5 Qualities of an Anti-Capitalist

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Capitalism, like other systems of oppression, is the water we swim in. Its ubiquity makes it incredibly challenging to notice how it affects us. Whether we notice it or not, it gets into our minds and our lives and our behavior. Capitalism has its own set of values that likely do not align with your own, but if you don’t recognize them, you’re liable to live your life as though they did. It takes concerted effort to see them and interrupt them.




This list is surely incomplete and is, admittedly, over-simplified for the sake of this blog post. Capitalism is racialized and gendered. Capitalism exists on the backs of  white supremacy and patriarchy; these systems require each other. But for the sake of clarity here, I’m addressing capitalism singularly in order to help us understand it, so that we may be better equipped to take it down. Here goes!



Slowness is anti-capitalist.

Getting as much work done as possible in as little time as possible is a deeply held capitalist norm. Most of us (self-employed or no) sprint through our lives this way, always trying to maximize our results and minimize our efforts. It’s an inherently extractive paradigm.

When you’re an employee who works for a boss, the boss is the one trying to extract your labor, but when you work for yourself, you’re both the boss and the laborer, the extractor and the extracted. Let yourself slow down. Be your own good boss. There’s no rush. Divest from the paradigm of hurry up.

Generosity is anti-capitalist.

The richest people are the least generous among us, studies show. Those with very little money are more likely to share it, lend it, and give it away. What little they do have is treated as a community resource, rather than a personal possession to be squirreled away and never touched or spoken of.

When we give to another person, it requires us to really see them, in their struggles and pain. Generosity has within it, compassion. Capitalism runs on always trying to get a little more than you already have. When we give away what we have, we’re divesting from the norm of accumulation.

Inconsistency is anti-capitalist.

The myth of consistency is harming us. Most of us look at our most productive days and expect that every day should be just as productive. But it’s not possible. It’s not how nature works (and guess what? You’re a part of nature!)

When plants grow, it’s not slow and steady. It’s often days or weeks of seemingly no change, and then suddenly, bam! The seed has sprouted and is pushing towards the sun. You’ll see weeks of imperceptible growth and no blooms, followed by days of abundant unfurling flowers.

Your work does not have to be consistent. Take hours off. Take days off. Take weeks off. Don’t feel guilty. Divest from the paradigm of constant work.

Connection is anti-capitalist.

Capitalism teaches us (whether we’re conscious of it or not) to always be trying to prioritize our own needs over the collective well-being. It teaches us to do for yourself (and your family maybe) alone, and everyone else is on their own. It’s every person for themself.

This way of being is soul-crushing. It forces us to ignore the suffering of other people in order to try to “get ahead”, and it is deeply dehumanizing. It encourages us to shun or pity people with less than us, and judge or resent people with more than us.

It’s possible to account for the differences in our lived realities while not reducing someone else to a stereotype about “poor people” or “rich people.” When we practice seeing other humans as just that, human, it’s pushing back against this capitalist norm.

Transparency is anti-capitalist.

We’re pretty well trained not to talk about money. It’s rude to discuss your family’s wealth (or lack thereof); in some cases it’s actually prohibited to divulge the amount of your salary. Who benefits from this secrecy? What do we gain by participating in it? Start talking about money with your friends, family, and clients. It might be uncomfortable at first, but it helps us to see the underpinnings of the myths we believe about how money works.

A few years ago I started asking any friend who was buying a house how they got the money to pay the down payment. Nearly every single one admitted they received help from family to be able to afford buying a house. If we dig a little deeper, most will point to some dubious source of how the family came to have that money. But we don’t hear those stories very often. The ones we hear are of bootstraps and hard work, and those are incomplete at best and incorrect at worst.

Being transparent about our money, and asking those close to us to do the same, isn’t rude; it’s radical.

Bottom line?

When we can see the oppressive qualities of capitalism, we can interrupt them. When we can interrupt them, we can replace them with more aligned qualities.

Try these on! Tell me what you think. I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.


I’m teaching more about practices for anti-capitalism in

FREELY: An Anti-Capitalist Guide to Business

Part One deals with how to set your rates. Part Two delves into how to keep your work financially accessible.

Lessons From the Intersection of Yoga and Capitalism

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This essay was first published in 2016 when I was still a yoga teacher. Teaching yoga wasn’t the first time I worked for myself, but it was my first full-time self-employment. I learned so much about money and how people relate to it there.

(I quit in October 2018 because I finally came to terms with the fact that cultural appropriation is real and does lasting harm. I wrote more about all that over here: bearteachesyoga.org)

These were some of my reflections from back then, lightly edited and updated for clarity and context. I’m resharing them here to give some background about myself, my business, and my approach to anti-capitalism.



THE SCALE IS BROKEN

I have been teaching yoga since 2011, and in that time, I’ve been lucky to be able to offer all of my public classes on a sliding scale. Sliding scale is a means of making yoga more affordable, by making it cheaper for those who need it to be, while those who can afford to pay more do so, with the folks at the top of the scale subsidizing the folks at the bottom. At my classes, no one is ever turned away for lack of funds, and I’m always open to trade or barter (with agreements made in advance). My students pay me anonymously on the honor system (they simply drop their money in a basket before or after class).


I believe in sliding scale pricing models because they can help to remove one barrier of access to yoga practice. Certainly we can all practice on our own (for free!) but there is something special about being in a class together with other people that those with less financial means should not be excluded from. Sliding scale economies offer an autonomous alternative to capitalism (albeit still existing within capitalism).


A functional sliding scale means that the average payment is about the middle of the scale. The scale for my classes has been $5-15 for as long as I’ve been teaching, so a healthy average would be around $10/student. Instead the average per student has never consistently exceeded $6 or $7, which means that the vast majority of students pay on the lower end of the sliding scale.


It makes sense that people who are attracted to a lower-cost yoga class might be lower-income; by contrast, most students at a $20 drop-in class are probably financially stable.  I have little statistical information about the average of my students’ salaries or their monthly expenses, though what I observe can give us a place to start from. Many of my students are artists, writers, and musicians. A few are lawyers, doctors, and engineers. Most are white, in their 20s and 30s, and have no children. Most of my students (though certainly not all) are well off enough to buy coffee at a coffee shop, or go out to eat with friends, or take a vacation.


Yet the numbers show that some of these financially comfortable folks must be paying at the bottom of the sliding scale. My students are largely $6 students, regardless of actual income level.  A healthy sliding scale system would assure that students can afford classes, teachers make a living wage, and the studio stays afloat. If most folks pay at the minimum, the system isn’t serving its purpose. Our scale is currently broken.

TRAILER PARK CHILDHOOD

I’m a white, college educated, able-bodied person, with a whole lot more earning potential than I’m currently utilizing, but/and I grew up working-class/working-poor. I spent the first half of my childhood in trailer parks and cheap apartments. Though we were far from the worst off, especially on a global scale, I’m familiar with the experience of not-enough. My mom was single with three kids. She never had fewer than 2 jobs. My brothers and I wore hand-me-downs and garage sale clothes. We always had food on the table because we were on food stamps. We picked cans on the weekends sometimes to be able to get Happy Meals at McDonald’s as a treat.


My first memory of class-based shame was in Kindergarten: I was so angry that my older brother got to carry a backpack like all the other kids, but I had to carry my school supplies in the blue nylon duffel bag that came in the $5 two-pack from Wal-Mart. We simply couldn’t afford a second backpack. As I got older, I desperately wanted to take dance classes, but they were too expensive. I went to a public magnet middle school, so my friends lived all over town, many in ritzy neighborhoods. I was startled to learn I had friends who had a maid; my mom had been a cleaning lady.


Our financial situation improved when my mom married my step-dad, but still money was tight. My parents worked nights in addition to their day jobs so we could have braces and eyeglasses. They could afford for me to go on the class trip, or to get birthday and Christmas presents, but not both. I went to college on scholarship and waited tables to pay my bills. When my scholarship ran out, I put my tuition on a credit card. I’m the first person in my extended family to get a college degree.


A NICKEL TO MY NAME

I have identified as “broke” for most of my life. My experience of scarcity in childhood didn’t just go away as I became an adult. I lived on the edge of major financial trouble from age 18-28. I have paid thousands of dollars in overdraft fees on my checking account. I carried ten thousand dollars of credit card debt for about five years. I borrowed money from friends to cover my rent half a dozen times over ten years.


I laughed ruefully once when I got a receipt from an ATM that stated my bank balance as 5 cents. I literally had a nickel to my name. I posted it on my fridge for years as a reminder that it could always be, had already been worse.


There were sleepless nights pinned down by the weight of my debts, countless fits of tears about overdraft fees, hours of stress-ridden shifts at work, smiling just a little broader in the hopes of a good tip, the thrum of low-grade anxiety ever present in the background. The emotional toll of living at the edge of scarcity is hard to ignore.


But despite all my money woes, I mostly lived comfortably. I often had to scrimp and save, but I never worried about going hungry.  I still managed to pinch pennies enough to travel a little most years, even internationally a few times. I did not have to pay for the care of children or elderly parents. I did not have ongoing medical expenses. My waitressing jobs always paid me above the minimum wage.


And yet, I applied for a scholarship, subsidized rate, or payment plan for every yoga training I took in my first years of teaching. I ALWAYS paid at the bottom of the sliding scale or just above for every massage I got, every herbal medicine workshop I took, every conference I attended. I just never felt like I could afford to pay more. I identified as broke, even when I wasn’t.  I’m the epitome of the $6 student.  


Over the years of teaching, I have considered abandoning the sliding scale model, instead teaching $15 classes like every other studio, but I’ve never been able to bring myself to do it. I feel deeply that this is an important thing to offer. You all, my students, are SO INCREDIBLE. You constantly amaze me. Would you stop coming if class cost more? I believe that the gesture of sliding scale is important, even if none of you ever utilized it. So here we are, seven years in, and we’re all the $6 student.


“WHAT IS THE ORIGIN OF THIS MONSTROUS MACHINE THAT CHEWS UP BEAUTY AND SPITS OUT MONEY?” --Charles Eisenstein


It’s a basic tenet of capitalism that the market must always grow. Constant growth is fundamental to a successful capitalist system. More money, more product, more profit. Bigger is better. More is more. The inverse, then, is that THERE IS NEVER ENOUGH. This is evidenced in our gluttonous consumer culture, and few of us are immune. I live pretty simply for the most part, but I own two dozen (?!?!) pairs of shoes, and I just ordered another pair of sandals on Amazon this week.


It’s not hard to imagine how that might translate into a sense of never having enough as individuals. If more growth is always required, there can be no contentment. In many punk/artist communities that I’ve been part of, being broke is worn as a badge of honor. We laugh at and disparage those who have lots of money as shills, cogs in the capitalist machine. But if we buy into the idea that we’re always, will always be, broke, aren’t we just enacting the other side of the same coin?


Financial blogger Hadassah Damien says, “You don’t have to like, love, or even understand capitalism to get to survive it. I mean survive it like all the single moms and working families and folks at joyless gigs to pay student loans and hustling artists and everyone working a black market job and everyone in the service industry and freelancers and roommates and collective houses and coops and and and. ...You. Deserve. A. Future. And so, you can choose to put energy towards that future....That future needs you, wherever you are today.”

SCARCITY AND FEAR

It bears repeating that there is a difference between living in actual scarcity and living in the fear of it. Here’s an example (via Ride Free). Sacrifice and hardship are not the same. If paying $15 instead of $5 for yoga class would mean that you can’t buy yourself a green juice from the juice bar after class, that’s a sacrifice. It’s trading one non-essential purchase for another. If on the other hand, paying $15 for yoga class would mean that you can’t put gas in your car to get to work the next day, that is a hardship.


Many of us conflate the two and inadvertently treat our sacrifices as hardships. We live paralyzed by the fear of not having enough, because we know that in this system, there can never be enough. What’s more, capitalism encourages us to always try to get the most gain for the smallest output. It’s the essence of the system. Employers pay workers the minimum wage in order to maximize their own profits. “In a pure financial transaction we are all identical: we all want to get the best deal” (Eisenstein).


How does this shake down in a sliding scale economy?  We, as purchasers, get to decide the value of the product, and we simply aren’t experienced at assigning value. In most other cases, our choice is simply whether or not to make the purchase at the price determined by the seller: I decide my weekend workshop costs $250, and you decide whether or not the workshop is worth that price to you. With sliding scale the roles are reversed, and the choice is much more complex: we have to decide how much the good or service is worth to us.


We are woefully unprepared to make this decision. It can be difficult to justify paying more than the lowest amount simply because we have the option to pay less, and paying less now guarantees more for later. All of us living under capitalism have the experience of either actual scarcity, perceived scarcity, or fear of future scarcity. I continue to oscillate through all of them. When we approach the sliding scale system with a capitalist mindset, it’s no wonder we’re all the $6 student. We’ve had a lifetime of practice at it.  


HOW MUCH IS ENOUGH?

My own financial situation has shifted a lot in the past five years, as has my perspective. I am finally out of debt, but I actually make less money now than I did in many years prior, namely because I quit the restaurant industry entirely to focus on teaching yoga and making art. By some standards I live very simply: I don’t own a car, or have a smartphone, and very rarely buy new clothes, instead preferring my bike, my flip phone, and thrift store shopping. But by many other standards I am incredibly wealthy, and I live more abundantly than I ever have.


I have lots of caveats around the concept of abundance, which is often class and racial privilege masquerading as “shifting your mindset,” but my life is different now than it ever has been. Some of that certainly comes from the reality of my financial situation shifting, but much of it comes from a shift in my understanding of my own position in a system in which there can never be enough. I can’t keep pretending that I don’t have what I need right now because I’m afraid I won’t have it in the future.


So I’ve started paying at the higher end of the sliding scale. This is not comfortable for me to do. It pushes alllllll of my buttons, but I’m giving it a try anyway. I went to a donation-based meditation retreat in May, and I asked myself how much I could comfortably pay, and then I paid $50 more than that. I’m unlearning my own habits, and trying to get my mind out from under a system that wants to keep us all scared and small and broke(n), both financially and otherwise. Social researcher Brene Brown says, “For me, the opposite of scarcity is not abundance. It's enough. I'm enough.”


I don’t mean any of this as a finger-wagging admonishment to give me a raise, or as an indictment of anyone's personal spending habits. Some among us are actually struggling financially, and if that’s you, please keep being the $5 student, or the student who pays in fresh herbs from the garden, or the student who says “I’m broke right now. Can I pay you next week?”. I’m thrilled and honored to have you there regardless of your ability to pay. But for the rest of us, I believe it’s worth looking at the intersection of our past experiences, our present privilege, and the way we’ve been inculcated into scarcity simply by being alive in capitalism.


How much money would you need to make for it to be ENOUGH? How would your life be different if you believed you had enough? How would your spending habits change? Would you be able to sleep at night instead of lying awake worrying about money? Could you stop obsessively monitoring your expenses or avoiding looking at your bank account? Would you give to charities more, or support other organizations who do work you believe in? Would you be a $15 student instead of a $6 student? Who would you become?


Want more resources? Hadassah Damien's blog has a wealth (pun entirely intended!) of information: ridefreefearlessmoney.com. Charles Eisenstein's book Sacred Economics is a worthy read on creating new systems for exchange, and you can read it for free at charleseisenstein.net/books. Both of these are quoted in this essay.

If this essay was useful to you, you might like

Freely: An Anti-Capitalist Guide to Setting Your Rates.

This online workshop is Thursday, May 23 at 1pm Central Time. It’s $19.

Sign up over here!

why your to-do list doesn't get done

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Is your to-do list dysfunctional?

Imagine this:

You're building a new website (ahem...) You might be tempted to write something like "work on website" on your to-do list. So then every time you sit down to work, "work on website" is what looms at you from the page. You're never sure what the next right step is or how to pick up where you left off.  You've been working at it for weeks, but it's still not done, so you don’t get to cross anything off the list.

You know the feelings that follow: frustration, irritation, and that anxiety of feeling like you haven’t done enough.  

Weirdly, the problem might be that you didn’t add enough items to your to-do list.

I know this seems counterintuitive, but breaking down what you have to do into annoyingly small parts can be VERY effective at actually making progress.

What I’m saying is, add as many tasks as possible to your to-do list.

When you’re tempted to write “work on website” on your list, take a minute and break it down into smaller, more doable chunks. “Work on website” might feel clear to you, but a website redesign is a big-ass project made up of a ton of smaller tasks. Consider instead "make header graphic for homepage" or "write copy for about page" or "research pop-up plug-ins."

To reiterate, a task is a discrete action, something that can be accomplished in one sitting, while a project is multifaceted and by definition requires coordination of multiple parts.

At first all this writing might seem like a waste of time ("I don't have time to write all these things down! I'm trying to Get Shit Done!"). But trust me, having a clear plan is paramount for accomplishing what you've set out to do.

When you put a project on your task list (“Work on website”), you get stuck, too paralyzed to begin because you don’t know where to start. But when you break down a project into tasks (Write about page copy”), you can take action. And one action leads to more.

Momentum coupled with a clear action plan can keep you from falling into inertia and overwhelm.

When you know where you're going, you're that much more likely to actually end up there. And when you can honestly cross things off your list, you accomplish more, feel better about your work, and BONUS, you might end up feeling better about yourself too.

INQUIRY: Can you implement this shift in thinking? What else keeps you from finishing what you start?

ACTION: Write a new to-do list for yourself that includes only TASKS and no projects. Take a picture of your new list and send it to me for some external accountability. #getshitdone

Much love,

Bear

P.S. The next round of Get Shit Done starts October 7. Click here for more info or to sign up!

why i'm proud of being flaky

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Why do we value reliability over honesty?

So many of us, particularly those of us socialized female, have a tendency to always put the needs of others first. We’ve been trained to value being reliable and keeping our word above all else. I hear it over and over again from my coaching clients:

“I’d rather not go to that meeting/party/playdate/etc---BUT I said I would, soooooo....”

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that it’s never important to put on some #actualpants and show up for the people you’re close to. And for those with kids or other dependents, what you feel like doing isn’t always relevant.

But in so many other cases, we police ourselves and in each other into doing shit we don’t want to do.

For example, I agreed to go on a trip to Mexico this summer with a dear friend. We decided spontaneously, over a glass of wine at the neighborhood wine shop. The plane tickets were so cheap that we bought them on the spot.

But in the weeks since then, I’ve waffled. When I thought about going on this trip, I didn’t feel excited. I felt anxious. I felt “off.” It wasn’t personal at all, but to me, all my reasons felt like frivolous justifications.

“I can’t just back out of this trip! We’re travelling internationally! We bought the plane tickets already. She’ll be so disappointed if I don’t go. What kind of a terrible friend am I??” etc etc. But I just couldn’t shake the feeling: I didn’t want to go.

So finally, I called my friend.

“I can’t go to Mexico. I want to want to go, but I just don’t.”

She was surprised and sad and disappointed. But it was okay. She called our other travel companion to regroup, and texted later to let me know that everything was cool between us. #goodfriend

What kind of world is it if we value doing what you said you would do three weeks ago over  doing what feels like the right thing to do in this moment? Who benefits when we value reliability over authenticity?

Valuing reliability relates to patriarchy, rape culture, and ableism.

In terms of patriarchy: women are taught to prioritize the needs of others over ourselves. Women are never the center of our own story. That’s not to say that men can’t or wouldn’t sacrifice themselves for others, but when they do, it’s seen as heroic, whereas when women do it, it’s seen as expected, natural, par for the course.

So when we value showing up for something simply to preserve the feelings of other people, we’re upholding that patriarchal position.

The subtle coerciveness of rape culture is based on (among other things) the assumption that consent is irrevocable. If you said you wanted to do whatever-sexy-act last week or ten minutes ago, you’re not supposed to change your mind. Changing your mind is an affront to the desires of the other person, thus, your desires are secondary. (See point #1.)

But consent culture says we’re allowed to say yes now and say no five minutes from now. We’re allowed to change our minds. We’re allowed to back out.

Ableism presumes that your abilities stay basically the same from day to day, but for folks with disabilities, chronic illness or mental health issues, this isn’t true. Heck, it’s not true even for those of us that are (currently) able-bodied. What’s possible right now, in today’s body and mind, may or may not be possible in three hours or three days or three weeks.

The ability to say yes and then change one’s mind without social penalty is crucial for creating communities that are welcoming for differently-abled people.

So being flaky, aka, being okay with backing out of something you previously agreed to, might actually be the best thing you can do for yourself.

And get this, it might actually be better for the person on the other end of your agreement too. Because here’s the thing--when someone shows up to something out of obligation, YOU CAN TELL. It’s often apparent when there’s no enthusiasm.

I’m not saying to bail on people with no warning. I’m not saying to ghost your lover or no-show on your BFF. But with clear, direct communication, you can state your needs and your boundaries and do what you really need to do.

Yes, someone else might be sad that you couldn’t make it. It might put your coworker in a tizzy for a minute. But if these people really want what’s best for you, they’ll trust that you know what that is, even if it’s inconvenient or disappointing for them.

The idea that we have to prioritize other people’s feelings over our own well being--I’m through with it. It’s bullshit, and it doesn’t serve us anymore.

Here’s to unpacking coercive, ableist norms. It makes the world better, easier, and more liberated, not just for women or disabled people, but for ALL OF US.

Much love, 

Bear