June 08, 2010

Radical minds

It would be hard to think of two people more different than Henry David Thoreau and Karl Marx, but the transcendentalist and the red exile sounded alike in their critique of early capitalism.

Particularly in his early writings, the young Marx denounced the alienation of the workers and their degradation in an industrial system that reduced the individual worker to "an appendage to the machine." The hyper-individualist Henry picked up on the same theme, noting in Walden that

lo! men have become the tools of their tools.

He also noted that

the fall from the farmer to the operative as great and memorable as that from the man to the farmer

This rant about social inequality from Walden could go toe to toe with those in the Communist Manifesto:

The luxury of one class is counterbalanced by the indigence of another. On the one side is the palace, on the other are the almshouse and "silent poor." The myriads who built the pyramids to be the tombs of the Pharaohs were fed on garlic, and it may be were not decently buried themselves. The mason who finishes the cornice of the palace returns at night perchance to a hut not so good as a wigwam. It is a mistake to suppose that, in a country where the usual evidences of civilization exist, the condition of a very large body of the inhabitants may not be as degraded as that of savages. I refer to the degraded poor, not now to the degraded rich. To know this I should not need to look farther than to the shanties which everywhere border our railroads, that last improvement in civilization; where I see in my daily walks human beings living in sties, and all winter with an open door, for the sake of light, without any visible, often imaginable, wood-pile, and the forms of both old and young are permanently contracted by the long habit of shrinking from cold and misery, and the development of all their limbs and faculties is checked. It certainly is fair to look at that class by whose labor the works which distinguish this generation are accomplished. Such too, to a greater or less extent, is the condition of the operatives of every denomination in England, which is the great workhouse of the world.

I'm not sure what he thought could be done about it, given his distaste for collective action, but at least he saw it. It's also interesting that he almost accidentally gave the world a blueprint for nonviolent action in his essay on civil disobedience.

YOUR GOOD DEED FOR THE DAY would be to call your US senators and urge them to pass HB 4213 with an amendment to extend COBRA benefits and help states avoid layoffs and cuts to services by extending the federal Medicaid match for another six months. The bill would extend key provisions of the recovery act, including jobless benefits. Families USA has provided a toll free number: 888-340-6521.

WHILE WE'RE AT IT, the public supports continuing the benefits mentioned above.

MYOPIA. Economist Dean Baker takes another swipe at deficit hawks. If they win, he argues, the recession and accompanying unemployment are likely to linger.

SPIDER GIRL FIGHTS can be deadly.


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