Late Capitalism Viewed From Above
Having arrived in Seattle under wildfire smoke that makes breathing here worse than in Beijing, I proceed to go on a run that offers the worst and the best of America.
Seattle University is in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood. It’s a beautiful, compact little Jesuit campus. Time zone changes woke me early, so I got out on a run in the early hours (the smoke advisory said not to… I did anyways).
When you turn the corner onto 12th, in very short succession you encounter all of what is best and worst about our nation and our economic situation.
The Best and the Worst
A Ferrari dealership, with a homeless man sleeping out front in a box.
New apartment buildings named Decibel and Rhythm, “lifestyle apartments,” just a block up from a clearly impoverished immigrant neighborhood.
Seattle Men’s Chorus offices, because this is the cultural center of the LGBTQ+ community here.
Five coffee houses in two blocks.
A German Biergarten just blocks away from an Ethiopian restaurant, both very fancy.
Lots of signs that read, “No public restrooms. Don’t ask.”
Seattle University’s track leaves their gates wide open, so community members can walk and run.
Piles of garbage out front of a “wood-fired bagel” restaurant.
Also a gluten-free bakery next to Starbucks.
Every kind of medical clinic, at each corner.
Lush landscaping, everything green… near dead grass, and everything construction.
Why the List? Exposing Late Capitalism?
I catalog all of this not because I’m going to attempt, Walter Benjamin-like, an Arcades Project. Although that would be wonderful and fun to pursue in a city like Seattle.
No, I catalog it mainly because of what I felt while making that run. I was afraid of the smoke, a little bit, and noticed all the bikers wearing surgical masks.
But I was also exhilarated, oddly, by running in that smoke. Can you feel more alive while exposing yourself to greater risk? I did.
And as much as I was disgusted by the Ferrari dealership, on another level, I found it fascinating and wonderful and beautiful. Can you find something compelling and disgusting at the same time?
There’s something about proximity. This conference I’m attending at the university is a church vitality conference, and includes conversations about developing prison ministries. Just down the street there’s the detention center. While we comfortably conference at the university.
So how much are we responsible, and are there levels of inadvertent irresponsibility that arise precisely in moments of supposed responsibility?
I believe what I am trying to say here, mostly descriptively, is this:
A run like this exposes the idol. You land in a city and breathe the smoke from the sacrifice, and the name this idol goes by is… Late Capitalism.