I remember AIDS. I’m older than you probably think I am, and I remember what AIDS in America meant in the eighties, when William F. Buckley suggested all “carriers” be tattooed, and the Wizard of Id got in trouble in Canada (fr) for a joke in which Robbing Hood’s “Merry Men” were rounded up into quarantine camps. Mostly what I remember is the darkness- the world seemed apocalyptic. Everyone, at least in the gay men’s community, seemed to be sick, or dying, or taking care of someone else who was sick or dying, or else hurling themselves headlong into increasingly desperate and dramatic activism the like of which has hardly been seen since. I was actually watching the MacNeil/Lehrer news hour when ACT-UP broke in and nearly handcuffed Robert MacNeil to his desk. The tenor is just unreproducible; you get a taste of it in some of Sarah Schulman’s fiction, or Diamanda Galas’ Plague Mass, but it didn’t feel like a disease, it was an… unearthly detonation.

We forget this era now. If anything, people remember the Team America parody “Everyone Has AIDS!RENT came out in 1996, not coincidentally the peak of the epidemic was 1995, a year when the CDC reported 41,699 Americans died of AIDS. To put that in perspective, that’s about 70% of the number of Americans who died in all nineteen years of the Vietnam War combined. The first year for which statistics are available (1987) 13,329 Americans died, which is actually more in one year than the total number of deaths attributed to the West African Ebola outbreak from 2013 to the date of this writing (11,325).

Lets dwell on that date, 1987, for a moment. The first report of “a cellular-immune dysfunction related to a common exposure that predisposes individuals to opportunistic infections” was published in 1981. A year later, the term “AIDS” was coined, and a year after that, in 1983, HIV (known as HTLV-III or LAV) was isolated as the cause of AIDS. Four more years, however, went by before reliable death numbers are available [note: AmFAR has published estimates for every year since 1981]. Why? What was happening in that interim? Why was the initial official response only to scare, and not to inform people at risk? Why were AIDS information materials censored (or more properly defunded) if they did not simultaneously condemn homosexuality?

Good genetic analysis has identified the origins of the virus, and put to rest the conspiracy theories, both the plausible (an attractive, malicious airline steward, or poor sterilization of serum used in polio vaccine production) and the unlikely (biowarfare) but looking at the history, its clear where the theories came from. For much of the 80’s, AIDS was killing thousands of people every year, and the official government response seemed to be: Who cares? Let the fags die.

More Death and More Silence

Prince, apparently, overdosed. He’s hardly alone, just famous. After all, death rates are up and life expectancy is down for a lot of people and overdoses seem to be a big part of the problem. You can plausibly make numerical comparisons. Here’s AIDS deaths in the US from 1987 through 1997:

The number of overdoses in 2014? 47,055 of which at least 29,467 are attributable to opiates. The population is larger now, of course, but even the death rates are comparable. And rising. As with AIDS, families are being “hollowed out” with elders raising grandchildren, the intervening generation lost before their time. As with AIDS, neighborhoods are collapsing into the demands of dying, or of caring for the dying. This too is beginning to feel like a detonation.

There’s a second, related detonation to consider. Suicide is up as well. The two go together: some people commit suicide by overdose, and conversely addiction is a miserable experience that leads many addicts to end it rather than continue to be the people they recognize they’ve become to family and friends, but there’s a deeper connection as well. Both suicide and addiction speak to a larger question of despair. Despair, loneliness, and a search, either temporarily or permanently, for a way out.

Did I mention there’s a geographic dimension to this?



See any overlap? I do.

AIDS generated a response. Groups like GMHC and ACT-UP screamed against the dying of the light, almost before it was clear how much darkness was descending, but the gay men’s community in the 1970’s and 80’s was an actual community. They had bars, bathhouses, bookstores. They had landlords and carpools and support groups. They had urban meccas and rural oases. The word “community” is much abused now, used in journo-speak to mean “a group of people with one salient characteristic in common” like “banking community” or “jet-ski riding community” but the gay community at the time was the real deal: a dense network of reciprocal social and personal obligations and friendships, with second- and even third-degree connections given substantial heft. If you want a quick shorthand, your community is the set of people you could plausibly ask to watch your cat for a week, and the people they would in turn ask to come by and change the litterbox on the day they had to work late. There’s nothing like that for addicts, nor suicides, not now and not in the past, and in fact that’s part of the phenomenon I want to talk about here. This is a despair that sticks when there’s no-one around who cares about you.

The View From Here

Its no secret that I live right smack in the middle of all this, in the rusted-out part of the American midwest. My county is on both maps: rural, broke, disconsolated. Before it was heroin it was oxycontin, and before it was oxycontin it was meth. Death, and overdose death in particular, are how things go here.

I spent several months occasionally sitting in with the Medical Examiner and the working humour was, predictably, quite dark. A typical day would include three overdoses, one infant suffocated by an intoxicated parent sleeping on top of them, one suicide, and one other autopsy that could be anything from a tree-felling accident to a car wreck (this distribution reflects that not all bodies are autopsied, obviously.) You start to long for the car wrecks.

The workers would tell jokes. To get these jokes you have to know that toxicology results take weeks to come back, but autopsies are typically done within a few days of death, so generally the coroners don’t know what drugs are on board when they cut up a body. First joke: any body with more than two tattoos is an opiate overdose (tattoos are virtually universal in the rural midwest). Second joke: the student residents will never recognize a normal lung (opiates kill by stopping the brain’s signal to breathe; the result is that fluid backs up in the lungs creating a distinctive soggy mess, also seen when brain signalling is interrupted by other causes, like a broken neck). Another joke: any obituary under fifty years and under fifty words is drug overdose or suicide. Are you laughing yet?

And yet this isn’t seen as a crisis, except by statisticians and public health workers. Unlike the AIDS crisis, there’s no sense of oppressive doom over everyone. There is no overdose-death art. There are no musicals. There’s no community, rising up in anger, demanding someone bear witness to their grief. There’s no sympathy at all. The term of art in my part of the world is “dirtybutts.” Who cares? Let the dirtybutts die.

Facing the Unnecessariat

You probably missed this story about the death of a woman in Oklahoma from liver disease. Go read it. I’ll wait here until you come back. Here, in a quiet article about a quiet tragedy in a quiet place, is the future of America:

Goals receded into the distance while reality stretched on for day after day after exhausting day, until it was only natural to desire a little something beyond yourself. Maybe it was just some mindless TV or time on Facebook. Maybe a sleeping pill to ease you through the night. Maybe a prescription narcotic to numb the physical and psychological pain, or a trip to the Indian casino that you couldn’t really afford, or some marijuana, or meth, or the drug that had run strongest on both sides of her family for three generations and counting.

In 2011, economist Guy Standing coined the term “precariat” to refer to workers whose jobs were insecure, underpaid, and mobile, who had to engage in substantial “work for labor” to remain employed, whose survival could, at any time, be compromised by employers (who, for instance held their visas) and who therefore could do nothing to improve their lot. The term found favor in the Occupy movement, and was colloquially expanded to include not just farmworkers, contract workers, “gig” workers, but also unpaid interns, adjunct faculty, etc. Looking back from 2016, one pertinent characteristic seems obvious: no matter how tenuous, the precariat had jobs. The new dying Americans, the ones killing themselves on purpose or with drugs, don’t. Don’t, won’t, and know it.

Here’s the thing: from where I live, the world has drifted away. We aren’t precarious, we’re unnecessary. The money has gone to the top. The wages have gone to the top. The recovery has gone to the top. And what’s worst of all, everybody who matters seems basically pretty okay with that. The new bright sparks, cheerfully referred to as “Young Gods” believe themselves to be the honest winners in a new invent-or-die economy, and are busily planning to escape into space or acquire superpowers, and instead of worrying about this, the talking heads on TV tell you its all a good thing- don’t worry, the recession’s over and everything’s better now, and technology is TOTES AMAZEBALLS!

The Rent-Seeking Is Too Damn High

If there’s no economic plan for the Unnecessariat, there’s certainly an abundance for plans to extract value from them. No-one has the option to just make their own way and be left alone at it. It used to be that people were uninsured and if they got seriously sick they’d declare bankruptcy and lose the farm, but now they have a (mandatory) $1k/month plan with a $5k deductible: they’ll still declare bankruptcy and lose the farm if they get sick, but in the meantime they pay a shit-ton to the shareholders of United Healthcare, or Aetna, or whoever. This, like shifting the chronically jobless from “unemployed” to “disabled” is seen as a major improvement in status, at least on television.

Every four years some political ingenue decides that the solution to “poverty” is “retraining”: for the information economy, except that tech companies only hire Stanford grads, or for health care, except that an abundance of sick people doesn’t translate into good jobs for nurses’ aides, or nowadays for “the trades” as if the world suffered a shortage of plumbers. The retraining programs come and go, often mandated for recipients of EBT, but the accumulated tuition debt remains behind, payable to the banks that wouldn’t even look twice at a graduate’s resume. There is now a booming market in debtor’s prisons for unpaid bills, and as we saw in Ferguson the threat of jail is a great way to extract cash from the otherwise broke (thought it can backfire too). Eventually all those homes in Oklahoma, in Ohio, in Wyoming, will be lost in bankruptcy and made available for vacation homes, doomsteads, or hobby farms for the “real” Americans, the ones for whom the ads and special sections in the New York Times are relevant, and their current occupants know this. They are denizens, to use Standing’s term, in their own hometowns.

This is the world highlighted in those maps, brought to the fore by drug deaths and bullets to the brain- a world in which a significant part of the population has been rendered unnecessary, superfluous, a bit of a pain but not likely to last long. Utopians on the coasts occasionally feel obliged to dream up some scheme whereby the unnecessariat become useful again, but its crap and nobody ever holds them to it. If you even think about it for a minute, it becomes obvious: what if Sanders (or your political savior of choice) had won? Would that fix the Ohio river valley? Would it bring back Youngstown Sheet and Tube, or something comparable that could pay off a mortgage? Would it end the drug game in Appalachia, New England, and the  Great Plains? Would it call back the economic viability of small farms in Illinois, of ranching in Oklahoma and Kansas? Would it make a hardware store viable again in Iowa, or a bookstore in Nevada? Who even bothers to pretend anymore?

Well, I suppose you might. You’re probably reading this thinking: “I wouldn’t live like that.” Maybe you’re thinking “I wouldn’t overdose” or “I wouldn’t try heroin,” or maybe “I wouldn’t let my vicodin get so out of control I couldn’t afford it anymore” or “I wouldn’t accept opioid pain killers for my crushed arm.” Maybe you’re thinking “I wouldn’t have tried to clear the baler myself” or “I wouldn’t be pulling a 40-year-old baler with a cracked bearing so the tie-arm wobbles and jams” or “I wouldn’t accept a job that had a risk profile like that” or “I wouldn’t have been unemployed for six months” or basically something else that means “I wouldn’t ever let things change and get so that I was no longer in total control of my life.” And maybe you haven’t. Yet.

This isn’t the first time someone’s felt this way about the dying. In fact, many of the unnecessariat agree with you and blame themselves- that’s why they’re shooting drugs and not dynamiting the Google Barge. The bottom line, repeated just below the surface of every speech, is this: those people are in the way, and its all their fault. The world of self-driving cars and global outsourcing doesn’t want or need them. Someday it won’t want you either. They can either self-rescue with unicorns and rainbows or they can sell us their land and wait for death in an apartment somewhere. You’ll get there too.

In Sum, Despair is the Collapse of Forever into the Strain of Now

If I still don’t have your attention, consider this: county by county, where life expectancy is dropping survivors are voting for Trump.

What does it mean, to see the world’s narrative retreat into the distance? To know that nothing more is expected of you, or your children, or of your children’s children, than to fade away quietly and let some other heroes take their place? One thing it means is: if someone says something about it publicly, you’re sure as hell going to perk up and listen.

Guy Standing believed that the Precariat heralded a new age of xenophobic nationalism and reaction, but at the same time hoped that something like Occupy, that brought the precariat together as a self-conscious community, would lead to social and economic changes needed to ameliorate their plight. Actively. The gay community didn’t just roll over and ask nicely for recognition, they had their shit together enough that they could fight their way, literally, into the studios of one of the top news shows in America, into the US capitol, the UK parliament, into the streets of every major city at rush hour. AIDS galvanized them, but it was their mutual recognition as friends, allies, comrades-in-arms from years of fighting for urban space to hook up in that made that galvanic surge possible. The disease blew a hole in an entire generation and the survivors kept fighting. HAART attenuated the death rate, and the survivors kept fighting.

So far, the quiet misery of the unnecessariat has yet to spark its own characteristic explosion, but is it so hard to see the germ of it in Trump’s rallies? In the LaVoy Finicum memorials? Are we, and I don’t mean this rhetorically, on the verge of something as earth-shaking as ACT-UP?

On primary election day, I wrote the following to a professor friend (edited):

I am despising myself for a coward today. I stopped for gas on the way to the polls, and noticed a hole in the frame of the car that you could push a parrot through. Dammit, I can’t afford a new car, and I don’t know if I can afford a welded patch- I don’t even know what would be involved, since so much has to be stripped off before you can bring a torch near a car body. I was in a pretty bad state when I got to the polls.

Let me explain my conundrum: all democratic primaries are proportional, among candidates who get 15% or more of the votes. The republicans have a whole slew of delegate procedures, but ours is winner take all. [I could contribute one fraction of a fraction of a fraction of a delegate to Sanders, or help push Trump over the top.]

What’s the outcome here? Sanders isn’t going to win. He doesn’t have the delegates- hell, he doesn’t have the votes. Doesn’t have the support. Clinton is the democratic nominee, and frankly she’s favored to win in the general election, even though in a head-to-head she gets trounced by Cruz, Kasich, or Rubio. Right now she polls ahead of Trump, but Trump is the one factor in this race that could completely kick the whole thing over. What happens if Clinton wins? For me, nothing- nothing good anyway. I still can’t afford car repairs, I still have to buy medication in cash raised by selling hay bales. No, I didn’t bale them, I trucked them across the county. If you bale them yourself, you make money at it, but I just had some extras to unload. That’ll still be the shape of things in a Clinton presidency.

Lets be honest- Clinton doesn’t give a shit about me. When Clinton talks about people hurt by the economy, she means you: elite-educated white-collar people with obvious career tracks who are having trouble with their bills and their 401k plans. That’s who boomed under the last president Clinton, especially the 401ks. Me, or the three guys fighting two nights ago over the Township mowing contract, we’re nothing. Clinton doesn’t have an economic plan for us. Nobody has an economic plan for us. There is no economic plan for us, ever. We keep driving trucks around and keep the margins above gas money and maybe take an odd job here or there, but essentially, we’re history and nobody seems to mind saying so.

And let me be honest again- Trump doesn’t have an economic plan for me either. What Trump’s boys have for me is a noose- but that’s the choice I’m facing, a lifetime of grueling poverty, or apocalypse. Yeah I know, not fun and games- the shouts, the smashing glass, the headlights on the lawn, but what am I supposed to do, raise my kid to stay one step ahead of the inspectors and don’t, for the love of god, don’t ever miss a payment on your speeding ticket? A noose is something I know how to fight. A hole in the frame of my car is not. A lifetime of feeling that sense, that “ohhhh, shiiiiiit…” of recognition that another year will go by without any major change in the way of things, little misfortunes upon misfortunes… a lifetime of paying a grand a month to the same financial industry busily padding the 401k plans of cyclists in spandex, who declare a new era of prosperity in America? Who can find clarity, a sense of self, any kind of redemption in that world?

Fuck it. Give me the fascists, I’ll know where I stand…

But I went ahead and took a democratic ballot regardless. And voted for Sanders. And as long as chumps like me keep doing that, we’ll keep getting the Clintons we deserve.

I am of two minds. On the one hand, Trumpism is unspeakable. On the other hand the status quo is silence and death. I had hoped that Trump himself would collapse and the populist movement he unwittingly inspired would find some less terrifying (and less racist) organizing principle, but now that the nominees are essentially decided, that seems unlikely. For the unnecessariat, what is to be done?

Caveat #1: This blog post is talking about the AIDS epidemic in the US. AIDS is a global disease and has social and political ramifications far different in countries where poverty, rather than Teh Gay, is the defining stereotype of infection. Also, in the US deaths have declined since the introduction of HAART, a treatment package not available in most countries. There’s a lot more to say about AIDS, but this is the AIDS I remember from my own childhood.

Caveat #2: The increase in mortality and decrease in life expectancy is so far limited to white people, and much of this post is about white people. Rural white people. This has led to some rather disgusting spectacles, well-caricatured as politicians who were “tough on drugs” when it meant arresting black kids, but supportive of treatment and recovery when its white kids in the crosshairs. However, not to speak for black people, but I think the sense of being seen as unnecessary to the functioning of the country, and a speed-bump at best, is something that black Americans have experienced for years, and what’s changing is that (some) white people are joining them. Over at hipcrime they’re blaming automation, but in my experience in flyover country, white folks are predictably blaming everyone of color for their plight. That’s a bigger issue than I can talk about here, but in brief I disagree with (and hate) the argument that a white sense of economic disenfranchisement is somehow separable from a racial narrative. It isn’t. Rural white people, in my (ethnographic) experience, see their economic circumstances as a result of the rich/the government taking “their” stuff and giving it to the “undeserving,” which is as racially marked a definition as exists in the American vernacular. We can talk about this later.

Caveat #3: I don’t think discussions of “fascism” are useful here. I almost left Trump out entirely but that county-level link was too good to pass up.

Caveat #4: My professor friend wishes to clarify that he is a post-doc. Also, in addition to the frankly absurd odd jobs I do for money, I am still a graduate student. We can talk about this later too. And yes, I found a guy who could weld a patch on the frame, thought its still bent.


232 thoughts on “Unnecessariat

  1. You’re not unnecessary.

    Have you read your local candidates’ views? Have you identified the ones with whom you agree? Have you ever run a voter registration drive to help elect them? Or suggested to friends who share your views that they run for local office?

    You’re capable of making change. Putting so much energy into saying you’re unnecessary shows you have the time.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ah, sarcasm. I was thinking I might get through this day without hearing someone else argue that our problems aren’t problems and that everything would be fine if only lazy people would stop complaining.

      Liked by 4 people

  2. As a Peace Corps volunteer in a country defined as 3rd world , I am, as many of us are, now pondering the desperation that seems to be covering our country like 1960 smog in LA. Does it make sense to export the best educated and healthiest young people to do projects in – yes- undoubtably poor countries while our own is unattended and suffering ? For the young, PC will really help them pay off their huge college loans, plus give them a beautiful CV, and preference in government jobs. Much of the work we do involves engaging the communities in which we serve, and this happens at the same time we are learning a new language. We are also the best export from the US, embodying the kind of generosity that can be set against our other more lethal exports. And unlike them we only go where we are invited. So I don’t think we should stop what we are doing. What I think is that communities in the US might begin doing is inviting the Peace Corps into their cities and towns.. Seriously.


  3. Thanks for this piece. It gave voice to that vague dread I felt when I lived in the US. Sure, I wasn’t ever a member of the unnecessariat, but I was always keenly aware that my young family was only a couple of steps from disaster.

    I’ve had the displeasure of watching relative after relative slip from sitcom-family perfection into the hell spiral of shitty pay, building debt, medical costs, meth and oxy and despair.

    And yet, Americans masturbate so furiously to the myth of the self-made man that these poor souls don’t even see themselves as part of a larger cohort. They’re alone in their suffering, convinced it’s all their fault and angry at all the wrong people.

    I don’t know what the solution is, but UBI seems closest. It gives the poor what the middle class take for granted: a cushion. But it’ll never happen in puritanical America, so I got out while I had a cushion, moved to a country where child care costs 30 bucks a month, medical care is universal and cheap, and where neighbors know that if you fall on hard times, it’s usually down to shitty luck, not lack of effort.

    I got tired of all the moralizing and brain-dead truisms about work and success in America. The dream is dead. Picketty was right. Neofeudalism is back, and if you’re not landed gentry, you’re a serf.

    Liked by 6 people

      • Croatia. My wife was born here.

        While Croatia has its own problems — occasional corruption, loads of bureaucracy, lack of diversity, lack of separation of church and state, terrible economy, a slow and unnerving tilt toward fascism — it was *still* an easy choice for us. We have kids. Who wants to raise children in America, where everything’s a race from cradle to grave? At least here, children are give the room the need to grow and play. And it’s such a load off living in a place where society isn’t sharply divided into “winners” and “losers” (who “don’t work hard enough” or “should have kept it in their pants” or…). People make mistakes or have bad luck. Everybody shrugs and does their best to help anyway, knowing they’ll be in that position, too, one day.

        It’s nice to know that — regardless of my financial status– should something terrible happen to me, my family won’t end up destitute on the fringes of society. And if a shit-poor country like Croatia can make that guarantee, then what’s America’s excuse?


  4. You wrote that you are a student; I want to address this. You wouldn’t by any chance be majoring, or, let us crank it up a notch to true stereotype territory, double-majoring in English literature, history, psychology, sociology, or any combination thereof? If you are, the hole in your car will be the least of your upcoming concerns, I assure you.

    America has no job and no existental plan for overabundance. The forces of hard core laissez faire capitalism are mercilessly at work in that case: overabundance of anything begets a drop in demand.

    If you are studying to become an engineer or a scientist, capitalism wants you, because it needs you; you will do well; otherwise, for anyone who takes the easy way out, anyone who won’t suffer through headaches of understanding mathematics, or chemistry, or biology, or medicine, or physics, or any other of the natural sciences, they are doomed. Capitalism without the socialist components to complete it and enhance it is merciless; if you are not in science, technology, engineering or mathematics, it does not need you. Let this be a cautionary essay to those who want to take the easy way out. The plan was to outsource the industry, where we design it and engineer it, and it gets built somewhere else, cheap; this has been going on 60 years, and now, we get to taste the fuits if that epic experiment. The problem is, the “unnecessariat” appears not to have the mental, psychological, and intellectual capacity for science and engineering, and even if we all became scientists and engineers, the hardcore capitalism will correct for that, and salaries in those professions will drop. However, educated people would be better equipped to organize and re-organize themselves, than “unnecessariat” ever could.

    One of the major reasons why the gay community was able to fight back is because a lot if gays fall into the highly educated, dual income bracket; they figured out how to organize themselves. And they were often people of financial means, because they were educated and did not have children.

    Also let me ask you all this: except for humans, every animal on this planet has learned to coexist in a balance with the environment, and it is needed in some way. Only humans destroy, de-stabilize, and do not fulfill any role in the ecosystem. If humans were to disappear tommorow, this planet woul be perfectly fine, better than fine in fact, without humans to destroy and pollute it. Why then shoul the “unnecessariat”, indeed the entire human race, procreate?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Nope, all my interest in sociology is self-directed. I’m… well I’m feeling exposed by the gazillion page views I’m getting here, but I’ll say I’m in “one of the natural sciences,” specifically one that involves a lot of data modeling (hence my previous “how did that get linked from there?” post about Ebola a few years back) and yes, I’m aware of the assumption that STEM majors have a golden future. The facts are different- a very small percentage (roughly 7%) of people with my degree find tenure-track positions within seven years of graduation and roughly half of those are from seven schools (and you can guess which ones.) The other half aren’t distributed evenly across the university system, and the program I’m at currently has exactly zero alumni in tenured positions, though some are adjuncting. There is a seriously hierarchical class system in academia. Do I wish I’d gotten in to Stanford, or even Northwestern? Sure, but I didn’t.

      As for mental capacity, that sort of discussion makes me really tense. I volunteer on the local VFD and some of the folks I work with there, with high school diplomas, are much faster at recognizing the implications of a problem or a circumstance than many of my classmates. Some aren’t, obviously, and that tends to suggest some sort of “innate engineering ability” exists or can be developed without formal study. I would be extremely careful before blanketing any economic or demographic population with an imputed mental ability.

      Also remember, the gay community today and the gay community in the early eighties are different in many ways, including economics. There were definitely rich gays in the beginning of the AIDS epidemic who funded much of the response, yes. That was not a good general description, however.

      Liked by 3 people

      • “a very small percentage (roughly 7%) of people with my degree find tenure-track positions within seven years of graduation and roughly half of those are from seven schools (and you can guess which ones.) The other half aren’t distributed evenly across the university system, and the program I’m at currently has exactly zero alumni in tenured positions, though some are adjuncting.”

        It sounds like you’re saying you’re studying a field purported to be a good one, and you do not want to work in industry. If there are jobs available to you in industry, that makes you valuable. Even if there weren’t jobs for your field, I wouldn’t call you unnecessary. I agree with your comments about mental capacity. The poor are as capable as anyone.

        “tech companies only hire Stanford grads”

        Not really. I’m a software engineer. Many people I’ve worked with went to state schools, and some did not even attend college. Well funded Silicon Valley startups likes Stanford grads, sure, but those are the highest paid positions. In 2016 there are many tech jobs available across the country.


      • I don’t entirely understand the tech ecosystem, since I’m not in it, but for every young genius who drops out of school to write brilliant code, there seem to be ten thousand who are hired through traditional HR offices to make the database talk to the other database and update the somethingoranother, and there resumes count more than ability. Yes, there are probably jobs I could work out there, though many are in… wait a minute, I don’t know you! What the hell is going on here? I’m sure you’re a good person and probably completely trustworthy but how did this become a topic of conversation? The internet is WEIRD.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I used to be a volunteer fireman too. There is a logic flaw in your metaphor, and that is that the complexities of engineering are much higher than those of firemen: as firemen (and women, I hope) we have exact processes, they are well understood and well developed. The complexity is clearly defined and limited. There is a flowchart. Engineering is not like that at all: one gets a task to solve, and then one must apply one’s own creativity, plus lots and lots of science, plus lots and lots of additional research, in order to produce a working (and often high quality) solution which must often satisfy criteria in direct opposition to each other. That is several orders of magnitude more complex than going down the flow chart of processes, using the correct process and going through the clearly defined actions, so there is no guarantee that the guys at your fire department would actually make for good engineers. Engineers also tend to be very logical people, which is why they usually make it through university and pay off their debts in reasonable amount of times. Therefore, if any of the guys at your fire department were meant to be engineers, they would have done it, or are studying to do it, right now. If they did not become scientists or engineers, then any one of the required ingredients (higher logic, higher cognition, abstraction capabilities, and most importantly, ambition) are missing. One thing which the “unnecessariat” clearly does not possess is ambition: ambitious people are stubborn; they do not take “no” for an answer; they persist “just because”, and they do not give up. If you look at the patterns in “unnecessariat”, you will see little to no ambition at all.


      • I think everyone, seriously, everyone here is missing the reason we are here in this sad space (not blogworld but the downward spiral of the “middle class” which grew into a myth (not the downward spiral but middle class in the post WWII boom) or at least part of it, in the first place. This is a very dense discussion for which there is no space here, but that is the gist. It has little to do with Clinton or Sanders or Trump (oh my), and more, much more to do with the force of recent (read Reagan and his fairlyland of Ayn Rand economics) history and what has happened to the foundations of how and on what principles this gloriously written republic was established. (Yeah, your vote counts if you understand how the system works and that requires an education in civics and an understanding of the balance between Jeffersonian and Hamiltonian politics). We don’t do that anymore in public education. Look at who your local legislators are and how many people eligible to vote actually voted. I don’t need to outline for you the disaster Wisconsin is becoming because of the power and actions of a collaborating thoughtless and unvisionary legislature and a dangerously amoral and equally unvisionary governor. (Unvsionary is now a word.). And this state of things if you look at the over 300 years of history of the US leading up to this point is startlingly cyclical and predictable–the economic depressions of the 19th and 20th and now 21 centuries, and the cycles of these economic depressions are startlingly similar and the space between them, tending toward a pattern, more and more predictable. Getting immersed and involved in the process (it is more accessible than many think) is where it begins, but not at the top level (see again the Clinton and tje Sanders and the Trump oh my), but at local congressional and state legislative levels, and even at the school board level. The more particiipation here, the larger the impact on the top level. You are not unnecessary. Your are just the opposite.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Pingback: Wednesday, Wednesday | Gerry Canavan

  6. Reblogged this on Marginaal and commented:
    We moeten politieke en economische structuren aanpassen aan de nieuwe tijden. Dat kan, als we de juiste keuzes maken. Maken we die niet, dan eindigen we met een micro-utopia, te midden van een wereldwijd pauperland.

    Promovenda en onderaan-de-ladder-bungelaar Anne Amnesia schreef er een stuk over dat je in zijn geheel moet lezen om het goed te begrijpen.


    • From Google Translate (for English speakers):

      “We must adapt political and economic structures to the new times. That’s possible, if we make the right choices. we make that not, we end up with a micro-utopia, amid a global pauper country. PhD student and below-the-ladder bungee boot Anne Amnesia wrote a piece about which you should read in its entirety to understand it properly.”

      “Bungee boot”?


      • From translated by me (bilingual English-Dutch speaker):

        “We have to adapt political and economic structures to new times. It’s possible if we make the right choices. If we don’t, we’ll end up with micro-utopia amid a world of poverty. PhD student Anne Amnesia, adrift at the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder, has written a piece on this theme that you’ve got to read in its entirety in order to understand it well.”


      • Ha, I actually removed that reblog so I am not entirely sure what has been translated to bungee boot here… but I think it was a Dutch way of saying that you are smack in the middle of the ‘unnecessariat’. Good read, by the way, I will write a post about it later instead of only reblogging it.


  7. I deal with people in this situation every day. The feeling of utter impotence they have is heartbreaking.

    Honestly, I believe that we’re coming to the end of the United States. This country is finished. It’s going to break into pieces just like the Soviet Union did. You can see it in Texas where 23 county GOP committees have passed resolutions calling for secession. That will spill over into other states after the election.


    • Succession is illegal. It would mean a military incursion into Texas if Texas attempted to sucede without the approval of Congress and 2/3rds of all state legislatures. Texas can attempt to secede but it would mean war. Sure that’s a good idea Texas?


    • Why don’t you start us off? It’s a huge, complex sociological – cultural – economic – political etc… problem which will require many people, many discussions, and many solutions that go way beyond “how do we fix it?”. That’s likely why you’ll see plenty of diagnosis on the huge Web, and little solution.

      Anne has done a great service by writing this, and for that I thank her, tremendously.


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  9. Really? Trump’s boys have a noose for you? Look, I too despise the short-fingered vulgarian, but you’re just a whiny lefty blogger who overshares. You’re not that important. No black helicopters are coming for you.


    • “you’re just a whiny lefty blogger who overshares”

      No kidding! Three weeks ago, if anyone I didn’t already know came to this blog and either left a comment or linked to it in a way that made it clear they’d actually read something, I was pretty darn proud of myself. Now its like this whole other thing. Sorry everyone, but I do not write for Slate!


      • Ac Adapter whines about perceived whining. That’s helpful… Not. Your article Anne is getting attention because it has quality. Otherwise no one really would care.

        Liked by 1 person

  10. If id use THE TOR BROWSER for writing this comment id say :

    Its Time to revolt fast and hard, because once the security state is hardend, this choice is gone.

    But i didnt use Tor so i just thought about this aloud.

    Liked by 1 person

      • Own your voice. You have something important to say. No one can hurt you over the internet simply by acting like a jerk. Ad hominem comments by haters say everything about them and nothing about you.

        Liked by 3 people

      • You have written some of the things that are necessary for our society in 2016. In fact, this material has so much complexity it could be expanded into a book.

        Anne, please keep writing, your voice is necessary.


      • Excellent comments, Joseph, and I second the motion: Anne Amnesia should write something in a longer form, possibly in coordination with another non-fiction author focused on quantitative aspects of our current malaise. Maybe a piece for a publications like _The Atlantic_.

        You’re also right that we have a nest of overlapping problems, therefore we need realistic solutions — plural.

        Personally, I would have preferred to see the failed banks nationalized in 2008/2009, and instead of bailing out Wall Street such that they gave themselves million dollar bonuses, I would have preferred massive infrastructure projects, like FDR’s alphabet soup programs: building wind farms in the middle of the country, and the DC-based power grid to move the electricity to Denver and Chicago; government-sponsored X-prizes to spur teams to improve battery technology; a coast-to-coast Roads and Bridges refurbishment program, to create construction and engineering jobs… Better to spend a war’s worth of capital spreading the country’s money around widely, increasing the flow of money in the economy, than implement a program that only (further) benefitted the top 3%.

        Roughly $4 trillion — with a “t” — dollars flow into and out of U.S. banks every single day. Every day. If we implemented merely a 0.1% tax on each transaction, it would generate $4 billion dollars per day. That would generate ~ $1 trillion in a business year (~250 days). Place that in an endowment and draw off the interest only, and you’d have an annual budget of at least $30 billion. We could do a lot for the common American with that kind of money: public private partnerships that provided things the country needs, while creating needed jobs — mortgage paying jobs, not Starbucks / Walmart jobs.

        Both strategic goals could be accomplished simultaneously, with the right management. That last bit is key.

        Instead, our leadership is stymied because half them think government is the problem, instead of a potential solution (the government is us, after all). They fiddle while the world burns.

        Liked by 1 person

  11. Pingback: Gern gelesen: „Unnecessariat“ | Stromabnehmer

  12. Pingback: Families, not Workers – spottedtoad

  13. When did America take AIDS seriously?
    After Rock Hudson died. After this close friend of Ronald Reagan, someone who “mattered”, died, there was a kind of shift on both attitude and the need for funding.

    It’s doubtful that Prince’s death, if from an overdose, will make a difference because we almost expect rock and roll stars to die this way. Drug usage is still seen as a mostly self induced problem, while you could AIDS from someone who you thought was safe or via a blood transfusion, etc. Additionally, we are quire comfortable telling people to stop taking drugs. No one seriously expects people to stop having sex.


  14. Outstanding. The Unprecariat/Necessariat have no clue about the rage, no sense that it’s the job of elites to share meaning & purpose & thrill with everybody, that messing up the responsibilities of being on top means that eventually, they are dead meat.


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  16. This link was posted on the GOP Lifer blog- your essay is very well written and thought provoking. The dog-eat-dog aspect of capitalism has always been around, but if it’s happening to someone else, many Americans will regard any honest criticism of that fact to be Commie blasphemy. The truth is, unless you are filthy rich, you too could slip down into the precariat or the unnessariat. It could happen via bad choices you make, or it could happen due to forces outside your control. This is what people need to realize and adapt to. The fact that our gov’t is so dysfunctional is our fault, because the voters punish the candidates who dare to speak the unpleasant truth, rather than be the rah-rah-yea-America cheerleader and make us feel good about ourselves. HRC slipped up politically with her comment about coal mining jobs, but she was also dead right- that industry isn’t coming back. We are only in the beginning stages of acknowledging this problem, so it isn’t going to be dealt with any time soon. My best advice: live below your means, because we’ve got a bumpy ride ahead, and stop punishing the truth-tellers.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The “slipping” to the precariat” can happen if one simply decide to help people in a similar circumstance as a matter of principle, conscience, or compassion. Offering help itself is a matter of risk for many of us — especially among the clergy.


  17. You have hit the nail squarely on its head. Your term “unnecessariat” perfectly fits the conditions you describe. I am not one of the unnecessariat (by age and luck), but I live among them, teach them in community college, watch them live angry and despairing or die too young, in one of those dark red counties (in both maps) in eastern Kentucky where the coal mining industry is dying…I voted for Bernie too, but agree with you on the outcomes…

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Pingback: Terminus: Unnecessariat | unbrauchbares

  19. Just keep shaking off the negative feedback. Your post has garnered attention because you have struck a nerve. You have articulated something a lot of Americans perceive and feel, and — in some cases — contend with on a daily basis. As I read your post the first time, the hair stood up on the back of my neck; I was overcome with how extremely accurate, powerful, and important it is. I shared it with those friends of mine who Get It (including one who was at the epicenter of the AIDS crisis in NYC in the early 1990s, became a founding member of ACT-UP, and is now a well-regarded physician who treats HIV patients). All I wanted to say is, Bravo!

    I work in the new field of “Street Medicine,” in a rural part of California. I deal with healthcare and vulnerable populations in my job. When people cast doubt or sneer in reaction to professions of truth like “The Unnecessariat,” I almost want to punch them in the face for their condescending doubt, their implicit smugness. “The people have no bread? Surely not, you idiots! If they have no bread, let them eat cake!”

    Between 2011 and 2015, the hospital I work for saw a 35% increase in the size of our “homeless / likely homeless” patient pool. We have sophisticated analytic tools and a lot of smart people parsing the data. This increase is real. People might quibble over the implications (“It means, thanks to Obamacare, that more people are getting health care…”), but to me these numbers remain extremely troubling. And it substantiates why the largest cities on the Pacific coast are declaring “homelessness emergencies.”

    As I have an interest in economic development, I have been thinking about these issues for the last 10 years or so — and I think there are simply no easy solutions. But boy, do we collectively wish there were!

    I think the only guy on the American public stage who really understood where things were going, economically, was Ross Perot — a public figure the American electorate ultimately mocked, even though he was the only 1992 Presidential candidate who said things you could tell someone about later: his statements had actual thought and substance. For God’s sake, he used graphs! (Could anyone actually tell you what Bill Clinton or George Bush ever said, other than to repeat catch phrases like “I feel your pain” or “Read my lips…” ?) Perot knew NAFTA and other manifestations of globalization were going to gut us. And he was right.

    What can we do about it, now? I don’t know. But instead of doing TARP, which resulted in some bankers getting $1 million bonuses, maybe we could have done a WPA-style program, creating a huge number of middle-class, mortgage-paying jobs, and come out the other side having fixed all our decrepit roads and bridges, perhaps having built a massive wind farm in the flyover states along with the DC-current grid needed to move that electricity to Dallas, Denver, Chicago… Maybe we could have made access to the U.S. consumer market an “opt-in” with a high bar for entry, instead of the race-to-the-bottom system we have, in which less than 4% of international food imports are actually inspected.

    I will leave off by paraphrasing what William Gibson said about the future, “Social collapse is already here — it’s just not very evenly distributed.”

    Liked by 2 people

  20. I thought it might be intresting for you that i think i feel (and see) many similarities here, although my situation is different in many ways. First of all, i don’t live in America but in Germany, and although some habitants call it a village, i wouldn’t call Berlin rural.
    And even our rural areas (i was living in one of them 25 years) are hard to compare with yours, with ~1/30 of USAs space, we have ~1/4 of your population. I guess even our “empty” spaces feels crowded compared to yours., at least the next city is much closer here.

    We don’t have such problems with student loans because universities are for free, but we don’t have your wages either. Although industry and newspapers usually complain about “Fachkräftemangel”, means a lack of skilled workers, a salary of 50k per year for somebody with a master in computer science is considered pretty good if he works in industry. In science, it’s usually out of reach even for post-docs.

    I’ve read recently something which i think it matters in this context as well, “americans all assume they are millionaires with some temporary difficulties”. Germans don’t. Either we think that things are fucked up and won’t change much, or that things aren’t that bad right now, but it’ll be worse soon. The only hope is that there is somebody who’ll make changes to get things slightly better or at least, prevents that things get worse.

    So much for differences, one of the similarities is the voting behaviour except some local/historical adjustments. For example, it’s not very popular to say you want to build a wall in Germany, instead our right wing party say they want to shoot at refugees at the border. As far as i can say, that’s the biggest difference between them and Trump. And they get votes from all across the political spectrum because nobody really believes that any of the established parties will ever change anything, at least not for them. Those guys don’t even pretend to change anything in economics or sicial system, it’s just to have somebody even weaker than yourself to blame.
    It doesn’t matter much that we have some more than 2 parties. The green party, founded by guys who threw stones at the police during demonstrations once and sat knitting, wearing jeans and t-shirts and long hairs within the parliament some time later, became a party for people who can afford to pay electrical cars and private schools and a nanny and a gardener, without even changing the personal.
    After election in 1998, the coalition between “Social-Democratic Party” SPD and the green party made changes so unsocial that it was unthinkable to do that during the 16 years of the conservative goverment before and for the first time since 1945, Germany joined a war again.

    Well, i’ve spent a lot of time explaining some background in germany without talking much about the “uneccssariat”, but whenever i think about it, i can’t avoid the thought of another article i’ve recently read:
    In short (and without sarkasm) it says: A garbage collector is still more necessary than a corporate lawyer, even from the point of view of a corporate lawyer. If the question moves from “How much money do you get?” to “What do you do for society?” everybody can live without the lawyer, some time ago everyoneone could see what happens without garbage collectors in Neapel. I think the point here is, there are many people who can easily be replaced by somebody else which creates a feeling of uselessness, but there are whole industries which are actually useless.

    And now i have even more the feeling i’m a bit lost what i actually wanted to say. I guess i’ll stop here with saying sorry for my probably not always correct english, spelling mistakes etc, i hope i could tell you something intresting like you did.


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  22. I’m trouble by people like Someone, above, who suggest that if only you were an engineer or you studied STEM in college or you were a brilliant inventor or […] you could break out of the Unnecessariat.

    This is undoubtedly true (well, if you take the right route it is true) but it doesn’t address the real problem. It has always and will always be true that the Lucky and the Strong (especially people who are both) can rise in the face of any difficulties. (Just how Lucky and Strong you have to be varies of course. A little family money doesn’t hurt either.)

    The material about the Unnecessariat addresses a different problem: what happens to ordinary people? After all, almost all of us are pretty ordinary. Societies and economies that actually work in the real world offer reasonable opportunities to us regular ordinary people, and our increasing failure to do this is what is being addressed here. If the economy resembles nothing so much as a game of Musical Chairs where there are 12 people and 10 chairs, it is pointless to blame the 2 who get left out. Certainly they had less of whatever it took to grab a chair, but if it had not been these 2 individuals it would be 2 others, and the problem remains.

    When it gets to be 12 people and 2 chairs the problem has reached crisis proportions, and if that’s where we are headed (or if we’re already there!) we are in big trouble.

    Liked by 1 person

    • One thing I wanted to work in to the essay and couldn’t: I get annoyed by pity parties for people to whom terrible things happen even though they “did everything right.” I want to ask “what about people who did a few things wrong, like normal?” or better yet “what about people who’ve never had a right thing to do?”

      Liked by 6 people

      • That would require compassion, forgiveness, sharing, and understanding. Those spirits are in short supply within the American socio-political-economic system at the moment. They are believed to be foolish. But they are foolish like Jesus.


    • There is abundance in this country — if we are all willing to share the chairs we have hidden away. Why are we hoarding chairs? It’s really not about capitalism. It’s a spiritual malady that plagues those extremely privileged few who have no boundaries when it comes to “how much is enough”.

      Liked by 1 person

  23. Pingback: Required Reading: May 29 – Lingua Barbara

  24. Pingback: What I’ve Been Reading: May 29, 2016 | Refrigerator Rants

  25. Reblogged this on Siobhán McGuirk and commented:
    A beautifully written, insightful article on addiction in the age of the “unnecessariat,” taking in questions of community, disease, social exclusion, the wages of capitalism, public sympathy and – of course – the appeal of Trump.

    A must-read.

    Liked by 1 person

  26. One more point to consider: The period of working class prosperity from the 1950’s to 1980’s was a historic anomaly. In the wake of WWII, with most of the worlds industrial base in ruins the USA was uniquely positioned to be the manufacturer for the world. With a strategic hold on industry the workers could bargain a large share of this anomalously over-sized pie. Unfortunately, this is the expectations we are currently looking at the current situation from. Now the rest of the world has rebuilt and large parts that weren’t even industrialized in the past are now. Walling off the rest of the world does not get you back to the working class prosperity of the past, that position relied on exporting the manufactured goods to the rest of the world as well as consuming them locally. It is one thing to prevent Chinese or German goods from competing with American ones in the borders of the USA, it is quite another to prevent them from competing in Britain, or India, etc.
    Global inequality has fallen massively in the last 50 years, unfortunately this means that American factory workers are competing with Chinese factory workers and until they have caught up the American factory workers can’t expect much upward progress, I don’t have a good solution to this, other than hoping that something like a UBI can be sorted out in time to give people a fall back soft landing that they can do smaller amounts of work from and not have everything be lost.

    Liked by 2 people

    • What you say is true. Perhaps a better question is… Is it possible that the American working class be valued in a new and different way? Donald Trump isn’t going to do that with trade barriers. But there is plenty of work to do — especially in terms of US infrastructure — that simply needs investment. There are about $200 trillion dollars (and likely much much) put away in real estate derivative investments. Perhaps a tax on those investment tools could fund a large investment in American infrastructure… Heck, the amount needed is a fraction of what is needed.


  27. That was all over the place: AIDS, opiates, suicides, local politics. I wish I had the time to read it all, since it is well written, but I don’t. It would have been better to write several smaller posts on point or at least serialize it.

    Wait, so opiates kill by suppressing a brain signal? Doesn’t that mean that if you send the signal locally, from an electronic device for example, you are completely and utterly safe from that form of dying? Some device that keeps your lungs working should be relatively easy to build.


    • Device hell. CPR will work. Rescue breathing for an hour or so (or putting someone on a ventilator once the ambulance arrives) will prevent death by overdose, assuming its done well. Also, there are now little nasal syringes of naloxone, which reverses opioids, and supposedly these are being distributed for free by public health agencies to anyone who wants one. Spray half in each nostril. WARNING: it also puts people into withdrawal, which is not pretty (though better than death).

      Liked by 3 people

      • “I wish I had the time to read it all, since it is well written, but I don’t. It would have been better to write several smaller posts on point or at least serialize it.” Perhaps there is a book to be written? Are you brave enough? Anne, you can make a difference, you know — with a computer keyboard. Not many of us can say that.


  28. Pingback: Morning Ed: Politics {2016.05.31.T} | Ordinary Times

  29. An excellent post, thank you for writing what I’ve known for about four years but didn’t articulate to anyone (no one cares what I think). As a friend of mine once said “Everything sucks, and it’s never getting better.”


  30. I would trade my executive-level position in a third world country for being “unnecessary” in the U.S. anytime. I will make more washing dishes in the U.S. than I currently make as a head of a large department. You guys have it easy, and still complain that it could be easier. While I can understand the desire to get more, what I cannot understand is how you manage to redefine your somewhat-less-than-ideal situation as the end of the word.


    • Americans are an ungrateful lot. This is true. However, idle hands do make for the devils work. And that is what makes the creation of an “unnecessariat” troublesome. It is not that the unnecessariat do not have the means to survive — it is that the unnecessariat are no long considered by their society to be of any value. They can be replaced by machines. They are a drag on resources. They are superfluous and therefore disposable. As a manager anywhere, you life is of greater value than someone who is truly disposable. Yet they are children of God — and they have intrinsic value that society does not seem to recognize.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Felicity consists not in having prospered but in prospering.

        It’s a mass situation of despair and a lot of people are killing themselves over it. You’re fantasizing about how much you could do with what you perceive them to be throwing away won’t change that. The world is full of problems and I don’t see how this isn’t one of them.


  31. Reblogged this on Unthinkable Thought and commented:
    A truly quality piece. There is really nothing left to salvage of the current order. The elites, who are two sides of the same coin are now openly scornful of non-elites and use votes to create the appearance of legitimacy while advancing an agenda designed to render large swathes of the population superfluous. And on it goes.


  32. I’ve been thinking about this argument, which I think is very evocative, but no so sure I agree. I’m sure you’re familiar with the “capitalism is a pyramid scheme” idea http://www.blog.ryanhay.es/wp-content/uploads/GI4-PYRAMID-1024×683.jpg and while I think it’s oversimplified (and, of course, debatable), I think it illustrates something crucial, which is that any type of person at the precariat level or below is incredibly vulnerable to corporations. Poor people often eat poorly (corporate food), smoke (Big Tobacco), are targets of predatory lending and credit debt, are fodder for the military-industrial complex (a type of corporation), etc. Corporations are very interested in the very poor, because, like the image shows, they hold up the whole pyramid. To be truly superfluous to corporations would be to be at a level in the pyramid at which one has some defenses against corporations (ie doesn’t need credit, has better food, can evade considering military service, etc). As BoingBoing summarized your post, “Below the precariat is the unnecessariat, people who are a liability to the modern economic consensus, whom no corporation has any use for, except as a source of revenue from predatory loans, government subsidized “training” programs, and private prisons.” I don’t think the “unnecessariat” is a liability to the economy, but in fact a key component of it. Private prisons are big business. Gov’t subsidized training programs are sometimes really helpful to people (I work in this field). I understand the demographic you’re describing, but I think “unnecessariat” is a misleading name, as this strata of society is actually extremely necessary to capitalism. I understand that at its lowest levels of the pyramid, this strata can be more of a burden to society overall than they contribute. Perhaps that is what we’re talking about here. As harsh as it is, this strata is a kind of “burdencariat.” But I would still argue that, whatever we call it, this strata is extremely important to corporations. Even the incarcerated have been victimized by telephone companies charging exorbitant rates to use the phone in prisons to call loved ones. There may exist a strata that is an “unnecessariat”, but I think that occurs at either the extreme top or extreme bottom of the pyramid. Anything in between is fair game and in corporations’ crosshairs.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Excellent story here and I like this comment. I just read this the other day and you might find it interesting as well:


      “There is something else I’ve never said, because it’s too deeply tied in with my own politics, and not something I would expect anybody else to understand.

      And that is: humans don’t owe society anything. We were here first.

      If my patient, the one with the brain damage, were back in the Environment of Evolutionary Adaptedness, in a nice tribe with Dunbar’s number of people, there would be no problem.

      Maybe his cognitive problems would make him a slightly less proficient hunter than someone else, but whatever, he could always gather.

      Maybe his emotional control problems would give him a little bit of a handicap in tribal politics, but he wouldn’t get arrested for making a scene, he wouldn’t get fired for not sucking up to his boss enough, he wouldn’t be forced to live in a tiny apartment with people he didn’t necessarily like who were constantly getting on his nerves. He might get in a fight and end up with a spear through his gut, but in that case his problems would be over anyway.

      Otherwise he could just hang out and live in a cave and gather roots and berries and maybe hunt buffalo and participate in the appropriate tribal bonding rituals like everyone else.

      But society came and paved over the place where all the roots and berry plants grew and killed the buffalo and dynamited the caves and declared the tribal bonding rituals Problematic. This increased productivity by about a zillion times, so most people ended up better off. The only ones who didn’t were the ones who for some reason couldn’t participate in it.

      (if you’re one of those people who sees red every time someone mentions evolution or cavemen, imagine him as a dockworker a hundred years ago, or a peasant farmer a thousand)”


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  34. Pingback: The Unnecessariat - General Eclectic

  35. Pingback: What I’m Reading: A Friday Link Roundup | Zero Waste Millennial

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  37. Anne, thank you very much for writing this, it is as beautiful as it is sorrowful. I just returned from a trip to my home town with my family, talked to one of my Dad’s old drinking buddies, from before my Dad meet my Mom and stopped drinking; turns out almost all of the other buddies are dead. Guys I grew up around looking up to as titans on the Earth, the died from what you have written about. So I guess that means that your writing is very beautiful indeed.

    There are important truths you have said here as clearly as anyone, yet more movingly. The truths that really matter at any given time are those that are unspeakable. Not forbidden explicitly, but that we don’t even know how to speak. This article has been at the tip of my tongue, but unlike you I wasn’t able to studder out more than a few syllables. I am sure you know about those our fairy tail bullies, who can only be dealt with by speaking their true name. You just blurted out ‘Rumpelstiltskin!’.

    I found your article thanks to a link posted to the comments of the archdruid report by a regular commentator; one John Roth. Thanks to that commentator! On that blog there was a recent article which I think you may find relevant to your discussion: http://thearchdruidreport.blogspot.com/2016/01/donald-trump-and-politics-of-resentment.html. The back log of articles on that blog articulate a world view that our country as a whole is fumbling for meaning as the promise of progress no longer leads us toward prosperity.

    I fear the worst for rural America, especially in the short term, but I feel like there is room, in the hole in the heart of America, for something beautiful to grow. I speak as a descendant of the settlers of my part of rural America. My Grandparents grew up poor, poor, poor, and from ornery and mean folk but there was meaning and beauty and stories told with tears of laughter. We don’t need money to fix rural America, we just need a guiding light that isn’t for mere eyes.

    Rural America isn’t A thing, each community is accountable for itself, I believe that a good number of those communiteis can, even at this late hour in the crisis, find something inspiring to do. I hope it isn’t something political, I think that if it is political is is bound to be co-opted. I would suggest it has to be local action from what inspires that community. Your article, and other works of art like it might, just might, inspire a few folks in a few communities to try.


  38. Excellent. This captures a lot of my own feelings. I am a member of the precariot by choice, self employed to avoid being hassled years back about taking days off when my kids were sick or had school events, or on religious holidays. I chose not to sacrifice my family, social, civic and religious obligations on the altar of my career, a heinous crime. These days I do contract labor bookkeeping & administration at low rates and/or volunteer for nonprofits, because they need the help and can’t afford “real” help. ( But this has just turned out to be another opportunity to be exploited. ) You might say I’m a recovering social justice warrior. And while I’m glad somebody is at least trying to help the worst off, the reality is nothing is being accomplished. There is simply no way to fight a system that truly does not give a rat’s rear end about people unless it can profiteer off of us. The Republicans genuinely want the poor, elderly and homeless to just go away and die, and the Democrats give only lip service to any other outcome. Efficiency and economies of scale, automation and offshoring have shot well past the point of diminishing returns and is now approaching ludicrous speed. Those who say voting makes a difference are deluded. Every obstacle is designed to keep the poor, elderly, and minorities from having any real voice. The few bones that Hillary will throw progressives are not nearly adequate to offset the continued devastation her warmongering Republican-lite economic policies will cause. She is bought, paid for, and on the leash – Wall St owns her. Trump will never actually make any real changes – only congress can make and pass laws, and they will simply not cooperate with any ideas that threaten the oligarchy’s wealth and control. So economic collapse is now the only future, plus or minus civil war. And everyone who isn’t totally clueless knows it. Every one else here in this mid-sized relatively wealthy city is too busy posting fuzzy kitty videos to even know what’s going on, and refuses to believe it even when you try to tell them. I have actually decided to cut back on working and spend more time endeavouring to get our house and garden ready, to “collapse now and avoid the rush” as the archdruid report puts it. It will, of course, be hopeless, but I have to try. I’m not the lay down and die quietly type. When my husband retires next year or the year after, our income will drop by 1/3 at least, and I fully expect some or all of my grown children, perhaps with wives and kids in tow, will end up back home with us. As an aside, if we end up losing the house, I plan to sow the whole yard in salt and burn the house to the ground. Living in prison is preferable to living in the car at my age. And I have a feeling that during phase 2 of the end of the American empire, a lot of other people will do the same. They can try to take what we have, but they’ll end up with nothing of value. Remember, depression is anger turned inward. As more and more people realize the system is rigged and their circumstances are not, in fact, their fault, the anger will run outward like the wind through the streets.


  39. When Reagan introduced the “Trickle-down theory,” I was a teenager and not very interested in politics. Trickle-down is one of those theories that sounds good on paper: If you give more money to rich people, they’ll spend more money, and this extra money will eventually “trickle down” to the poor. Everybody wins!

    Now, it’s approximately 30 years later, and I can see first-hand where the flaws are in this theory:

    (This is long. Please bear with me; I *am* going somewhere with this.)

    Imagine you’re rich. One day you wake up in the morning and discover that you have $1,000,000 in the bank. You run out and buy 5 Maseratis.

    Now imagine the same scenario, only this time you wake up and there’s $1,001,000 in the bank. What would you do differently? Absolutely nothing. You buy 5 Maseratis, and the only difference is that at the end of the day, your bank account is $1000 larger than it would have otherwise been.

    OK, now imagine you’re poor. You wake up and your bank balance is $0. After breathing a sigh of relief that you aren’t overdrawn, you buy food using food stamps, look for a job, and then go home to cry yourself to sleep.

    Again, same scenario plus $1000:

    You wake up and your bank balance is $1000. You pay off a few bills that are long overdue, and with the rest of the money, you buy a bunch of stuff you’ve been meaning to but couldn’t. Your day plus $1000 is *very* different than it would have been otherwise.

    I had you image all that so that when you reached this spot, the spot where I ask you a question, you’ll already know the answer.

    The question is: Which helps the economy more, giving money to poor people or rich people? Anyone who knows anything about economics (or who has watched “Wakko’s Wish”) knows that the economy only *works* when people are spending. And if you give money to a poor person, THEY SPEND IT (or pay their bills, which also helps the economy). If you give money to a rich person, they sock it away. They stick it in a bank somewhere, where it sits and never circulates. They may as well throw it off a cliff.

    Trickle down doesn’t work. It hasn’t worked for 30 years and it’s never going to start working. The problem is that rich people like it, and they have a lot of power, and they’re going to do everything they can to make sure it stays in place. (I’m not going to come right out and accuse them of bribery, but I will say that they “use their money to influence politicians in any way they can.”) It’s time to change it, but those in power are going to fight tooth and claw to prevent any changes.


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