#376: The Capitalism Issue
Animals, vegans, artificial intelligence, the elderly, and inheritance
Hi there, Loyal Readers. Today’s issue includes four outstanding articles around the theme of capitalism. I hope you read one or more of them and then share your thoughts in the comments. This week’s lead article, “Our Animals, Ourselves,” blew my mind by connecting the aims of capitalism with the subjugation of women and animals. If you like your fresh eggs for breakfast, or your Greek yogurt (my favorite), or if you question veganism, this is the article to read this week. The other three pieces are also intriguing. If you’re scared of artificial intelligence, read “HUMAN_FALLBACK.” If you want to tear up, read “The Sunset.” And if you want to be sad that you don’t own a house yet, read “Why Inheritance Is The Dirty Secret Of The Middle Class.” Please enjoy!
💬 ARTICLE CLUB: Like Octavia Butler? If so, I invite you to join Article Club this month. We’re discussing “The Spectacular Life of Octavia Butler,” by E. Alex Jung. (Paywall? Try this.) This week we’re annotating this version of the article. If you haven’t signed up yet, there’s still time. Click the big button below!
1️⃣ Our Animals, Ourselves
“Capitalism turns bodies into machines,” argue Astra and Sanaura Taylor in this outstanding essay about capitalism, animal rights, reproductive justice, and veganism. It’s common for progressive people to decry the ills of capitalism and to fight for the rights of working people. But it’s uncommon to do the same for the rights of animals. Doesn’t the process of mechanization affect not only the bodies of human laborers but also the bodies of cows, chickens, and pigs? What’s the difference?
What’s getting in the way, the authors argue, is our assumption that women (and animals that provide milk and eggs) are somehow separate from an analysis of capitalism. Dobbs allows the state to require human women to “give up” their children. Hens “give up” their eggs. Cows “give” milk. Meanwhile, most progressives regard vegans as quirky or needlessly extreme.
It’s tough to summarize this piece — as you can tell from this blurb — but one thing is for certain: I was challenged. Not only did I gain an opportunity to take on a socialist-feminist critique of capitalism, but I also got a deeper appreciation for veganism. The authors write, “Refusing to consume animal products is not an act of negation, but a proactive commitment to working to usher in a more emancipatory, egalitarian, and ecologically sustainable society.” (26 min)
Ever felt you were chatting with a bot? It could have been Laura Preston. She’s a 29-year-old graduate student whose job is to help a conversational AI named Brenda lease apartments to people who think they’re talking to a human being. Usually Brenda does fine, but if prospective tenants get too personal, she surrenders, calling for “human fallback.” That’s when Ms. Preston takes over. She has three minutes to craft the perfect reply, or else the humans might get suspicious (and her boss angry). The job (which pays better than teaching, by the way) is nonetheless mind-numbing. “The only way to keep pace with the inbox was to go into a state of focus so intense that at times I felt on the verge of astral projection. I heard nothing and felt nothing, not even the cues of my body.” (26 min)
3️⃣ The Sunset
Young people are scared of old people, which is to say all people are scared of old people, which is to say all people are scared of death.
Because we’re scared of death, our society doesn’t care about old people, unless they’re our grandparents. So when Lisa Bubert chooses to work as an aide in a Texas nursing home as a 19-year-old college student, making $7.25 an hour, her friends are confused. Even before COVID, the annual turnover rate was 60 percent – not surprising, given the understaffing and underfunding. Despite the horrendous working conditions, Ms. Bubert finds purpose and meaning in her work. It helps to think of her Granny K when connecting with residents who feel isolated and lonely. She recognizes that death is a vulnerable act: “There is no act of love greater than to sit with someone as they face their deepest moment of vulnerability.” (13 min)
4️⃣ Why Inheritance Is The Dirty Secret Of The Middle Class
Everyone knows that if your parents pay for college (thanks, Mom!), you have a huge head start in life. An even larger boost, of course, is if they help you buy a home. This article explores the guilt that Millennials face when receiving family money, either through a gift or an inheritance. After all, they know that intergenerational wealth is a leading cause of inequality. They see their friends struggling. But instead of acknowledging their privilege, or refusing the cash, it’s easier to hedge — to emphasize that their parents came from a working class background, or to stress that their grandparents worked hard to squeak by. Journalist Gaby Hinsliff does a good job reminding us that our capitalist system has made it pretty much impossible to buy a home without assistance. (19 min)
✍🏼 READER ANNOTATIONS: Several of you shared your appreciation for last week’s lead article, “The Spectacular Life of Octavia Butler.” Loyal reader and Article Clubber Kati wrote, “This was a fantastic article. I read it on my Thanksgiving break and was riveted. I am not a sci-fi person, but I love Butler’s worlds she has created, and her wonderful manifestation notes. E. Alex Jung also really helps you get to know the inner world of Butler, and how her environment and life experience influenced everything (for better or worse). I found myself many times wishing she was born 30 years later, and would have gotten the recognition she deserved (much of it seems to be posthumous). I look forward to your interview with the author!”
Thank you, Kati, for reading the article and sharing your thoughts. If one of this week’s articles resonated with you, please leave a comment. Let’s get the conversation going!
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I don't see the comment that I wrote about "The Sunset" article?
Two Questions, please:
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