While not going so far as to actually do anything remotely dictatorial, Chávez was far from a democratic leader. Instead of competing honestly in elections, he provided services and raised the standard of living for the people of Venezuela, ensuring their gratitude and thereby gaining an unfair advantage at the polls. Much of the funds for this insidious election tactic of ‘making things better’ were rerouted from the newly nationalised oilfields: through this wanton kleptocracy, billions of petrodollars were withheld from deserving rich white people.
Capitalism doesn’t inspire creativity, it stifles it. There are millions of geniuses that might be doing something brilliant, but instead are putting stickers on packets of biscuits they can barely afford for 12 hours a day so some lazy prick can play golf every Sunday with all the other impotent do nothing pricks.
For Mother Teresa poverty is the condition of saintliness. Poverty, then, ceases to be bad and instead becomes something to be celebrated. The poor can be treated with condescension as those who will redeem the world by their acceptance of charity. Such an approach becomes a part of a global enterprise for the alleviation of bourgeois guilt rather than a genuine challenge to those forces [i.e., modern capitalism] that produce and maintain poverty.
— Vijay Prashad, “Mother Teresa: Mirror of Bourgeois Guilt”
When I was little, I always wanted to be writer. In many ways, I don’t think that dream ever left me. But when I was in primary school, I used to be sick a lot, and the way I spent those days cooped up at home was writing frantically in a myriad of notebooks, and devouring novel after history book after novel. When I made it to school, I was quite the ringleader in my group of friends, and I sometimes used to sit them all down at lunch and stand before them and tell them an exciting, intricate adventure story – all made up on the spur of the moment, of course. As far as my memory goes, they didn’t mind – I remember some enthusiastic applause – but who really knows how reliable that memory is? The point is, I always fancied myself a story-teller; it was my favourite thing to do in the world, and it was what I wanted to spend my life doing.
Unfortunately, capitalism makes it impossible for the vast majority of aspiring story-tellers to devote their lives to doing exactly that. A very, very small minority of writers are able to make a living from writing, which helps to explain why literature, and art in general, is so dominated by bourgeois fools – they’re the ones with the cash reserves to be able to indulge themselves and their creative urges. The rest of us have to hold down jobs, to be able to pay bills and rent or mortgages and whatever else has to be paid, and to a large extent this destroys us. We have to spend so much of our lives at work, and spend so much of the rest of our time exhausted from work, and so even if we have an idea – and I believe a lot of us are full of ideas – where are we going to find the time to write these ideas down? We’re too busy keeping ourselves afloat to indulge our inner story-tellers, I guess is what I’m getting at – capitalism forces us to be practical and hard-headed, so we always set them to one side.
All of this means that at the moment, I don’t aspire to be “a writer”. I’d still love to write things – about a week ago I set up a side blog to post writing on, in the hope it’ll motivate me to create some – but I’m realistic enough (or pessimistic enough, if you’d prefer to put it that way) to think I’ll never be able to pay my way through writing, and so I have to find another career. As it happens, I think I’d like to be a teacher, and a primary school teacher at that, perhaps since it’d bring me the closest to the playground story-teller I was so many years ago. Also, I genuinely like children, and the idea of teaching them appeals to me. But still… if I had it my way, I’d never have got demoralised about writing, and I’d never have fallen out of the habit of writing pages and pages every day, instead of only during NaNoWriMo the way I do now. Although I guess it’s easier to find the time to write pages and pages every day when you’re a child, and have no obligations (except for school, but… pfft).
The point is – for me now, just as for me aged eight, I’ve never wanted to write so I could make money. I want to make money for the same reason I want to breathe – it’s a basic prerequisite to doing other, more interesting things. When I sat my friends down in the playground, I didn’t charge them each a dollar for hearing my exciting tales of epic quests and danger. I told them because I had stories to tell, stories I wanted them to hear, and it was just fun! And this remains why I want to tell stories – for the sheer enjoyment of story-telling.
And look, I don’t think there’s anyone who wants to get into writing for the money – if that was your goal, you’d have chosen the complete wrong career path. It’s just that writers, like anyone else, have to make a living, and they also have to contend with this horrific monolith called… “the industry”.
Basically, while writers are in it to tell stories, publishing houses are in it to make money. They have to be, because that’s how capitalism works. Assuming you have the capital to start up your own publishing house, and you have the choice between – say – publishing a shoddy Twilight rip-off that you know has a ready-made market because it’s perfectly obvious that there’s a huge market for shoddy Twilight rip-offs, or an experimental, philosophical work that’s really cool but difficult to get your head around, which are you going to publish? You might say the quirky one, but if there’s no market, you’re not going to make the money back from printing and distributing it. If you want to keep your publishing house afloat, you’ll publish the shoddy Twilight rip-off. (Of course, if you publish enough of the shoddy rip-offs, you’ll have enough “fat” in the budget to go towards something cooler, and if you’re a niche publishing house you can get away with a bit more. But still, the way to make more money is to print what sells, not what’s really cool.)
One of the good things about the internet age is that it’s changing this model a lot. Apparently a quarter of the top-selling titles on Amazon are self-published, and honestly never mind selling books – the internet gives people the freedom to just post their work, for free, for anyone to read whenever they like. (There’s obviously much more of a tradition of this with fanfic, because you can’t sell that anyway, but there are websites like FictionPress where people can do the same thing with their original work.) Then you have interesting platforms like Novelistik, where for 49 Mexican pesos a month (less than AUD$4) people can read as much as they want, and writers get paid a peso for each time a chapter they write is read by someone. Perhaps my Spanish isn’t good enough to make good use of that platform, but it’d be interesting to see how it turns out.
There are some arguments that get made against using the internet to distribute stories, especially against using it to distribute stories for free. I’ve heard the complaint that writers deserve to be paid for their work, and distributing stories for free undermines writers who seek to be paid, because readers just figure, “Why bother paying when I can read stuff for free?” Honestly, this argument seems kind of petulant to me. I agree that writers should be able to live comfortably, but I also think that people without bucketloads of cash to burn should have the ability to read books. Resistance to ever-cheaper, ever-more-accessible books prices people out of the market, whether advertently or not. And to be honest, I think everyone should be able to live comfortably, whether they write or not. So maybe we need to find another channel for making that happen.
Another argument I’ve heard is that grand publishing houses ensure some kind of quality control that you wouldn’t have if people just published what they wanted on the internet. But an important counterargument to this is that publishing houses evidently don’t do quality control, because just look at how much trash gets published! And I mean, trash is fine, sometimes you just feel like some lowbrow, guilty pleasure-style entertainment – but don’t get all high and mighty about how trash somehow isn’t trash just because it was published. Finding good stuff isn’t always easy, but it’s not like it gets any harder if you look for it online.
Basically, the thing I’m getting at here is that literature, the creating and sharing of stories, would be so much better if capitalism didn’t exist to commodify everything. If stories weren’t considered objects to be sold, but creations to be shared and enjoyed. The internet can solve some of these problems by virtue of how it enables anyone, really, to distribute what they want, but there are others that it can’t solve – that, for instance, the vast majority of us are going to struggle massively to find the time and inclination to tell our stories. Story-telling is not about money, but in the world we live in money can never be too far away from our minds, much as we wish otherwise.