What radicalized you? How did you first become critical of capitalism?
I think it started with the Bible, which I read through as a kid because my friends and relatives argued so much about it and I wanted to understand the whole thing myself. So I took to heart Leviticus 19:18, “you shall love your neighbor as yourself,” and Leviticus 19:16, “you shall not profit from your neighbor’s blood,” and also the parts in Matthew 25 about how what we do to hungry people and prisoners and outsiders is what we do to God. And I grew up with a sense that those commands had a structural as well as a personal meaning, that they required us to change things in society that were unfair. (Watching, and then reading, Les Misérables helped with that.)
I was an unschooled kid, and as a young teen I decided to study economics before I had my own money to manage. I read some theory, but I really wanted to understand where the money I spent went, and where the stuff I used came from. I learned too much for comfort about where the stuff came from, and how the workers who made it were treated, and what happened to the places where resources were extracted and wastes were dumped. I realized that I was profiting from my neighbors’ blood. That led first to despair and then to thinking about how to change that situation—both by structural activism and by consuming less and producing and sharing more.
I got some inspiration for that from reading the Journal of John Woolman, (http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/37311). Woolman was an 18th-century Quaker who realized that slavery was abhorrent and also that it was the basis of the US economy, North and South. He spent his life both figuring out how to live in ways that didn’t require slave labor and agitating—peaceably, civilly, incessantly, urgently—against slavery, and managed by the end of his life to bring the rest of the Quakers along with him.
What’s your favorite anti-capitalist book or film?
Besides those I mentioned answering the last question?
For setting out the problem, and for suggesting pacifist/communitarian/agrarian solutions… Helena Norberg-Hodges’ Ancient Futures: Learning from Ladakh, describing a solidarity-based culture and economy being taken over by the colonizers’ market economy, and about a counter-development initiative trying to reclaim solidarity amidst growth and change. Leo Tolstoy’s What Shall We Do? (https://librivox.org/what-shall-we-do-by-leo-tolstoy/) which is excellent except for his views on women. (Skip Chapter 40, the last chapter, and you’ll find it a better book.) Also pretty much anything written by Dorothy Day and Wendell Berry.
Everyone has a ridiculous work story. What’s yours?
I don’t have the usual kind, since I’ve spent my adult life (that is, the last twenty years) on a Catholic Worker farm doing subsistence and outreach work, getting by on a mix of subsistence labor and donations, and making decisions collaboratively with the other members of my tiny community. That has certainly led to various ridiculous episodes involving escaped cattle (always far down the road and across various streams and muddy ditches before we knew they were out), awkward translation errors (I was trying to explain why we were taking one of the goats away in the van, and I knew better than to attempt to find a clearly polite word for “breeding” but I failed to realize how many profoundly offensive meanings the Spanish word I knew for “male goat” had; also, it is unfortunate that “hungry” and “angry” sound so similar in English, though quite different in Spanish), starkly incompatible visitors (like the Buddhist peace marcher and the Republican Christian from the soup kitchen) bravely attempting polite conversation, and well-meaning folks from insurance offices, the IRs, etc. trying and failing to find a neat category in which to put us…
What inspired your story for ProleSCARYet?
The surreal part came from a nightmare I had in my teens. One part of Ed’s story came from childhood memories of the meadow where various neighbor kids used to run and sled and chase butterflies until it was paved over and taken out of public circulation to become a Wal-Mart and associated parking lot. The character voice was inspired by a grand old friend, who shall remain nameless since our political views don’t align. The framework and symbolism of the story, which I had been wrestling with for some years, didn’t come clear until I saw the ProleSCARYet sub call.