Discover more from New Means
Capitalism Needs Exclusion
Twitter blocks, gated communities, and the lies of a fascist billionaire
Elon Musk is now threatening to remove the block function on Twitter. Although his word means nothing, and I’ll wait to see what really happens, his announcement rightly struck a nerve with a lot of people. To remove the block feature promotes harassment and targeted campaigns, often against minoritized users or people who are already vulnerable in some way. It also generally would make the experience even worse for everyone. Of course, Musk doesn’t seem to care much about any of the above issues, and would simply be taking away this key feature for the money. Advertisers would instantly be unblocked by the millions of users who currently don’t want to see their content and products, and Musk himself would no doubt relish forcing his juvenile and increasingly fascist tweets into the feeds of everyone and anyone.
Twitter users across the spectrum are rejecting and criticizing this terrible idea that would make the platform less usable for everyone. But, there’s a certain conservative segment that waves around the idea of free speech and cares more about enabling harassment than creating a platform that is enjoyable and usable for most people. This approach follows a vein of right-wing thought and messaging that says debate is the highest good in the “marketplace of ideas“ and has very little regard for any harm that might be caused along the way. This is the approach of those who want to allow hate speech, theoretically in the name of open debate, but in truth the desire of many in this camp is to enable and promote the fascist ideas that they know most people would prefer to ice out and not give any credence to, if given the opportunity.
What’s bitterly ironic to me, given this professed obsession with open debate, is that neoliberals and conservatives are actually infatuated with closing off access to goods, land, services, education and more. Much like their supposed obsession with free speech actually gives way to the reality of their desire to promote capitalism and fascism and racist ideologies, their professed obsession with the free market is actually a loose mask for their true belief that some people are inherently deserving of accumulating untold hordes of wealth while others deserve starvation, poverty, and an early death. Regardless of whether or not free market fanatics are willing to admit it, or regardless of whether or not they even really understand laissez-faire capitalism, the result is the same. Unfettered capitalism leads to monopoly, barriers to entry into the market for anyone without massive wealth, the super-rich heavily influencing government and giving themselves subsidies, and the general exclusion of the working class from business and power.
If you find my writing helpful, please consider become a paid subscriber to make more of it possible. Thank you!
These two approaches from conservatives might seem contradictory, but Frank Wilhoit's famous quote can help us make sense of it all. He wrote, “Conservatism consists of exactly one proposition, to wit: There must be in-groups whom the law protects but does not bind, alongside out-groups whom the law binds but does not protect.” And this is exactly what we see in how Elon and others determine when and how freedom of access ought to be distributed. They should be able to say whatever they want to whoever they want, do whatever they want when it comes to business and politics, and not face repercussions for violating the law and hurting people. But others, the non-rich and non-conservative and non-white and so on and so forth should be bound by restrictions to our power and wealth, and simultaneously not protected from harassment and attack.
Conservatives are very fond of blocking working class people’s access to opportunity and wealth and power. The simple truth is that their entire economic and political approach relies upon it, again regardless of whatever they might claim to the contrary. I recently finished Mike Davis’s vital book “Planet of Slums” where he lays out in devastating and excruciating detail the rapid rise of massive urban slums around the world, particularly in the global south. There’s so much to be said about the book, but for the purposes of this piece I was struck by the ways a growing percentage of the world’s poor are excluded from the formal economy. Eighteen years ago Davis laid out how over a billion people, and more now given the exponential rate of growth, have been forced into the informal sector, particularly in the massive slums in and around the huge cities of the global south. And this isn’t just “the way it happened” or population growth or anything like that. It’s neoliberalism. The IMF and World Bank and policy coming out of Washington D.C. wrecked the formal economies of many resource rich countries, then sold libertarian fantasies of the slum-dweller as informal entrepreneur who could pull themselves up by their bootstraps, while in truth of course these one billion plus people, locked out of the formal economy, struggle in ways so visceral and grueling and violent I have decided not to repeat most of it here. But suffice it say that an economy where children are losing hands as slaves in factories is not in fact a market or economic system that is “open” to them, to their parents, or to countless other people.
Davis also chronicles some of the geographical manifestations of this closure of prosperity to much of the world’s population. Maybe the clearest example is the rise of gated suburban communities. In the U.S. this is so common that it may feel normal, but this particular type of removed suburb is a relatively new phenomenon in many countries of the global south. “Planet of Slums” describes closed neighborhoods recently build up outside of cities like Cairo, Shanghai, São Paulo, and more. In a dystopian turn, many of these communities are named after places like Orange County, Disney, and Silicon Valley. Regardless of where in the world or the language spoken gated neighborhoods filled with wealth can hearken back to the United States, in a fitting and disturbing allusion to the hub of capitalist exclusion.
Referring to the U.S. when it comes to social and economic exclusion unfortunately has a lot of truth to it. The free market, in so far as it exists, does not in fact promote social mobility as we’ve been told. Most people are locked into the class status they are born with. This is of course connected to the geographic closure of certain areas, redlining, old boys clubs, and the true exclusionary and limiting nature of unfettered capitalism and libertarianism. Billionaires like Musk want to keep our country and economy that way, and pretending to promote free speech while actually union busting and drastically increasing harassment and hate speech is exactly up his alley. The way towards actual openness and freedom must go through the abolition of the class structure so that a small number of people no longer control the wealth of the world and no longer have both a vested interest in closing off opportunities to everyone else and the power to make their exclusive dream a reality.
If my writing is and has been useful to you, please consider a paid subscription. Thank you so much! - Josh
P.S. Trying a (slightly) shorter form today. Any feedback on this attempt to be a little briefer and more concise is very welcome!