Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Time is money, or We’re all slaves

Anarchy A to Z:
a guide to understanding our history unfolding for the anesthetized and apathetic
D is for Debt.

"Owe no man anything, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law." 
- Romans 13:8

   As I previously alluded, I grew up in a house of modest means. My father worked hard, but they never seemed to get ahead. I can relive this part of my family dysfunction, but I’ll pass. My father was a frugal man. As I’ve grown older, I finally figured out that his coming of age in the late 1960s propelled him into the cultural niche of the simplicity movement that was of the greater counter cultural revolution. 

   Unfortunately—and it says much to preface with this adverb—he was bound to my mother by child, and perhaps by love to a lesser degree. My mother came of age in the late 1970s. Bound to religion and the institution of compulsory schooling, she never broke from the dominant cultural form. As time passed, she dictated the trajectory of the checkbook. My father sought comfort, not in a calling or the spiritual wholeness, but in a consistent wage. He like so many others became a slave. 
   Debt relinquishes the power of the debtor to the debt holder. And we are a nation of individual debtors. This surprises me, since the history of share cropping and the exploitation of the gold prospector are conspicuously similar. The unspoken history of debt explains my familial dynamic. 

   In the age of Reagan—which suited my mother’s oil embargo pessimism and god go-get-‘em-ism—the economy had structurally transformed from a producer nation, rebuilding Europe and Japan, to a consumer nation. If the cost of oil was tanking the economy, we needed to make it easier to access credit. The loosening of regulations designed to limit the profitability of debt service were removed and business boomed. The mass consumption ethic explored yesterday conveniently transpired with the rise of cable television and gave birth to the MTV generation. 

   The implications of debt became painfully obvious with the housing collapse. Young families and retirees alike suffered. Was it greedy bankers and their puppets in realty, forging documents and outright deceiving customers? Of course. But the consumption impulse compelled people to accept bad terms. The idea of holding large debts was an easy pill to swallow—just as the militarization of New Orleans after Katrina or New York post-9/11 is making civil liberties violations a silently accepted reality. In my county, cookie-cutter subdivisions sold for half a million dollars. Everyone thought they needed a McMansion, so everyone got one. Debt is the consumption of a community.

   What other nefarious ends does debt perpetuate? If you wear the yoke of debt, you are wholly owned property of your banks. The credit system ensures this. I didn’t have credit card until a couple years ago, and I never needed a loan, save for a small sum of student debt. Do I need to tell you about my shitty credit score? If I want to purchase a home, I am obligated under the rules of the system to accept ridiculous interest rates on debt I don’t need, all in the name of “credit worthiness.” Shouldn’t it say something about my financial strength if I didn’t need to borrow to fund my lifestyle? Debt and credit, therefore, are not systems designed to increase standards of living, but to shackle the common people to a life of work, serving the interests of the power elite. 

   If you need to go to school, you must have debt (perhaps not applicable to everyone, but a trillion dollars owed nationally is a crime, and frankly, fucking insane). You need that schooling to get a good job. If you get that job, you need a car to get there and a nice suit, or at least some other serviceable attire. But you don’t have a job yet, so you take on debt. In the process of paying off those obligations, society tells you it’s time to get a house. That house needs to be filled with stuff, too. And so on.

   Debt serves the ruling elite precisely because it requires your time. The more hours you work, the more your spirit is sold and your will degrades. Time spent in the office is time not spent rearing the children who will challenge the status quo. It is not time spent in spiritual introspection. When the need to service debt dictates your time, you are too busy to organize an opposition party or union. You are too busy to relish in singing and dancing. Too busy to quietly deliberate the deepest philosophical questions of what it is to be human and how we can build structures that will achieve greater humanity. Instead, we submit our labor to the systems of injustice. 

   Debt is all these things and more. Most simply, debt is taking more than is provided by your own labor and labor in the cooperative spirit of your tribe. Our crisis is a debt crisis to be sure. I do not say this to invoke a Pavlovian response from the deficit hawks, but to beg the question of our precarious existence.

   Our entire material standard of living is a debt owed. And we all just answered the proverbial robocall. 

   It’s Earth. 

   And she’s ready to collect.

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