Having Lunch With Americans

Port City, Colombo. Not where this happened.

I was having lunch with some friends (old and new) from America. It was wild to me how much money they need to function. I’m talking hundreds of thousands of dollars a year to even think about having a child. My friend earning just sub 100 has gotten snipped because it’s just impossible. This sounds absurd to me, but when they take me through the numbers I get it. Capital is reproducing furiously in America, but people cannot. Something has gone terribly wrong.

Economic statistics and human lives have completely bifurcated, but the ruling class only goes by the most artificial numbers. They’re flying a plane on instruments, ignoring the fact that half of economy class has passed out without oxygen. Random Substackers have to make these graphs because they’re not on the dashboard of the people flying the plane. As Stephen Semler put together:

Stephen Semler

While economists use GDP growth as a topline number, American life expectancy is going down. Which seems more important. US life expectancy is now the same as Sri Lanka’s, even though they spend so much more on everything. My country is fucked and yet it’s somehow a better place to raise children than America. What is even happening? As Malcolm X said, chickens have come home to roost, and the global cancer of American imperialism also preys on its own citizenry. The feeling of superiority from their Cable-TV Colosseum is the only consolation. Their lives seem really difficult.

This is the paradox of hating America. I get comments from people saying “No, but look at me, my life sucks,” and I have to agree with them. Their country sucks, but it sucks for them also. They have no control over it. They’re stuck in economy class, scrabbling over peanuts. Here I am having lunch with people earning literally 10x as much as me and I don’t envy them at all.

They’re telling me that they’re actively scared of school shootings which to me is just impossible. People in Sri Lanka would lose their minds if such a thing happened. And yet Americans have lost their minds long ago and consider this normal. I remember reading that after Sandy Hook, after kutti children were slaughtered in class, that the gun-control debate was over. There was nothing that they would not sacrifice to industry after that. And so now the human sacrifice to machines continues regularly. In this situation, forget affording children financially. How do you afford them emotionally? I read that having a child is like wearing your heart outside your body. How do you carry your heart outside in a country like this? Better to get a vasectomy.

America seems unaccountable for all its foreign atrocities, but in a way America is its own brutal accountability. The country creates war zones everywhere, and at the same time it is a war zone. They’re training teachers to shoot school-shooters first, as if they’re under attack from somewhere. But they’re under attack from themselves. As Malcolm X said, it’s chickens coming home to roost. Except as velociraptors.

It’s weird for me hearing these things because I grew up in an American classroom. I remember growing up in Upper Arlington, Ohio, pledging allegiance to the flag, and learning proudly about the American Revolution. We dressed up to give book reports and I — the only brown child in the entire elementary school — dressed up as the traitor Benedict Arnold, lol. But I didn’t feel treasonous at that point. I felt proud. I got up and sang, “And I’m proud to be an American where at least I know I’m free, And I won’t forget the men who died, who gave that right to me.” I think of those lyrics now and they’re nonsensical. The only time Americans died for rights was when they were fighting each other in the Civil War, and those gains were rolled back almost immediately.

I was a teenager in America and it seemed impossible that we’d have lives like our parents, and it was. My generation are a bunch of debt slaves if we’re lucky, or completely cast out of the effectively neo-feudal system if we’re not. I say feudal because I don’t know what else to call a situation where you literally live in a house owned by a bank for your entire adult life and depend on your job to provide healthcare. What is this but a feudal system, except you depend on an artificial lord (a corporation) instead of a natural one?

I don’t buy it anymore, but I left. I think of my compatriots left behind, now yoked to their place of work, with a lot of money passing right through them, going straight to the credit card companies or the bank. These are people who ostensibly produce a lot for capital, but they’re scared to reproduce themselves. Something has obviously gone terribly wrong.

I’m having lunch with people earning literally 10 times what I earn and they don’t seem 10x as happy. I mean, they’re fine, but most of that money seems to be just passing through them like eating too many gummy worms. What is America even, and who does it serve?

It’s not so much that my friends have property as much as they are property. They are really a line on some corporation's balance sheet, not their own people. They have houses, they have cars, they have children, yes, but all owned by a bank or secured based on cashflows from their jobs. So even their reproductive choices are tied into the reproduction of capital and — given that they’re choosing to not have children — it’s obviously not a very good deal for the humans.

I have a theoretical way of understanding this (corporations are AI and we’re witnessing them chest-bursting out of human culture over 400 years) but it’s still shocking for me to see in person. I’m definitely poorer than these Americans, but something in my society feels far less structurally broken. So you know what, I buy them lunch. They deserve it.