Benjamin Studebaker

Yet Another Attempt to Make the World a Better Place by Writing Things

Tag: Slavery

Self-Care Puts Us on an Amusement Treadmill

For some years now there’s been some people who have written pieces encouraging folks to engage in “self-care” and other people who have picked at this concept from the left. The pro self-care pieces tend to give people practical life advice for dealing with the stress and anxiety of modern life. The anti self-care pieces point out that self-care puts the burden of coping with the failures of modern capitalism on the individual. We experience higher incidences of stress and mental illness because our economic system leaves us in precarious positions. We fear being outcompeted for an ever scarcer number of good, professional class jobs. This pushes us into an arms race to polish our resumes. The more we try to look good, the more everyone else feels they must try to look good. So anti self-care pieces frame the practice as a luxury open only to those who are already reasonably secure–it doesn’t address the fundamental structural causes of precarity and it doesn’t rescue people from those forces.

These are the usual arguments surrounding self-care. But today I want to make a different argument–I want to claim that self-care is itself a celebration of a behaviour ancient political theorists rightly associated with slavery.

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Why Rebellions and Revolutions Don’t Work Very Well

Throughout the history of civilization, there have been people who have been tasked with providing the necessities of life–growing the food, collecting resources, making the tools, and so on. There have also been people who don’t do this kind of work, who instead have lots of free time. These people have free time because other people provide their necessities for them. In this sense, the first group of people serves the second. The precise social mechanic governing this service has shifted over the years. In the early days, the first group of people were slaves of the second group. Slavery was an astounding social invention–it made it possible for some of us to have large amounts of free time, and we used that free time to do art and science and high politics. But slavery only worked by denying the vast majority of people access to that free time. It precipitated largescale inequality. This made it difficult to sustain. The slaves were unhappy, and unhappy slaves are unproductive. The slaveowners eventually discovered a secret–happy slaves are more productive than unhappy slaves. And to make the slaves happy, you had to tell them a story about how they were free. Into this space steps capitalism, and the employer-employee relationship. You are free to work for any master–but you must work for one, or you won’t earn enough to make a living. The masters have pooled the slaves and shared them, and told the slaves this makes them free. And for the most part, the slaves buy it. Except when they don’t. This piece is about that.

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How the Democratic Party Can Win the South

Since Donald Trump’s election I have increasingly become interested in how the left engages with white America. The left isn’t getting enough white support. Even with over 90% of the African-American vote, alleged pedophile Roy Moore came absurdly close to winning in Alabama. This can’t just be because white Americans are racist, stupid, or evil. There has to be more to it. In the past I’ve identified many things wrong with our approach–we’re too condescending and patronising toward white voters, and too quick to blame and shame them. We don’t spend enough time talking about and emphasizing programs and policies that help all marginalized people, including poor, working, and middle class whites. But today I want to go further and discuss in detail a new way of looking at the South and at middle America more broadly–one that takes these people and their concerns seriously. If we’re willing to tell a different story about the South, or at least acknowledge a different story, and build that acknowledgement into our policy and rhetoric, I think we can make some gains.

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Do We Treat College Students like Indentured Servants?

I recently heard someone compare the modern student experience in the United States to indentured service. This comparison seems hyperbolic on first analysis, but I want to take it seriously. To what extent, if any, is the process of taking out student loans or working unpaid internships similar to the experience of poor 18th century opportunity-seekers in the United States?

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New Slaves?

Apparently Kanye West has a new song called “New Slaves”, and in this song West raps the following lines:

See they’ll confuse us with some bullshit
Like the New World Order
Meanwhile the DEA
Teamed up with the CCA
They tryna lock niggas up
They tryna make new slaves
See that’s that privately owned prisons
Get your piece today

West appears to deliberately draw a distinction between the claim he’s making regarding the American prison system and the kind of zany conspiracy theories that run around the internet–New World Order, Lizard People, Illuminati, and the like.  Is West saying something relevant here, or is he off his rocker? Let’s take a look.

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