Pause. Reset. Where do we go from here?

Max Unfiltered.

A person adjusting dystopian vintage-style radio knobs. Image Description: A person adjusting dystopian vintage-style radio knobs.

Summary: I’m still catching my breath from the immigration series, slew of Phone A Friends and topical political stories these past couple of weeks. The upcoming essays are all pretty exciting and intense so I decided to take a moment to have a family meeting with Unf*ckers in another “Max Unfiltered.”

It’s graduation season. So where do we go from here Unf*ckers?

I’ve approached this point a couple of times each year since starting the podcast. The point when my brain is full and swirling from prior essays and my eyes are bigger than my stomach. There are so many topics I want to get to but I’m still mired in some of the work we’ve done. So it’s time for an unfiltered conversation. A palate cleanser to work through my thoughts in real time, synthesize some of what we’ve learned and see how we can apply it to the topics going forward.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve found our time together to be quite the learning journey. My absolute favorite thing about it all is the empty page. I wonder what in your lives gives you that same thrill. The blank sheet to a composer, the empty canvas to the painter, full time on the clock before a match. That moment of pure potential. Then there’s a euphoria that comes with discovery, the writing process itself, that I don’t often get in my day job. I wonder how many of us do.

When I finish something like the Over The Borderline series, there’s even a sense of loss and sadness that comes with closing the chapter because you become ensconced in the subject and the stories. But that’s where the Unf*cking community comes into play. Slowly the feedback rolls in and the dialogue begins. And it allows me to hold onto those thoughts and remain in that place of wonder and discovery a little longer. It’s your gift to me and I’m deeply appreciative of it.

The highlight of the journey is arriving in a different place from where I started. But there’s a trapdoor in the process. When you fall into it and look around you’re suddenly confronted with your own assumptions and biases that have been cultivated through a lifetime of experience. You’re also confronted by your own ignorance and fear. And it can be an echo chamber. I know a lot of people who block out oppositional noise in favor of the comfort of confirmation. There are people who warn against reading the comment sections and listening to the trolls. And there’s merit to this in an artistic endeavor. But in the work we do, I think it’s important to get into the muck and tussle with the naysayers who are hardwired to resent your presence and disagree with your conclusions. All of us, every single one of us, is a bundle of fear and resentment, the sum total of our wins and losses, triumph and trauma. To discount someone’s opinion is to discount the whole of their lived experience. This is yet another gift this community has given me. Teaching without taunting. If ever we cross the rubicon of popularity and expand beyond our little universe, I’m confident the trolls and haters will come out of the woodwork. But in this comfortable moment when it’s still just us, I feel safe and supported.

When I look back at the original essays when we first started, it has a 100 level college feel to it. Setting the table, laying the groundwork. We did some big picture level setting talking about things like capitalism, objectivism, militarism, Christianity and neoliberalism. We identified some big themes and bad actors and threw a few punches. Then we hit the 200 level and drilled a little deeper into certain concepts and ideologies. A few more bad actors named. And we looked beyond our borders.

And over the last year or so I feel like we’ve really hit the 300 course level, especially with our deep dive series. I think we lost a few Unf*ckers along the way, even though we’ve certainly met a great deal more. But I think about these old friends a lot. Not in a people pleasing yearning to hold onto audience members way, but wondering what they’re going through. Where have their journeys taken them? I know I’ve gotten a lot more serious along the way and the show isn’t as entertaining as it once was, though we still have our moments. The country seems to be drifting further apart. The world around us is changing rapidly and everything just feels like it’s accelerating. And it has me thinking about dialectical materialism, the ways in which we’re changing the world and it is changing us as a result.

This interchange of ideas and experiences is altering our consciousness and it feels as though we’re entering a new phase. I’ve spoken about this before. For example, our world is increasingly driven by corporate interests. We’re careening into inverted totalitarianism and exiting neoliberalism. The more topics we cover, the further away we seem from solutions. As I reflect on this year alone, so many of the issues we explore feel insurmountable. Everything is an onion.

We began this year on an optimistic note interviewing my good friend and reverend, Roger Williams to discuss how religious frameworks can help us further our understanding of ourselves and the world around us. Soon thereafter we steeped ourselves in the complex and evolving world of mental health. We spoke with Ben Burgis and Briahna Joy Gray about the state of left politics and whether there are discernible paths forward to reignite the flame of the Bernie movement that has since fractured into pieces. Pieces that are set against one another in the conflict in Palestine.

And as the weeks wore on, I found myself lured by the siren song of the election, despite arguing in the progressive meditation essay that the outcome mattered little because we’d lost a long time ago. This is the time for rebuilding.

Last week, faithful listener Dan M. chastened me a bit in response to my hit piece on Scott Galloway. It’s not that he disagreed with anything I said, just that it didn’t need to be said. “We need praxis,” he wrote. Praxis indeed.

We need solutions to the problems we face. The myriad crises ahead of us differ in nature because the systems we’ve built are responsible for them and inherently incapable of solving them. In fact they feed on fostering further social dislocation and disenfranchisement. We cannot ignore the echoes of history that haunt us in the present. Anti-Semitism. War over resources. Preventable famines. Unfolding genocide. Political brinkmanship. Racial divides. Widening inequality. The haves and the have nots. Humans treating humans badly is nothing new in this world, but never has there been so many of us all circling one another in a bloodthirsty game of musical chairs. One by one the chairs that represent the pillars of functioning society are being pulled from the game and we’re losing participants. Human lives being sacrificed in low lying areas, the planet’s first victims of extreme weather events and rising sea levels. The canaries in our global coal mine.

Others embark on the long journey of displacement: fleeing floods, famines, failed crops, drug cartels, mining expeditions, and political instability. We respond by sending aid and relief and yet it’s not enough. Only 12% of the funds requested by the United Nations have made it through to war torn Sudan to aid and comfort the hundreds of thousands of refugees. Blockades in Gaza preventing famine relief to innocent Palestinian families who have no homes to return to and nowhere to seek refuge.

Technology advances while humanity recedes. AI has only begun to replace the laboring class in advanced nations but it has already impacted several menial back office jobs abroad. There are movements afoot to shift OECD nation work weeks from 40 to 32 hours because we’re doing more with less. Instead, corporations lay off vast numbers of workers to generate more profit. Savings and efficiencies only go to the corporate class and never to the laboring class. Corporate profits reached record highs in 2023. So much so that some CEOs have begun to express concern on earnings calls that they’ve pushed prices too high. Not concerned enough to bring them down, of course, just that consumers might be a bit stretched thereby making it more challenging to quench Wall Street’s insatiable thirst for more. More top line. More bottom line. More, more, more.

The Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy found that America’s largest corporations saw their effective tax rates go from 22% to 12.8% as a result of Trump’s tax laws. And that the number of corporations paying less than 10% in taxes increased from 56 to 95. Biden’s solution of a minimum corporate tax and a penalty on stock buybacks took effect in 2023, but 15% is hardly enough to change behavior, and given the trajectory of this campaign season, it’s hard to imagine the next President, a one Mr. Donald J. Trump, allowing this to stand.

In fact, much of what could be considered positive news under the Biden administration can be undone with the stroke of a pen. Moreover, a Congressional defeat would imperil nearly everything that was accomplished in the major stimulus and infrastructure bills, except where certain industries like defense and manufacturing are concerned. We covered this extensively in the Project 2025 essay.

Less talk. More praxis.

Jeff Main from the organization Point of Pride spoke to the concerns among trans folk in this country should Trump regain control of the White House. Tad DeLay, author of Future of Denial, demystified the jargon behind climate science to illustrate in practical and political terms what will happen when, not if, we continue to pursue the present path. More famine, sea level rise, displacement, disease. Migrant crisis on a scale not seen since the plagues of the Middle Ages. But we know that the United States, at least, has known this since the military models of the 1990s, the corporate scientific discoveries in the 1970s and, as we learned, from the earliest climate models in the late 1800s.

All three major candidates in this election are devoted capitalists. “I’m a capitalist,” Joe Biden reminds us at every turn. Trump is the cartoon vision of a capitalist, or as one comedian put it, a poor person’s image of a rich person. RFK Jr. praises the free market while chiding the corporate class. There’s a disconnect in there that he hasn’t quite figured out. The least worst option, the lesser of all evils, is once again what’s on the menu and the corporate media is feasting on the chaos. Anderson Cooper’s crocodile tears, Sean Hannity’s fake outrage. Mainstream media is back in business, folks and it’s going to be a ratings bonanza.

Yes, this is the time for praxis. But praxis implies that there is a baseline understanding of the problem and theoretical framework for necessary solutions. I want to get to this work, I truly do. But if I’m being honest with you all, I’m stuck at the beginning. At the understanding phase. Not on our part, mind you. I think we have a grasp on problems and their root causes. On the part of everyone who is subjected to the tentacles and grip of the root cause itself. Capitalism.

If you’ve made it through capitalism a winner and sit atop of the pile, then the system worked for you so why would you change it? The economic system we confuse with capitalism only moves one way. And the gains compound and amplify the more those who benefit from the system exercise controls over the levers of power in all other systems. Praxis within the system we have is, for lack of a better term, whipped cream on shit.

And so moving forward we are going to talk about issues that can and should be solved. We’ll talk about the corporate cartels that control the economy and how we can curb their power and authority. We’ll talk transportation. Artificial intelligence. Healthcare. Fossil Fuels. Houselessness. Civil rights. We’ll continue to look outside of the United States to take the temperature of the world around us to see how much of our cold everyone is catching.

To be sure, our mind disease is spreading to Canada. It has already infected Mexico and certain parts of Latin America. It’s still rampant throughout Europe and together we’ve exported misery to nearly every part of the Global South. We act as though China is our mortal enemy, and we’re spoiling for a fight. But in reality they’re our partner in crimes against humanity and we need them as much as they need us to keep playing this game of musical chairs. Make no mistake, the leadership of the PRC and the powers that be in the United States are in agreement that we’ll be the last two standing in this deadly game of musical chairs. And in all reality, given the climate models for the end of this century, we’re the odds on favorite.

All of which brings me to where I guess I’ve been headed all along. The anarchists foresaw what Marx and Engels could not. Capitalism cannot be contained and will not inevitably and gradually give way to socialism. From the legal system to global markets and the way we measure success, we have remade the image of the planet and society in this funhouse image of capitalism. Everything we know, everything we possess, covet and build toward revolves around property. Your home. Your job. Your body. Your retirement. Your stuff. My stuff. Your rights. My rights. Capitalism has bent every system and structure to its will and extracted the marrow of all those who cannot participate. And even those who refused to play the game all along will wind up casualties in our dark pursuit of property.

So, yes. Praxis. But first, systems. We’ve done the work to know from whence we came. The 300 course work is coming to a close. It’s time to pursue a master’s degree, to take what we’ve learned thus far and push ourselves to project what happens next and which systems are required to actually Unf*ck The Republic. Otherwise, we’ll be applying bandages to a broken body and severed limbs.

So happy graduation, Unf*ckers. Here endeth our bachelor’s degree.

Max is a basic, middle-aged white guy who developed his cultural tastes in the 80s (Miami Vice, NY Mets), became politically aware in the 90s (as a Republican), started actually thinking and writing in the 2000s (shifting left), became completely jaded in the 2010s (moving further left) and eventually decided to launch UNFTR in the 2020s (completely left).