The Culture of Defense

2011 April 18
by Carl Watson

Evolution equals revolution

If you’re like me and you’re doing your taxes right now, you’re probably trying to find your way through the morass of complexity called the Tax Code, looking for a way to defend yourself from the octopus tentacles of Uncle Sam as he slithers into your bank account. Part of the purpose of that arcane architecture of bureaucratic madness is to make it nearly impossible for you to do the job yourself without seriously fucking up, and thus allowing Mr. Sam access, via fines or late payment interest, to more of your money. And isn’t it funny how more and more of modern life—from your telephone bills to your insurance binder to your online movie delivery service—seems to imitate that taxcode mentality. It’s the Service Economy baby, and all I can say is “Annie get your guns,” cause it’s gonna get ugly.

In today’s Service Economy we are constantly on the defensive for another charge, another penalty, another “service” that we don’t need. It’s as if “services” as a system unto itself has taken an aggressive attitude toward we beneficiaries, the “servile” users of such modern conveniences. Yes, these are advertised as a choice you make, something that’s good for you, but we all know that they are virtually required, because, really, it is no longer possible to be a viable individual without so doing. My point is that all such systems are destined to grow in complexity over time; and this is not due merely to the greed of the designers, though that is also true; it is the mode of progress of the physical universe itself. Systems are folded into higher and higher levels of organization where they may be lost, or forgotten, all the while still functioning like little terrorist cells to be used by sly capitalists and bureaucrats to extract tithes from your existence. The higher level is simply unaware of them, just like you are unaware of war between blood poisoning, infection, and good health that goes on in your intestines.

Be that as it may, it is evident to everyone who uses services these days in our great Service Economy, that we are under siege. This is clear if only from the bombardment of advertisement that accosts you daily. Indeed, you can barely do anything–brushing your teeth with your electronic sonic toothbrush to reading a Jane Austen novel on your iPad–without being solicited by some service or other who knows just what your interests are as well as your weaknesses. These friendly attacks come from various different angles and in numerous disguises. Sometimes the aggression looks just like your best friend (BF) or your helpful broker. But even your friends these days are selling you stuff that you don’t want or need. They are trying to serve you. Now what I would like to say is that these evolved systems are living entities unto themselves. The service industry is its own brain, and it’s hungry and it feeds on money, and so they, it, he, she, continues to evolve methods of extracting food-money from you. Indeed you don’t have to look any further than the inbox of your email account to find the true vampires of the modern age. Your money is their blood. Your perpetual distraction is their night of feeding. And the further you are down the inverted pyramid of the economy, the more likely that you are being viewed as a prime food source, simply because at some point you can no longer pay for the services that offer protection against the other services. Insidious little surcharges continue to appear on your bills. Swipe Fees are charged against your credit/debit/whatever card every time you use it, and of course you have to use it because you can no longer pay for anything with cash. What starts out as a convenience, becomes a necessity and then becomes a monstrosity, threatening you with irrelevance and insecurity. Indeed, service fees are constantly charged and fines levied the instant you fail to obey or fail to live up to your end of the implicit contract you seem to have entered into even when you don’t remember entering. Remember the days when a contract was a two way street? True no longer. You must pay for your failures, but if the service corporations don’t live up to their end of the contract you as “puny citizen” have no recourse. The courts won’t back you. The judges aren’t interested since you’re not paying them, and the police will try to find some reason to arrest you instead of the culprit, because the police don’t actually work for you, they work for the bosses. Ever have your phone service go out for a few days. Did you get a refund for that? When your cable went down, did they adjust your bill? When your train or plane was late did you get a refund? When the city failed to pick up your garbage or clean your street, were your taxes adjusted for that failure? But you know you are going to get charged if you mess up. You need to be constantly on guard against people trying to charge you. And that’s the Culture of Defense.

Indeed, I don’t have to look any further than my telephone bill, which seems to grow new blood sucking tentacles with each passing month, new surcharges, new fines, some by third parties I’ve never heard of and have no idea how they came to assume that I subscribed to them. Most recently is an innocuous little charge in the bill that says Agora Voice services $8.50. Since this was something I never ordered I called the Billing Resources number on Verizon bill, but the phone on the other end just rings. I finally realized it was a fake number, so I put in writing that I wanted the charge removed, to no avail. So I tried the back door, I called Verizon, pretending I wanted to order a new service, and then I started to complain. They switched me to the complaint department. The guy in the complaint deptartment yelled at me for complaining. He said “if you want me to help you, you have to be nice.” So I got nice, but then he said there was nothing he could do to help me anyway. Apparently it is New York State Law that anyone can attach an extra charge to your phone bill and not even the phone company can stop it. I said I do not want any charges attached to my bill, unless I authorize them. He told me too bad, that’s the law, then, after admitting that he could not help me, he actually had the nerve to try to sell me more services. I told him I was quitting Verizon so he needn’t bother. Here’s another example:  Your bank is a service industry and makes no disguise that it is after you. I can’t even walk into my bank (CHASE) these days without being accosted by some employee trying to sell me a new service that they can then deduct from my account until my account is so low that they can bill me for not keeping enough money in it. In fact I recently went into the bank and was told they have been charging me $27/month exactly for that reason. It’s funny how they value me so much as a customer they didn’t bother to tell me they were doing that—no phone calls from the clerks like I used to get back when I was flush.

The point of this discussion is that in The Culture of Defense, the average citizen, and especially those lower on the food chain, is in a position of perpetual defense against the service industry. Which obfuscates its attacks in a barrage of small print. Nowadays you have to be an expert in nearly every field just to survive. You have to know more than your banker about the financial instruments he is trying to sell you. You have to know more than stockbroker about the stocks you are being sold for your retirement portfolio. You have to be more informed than the lawyers you hire to explain it to you because they are really just trying to trick you with complexities to pad their expenses. You have to know as much or more real estate law than the real estate lawyers who are trying to rip you off. You have to know more about tax law than the people at H&R Block, because they actually don’t know much about it at all except how to charge you for their not knowing. You have to know more about the arcane intricacies of the Health Insurance market than the Insurance Agents themselves know, and god forbid if you miss a turn of phrase that costs you two hundred thousand dollars or ruins you for life. You only have to trip up once and you are doomed, maybe even destitute for life. The subprime mortgages industry is just one example. Did you get screwed on that? Well, you should have been responsible. You should have read the fine print. You should have been 100 percent vigilant, because its caveat emptor out there baby and your bank account is the blood the beast craves. But all is not lost. I believe you can purchase a service to help you, like, or, or (who protect your online reputation for a fee), or, a service that protects you from your own lapses in economic ethics. Thank god there is this whole new industry out there of people we can pay to protect us from people who are trying to protect us from people, who are trying to protect us from people who are . . . . .

It’s no wonder that kids these days love vampire movies like Twilight, etc.—they feel the presence of Capitalism’s vampires all around them. Teen sex and vampires that’s what sells, because you might as well make a form of entertainment out of what is eating your soul and your future. Because the thing that is eating you alive is also fucking you, and since you are getting fucked, you might as well fuck back. It just makes sense. In this context the controversial MTV show, Skins, serves as a brief respite from fighting for your economic life against the bank account vampires who would bleed your future. It was different in my day. In my day, in the old science fiction movies about alien invasions, they used to say, “Watch the skies! Watch the skies!” referring of course to the (communist?) enemy that would come from the sky to destroy us. Now we say watch the fine print, watch the fine print.

And watch out for that IRA or that 401K because somebody is trying to take that away from you even as you pay a percentage of your income into it. And you can’t do anything about it because that’s Capitalism, the American religion–and you need to learn to love it! At least you better, because if you don’t you might go to jail. Or the economy might fail and it would be your fault for not shopping enough. And we can’t have that because the rich would suffer, and then they wouldn’t give us those jobs we’ve been promised. Indeed, the rich are currently accusing the poor and the middle class of every kind of economic crime and if we don’t defend ourselves we will all soon be arrested for NOT signing over the entirety of our income, so that they can provide us with jobs so we can make money to pay them back for their service. Apparently this kind of unpaid labor is the service industry of the future for the middle and lower classes. In fact it’s being peddled as a duty, an act of good citizenry. Our “liberal” President Obama has already tried to convince us that we should indeed engage in service to the country; we should be glad to put in time, to labor selflessly for the rich. It’s patriotic, by god, just like the poor going to war is patriotic because there’s no work where they come from. We should be glad to do it to keep the rich free. Remember, that’s our freedom we’re talking about.

These days I wake up constantly in the middle of the night in a sweat, feeling I need to double check my accounts and my service contracts just to make sure some proviso has not been rewritten

Stay Out of My Bank Account, Motherfucker!

as I slept, or some new qualifier added after the fact. I feel the need to go over my bills one more time, to decipher the arcana. For this I feel paler every day. I’ve taken to keeping a machine gun under my pillow now and sleep lightly for fear of the next attack. Because its out there—the service industry, the revenuer army. It’s inevitable. I want to fight back but I don’t have the money. I recently got an email from a lawyer in Nigeria who claims that some one left me a couple million dollars. Maybe that would be enough to fund a defense against the service industry. As they say: freedom’s not free. Neither is eternity. Christ, have you seen the price of a funeral these days? Happy Tax Day!

One Response leave one →
  1. 2011 April 20
    Ando Arike permalink

    Huzzah! Left me boiling with rage! But as these bastards well know, the looting can only last for so long… This mother’s comin’ DOWN! And they’re trying to grab every last crumb before it falls, like crack addicts combing through the carpet for those last dropped particles of rock…

    And don’t get me started on J.P. Morgan Chase… The scumbags billed me $20 a month for two years for a “service” I didn’t even know I’d signed up for — in fact, I got a letter from a law office recently saying that I’m part of a class action lawsuit settlement over said “service” charges… Unfortunately, I’ll only get $20 when it’s paid. I’ve always believed that nonviolence was the best way to fight back, but more and more I’m beginning to feel that guns are the only answer.

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