Another Now: Dispatches from an Alternative Present – Yanis Varoufakis

Oh, Varoufakis. I wasn’t entirely sure ‘hate-read’ could be a thing, and I am not sure I am there yet with Varoufakis. But I am starting to wonder. When I heard Varoufakis talking about this book, and his description of it, I was damn near giddy, but I had very few doubts that this book was going to be anything but a failure.

Now I would like to share why I think Varoufakis should be lauded for his failure. The tradition of writing Utopias is largely gone. Dystopias are all the rage now-a-days (unfortunately), but the two genres have very little in common1. The Utopian tradition of literature was an opportunity for someone to put on their big-boy/girl/other authoritarian pants and say “if I were in charge, things would be different around here!”, and then prove how things would be better if everyone shut up and listened for once. Varoufakis isn’t naive, the fucking genre as a whole is. I think that is why we no longer see these being written. If Varoufakis wants to throw his hat into the ring of stupidity with everyone else’s curmudgeonly old grandfather, he should be welcome to.

Kudos to Varoufakis for the framing device he gave his Utopia. In the Utopian tradition (Plato, Moore, Campanella), they tended to open with ‘there is this kingdom over yonder, and they do things differently there’. Well, we are beyond the age of exploration, so Varoufakis has his utopia be from an alternative universe. It’s clever, but then he tells you that the universe split from ours at the Occupy Wall Street movement.

Have you ever laughed at someone when you thought they were joking and they were deadly serious? That’s how that felt.

More kudos to the author for giving the book actual characters reacting to the ideas of this utopia. Or, at least somewhat. More on that later.

But good lord, just read this thing. It feels painfully naive in many places. Has Vaoufakis met humans? Hack Read loves to inform me that ‘security is a myth’, and that is a good heuristic outside of cyberspace too. If you can devise a system, someone can devise a way around it. That is the problem with every chapter in this book (that deal with his actual Utopia, not the window dressing chapters, or the ones that describe what went wrong in our world). But what’s really wild is that you only get two chapters of utopia description before even the characters of this novel start talking about how shit some of these ideas are. Just how shit are these ideas? Consider:

  • In the chapter where he describes the Utopia’s flat, hierarchy-less working environment, I felt literal fucking dread at the prospect of working there. I am unsure how he didn’t too. I have experienced poor work environments because of bigots I worked for, and considering that Varoufakis has a book titled Adults in the Room that goes into how poorly (and unreasonably) he was treated by the EU, I am sure this is something he can get behind. I don’t believe for a minute that we currently operate on a meritocratic system, but the one he describes is on fire with the potential for bias and nepotism. People will just make working groups with their friends and get little accomplished, until the group dissolves. This feels like little more than putting the burden of HR duties onto other employees, but frankly this is one aspect of corporate Fordism that I hypothetically like (I have worked for preciously few corporations).
  • The next chapter goes into how the alternative reality threw off the yokes of capitalism. It was a fun little tale, but every few paragraphs I found myself asking “what’s to stop these people from exploiting what they are doing for their own personal gain?” The characters in Varoufakis’ world are brimming over with socialistic altruism. I don’t think that holds in reality.
  • In another chapter, he describes how to keep property values fair by having people bid for them in an auction, as if a person with more resources couldn’t just bid for properties around him to, for instance, keep competitors at bay.

I was barely trying to debunk these. Imagine what a few friends with some beers and a pen and paper could do.

Somewhere above I quipped that the characters in Varoufakis’ world were not very realistic. Yea, that’s what a work like this hinges on. This is another one of those books where I don’t know whether to file it under fiction or non-fiction. I should have an allegory category. That isn’t to be mean to the writer. Genre and definitions are important. Fiction isn’t just ‘not true.’ Largely, it deals with characters, and their very real reactions to things. When it comes to the descriptions here, there are no characters, and thus the reactions to events and situations in the book are caricatures of what real people would do. Nothing any of these characters did made any god damned sense, ever. Nor did the latter parts of the plot make any sense. I don’t want to be actually mean, but Varoufakis should stick to economics. Reading this reminded me of the work of every person who shows up to writers’ meetups and says “I don’t read books, but I am working on a trilogy of novels.”

Another Now strikes me as a book written by a person naive enough to think that the world’s problems can not only by solved, but can be solved by him. The problem is that Varoufakis is not at all charitable with his understanding of the modern world. You can see this clearly in his description of how the IMF works. Not an alternative reality one. There isn’t even the pretense of hiding his disdain for the institution. Someone really needs to tell Varoufakis that you make better arguments when you steelman. Condemning Boris and Natasha is easy.

Καλη fucking τυχη, ελλαδα, if you’re going to keep this guy in your government.

1 I think this has something little to with any kind of cynicism on our societies part, and more to do with the fact conflict makes fiction. The Hunger Games would have sold nothing had they taken place in an idyllic world where everything was ok.

Frankly, I have no idea. And I am happy this way.

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