Saturday, January 27, 2007

U who?

Bono, visionary saint or greedy hypocrite who makes demands on governments to spend in particular ways the taxes that he himself avoids?

You decide.


Yesterday, someone was saying to me, people should work. They shouldn't just get something for nothing. He was of course talking about the dole.

So I said, but Paris Hilton doesn't work. She won't ever do a day of it. David Beckham mostly doesn't work. He plays football. I'd do it too if someone would pay me for it! Bono doesn't work. Prancing around singing is not work.

What the guy meant -- what these people always mean -- is that the poor should work. The fortunate do not have to and that is okay. We believe -- I mean the big We not the royal We -- that it is okay to expect the poorest to work hardest. When one says, it is terrible that we use third-world workers in maquiladoras, getting a dollar a day to make our clothes, etc, people don't say, yes, we should be prepared to pay more so that they get more. No, they say, well, it's better than having no work. What they mean, of course, is better for them. Were we in their shoes, we might think differently.

Bono is not on the whole a bad man. He's much lauded because hypocrisy is so common that we barely recognise it. The problem with Bono is that he legitimates other hypocrites: the leaders whom he is photographed with. Like him, they can pretend to be doing something just by being seen. They don't have actually to change a thing because the perception is created that they care simply by meeting Bono. Oh, people think, he must care because he gave an audience to a mere rock star. That's how seriously he takes it. It's almost as though he would meet you or me, were we to demand that he do something about Africa. (This is not the place to discuss Bono's prescriptions for Africa, which are poorly considered.) All politicians care about so far as we are concerned is our perception. Our thinking that they are fixing something is vastly more important than, you know, actually fixing it. I don't claim the same of Bono (after all, he's not trying to get elected; although it can't hurt his record sales to a/ be seen as a crusader on issues that vaguely trouble his likely customers and b/ be seen on TV and in papers alongside iconic political figures); I'm sure he's sincere about his concern.

In any case, Bono wastes his platform because he does not want to alienate the leaders and have them stop welcoming him. He is not so much the rebel now that he is a celebrity. Because the message he should be delivering to world leaders is not "double the paltry amounts you give to the third world" but "cease pursuing policies that make it necessary to give money to the third world" and "cease empowering the bad guys at the expense of the people that I want you to help". Fat chance though. Bono isn't in it not to win it. Ask for more aid and if it comes, you have succeeded. Ask for real change and it will never come, and you are doomed to failure, however glorious.

Me, I prefer the dream. I've never understood those who want to move by inches. I prefer the great leap forward and consensus be damned. I'm more impressed by the Russian Revolution than the parliamentary committee; by Marx or Rawls than by the many "thinkers" who tinker with political systems but don't dare to think big.


At 12:17 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bono is a cunt end of story.
But people that are out of work and on the dole could do a few hours of community or charity work each week.

At 12:21 pm, Blogger Dr Zen said...

Why should they? Maybe Bono should be forced to paint Granny's fences or not allowed to put on shows in the UK?

At 12:52 pm, Blogger Sour Grapes said...

Nitpicky of me, but Bono's work or Beckham's work is much more difficult than you suggest, and also more difficult than Paris Hiltonseses.

I don't know if this is your position, but I object strongly to the idea that people born poor must work, while people born rich need not. Bono and Becks get their money for doing stuff, as do I. Like me, they're overpaid for what they do, by a few orders of magnitude. I put some of it back but not so as I'd bring myself back down to the level I had attained at birth. Let's not be silly.

I imagine B&B feel the same. I'd draw a further distinction here, now, by pointing out that David has never tried to impose his views on how you or I spend our money, while taking especial care over how he spends his own. I see nothing hypocritical in Becks' position. Whereas Bono could probably get a chair in the subject.

At 12:59 pm, Blogger Dr Zen said...

My position is better characterised as suggesting that it's wrong to have the idea that those who are poor and do not have talents that are overvalued in our society must work hard, and that hard work is a virtue for them. If you think training a couple of mornings a week and playing a game on a Sunday is hard work, well, I can only wish to be so hard worked myself.

At 1:01 pm, Blogger Dr Zen said...

What I do suggest, rather than that you should return to the level you attained at birth, is that you might consider that a world structured on Rawlsian lines of fairness might work. Rawls did not deny people the fruits of labour in a just world; he denied them the fruits of injustice that was structurally built in.

At 8:39 am, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nitpicky of me, but Bono's work is much more difficult than you suggest

Four fucking years and and many millions of pounds to create an Album! Any one could do that. U2 have a basic sound just like Satus Quo. Four fucking years and and many millions of pounds. Bollocks.

At 8:42 am, Blogger Dr Zen said...

My thoughts exactly. They don't do very much work. Too busy counting the dollars. If I was as unproductive as they are, I'd be eating grass.

At 9:51 am, Blogger Don said...

Who believes the poor should work hard, just because they're poor? That's ridiculous. More accurate to say the poor are in a position wherein hard work is the only way to become not poor. Unlike the idle rich (or us relatively idle middle class), they will starve if they don't bust their ass. So they do.

I might say the poor "should" work hard if we are assuming they don't want, or don't want their children, to be poor. But I would never say they "should" in that they shall be compelled. That would be slavery. They all have a choice of sorts (ideally - I know there is compulsive labor all over the place). The sad truth of course is that it takes gathering cast-off plastics for twelve hours a day to attain the same rewards you and I get for half an hour of effort, because of their local economy. But thanks to capitalists who are always looking for cheaper labor, better work comes around, the local economy rises, and lo! we are now sending work to India because China is starting to cost more, a process that's good for both China and India. Any actualization of a belief that the poor should get good rewards for little or no work will create a population of idle humans in the millions, demanding their bread and circuses. The idle rich are only a few by comparison, who do little harm, and will exist in one form or another no matter what you try to do about it anyway.

I know you just want everyone to have what they need. But unless you take existing wealth away with great violence from those who have it, the only way to get there is by gradual increases in those places where the increases are being earned. In time, all humans will have the basics. The remaining disparity of wealth will be a reflection of the enormous wealth that exists by that time (just as our global wealth is unimaginably huge by the standards of say two hundred years back).

At 9:56 am, Blogger Dr Zen said...

"But I would never say they "should" in that they shall be compelled. That would be slavery."

Yes, and the cool thing is we don't need whips. And fuck off with your "global wealth is unimaginably huge". It's no consolation to peasants who live and die on a dollar a day that you have a big house and a nice car.

At 10:02 am, Blogger Dr Zen said...

And learn some fucking economics before you comment here again on this issue. You're clueless. Western capitalists have driven wages *down* not up. What happens is that ever more desperate people work for *less*, not that the previously desperate suddenly start getting choosy and want more wages.

And dude, we won't all get our share, because you fat cunts have sucked the world dry and won't stop. We can't all have a world like yours: there'd be no world to live on.

At 10:11 am, Anonymous efflux said...

"I'm more impressed by the Russian Revolution"

Which one? The Great October Revolution?

At 10:13 am, Blogger Dr Zen said...

Yes, of course. No negotiation with the slavemasters. Just shooting them. Worked a treat.

Russia's problem was and remains that it's Russia, not that it was Communist (or whatever).

At 6:45 pm, Blogger Don said...

Your violence creates more problems than it immediately solves. It's no credit to you that you would shoot the people who don't fit into your idealized model.

Of course capitalists drive wages down. They do that if they can, and by going international they widen the pool of laborers. But look at the longer term result. Your alternative would be, what, that China and India remain rural backwaters. In some ways they're better off that way but that's their decision, not yours.

Global wealth is huge. My so-called house and car have nothing to do with it. Medical care is more available than ever, and knowledge of and access to decent nutrition, transportation, etc. The changes are very irregular and subject to major backsliding, but that peasant you mentioned has more opprtunity now than his grandfather did, and his grandson will have more yet. Choose your locale and adjust the timeline accordingly.

At 6:55 pm, Blogger Dr Zen said...

You are simply wrong about violence. Sometimes it's what's needed. Russia needed fixing. So did Hitler. Anyway, you're all for violence when some dark guys who are hogging the oil are on the receiving end.

I don't even understand your bullshit about China and India. Like I say, read some fucking economics before commenting here because next time you say something that stupid, you're going to the cleaners. Widen the pool of labourers! You twat. Why is it better to have a thousand guys on a dollar than ten on a hundred? It's exactly my point that that is a Very Bad Thing.

Dude, your final paragraph is just such fucking nonsense that I wish you were present so that I could slap you for it. The enormous wealth of this world has been squandered on idiots like you while in places that I have seen, and you presumably have not, children die of diarrhoea. Diarrhoea, you hear!

And yeah, decent nutrition. What fucking planet are you living on, man? The world is split between the few who eat far too much of the wrong thing and the many who can't get enough of the right thing. Wake up and we'll make a liberal out of you yet, son.

At 6:29 am, Anonymous efflux said...


The most glaring problem with you position on the sheer enormity of Global Wealth compensating for disparity of distribution is that regardless of how large the coefficients are (and I don't think the base is as high as you imagine) with any significant disparity between the rich and poor, the poor are invariable divested of power. This divestment occurs at every level. Their tragedy runs from the more mundane (where a group is excluded from a profession or artistry because they cannot obtain an education or are too busy working for their very much daily bread) to the humanitarian (where a group is preyed upon -- read exterminated -- because they do not have the means to protect themselves).

Should we even be surprised that this is the case? There is the old adage, after all: money is power.

What is power, if not powerful? What are the relatively weak if not powerless in the face of the mighty? There's no magic "standard of living" that as long as everybody meets that standard they will live with dignity if for nothing else because there are always those who are hell-bent on taking away exactly that.

At 6:03 pm, Blogger Don said...


You are basically saying that there will be no justice until there is universal economic equality. I agree that equality would bring justice. The trouble is in getting there. Zen would shoot people. You would do ... what? In the past, many have claimed to be aiming for that equality, only to shoot people, gain power and reveal themselves to be grubbing thugs every bit as odious as the capitalists and others that they replaced. My assertion is that for all the good it can do, socialism ultimately fails from being in denial of the fundamentally self-interested nature of each human being. Capitalism can fail just as miserably (and has, often) but as both ideologies learn from one another, an understanding is evolving* that will lead eventually to a time when despite inequality of power, all humans have medical care and enough to eat and thus a real chance (which is exactly what everyone has a right to) at achieving their own dreams. To reiterate, under socialist thought, achieving your own dreams is denied you if the State deems someone else's needs more important. It's a dead end, ultimately.

* - For ex, unlike in the past, modern capitalists would prefer a world of middle-class consumers over a world half of wealthy consumers and half of impoverished non-consumers. Your dream of equality essentially means everyone is middle-class (thus rendering class moot). Again, though perhaps poorly explained, my view offers the path to getting there.

At 6:11 pm, Blogger Dr Zen said...

You will never be able to think about economics or politics in a sensible way if you cannot get past thinking in polar terms.

btw, you are entirely wrong about what capitalists prefer. Try thinking. You consider what capitalists want only in terms of the value to them of their outputs, but in fact most capitalists concentrate on inputs (in other words, capitalists are more interested in increasing profits by keeping costs down than by raising prices, although they will do the latter where they can). This is a predictable outcome of a free market.


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