I recently received a question tucked inside a children’s book. The book is titled The Little Red Hen. As the story goes, the Little Red Hen is looking for someone to help her make some bread. Yet at each turn—planting the grain of wheat, reaping it, carrying it to mill, making the flour into dough, baking it—the Little Red Hen’s friends reply “Not I!” when asked to assist. That is until the bread is ready to be eaten, at which point the duck, the goose, the cat, and the pig accept her offer to join in—an offer the Little Red Hen retracts, as she eats alone.
The question is as follows: Drew - How would your revolution deal with this?
Below is my response.
Foremost, please accept my sincere gratitude for taking the time to read my essay. Given the brevity and limited scope of An Essay Toward Universal Revolution, the question you have posed is not dissimilar to others I have received. The uniqueness here is undoubtedly the usage of a children’s book—I hope you will excuse an answer as insufficient as the socio-economic landscape presented in The Little Red Hen.
To begin, I must address the implicit presupposition(s) built into your question: the problem of primordial apathy, or more precisely: How to deal with those who de facto wish to share in profit and not production? You appear to assume a general or near universal sloth, which, if I understand correctly, reads thus: What is to be done about the given laziness of the majority in a more equitable society? Yet, for what reason—and more importantly: based on what empirical, scientific, or psychoanalytic evidence—must we conclude the populace will ‘do nothing’ if a drastic reduction in income disparity became reality? Let me be clear. I do not deny—nor shall I attempt to confute—apathy’s existence. However, there simply is no evidence to support the following inference: Have-Nots generally are able-bodied citizens who choose to remain unemployed or underemployed. Despite the incessant propaganda propagated by special interests vilifying an exploited underclass, the truth is the vast majority of those in America who rely on the social safety net (i.e. Medicare, Social Security, SNAP, etc.) are employed, or elderly, or disabled, or veterans, or children (or various combinations of the above).
Now, again, apathy does exist. Yet we mustn’t confuse the consequence with the cause.
Neoliberalism—the political economic paradigm of our time—demands production merely for the sake of production. Capital beckons us to sacrifice ourselves for (more) capital. Therefore the emphatic “Not I!” of the duck, the goose, the cat, and the pig is actually a solution, rather than a problem. It is not a narrower inequality gap that threatens progress, on the contrary, it is the ideological injunction to participate in capital’s endless dance, which reifies hierarchy, requiring the systematic demonization of a spectral, ‘dangerous’ underclass of idlers, thereby guaranteeing the perpetuation of a protectionist status quo.
In short: today’s apathy is the offspring of our neoliberal global order.
In sum, my revolution would look to the Scandinavian countries for a very basic sketch of how to deal with the question of The Little Red Hen: by aggressively reducing the disparity between wealthy and poor, resulting in a healthy, thriving society over and above an individualistic consumerism and frivolous ‘exceptionalism’ that begets only apathy and alienation.
I trust this response finds you well.