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The Power of Disposable Time

By Josh Liveright / filmsforaction.org
Apr 26, 2020
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The Power of Disposable Time

In a recent article called “Coronavirus Requires a Collective Response” by professor David Harvey, I was struck by the timeliness of his argument. Harvey quoted Karl Marx a bunch but I’m going to simply paraphrase. Marx claimed that any major project to change the world will first require a transformation of the self, something I think about all the time in my healing practice. This blew apart one of my preconceived notions about Marxist thought which is that one must only think in the framework of the collective. However, the main thrust of Harvey's essay is how mobilizing through collective action will achieve individual liberty. 

Marx claims, among many other things, that the wealth of a society is measured, in part, on how much disposable free time we have. What’s more desirable, a six-hour work day or a twelve-hour work day? In a six-hour work day we have ample time to create, to think, to feel, to love, to be. If our needs are met by the machine of capital more efficiently and we can limit our contribution to it, then we have more time to do the things we want to do. Problem is, the managers of the machine have tilted the balance of power and wealth distribution dramatically over the past forty years creating an uber class struggle. Workers have essentially been relegated to a mere utility for the machine and forced, in many cases, to be more productive than perhaps necessary. This has left little room for creativity, for life, as we, the cogs, are expending most of our time and energy producing, earning less than satisfactory wages, so the capital class can enjoy the fruits of our labor in the form of excess. And since the capital class owns all the patents, the intellectual property rights and the copyrights, the system severely limits us, the working class, to pursue our own modes of production. For a hot minute the gig economy may have felt like a loophole but that was quickly usurped by the capital class to benefit them even further.

We’re now in a unique situation where many of us have access to disposable time. We’re home with our kids, our animals, cooking more, eating together, reading, writing, baking, creating things, playing and maybe most importantly learning to be with ourselves with the full spectrum of what that entails. However, turns out that upwards to 30 million people have lost jobs, lost health insurance and lost savings, if there had been any to lose to begin with. We are a citizenry who have been good neoliberal subjects of the corporate state who now find ourselves in a quandary and realize there’s something wrong with the bigger picture. We are used to blaming ourselves, our parents, or God almighty for our problems but now the sky has parted and the big fingers are pointing to the obvious source of this nagging something, capitalism. Yet is it really that easy? Who created capitalism? Some all-powerful sovereign, the dark forces of the Illuminati? No, this system of production was spawned in the human brain. That’s a hard pill to swallow for those of us who feel that pointing fingers is the path to salvation but what if we could reverse where power lives? What if we suddenly embraced our individual and collective power instead of relinquishing it dutifully to the corporate capital machine? In this moment, it certainly seems like we have a unique opportunity to see more clearly how the current system is failing us.

Prior to this crisis, many of the 30 million people now unemployed were likely working unfulfilling jobs, employed by companies where a handful of people were calling the shots and we weren’t one of them. So few of us were NOT allotted much of that freedom, that disposable time to do what we wanted because it just wasn’t feasible mostly due to basic survival. We were tired, stressed and often depressed. Most of the people I've treated in my practice have dealt with anxiety, sometimes severe, which has felt epidemic in proportion. Forty percent of us were living paycheck to paycheck and many of us worked more than one job to feed our families. The neoliberal American dream? Why wouldn’t we want to pursue mass emancipation from the alienating work that deprives us of our simple pleasures? This is a moment to consider a different relationship to life, made possible through an awareness of the problem, then a clear intention to shift the problem which opens us to the path of individual tranformation. From there, it may require collective organization and action to create a new society that works for all people. If we can cope with lock-down, quarantine and sheltering in, why not take on the machine that’s literally killing us and the biosphere at the same time? Create something radically different? What’s keeping us from taking action? Which way is the wind blowing here? The corporate state will do anything it can to get us to swallow the pill called the status quo so it can continue devouring and consuming without quarter. Get ready for the gaslighting campaign, the propaganda that’s surely coming like a tsunami. But what this also means is that we have a certain amount of power that can be realized in this moment. They desperately need us, the cogs, the utilities, to believe we are essential to keep the machine whirring along in all its glory. They need us to believe they know what’s best for us. Do we want to return to this servant/master relationship? We now have a certain leverage that we haven’t experienced in our lifetimes. The imbalance of power is shifting and it may be ours for the taking if we decide enough is enough.

Instead of regarding this moment as purely an emergency situation, a crisis, we can reframe it as an opportunity. Already we’re seeing compassion playing out. We’re feeding people, housing people, treating the sick, ringing bells and banging pots at 7pm each evening. We’re taking care of each other in so many creative ways. We’re not turning as much to the state for leadership, we’re taking charge of our destiny by sewing masks, finding new and creative ways to connect, figuring out how to work through this alone and together. And yes, even the machine is taking our lead to a certain extent by identifying what’s important, perhaps to appease us, but perhaps because of our strength in numbers. What if it’s possible that beyond this pandemic, this emergency, our needs can be taken care of through the same kind of individual and collective action? What if we realized we only need to work a six-hour day which would substantially lower our stress level? Have you noticed how loudly the birds are singing, enjoying a dramatic reduction of air pollution? You can sense an emergence of their freedom during this pause. It starts with emancipation which gives us the opportunity to open our eyes, with intention, to what is truly possible.

Let me describe what I think are truisms and you don’t have to agree but I invite you to go along with me for a moment. So, if all language is constructed and we therefore create all our stories, then doesn’t it follow that reality is malleable? If we really sit down and think about it, when we experience something and then create a story about that experience, that’s a kind of power realized. It’s fundamental emancipation. This is not a utopian pipedream. Dr. Victor Frankl experienced a similar epiphany while imprisoned in concentration camps during World War II and wrote about it in his iconic work, "Man's Search for Meaning". The point is, we can detach our umbilical cord to the machine and then welcome back our passions, our joys, our interests, our innate skills – NOT in service to the machine but in honor of the unique individuals we truly are. We can then shift the learned patterns in our brains, the stories that have stripped us of our power, and open up pathways to collective action to fundamentally change how we move through the world. Perhaps it’s with Universal Basic Income. Perhaps it’s by drastically reducing consumption. Perhaps it by slowing down and giving ourselves and the natural world a break. We have been gaslit and propagandized for so long about how we’re supposed to live, it may feel foreign to us, at first, but perhaps we will ultimately sing loudly, like the birds, celebrating newfound freedom. This pause we’re experiencing may be our fork in the road. There are so many unknowns, but we may be more fortunate than we realize.

I admit I’ve had dark thoughts in the past few weeks. And I’ve heard from friends who are struggling. Neighbors have died. My heart often feels like it’s bursting. And even though I am grateful for having a roof over my head, food in the fridge and a pot to piss in, this is not the case for so many others. When you find yourself frustrated there are definitely people out there feeling more. When you find yourself grieving, grieve for all of it. When you find yourself falling in, maybe look deeper, yes at where you are, but also at the whole world. As for the dread, give it a hearty hello and thank it for sending whatever message it needs to send.

Power is a funny word. In looking up its etymology I discovered it’s derived from the French word povoir meaning “to be able”, evolving into “ability to act or do”, and then strength, vigor, might, mastery, lordship and dominion. What I think we are all realizing through this Novel Coronavirus Pandemic – literally translated as “a new coronation for all” by Charles Eisenstein in his brilliant article “The Coronation” – is our own mental sovereignty. We have been slaves to capital for so long, the idea that we can embrace our own sovereignty is something to consider while making use of our disposable free time.

I end with this offering, a poem that sang to me and burst my heart open at the seams. Aja Monet's voice sounds like freedom to me. Perhaps I wouldn’t have discovered her if life hadn’t slowed way down. For that I am grateful.

Untitled Poem by Aja Monet
i started 2020 jumping seven waves
for Yemaya on an Ipanema beach
four flowers hand-dipped in prayer
they did not survive the undertow
i was the whole firework show
while my love closed his eyes
impatient with my joy,
a hunger for more than fighting
please, can we be meaningless now
and leave America where it’s at?
the whole village in my chest is tired of weeping, lets organize the heart, community.
im toothing the picket signs out of my poems as we speak.
maybe im not a good revolutionary,
i am not guided by love, i want to be it.
i want to be drenched.
i want to sweat and stink of love.
i want to lay and not know where
the day begins or ends.
to be held in my own arms, longer
than a two week vacation.
i want to be a poem that never works,
that does not resonate with anyone.
to be a poem you cannot share
so alive it is so.
i sashayed into the new year iboga heckling my veins
set on being unafraid and triggerless
all revelation and rested shoulders.
i caught a fever in Bahia or an ancestor told me, take a seat.
write, it is time to write. catch these poems before you whine about how
we did not answer.
This year was a dedication to florida water. the cleansing.
little did i know the whole world would be rinsing too.
everyone is a running faucet,
blood on their hands.
cant face ourselves in one another.
The vision came to me in Egypt and there was nowhere for a lie to hide.
i saw God escape religion like a breeze
every sunset a new download
what felt like 50 hour days
or a conversation with a metallic scarub that did not make sense until it did.
i could see the very beginning and the end.
it wasnt so much that it was a big bang more like a sneeze
the earth shaking us off like a bad cold.
so very entitled, convinced our lives are worth something more than now.
None of us are too good to suffer.
Miami taught me the art of killing
a mosquito
The other day i planted a bed of healing herbs. my love brought me two butterflies he found on his walk broken wings hanging from his fingertips,
they sat btwn the rosemary and thyme, incapable of flying
all flutter and might
to love.
fear is a spirit i will not let in.
cradling a metaphor
the year is not yet over

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