Thursday, April 25, 2013

Destructo Salon: Does Matthew Yglesias Enjoy Murder?

Matthew Yglesias—a Norelco marketing experiment to see if a hand-drawn Sharpie beard on a peeled potato could sell men's earrings—wrote a morally and intellectually odious article at his second job yesterday. His Slate column, "Different Places Have Different Safety Rules and That's OK," addressed the deaths of 161 workers in a factory collapse in Bangladesh with the tone they so richly deserved: bored.

Writing off the death of 161 people with 370 words of vacuous unconcern requires the machine-like efficiency we've come to expect from places where pre-teens assemble Air Jordans. Yglesias' thesis, what little exists, is that the Bangladeshis are a people squalid enough that death is an acceptable randomly applied career path, and that dead Bangladeshis are what keep flat-front chinos at $29.99 at the outlet store. Our pants are cheap because their lives are, and cheaper things are innately good. Just think how much Upton Sinclair saved on hamburger as a young man. What an ingrate.

At best, one could chalk Yglesias' attitude up to the neoliberal worship of free trade, but ascribing any ideology to Yglesias is like trying to pin a Bad Citizenship medal on fog. He differs sharply from his Slate colleague Dave Weigel, who takes pains to acknowledge his affiliation with Koch-owned Reason. While Weigel seems like an affable guy who delights in mocking the ridiculous—and, with the GOP the party that forgot math, science and history, he finds common cause with the left—it's clear that liberals probably would not enjoy handing the budget over to him. This is how honest compromises are struck.

Yglesias offers nothing so concrete. He is a process acolyte, who never strays far from the orbit of Beltway centrist think-speak. His ideological bona fides extend to thinking that slightly-left people saying things identical to everyone else are slightly better than everyone else—all of whom are essentially right anyway, because why else would people agree? Ideas are less important than the formalism of tautologically explaining them, reiterating them, then deforming reality to accommodate them. His job is not to challenge them but hammer out a 500-word explainer detailing how wrong you are, while reassuring you that we're on the right track. Matthew Yglesias' voice is the same soothing one you use on your dog while the vet is euthanizing him.

That should bother you. Today, we hope to explain why in another "Destructo Salon." Please read on.


POINT: Matthew Yglesias Enjoys Murder
by GENERAL GANDHI

The bodies hadn't cooled. The facts couldn't be bothered with—not the reported death count at the time, nor that it was a collapse and not a fire. It didn't matter. It was mid-afternoon on a Wednesday, and Slate's blue-sky megathinker was ready. When Matt Yglesias chimes in with his take on the day's events, it's adorable in its ineptitude—like when a seven-year-old attempts his first magic trick. But no child ever pulled a Bangladeshi corpse from his hat and called it a rabbit.

Yesterday, this grim world decided it had one more tragedy in it, to add to last week's hurlyburly of bombings, spree shootings, earthquakes and explosions. In Savar, Bangladesh, an eight-story industrial building collapsed, killing at least 149 people and burying an unknown number in the rubble. The building, which housed 5,000 workers laboring in four clothing sweatshops, churning out low-cost exports for retail stores like DressBarn and Benneton, had been closed by government inspectors on Tuesday, following reports of cracks in the building's foundations and walls. Though engineers warned of a collapse, the building's owner, the politically connected Mohammed Sohel Rana, assured a Bangladeshi newspaper that the cracks were not serious, while his tenants ordered their workers back into the listing building. As hospitalized laborer Nurul Islam stated, "None of us wanted to enter the building. Our bosses forced us."

A fairly open-and-shut case of criminal negligence, inflicted on a horrifying scale against hundreds of the most vulnerable people on Earth—all of them impoverished, half of them women, and at least some of them children, crushed in day-care centers on the building's ground floor. The crooked owner, Sohel, had flouted the law over the past five years by illegally adding three stories on top of the building, likely causing the cracks. In contravention of the law, the sweatshop foremen coerced hundreds of people fearful of losing their jobs into dying instead.

I would call that murder. Matt Yglesias calls it "entirely appropriate."

In classic "Slate contrarian" form, Yglesias is committed, in his bland way, to discern a moral from this exploitation. Matt doesn't see the need for a global standard of workplace safety. Pish-posh! He sets the fools straight: in America, dangerous jobs, like "fishing, logging, and trucking... pay a premium over other working-class occupations." That's why Americans commonly say phrases like, "I'm as rich as a fisherman!" or, when you see a man in a suit flash a wad of cash, say, "Hey, Mr. Rockefeller, what are you, some kinda long-haul trucker?"

The suggestion of structural economic inequality and exploitation in America is settled. In Bangladesh, it is very different. Why? No one is quite sure. Yglesias obviously feels no need to cite any information about Bangladesh; George Harrison did a nice concert for them once, and I think it was in one of the Roger Moore "Bond" movies. In Bangladesh, a country of non-English speaking chattel, "There are very good reasons for Bangladeshi people to make different choices in this regard than Americans." Whereas the American truck driver's choice is usually between red or white wine with foie gras, Bangladeshis must choose between being fired from their $38 per month jobs, or entering a building that will collapse and kill them. There are very good reasons to make these choices, as Yglesias points out.

Imposing American rules like, "Pajamas cannot be made inside collapsing buildings," might be "unnecessarily immiserating." Apparently being forced to die stitching Matt's "Punisher" tees for pennies a day isn't immiserating in the slightest. Matt knows on which side his bread is buttered. Bangladeshi standards "would be far too flimsy for the richer and more risk-averse United States." Since rich people are our precious resources, we would not want any buildings falling on them. That shit eventuates elsewhere.

To describe extra-national events as problems mistakes their nature. "The current system of letting different countries have different rules is working fine." The proof Yglesias cites is that Bangladeshis have gotten richer over the past 20 years. I assume that Yglesias is revealing the long-sought idea that you can take it with you: "It" being the $38 you earned that month for 320 hours of back-breaking labor, with the destination of "you" being crushed beneath a crumbling death trap and the fungibility projections of your employer.

"Different places have different safety rules and that's OK."

And nowhere is it more OK than in Matt Yglesias's sparkling ivory tower (listed price: $1.2 million).


COUNTERPOINT: Matt Yglesias Lacks the Capacity for Empathy and That's OK
by MARK BRENDLE

He's been called everything from "Humpty Dumpy" to "that guy who's always sweating in the elevator," but what Matt Yglesias has in personal flaws, he more than makes up for with a total lack of empathy. Sure, people might only resort to ad hominem in going after him, but what those people miss is his complete nonchalance in regard to the suffering of other people, even when their suffering is a result of the very system he staunchly defends.

Being a talentless hack who makes money by shamelessly propagating the highly remunerative Washington neoliberal consensus is easy: anyone can do that, and regularly they take that *fistpump* to the bank. But inuring yourself to the horrific conditions in which many people live while justifying those conditions with an incoherent mishmash of social darwinism, willful ignorance of how colonialism led to the abject poverty of "third world" countries and an arrogant tone that would make Dawkins proud, well, that's just a masterwork of callousness.

Critics focusing on how Yglesias is a manchild insulated from the reality of suffering in a bubble of self-important Beltway rhetoric overlook his many contributions to the discourse of exceptionalism and how some human lives are more important than others. Once you accept this ruthless worldview, exploitation reveals itself as superior people doing their inferiors a favor by tossing them a few pennies every day in order to mass produce the consumables superior people like Yglesias daily take for granted. When you look at it from his perspective, you can see how choosing the meager incomes and unsafe conditions in a sand-castle factory far outweigh starving to death in the poverty created by a long history of violent appropriation of resources by foreign powers. It just makes sense.

It would be childish to describe Yglesias' output as "slinging feces into the communal toilet known as Slate," and it wouldn't advance the dialog to conjecture that he expresses "vile opinions to project a well-earned self-loathing onto others." No, we should regard him as the happy posterchild for those sharkpeople who see other humans as objects instead of fellow subjects—who, so long as the suffering doesn't affect them personally, have no problem with the myriad human rights violations committed by countries and companies on a daily basis, and who, without blinking an eye, condemn those with the worst quality of life as perpetuators of their own situation, because we wouldn't want them so much if they weren't already filled with so much neediness.

Sociopathy comes cheap these days, but Yglesias, despite looking like someone stuffed a Van Heusen Oxford with ostrich eggs and then hastily crayoned a face onto the one sticking out of the collar, has the vision to take it to new plateaus. Yglesias champions one of the most horrifying and widespread implements of oppression and misery yet conceived—factories taking advantage of cheap labor, lack of environmental regulations, and a disregard for human life by those who profit most from having those factories in their countries—then pretends that it exists in a vacuum, where people in "those countries" are happy for these jobs, instead of acknowledging the closed system of the global economy, where those conditions are not only systemic, but inevitable and structural, in order for the wealth and prosperity of the "first world" to exist at all.


COUNTER-COUNTERPOINT: You Can Talk About Bad Textile Conditions After You Brave the Mall on a Black Friday
by JEB LUND

Sure, everything we wear smells like barbecue, but you like your shirtwaists triangular, don't you?






UPDATE: Actually, only 1,127 people died.


49 comments:

  1. Oh, come on. The article can't be that bad, right?

    (Reads article)
    http://i.imgur.com/cPvou.gif
    (Rereads article)

    It takes a special kind of person to learn of the completely preventable death of 190+ (and still rising last I checked) and reassure himself and his readers that this is not just okay but a right and proper part of the global free-market economy. Jesus.

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  2. Here's the beauty of Yglesias's "argument", in his mind: The Bangladeshis profit from lower safety standards! Of course, let's just ignore how this has worked out in the US, with South Carolina leading the race to the bottom.

    Ironically, Yglesias is also fond of pointing out that in the absence of market forces making things "right", governments should make laws to make such things "right". You know, like federal laws keeping South Carolina from reverting back to antebellum conditions.

    I really would have thought that the Yglesias angle -- the non-morally-repugnant one -- would have been: "You want to operate in the US, the greatest and most prosperous nation on earth? Then you have to play by our rules. And our rules ought to say that you can't semi-openly contribute to raising the death and disease rates in other countries."

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    1. Not only do they profit from substandard work conditions, they are lucky to have them, according to the wise Western man. How dare they be afraid they are going to die in a building that was declared unsafe by their government. What nerve. Those are good jobs for those kind of people., poor, desperate, exploitable, voiceless. One commenter on his blog said unsafe conditions are fine for these people because they have shorter lifespans than us! And one only need look to West, TX to see everything start to come full circle back home. Like defying death on your job is now a badge of honor and a bragging point for Governors.

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  3. But the homeless guy I ignore on the way to work seems to like being homeless. If he weren't, how would he get all that loose change and pocket lint? He'd probably be as uncomfortable in a warm, safe home as you or I would be on a dirty street corner, begging for our lives. He probably wouldn't even know what to do with a bank account or health insurance.

    I think we're doing him a favor.

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  4. This article is an excellent example of what a terrible neoliberal thinks. It's worth bookmarking, so if a child ever asks you to explain what a horrible person is, how they function, you can let them have this.

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  5. In Yglesias's defense, if those 160+ dead workers had been meaningful humans they'd have had verified Twitter accounts...

    -- MrJM

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    Replies
    1. while having a meaningful human is good, money is also good

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  6. You should read the comments, if anything they are worse

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  7. Why are there so many homeless people in the united states? You already know, but I will tell you. Building codes. In the frontier American West, a pioneer could build his own house in a year. A modern house or even a condo now requires a 30 year mortgage, and with the interest often costs over a million dollars, and consumes a median persons whole salary for decades of their life. Someone making minimum wage could not possibly afford even a shack. Why does a house cost 400,000? Building codes. Certainly a small chance of death is far better than the wage slavery that almost all Americans suffer.

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    Replies
    1. you use the word "suffer" very loosely, my friend.

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    2. Houses don't cost $400,000. Go away.

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  8. It's shit like this that makes me not want to be alive sometimes

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  9. Is that Punisher picture for real, because I didn't think Matty could be any more of a tool.

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  10. "Victims? Don't be melodramatic. Look down there. Tell me. Would you really feel any pity if one of those dots stopped moving forever? If I offered you twenty thousand pounds for every dot that stopped, would you really, old man, tell me to keep my money, or would you calculate how many dots you could afford to spare? Free of income tax, old man. Free of income tax - the only way you can save money nowadays."

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    Replies
    1. Nicely played! One of the great moments in movie hx., and delivered so amiably.

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  11. Did anyone write anything comparable at the time of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire?

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  12. Did anyone write anything comparable at the time of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire?

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  13. I think Chris Hedges said that a lot of what people do and say is explained by "vulgar Marxism". I don't know what "vulgar Marxism" is, but I think I am beginning to.

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    1. More like vulgar capitalism.

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    2. Marxism sez (summarizing wildly) that the mode of production, in this case the capitalist mode of production, is determinant of such things as law, morality, etc.--in a sense, capitalists do the things they do because the system demands it. Vulgar marxism, OTOH, is a sneer from real, sophisticated Marxists: A vulgar, not-suitably-historically-and-class-conscious Marxist will say something like, "Capitalists do what they do because they are f***ing pigs who will lie, steal, and murder, anytime, anywhere, to make their profits and increase their class power." So what Hedges is saying is, yeah, actually, that pretty much sums it up.

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  14. Even if he had a valid point about it being okay to have differing safety standards, the reason this happened was not bad regulations, but blatantly breaking the existing regulations.

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  15. I'm late to this particular party but here's my 2 cents. I won't deal with this guy's lack of empathy and general worthlessness -- that's been covered quite well by others. Instead, I thought I'd spend 2 minutes on the Bureau of Labor Statistics web site to learn more about these premium wages earned by workers employed in fishing, logging and truck driving. Funny thing, though. All 3 occupations pay an annual mean wage of about $36,000 - not chump change, but certainly no Rockefellerian-level of compensation. In fact, these jobs pay sh*t considering the fact that they do have high death rates. Why do people take the jobs, then? Could it be that they are some of the only half-way decent wages left for many workers? Especially now that many of the high-paying (comparatively) manufacturing jobs have been outsourced from the U.S. to countries with more "business-friendly" environments (i.e., slave wages, little or no health and safety oversight; little or no pollution regulation). So maybe Matt is really promoting a new concept ... call it occupational Darwinism ... wherein workers naturally gravitate toward the jobs that will kill them less quickly. Unless of course, they are starving to death. In that case I guess the workers are screwed, eh? Sort of a case of, "6-feet under on one hand; half-a-dozen feet under on another."

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  16. Don't you think it's a bit ethnocentric to argue that we should impose First World safety standards on Third World countries?

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    1. I don't understand why being able to work in a building that is structurally sound and won't collapse on you is considered something that workers in the third world shouldn't expect to be a given. It's THE fundamental expectation for a building - that it will stay standing.

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    2. Look at this liberal building snob.

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    3. http://i0.kym-cdn.com/photos/images/original/000/131/351/eb6.jpg?1307463786

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    4. The third world is actually at the vanguard of contemporary architecture. True post-postmodern design subverts the user's expectations and transcends conventional categories like "building," "upright," and "not rubble."

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    5. I think if Indians can build a Taj Mahal, they can certainly handle retrofitting a nondescript factory for making cheap blouses and t-shirts.

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    6. Slaves built the Taj Mahal. Tool.

      What is this "we live in the first world so we just have certain rights to safety and health and freedom that other browns don't have" BS. "But it's their CULTURE to not care if they die going to work! We don't want to be building safety IMPERIALISTS, now, DO WE?" Ugh. You suck.

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  17. Few things are more amusing that the capacity of liberals to cannibalize one another over absurd bullshit.

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    1. lol you think matt yglesias is a liberal

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    2. (not-lol) you think discussions about global capitalism are "absurd bullshit" when in reality it affects our lives more than any other "thing" in the world.

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    3. I know, if only our response to bullshit from within the ranks was to offer tepid, mealy-mouthed defenses of what the person really meant, then we could really get things done!

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    4. Yes, 300 dead and 1000 missing is absurd. Have you seen the photos of wailing survivors? Really absurd.

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  18. I honestly thought that the Yglesias article was written by aliens. Not illegal ones. And loved his rebuttal to his own article. Like trying to explain what you meant by legitimate rape.

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  19. 4 out of 5 of all ethnicities worldwide prefer buildings not to collapse on them.

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  20. given the bangdaleshis are currentyl marching in the streets, w side trips to burn down the occasional substandard factory, and talking about, a quick death penalyt for the offending factry owners who went into hiding ((but have since been caugth), i dont think its colonialsm to say they deserve the same rights as 19 c immigrant workers in american mills....since theyr saying the same thing, only w tumbrels...!!

    --Sgaile-beairt

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  21. Participants in this thread might enjoy some historical Yggy-themed posts from the sadly no longer active, but amazing, IOZ: http://whoisioz.blogspot.com/search/label/Yglesias

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  22. I hope that, someday when I write something stupid, I will receive this excellent a treatment from "Et Tu Mr. Destructo?" so that I can frame it and hang it on my wall.

    Yours,

    Brad DeLong

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    1. Brad, I don't think it is humanly possible for you to write something as epically stupid as Yglesias.

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  23. The "free market" often means "mafia free reign" Perhaps someone should use the free market to take out a contract on him, then when he is killed we can write about how his death exemplifies the glories of the free market as he would have wished, at least in this case he will have made a good point

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  24. I had a girlfriend who talked this way. Good riddance.

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Et tu, Mr. Destructo? is a politics, sports and media blog whose purpose is to tell jokes or be really right about things. All of us have real jobs and don't need the hassle that telling jokes here might occasion, which is why some contributors find it more tasteful to pretend to be dead mass murderers.