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Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Middle Class: A Question At The Rogue's Forum

Rosie McMaffrey's

Excerpted from my post in the comments thread at The Rogue Columnist: Can Liberalism Be Saved?
I've got a quibble, and I'll mention only partly to stir the pot: This "middle class" business, and the "saving" of it. (My adolescent dabblings with Marx's paradigm - not "Marxism" per se - have come 'round again.) I'm taking the liberty of conflating Jon's & Walter's posts, since they are to me of an harmonious piece.

Walter:
"Into this bad mood, the necromancers of the American right conjure a Total Explanation: liberalism is to blame. It makes you share with people who are not like you. It tells you that you're no better than the street thugs jostling you in line."

This. What fertile soil does this seed fall upon? The middle class has always been about codifying and justifying a very un-democratic inequality that is endemic to the post-Revolutionary Republic that has well-masqueraded as "democracy." The easily beguiled "middle class" specialises in the "turning away," it embraces the fiction of justice in this faux meritocracy. It has always been bought off by the so-called elites - and now that the greed of the movers and shakers (and, to a lesser extent - for awhile - the looming resource crunch) is consuming their ability to sate a critical mass of this enabling class, we now lament its demise and ponder its salvation?

Most of us here are, or have been, or considered ourselves, or at least aspired to, middle class. Are we asking ourselves the right questions about our complicity in keeping other classes down in service of our "justified" lifestyles? Now that we are jostling with these "lesser folks," is the right question to be how we make our return as the administrators of class inequality, or do we wake up and look around, and remake our view of America, the world, our fellows?

I put this to better minds than I, here, in this forum.
- Petro
Update: from today's Archdruid Report:
...it’s important to get past the rhetoric of victimization that fills so much space in discussions of social hierarchy these days. Of course the people at or near the upper end of the pyramid get a much larger share of the proceeds of the system than anybody else, and those at or near the bottom get crumbs; that’s not in question. The point that needs making is that a great many people in between those two extremes also benefit handsomely from the system. When those people criticize the system, their criticisms by and large focus on the barriers that keep them from having as large a share as the rich—not the ones that keep them from having as small a share as the poor, or to phrase things a little differently, that keep their privileged share from being distributed more fairly across the population as a whole.
- John Michael Greer

8 comments:

  1. YourFavoriteBartenderJanuary 27, 2012 at 8:14 PM

    (1 of 3)
    Okay, I'm aware the update you posted weren't your work Petro, but you clearly found them eloquent and I'm assuming (because they were posted without comment) that you agree with them. I'm going to, for now, ignore the meat of the original post (at least in terms of disputing specific points) and focus on the update Why? Because it's what they call in the (dying) newspaper business as "bullshit." Sorry, got that wrong, "Bullshit" with the capital 'B.'

    "When those people [the middle class] criticize the system, their criticisms by and large focus on the barriers that keep them from having as large a share as the rich—not the ones that keep them from having as small a share as the poor, or to phrase things a little differently, that keep their privileged share from being distributed more fairly across the population as a whole."

    I am, likely, about the very definition of "middle class." I have a nice (not incredible) house, two cars, my family has two jobs, I have a two year old son who I pay a relatively large amount of money to be in daycare five days a week so that my wife and I can make a (relatively) large amount of money for the primary purpose of giving my son everything I can.

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  2. YourFavoriteBartenderJanuary 27, 2012 at 8:14 PM

    (2 of 3)

    I suppose I should clarify that last point, because Petro's 99% antennae just buried the needed. By "giving my son everything I can" I do not mean Super Sweet 16 parties and plastic surgery at 11 if he's not 100% happy with his nose. I mean giving him tools and stimulation that will (I hope) inspire intelligence and curiosity that (hey, it could happen) might turn him into the next great thinker. Yes, he has toys. Yes, probably more than he needs. But they are part of what I hope will inspire him to do great things, whatever they may be.

    So back to the quote. Fuck that guy. Sorry about the bluntness, but he's talking about me having never met or spoken to me. For better or for worse I grew up listening to hip hop, and thus "Mo Money Mo Problems" is more than a shitty Wayans movie to me. Would I like to make a little more money? Of course, it would certainly help in getting my son to Egypt, Paris, Berlin, Tokyo and Sydney (one of the goals of mine is to have him spend time in all of those cities before he goes to college). Do I want Romney money? Hells to the no. Do I believe it's good for anybody that Romney makes enough to feed all the homeless in Arizona for a year without working? Hells to the no.
    But this concept that the middle class. That me, and the people like me, are only concerned with wealth disparity because we're worried about "their privileged share" is just as big of a bullshit cop-out as the right wing bullshit about how the poor would rather collect unemployment than get a job.
    I'm sure there are some who think that way, in fact I know there are.
    I don't.

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  3. YourFavoriteBartenderJanuary 27, 2012 at 8:15 PM

    (3 of 3)

    More than a few of my fellow middle-classers don't. We sympathize with each other, and those less fortunate, and we admire and respect those in the 99% that are out there occupying and pushing their views (kicking and screaming) into the mainstream.
    We understand the disparity. We understand the disparity (rich to poor; middle class to poor; AND yes, middle class to rich) and we want it to change. I'm not protesting because of my son, because I believe incremental change is natural (re: evolution) sudden jarring, and especially, forced change is dangerous and irresponsible.
    So fuck that guy (said it twice so Petro would have an excuse to delete the post...you know damn well I don't even know who the guy is, I'm saying "fuck his idea"). How about we make a deal?
    You don't paint me with some one-size-fits-all greedhead brush, and I won't (out of sheer laziness) paint you (I'm using the superlative "you" here...Petro, the guy who wrote the quote, the hippie in the drum circle at #OccupyWallStreet) as some eager and incredibly naive bunch of guys who are wishing for something that will almost certainly turn into Lord of the Flies.

    Deal?

    Cool.

    Sincerely, a Member of the Middle Class WHO JUST HAPPENS TO BE PART OF THE 99% DAMN IT. Swear to God, it's like the guy completely forgot about that...

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  4. OK, FaveB...

    Do you dispute the fact that the lifestyle you enjoy, self-described as "middle class," is subsidized by millions of people who have no chance at similar luxury?

    If you dispute this, then I suppose I have nothing to say to you.

    If, however, you recognize this fact, then may I also ask if you realize that your lifestyle is also subsidized by the exhumation and release into the atmosphere of massive amounts of carbon that is only temporarily available, and better left interred, via historical and technological accident?

    Again, if you do not accept that your (our) lifestyle is dependent on this wounding of our ecosystem, then I have nothing to offer in response.

    More to the point: The "middle class" has tolerated a great deal of inequality in this country, and has bought into and defended the idea that the poor "deserve" their station - if not by an explicit nod to the desserts of our "meritocratic" system, then at least through our inaction in ameliorating poverty.

    The last positive thing done for our domestic poor was accomplished by that despicable rogue LBJ over 40 years ago, and we stood by as the rhetoric of meritocracy and "motivation" was waved around like a bloody shirt under the Democratic administration of Clinton as welfare was gutted to the satisfaction of the most venal of Republican sentiment.

    Lest we claim that these things are the fault of the politicians, I remind you that we, as a whole, display a great deal of passion for those things that we deem important - throughout the fall and early winter we can hear each Sunday the impassioned cries punctuating from homes in American neighborhoods everywhere as we empathetically suffer the pangs of glory and defeat with our favorite football teams - many just "favorite" for the day, for the single contest.

    No such passion exists when our government decides to humiliate the poor with "work for welfare" - again, not because we are a passionless lot, but rather because we in our bones have bought into the idea that if you "have", then you deserve to have, and if you "have not," then, well, you must deserve that as well.

    Meritocracy.

    And, suddenly, we discover that there is a "1%" that has been unfairly gaming the system and we say "hold on there, there's a limit to this meritocracy thing, those guys aren't playing fair" and our dander is up and we just might do something about that.

    Many critics of the #Occupy movement point with delight at the "dilemma" faced by the protesters when the homeless and destitute come 'round for free food. I myself see that one solution is to feed themselves (the protesters) first, then what's left can go to the rest. The critics see this as hypocrisy, I see it as emblematic of our modality of self-justification, our supplication to our American belief in meritocracy, so conveniently adopted and accepted by the 5% of the world's population that consumes 25% of the world's resources.

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    Replies
    1. Interesting self observations Petro. It looks like the bartender dude was having an argument with himself in front of a mirror.

      To further muddy up the situation, I just read a book by an anthropologist who stated that slavery has been and always will be a necessary component of human civilizations. We currently have mechanical slaves, but when the oil runs out, we will need human slavery again, with a vengeance. So the discussion will not be who has the most money and stuff, it will be who will be the slave and who will be the owner. I think I'll go with the owner status. Given a choice.

      Delete
    2. I can attest with authority (and affection) that "the bartender dude" would be up for anything that involved being in front of a mirror. :)

      Sounds like an interesting book - I'm betting that I'd take exception to his assertions, though.

      Delete
    3. Your Favorite BartenderMay 7, 2014 at 5:52 PM

      It's been so long since you've written I'm forced to reply to ages old pieces defaming me and my middle-class brothers and sisters...well...2nd cousins. First; I love mirrors, not so much what I see in them, but simply the idea of mirrors is wonderful...terrifying but wonderful. Second, WHOA IS US! "but when the oil runs out, we need human slavery again,"...of course we will because the human race has a long track record of NOT finding solutions to problems when they arise, of NOT finding efficiencies when they do not appear to exist, and especially of NOT finding ways to not actually have to do work...the robot machines may eventually take over, but they will not fade away.

      Finally, addressing very specifically the last point in your response to my response to your...whatever...the thing about the Occupy protestors feeding themselves first. I believe that--oh--wait--there's no Occupy movement anymore?

      I'm shocked. Shocked to find gambling in Casablanca.

      This is not the cynical FaveB you're expecting...its the depressed one. We (Royal 'we'...the 99%) are losing...maybe we lost awhile back. We can't sustain because we're over-matched. I actually have come further in these last few years toward your side of the fence. I used to believe in capitalism almost completely, but realized the flaw in my logic.

      Capitalism works if one assumes that the business side (money) provides a better product. Polio is the best example, there's a West Wing quote (love me some Sorkin) that is roughly "if we'd left the treatment of polio to the government we'd have the greatest iron lung you could imagine and no vaccine."

      Problem is it's been a long time since the polio vaccine was developed, and if this were modern day the quote might read, "if we'd left the treatment of polio to private enterprise we'd all have incredible hard-ons at 65."

      Capitalism isn't working because it is no longer about the quality of the product, it's about the profitability of the product. Cheaper over better. More efficient over more complete.

      Private Education, particularly "for-profit," is not better than public. There is no empirical evidence that charter schools provide a better education (on the whole) than public schools. And there's ample evidence going the other way (the for-profit prison system is probably the most glaring example, though there are certainly a slew of others).

      Bottom line. Write more Petro...you stretch my brain...often I don't like the way you stretch it, but you stretch it.

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    4. How nice to hear from you, J. (I hope that didn't out you with the NSA.)

      First, the writing... writing is work, particularly for me. I didn't realize how much until I got bogged down with a "real" job (read: wage slavery) that I have to attend to until I can escape with early retirement in about 4 1/2 years. It's like a prison sentence. I spend most of my time now absorbing new information and trying to keep my mind supple enough to take up the literary cudgel again when I have the opportunity.

      Robots: They're dependent upon a complex society that can afford specialized education and labor. While in the short term they may be (and probably will be) a horror (especially since we're ignoring every goddamned dystopian sci-fi warning and arming the motherfuckers,) the depletion of resources assures me that they have an expiration date.

      (As an aside - I don't agree that "work" is a virtue - thank you John Calvin. I'm more New Testament "birds of the air" inclined. We're really smart, and we're the only idiot species that have to pay for food and shelter.)

      Unfortunately, we seem to have an expiration date as well, and it looks like it might be contemporaneous with the robots'. It looks like the oceans will be effectively dead by 2048.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bw4Bad-NuO4

      This should be especially troubling to one who took his vows on the beach. I grieve for our children, who will never know a whale except through archival footage. My grandson will be in his early twenties when the ocean is dead. Without ocean life, I am convinced that we are dead.

      Occupy is not dead, it is simmering, and the tinder is even drier now than it was 3 years ago. Occupy was PUT DOWN, with extreme prejudice. The latest conviction of Cecily McMillan, who was sexually assaulted by police during Occupy and drew blood with her elbow, only shows the level of fear that the PTB have over the people's unrest. As well they should be.

      But, ref the death of the oceans, this is all perhaps moot. Sorry to add to your depression.

      You wrote: "Capitalism isn't working because it is no longer about the quality of the product..." My friend, it was never about the quality of the product, it was always about profit. You know this. It's why our health care is such a fucktwist. We should be able to agree to take care of each other without having an entire industry (insurance) taking the skim. Other countries do it, but not the world leader of Democracy... er, Capitalism. I'm not even going to bother arguing this. You know this. Your excellent examples regarding for-profit education and imprisonment tell me so.

      Of course you've been inching over to my side. As they say, reality has a liberal bias.

      Anyway - it was really a shot-in-the-arm to have you ask me to write more. I hope to squeeze a few essays in in the next 4 years, somewhere between the brutality of short-order cooking and the concomitantly necessary drinking to deal with it. But, if I survive it, I plan to write more. There's so much happening.

      (You can find me in the comment threads over at http://www.roguecolumnist.com/ in the meantime. Seriously, that's a really great group of commenters over there, so it would be worth your time. The poster of the blog, Jon Talton, used to be a business columnist in the AZ Republic - maybe you remember - before he was exiled to Seattle. He writes about Phoenix still, and maintains a condo here. I get to see him occasionally when he visits.)

      BTW - it'd still be cool to send over some curated photos of your wife - I still want to put up a couple of YouTubes of her dulcet tones, and images are mandatory for that shit over at YouTube. My email is mjpetro.smtp (at) gmail.com.

      Cheers, and peace and love to you and yours. I hope I managed to give you some brain-stretch.
      ~Petro

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I welcome all reactions and points of view, so comments here are not moderated. Cheerfully "colorful" language is great. I'll even tolerate some ad hominem directed against me... each other, not so much. Racist or excessively abusive comments (or spam) will be deleted at my discretion.