Reading project, week ending 29 Nov 2020

What have I read this week? Just one.

Bullshit Jobs: A Theory by David Graeber

This is a nonfiction book about useless jobs, and the proliferation thereof, and why, and what that has done to our society. I found it really interesting, and felt like I learned a lot from it.

Most economists nowadays see the labor theory of value as a curiosity from the formative days of the discipline; and it’s probably true that, if one’s primary interest is to understand patterns of price formation, there are better tools available. But for the worker’s movement—and arguably, for revolutionaries like Karl Marx—that was never the real point. The real point is philosophical. It is a recognition that the world we inhabit is something we made, collectively, as a society, and therefore, that we could also have made differently. This is true of almost any physical object likely to be within reach of us at any given moment. Every one was grown or manufactured by someone on the basis of what someone imagined we might be like, and what they thought we might want or need. It’s even more true of abstractions like “capitalism,” “society,” or “the government.” They only exist because we produce them every day. John Holloway, perhaps the most poetic of contemporary Marxists, once proposed to write a book entitled Stop Making Capitalism. After all, he noted, even though we all act as if capitalism is some kind of behemoth towering over us, it’s really just something we produce. Every morning we wake up and re-create capitalism. If one morning we woke up and all decided to create something else, then there wouldn’t be capitalism anymore. There would be something else.


One might even say that this is the core question—perhaps ultimately the only question—of all social theory and all revolutionary thought. Together we create the world we inhabit. Yet if any one of us tried to imagine a world we’d like to live in, who would come up with one exactly like the one that currently exists? We can all imagine a better world. Why can’t we just create one? Why does it seem so inconceivable to just stop making capitalism? Or government? Or at the very least bad service providers and annoying bureaucratic red tape?

Ch. 6

Be this as it may, however, it opens the way to my second and final point. The first objection typically raised when someone suggests guaranteeing everyone a livelihood regardless of work is that if you do so, people simply won’t work. This is just obviously false and at this point I think we can dismiss it out of hand. The second, more serious objection is that most will work, but many will choose work that’s of interest only to themselves. The streets would fill up with bad poets, annoying street mimes, and promoters of crank scientific theories, and nothing would get done. What the phenomenon of bullshit jobs really brings home is the foolishness of such assumptions. No doubt a certain proportion of the population of a free society would spend their lives on projects most others would consider to be silly or pointless; but it’s hard to imagine how it would go much over 10 or 20 percent. But already right now, 37 to 40 percent of workers in rich countries already feel their jobs are pointless. Roughly half the economy consists of, or exists in support of, bullshit. And it’s not even particularly interesting bullshit! If we let everyone decide for themselves how they were best fit to benefit humanity, with no restrictions at all, how could they possibly end up with a distribution of labor more inefficient than the one we already have?

Ch. 7
© bardofupton 2020

Writing project, November 2020

This month’s word is incomplete, meaning “not complete; lacking some part”.

————–

I stared at my project, the thing I’d dedicated literal years of my life to. It felt… incomplete. I wasn’t sure why – I’d covered every base I could think of, researched and cross-referenced every angle I or any of my colleagues had come up with. Every i was dotted, every t crossed. And yet, it still seemed unfinished.

I looked at it from every angle I could find, couldn’t find anything missing. And yet…

I sighed.

I would have to destroy everything and start again. It was the only way.

Wasn’t it?

© bardofupton 2020

Reading project, week ending 15 Nov 2020

What have I read this week? A bit late again, sorry!

Because everything I read this week is by the same author, rather than repeat the same things over and over I’ll just do a brief overall review of all of them up here. Anything specific to a particular book will go under its name.

I really enjoyed all of these. The worlds are fascinating, the characters are compelling and the plots are interesting. They avoid the pitfalls of a lot of fantasy where the characters don’t act like real people; I really believed in these characters as people. I also liked the way the main characters handle sex, as just another part of life and not something taboo or dirty. I would definitely read more by this author.

Nine Goblins by T. Kingfisher

This is a fantasy novella about a group of goblins who end up in enemy territory during a war.

A Wizard’s Guide To Defensive Baking by T. Kingfisher

This is a fantasy novel about a young girl named Mona who is a wizard who works in the medium of bread.

The Twisted Ones by T. Kingfisher

This is a horror novel about a woman named Melissa who is clearing out her late grandmother’s house. It is a bit creepy though, but then it’s meant to be.

The Seventh Bride by T. Kingfisher

This is a fantasy novel about a teenage girl named Rhea who becomes engaged to a local lord. I really liked the hedgehog.

The Raven and the Reindeer by T. Kingfisher

This is a retelling of the Snow Queen about a girl named Gerta who goes in search of her childhood friend who has been taken by the Snow Queen.

Paladin’s Grace by T. Kingfisher

This is a fantasy novel about a man named Stephen who is a paladin whose god has died and a woman named Grace, who is a perfumer.

Summer in Orcus by T. Kingfisher

This is a fantasy novel about a young girl named Summer who travels to the land of Orcus. My favourite character is probably Reginald the Regency hoopoe and the valet-birds.

Toad Words by T. Kingfisher

This is a collection of short stories and poetry which are retold fairy tales.

Bryony and Roses by T. Kingfisher

This is a retelling of Beauty and the Beast, about a woman named Bryony.

© bardofupton 2020

Reading project, week ending 8 Nov 2020

What have I read this week?

Billion Dollar Loser: The Epic Rise and Spectacular Fall of Adam Neumann and WeWork by Reeves Wiedeman

This is a nonfiction book about the company WeWork and its founder, Adam Neumann. I found it interesting, even though the writing was a little annoying in places (a weird obsession with people’s relative heights, for example).

Clockwork Boys: Book One of the Clocktaur War and The Wonder Engine: Book Two of the Clocktaur War by T. Kingfisher

These are fantasy novels about a woman named Slate who is on a suicide mission to find out about the Clockwork Boys so that her city can fight them. I enjoyed this; the world is interesting, the characters are believable, and it’s a fun read, if a bit dark in places. I’ll definitely be reading more by this author.

Swordheart by T. Kingfisher

This is a fantasy novel set in the same world as The Clocktaur War, about a woman named Halla who inherits a sword with a man bound to it. I enjoyed this; it was a lot of fun and I really liked the characters.

Minor Mage by T. Kingfisher

This is a fantasy novella about a young boy named Oliver who is a minor wizard and is forced from his village to find them rain. I enjoyed this; it’s a fun read and I really liked the armadillo.

© bardofupton 2020

Writing project, October 2020

This month’s word is water, meaning “a transparent, odorless, tasteless liquid, a compound of hydrogen and oxygen, H2O, freezing at 32°F or 0°C and boiling at 212°F or 100°C, that in a more or less impure state constitutes rain, oceans, lakes, rivers, etc.: it contains 11.188 percent hydrogen and 88.812 percent oxygen, by weight” or “a special form or variety of this liquid, as rain”.

————–

It was wet. That hard pounding kind of rain, that seems to come both vertically and horizontally. I was soaked, after only moments outdoors, and I was still wondering what had possessed me to leave my warm dry bedroom and come out in it.

Surely I didn’t crave chocolate that much.

I laughed hollowly. Of course I did. I’d crawl over hot coals for my favourite chocolate bar, and my stash had run out. It was my own fault for coming home drunk last night and scarfing the lot on a whim. I was normally very good at keeping myself stocked up, but, well, here we were, taking a long walk to the one and only local shop that stocked my fave.

I could, of course, get chocolate closer, but it was inferior, and I was unwilling to allow it to sully my taste buds.

So here I was, completely sodden, and miserable, but determined not to turn back. After all, I was wet already, right?

How much worse could it get? I thought, only to curse myself seconds later as a car sped past me, spraying me head to foot with dirty water – and most annoyingly, down into my shoes – as it drove through a gigantic puddle. I was pissed off at having my feet wet, but even more so that my knee jerk reaction was still to superstitiously blame myself for tempting fate by saying that.

But the shop wasn’t much further, and it would be a shame to turn back now. I trudged onwards, mentally berating my drunken self from last night.

“You just had to eat it all, didn’t you? And now I have to deal with the conseoquences.”

The rain starts to fall even harder, and a strong wind blows it directly into my face. I pull my hood tighter around my face and keep walking. I can feel water sloshing around inside my shoes. It’s an unpleasant feeling. But I’m so close now, I can see the block where the shop is up ahead.

I can almost taste the chocolate slowly melting in my mouth. I close my eyes to savour the experience and promptly fall over, twisting my ankle. I get back up and limp on towards the shop. Nearly there, nearly there, I remind myself.

I can barely see through the driving rain, I’m navigating purely on instinct as I reach the door of the shop. I reach out and grope for the handle, then turn it. It doesn’t budge. I shake it a few times to no effect, then wipe water from my face so I can see.

There’s a sign on the door.

“Closed indefinitely due to flooding”.

© bardofupton 2020

Reading project, week ending 25 Oct 2020

What have I read this week? Just one, and it’s late, sorry..

My Sister, The Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite

This is a novel about a woman named Korede whose sister has a habit of killing her boyfriends. I liked this – the characters were interesting and I found the Nigerian setting fascinating. I’d definitely read more by this author.

© bardofupton 2020

Reading project, week ending 18 Oct 2020

What have I read this week? Quite a few, and there are a lot of quotes, because there was a lot I found meaningful.

Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram X. Kendi

This is a nonfiction book about the history of racist and antiracist ideas in the United States of America. I would really recommend it to anyone; I found it well-written, fascinating and I learned so much from it.

Favourite quotes:

Fooled by racist ideas, I did not fully realize that the only thing wrong with Black people is that we think something is wrong with Black people. I did not fully realize that the only thing extraordinary about White people is that they think something is extraordinary about White people.

p. 10-11

This strategy of what can be termed uplift suasion was based on the idea that White people could be persuaded away from their racist ideas if they saw Black people improving their behavior, uplifting  themselves from their low station in American society. The burden of race relations was placed squarely on the shoulders of Black Americans. Positive Black behavior, abolitionist strategists held, undermined racist ideas, and negative Black behavior confirmed them.

Uplift suasion was not conceived by the abolitionists meeting in Philadelphia in 1794. It lurked behind the craze to exhibit Phillis  Wheatley and Francis Williams and other “extraordinary” Black people. So the American Convention, raising the stakes, asked every free  Black person to serve as a Black exhibit. In every state, abolitionists publicly and privately drilled this theory into the minds of African  people as they entered the ranks of freedom in the 1790s and beyond.

This strategy to undermine racist ideas was actually based on a racist idea: “negative” Black behavior, said that idea, was partially or totally responsible for the existence and persistence of racist ideas. To believe that the negative ways of Black people were responsible for racist ideas was to believe that there was some truth in notions of Black inferiority. To believe that there was some truth in notions of Black inferiority was to hold racist ideas.

p 124-5

Quiet came in an instant as all the eyes on White faces became transfixed on the single dark face. Truth straightened her back and raised  herself to her full height—all six feet. She towered over nearby men. “Ain’t I a Woman? Look at me! Look at my arm!” Truth showed off her bulging muscles. “Ain’t I a Woman? I can outwork, outeat, outlast any  man! Ain’t I a Woman!” Sojourner Truth had shut down and shut up the male hecklers.

As she returned to her seat, Truth could not help but see the “streaming eyes, and hearts beating with gratitude” from the women,  the muddled daze from the men. Truth imparted a double blow in “Ain’t I a Woman”: an attack on the sexist ideas of the male disrupters, and an attack on the racist ideas of females trying to banish her. “Ain’t I a Woman” in all of my strength and power and tenderness and  intelligence. “Ain’t I a Woman” in all of my dark skin. Never again would anyone enfold more seamlessly the dual challenge of antiracist  feminism.

p. 192-3

Although White assimilationists and  philanthropists were taking over the racial discourse in the academy, they were customarily shutting out Black scholars as being too subjective and biased to study Black people. It was amazing that the same scholars and philanthropists who saw no problem with White scholars studying White people had all these biased complaints when it came to Black scholars studying Black people. But what would racist ideas be without contradictions.

p. 349

An antiracist America can only be  guaranteed if principled antiracists are in power, and then antiracist policies become the law of the land, and then antiracist ideas become the common sense of the people, and then the antiracist common sense of the people holds those antiracist leaders and policies accountable.

And that day is sure to come. No power lasts forever. There will come a time when Americans will realize that the only thing wrong with Black people is that they think something is wrong with Black people. There will come a time when racist ideas will no longer obstruct us from seeing the complete and utter abnormality of racial disparities. There will come a time when we will love humanity, when we will gain the courage to fight for an equitable society for our beloved humanity, knowing, intelligently, that when we fight for humanity, we are fighting for ourselves. There will come a time. Maybe, just maybe, that time is now.

p. 510-11

The Geography of Madness: Penis Thieves, Voodoo Death, and the Search for the Meaning of the World’s Strangest Syndromes by Frank Bures

This is a nonfiction book about culture, particularly culturally-specific diseases like koro, and why they occur in some cultures but not others. I found this interesting, although I didn’t feel like it came to much of a conclusion.

How To Be An Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi

This is a nonfiction book about anti-racism. I found it really interesting and easy to read, and it made me think a lot. I would definitely recommend it.

Favourite quotes:

The history of the racialized world is a three-way fight between assimilationists, segregationists, and antiracists. Antiracist ideas are based in the truth that racial groups are equals in all the ways they are different, assimilationist ideas are rooted in the notion that certain racial groups are culturally or behaviorally inferior, and segregationist ideas spring from a belief in genetic racial distinction and fixed hierarchy.

Ch. 2

History duels: the undeniable history of antiracist progress, the undeniable history of racist progress. Before and after the Civil War, before and after civil rights, before and after the first Black presidency, the White consciousness duels. The White body defines the American body. The White body segregates the Black body from the American body. The White body instructs the Black body to assimilate into the American body. The White body rejects the Black body assimilating into the American body—and history and consciousness duel anew.


The Black body in turn experiences the same duel. The Black body is instructed to become an American body. The American body is the White body. The Black body strives to assimilate into the American body. The American body rejects the Black body. The Black body separates from the American body. The Black body is instructed to assimilate into the American body—and history and consciousness duel anew.


But there is a way to get free. To be antiracist is to emancipate oneself from the dueling consciousness. To be antiracist is to conquer the assimilationist consciousness and the segregationist consciousness. The White body no longer presents itself as the American body; the Black body no longer strives to be the American body, knowing there is no such thing as the American body, only American bodies, racialized by power.

Ch. 2

But for all of that life-shaping power, race is a mirage, which doesn’t lessen its force. We are what we see ourselves as, whether what we see exists or not. We are what people see us as, whether what they see exists or not. What people see in themselves and others has meaning and manifests itself in ideas and actions and policies, even if what they are seeing is an illusion. Race is a mirage but one that we do well to see, while never forgetting it is a mirage, never forgetting that it’s the powerful light of racist power that makes the mirage.

Ch. 3

Race is a mirage but one that humanity has organized itself around in very real ways. Imagining away the existence of races in a racist world is as conserving and harmful as imagining away classes in a capitalistic world—it allows the ruling races and classes to keep on ruling.

Ch. 4

One of racism’s harms is the way it falls on the unexceptional Black person who is asked to be extraordinary just to survive—and, even worse, the Black screwup who faces the abyss after one error, while the White screwup is handed second chances and empathy. This shouldn’t be surprising: One of the fundamental values of racism to White people is that it makes success attainable for even unexceptional Whites, while success, even moderate success, is usually reserved for extraordinary Black people.

Ch. 8

To love capitalism is to end up loving racism. To love racism is to end up loving capitalism. The conjoined twins are two sides of the same destructive body. The idea that capitalism is merely free markets, competition, free trade, supplying and demanding, and private ownership of the means of production operating for a profit is as whimsical and ahistorical as the White-supremacist idea that calling something racist is the primary form of racism. Popular definitions of capitalism, like popular racist ideas, do not live in historical or material reality. Capitalism is essentially racist; racism is essentially capitalist. They were birthed together from the same unnatural causes, and they shall one day die together from unnatural causes. Or racial capitalism will live into another epoch of theft and rapacious inequity, especially if activists naïvely fight the conjoined twins independently, as if they are not the same.

Ch. 12
© bardofupton 2020

Writing project, September 2020

This month’s word is lunch, meaning “a light midday meal between breakfast and dinner“.

Sorry this is so late.

————–

It was an odd meal. Should’ve been straightforward, this lunch with my new partner (and by partner I mean business partner; I don’t do romance), but it was anything but. I hadn’t met them before; everything had been online or through an intermediary. I’d never even spoken to them. All I really knew about them was that they had money, they were interested in my business, and their initials: H.J.S. I thought the S might have been Smith, but I wasn’t sure.

First thing was, I could not find the place. I followed the instructions on my phone, but there was no restaurant there, no shops, just a warehouse. And it was locked. I knocked on the door, rattled the doorknob, double- and triple-checked the location on my phone. After five minutes of pointless knocking and looking up and down the street I was ready to leave.

“Can I help you, per?” It was an unexpected interruption. I had no idea where this individual had come from, but there they were, bowing and offering assistance.

“I’m looking for The Restaurant“, I told them, thinking once again what an unhelpful name that was for an eating establishment.

“Of course, per. This way.”

They gestured towards a door that had definitely not been visible a minute ago, and we entered the place. My first impression was that it was deserted. There were a few booths scattered around, but I couldn’t see anyone through the dim lighting.

“Is per meeting someone?”

“Yes, I’m meeting H.J.S.”

“Ah, of course. This way, per.”

They led me over to one of the booths.

“Has per attended one of our establishments before?”

I shook my head.

“No, first time.”

“Well, it’s very simple, per. You order your food via this tablet, and the person you’re meeting will dial in to that screen opposite you.”

I stared at them.

“Dial in?”

“Oh yes, per. This is a socially distant establishment. Only one person per booth.”

I blinked in disbelief. I’d heard of these kinds of places, of course, but I’d never expected to be in one.

“Uh, thanks.”

“If per needs any help from myself, please press the red button in the centre of the table.”

“Th… Thanks, thanks,” I stuttered, feeling extremely out of my depth.

They bowed again and drifted gracefully away. I stared after them for a moment, then began to explore the menu on the tablet. I didn’t really understand why my partner had picked this of all places, given that the point of this lunch – I thought – was for us to meet each other, but my confusion was no reason to go hungry.

I ordered something from the mid-price section, not wanting to appear either cheap or greedy. Just after my drink appeared on the table, delivered in some mysterious fashion (I swear nobody approached me), there was a ping! and an avatar appeared on the screen in front of me. I knew it was an avatar, because it was a pink-and-purple-striped cat-faced flying horse.

I must have been staring blankly because it cleared its throat and spoke to me.

“Hello? Can you hear me?”

“Yes, yes,” I stammered. “I just thought… I thought I’d be meeting you in person, or at least seeing your face.”

“Oh, no no no,” it said. “I value my privacy.”

“Uh, okay.”

“Really I just want to see you eat.”

I stared at the avatar suspiciously.

“Is this a sex thing? Because I’m not up for that.”

“No, not at all,” it interjected smoothly. “I merely enjoy watching others eat good food.”

At some point during this conversation, my food had arrived. It smelled delicious, but I was now a little wary of eating.

“Please do eat,” it said. “It would be a shame for your food to get cold.”

I stared at it, then at the food – which looked as amazing as it smelled – and sighed.

“Fine, I’ll eat,” I said, taking my first forkful and closing my eyes to better savour the wonderful blend of taste and texture.

I swallowed.

“So are we going to discuss business?” I enquired.

“No, I’m just going to watch you eat. You can learn a lot about a person from that, you know.”

“If you say so.” I shrugged, unconvinced, and continued eating.

It was possibly the most awkward meal I’ve ever had, even more so than the time my sibling accidentally invited both the people they were dating to family dinner, and it turned out neither knew of the other’s existence. That at least had been fun to watch, on a trainwreck kind of way. This was just… weird.

It was slightly compensated by it also being the best meal I’d ever eaten.

When I was done, the avatar thanked me for my time, and then disappeared. A notification appeared on the tablet to say the meal had been paid for, and I got up to leave.

The person who’d shown me in reappeared to show me out.

“Did per enjoy per’s meal?”

“Yes, thank you. It was the most delicious meal I’ve ever eaten.”

They bowed.

“I shall pass your compliments to the chef.”

“Please do.”

I stepped outside and stopped dead as they shut the door behind me. I was now in a totally different part of town, one much closer to my home. I turned around to see that the door to The Restaurant was now the door to a chicken shop. Just to be certain, I opened the door and stepped in. Yes, definitely a chicken shop.

I stepped back outside and began walking back to my flat. I wondered if I’d get another lunch invitation from H.J.S. It might be worth the weirdness to eat that food again. Maybe. Probably.

Oh, who was I kidding? I’d undergo any amount of awkwardness to eat like that again.

© bardofupton 2020