ANDREW BODIFORD AND THE BLUEPRINT OF A FAIR SOCIETY
an RR22 production by Emma King
an RR22 production by Emma King
photographs by Andyland
words and modeling by Andrew Bodiford
Emma King: So, the idea is that this is an interview magazine. I don’t know how much I told you before...
Andrew Bodiford: Not a lot. You said it was an interview magazine, which sounds super hot because I am also starting a journal.
E: Oh, amazing. We should collaborate!
E: So, it’s called Refuze Review. Like garbage, like trash, like refusing, like coming together. The idea is to highlight the work that our peers are doing to try to make a better world. I think there is this general feeling that we don’t have any traction because we’re functioning in the gig economy, which gives us the freedom to do what each of us need to do in order to make a new world, but it's also very isolating. People in performance arts don’t get enough of a platform to talk about their processes, but also people who are in social justice work get even less of a platform to have an opportunity for self-reflection and acknowledging successes and talking through their process to work out challenges. We are entirely capable of answering our own questions. It's just a matter of hearing yourself say it and knowing that when you say it there is someone else there who cares to listen. So, all of that is a part of this. People are doing really exciting things, including yourself, and I want to make more of a platform for that to be seen.
A: I think that’s awesome. It’s very true; I pretty much work all alone in all the things I’m doing, and it can be very isolating. That’s definitely one of the biggest things. It’s hard without community.
E: And it’s weird because all the work we are doing is about community!
A: It’s about people. Right!
E: If what you are doing is trying to be relevant to other people, it’s really hard to work by yourself.
A: It’s probably one of the more interesting lessons of this year because at certain points during the campaign I was almost a one-person operation. I was doing all the canvasing myself, all of the social media myself and it was very daunting. In retrospect, I should have just made it so I wasn’t doing all that stuff myself, but that’s just kind of how it panned out.
E: It definitely seems like things are more effective the more people are involved, but I think we are also afraid of collaboration because it seems like the connection between people can be tenuous and complicated and could take away from the focus of the project. And if we collaborate with people we want to pay each other.
A: Right, that was also an issue I had. I didn’t have any money to pay people. So you end up working for yourself for free when you don’t have any money to pay people.
E: Exactly. And working for yourself is not a good option, really. There is no money in that.
A: It’s challenging. This was an existential problem that I had when I was running my campaign:I didn’t have lots of surrogates to help run it. I learned that you have to have a group of people to do this. It’s impossible to do this particular thing alone. I think that’s probably true with a lot of things but with other things, like writing, you can write alone.
E: You need editing though!
A: You do. With my book I did all my own editing but I think I needed more help with publicizing it.
E: Yeah, I feel like the benefit of having people involved in the preliminary stages is not that they would do a better job editing, it’s that they become emotionally invested in the project and then, in theory, it becomes theirs and then they also share it. It definitely pays back to work with other people. Especially if you are a politician or writing about social issues.
A: In politics, it's literally all about other people. Politics is about the majority at the end of the day. At least in a democracy, whoever gets the most votes wins. In organizing, it’s different. Political office is very majoritarian, or at least it should be.
E: As an introvert, I’m like, why should it be an extrovert’s game? That seems unfair. But, as you’re saying, if it’s not about the majority it's about the minority. That whole language of majority versus minority, the way that word minority is used is so violent. That’s old news, but I feel like the fact that we’re beyond the language of majority/minority tells us everything we need to know about the inefficiency of a system that is inherently about isolating the “majority” voice. It’s very scientific in that you are creating data about the majority and when you create data the whole project is collecting a diversity- you want your sample to be as diverse as possible- but at the end of the day there is only one winner. You condense all of that diverse information into one answer. Politically, I feel like we are moving past a scientific mentality into a more diversified environment. Does that sound relevant to you?
I learned that you have to have a group to do this. It’s impossible to do this particular thing alone.
What is the direction of technology and who is it benefiting? That’s a huge question we have to answer for the future of our society.
A: It brings up the really big issue: who is “the body politic,” right? Obviously, right-wing forces are very obsessed with saying that only “real Americans,” nativists, are legitimate voices of the body politic.
E: Nativists as in fucking white supremacists?
A: Right. White supremacists, racists, these general nativists. I think the argument they were making when they tried to rationalize and intellectualize the January 6th insurrection was, well, we got the majority of real Americans, right? In their view, I mean, it leaves little to the imagination who they think isn’t real.
E: The majority of people who are real.
A: The majority of people, right.
E: It’s so disturbing.
A: And I think that’s something that they genuinely do believe. I don’t think they are lying to themselves, at least in an ideological sense. Maybe Trump is lying to himself to justify trying to retain power. His goons and his lackeys certainly weren't. The challenge a lot of us have is trying to unite people around a common agenda, some sort of common interest, because at the end of the day people do have different experiences. It requires coalitions and unity and to some extent just empathy with people who are different from yourself to achieve a powerful enough force to actually win change for everyone.
E: I appreciate the way that you said that because it gives respect to the diversity of experience. People do live in different realities due to oppression and cultural specificity. At the end of the day, there is one reality and it is the overlap of all of those experiences. All truths at once. That’s what politics is about: taking responsibility for that vantage point. There is this implication that because people’s experiences of reality are so different that they are in some way contradictory. The Trump people really promote the idea that “your definition of truth cannot exist while mine exists.” The far left and the far right come together on that but in between, conflicts coexist.
A: I agree that there is such a thing as The Truth. It’s not just a fractured “my truth, my truth, my truth.” I don’t think it has a literal divine nature but there is something that is true that if you were to look at it from a divine perspective you would see it. It’s important because the more divided people are, and the less willing they are to empathize with people who are different from them, I mean, this is a recipe for disaster. This is how the capitalist ruling class has always dominated society. Now more than ever. I definitely saw this when I was campaigning about what people think are the most important issues. There is a strong divide that has emerged in the last ten years and in practical terms, it doesn't have that many effects yet but it certainly has the potential to. The result of the mayoral election was really sad at the end of the day. This was an easily avoidable problem for the left, speaking as a leftist and someone who wanted a left-wing government in NYC. With a certain amount of coordination and unity, Eric Adams could have been more successfully isolated by the other candidates.
E: As a conserative figure and therefore disqualified?
A: Not disqualified, but it bears saying that people voted for more conservative candidates in this election for some understandable reasons. The left was too quick to dismiss fears about public safety; on objective grounds, I think that the left’s analysis of public safety was correct, that most of the increases in violent crime were a result of the economics of the pandemic. This is a visceral issue for a lot of people. There could have been more understanding- not for policies that are wrong or bad, but for the impulses that people would have around for public safety.
E: Anticipating the moves of the more conservative democratic candidates.
A: Precisely. That was a dropped ball. I don’t think Eric Adams would have won in the primary without his push on public safety.
E: The right wins on these fear based “conservative” concerns that have to do with domestic safety. Wow, I have so much respect for you as a political figure. Speaking this way is terrifying. The left is more about creating change as opposed to the prioritization of tradition. But even leftists want to feel safe and want to feel that good social infrastructures are being maintained, as opposed to this idea of an anarchical constant revision of our social structure. That doesn't feel sustainable. We are creating problems for ourselves just as quickly as we are solving problems. I think it’s important to question the importance of technology and how far it can take us, with all this space stuff. Not only is it not where our hearts are but we are well aware it’s only going to make our plights here on Earth more challenging. The people who are already challenged will only be more subjugated.
A: I think that’s completely true. There is a certain faith in techno-progress which is potentially dangerous if you are not questioning for whom the technology is being used for and what means the technology is using to achieve its aims. We’ve seen the basic issues of democratic ownership and control over technology a lot more clearly since Edward Snowden and the debates over technology companies' market power. What is the direction of technology and who is it benefiting? That’s a huge question we have to answer for the future of our society. Actually, one even more conceptual point that is relevant is that there is a common perception on the right that liberals and the left are techno-modernists. I’m seeing this more and more as I read things online that coservative politics is doing around the world. There is the opinion among conservatives that the other side is techno-modernist and that this is bad for various reasons: it erodes traditional social identities or takes power away from traditional elites and gives it to a new type of elite. In some ways you see this among conservatives in America when they are talking about new elites. They never seem to talk about the actual new elites in America: the people who own the means of production, the most powerful companies, the richest people.
E: It feels like everyday we are not using our government to hold billionaires accountable is another day that the political system is not relevant. Anything could be happening down here. We are just losing more and more of our say. I also have had conversations with people about how, with the direction that this all is going, our power is not in our money. It’s paper or it’s bitcoin, based on electricity that’s going to run out or something. Those are finite realities, but we are the embodied majority. Obviously it’s a complicated group but we have major power because when it comes down to it true power is in presence and force. But who knows, Elon Musk could go to Mars with all of our money and then somehow make us all die. That seems very plausible at this point.
A: There is so much abuse that could happen with space oligarchs.
E: As a femme, I think its hilarious that these men think they have any power at all because of this big amassed amount of money. Like I’m not convinced- we have not been convinced. They can leave with their pile of bullshit. The earth itself is true wealth. The earth is life; life is wealth and meaning. The earth always heals, it’s unstoppable.
A: I agree. Elon is just a dude.
E: Just one little squirrel.
A: One little squirrel crawling across a great mother planet.
E: Can you give your pronouns, then tell a story that starts with “once upon a time” that tells us who you are? Then can you tell us about your first book and then the one you are getting out?
A: Sure, I’m Andrew. He/him. Let’s see…Once upon a time, I was walking down the street and suddenly I ran into this person, a friend of mine in NY that I’ve only ever met randomly on the street. We’ve hung out four times and all four times we’ve encountered each other randomly. The first was at Penn Station. The second two were on the street and the fourth time was actually right here where we are sitting right now. We always have such a great time talking about the world and things and just having a drink. There’s something really cool about that thing. That we live in a world where you can run into another member of humanity without any sort of design or plan and just be there in your common humanity. That is possible.
E: Good story.
A: So, my books. I wrote a book in 2016 called “The Economic Reformation.” The basic idea is this: we are facing a moment of profound crisis in our civilization, the whole structure of our material arrangement on earth (though I get more into that in some of the writing I've been doing in my second book). The crisis we have is both about the sustainability of our economic model in itself and for the inequality it creates and the chaos that creates, plus the needless human suffering that creates in a world where we have enough to feed everyone and meet everyone’s basic needs without much challenge. The second crisis is more concrete: it’s a profound ecological crisis. We have the crisis of climate change that the world's leaders have been utterly unable to fix and it's just not in the design of the capitalist economic system to fix it as it stands right now.
My book goes through a lot of the implications of this. I discussed how we have such a skewed world that the economy ends up not really benefiting the interest of most people who are in it. It gets back to this question- for whom is economic activity being done for? The answer, in countries like the US, is that it's being done for a very tiny minority of people who are super rich and who are not really doing the things we need to do for our society or our planet because they are acting in their own selfish interest and not in a collectively beneficial interest. That matters. It’s not just a theoretical problem for issues like climate change where there are very real consequences we are going to face if we don’t do something about it.
Then, in the second part of the book, I talked about technology. There is a crisis with technology and its development where you have transformative technologies that are changing the nature of production, labor…automated machines that are able to produce without a lot of human input. The benefits of this could either go to supercharge the power of the very rich, and our system of property can simply own the machines and all of their productive ability outright, or they could go to benefit humanity more generally, to do things like shorten everyone’s work week, produce more goods that we actually need and produce them more sustainably. These are things we really need technology to do. But we aren’t designing a system that ensures sustainability.
I am fascinated by this idea of when this has happened in the past, something I’m thinking about for my next book. The third issue I was dealing with was the function of the law in all of this. At the end of the day Elon is just a dude. He has the same head, ears and hands that all the rest of us have. Why is he so much more powerful than other people? It’s absurd. The ideals behind many governments after the French Revolution is that everyone should be created equal. We live in a world where this is completely, patently not the case. People are not equal in their power. We are still unequal hundreds of years after we started this process to democratize society.
When people were coming up with the laws of property and contract the thought was, maybe some people have more than others but they worked for it. Or they deserve it. This was problematic already in the 18th century, but you can see what people were thinking before industrialization. Everyone was working in their own little cottage industry with their spinning wheel and that’s what industry looked like. Industrialization changed the whole dynamic of the economy and society but left the law behind and left politics behind. With powered machines you could suddenly have a large organizations and the inventor or capitalist who owned or produced it has a very tangential relationship with the product. The 18th century had in mind when they were creating our system of law, which is basically used throughout the world, the idea behind property was that you were creating the labor for this product so that’s the philosophical justification for why it could be yours, why it could be private property. Nowadays it's more extreme. With automated machines this theory completely collapses: you can have an AI machine that's spitting out valuable production and you can’t philosophically justify why the owner or even workers would own the thing that the machine is making.
E: The communist conversation about machines makes the responsibility for the product equal by standardizing the involvement, and by standardizing the product then also freeing us from responsibility to the work. The machines don’t need us. We are being separated from work in a way that feels like a just response to history in a way, because work has been a tool of punishment for so many people.
A: The second book expands on some of these ideas. I’m going to suggest something really radical. We should all be philosophical communists. If you believe in the idea of liberty and equality at the very least this supports a philosophical position of communism. You should have to justify a deviation away from it. Why is it that in a society where all of us should be free and equal, some people completely dominate the lives of others? Why is any of this justified? The burden should be on the other side to prove why this is justifiable as a deviation from the norm of liberty and equality. We have become so desensitized.
E: We are amazingly desensitized, considering this has been the norm for 500 years. It’s a testament to how true it is that freedom and justice and respect are innate components of human interaction that even in a world where those things have been completely undermined for many generations all over the world, people still know in their bones what is right and what is wrong. It seems like evolutionarily if we were to experience something for so long we would have to come to terms with it, but we don’t. I say that as a white person, so I am aware it's a more complicated issue than what I have experienced. Generational trauma is real and very much informing what is happening now: the anger, the physical challenge of trying to right these wrongs with the poison that we carry in our bodies from this order. That’s the whole picture. We know what is right and we have a genetic code for a political system that is just for all of us, but we also have written into that genetic code the story of what has happened amongst us.
Why is it that in a society where all of us should be free and equal, some people completely dominate the lives of others? Why is any of this justified?
E: We created that story; our genes made worlds in which people were brutalized for just being. It’s confusing.
A: Everything that humans do is human nature, right? Nonetheless, I am very much an optimist and I think it’s true that we have the blueprint of a fair society within us. Everyone really does want the same thing. There are exceptions, but not that many. The exceptions prove the rule because even people who I philosophically disagree with also want what I want and they just view it in a different way. In the long run, they will be brought on board to a common vision.
E: Once they realize the tyrants don’t have their best interest in mind...
A: Exactly. A lot of my thinking and writing recently has been historical. I’m thinking about civilization and what this says about the moment that we are in now. Technology is enabling this vast shift in the economic universe, but this has happened before. People invented agriculture, metal, gunpowder, the printing press, and ocean-going ships. There is this bias towards thinking that history is full of brutal people, that everyone in the past was more violent and evil than we are today. That we are the culmination of human morality. But I disagree with this, partly because of my own philosophical beliefs that all humans are human.
E: There is so much continuity more than anything. Brutality is an inevitable part of being human. Which is why we should be as conscious of that tendency as possible, and try to account for it. Nothing has changed. We’re not bad and do bad things. Any last words?
A: Liberty, equality, fraternity!
A: And sorority!
E: And biturnity!
A: However you want to interpret the meaning behind that word, yes.
Andrew Bodiford was a candidate for 2021’s New York City Council elections. He is also a lawyer and writer. Along with this article, his forthcoming publications include writings on law, philosophy, economics and politics.
photos by andyland :
: interview by thuja