting, which means their use becomes compulsive and even mandatory to survival for some people. For instance, some people who stop using drugs or alcohol can actually die. This was the case with singer Amy Winehouse, who actually died from alcohol withdrawal. In Hoffman’s case, he had been trying to get off of drugs and was found with prescriptions that help people detox. In fact, detoxing from heroin is brutal and can be fatal in some cases without help from medical professionals.

In addition, there are many factors involved in substance abuse. These include biological, psychological, and social factors. It has been proven that substance addiction is rooted in people’s genetics — that is, people can be predisposed to the likelihood of addiction. This creates a higher susceptibility of that person to become addicted to a substance. Furthermore, most people who become addicted to substances had childhood trauma, such as abuse, neglect, or sexual assault histories. These events alter developing brain chemistry and can trigger genetic predisposition to addiction, creating much higher chances of susceptibility. In either case, or in a combination of both, neither is “a choice.”

The fact is drugs are readily available to most people and many turn to substances for comfort, to self-medicate, and to numb emotional and/or physical pain. Eighty percent of all young people experiment with substances at some point, but only some will become addicted due to the factors just stated.
Some people get hooked on drugs through traditional means, such as prescriptions from their doctors. That’s actually how Philip Seymour Hoffman fell into addiction again recently– through prescription painkillers. Maybe he was using those drugs because he had a back problem or something like that. We don’t know yet. He had recently been in rehab, but recently turned to heroin.

Heroin is in the opiate family just as many prescription painkillers are. It’s unfortunate that it’s also very addictive and easy to overdose on. Heroin use is also on the rise in general and so are the overdoses, as it is often cut with even more dangerous drugs.

Addiction is the cause for 120,000 deaths a year in America alone. It is no small coincidence as the economy gets worse and income inequality rises, that more people are turning to cheap, effective, yet dangerous drugs to numb their pain more often.

My point is it’s easy to fall into a drug addiction, especially this day and age. The capitalist society we live in actually stresses people out a lot — way more than what the human brain and body can take to function properly. From our stressful jobs and environments to the lack of jobs, food, or shelter to the stress it takes to raise a family without much government or community support, to the stress of being abused, discriminated against, or living in an unsafe place, just surviving moment to moment has become an ordeal for many people.

Modern society has created very stressed out and abused people who are looking to get their needs met in maladaptive ways. Lots of people no longer feel like they have others to turn to, or they feel ashamed, angry, or depressed. So they turn to drugs, or food, or whatever it is that can give them a boost in “reward” chemicals in their brains.

Some of these coping skills are not the healthiest choices. But they can sometimes be the cheapest, most accessible, easiest, and quickest. And once you are addicted to them, it’s very hard to stop no matter how much one may want to.

This is not about a moral failing or lack of will power or motivation. In fact, drugs alter the brain so that judgment is impaired and self-control is diminished. Moreover, heroin is not something one can even get from a doctor in the United States. So to get it one has to take a risk on street drugs — which can sometimes be fatal. The drive to get the drug outweighs all risks, even that of death. The power of addiction over people’s brains cannot be underestimated.

My point here is we need to reserve judgment of people and stop morally policing them for not conforming to what we think is acceptable behavior. A person addicted to drugs is not to blame for their addiction. And putting blame on people doesn’t help them or anyone else. It actually makes things worse because it adds to the stigma and shame that people already feel, which makes them more likely to isolate and avoid treatment. Instead we need to be more understanding, compassionate, and empathetic towards people who are struggling with substance use.

A good video related to this matter is in interview with Dr. Gabor Mate with Amy Goodman on Democracy Now! I feel it is a must see for anyone to understand substance abuse in the context of a capitalist society:


I believe a socialist society would create conditions by which substance abuse would dramatically decrease. First of all, we would decriminalize substance use so that people who need help with a drug addiction would get help instead of being thrown in prison for drug crimes. That would immediately drop the prison population by half. We can use the funds saved by helping people with substance abuse issues instead.
Moreover, we would end the so-called “war on drugs” and re-direct those funds towards rehabilitation and healing as well. We would effectively end the black market of drug dealing and the violence that goes along with it.

We could use the funding from these policy changes to open safe harm-reduction clinics that would legally and safely (under direct professional supervision) administer drugs at injection sites to help people with things like heroin-assisted maintenance/treatment and, hopefully, eventually help some get off of drugs altogether. This sort of policy in other countries has been proven effective at helping people and dramatically lowering the costs associated with drug addiction.

Furthermore, just by virtue of us living in a socialist society, we would be less stressed. The absence of hierarchies would equalize power among us in all ways. This would include collectively owning our own means of production in our work places, having full employment for those who want to work, having a guaranteed basic income, being supported in raising our children, having the time to nurture children and attach to them properly without being stressed, having a community to rely on in times of need, having more time to relax and take care of ourselves, having quality tax-payer funded healthcare and education, and the equalization of power and control along lines of class, race, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, age, ability, etc.

These changes would result in a fundamental paradigm shift in social relations, and people would be less likely to encounter the trauma and stress that trigger substance abuse. Some of the root causes of substance abuse would be eliminated, dramatically reducing the issue. And for those who still developed a substance abuse issue, there would be no-cost help put in place. A socialist society is a society in which substance use is treated as a health issue and not a moral failing or criminal act.

I feel the best way to honor the lives of people we know of who have been impacted by substance use is to dedicate ourselves to bringing about a socialist society. One in which stigma will become a thing of the past, and we will embrace a new way of relating to one another in respect for personhood, dignity, self-worth, and solidarity. There is no room for judgment when we see ourselves in others.

We belong to each other in our struggle for peace and justice and, thus, we are accountable to one another. It’s only when we meet fundamental human needs that we get optimal conditions for wellbeing. So let’s let go of the judgments and embrace each other instead.

Monday, January 27, 2014

What Happens When Your Choices Run Out in a Crapitalist Economy

As of December 28, 2013, just a few days after Christmas, Congress’ extension of Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) expired, after not being reauthorized in the budget bill before Congress went on their holiday break. That means my unemployment benefits, which had five months left, suddenly stopped. I and 1.3 million people were immediately impacted by this, with more to follow as long as the EUC is not reauthorized.

People are scrambling to pay bills, rent, to buy food and gas, and to heat their homes — with temperatures below freezing in many areas. Some people even returned Christmas presents they had purchased just so they could pay for bills. Some people, like myself, have borrowed increasing amounts of money from family. As generous as my family can be, I can’t help but feel some resentment brewing while at the same time my guilt is growing. It’s not a good feeling. “Get a job” seems to be the resounding message everywhere I turn.
If only it were that easy! I have had seven interviews, and even some second interviews. But it seems as soon as folks found out I had been let go from my last job, I became untouchable. I have been told that having a Masters degree in social work guarantees you a job. Not so much. Especially when you’re a newbie and there are tons of seasoned veterans out of work competing with you, and you were let go from your last job (unfairly in my summation, but that never seems to matter to anyone but me).

I want to work for a non-profit, but they all seem to think I am too much of a liability to hire. Their budgets are stretched too thin and they have limited resources and employees. No one wants to properly train or mentor me; they expect perfect people who never make mistakes and never need any guidance. In social work, it is dangerous not to have any guidance. Having a good supervisor is key to success in social work, and it’s the most ethical thing to do too. But as budgets shrink and personnel are let go, the few people who are left have to do more. Which leaves little time for supervisors to help you be successful. Their time gets spent micromanaging you and breathing down your neck to avoid mistakes– because that is seen as too much of a liability. But they never have any time to support you and help you grow. This is a recipe for disaster in my book.

People just don’t have many choices left in this capitalist economy. I believe that people shouldn’t cut corners, like providing proper supervision. But people are. And people like me are taking jobs without proper supervision because we don’t have much of a choice. We are taking lower wage jobs with fewer hours, which makes it harder to live. People are trying to survive on less income and Congress is no help. They not only recently cut food stamps, but now they have also cut unemployment insurance — the last lifeline left.

This left me no choice but to go for a job I wouldn’t typically consider. Yesterday, I got that job, which I suppose I should be grateful for, as it’s better than nothing. But it’s a contract position as a home health social worker – with no benefits — at a for-profit home health corporation. This is something I’ve never done before and, thus, have no real experience doing. And the ethical side of me cringes that I will be working at a for-profit health company, which is something I don’t believe in. But these are the choices in a tough economy caused by the capitalist system. Non-profits don’t feel they can take a risk on someone like me, and for-profits just see me as potential to make more profit but still pay me a fraction of what they are making off my work.

And then there is the prospect of starting a job I know barely anything about and being an independent contractor. I’m theoretically my own boss, but I am still accountable for my work, which has to meet quality standards. I am on shaky ground at this point and don’t know how much guidance or support I’ll get. All I can do is take it a day at a time and see if it can work out — at least for now.

The alternative was to move into my parents’ garage with my partner. It has no bathroom, no heat, and only a small space for my partner, our four cats and a dog. Not an ideal situation by any stretch of the imagination. The hope is that this job keeps us in our home. The future is anyone’s guess, however. Eventually, I want to get back to working for non-profits. But in the meantime, I hope working with seniors who have health challenges is rewarding work and that I can help rather than involve myself in exploitation. And I hope I can figure the rest out. I find I have to believe in myself more than ever before, because I’m the only one I can rely on.

This is not the situation or condition I believe human beings need or deserve. I have stated in the past that we need each other; that jobs should be cooperative and that those with more experience should teach those with less experience. I have stated we need jobs that fulfill us, are meaningful, and purposeful. I have said we need jobs where we have an equal say in decisions and earn all of our wages. I have said we need choices in our work so that we do not have to compromise ourselves or others ethically. What we really need is socialized jobs, but the types of jobs we need can only truly exist if we become a democratic socialist society.

I am a social worker, and I do not feel I can properly do social work under a capitalist framework. I can’t help the most needy people as effectively as I could if I had the proper support and conditions. For now, we try to do good enough. Everyone is trying to just get by another day. But people deserve better. People deserve democratic socialism.

Hopefully, Congress will reauthorize emergency unemployment insurance soon because the consequences on individuals, families, and society will be drastic. In addition, when unemployment benefits are spent, they create jobs. Without them, people will continue to lose thousands of more jobs, which will have a huge impact on our economy. Please read the stories of others struggling without unemployment compensation:


It is estimated that there is only one job for every three unemployed people right now. Maybe Congress should start thinking about how to create more jobs, instead of cutting everything.

Previously published in The Socialist online at www.thesocialist.us on January 8, 2014.

Moving Beyond the Prevention of Violence

If we had a non-hierarchical society, we would not have the social problems we face now. One major example of a social problem that impacts our society is violence. Violence has been linked to poverty, economic stratification, inequality, and disproportionate power. Those who live in hierarchical societies more often face violence. Why?

When someone doesn’t have something they need, they often use force to get it. In a world of poverty, people often use force to survive. Where there is abuse and trauma people often use each other to get their needs met. Stress and strife cause people to react negatively. When people are not taught positive coping skills and assertive and healthy ways to express their emotions, they tend to lash out in anger, frustration, and violence. Dehumanization creates more dehumanization. Those who are oppressed tend to oppress others. Deprivation leads to desperation. When a person lacks power, control, and agency in their own lives, they often look to take power, control and agency from others in one form or another. This is why poverty creates violence.

Poverty, Stress, and Violence

Oftentimes, people living in poverty face some of the harshest conditions, deprived of basic necessities. Poverty means you are under constant threat of not having food, clothing or shelter, and are always under pressure to secure resources for daily living. This leads to a lot of stress.

Stress can produce physical health impacts, mental illness, substance abuse issues and other addictions, as well as violence and abuse — including physical, mental/emotional/verbal, sexual, and intimate partner violence. These types of abuse are associated with the effects of trauma.

Poverty is also likely to be entrenched. The likelihood that an individual can overcome poverty is very low. Poverty is usually inter-generational — meaning if your parents were poor, you are more likely to be poor. The poor lack opportunities to get out of poverty.

Poverty is created by a system that thrives on poverty. The capitalist system is self-fulfilling: It exploits people who are desperate by locking them into low wage-jobs. Meanwhile, their labor makes very few people very wealthy. As a country, America is becoming increasingly poor as income inequality grows rapidly.

The fact is most people born into poverty will never overcome it. This is not because they do not work hard. Most poor folks work harder than most wealthy people, working several grueling manual labor jobs. These jobs are generally low-wage jobs. In fact, low-wage jobs are the only growth industry in the United States right now.

Poor people work very hard and that is part of why poor people are so stressed out — they have very little time to relax, decompress, and participate in self-care. When a parent is away from his or her child so much, or children are around a stressed-out parent, this causes stress on the child.

The rise in childhood mental illness has been positively correlated to poverty, stress and lack of parent contact. Children need close bonds with their parents so they can attune to them, develop healthy attachments, and mirror the parent’s modeling. Parents also need to closely supervise their children because children need lots of guidance. When this does not occur because parents are working to help their family survive, children are often vulnerable to developing increased levels of violence – gang violence, sexual assault, and sexual exploitation.

Moreover, families suffering from inequality stemming from being at the bottom of the hierarchy are sometimes striving for power and control in any way they can get it. This is a common psychological/sociological response that some people have when they’re trying to survive and get their needs met. One of the negative consequences of this is violence and abuse. Some people feel they don’t have other choices for making money to survive and use violence as a means to secure survival. People have to get their needs met one way or another and when they cannot get them met healthfully and pro-socially, they will get them met in unhealthy and maladaptive ways.

Forms of Violence

Violence comes in many forms. Oftentimes, violence manifests in the form of intimate partner violence, when two people in a relationship abuse each other. It also manifests when a parent hits a child, when a person rapes or molests another person, when a person commits armed robbery, when a person joins a criminal gang that deals drugs, or when militaries engage in armed conflict. Substance abuse and other addictions often arise as people try to find a way to cope with the psycho-social stressors in their lives. Substance abuse can often lead to increasing violence and danger in people’s lives. Moreover, addictions often lead to child neglect, which leaves a child vulnerable to further abuse.

Abuse does not exist in a vacuum. It exists due to multiple hierarchical systems that create it. The system of violence utilizes classism, racism, sexism, homophobia, etc. to locate vulnerable targets. For instance, strict gender role construction and patriarchy exist so that a tight system of hierarchies can be maintained.

Furthermore, just as hierarchies create violence, violence is also used to maintain hierarchies. It has a cyclical effect. There are many examples of how violence reinforces and maintains hierarchies. For instance, guns help anyone from a gang member, police officer, or solider in the military maintain dominance, control, and power through force. Torture is often used by the military in times of war. Men use the power of their strength, larger frames, and their male privilege in our society to force their will on women and children in the family, workplace, and in social and political arenas. Many people, of all sexes and genders, use violence in intimate partner relationships or against their children to empower themselves through asserting control of and intimidation over others. People of color and LGBT people are often targeted in hate crimes just for being different than the mainstream. Many people, including children, use bullying and relational aggression to knock down others who they view as unpopular, weak, or non-conforming. In addition, rape is one of the most damaging ways that violence is used to degrade others  –  often inflicted upon those seen as “inferior.”
As much as hierarchies create violence, violence props up the hierarchies and reinforces them so they become entrenched. Those who resist hierarchies, transgress them, or try to escape violent situations, are often punished with severe consequences and retaliation, which keeps many afraid and locked in a perpetual cycle of hierarchical systems that utilize violence as a tool of submission.

Men control women, some men control other men, and men and women control children. Those with power control those who lack power and everyone is controlled by hierarchical systems that keep them shamed, alienated, exploited, oppressed, unequal, unconscious, and disempowered. This works out pretty well for capitalism, which is creating record profits for corporations through methods of control.

Sexual Abuse

One way violence manifests itself is in sexual abuse and assault. Statistics show that abuse is widespread: One in three girls and one in six boys has been sexually abused. Those figures are astronomical and demonstrate just how widespread and commonplace abuse is. The consequences of abuse last a lifetime.
The United Nations recently published a report on sexual assault. The report included interviews from 10,000 men in Bangladesh, China, Cambodia, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, and Sri Lanka. It found that 1 in 4 men had raped someone and 1 in 10 had raped someone who was not their romantic partner (World Health Organization, 2013). A pattern has emerged where men who are raised with the cultural expectation of dominance and entitlement over women use rape as a tool of oppression. The researchers concluded that prevention was needed and that interventions should focus on “childhood and adolescence, and address culturally rooted male gender socialization and power relations, abuse in childhood, and poverty.” However, prevention alone will not eradicate sexual violence. As long as hierarchies exist, so will the human urge to seek power over others.

What About Men?

While women are more oppressed than men in our society (and often by men themselves), we should not forget that men are also oppressed. Men are told in our society that they cannot be “weak” and, thus, cannot show any emotion other than anger or violence. Men are constantly policed by each other in this regard; if they do show emotion they are shamed and told they are not men. In our society, it is less acceptable for men to behave differently from society’s imposed gender roles, which are reinforced by the binary social construction of gender. Those who do not conform are socially or physically punished.

Men who use a “one-up” mentality to display hypermasculinity in a game of domination demonstrate how hierarchical systems manifest and keep men locked in negative patterns. The process relies on shame and insecurity the same way that women’s oppression works — both of which help fuel capitalist control and power.

Generation FIVE

There is a social justice organization in the SF Bay Area called Generation FIVE. Their purpose is to end child sexual abuse in five generations. Sexual abuse is just one manifestation of the hierarchical system we operate under in America, and it has major consequences for our entire society.

Generation FIVE’s website states: “We are living in a broader social context that teaches power-over relations, private ownership (parents/family) of children, a dismissal of children’s accounts (legal), mixed messages and little education about human sexuality (it is bad, shame based, and it is used to sell us everything from cars to deodorant), and the ongoing mixing of sex and violence. We are not taught to address pain and trauma deeply, but rather mask symptoms or blame the individual for their distress. Child sexual abuse is about having power over another person and using that power sexually. The norms that allow for this behavior are sadly, ever-present in our society.”

Generation FIVE came up with its own theory of how to end sexual abuse by way of what they call “transformative justice.” Generation FIVE believes, “systems of oppression and child sexual abuse have an interdependent relationship: a power-over system that benefits some at the expense of others and uses violence, creates the conditions for child sexual abuse (i.e. gender inequality, class exploitation, racism, violence and threat for difference), while in turn the prevalence of child sexual abuse fosters behaviors (obedience to authority, silence, disempowerment, shame) that prevent people from organizing effectively to work for liberation, healing and change systemic forms of violence.”

Generation FIVE recognizes how deeply everyday systems are operating to produce sexual abuse. When people talk about “rape culture,” it reaches into the very fabric and foundation of our society and filters down into our culture. Generation FIVE also sees that that we must explore the root causes of sexual abuse in order to find transformative solutions.

The Capitalist System

The truth is the capitalist system itself perpetuates violence. Sadly, capitalism is supported by Democrats and Republicans alike. For example, Democrats and Republicans have helped to whittle away a woman’s right to abortion; they perpetuate wars; they passed welfare reform; they line the pockets of corporations and Wall Street; and they support the so-called War on Drugs, among many other measures that have contributed to poverty and violence. As long as Democrats and Republicans support the capitalist system, they are supporting hierarchies that will continue to subjugate people.

True liberation comes when we rid ourselves of hierarchies, whether in our families, between men and women, between gays and straights, between different races, between adults and children, between employees and employers, and between the people and our government. If we want to end these problems, we have to go after what conditions create them — to the root causes. That is why we have to end what fundamentally creates hierarchies — the capitalist system itself.

The Alternative

Right now, the wealthy elite benefit the most from the rest of us, but we have the ability to flip the script and create a society that serves us all. In an egalitarian society, violence will largely be a thing of the past.
Studies by neuro-biologist, Robert Sapolsky, at Stanford University prove that human beings are social animals who thrive on social interaction and connection. Salpolsky also has proven that stress greatly increases in a society rife with hierarchy and domination. Chronic stress is directly linked to chronic diseases, mental illness, and early death. Saolsky concludes if we lived in a non-hierarchical society, where there was peace among people who cooperated instead of competed, who supported each other instead of trying to dominate one another, and where everyone helped each other out to survive, we would all live longer happier lives.

Our quality of life is vastly diminished by the profit-based capitalist system that governs most all aspects of our lives. We need a human-needs based system where all get to share in the decision making, work together and reap benefits more equally. We need that system because it works best for us and will give us what we need, want, and deserve as human beings. It would unleash and expand not only our potential and ability to self-actualize and self-activate, but also our ultimate happiness as individuals and as a community.
The Socialist Party USA believes in the power of socialist feminism to provide a model for an egalitarian society. From the Statement of Principles of the Socialist Party USA: “Socialist feminism confronts the common root of sexism, racism and classism: the determination of a life of oppression or privilege based on accidents of birth or circumstances. Socialist feminism is an inclusive way of creating social change. We work against the exploitation and oppression of women who live with lower wages, inferior working conditions and subordination in the home, in society and in politics.”

The Statement of Principles also includes planks that address creating systems of freedom and equality, radical democracy, “the abolition of male supremacy and class society,” and “the elimination of all forms of oppression, including those based on race, national origin, age, sexual preferences, and disabling conditions.” Furthermore, the Statement of Principles calls for giving the means of production to all workers and allowing workers to democratically control their workplaces, eliminating capitalist exploitation.

Moreover, the Socialist Party USA’s platform addresses many policies that would fundamentally transform the structure of society to eliminate hierarchies and, thus, violence. The platform states the “ultimate goal of a society [should be] founded on principles of egalitarian, non-exploitative and non-violent relations among all people and between all peoples.” The platform calls for full employment for all, a living wage, a livable guaranteed annual income, and “increased and expanded welfare assistance and unemployment compensation at 100 percent of a worker’s previous income or the minimum wage, whichever is higher, for the full period of unemployment or re-training, whichever is longer,” and also addresses economic development and investment using government resources to help lift all out of poverty. It goes on to spell out capitalism’s link to racism, sexism, ageism, and ableism and addresses each oppressed group with demands for elimination of discrimination and exploitation based on inferior status. The platform also takes an explicit stance against patriarchy and male domination. Lastly, the platform demands access to affordable education, housing, transportation, and healthcare, and contains planks against the prison industrial complex and the war on drugs. These are the types of principles and measures that would work to eradicate poverty and violence.
The rich are few and the working class is many, giving us the power to transform our society so it benefits us all. If we worked together, we could make it happen. We need to end the system of power that seeks domination and instead choose to seek mutual and shared power among all people that creates healthy social, cultural, economic and political relationships. If we want to end violence in all its forms, we need much more than mere prevention — the future we need is socialist.

Previously published in The Socialist online at www.thesocialist.us on December 5, 2013.

Capitalists Are Selling Out Our Most Vulnerable

Recently, there has been a rash of evictions in San Francisco. We call them “evictions,” but people aren’t being kicked out of their homes through any fault of their own. They are just being told they have to leave. Why is this happening?

Apartment complexes are saying they are simply closing up shop because they were bought out by big hedge funds. The hedge funds then turn around and sell the apartments to developers for a profit. Then they reopen the apartments as condominiums for sale instead of apartments for rent. But the cost comes at a premium.
The average rent right now in San Francisco for a basic one-bedroom apartment is close to $3,000. This is part of an ongoing wave of gentrification that has been sweeping San Francisco for well over a decade, making San Francisco one of the least affordable places to live. In San Francisco, major tech companies, such as Twitter and Google, got huge tax breaks from the City of San Francisco for $22 million in order to get them to move their companies to the city. Not only do the companies take up building spaces, the employees move into the city and buy up people’s former residences at much higher prices.

This impacts seniors, the disabled, people of color, working-class folks, families, students and others who cannot afford the exorbitant rents. This often dislocates people, dumping them onto the streets and increasing the homeless population. Many depend on San Francisco services, work there, have family and friends there, and may have lived there all their lives and, thus, feel they cannot leave the city. People are put in this position because of greed. How do the apartment owners get away with this?

California’s Ellis Act. The Act was passed by the California state Legislature in 1985 after inflation in the 1970s. It was passed in order to stabilize the rental market by letting landlords evict tenants and sell the apartments as “tenant-in-common” units, which they then flip into condos.

There were “114 Ellis Act evictions between March 2012 and February 2011, and Ellis Act evictions and buyouts have increased three-fold since just the beginning of the year,” according to the San Francisco Examiner.

This has been spurred by the wave of tech companies and other capitalist endeavors moving into San Francisco at the expense of lower-income people. San Francisco is quickly becoming a city by, of, and for the rich.

Housing should be a right, not a privilege. People getting forced from their homes, some of whom have lived there for over 10 years or more, so that someone can make a buck is despicable. This is just one more reason why we need socialism.

Socialism prioritizes people over profit. Every person will be housed under socialism, even if they cannot afford to pay. There will no longer be commercial private property where people must compete and pay high rents or loans to afford an apartment or house.

Rent is theft because land is not something that can be owned by private hands. It’s collectively owned by all the people on earth. Thus, everyone deserves a piece of it. Shelter is a basic need, and socialists understand that.

No one should be allowed to make money off the misery of other people. Instead, we need to incentivize establishing affordable housing where people want to live. Socialism will guarantee everyone a home to call their own. Then people can stop fearing making rent month to month.

Spending more than 30 percent of what one makes on housing is considered unaffordable. Many are now paying more than half of their income on rent. According to the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University, one in two people are now cost burdened by paying rent. Half the country is in this situation and it grows by the day. When people are forced to pay so much in rent, they can’t afford other essential things like food, transportation, and medical costs.

Unemployment is rising, wages are stagnating or going down, and rents are increasing. This is a recipe for disaster. People should not have to be fearful of having a lack of essential resources or being put out on the street because their landlord is selling to the highest bidder. When we reorganize society based on human need instead of profit for the few at the top, society works for all of us.

In order to ensure affordable housing and stop this wave of evictions, we must organize. One group doing this is Eviction Free San Francisco. According to their website they “are a direct action group, whose mission is to help stop the wave of speculator evictions that have been hitting San Francisco by holding accountable, and confronting, real estate speculators that have been displacing long time San Francisco residents for profit.” Please check out Eviction Free San Francisco at http://evictionfreesf.org/.

Previously published in The Socialist online at www.thesocialist.us on December 13, 2013.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Positive Thinking: A Socialist Value

Previously Published in The Socialist online   www.thesocialist.us
Lately there have been a lot of people in the social justice community putting down “positive psychology.” For example, Barbara Ehrenreich’s Bright Sided: How Positive Thinking is Undermining America and Oliver Burkeman’s The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking. Many are accusing positive thinking of being “pop” and even “pseudo” psychology.
The claim is that positivity is not factual or scientific, is very individualistic, and is used to eschew collective responsibility for why people are suffering and/or are unhappy (such as systematic oppression and exploitation).
However, there is rigorous scientific research that validates positive psychology as being widely effective. Not in a self-help book sort of way, but more on measurable level through evidence-based practice psychotherapy. Some of these therapeutic techniques include cognitive behavioral therapy and mindfulness based therapy (which is actually based on Buddhist principles and practices). These techniques have helped many suffering with depression and anxiety to recover and feel significant improvement. This disproves the notion that positive psychology is a myth or is unscientific, as it has measurable positive outcomes.
The problem with the naysayers, as I see it, is they tend to swing in the opposite direction of positivity. Many are cynical, and attack positivity in order to make an argument for apathy. The “the world sucks and we’re all going to die anyway so why even try” types are the people I am referring to. Those who think this way create a self-fulfilling prophecy. They believe they cannot change anything so they give up. I argue that it’s self-defeating.
Inherent individual temperament aside, I believe most people can benefit from some degree of optimism; and it has been shown that most can learn techniques to become more optimistic. But in the end no one can force anyone to think differently. My point is not necessarily to convince anyone to utilize positivity if it’s not their cup of tea, but rather to say if it works for people why put it down? We choose to utilize positive thinking, or reframe our perception to either more positive, accurate, or non-judgmental thoughts because it works for us. So let’s call a truce on this one and allow each other to live our lives the in the best way we see fit without judgment.
Yes, deep structural, institutional, and systematic change is needed so that we can alleviate suffering and exploitation on a mass and fundamental level. And there is legitimate reasons for why people are suffering, are depressed, and/or anxious. However, I maintain there can be a synthesis of critical thinking, critical awareness, and positive thinking which will lead to better lives for both individuals and groups. But if we could choose to lessen suffering in the moment, even for an individual, why wouldn’t we do so? Last time I checked individuals make up society. They are members of a family and a community; they are your co-workers, your neighbors, etc. Improving the emotional lives of people will have a wider impact on the world.

Moreover, one argument on the other side seems to be saying there isn’t a way to make things better until “after the revolution.” I don’t know about you, but I’m not sure I can wait! I am here to say there are plenty of ways to make things better now! Will they completely alleviate and ameliorate the problems? No. But can they make us feel better? Yes! The opposition seems to think that happiness will cover up the pain and make us less likely to take social action. But I believe when we feel better we have the capacity to do more. Depression and anxiety are demotivating and debilitating. If positivity can help us to have the energy to put into educating and organizing, not to mention increase the quality of our lives and our mental and physical health, then that in and of itself makes it worth a try!

To me being positive is not being unrealistic or “living in the clouds” so to speak. It is strength-based, rooted in self growth, and about reaching ones fullest potential. Being positive is encouragement and believing in yourself and others. Being positive is knowing your own self-worth, value, and dignity. Being positive is keeping hope alive by choosing to continue in a struggle and having the resiliency to bounce back from setbacks. Being positive helps us to fight on and work together for better days for all people. In fact, being positive is a socialist value!

Being a socialist is rooted in love for oneself and one’s community. Without this positivity we couldn’t possibly continue to sustain the movements that breathe life into our collective futures, which require a lot of hard work. Just believing we have a future and it will be better than today because of our struggle, is being positive. Without optimism, we will accept our fate, instead of resisting and agitating until we make something better of our lives. Positivity means being willing to demand better because we know we deserve better!

It doesn’t mean we don’t have challenging emotions or tough times. It doesn’t mean avoiding challenging things or deny the truth about life’s struggles. It means we choose to face them with a positive mental attitude and know we have what it takes to problem solve our way through it. It’s not like we pretend nothing inhumane or unjust ever happens in the world or that positive thoughts alone can make hardships go away and make us happy. We just believe in the power of positivity to help us make things better. In hard times, it means we can lean on a friend, family member, or comrade for support.

We have each other and that in and of itself is positive. Being positive teaches us to embrace our vulnerabilities in order to make connections with others. Instead of listening to the fear-based narratives of the dominant culture, which makes us shut down in shame, we choose to embrace a life which, although sometimes is uncomfortable, is worth living. It is due in large part to the positive social connections we make with others that improves the quality of our lives, renews our spirits, and keeps us going.

As a socialist we realize that through all the pain and suffering, oppression, dehumanization, and exploitation the world has in store for us, we have so much joy, peace, egalitarianism, and mutual aid to share. In the process of our lives we practice in action what we believe in in theory, breathing life into praxis. It’s through positivity that socialists exist. Because we work together towards our collective liberation every day steadfast in the belief that we make a difference and our lives matter.

So instead of rejecting positivity, let’s embrace what it can do for us! Sure, it can’t do everything, but where it has its usefulness let’s use it. Let positivity not be a reason to become complacent or be content in our own little bubble, but let it be a reason for us to become more pro-active, engaged, and inspired to keep moving forward together in our quest for collective human liberation on both individual and societal levels.

Let's Reject Hard Work

Previously Published in The Socialist online  www.thesocialist.us

In America there is a strong undercurrent of protestant work ethic. Americans value hard work. I would even argue there is an obsession with it. People are told that if they don’t work hard that they are worthless. From the image of the “slacker” and “loser” to the stereotype of the “welfare queen,” Americans view people who don’t work hard as undeserving “leaches” and “moochers.” The stigma is thick for those who refuse or reject the idea of hard work, or for reasons out of their own control, are not able to obtain work.
There is also an American myth that hard work equals success and will earn anyone a ticket to the “American Dream.” I call it a myth because most of us know in our hearts that hard work does always not pay off. People work their asses off and what do they have to show for it? The vast majority of our labor value, which we produce through our hard work, gets taken away from us and exploited by our bosses (who, let’s face it, do not work nearly as hard as we do, yet gain nearly all the benefits of our hard work).

The owners, as I call them, pay us a pittance and then reap most of the profits we produce. They own the means of production, which they often purchased with money they accumulated from inheritance, tax shelters/breaks/havens, owning property, or exploiting other people. Essentially they get the money through unethical means.

Since they own the means of production and most property, they own us. And if we don’t work hard for them, they will find someone else who will (we are replaceable and expendable). They have tricked us into believing that hard work is good only so they can keep us working hard for them in the hopes that we make headway someday. But that someday never comes. The lower your wages and benefits the more they can extract from you, and the richer they become.

In fact, Americans are working harder than ever. Productivity today is through the roof. This is occurring as wages are mostly stagnant and remain flat while the cost of living rises exponentially. I would argue that hard work does not pay off and that we actually are being harmed by working so damn hard. Working long hours at a job does not bring about happiness as human beings. Spending our lives at work does not increase our sense of wellbeing. It actually increases our stress and leaves us little time to take care of ourselves or each other. What it actually does is make someone else rich at our expense.

I advocate that we have a right to be lazy! We have the human need to rest our minds, bodies, and spirits. We have the right to play, laugh, sleep, eat, read, write, create, share, dream etc. and be in nature and with each other. Of all human needs, something we spend most of our lives killing ourselves over, money, does not bring us more satisfaction in the end.

In addition, I, for one, am sick of seeing those memes going around on the internet that say something to the effect of, “hold tight, the weekend is almost here.” It has become apparent that people hate work and we really need to ask ourselves if this is how we want to spend our lives given that we have other choices. Furthermore, there are plenty of low social, health, and economic indicators that prove Americans’ happiness and overall wellbeing are suffering due to our backward economic, social, and political structures.
Look no further than this recent study of Denmark for a good example of what is making others happy, and for what we desperately need here in America:

Recently, the government in Switzerland decided to hold a vote on whether to give each citizen $2,800 a month as a guaranteed income per month. Just imagine if Americans had that! We could be a lot freer to be human beings, and not human doings.

A socialist transformation could bring us this sort of life. It’s totally doable, too, if we shift our priorities and defund things like war and prisons; tax the rich and corporations fairly; and socialize healthcare and other industries to make them more cost-effective by removing the profit motive. Collectively, we have the resources to support everyone to live the best lives they can possibly live, despite the lies being perpetuated that we are broke as a country.
We deserve a liberated life truly of our own where hard work is not forced on us just to survive. One where we would own our own means of production, form co-ops, and self-manage our workplaces collectively with fellow workers, if we choose to work. Where life doesn’t come as hard but is actually more purposeful and enjoyable and we can all reach our fullest potential together. We could stop working so hard and start working smart so that we can use our precious time more wisely. Now that’s a future worth working hard for!