The Pathfinders Column from the August 2016 issue of the Socialist Standard
Everybody knows that computers don't crash like cars or aeroplanes, with explosions and flying debris, so when we say that a computer has 'crashed' it generally means that, due to several competing programs trying to use the same resources at the same time, the computer has got itself tied into an endless loop, trying to perform the same task over and over again, until infinity.
It's not only computers that can get into this state. Capitalism has also never crashed the way cars or aeroplanes crash, in a process NASA once described as 'rapid spontaneous disassembly'. Indeed despite the predictions of some die-hard radical hopefuls it's hard to imagine how it ever could go down like the proverbial lead zeppelin, unless a collective amnesia also descended on people at the same moment in which they simply forgot that they had bank accounts, mortgages, title deeds, rent arrears, gas bills and jobs. Capitalism can't crash because it is not a thing, it is a set of agreements, customs and relationships. It will only crash when the concept of private ownership crashes, when the idea of selling on markets crashes, when its entire underpinning ideology crashes. That's our job.
But it can 'hang' on a regular basis, just like a computer, when for long periods it seems to do nothing at all. It doesn't give us the blue screen of death, it just leaves us swearing and cursing at a stationary progress bar that ought to be moving but isn't. These endless repetitive cycles are what mesmerise us from day to day until we start to hallucinate small change where there isn't any.
You develop a sense of déjà vu the moment fresh news items begin to look like old ones, the way new pop songs sound like old ones, the way new promises smell like old ones. You acquire a sense of what you call 'realism' but other people call cynicism. You develop a sardonic look when anybody mentions politics. The looping sameness of it all, round and round again, is enough to drive you mad. That's why they call it loopy.
The TV news is like a constant re-run of itself. There have now been so many mass shootings in America that journalists surely must have encoded their aftermath think-pieces into keyboard shortcuts. Ctrl-Shift-F9 to recycle the gun debate. Alt-Shift-Ins to spool out the catalogue of previous shootings. Mail-merge to shunt out the details, filling in variable fields with shooter name, death toll and quotes from world leaders.
Perhaps the business of capitalism actually has crashed and is now in a permanent loop. We can only tinker obsessively with cosmetic on-screen eye-candy but underneath the machinery has all stopped, forcing us to live out an endless Groundhog Day where we wake up in the morning confused and retire to bed disappointed.
Humans are supposed to be good at learning from experience. What are Americans going to learn from the experience of Barack Obama, a man generally regarded as a decent person and by and large a decent president, insofar as a capitalist leader can ever be called such? Could the 'most powerful man in the world' stop white cops shooting defenceless black men? Apparently not. Could he change gun laws to stop the psychos running amok? Apparently not. What about urban poverty? Forget it. Will even his health-care reforms survive the next Republican incumbent in the White House? Probably not. Yet he was treated almost like the Messiah eight years ago when he was first elected. Will Americans learn from this that capitalist leaders, even relatively benevolent ones, can't do anything for them, that it's not worth voting for them, and that the only solution is radical collective action among themselves? No, because they remain mesmerised by the stationary progress bar, afraid to blink in case they miss something. Perhaps they'll vote for Clinton and more non-movement, or perhaps they'll vote for the cowboy Trump, because movement backwards is at least movement.
Socialists have always said that capitalism won't crash of its own accord, it has to be brought down by collective effort. But perhaps we were using the wrong sense of the word 'crash'. In this less dramatic but far more bleak sense, perhaps we can say that capitalism certainly has crashed, and just needs to be turned off. That progress bar is never going to move, no matter how long you stare at it, because it isn't a bar at all, it's a barrier.
Wag Your Jiggly
If you haven't discovered the magic of Pokemon Go yet, there's really no help for you, because it's taking the developed world by storm. Every person under (usually) the age of 30 is mad for the new online game where you walk around your home town looking for digital creatures and their exotic eggs, scoring points as you go. It's bigger than Twitter, it's bigger than Brexit on Referendum day, hell it's even bigger than pornography according to Google (BBC Online, 18 July). And what is so killer about this killer app, you might ask? Well, it's the fact that, unlike most other digital games you can play on your phone, this one actually makes you WALK AROUND A BIT. In fact it's being claimed that a man playing every day for a week would burn up the equivalent of SEVEN SMALL CHOCOLATE DOUGHNUTS!!!!
You might, in your cynical socialist way, decide to save yourself the trouble by not eating seven small chocolate doughnuts in the first place, but then you would never have the pleasure of learning the difference between a Psyduck, a Poliwag or a Jigglypuff (and you have to walk at least two kilometres to find one of those). Mind you, we know from one player that there's nothing to stop you driving between locations, if you've a mind to cheat. Still, it's good to know humans can show real genius, at least when it comes to inventing new ways to waste their own time. Let's vote Poliwag for President, he'd fit right in!