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Monday, May 5, 2008

Collapse, Or Suicide?

I have a highly-trained American mind.

As the jeers and howls rising from the gallery make clear, this is not a point on which to boast.

Normally, when economic matters are touched on (I will not say discussed) in the national conversation, the materials required rarely rise above the sophistication of a 64-color Crayola box.

Lately, we've dragged out the 128-color set, and things are heating up.

I recently watched a video of a one-hour lecture given by Elizabeth Warren of Harvard Law to an audience at UC Berkeley last June entitled "The Coming Collapse of the Middle Class." (h/t Mike's Blog Round Up and Corrente Wire).

Professor Warren presents some stark data demonstrating the economic fix that American families find themselves in after 30 years of the rise of the dual-income model. It's a great talk, as it begins by tingling the counterintuitive nodes, and ends with the "but of course" that signals a truly successful presentation. Block an hour and watch it yourself, but what I came away with is that while we find that "normal" families (two heads of household) enjoy greater income, the majority of that income is imprisoned by non-discretionary expenses. Consequently, they are so imprisoned.

In this post, I highlighted the national fantasy of wealth, and Warren's talk drove home just how fantastical it really is. I mean, really - even one so bitter about such matters as I am is taken aback. Did I mention that you should watch it?

Now, having a highly-trained American mind is useful in understanding these matters.

The American mind is trained to identify with the successful, and any attacks upon "the high life" are perceived as tyrannical impediments to My Personal Future Success. They are seen as advocacy for a model which is based on Keeping Everyone Down. They are un-American.

In a nutshell, that is it. That is why progressive income distribution is impossible here. It is traitorous, communistic... un-American to not be a capitalist and worship at the throne of success. Even the most progressive of lefty socialists, if they are to be considered a serious contender for public office and be allowed to even get close to the levers of economic policy, must go out of his or her way to toss paeons of idolatry to the American Dream. Which is, of course, to be successful.

America is in trouble, we can see that and say that. But what, really, would a "saved" America look like? Given the depth of the root of the tree that is American thought and identity, would a "saved" America even be America at all?

Joe Bageant (emphasis mine):
...A couple of weeks ago at a speaking engagement I asked the audience to raise their hands if they thought total collapse was the only catalyst that can bring meaningful change to America. Every hand went up.

I was struck damned near speechless. Three years ago when that question was asked, a hand seldom went up in the audience.

Something is afoot inside Americans, something no candidate dare talk about nor the media dare mention.
Afoot, indeed. Not to sound un-American, but it looks to me that in terms of the American identity, our choice is between collapse or suicide.

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