Lester Spence's "Knocking The Hustle"


I've been reading more about Lester Spence, a professor at John Hopkins University. His work is controversial. Although he is African-American, he frames political discourse in economic terms, such as pushing back against neoliberal capitalism, instead of identity, which has been the main political discourse in American politics. 

Because he is so out of the mainstream and pushes back against a lot of identity politics, his work is very contentious and incendiary. But I find a lot to like here. This passage from the link I found particularly enlightening and worth sharing: 

As Spence notes in his recently published book, Knocking the Hustle (Punctum), from the early 1970s to the present, American labor productivity has increased 80 percent while wages have stayed stagnant or declined. That we work more to earn as much as we once did—or even less—is a standard woe of the American economy in 2015. How these hip-hop celebrations of the hustler function in African-American communities, though, is what Spence finds disconcerting. Hustling is embraced as the appropriate adaptation to living in today's economy. The individual's having to learn whatever it takes to get by is a virtue in today's economy. Anybody who isn't constantly looking for ways to improve the return on his personal human capital simply isn't hustling enough. And for those people who are too lazy to maintain a level of at least subsistence hustle? Their failures and their poverty are a cul-de-sac of their own making. The black church will tell them that. Black elected officials and business elites will tell them that. Hell, Jay-Z himself will tell people that. In his song "Can't Knock the Hustle," he sneers at day-job drones who only work 9 to 5, "lunching, punching the clock."


Why Does Goldman Sachs's Have a Diversity Program? The Hidden Problems of Diversity

Why Does Goldman Sachs's Have a Diversity Program? The Hidden Problems of Diversity

I found this website yesterday as I scoured the internet. It's a link to Goldman Sachs diversity program. I think most people unquestionably will think this is a good thing. There was a time when I thought it was a good thing as well.

But I see a problem here. It's not even that subtle a problem, but I think we as a society have been trained to look past it. Let me put it this way. Let's say Goldman Sachs achieves a perfect amount of diversity that aligns correctly with the U.S. Population. This means that 14% of their employees are black, just as 14% of the U.S. Population is black. And 50% of their employees are women, just a 50% of the U.S. Population are women. And so on and so on. 

I imagine that many of you would rejoice at this news. It would show you that America had started to achieve true equality through diversity. It would be proof that we had started to take the right steps forward in this country, that we were fulfilling the words of our constitution. 

The Neoliberal Meditator

The Neoliberal Meditator

A quick blog post before I start my next session...

One of the hallmarks of neoliberal spirituality is that each person is responsible for their own lives and should not look to governments or public institutions for answers. To put it into more libertarian terms, we are responsible for ourselves. Freedom is the ideal. We don't need want governments in our health care or schools because they run them inefficiently. Privatization has the answers. 

So what happens if you're having spiritual or mental health problems in this society? Well, like all things capitalism, the answers are in the free market. Take a look at your local bookstore and go to the self-help section. Business is booming. The free market can give you a wide range of gurus from misogynist Tony Robbins to the fraud that is Deepak Chopra.  Or if you're in the mood for a more wholesome figure, Oprah's Supersoul conversations are a great place to start. Here you can learn to be your best self and can live up to the demands of the competitive marketplace. All you have to do is meditate for peace of mind to be your best, productive self.

The End Of The Two-Party System

The End Of The Two-Party System

There appears to be a genuine labor movement happening. It began in West Virginia.  It has spread to Oklahoma and Arizona. I've had the sense that something was about to explode. Brexit and the election of Trump were early warning signs. Could we be seeing a radical reimaging of society starting to begin? 


Thomas Piketty, the famed economist whose book "Capital," shot up the best sellers list in 2014, wrote a paper recently called Brahmin Left vs. Merchant Right. (Matt Taibbi in Rolling Stone wrote an excellent summary of the article in Rolling Stone). The basic assertation of the paper is that both left and right parties in American and in Europe have become parties of the elite and educated, and the concerns of the rest of the citizens are being largely ignored. 

If anyone has been paying attention, this assertation rings true. It's the reason Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders caused such a hullabaloo in the 2016 election and why Hillary Clinton and Mitt Romney were seen as so uninspiring and did not feel like they spoke for the voices of many. It's why Steve Bannon, despite his horrific racist, anti-immigrant sentiments, resonated with many with his nativism and globalist distinction. The old labels of left and right or democrat and republican increasingly mean less and less today. 

All of this has been bubbling around in my thoughts and makes sense to me. It speaks to my increasing disillusionment with liberalism as a worthwhile political philosophy. Liberalism is bankrupt, maybe just a bankrupt as conservatism. You cannot reform a broken system whose ultimate goal is profit at the expense of anyone who isn't the cultural or economic elite. 

Deepak Chopra Is Selling $350 Meditation Glasses. Deepak Chopra Is A Fraud

Deepak Chopra Is Selling $350 Meditation Glasses. Deepak Chopra Is A Fraud

I've always had an uneasy relationship with commerce and spirituality. (I even feel weird putting ads on this website, even though it's really just to try and pay for the costs of hosting this website). But I do think there is much value in mindfulness meditation and the spread of meditation centers and apps; these things probably help many in our age of anxiety and late capitalism. 

But when I see an article about  "Luxury Meditation Class" in the Flatiron District, or how everyone in Google meditates to essentially be more productive,  my first reaction is to throw up a little in my mouth and then get angry. (From that article, "Johanna Sistek, a trademark lawyer, says the emotional skills she refined in the class help her focus on her many tasks, despite a fire hose of professional demands. Like most of her colleagues, she still faces “instant deadlines” but says they no longer freak her out." This might be the worst thing I've ever read). 

Why does this upset me so? Well, Buddhism is first and foremost about ending suffering. Not just your own suffering but the suffering of all sentient beings. And a Buddhist accomplishes this by following the Eightfold Path.  Meditation is a part of the Eightfold Path, but it is only a small part of it. So much of the Eightfold Path is about morality, including Right Livelihood, which tells us that we cannot choose careers that exploit, and Right Action, which tells we must abstain from killing, sexual misconduct and creating suffering in other people directly. 

And meditating to become productive or lessen your anxiety has so little to do with any morality or ending suffering. It's about lessening your anxiety so you can continue to be productive and a good consumer. An $18 dollar meditation class or Google's meditation centers does little to address any real morality or change in the world. In fact, it's just the opposite: It just reinforces neoliberalism through and through.