ive noticed a recent meme among social justice rhetoric - 'no strings attached', as in 'give money to marginalized people, no strings attached'.
to be fair, i think the imagined audience for these calls is, for instance, those publishers who responded to the George Floyd uprisings by creating initiatives to fund (ie, loan money with the intention of profiting off the work of) Black game developers. yeah, these strings fucking suck. these developers should not be expected to pay that money back. the relationship otherwise is one of opportunistic exploitation, not the reparation it pretends.
theres a general trend online to imagine youre speaking to power. you arent. power isnt listening. youre speaking to your comrades, peers, family, fans, fellow humans.
'open source' code, which is to say code made for the commons, mostly ends up being useful to profiteers, especially massive corporations, to increase their profit margins. android, for instance, is built on open source, and largely to the benefit of google. this is work done for everyone, but different groups have highly unequal access to the benefits of that work. ironically, open source work seemingly serves to accelerate the accumulation of wealth and power even moreso than if that work was done for a wage. google doesnt even have to pay for it!
the commons are gone today because the commons were available, useful, unprotected, vulnerable to exploitation. i would love to live in a world with a robust, vibrant commons. i mean this seriously, seriously enough that i am willing to make real commitments in my life towards achieving that future. but you do not make that future by pretending you already live in it.
when generous, hopeful people make themselves vulnerable, open, free for the taking, they are taken, used, exploited by ungenerous, selfish profiteers.
i really believe we are all on the same side. none are free until all are free, because until then, we have an unfulfilled duty to liberate the oppressed. the hyperwealthy feel that duty too, there's no escaping it. they try to repair their conscience through charity: giving (often 'no strings attached') some portion of their profits. but of course charity will never be enough. the suffering is built into the system, it's where their power comes from, it's unavoidable without genuinely systemic, relational changes.
i want my work to mean something. if i can choose between helping a comrade and helping an enemy (yeah we're on the same side, but we dont all know it yet), i will help the comrade. if i can choose between helping an enemy and helping no one, probably i should help no one, for now.
i am not interested in wasting my life making the kind of morally destitute power of capital more available to the currently-marginalized. im not interested in playing musical chairs with who gets to eat and who has to starve. nobody has to starve! what the fuck do you all think 'systemic' change means? if you want the systems to change, youre going to have to start making the rules.
i dont mean: giving direct support to people who need it, now. people who need help deserve help, in fact have a right to it. they do not have a right to become a small business owner.
sure, if youve got extra money lying around, give it to someone else who could use it. and if the only options for that you can think of are 'no strings' or some kind of wage servitude or personal debt, go stringless. if youre reading this and youre jeff bezos, you should definitely give your money away, no strings attached.
if however youre the kind of person who *would* even read this, the kind of person who would listen to a call to give whatever you have away, no strings attached, dont fucking do that! attach some strings: not back to you, personally, but to society, to humanity. expect people not to willingly reproduce the systems of oppression they were born into. give to a cooperative before you give to an entrepreneur. give to a revolutionary before you give to the cops.
more likely, you have very little money to give. more likely what you have is care, attention, time, labor: the ability to help in a way more directly and seriously. please, dont give yourself away to whoever asks first or loudest. dont give yourself away 'no strings attached'. please help make it possible for us to live another way. spend your time building sustainable new systems, if you can. because until we can do that, you will never have enough to give.
March 20, 2021