Look- I know that this one might be coming out of nowhere. Even I feel a little nervous about putting the T word, which we all agreed should only be ghost pronounced in polite company until 2028, and Mass Production, which the whole of economics will chase you down the street with flags to tell you how good it is, in a cause and effect relationship.
However, as a maker of healing pants, I feel it my duty to try and get to the bottom of the great global north malaise. For a culture that has supposedly subjugated scarcity with industrialisation and enjoys creating museum exhibits about living on Mars soon, we really seem to be a lot more miserable and a lot more miserly than our ancestors might have hoped. A miriad of solutions exist to the climate predicament, from the charmingly simple economic restructuring, to the technocrazed gas bombs. We should have sorted this by now. WE ARE ADVANCED.
But instead we continue on the ultimate lemming mission. Buying and buying and buying totally suicidal amounts of gear, that eclipse every advancement in sustainable production with a curve of consumption that continues to reach for the stars; Perhaps there’s something deeper going on. Perhaps an endless conveyor belt of things that are impressively the same, isn’t actually proof of being totally, completely, brilliant. Maybe, its a symbol of our misunderstanding of the world, and holds one of the keys to sorting this mess out.
The inception of Mass Production was undoubtedly traumatic.
Its your classic, history is written by the victors situation; some capitalists made everyone miserable, and earnt a shit tonne of profit, some of which they devoted to telling people that it wasn’t them who made everyone miserable.
Now look, I’m obviously not in the majority of historians (I’m actually not allowed in the historians club at all), when I tell you that the peasants were about 1 trillion times more happy making stuff themselves, than buying things in a shop. But, honestly, that is at least incredibly likely to be true.* Have you ever knitted something? Which do you prefer- knitting something and either keeping or selling it, or being forced to make your children crawl underneath a moving freight trainesque piece of machinery for a couple of years so you can buy something that a robot knitted (and is not your favourite colour)?
There’s a risk with that analogy in that not many people nowadays have knitted something and know how great it is (I make things for my real job, so this is pure bias talking here) and not many people have that many children nowadays and know that they make you feel guilty about even the slightest inconvenience.
Here’s another one just in case-
Do you prefer playing a computer game, or watching a computer play its own computer game (for a year) so that (at the end of the year) the computer will give you a medium high score?
I’m (attempting to) making multiple points here-
Humans like doing stuff for themselves… EVEN IF IT IS HARD. We like learning things, and doing better next time, and seeing how much we’ve improved, and having something to show for it. We don’t necessarily like doing the same stuff, but some people stopping other people doing the stuff that they like doing is mean. Traumatic even. And that’s what the capitalists (circa industrial revolution) were about- they reaaaaally liked doing stuff like organising and being in charge and making loads of money and they decided to deliberately prevent other people from spinning wool or weaving.
The lives of the peasants didn’t immediately go from knitting your own jumper to getting an iced latte and buying a knock off Ralph Lauren cashmere from TK Maxx (TBH knitting is just a metaphor, knitted jumpers weren’t the fashion back then, and the peasants made very complex and technical clothing that is difficult for our tiny 21st century brains to imagine). After the capitalists invented robots that wielded knitting needles (again thats a metaphor), the peasants got REALLY, INCREDIBLY poor. Like, literally sell your own children poor. And the horrible truth is, that mass production is still making metaphorical jumper knitters REALLY INCREDIBLY poor, in most of the world, with no intention of redeeming them with iced lattes and TK maxxs before we all die of climate change.
Mass Production just gives you back stuff that you could have made yourself, or swapped with someone, and TBH the peasants were all over that and firmly set out their boundaries; i.e. that they didn’t in fact want to watch a computer playing the computer game. But those dang, capitalists were one step ahead of them. If you’ll revisit the computer game analogy with me- lets say you prefer option a) and would like to carry on playing the computer game yourself, well the capitalist turns around and says- that in fact it’s his computer, and he was only lennnnnnnding it to you and now he wants it back so you’ll have to watch the computer playing it anyway, (except for this analogy to work imagine that computers just occur naturally in the landscape and you can just find one and take it home). Which was known as ‘The Enclosure of the Commons’, the retracting of land rights, or the blatant imperialist take over of Britain, that prevented the peasants from peacefully knitting their jumpers and having a few home brews at the end of a hard weeks super fun knitting.
Generational Trauma with a dram of Personal Trauma to wash it down.
Now look. I’m not a professor of Generational Trauma, but I was a kid once, and once one of my siblings wanted something that they BLATANTLY did not deserve, and my parent said I had to give it to them by invoking the ultimate repudiation ‘LIFES NOT FAIR’ and I still have a tiny bit of trauma from realising, in that painful moment, that life is not fair.
If that thing, that gotten taken away, had been the actual land that I grazed my fave cow on, (and thus provided me and my beloveds with delicious sustenance)… well… that would be traumatic. And it turns out ‘LIFE’S NOT FAIR’ is not a scientific fact like Einstein or something, it was invented by bullies when they did some land enclosing, and forced you to work in a factory (and your children to join a gang of choral pickpockets). And the very fact that the phrase LIFES NOT FAIR, has become part of child rearing vernacular is probably a symptom of Generational Trauma.
And all of this for the ability to mass produce. ‘The ends justify the means’- you cry. ‘Look how much stuff we can make, thanks to the sacrifice of those peasants, who eventually gave up their knitting needles and knuckled down to starving and watching computers having all the fun.’
Way Too Much Stuff
Have you actually looked at how much stuff we make? Have you though? Have you really looked at one of those mountains of clothes that just one street in one town throws away, barely worn, in one year. Do you know whats bigger than that mountain? The mountain of clothes that Burberry made and never even sold in one year. Do you know whats bigger than that? -the mountain of plastic hangers that ‘insert a brand that mass produces’ uses JUST TO TRANSPORT CLOTHES BETWEEN FACTORIES AND WAREHOUSES, every year. (Do you know whats bigger than that? the literal mountain that ‘insert distant relative of the royal family’ bought with the money they got from using slaves to farm cotton). Looking at any one of those mountains makes me want to gouge my own eyes out with a handwhittled spoon, and sacrifice them to a grain of pure sand.
We’re are literally living out the folk story where the magical pot makes porridge and then everyone drowns in porridge because the person who knows the magic words that turn the magic porridge off, well he died. (I’m tempted to put a Karl Marx joke in here, LOL, but I’m an anarcho-syndicalist). “Bankruptcy, Bankruptcy, Bankruptcy”. In a debt culture you can’t turn off the porridge pot, without going bust, and as for your fall back plan of jumping off the hamster wheel and just growing your own vegetables and foraging your own fire twigs… see above under ‘Enclosure of the Commons’.
And like, that’s just the traumatic history, the trauma of being born without the right to eat, the trauma of buying and selling people to grow enough cotton to feed a minotaur of a cotton spinner that can spin cotton 24 hours a day, the trauma of buying that minotaur on credit with compound interest, the trauma of bullies taking all your stuff, and taking your time, and taking your children’s time and not even caring that you’re actually damn good at knitting.
There’s the trauma of earning your £8 an hour (which was not an easy amount of hourly money to prize from the hands of our good old friends the capitalists TBF), and going down that high street shop, and picking out a pair of jeans that are not your favourite colour, but they’re vogue’s favourite colour so maybe you like them too, and putting them on your perfect bum (that grew all on its own from two cells using codes that it made up itself in the middle of a star millenias ago)- and your perfect bum doesn’t fit in those jeans, even though your thighs do and your waist does. And now you’re being forced to question if your bum actually is perfect (stardust and millenias and the improbability of amino acids forming genetic material aside).
When the reality is- those jeans don’t fit anyone, they fit a made up picture on a computer, and then a robot made probably 300 of them, despite them not fitting anyone (except in a few random examples) especially for them to end up, discarded after two uncomfortable wears, in an embarrassing mountain of clothes next to a disgusted George Monbiot. I don’t want to be a total leftist floozy over here (particularly as I am an anarcho-syndicalist) but that experience, over and over again- the overwhelming evidence that despite it all- all the boredom, and the disenfranchisement, and the vulnerability to shocks in the housing market, despite all of that, those jeans aren’t for you. That is rubbing salt in a centuries old wound.
One Size To Fit Them All (after they replace us with robots)
Mass Production doesn’t even grant you a pair of jeans that fit (its not its fault, it just literally can’t because it has to make everything the same, and everyone isn’t the same). And yet, those magazines and billboards and philosophers and historians (#notallphilosophersandhistorians) will gaslight you to kingdom come. They’ll insist that you are lucky that you don’t have to knit a jumper, in your favourite colour, to the measurements of your own unique and perfect body. (Or as a gift for a favourite Aunt in exchange for a beautiful chair that is also your favourite colour and fits your delectable ass just spot-oningly). Whilst you’re looking in bewilderment at your ass, marketers are already drinking in that sadness, like crazed self-esteem vampires (Selfestampires), repackaging it and selling it back to you as another pair of jeans, or a diet, ideally both. LOOLLLLOLLLLOLLLLLMFAO ALL. THE. WAY. TO. THE. BANK.
Lucky you that you don’t have to knit your own jumper. Luckily you don’t have time to anyway.
*(P.S Peasants didn’t spend a lot of time writing their feelings down, but they did spend a lot of time fighting to protect their way of life… )