Monday, April 27, 2015

Some miserable thoughts on Baltimore

Elizabeth is right, of course, but it seems like one outcome is more likely than the other. Hype aside, the Baltimore riots have not been particularly threatening from the perspective of capital. A few small businesses and chain outlets were looted, some cop cars damaged, some ball games postponed. Those costs will ultimately be socialized to the 99% in the form of higher insurance rates and taxes. The rioting was mostly confined to the poorer sections of Baltimore, and even there massive armies of militarized police easily walled them off and kettled them.

Ian Welsh reminds the rioters that they should "move to the rich areas of town." But the riots were not simply contained because of strategic oversight or laziness; they were contained because they will not be allowed to have any consequence. Had the rioters posed a serious threat to anything they would have been instantly and violently destroyed.

"But what if enough rioters had rallied and fought back?" But they didn't, and there's a reason. Most of the people who have a stake in resisting, and even most of those who want to resist, have been cowed into submission. They've been successfully intimidated by a police state designed to intimidate. Capitalism has successfully isolated the people in our communities, alienated them from each other, and exposed them to all sorts of mechanisms of control. The Left has been aware of this problem, has actively resisted it for centuries, and has not found a way to overcome it.

When things get this terrible, we often hope that the sheer weight of misery will ultimately force communities to come together and effectively defend themselves. As I've written elsewhere, this strikes me as historically naive. Humans can endure suffering of scales and intensities unfathomable to the modern mind - particularly to the minds of sheltered, pampered Americans. And Capitalism is very good at self-preservation. When things get too bad, it backs off and throws the powerless some scraps.

If the system eventually breaks, it will probably be because of actual bio-physical constraints on human endurance and production - problems on the order of bones only being able to bend so far and metabolisms needing so many calories per day. It's frightening to imagine the degree of exploitation at which those limits would seriously jeopardize entire economies.

None of this is to trivialize the suffering the people of Baltimore have experienced tonight. Certainly the victims of police violence have already suffered as much as anyone can.