Generations at the Age of Twelve

Let me continue with my thoughts about generational change and conflict which was itself a continuation of my thoughts about the Ku Klux Klan and the Lost Generation. This is one of those topics that gets caught in my craw.

I had two basic thoughts in response to what I’ve already written.

First, I was considering what it is that form’s a generation’s worldview. It is a confluence of events. There are cycles that seem to endlessly repeat (or, if not precise cycles, history does rhyme to an impressive degree). Still, no generation is ever the same as what came before. There is a unique moment in time, an era of childhood, a beginning point that forever shapes the collective mindset of an entire generation (at least within a single country and, increasingly so, within the larger world during this new era of globalized mass media).

Second, I was considering the present older generation and why it is so easy to see them as stalling progress. The situation we find ourselves in is somewhere between a stalemate and outright dysfunction. As a society, we can’t seem to resolve the simplest of issues, much less move forward in a productive fashion. This becomes increasingly relevant as my generation and the next takes on the reigns of power.

The first thought leads into the second.

So, about the first thought.

As I explained with the KKK post, it isn’t as if the members of the KKK (the ‘Klansmen’) were evil incarnate. Most of them were normal people doing normal things. The Second KKK in the 1920s was mostly a civic organization. Yes, it was a racist civic organization, but so were many others. Back then, especially among older whites, you would have been outside the norm to not have been racist.

Klansmen probably wouldn’t even have thought of themselves as racists. Most people don’t define themselves in terms of negatives. Racism was just the cultural background they were born into. It was the world of their childhood.

Childhood is that time of key formative experiences. It creates what we consider normal and acceptable. It is what we look back upon often with fondness and sometimes with righteousness. Even if our childhoods were bad, it is easy for people to not understand why younger generations should have easier childhoods that will make them soft and weak. Whatever the case, we don’t tend to be very objective and neutral about our childhoods.

I just finished listening to the audiobook version of Ray Bradbury’s Dandelion Wine:

“a 1957 novel by Ray Bradbury, taking place in the summer of 1928 in the fictional town of Green Town, Illinois, based upon Bradbury’s childhood home of Waukegan, Illinois. [ . . . ] The main character of the story is Douglas Spaulding, a 12-year-old boy loosely patterned after Bradbury. Most of the book is focused upon the routines of small-town America, and the simple joys of yesterday.”

Bradbury would only have been 8 years old in 1928, but the fictionalized boy was 12. That is a mythical number of a complete cycle such as 12 months. In the child’s world, life revolves around summer. The end of summer in the novel is symbolic of the end of childhood with the last moment of childhood at age twelve. That last moment of childhood is the end of one period of life and the beginning of another, the ending of elementary school and the halfway point of primary education, halfway point on the way to full adulthood.

Many stories focus on this magical time of life, this point of transition. Stand by Me begins with the voiceover, “I was 12 going on 13 the first time I saw a dead human being.” Like Dandelion Wine, this is a story about the ending of childhood and the emergence of adult awareness which is most poignantly made known through death. 12 and Holding is yet another story about the dual themes of age 12 and death.

Maybe one can tell a lot about an individual or a generation in considering what the world was like when they were twelve.

For example, Reagan was twelve in 1923. That is that same quiet period as the setting of Dandelion Wine. It was the 1920s, a carefree time following the end of WWI and before the beginning of the Great Depression. I’m sure Bradbury used 1928 as signifying that innocent moment prior to 1929. The whole country was innocent. WWI would have seemed like an anomaly and anyway it was a war far away that never had much directly to do with the United States, especially for a child who would have had no memory of it at all. WWII and the Cold War were a long way off in the future.

Both Reagan and Bradbury remember childhoods during the 1920s in small towns in Illinois. Reagan considered that to be a formative period of his life. His home at age twelve supposedly is the only house he mentions in any of his books. The 1920s was a time of peace and optimism. Magnified by the memories of a pleasant childhood, Reagan carried that sensibility into his adulthood. And it was that sunny optimism that made him so popular.

Reagan spent his childhood going to school. Many of the Lost Generation, instead of schooling, spent their childhoods working whatever jobs they could find. Unlike Reagan and his cohort, the Lost Generation had less of a childhood to reminisce about. Spending age twelve in a factory or a mine would give you a different worldview for the rest of your life. The Lost Generation was unique in this way. Even the generation before them didn’t have this experience for, in their childhoods, they didn’t know mass urbanization and mass industrialization. So, neither the generation before nor the generation following could understand what the Lost Generation had lived.

Similarly, although to less extremes, Generation X had a relatively difficult childhood and young adulthood.

At age 12, the Cold War was still going on and the oppressive Cold War culture (e.g., comic book codes). As I’ve often pointed out, GenXers childhood was unique in many ways. We were the most aborted generation ever and so a small generation between two large generations. In childhood going on into young adulthood, my generation experienced high rates of poverty, child abuse, homicide, suicide and unemployment. When we were young, society stopped being oriented toward and accommodating of children. Restaurants became less welcoming of young families and less tolerant of the antics of children. Very little entertainment was made for kids and plenty of entertainment was made about evil and possessed children, rebellious and violent teens, and nihilistic and self-destructive young adults.

When most Americans were experiencing economic good times, there were two specific demographics that were hit hard in the last decades of the 20th century: GenXers and blacks. Both demographics experienced high rates of unemployment, poverty, homelessness, and incarceration. If you were a GenX black, it would have felt like the whole world was against you for everyone would have seen you as nothing but a gangsta and a drug dealer. The GenX black was the ultimate scapegoat of our society.

At age 12, GenXers saw a cynical age of greed, oppression and ignorance. That is what many in my generation came to expect as normal, just the way the world is. As a small generation, it didn’t feel like there was much we could do about it. Many of my generation embraced this worldview and so we became the generation with the highest support of Reagan. Cynical realpolitik and Wall Street greed seemed to be the name of the game. We put a very different spin on Reagan’s optimism, though, for we were better able to see through it. Optimism simply meant survival of the fittest and fuck the downtrodden. A not very nice ideal, but nice ideals were for wimpy flower children of the ’60s. That is what we learned from Alex P. Keaton from Family Ties.

That is the sad result of my generation. We played the game that was presented us, but not all of us wanted to play that game. The only other choice was to drop out entirely or at least psychologically. The advantage my generation has had is that many of us always knew it was bullshit. We never swallowed the lies to as great an extent as the older generation. Reagan actually believed what he said, an actor who became the role he played: first a cowboy, then a corporate spokesperson, and then a politician. His optimism was self-delusion. My generation at least had the sense to realize that there were alternative viewpoints.

Still, it will require a more demanding vision of the generation following mine to have a chance in hell of challenging the 20th century status quo that now bleeds into this new century.  GenXers are too mired in the Boomer worldview that has dominated our entire lives, especially for older GenXers. We are more a generation of doomsaying prophets than inspiring visionaries. The main thing my generation can do is to starkly portray and grimly explain the reasons we got here. I’m part of a generation of clowns for only clowns can speak the truth, not that speaking the truth is a requirement of being a clown.

In my second to last post (of which this post is a continuation), I somewhat simplistically implied that it was Boomers were mucking up the work. To be fair, as explained above, older GenXers are also to blame. Some would even see older GenXers as part of the older generation now ruling politics, rather than as being of the same generation as younger GenXers:

“If Mannheim’s Germans constituted a political generation because in their plastic years they experienced the Napoleonic Wars, the men and women who today dominate American politics constitute a political generation because during their plastic years they experienced some part of the Reagan-Clinton era. That era lasted a long time. If you are in your late 50s, you are probably too young to remember the high tide of Kennedy-Johnson big government liberalism. You came of age during its collapse, a collapse that culminated with the defeat of Jimmy Carter. Then you watched Reagan rewrite America’s political rules. If you are in your early 40s, you may have caught the tail end of Reagan. But even if you didn’t, you were shaped by Clinton, who maneuvered within the constraints Reagan had built. To pollsters, a late 50-something is a Baby Boomer and an early 40-something is a Gen-Xer. But in Mannheim’s terms, they constitute a single generation because no great disruption in American politics divides them. They came of age as Reagan defined a new political era and Clinton ratified it. And as a rule, they play out their political struggles between the ideological poles that Reagan and Clinton set out.”

That fits some of my experience. All of history is continuous. Disruptions are perceived which depends on the experience of those perceiving. If generations exist, it is because they share a common perception of historical events. Simply sharing the same historical period would not be enough.

However you dice the generations, the older demographic dominating politics has been creating dysfunction. I think we can all agree on that much.

So, why are the older folk mucking up the works?

It’s not just that there was a baby boom. No doubt we are experiencing the slow digestion of the elephant in the python, but there is more to it. An elephant, of course, is a difficult thing for a python to digest. More importantly, why does the elephant keep struggling so much in the process? The elephant in question obviously doesn’t want to be digested and is far from giving up the ghost.

This older generation isn’t simply in the way of progress. More specifically, this older generation is resisting progress and reacting to it, fighting it tooth and nail. They’d rather shut down the government than have an honest discussion about our collective problems. It isn’t even as if they are genuinely against government as government grew bigger under their watch than ever before.

There is a lot going on with that generation. They were a more monocultural and whiter demographic. As I’ve pointed out before, they were born at the lowest point of immigration in the 20th century and I’m not sure when it had last been that low. The conflict they grew up with wasn’t between natives and immigrants but between American whites and American blacks, especially between whites from the Northern states and blacks from the Southern states. Still, even between whites and blacks, there was a sense that the country was progressing to some extent, even though less quickly for blacks.

This generation couldn’t understand what followed nor sympathize with those who were negatively impacted. This is why many older blacks also came to support tough on crime laws and the War on Drugs, despite the fact that blacks were being harmed by it and black communities were being destroyed because of it. These older people remembered a world that no longer was and they couldn’t understand why it couldn’t remain that way. They had to blame someone. The young were one useful target, young blacks being one of the best targets of all. This is why someone like Bill Cosby can say idiotic things about poor black people.

It’s also a class thing. The economic divide didn’t just grow between whites and blacks. It also grew within the races. The middle and upper class blacks found themselves disconnected from the experience of most blacks. You would think not being accepted into mainstream white society would make older and well off blacks sympathetic to the plight of young blacks, but apparently that often isn’t the case. The power of a generational worldview can be even greater than the solidarity of race, especially for blacks who never were the exemplaries of solidarity as were the Germans, Irish and Italians.

The younger generation in general and minorities in particular, who have been hit hardest by mass incarceration, don’t receive much sympathy. Their lives have been destroyed. In response, their families and communities offer them nothing but shame. The Civil Rights movement was never good about helping the worst off among blacks.

As mass incarceration continues, a new generation is growing up either incarcerated or with the fear of incarceration. Even if not incarceration, society is offering them little to hope for. GenXers were at that magical age of twelve when all this began. Millennials at age twelve saw it continuing. Now a new generation will be coming to that age in a few years and likely it isn’t going to end anytime soon. The event of 9/11 was simply used as justification for more of the same and worse still. We will have several generations who knew nothing but a police state ever increasing in its oppression.

When will a new generation come along who will be able to fondly remember the age of 12 as a time of peace and optimism?

Generational Change and Conflict: Immigration, Media Tech, etc.

I wrote the other day about the Ku Klux Klan and the Lost Generation. I came across a few things that got me thinking more about generational change and the conflict that ensues among the generations involved. First, let me touch again on those earlier generations.

As I explained in that post, the Ku Klux Klan was founded and mostly led by the generation(s) that preceded the generation that came of age in the early 20th century. That new generation was the Lost Generation who were born, according to Strauss and Howe, from 1883 to 1900. In the KKK post, I offered a quote by a Lost Generation writer that seemed to specifically speak to the condition of that generation that formed the KKK. It was from Ernest Hemingway and went as follows: “Broad lawns and narrow minds.” Just for the fun of it, I’ll now add another quote from a member of the Lost Generation, William Carlos Williams, which I’ve quoted before:

“It has become “the most lawless country in the civilized world,” a panorama of murders, perversions, a terrific ungoverned strength, excusable only because of the horrid beauty of its great machines. To-day it is a generation of gross know-nothingism, of blackened churches where hymns groan like chants from stupefied jungles, a generation universally eager to barter permanent values (the hope of an aristocracy) in return for opportunist material advantages, a generation hating those whom it obeys.”

One might call the Lost Generation cynical. It reminds me of my own generation, GenX.

For my purposes here, let me accentuate the point that the Lost Generation was born and grew up during the first era in US history of a major population boom. More significantly, it was the first era of truly large mass immigration.

Those immigrants were either members of the Lost Generation or their parents. These perceived foreigners were considered undesirable people by many Americans. They were the dreaded ethnics from Germany, Eastern Europe and Southern Europe. Unlike today, these people weren’t considered white or at least their whiteness was highly questionable. In response to this incoming horde, the KKK defended WASP values which they considered 100% Americanism.

Here is a graph from a Pew report:

U.S. Birth Rate Falls to a Record Low; Decline Is Greatest Among Immigrants
by Gretchen Livingston and D’Vera Cohn

That graph brings me to another point I was making in that previous post. We are in another similar era as that which the Lost Generation was born into. GenX was born and grew up during this new era of mass immigration began (early 1960s onward). The earlier mass migration hit a peak when the Lost Generation was hitting its 20s and thirties. The exact same thing happened for this recent mass migration in relation to GenX.

Both generations grew up experiencing change as normal. Also, both generations grew up to accept, cynically or otherwise, that they would suffer the worse of these changes. The Lost Generation and the GenX found themselves on the wrong end of the powerful generation that preceded them. In the case of the Lost Generation, that included the likes of the fundamentalist KKK. For GenXers, it was the rise of a new right-wing with fundamentalism at its head. Both eras of change brought on inter-generational conflict and culture wars.

The reason for this is that there had been a period of relative stability directly before each of these eras of change. This relative stability was largely connected to the lesser number of immigrants during those previous generations.

Right before the Lost Generation was the Missionary Generation. Missionaries were born following the mass migration that happened during the mid-1800s. They grew up knowing only the world following directly after the Civil War. It was the Reconstruction Era, a time of restructuring and re-establishing the social order and racial/class hierarchy. During their young adulthood, they became involved in the Populist Era which allowed their generation to shape the political, economic and religious trends that would be the foundation for the 20th century. It was because of the immense influence they had that all the change at the turn of the century felt like everything that had been accomplished was being undone or at least being dangerously challenged. They couldn’t comprehend all the changes that were happening with industrialization, urbanization and globalization.

And before GenX was the Boomers. They are an interesting case. They were the largest generation and only recently became the second largest following the birth of the Millennials. They’ve exerted disproportionate power and influence because of their large numbers and because of the smaller numbers of GenXers. My generation simply had to play along or else simply react to what the Boomers demanded. The culmination of all things Boomer came to a head during this past decade when the Boomers finally became the majority of politicians in Washington (or at least in Congress), the last of the moderate and moderating Silent Generation either ousted or forced to submit, although the younger Silents were easy to bring in line as they shared more of the same history. You can understand the Boomers (and the younger Silents) by looking at this second graph from the same above Pew report:

As you can see, precisely as immigration was at its lowest the birth rate peaked. This is when the Boomers were born, a very atypical era. This generation grew up with historical amnesia and they thought their childhoods were normal and hence should be held up as the norm. They were scared shitless when this false norm was challenged by the larger contingencies of reality, just as scared shitless as the generation that formed the KKK.

This relates to the core issue of my thinking at the moment: technology.

The Missionaries were born into the beginning of industrialization that began to grow with Reconstruction. Before the Civil War, there was no national railroad system for railroad tracks were incompatible from one region to another. Reconstruction brought forth the collaboration of big government and big business which is what the Populists were responding to in the last decades of the 19th century. The Lost Generation were born into this and new nothing else. Boomers, however, were born when industrialization had reached its peak following WWII and immediately deindustrialization was beginning and globalization was finally becoming a force to be reckoned with.

Before I further discuss the technological angle, I’ll go into the details of precisely who was being impacted by these technological changes and how they were being impacted. This brings me not just to the distinctions of generations but also of ethnicity and race as they all overlap in American history. The dominant group has always found a way to maintain their own power. At the turn of the century, organizations like the KKK sought to defend America against those who didn’t fit the WASP definition of white American. The largest portion of these immigrants, from the mid-1800s to the mid-1900s, were Germans which just added to the already large German population that had come in the previous centuries.

What Boomers experienced was an America that had been cleansed of overt German culture for the first time in American history. This was the historical amnesia that was intentionally created by the propaganda of the burgeoning Cold War. It maybe goes back to the Civil War conflict between the monocultural South and the multicultural North, and in victory Northerners came to see the value of Southern (mono-)culture. Americans at that time weren’t just uncertain about immigrants from foreign countries. They were uncertain about the migrations happening within the US as well which the railroads made inevitable. Germans, like Catholics and Southern blacks, were the target of the likes of the KKK, but it certainly went well beyond the KKK into the larger society. As I previously explained:

“Much of the political foment following the Civil War involved the German population or was in reaction to the German population. Germans fought for workers’ rights and farmers’ rights, the two coming together within the Populist movement. Germans fought against corporatocracy in the way they fought against empire back in Europe. More importantly, they won many of the political battles they fought and we today benefit from their struggle such as with the 8 hour work day and 5 day work week (try working every waking moment continuously 7 days a week and then tell me you aren’t grateful for their struggle and sacrifice). On the other side, Prohibition and Sunday laws were partly enacted in order to control the influence of ethnic immigrants such as Germans and Irish who were fond of their drink.

“The ugliness of nativism became a central issue on the national stage when World War I began. The media of the day portrayed Germans as being vile and dangerous which led to mobs forming and many Germans dying. Also, the Germanic culture was nearly eliminated. German newspapers were censored, German names of buildings and streets were changed, German traditions were attacked, and German-Americans experienced political and economic oppression. They were arrested, imprisoned, and deported. They had hard time finding work. Their formerly influential culture suddenly became a liability. Along with the impact of World War II, nearly all traces of German heritage had been eliminated. Many German-Americans experienced a cultural forgetting that scoured the German culture from the collective memory of American history.”

During the early 20th century, it was a slow process of non-Wasps being allowed into the white mainstream society. Ethnic Americans quickly adapted the white identity because of the privileges it allowed. In doing so, whites (WASPs and former ethnic immigrants) disproportionately benefited from Progressivism, as I’ve noted bebore (in relation to When Affirmative Action Was White by Ira Katznelson):

“It isn’t a matter of the original intention of many progressive reforms. Racism was rampant, but most people weren’t overtly thinking in terms of racism. Even so, racism was able to trump other concerns by co-opting the policies that were implemented. It became white affirmative action by default. The wording of progressive reform didn’t state it as white affirmative action, but that was the result successfully implemented by the racists in power who wished to maintain their grip on power. Progressivism was just a convenient front for old racial injustices. This is how Jim Crow was rooted in the New Deal.

“Framing white privilege as affirmative action helped me to see the profound impact that it has had. It wasn’t just racist policies in the South or even isolated racist incidents in the North. It was a systematic strategy that was nationwide, even if the strongest impetus was in the Jim Crow South. With this new framing, all the pieces of the puzzle came together.”

All of this was coming to fruition in the 1950s and 1960s. A new social order had been made with Jim Crow and the white-classifying of ethnic Americans. This new social order was at its height when it was also being most strongly challenged. This was the beginning of the Civil Rights Era, but it was also the time when blacks were beginning to feel economic hard times coming for them, the economic hard times that would take another half century to trickle up to middle class whites. This connects to what I was writing about in terms of mass incarceration and deindustralization (and relates to the urbanization that followed the original industrialization):

“This really is an extension of deindustrialization which has been going on for a half century. Before that, industrialization had been an equivalent replacement for an agricultural society. As the article points out, half the population was employed in farming a little over a century ago. Most of those people moved to the cities and found factory jobs. That seemed like progress. But things have been quite different with deindustrialization for there has been fewer jobs created than destroyed.

“This connects to my recent preoccupation with mass incarceration. Black communities have been hit hardest as blacks have been concentrated in the inner cities. Racist houing and home loan practices and sundown town policies forced blacks into the inner cities. Housing projects, highway bypasses, poverty, underfunded schools and general ghettoization (along with other aspects of structural racism) have trapped them there. And now they are less than desirable places to live. But that wasn’t always the case.

“During the early 20th century, the inner cities were thriving communities. This is where many of the early factories were located and so blacks were highly employed. Deindustrialization, along with globalization, decimated these communities. In the 80s and 90s, much of the American population was doing great, but blacks were being hit by unemployment rates not seen by whites since probably the Great Depression. Most of the jobs left and with them the hope of escaping the inner city. Poor blacks became surplus humans. At least under slavery, they were necessary to the economy. Now they had become useless eaters, a problem to be solved or eliminated.

“The War on Drug became the perfect solution and so it was purposely targeted at the victims of deindustrialization. Since we had no jobs to offer poor blacks in this brave new world of globalization, we decided to wharehouse them in prisons and housing projects or else concentrate them in isolated inner city ghettoes. That way at least they would be hidden from sight where the rest of us wouldn’t have to acknowledge this evidence of our society’s failure and dysfunction.”

Right there is the the crux of the matter.

There is the motivation and there is what it leads to. The turn of century changes that the older generations were responding to brought them to enact such things as Prohibition. Likewise, the older generations when GenXers were being born and raised decided the War on Drugs was a good idea. The difference is that Prohibition only lasted slightly over a decade and the War on Drugs is still going strong more than four decades later (Nixon declaring it back in 1971). The reason for this is that the Boomer Generation is relatively larger per capita than was the Missionary Generation and so their political influence has been stronger, more well established and longer lasting.

We are a society that is lagging behind by decades. The change that we need has been stunted. However, the Boomer’s reign is coming to an end. Our recession has shown the dysfunction of the government during this past decade when Boomers were the majority. This has led to the younger generations to consider the very ideologies that originally became so influential among the Lost Generation during the early 20th century.

This isn’t just a change of politics, economics and demograhics. It is a change of culture.

This is where media and technology comes in. The Lost Generation experienced the rise of many media technologies. When they were children, the first developments were being made for the phonograph, radio, film and even the television. It was in the 1920s as young adults (the youngest in their 20s and the oldest in their 30s) that they saw sound brought to film and the television began to be better developed for commercialization. This utterly transformed society and the same fears we hear about technology today were spoken of back then (for example, the freedom that the telephone allowed in talking to anyone at anytime brought on the fear of sexual licentiousness for who knows what those teens might talk about and plan when given the freedom to do so). However, maybe there is something truly different about technology today.

The reason I was thinking about this angle is because of an article I came across (via Matt Cardin). It is Hatchet Job by Mark Kermode — review by Will Self:

“McLuhan’s point is that when it comes to the impact of new media on the human consciousness – both individual and collective – content is an irrelevance; we have to look not at what is on the screen, but how the screen is used. McLuhan saw in the early 1960s that all the brouhaha about what imagery was shown on television and what words were spoken was so much guff; the transformation from what he termed “the linear Gutenberg technology” to the “total field” one implied by the instantaneity of electricity was all that mattered, and this was a change in the human mind as well as the human hand. McLuhan’s global village is indeed all about us now, and it already exhibits social, psychological and cultural behaviours that are entirely different from those implicit in the technologies of mass broadcast and individual, concentrated absorption.

“Film is far more akin to the printed book than it is to the web page; and as for the criticism that accompanied it, this too owed its cultural traction to top-down and one-way technologies of dissemination. Kermode expends a lot of Hatchet Job on explaining that phenomena such as audience test screenings effecting change in movies are as old as the medium itself, while the auteur theory of film-making was always suspect and fragmentary. But what he wants to preserve against all comers is the work of narrative art as something that is given entire and unchangeable by its makers to its receivers. Unfortunately, like all Gutenberg minds, Kermode can only have an inchoate understanding of what’s going on”

That is the change that has happened over this past century. So, what is the future and whose future will it be?

“[ . . . ] what he can’t bear to contemplate is that films also may become dialogic. Why not? For those who think that narrative art forms are in a state of crystalline stasis it’s worth taking a slightly longer view: film is only just over a century old, the novel as we commonly understand it a mere two centuries old – the copyrights that protected them are about 150 years old. At the moment, the wholesale reconfiguration of art is only being retarded by demographics: the middle-aged possessors of Gutenberg minds remain in the majority in western societies, and so we struggle to impose our own linearity on a simultaneous medium to which it is quite alien. The young, who cannot read a text for more than a few minutes without texting, who rely on the web for both their love affairs and their memories of heartache, and who can sometimes find even cinema difficult to take unless it comes replete with electronic feedback loops, are not our future: we, the Gutenberg minds have no future, and our art forms and our criticism of those art forms will soon belong only to the academy and the museum.”

Well, it won’t be the future of Boomers, those Will Self describes as “the middle-aged possessors of Gutenberg minds”. I’d point out that it isn’t so much the middle-aged as it is those that are well beyond that point, those coming to the end of their careers or already retired. Boomers weren’t just a large generation. They, at least those who were well off, were the first generation to have such relatively long and healthy lives.

Because of this, we are in some ways worse off than the generations who lived through Prohibition, the Depression and two world wars. There is going to be massive change that will make the present older generation more upset than the most irate Klansmen as the KKK lost power following the Depression. The backlash and the reactionary politics, the inter-generational conflict is going to be like nothing ever seen before. The more change is delayed the more drastic it will be when it finally comes, like water being held back by a dam when that dam is slowly cracking. The Millennial Generation is the floodwater filling the dam beyond capacity. And the coming decades of the 21st century will be the little town at the bottom of that dam.

Imagine what will happen when the War on Drugs and mass incarceration ends as when Prohibition and Jim Crow ended. Just imagine…

Opportunity For Leftist Reform

I realize often think about things differently than others. What seems obvious to me doesn’t seem obvious to so many people I might agree with on various issues.

Many liberals fear the Republicans which I find odd because Republicans are weaker right now than they’ve been in my entire life. Many liberals fear Ron Paul, but what they don’t understand is that most Republicans and conservatives in general fear Ron Paul even more. It is people like Ron Paul who are forcing the Republican party to run toward the center, Romney being the most centrist GOP presidential candidate in a long long time. For a half century, Democrats have run toward the center as Republicans ran to the extremes. But now the complete opposite is starting to happen (or that is what I sense, the future will prove me right or wrong).

Why can’t the average liberal see this as the first real opportunity for reform they’ve had in decades? This is the new liberal moment. We should take advantage of it while we can, rather than hold to the center out of fear. What I fear is that a centrist Democratic party will continue to disempower the liberal movement from making real change and instead help to reinforce the status quo alliance between neoliberals and neoconservatives, between big business and big government.

It seems to me that all of the older generations, maybe including GenX as well, are afraid of any and all change at this point. The irony is that by resisting change the negative changes already made become even more difficult to reverse. It seems the only hope we have left in this country is from the younger generation, Millennials, who are the most liberal generation in American history. All the older generations are too afraid to fully challenge the status quo, whether of partisan politics or of corrupt capitalism.

I’m hoping that there will be enough left-leaning GenXers, especially the youngest GenXers, to form an alliance with Millennnials to force change. 2012 will be the first year Millennials will be eligible for running for congress and so this will be the first opportunity to dislodge the divisive Boomer majority since they took power a decade ago. This is an opportunity to be seized if people can just see it and take the chance of seeking real reform of the kind not seen since the Great Depresssion.

There is a class war going on. The demographics most affected by the class war, the young and minorities, are also the demographics most strongly pushing for left-leaning reform. The Tea Party represents the older established demographic that grew up in a prosperous white America during a time when economic inequality was low, economic mobility was high, college and housing was cheap, jobs were high-paying with good benefits, and opportunities were plentiful. This older demographic just wants to cling to the few programs left that benefit themselves while wanting to deny anything that will help anyone else. To put it simply, they are reacting out of fear and so creating a politics of fear where everyone loses.

So, this class war is ultimately a generational and race war. The fastest growing demographics are the young and minorities.

This conflict is even seen within my own generation, GenX. Older GenXers grew up in Reagan’s America when politics and society was dominated by the GOP’s Southern Strategy and anti-communist Cold War rhetoric. Younger GenXers grew up in Clinton’s America during a time when the Cold War had ended, when immigration was at its highest in a century, and when Democrats advocated moderation and the right-wing was offering ugly culture wars and militant violence (terrorist bombings, abortion doctor shootings, etc). It was in the middle of GenX that America hit a turning point.

Young GenXers like me are hardly spring chickens. The very youngest of GenXers are in their thirties while the oldest GenXers are moving toward middle age. Still, the divide is clear in that younger GenXers seem to have more support of such things as the Occupy movement while older GenXers either support the Democratic Party status quo (Obama being on the oldest edge of GenX) or support the Tea Party partisans (Beck and Palin also being first wave GenXers). It’s the older GenXers who are goading the already divisive Boomer majority.

I’m curious how this will play out. From here on in, Boomers will be losing power and they won’t go out easily. Nonetheless, the stupidest and ugliest of older GenXers (such as Beck and Palin) have already lost their popular support which leaves room for younger GenXers to take their place. I’ll be on the lookout for these younger GenXers who will be able to speak to the Millennials who desire real change. It is important to keep in mind that Millennials are the only generation, according to recent data, that has more positive views of socialism than capitalism.

Is Banking Bad?

“A Pew Research Center poll in December found that only 50 percent of Americans reacted positively to the term “capitalism,” while 40 percent reacted negatively. Among Americans ages 18 to 29, more had a negative view of capitalism than a positive view, the survey found. Those young Americans actually viewed socialism more positively than capitalism. In other words, America’s grasping capitalists are turning young Americans into socialists.

“The Financial Times recently published a series about “capitalism in crisis.” It noted that the Edelman Trust Barometer, a survey, found that only 46 percent of Americans had confidence in business to do the right thing (and only 25 percent trusted banks).”

Rising Share of Americans See Conflict Between Rich and Poor | Pew Social & Demographic Trends

“As a result, in the public’s evaluations of divisions within American society, conflicts between rich and poor now rank ahead of three other potential sources of group tension—between immigrants and the native born; between blacks and whites; and between young and old. Back in 2009, more survey respondents said there were strong conflicts between immigrants and the native born than said the same about the rich and the poor.

“Virtually all major demographic groups now perceive significantly more class conflict than two years ago. However, the survey found that younger adults, women, Democrats and African Americans are somewhat more likely than older people, men, Republicans, whites or Hispanics to say there are strong disagreements between rich and poor.

“While blacks are still more likely than whites see serious class conflicts, the share of whites who hold this view has increased by 22 percentage points, to 65%, since 2009. At the same time, the proportion of blacks (74%) and Hispanics (61%) sharing this judgment has grown by single digits (8 and 6 points, respectively).”

Beheading the Zombie Culture Wars

I just wrote about Corey Robin’s view that the conservative movement is inherently reactionary. I understand his point and I think it is valid, although I would tend to place it in a larger context (of history and psychology). At the moment, however, my mind is focused on a somewhat smaller context: culture wars. I was thinking that the culture wars fit into Robin’s framework of a reactionary conservatism.

Before I noticed Corey Robin’s book, I was having some discussions with a conservative. The issue of culture wars came up. It is an issue that is both very personal for me and for many others, on both sides of the spectrum. But it is personal for different reasons.

The Silent and Boomer generations were born before and in many cases grew up before the present culture wars even began (i.e., the 60s; and not really gaining full momentum until the late 60s). Also, they didn’t know the hardships and sacrifices previous generations made. They didn’t experience the oppression that led to the rise of working class movements during the Populist and Progressive Eras. They didn’t experience having to fight for basic rights and protections during an era when industrialism arose. They didn’t experience WWI, didn’t experience Prohibition and the Great Depression, didn’t even experience WWII to any great extent (although some Silents would have memories of it from childhood).

The era of the early lives of Silents and Boomers was a time of mostly peace and prosperity. It was a time when liberalism reigned without much challenge (progressive reform, high union membership, enactment of EPA, progressive taxation, building of infrastructure, the G.I. bill, etc), and this liberalism created a booming economy and growing middle class (along with increasing social mobility, career opportunities, and civil rights). Silents and Boomers, especially the latter, grew up in privilege and entitlement. They only knew the benefits of what previous generations had fought for but not the hardships and sacrifices. For this reason, they became in many ways selfish generations who dismantled much of what they had benefited from, pulling up the ladder behind them so that later generations would struggle and suffer (if you’ve paid attention, you’d notice that Boomer-dominated unions often are more protective of the rights of older workers than of newer workers who tend to be of the younger generations entering the workforce).

Silents and Boomers were those who started and fought the culture wars. Maybe they did so because they had life so good. Since they didn’t have to worry about survival, they could distract themselves with cultural issues of identity politics, abortion and abstract idealizations about family values. Silents played a particularly interesting role as the leaders of the culture wars and as the reactionaries to it (while the Boomers originally played the role of the troops on the ground in their protests and grassroots activism). It was the Silents like Reagan who were the great dismantlers of the Great Society and they justified it with the culture wars which was partly just a superficial facade placed on the old class wars of the previous generations. So, war on poverty became the war on the poor (on the welfare queens, on the drug addicts, on minorities, on immigrants, on anyone who was part of the lower class).

From my perspective as a GenXer, I feel like saying “Pox on both your houses!” The left and the right of the culture wars seemed to have lost any vision of what made America great and instead focused on winning battles, battles whose costs they didn’t understand (or else didn’t care about… in their correct assumption that future generations would be forced to deal with it). The Silents and the Boomers knew a world prior to the culture wars, but GenXers did not. The culture wars is the only America I’ve ever personally experienced in my life. The culture wars touches upon everything. When the culture wars started, the Silents and the Boomers all took sides. The 60s typically are portrayed as just a time of left-wing activism, but that isn’t the reality. It was the 60s that involved the renewal of evangelism and the rise of the religious right as a political force. Furthermore, the hippies and the police who beat them up, the veterans and the anti-war protesters, all of them were of the same generation(s), all of them responding to the conflict of the times that would form their entire worldview by which they would rule for the next half century.

There is a distinction to be made about how and when the culture wars played out on the right. By the time the culture wars came around, the militant right such as the KKK had been demolished as an effective political force (the KKK had been the culture warriors of the past in defending American ‘white’ culture, defending capitalism and the capitalist class, defending family values, etc). After the culture wars went into full gear, left-wing groups such as the Weather Underground and the Black Panthers took the place as the new militant radicals. Left-wingers, however, were radicalized for the very reason they weren’t in power and they became more radicalized as they lost ground. From Nixon to Reagan, the early culture wars involved the left-wing against the Establishment (which was being taken over by a new breed of reactionary conservatives along with a new breed of centrist ‘liberals’ who denied left-wing politics from having power in Washington). Many older conservatives remember this time as an eroding of cultural values, but what they don’t realize is that this erosion as much came from the top as it was a time of shifting from liberal leadership to conservative leadership and the struggle of power that happened during this shift.

To a liberal, it is no accident that the preceeding era of peace and social cohesion was during liberal leadership. The new conservative movement led by the likes of Buckley, Goldwater, and Reagan was a reaction against the first half century of liberal reform, (starting with the Populist Era bringing working class politics into the mainstream, leading to the Progressive Era victories aligning the working class with the liberal class, and culminating in the Great Society). This liberal era ended with the liberal moment of the 60s and the conservative backlash that followed was dramatic. The liberal movement (along with American society in general) never fully recovered from the trauma of the assassinations of so many of their greatest leaders over such a short period of time. The left-wing became radicalized in response to an increasingly radicalized right-wing leadership and activism. It was at this time that liberals and moderates were being pushed out of the Republican Party (the very party, by the way, that began with anti-slavery abolitionists, working class free soil advocates, and those friendly to the then budding Marxist socialism).

As liberals see it, this new era was a dark period of the ending of the liberal reign and the beginning of the conservative reign. To conservatives (especially those of older generations), however, they only see the liberal reaction to this shift and not what liberals were reacting to. In losing political power, liberals turned to identity politics and cultural issues. Some were usurped into the academic fold or became yuppies seeking materialism and success. Others more cynically turned away from their naive youth toward Reagan neoconservatism and libertarian neoliberalism or else they got religion and joined the ranks of the religious right. Everything was translated into terms of the culture wars which undermined and suppressed the class awareness that was the foundation of the labor movement. The reason left-wingers made so much fuss at the time was because they were losing power, not because they were gaining it. Conservatives somehow managed to play the victim card for so many decades even as their power and influence increased, often making the argument that the privileged and well off were in some strange way being victimized by the poor and disenfranchised. The right-wing made the culture wars into a class war, denying their own classism while projecting it onto their opponents. When liberals and  left-wingers pointed out this obvious class war, they were attacked for promoting class war. Those on the left couldn’t win for losing at that time.

Later on, the culture wars became a one-sided battle of the conservative movement against anything and everything. Conservatives wanted to “take back” America. After all, they saw themselves as the only “True Americans”, the heirs of the Founding Fathers (just ignore the radical left-wing criticisms of Paine and Jefferson). This second phase of the the culture wars began to gain momentum in the 1980s but didn’t fully manifest until the 1990s. This historical period is analyzed well by Thomas Frank in What’s the Matter with Kansas? and David Sirota in Back to Our Future. When I was growing up, I was largely ignorant of this conservative movement, although it was permanently in the background of the mainstream media world I was immersed in. It only became clear with two events: the 1995 Oklahoma City Bombing and the 1998 Lewinsky Scandal in 1998. The right-wing was on the attack.

So, right-wing militants followed the previous left-wing militants. However, there was a difference. The previous left-wing militants were reacting against a conservative establishment, but when the right-wing militants came along there was no liberal establishment. At that point, the liberal class had long ago lost its privileged place in society (as described by Chris Hedges in Death of the Liberal Class) and had mostly retreated from activism into academia and non-profits (the only ‘liberals’ who maintained their political power and influence were those that shifted to a more neoliberal stance or else became progressive neoconservatives).

Anyway, all of that formed the background for Generation X. Many GenXers were pulled into this conservative movement, some even joining the far right anti-statists and culture warriors. On the opposite end, a particular segment of GenXers tried to slowly rebuild the broken foundations of the liberal movement. In the 1990s, the culture was blandly liberal in a general sense even as left-wingers were fighting a battle on two fronts, attacked by the Gingrich Republicans on one side and by the Clinton Democrats on the other side. It was the right that had captured the political narrative and the collective imagination. Liberals lacked strong visionary leadership. Even the most moderate of liberals were on the defensive. Centrist and corporatist ‘liberals’ like Clinton became quite talented at playing on the defense by way of triangulation and compromise, but they were constantly backing off from every new fight, playing it safe.

This is where my young adulthood comes in. I graduated from high school in 1994, the year Kurt Cobain died (the symbolic death of the alternative culture that began to erupt in the 1980s). I became aware of the right-wing at this time by my listening to the paranoid conspiracies on Art Bell’s Coast to Coast AM and also by my occasionally catching some of the early right-wing radio shows such as Laura Schlessinger (her show was nationally syndicated in 1994). I even felt some affinity with elements of this right-wing, but 9/11 changed all of that. The right-wing pundits and activists went into overdrive. The only choice offered seemed to be between the right-wing fascist Bush administration and the right-wing anti-egalitarian Ron Paul libertarians. No liberal alternative (or even moderate conservative alternative) was being offered in the mainstream politics portrayed by the mainstream media. Left-wingers such as Nader and Chomsky only had relevance as nuisances and distractions. I voted for Nader and found myself attacked by ‘liberal’ Democrats.

As everyone knows, the 2000s (AKA the ‘Noughts’) was a depressing decade. I feel so tired out by the endless political conflict and I’ve grown to hate the culture wars, especially the right-wing version of it (“compassionate conservatism”). For some reason, right-wingers are trying to keep the culture wars alive, going so far as even to inject the religious right’s culture wars into the formerly libertarian-minded Tea Party movement. The culture wars makes me sick to my soul… and that is no exaggeration. I’m tired of it all. I wish everyone would just let the culture wars die. My generation has been hit the hardest by the culture wars and it hasn’t done us any good. It’s turned some of us into ranting pundits and lunatic clowns, the Becks and the Palins who are trying to push American society over the edge. The culture wars have come to fruition in a nihilistic fantasizing about societal decline and a cynical longing for Apocalypse. The right-wing is losing momentum in gradually losing support, but as they go into decline the right-wing just gets uglier in their antics.

For many Americans (moreso among the older generations), the class wars remain relevant because the past remains alive in their minds and hence in our collective consciousness. This particularly can be seen with Boomers. Their sense of identity was solidified with the culture wars of the 60s, whether as liberal progressives or conservative reactionaries. The culture wars are real to them because they’ve dominated society for a half century. The media made by and/or for them was often steeped in the culture wars ethos. The memories of the 60s keeps replaying in their heads, having almost become mythical at this point. In talking with the conservative I mentioned above, one thing became apparent. The culture wars was an apt metaphor. There are two distinct sides, both seeking to gain victory by forcing their enemy into defeat or retreat. One side has to win at the cost the other side losing. There is no win/win scenario. This is fueled by a mentality that there is an absolute right and wrong. There is something dualistic (almost to the point of Manichaeism) about the Boomers worldview with their utopian ideals and apocalyptic visions. Culture warriors just know they are right and others are wrong. Their entire identity is built on this demand to be righteous. They refuse to accept that differences exist and that the world won’t collapse just because they aren’t allowed to dominate. Both sides used the government as a pawn in their battles, and the real loser in this was democracy itself (along with the American citizenry that democracy is supposed to work for, rather than for special interest groups). Culture warriors were willing to try to win at almost any cost and that cost turned out to be very high.

As a GenXer, I grew up in the world made by the Boomers. Even as an adult from the mid 90s to the present, the impact of Boomers was mostly in the foreground and the impact of GenX was mostly in the background. If GenXers wanted to play in politics or the marketplace, we largely had to play according to the rules set down by the Boomers (the internet seemingly the only place where GenXers could operate on their own terms). I feel disappointed in my generation for having conceded so much to the Boomers. I know we were a small generation and couldn’t fairly compete with the Boomers, but still I wish we had been more of a thorn in the side of power. Instead, we in many ways just played along and made things even worse, embracing the Reagan era mantra of greed and self-centeredness (my generation playing no small part in helping to cause the economic problems), too many of us becoming politically cynical and apathetic in the process or else bitterly angry in our fight against such apathy. The closest most GenXers got to political involvement was to become anti-statists and anarchists fighting against the New World Order or against the the liberal elites (depending on one’s ideological persuasion), but it was a politics without vision or even much hope, just reactionary activism against Boomer’s society (Tea Party GenXers like Beck and Palin being the prime examples of this GenX style activism). I didn’t get a full doseage of Reagan rhetoric as I was on the younger end of GenX, but I’ve seen its impact on my generation.

Despite my emotional response, I’m still able to step back and look at all of this somewhat objectively. I’m fascinated by the close connection between culture war and class war. They seem to be two sides of the same coin. Generally speaking, both the left and right usually see the culture war of the other side as blatant class war, both sides agreeing that there is a culture war going on even while disagreeing about eachother’s motives, the difference being that the left is more likely to see culture war and class war as inherently linked. Most liberals probably don’t take as an insult the conservative allegation that they are pushing class war. The liberal agrees there is a class war, although they would simply add that the rich are winning. Conservatives often use rhetoric grounded in obvious class war, but for some reason they are unwilling to admit to it. I think it’s because there is no way to admit to the class issue without also admitting to the race issue, those two also being inherently linked (or so it seems to my liberal-biased mind).

I have some further thoughts on generations and activism.

For Boomers, activism is about the past. Old hippies romanticize about 60s activism. In conservative activism like the Tea Party, aging non-hippy Boomers likewise obsess over 60s activism but for different reasons (see the documentary ‘Generation Zero’, popular among Tea Party supporters, which essentially blames hippies for all the problems of society since). Boomers, on both the left and right, are motivated by the past, sometimes inspired and at other times one might say enlivened. As a GenXer, I intimately know Boomer nostalgia; I understand how it is embedded in our culture and how to an extent it has become internalized by many GenXers; however, it doesn’t usually bring out the best in GenXers. Corey Robin argues that conservatives are reactionary; to this I would add that GenXers are also reactionary which would explain why Reagan conservatism (the ultimate reactionary conservatism) was so appealing to my generation (GenXers literally having been the strongest supporters of Reagan’s presidency), although many of those GenXers have at this point turned away from their youthful conservatism or at least turned away from shamelessly idolizing capitalist greed and self-interest (some turning instead to the left and others going even further right into politicized religion).

How activism manifests among GenXers is apparent when one compares different protest movements.

I’ll begin with the Bush era anti-war movement since I was personally involved with it. As far as I can tell, the anti-war protests were mostly a youth movement consisting of lots of GenXers and the first wave of Millennials hitting adulthood. The anti-war protests seemed fairly positive and inclusive in unifying a diversity of veteran and new activists, from Ron Paul libertarians to pacifist liberals, from anarchists to socialists, from social justice Christians to social justice atheists.

The protest movement that followed was the Tea Party. It began with a righteous cause and had great potential. It could have followed the example of the grassroots populism of the anti-war protests, but was coopted by corporate interests and the religious right… and so became a more narrowly defined movement that was far to the right of even the average Republican. The Tea Party also included many GenXers, especially in the leaders that took over (i.e., Beck and Palin), but overall it was slanted toward an older demographic that included more Boomers and fewer Millennials. I was just now thinking that this is a key element. The higher percentage of Boomers seemingly either brought out the worst in the GenXers involved or brought out the worst GenXers (by worst, I mean righteous anger that increasingly shifted toward bitterness and divisiveness).

That now brings us to the present with the Occupy protest movement. It seems more similar to the anti-war protests with many GenXers involved but even more heavily weighted toward a Millennial demographic. Once again, the Millennial presence seems to bring out the best in GenXers or else, opposite of the Tea Party, seems to bring out the best (most positive and inclusive) GenXers. In spite of the 99% meme which could be interpreted as class war, it was the Tea Party that expressed a more strident message of class war (or so it seems, once again, to my liberal-biased mind)… after all, 99% of the population is pretty damn inclusive, especially considering that even some of the 1% supports their message (if you want to hear a clear promotion of class war, then check out the 53% message; and while you’re at it check out this respectful liberal response to that attempt at class war; it’s ironic that the 53% is intended to be a criticism of the 99% since, when one thinks about it rationally, it becomes obvious that the vast majority of the 53% are part of the 99% lol).

It’s a very strange time we live in. We are overdue for some massive social change of the likes not seen since the Progressive Era. For much of this past decade, I’ve been closely watching the polling and demographic data. It was obvious a shift was happening and my prediction was that it likely would be toward the left (eventually), but until now the mainstream media and politics managed to resist these changes that could be seen in the general population. According to Strauss and Howe’s generation theory (Fourth Turning), change was gound to come and they were right on the money with the predictions of theirs that I’m familiar with (such as their early 90s prediction of increasing security in schools). At the same time, the culture wars no longer have the influence they once had. Millennials simply don’t care about the culture wars. The Tea Party demonstrates the decline of the culture wars. As it was increasingly coopted by the religious right and their culture wars, the Tea Party movement increasingly lost public support to the point that the movement is now less popular than either the Republican or Democratic Parties (the parties themselves being very unpopular at present), less popular than even Muslims and atheists.

I don’t know where that leaves us as a society. I’ll be watching the Occupy movement closely in the hope that something will come of it. If the culture wars are finally dead (at least for the time being in their present form), then what will replace them?

Ruling Elite: Anti-Democratic Fiscal Conservatives

I was trying to explain why democracy matters to a conservative, but I was having a hard time.

Even though he believes in representative democracy, he has an elitist strain in that he doesn’t trust the average American, especially not the poor and minorities (even though he isn’t overtly/consciously classist and racist). He seems to think most Americans who don’t vote are simply lazy or something. He blames those who are disenfranchised rather than blaming the system that disenfranchises them. And he seems to think that the majority of Americans who support liberal policies (such as progressive taxes and social security) are simply stupid, ignorant or manipulated (in particular, what he perceives as stupid and ignorant poor minorities being manipulated by the liberal elite). But when average Americans stop being mindlessly apathetic and organize through grassroots democracy, he trusts them even less (Protesters are just violent thugs or potentially so, using force or the threat of force to unfairly get their way. How dare they try to force their majority opinion on the minority ruling elite! How dare they stop submitting to the paternalistic aristocracy that knows what is best for them!).

He does mean well (and I honestly mean that, no sarcasm implied). But he is an upper class white guy who grew up when the country was booming, when Americans were proud of their post-war global dominance, and when few would question the cultural dominance and political rule of whites and Christians. On the other hand, it was also an era of reigning liberalism (the whites and Christians ruling then were an entirely different breed than our present right-wingers). People at that time were joyfully and licentiously freed from the oppression of World Wars, the Great Depression, and Prohibition. This particular conservative and others of his generation benefited from the liberal and progressive policies that made this country great: public-funded infrastructure that helped create a massive manufacturing industry and high paying jobs, public-funded education that created a well-educated generation that didn’t go into debt becoming educated, a progressive tax rate that built the middle class, and on and on. He even worked in public-funded state universities for much of his career. But he sees none of this… or else just dismisses it or somehow sees it as not very important.

From his viewpoint: Fiscal liberals are simply naive despite having have accomplished all of these great things that he personally benefited from. And fiscal conservatives are somehow being realistic despite their policies (Starve the Beast, Two Santa Clauses theory, trickle-down economics, tax cuts for the rich, massive military spending, corporate subsidies, etc) having created and grown the permanent debt (and having eliminated the surplus when a Democrat created it with no help from Republicans)… along with, after decades of fiscal and social conservative rule, having created a society that is heading in the complete opposite direction from where society was heading during the era of liberalism and progressivism.

He basically is a libertarian, although more of what I’ve heard called an Establishment libertarian (ya know, the type that is represented by the billionaire corporatists at the CATO Institute: Rupert Murdoch, Koch brothers, etc; i.e., the plutocratic ownership class). As an upper class white man, he is largely detached from the experiences of most Americans. He is reluctant to admit that most Americans disagree with him. But even when admitting this he still dismisses that majority position. Despite his valuing freedom and fairness, despite his being personally moral, he just can’t bring himself to trust the dirty masses. He genuinely fears ‘mobocracy’. He is fine with a minimal democracy as long as it is run by a ruling elite that dismisses and ignores the majority (which is what our present government does). As someone invested in The Establishment, he has much to lose if real democracy were implemented. He seems to somewhat hold to the right-libertarian position that the rich don’t need government and the poor don’t deserve government.

Last night, I heard a perfect example of this type of person. It was on NPR and one of the guests was from the Heritage Foundation which is ultra-conservative. He argued that it would be wrong for a minority of workers to be allowed to force unionization on a majority of workers who didn’t support unionization. That is fine as far as it goes. However, it is hypocritical for someone like him to make this argument as he doesn’t trust democracy in the first place. Even if a majority of workers voted for unionization he would still consider it suspect because a majority is mobocracy (two foxes and a sheep voting on what to have for dinner; the opposite view being it’s better to have one fox and two sheep with a ‘representative’ government where the fox is the representative who decides what is best for all). Also, these kinds of right-wingers are perfectly fine with a minority ruling elite forcing their views on the majority of the population. They are being disingenuous in picking and choosing when they do and don’t want to support democracy, rather conveniently they tend to only support it when it favors their own positions and power.

It really sucks, though, to be this kind of conservative at this point in history, despite all the power conservatives wield. My conservative discussion partner mistrusts the poor, the working class (especially if unionized), minorities, traditional social conservatives (i.e., religious minorities who consistently vote Democratic), protesting activists, and the “Liberal Elite” (that he perceives as controlling the government, the media and academia). He even has some strong suspicion about big business when its involved in politics, but more because he is worried about government controlling businesses rather than the other way around. I guess the only people he truly trusts are people just like him: upper class or upper middle class, fiscally and socially conservative (i.e., right-wing) WASPs. This, of course, combines with the general conservative mistrust and sometimes outright fear of change. He is part of a shrinking demographic and all of the types of people he mistrusts are growing demographics. The fastest growing demographics are hispanics and blacks (both groups tending to be social gospel Christians), atheists and the non-religious, progressives and social liberals.

Such right-wing WASPs know they are losing political power and social influence, but they aren’t willing to relent with grace and generosity of spirit. They believe this is their country. They believe they deserve their position as the ruling elite and deserve their social and cultural dominance. This is why they’ve fought so hard in the culture wars which was their last stand and they’ve lost that war. The Tea Party was their final battle, their Last Hurrah. The average Tea Party supporter is to the right of the average Republican. And the average Republican, of course, is to the right of the average Democrat (and also to the right of the average Independent). But what many don’t know is that the average Democratic politician is to the right of the average American. These right-wing WASPs are so far right that they are starting to fall off of the end of the political spectrum.

They have good reason for worrying about their own growing irrelevance and obsolescence (aging implied as many are of an older generation). They maybe can’t save themselves at this point (at least not in their traditional role), but they sure can do massive damage to our democracy in trying to save themselves from having to share power equally and fairly with others. Pushing further to the right in reaction only guarantees and quickens the demise of their rule.

So, what is their plan to counter this seemingly inevitable trend? Obviously, democracy (including a functioning representative democracy) is the greatest enemy of their desire to maintain power and influence. But how to effectively undermine democracy while keeping a facade of democracy to keep the masses docile and obedient?

Well, propaganda is their best tool, especially considering they have the most influence over both mainstream politics and mainstream media (i.e., corporate media conglomerates). As Chomsky and others have pointed out, the propaganda model has been effectively used for a very long time. Unlike the past, ruling right-wingers can’t solely use and overtly rely upon violence to oppress the US population. More subtle methods are required: controlling the narrative of public discussion and of perceived consensus reality.

Another method is to shift the location of the reigns of power. When they ruled society through majority force and ruled culture through majority dominance (i.e., majority of WASPs), they could rule the government and so a functioning representative democracy was in some ways less of a danger. But they now mistrust the government since it has been for much of the 20th century becoming more egalitarian (by which I mean less dominated by the single demographic of male WASPs).

The neo-conservatives and neo-liberals (Establishment libertarians fitting in the latter category) have a similar strategy with only a slightly different emphasis. Both seek to privatize power or to otherwise control government by outside manipulation. This is how corporatocracy has shifted to inverted totalitarianism (a banana republic that continues to go through the motions of democracy, a puppet government ruled by a shadow government).

Other more average right-wing WASPs (such as the libertarian-leaning social conservative I was interacting with) aren’t among the ruling elite, although as upper class Americans some of them have a fair amount of influence on the ruling elite, and so they instead have a strategy of disempowering the federal government (that has been, at least in the past, the greatest force of civil rights). They do this by localizing power which means concentrating power at the local level where it can be better controlled (local religious and business organizations that are tied into the local Establishment of ruling elites, and yet also — unknowingly to the average conservative — more loosely and covertly (through professional and personal relationships) tied into the national and international Establishment of ruling elites; this being a way of ruling behind the scenes far away from the sanitizing sunshine of democracy). This is an attempt to return to pre-Progressive 19th century crony capitalism when local politicians and businessmen regularly colluded for power and profit (a time when the private army of Pinkerton agents was larger than the US military).

I should clarify an issue. Yes, there are conspiracies in the world. But most of this isn’t conspiracy. It’s just people acting in accord with other people (often family and friends) who share their interests, who share their way of viewing the world, who share their background. Humans have the tendency to identify with those like themselves and research shows this is even more true for right-wingers who are predisposed to groupthink and identity politics. The Establishment isn’t necessarily nefarious in a conscious or intentionally planned way. It simply represents the relationships shared by the upper classes (personal and professional, political and business, community and religious). The upper classes socialize with other upper class people. There is nothing surprising about that. The poor do the same, but it’s just that the poor don’t have the power and influence to form a similar establishment.

What these minarchist conservatives and right-libertarians don’t understand (or, in some cases, maybe understand perfectly fine) is that plutocrats, corporatists, crony capitalists, corrupt politicians and manipulative elites can control a small government just as easily as they can control a big government. In some ways, especially in a multiculturally diverse democracy, it probably is even easier for them to maintain their power on the local level of small government. Similarly, they can control an unregulated market just as easily as they can control a regulated market. The only thing that can stop corruption and concentration of power is a functioning democracy. The greater the democracy (i.e. the more it involves direct democracy, civic participation and grassroots activism) means the greater the protection against those who don’t want democracy.

All of this obviously makes me sad, even despairing at times. It almost makes me lose all hope in humanity. I was trying to explain to this particular conservative why a functioning democracy matters, why the majority matters. Thinking further about it, I came up with a way of explaining it which maybe conservatives could understand. It uses free market economics which they claim to love so much. Here it is:

Trying to have a democracy that ignores and dismisses the majority on a consistent basis is like trying to have a free market that ignores and dismisses the majority of small business owners and workers. A free market works (at least in theory) because there is competition. Likewise, a democracy can only work if there is competition. However, if the ruling elite clamps down on political competition by disenfranchising the majority, then that is no longer a free political system, no longer a functioning democracy. An economy where two corporations nearly monopolized every market couldn’t accurately be called a free market. So why, in context of a government where two parties nearly monopolize all politics, do we insist calling it a free democracy (or even a free republic for that matter)?

To claim the US is a functioning democracy is a convenient fiction used to assuage the guilt of our individual and collective moral failings, a way of avoiding the awareness of our individual and shared responsibility that would otherwise require individual and shared action to alleviate the injustice.

This free market metaphor for democracy might be close to reaching him in a way he could understand, but I still have doubts that he (and those like him) can be reached. His fear of commoners is just too great. He knows in his heart that most Americans disagree with him (because if he didn’t know this on some level, he wouldn’t respond with such gut-level mistrust). He’d rather disempower the majority than to risk genuine democracy (with all of its messy civic participation). As a well educated professional, he sees himself as having earned his wealth and power. Therefore, he believes his opinion is worth more than the opinion of the poor and the working class, maybe worth more than the opinion of even most of the middle class that is now struggling (the conservative belief in meritocratic rule where meritocracy is conflated with plutocracy). He isn’t entirely detached from the lower classes. He didn’t grow up super rich, but neither did he grow up poor. He just doesn’t understand, maybe can’t understand. Most importantly, he doesn’t comprehend on a gut level all of the privileges and opportunities of being a well off white male and all of the public-funded programs and polices that have allowed him to succeed. He lives in a fantasy shared by many other well off white males.

It saddens me because he is so normal, so typical. If you met him, you’d just think he was a genuinely kind and friendly person (which would be an accurate assessment on the personal level). He goes to church and he volunteers. He is always helping other people. For certain, he isn’t a greedy narcissist, a soulless sociopath, or anything like that. He simply is blind to those who are different from him. Or not exactly blind. On some level, he fears those who are different and fears what he thinks they would do to this (to ‘his’) country that he believes was built by WASPs like him. He is intelligent and well educated, but he just can’t understand.

This kind of moral split reminds me of Derrick Jensen’s analysis. In his books, Jensen describes how people become dissociated between different parts of their lives. For example, someone can do things at work that others would find emotionally distasteful or morally horrifying, and yet these people often can go home to play with their kids without any thought about what they were doing a few hours before. The two parts of their lives are absolutely split. I think a similar thing happens with personal life and politics. People can make political decisions (as politicians or as voters) about strangers that they could never make about their own loved ones or their own neighbors or the members of their own church.

When that dissociation breaks down, people make very different decisions. An example is that data shows social conservatives tend to vote against stem cell research, but if they personally know someone who could be (or could have been) saved by stem cell research they tend to vote for stem cell research. Morality can’t function when there is no personal investment and many people aren’t able to connect personally to strangers. Research, however, has shown liberals are better at and conservatives worse at empathetically connecting with strangers (it’s even a criticism conservatives make of liberals because they see caring about strangers such as foreigners as implying a split loyalty). Conservatives are what Ernest Hartmann calls thick boundary types. What this means is that a conservative makes a great surgeon in being able to disconnect their emotions from their work but also can make morally questionable decisions for the same reason of that disconnection.

As usual, I’m left with no clear conclusion, no understanding of how to move forward.

Is it simply a matter of people never changing? Is it true that change only happens when the old generation dies and new generations gain power and influence? If so, that is sad. Does this mean that in hoping for change I have to hope for the death of people like this conservative along with the death of the old generation of narcissistic Boomers (and those on the cusp of the Boomer generation) who have held onto power for far too long? That is a depressing thought. I don’t wish harm on them, but I do wish that their harm against others would end. I see the right-wing reign coming to an end and yet I fear that the after-effects of their reign could last for the rest of my life.

White Nationalist Recruiter Rebuffed At CPAC 2011

Here is a video that gives further support to a theory I’ve had.

The younger generation is more socially ‘liberal’ than past generations. Even younger Republicans are relatively liberal on social issues (which actually started back with GenX Reagan Republicans, personified by the fictional character of Alex P. Keaton from the tv show Family Ties). Other evidence of this shift is Meghan McCain who supports gay marriage.

As far as I can tell, the only reason social conservatism took over the Republican party was because of the Boomer generation. Social conservatism has remained so dominant for so long is because the Boomer generation was the largest generation followed by the extremely small Generation X. Only the new generation of Millennials is larger than the Boomers and so that is why we are only now seeing this shift to any great extent. GenXers, by themselves, couldn’t have much impact on changing social attitudes and GenXers don’t have the same desire to change social attitudes as is seen with the Millennials.

Millennials are the most multi-cultural, multi-racial generation ever to exist in US history. Along with being racially open-minded, they support a broad range of socially liberal positions. The only position they hold that is slightly socially conservative is their being somewhat pro-life, but at the same time they are very pro-sex and they don’t support repealing Roe vs Wade. Millennials are odd in being somewhat more ‘conservative’ in their lifestyles such as being focused on marriage and family. It’s just this lifestyle conservatism is more about personal choice instead of culture war. Millennials are very critical of politicized religion. Also, their conservatism is very much pro-government.

https://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2010/02/09/a-portrait-of-generation-next/

https://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2009/11/27/the-new-conservatism-genx-millennials/

https://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2011/02/04/survey-on-love-sex-kids-gender-roles-reversing/

https://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2010/01/23/us-demographics-increasing-progressivism/

https://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2010/09/28/oreilly-polls-old-vs-young/

O’Reilly & Polls: Old vs Young

I love polling data, but I only fully trust data when multiple sources agree. I dislike both people who dismiss data because it disagrees with their views and people who rely on only data that agrees with them. Here is an example of someone doing both. Bill O’Reilly cites research unquestioningly when it makes him personally look good, but then dismisses out of hand a scientific study because he didn’t like its conclusions.

As for the data O’Reilly righteously dismissed, I still don’t understand his claim of subjectivity. O’Reilly doesn’t cite other scientific research that comes to different conclusions. He simply cites an opinion piece. Anyway, I immediately remembered having written about this study and having put it in context of other data: . If you’d like to decide for yourself, here is the article I think O’Reilly is referring to along with a response by another commenter, a response by the researcher, an interview with the researcher, and a response to the responses by the first author.

 – – –

Tea Partiers Racist? Not So Fast
By Cathy Young

The Tea Party’s racial resentment
Reason’s Cathy Young says backers don’t hold racially tinged views, and when they do, they’re politically justified
By Joan Walsh

Race and the Tea Party: Who’s right?
White Tea Party supporters blame black disadvantage on not working hard enough, not the legacy of discrimination
By Christopher Parker

Pollster Responds to Your Questions
By Tom Schaller

The “racist Tea Parties” debate
By Cathy Young

 – – –

As for the data O’Reilly happily cited, what I found interesting is that it doesn’t fit in with what is known from other sources. I haven’t looked at this data close enough to have a conclusive opinion, but I must admit O’Reilly’s smugness (combined with his occasional anti-intellectual attitude) irritates me to no end. I have a knee-jerk suspicion of anything that comes out of O’Reilly’s mouth. Here is some commentary about the poll from the first video.

 – – –

Politico poll claims Fox personalities have the ‘greatest positive impact’ on political debate
By Raw Story

 Politico poll claims Fox personalities have the greatest positive impact on political debateIf there was a poll that made you wonder who was doing the polling — or what kind of sample was being surveyed — this one might be it.

It begins fairly enough: more Americans get their political news from Fox News than any other source. This seems consistent with reality: Fox News has a larger audience than any other cable news channel, and a larger share of voice than any American newspaper (though it’s still lapped by network news broadcasts).

According to the poll — conducted by Politico and George Washington University — 42 percent of those watching cable news consider Fox their “main source,” with 30 percent said to be reliant on CNN and just 12 percent watching MSNBC.

This doesn’t, however, seem to jibe with ratings reports. According to cable news TV ratings released last week, Fox News beat MSNBC in the key 25 to 54 demographic with a rating of 333 to 127. CNN came in with last place ratings, at 118 for the main CNN network and 119 for CNN’s Headline News. That would put MSNBC ahead of CNN in the ratings race.

In primetime, Fox beats MSNBC by about two times: 574 to MSNBC’s 251. If the “main source” of news is primetime television, then MSNBC should have done considerably better in the Politico poll than just 12 percent.

[…] The Politico piece remarks wryly, “The results of the poll… also reflect a trend that many commentators and media analysts find disconcerting: Voters are turning to media sources that reinforce their political worldviews rather than present them with more objective reporting that might challenge their assumptions.”

“As more people get news from cable channels and websites that offer a particular point of view 24/7, it becomes increasingly important for viewers to sample multiple sources in order to best understand the issues and proposed solutions,” the piece quotes a George Washington University professor as saying. “This trend is only increasing.”

Politico poll headline hides good news for Democrats
by truthseeking missile

Last week a Gallup poll showed Democrats evenly split with Republicans among voters on a Congressional ballot. When I diaried about it, many readers argued that it was an outlier. Since then other polls have shown the same trend. The new Associated Press poll put the generic dead even among registered voters 47 percent Democratic, 47 percent Republican — and the New York Times/CBS News survey released yesterday gave Republicans a narrow 40 percent to 38 percent edge.

Along comes another poll today by  POLITICO/George Washington University  showing the same results in the battle ground states, where Democrats are running even with the big, bad Republicans. It points to great news for Democrats in several key regions with numerous House and Senate seats in play. In the Midwest and Northeast they hold a 5-point advantage.

How then do you explain the headline on the story:

Poll: Voters see GOP takeover of Congress 
By: Charles Mahtesian and Jim VandeHei 
September 16, 2010 04:50 AM EDT

Voters, by a 9-point margin, believe Republicans will pick up both the House and the Senate, even though they are evenly divided over whom they intend to back in six weeks, according to a new POLITICO/George Washington University Battleground Poll.

In a generic matchup between the two parties, those surveyed were split 43-43 when asked if they would back a Republican or a Democrat on Election Day. This is good news for Democrats and at odds with many other public polls, which have shown Republicans holding a single-digit edge.

http://dyn.politico.com/…

I continue to question the motives behind this media soap opera. Why is the media burying great news for Democrats? Does the media believe they have the power to create political momentum and sweep people into power by simply creating polls to suit their agenda and looping it ad nauseum until voters cave in and accept a media created reality?

 – – –

Even if Fox News had managed to brainwash most Americans into believing their propaganda/spin, I would take that as a rather negative accomplishment. Large corporations like News Corp, which owns Fox News, have been buying up media at a fast rate. Today, most of the media is owned by a handful of companies, but it wasn’t always that way. Before the Fairness Doctrine was repealed, there used to be more diversity of media, more small business owners of media, and more local control of media.

 – – –

The Structural Imbalance of Political Talk Radio
By John Halpin, James Heidbreder, Mark Lloyd, Paul Woodhull, Ben Scott, Josh Silver, S. Derek Turner

There are many potential explanations for why this gap exists. The two most frequently cited reasons are the repeal of the Fairness Doctrine in 1987 and simple consumer demand. As this report will detail, neither of these reasons adequately explains why conservative talk radio dominates the airwaves.

Our conclusion is that the gap between conservative and progressive talk radio is the result of multiple structural problems in the U.S. regulatory system, particularly the complete breakdown of the public trustee concept of broadcast, the elimination of clear public interest requirements for broadcasting, and the relaxation of ownership rules including the requirement of local participation in management.

Ownership diversity is perhaps the single most important variable contributing to the structural imbalance based on the data. Quantitative analysis conducted by Free Press of all 10,506 licensed commercial radio stations reveals that stations owned by women, minorities, or local owners are statistically less likely to air conservative hosts or shows.

In contrast, stations controlled by group owners—those with stations in multiple markets or more than three stations in a single market—were statistically more likely to air conservative talk. Furthermore, markets that aired both conservative and progressive programming were statistically less concentrated than the markets that aired only one type of programming and were more likely to be the markets that had female- and minority-owned stations.

 – – –

One thing that connects all of this is the fact that there is a connection between Fox News and the Tea Party. Fox News pundits like O’Reilly almost always go to the defense to the Tea Party. I saw in one of the articles I was perusing a mention of a poll that showed the strongest common denominator, stronger than any particular value or policy position, among Tea Party supporters was that they tended to be viewers of Glenn Beck’s show. I couldn’t find that article again, but here is some other info to show this close relationship.

 – – –

Survey: 40% Of Republicans Watch Fox News Regularly
By David Bauder

At the same time, 7 percent of conservative Sean Hannity’s Fox News Channel viewers and 9 percent of Rush Limbaugh’s listeners say Obama is doing a good job, the survey said. Three quarters of Limbaugh, Hannity and Glenn Beck’s audiences identify themselves as tea party supporters.

DeMint Credits Fox News With Recent Tea Party Victories
By Alex Seitz-Wald

“[A]t least twenty Fox News personalities have endorsed, raised money, or campaigned for Republican candidates or causes, or against Democratic candidates or causes, in more than 300 instances and in all 50 states,” according to a Media Matters survey conducted in April. Meanwhile, a recent Pew research survey finds that Fox News’ viewership has increased in recent years due almost entirely to an influx of Republicans, 40 percent of whom now say they regularly get their news there. That’s up from just 25 percent in 2002. Of course, Fox’s parent company also recently gave $1 million to the Republican Governors Association.

 – – –

One interesting fact about Fox News is that their audience is the oldest of any cable channel. In order to put this in context, the average age of cable viewers is already up there around retirmenent age.

 – – –

Median Age of Fox News Viewers is 65 – Average Dittohead Is a 67 Year Old Man
By Jon Ponder

It took some googling but I found a reliable source that confirms that during the 2007-2008 television season, the most recent season for which figures are available, the average age of Fox News viewers was 65:

According to a study released by Magna Global’s Steve Sternberg, the five broadcast nets’ average live median age (in other words, not including delayed DVR viewing) was 50 last season. That’s the oldest ever since Sternberg started analyzing median age more than a decade ago — and the first time the nets’ median age was outside of the vaunted 18-49 demo…

Among ad-supported cable nets, the news nets (along with older-skewing Hallmark Channel, Golf Channel and GSN’s daytime sked) sport the most gray, with Fox News Channel’s daytime and primetime skeds the absolute oldest, clocking in with a median age above 65. (Emphasis added.)

As usual, I don’t precisely know what all this means. But let me point out a few thoughts. 

The age factor relates to both the issue of popularity and racial prejudice. Fox News has the most popular cable channel and cable channels are more popular than the networks, but this is meaningless when considered in isolation. The Fox News audience, despite it’s relative size, is a tiny fraction of a percentage of the total population. The fact is most of the population doesn’t watch any of the mainstream media for news. In particular, the younger generations get most of their news from the internet and the New Media (a category rarely measured in most polls). So, O’Reilly’s smugness about being a trusted news source among very old people isn’t saying much. Furthermore, the Tea Party and Fox News both share this older audience which is relatively more racially prejudiced than younger generations.

Here is what interests me. This audience of the mainstream media mostly consists of the Boomer generation. They were the largest generation ever to be born… that is until the Millennial generation was born. Boomers have always been known for being loud and for getting their way. They’ve dominated politics for most of their lives and now as they enter retirement they want to continue to maintain their influence. The Old Media profited greatly from this generation and this demographic remains their loyal base.

What many people don’t see coming or would rather ignore is that all of this is going to change in the coming years and decades. Obama didn’t win because of the older white audience of Fox News and the rest of the MSM. It was the multicultural Millennial generation that made it’s debut by voting Obama into office. If you want to know what young, white, and low-income voters (i.e., the opposite of the Tea Party), ignore what you hear at Tea Parties and on Fox News and instead check out the data: .

The last piece is the element of race. Older people are both more white and more racially prejudiced than younger people. White kids in school right now are already the minority among their peers. The younger generations have grown up with multiculturalism and interracial dating/marriage, with multi-racial friends and with those who are openly homosexual.  Research shows that when kids grow up with diversity that they end up having more accepting attitudes of those who are different. Or, in other words, they grow up to be socially liberal. Millennials are a larger generation than even the Boomers. Conservative outrage (whether expressed by Tea Party protesters or right-wing pundits) won’t be able to stop this massive change on the horizon.

Political Labels & Demographic Trends

This post will repeat a bit of some thoughts I’ve written about recently. I’m trying to formulate my thinking, but I’m not entirely clear. I see a shift in trends and I think generations is particularly significant. Some recent related posts:

The New Conservatism: GenX & Millennials
Future of Family Values

The main point in my recent thoughts is that the cultural tide is shifting and with it so is politics. With the Goldwater revolution of movement conservatism, the entire political spectrum shifted to the right. The Democratic party became centrist while the Republican party became increasingly entrenched in it’s fundamentalist base.

The culture war was a war of ideology and perception which the GOP was winning in many ways. It was true that divorce rates were up and drug use, but conservatives failed to understand the real causes. They got tough on crime and started righteously preaching morals.

How conservatives ultimately lost the war is that evidence became more clear that the Christian right wasn’t any more moral than the rest of society. Preachers were caught in money and sex scandals. The abstinence-only programs were absolute failures. Everything that Christians preached against were the worse in the most fundamentalist states (teen pregnancy, STDs, divorce… heck, even gay website membership was the highest in the Bible Belt), and the poor and needy were worse off in those same states (especially on women’s health issues leading to low birth rates and high infant mortality). Furthermore, the War On Drugs was a failure and a waste of money. The entire tough on crime attitude had led to the highest prison rates in the world and research has proven the entire legal system is racially biased.

Republicans have been in scandal after scandal, failure after failure. Finally, with Bush’s presidency, even conservatives were getting fed up. Also, various factors (such as increased immigration rates) led to a more culturally diverse society which favors a liberalism. The conservative xenophobia has become increasingly rabid and people are reminded of the Civil Rights movement when the GOP made a move for power by embracing and promoting racist hatred and fear.

The culturally diverse young generation came of age during Bush’s presidency. Some would claim it was the greatest failure in the modern history of presidents, but certainly it was a near fatal blow to the Republican party. Conservatives left the Republican party in droves, splinter groups formed, protests ensued, purity tests were demanded, and the libertarian tendencies became apparent again. Republicans had disliked libertarians more than liberals, but now the average Republican realized they had no where else to turn.

GenXers particularly have been attracted to libertarianism, but way before the Republican exodus. But this new demographic of libertarians are much more liberal and diverse than they were in the past. The progressive tendencies of Millennials and other factors are pushing the entire political spectrum to the left. The new conservatism will be centrist and moderate. The Neocons had their day in the sun, but a new era has begun. As Strauss and Howe point out, whichever party is in power when the shit hits the fan will be the party that gets sidestepped by the young generation in the Fourth Turning.

What feels conservative is that it’s a return of populism, but it’s not the populism of the right. In some ways, I think the leftwing populism is more libertarian than the rightwing version (as Chomsky would argue). If libertarianism is true conservatism, then leftwing populism is true libertarianism. Just check out history and see which group early last century was fighting both the government and the corporations.

In these times of change, labels become very confusing. The progressive Millennials show greater signs of moral behavior than do the Boomer religious right. It’s all there in the data. If valuing family and community is conservative, then Millennials are probably the most conservative demographic. However, it’s not a me and mine conservatism (my family, my community). Instead, it’s a we and ours attitude. To Millennials, there are no real and fake Americans. We’re all Americans. If patriotism is conservative, the Millennials would also seem to win on that account.

I’m not arguing about which generation is the best generation. As a GenXer, I have plenty of criticisms of Millennials. I’m just trying to understand the implictions of all this whether or not the trends match my personal opinions.

The Republican party is having an identity crisis… actually, the entire conservative movement is a bit up in the air. This is an opportunity for an entire party and maybe the rightwing movement in general to redefine itself. Whites are a shrinking demographic and so the new identity can’t focus on “white culture” Fundamentalist Christians are a shrinking demographic and so the culture wars don’t mobilize the populace. Certainly, the libertarian militia groups aren’t going to form the core of any mainstream party… but libertarianism as a general attitude might be what will reinvigorate the ideals of conservatism. There is a catch to this, though. This new libertarianism will have to be inclusive of both the right and left varieties if it’s to gain populist support.

What this means is that fundamentalism and “white culture” can no longer be the defining values of conservatism. Conservatives will have to free themselves of some of their xenophobia and become inclusive of an increasingly diverse nation. It will have to be a libertarianism that seeks to defend everyone’s rights, not just the rights of whites or fundamentalists or gun owners. The Republicans have an image problem, and it’s going to take a while to convince certain groups (blacks, gays, muslims, etc) that they’re truly welcomed as equals. The Republican party will make this shift or it will die out and a new party will replace it.

I could be wrong. I am considering all the demographic and polling data I’m familiar with and so my speculations are at least based in the facts I’ve come across. A shift is happening. Many people, both liberal and conservative, have been feeling dissatisfied with the sociopolitical status quo. The shrinking demographic of whites would like to think that the solution to the problem is to hold even tighter to the values of “white culture” The shrinking demographic of fundamentalists would like to believe the old culture wars can still be won. I think they’re wrong. We’re in the middle of this change. What we do now will influence it to an extent, but I think it’s mostly already set in whatever direction it will go.

One last thought… it doesn’t matter all that much who is right. Demographics are destiny and destiny is blind to our moral opinions. Let’s assume that “white culture” (or Western Civilization if you want to be more melodramatic) is superior to anything else ever conceived by any nation or people. Okay. Assuming that, present minorities will outnumber whites in the near future and whites will be the new majority. Those who promote this ideal of “white culture” also see it as inseparable from Christian fundamentalism. Christianity in general is shrinking in the US, and specifically fundamentalism seems to be losing power and/or seems to be in the process of being redefined. The only way white fundamentalist Christians can maintain their influence would be to take over the government and force their ideology on everyone else. That would be interesting. I’m sure they’ll try.

A lot of things are changing and I don’t think there is much anyone can do to stop it. People worry about the New World Order and I understand the criticisms, the fears. Even so, history of all civilization has been a steady increase in the size of nations and hence an increase in the size of the governments. Any given government could collapse or be destroyed, but that just creates a power vacuum where another government comes in. If the militia secessionists could overthrow our government, it wouldn’t lead to a libertarian utopia. The early Americans overthrew the British and then created another government that inevitably and quickly grew in size and power. The Civil War was fought about Federal power and States’ rights, but it just led to an even greater Federal government. The world is becoming increasingly globalized and no one is likely to stop that. Or, rather, the only thing that will stop any of this is if civilization in its entirety collapses (through plague, nuclear apocalypse, environmental collapse, etc). Otherwise, welcome to the world as it is and as it is becoming.

Going by the polls, Millennials more than any other generation seems to understand this shift. Instead of fighting it, they seem to be embracing it with open arms. I don’t know what the future will look like, but it’s going to be a Brave New World. Join in the march or let yourself be carried along… it doesn’t matter. We’re all going to get there together one way or another.

The Tea Party Teens

Here is my response to the article The Tea Party Teens by David Brooks:

There presently is not coherent and respectable tea party that could actually win a presidential election. The tea party is more held together by what its members are against rather than for. There are some strong divisions (such as b/t the social libertarians and rightwing fundamentalists) within the tea party that will split it apart once the economic situation stabilizes.

The article points out that the issues of intellectuals are becoming less popular, but history shows that anti-intellectualism always flares up temporarily during politically stressful times. It is a bit disturbing on a personal level because I value intellectuality and intelligence in general.  It makes sense though.  When people feel afraid and uncertain, they look to group norms and shared opinions.  Intellectuality, on the other hand, is about thinking for yourself.  People are more likely to think for themselves when they’re not worried about everyday issues such as unemployment, unpaid bills, and home foreclosures.

So where are political trends leading.  It would help to look at it in terms of generations.

Let me start with views of the youngest generation on social issues.  Specifically I’ll focus on the most divisive of issues: abortion.  In general, 18-29 yr olds of any generation tend to be less supportive of abortion rights than the general adult population. There is no reason to assume this won’t be equally as true for GenY as it was for past generations.  However, there are some differences between older and younger GenY.  Older GenYs are extremely liberal and progressive on all issues and younger GenYs are a bit more conservative on social issues, but overall GenY is the most liberal of any generation.

GenY is the largest generation and so they sway public opinion polls, but it’s difficult to infer what this means for future politics.   Polls in the past have shown that a majority of GenY are pro-choice, but this generation is still forming their opinions and so this could change.

Another thing to keep in mind is that GenY is strongly averse to politically divisive issues. Even if younger GenY teens are more socially conservative, it doesn’t mean they’ll be supportive of government enforcing bans on abortions. Younger GenY may be more pro-life, but they’re less pro-life than the 65+ demographic which would seem to imply a general shift of increasing liberalism on the issue.  I definitely wouldn’t look to GenY to carry on the combative style of the Boomers in the political arena.  Strauss and Howe theorize that we’re coming into a period of cooperation and so the prediction is that issues such as abortion will lose their power as wedge issues.

Plus, polls have consistently shown that Americans in general are against total abortion bans and think abortion should be allowed in some situations.  Being pro-life as a personal belief is way different than being anti-abortion as a complete ban enforced by the federal government.

There has been only one recent poll that has shown an increase in those who identify as pro-life. But a single poll, just like a single set of research data, doesn’t prove anything.  Such a poll, for the time being, can only be seen as a fluke, but possibly it is evidence of something.  Only further polls over the next several years can demonstrate if there is a trend.

As for the Tea Party in general, I’ve seen data that shows the Bush administration has caused independents to increasingly lean towards the liberal. Another thing that is interesting is that GenX is the most Republican of any generation right now and yet GenX is very socially liberal. The political map of the next few decades is going to be very different. 

One further point is that younger generations are less open to mixing religion and politics.  I think that is extremely important for the Tea Party movement.  The personas who have dominated the Tea Party are the religious right figures such as Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin, but many people in the Tea Party aren’t followers of the religious right.  If the Tea Party is to survive as a longterm movement it will have to become less stridently focused on religious values.  Instead, the Tea Party should align itself fully with the Libertarian movement including the liberal Libertarians.  Then maybe it could be a force to be reckoned with.