Young Poor Darker-Skinned Minority Men

The recent incidents of cops killing poor black men puts the issues into context.

Some have pointed out that poor whites and black women also get killed by cops. But the point is that they don’t get killed as often as poor black men. Also, rich black men don’t get killed either very often. Bill Cosby doesn’t have to worry about being shot.

It isn’t just getting disproportionately shot that is the problem. The entire criminal system directs itself most strongly against poor black men. Actually, it is young poor black men. To be yet even more precise, it is young poor darker-skinned minority men, as research shows that darker skin leads to greater racial bias.

Simply being a lighter-skinned young poor black man will likely save you some grief with the police. Or being a woman will make a major difference in how likely you are to be arrested and convicted for the exact same crimes committed by a man. Or just aging a bit transforms a dangerous threat to society into a wise old black man.

It isn’t just a race issue. It isn’t just a conflict between whites and blacks. It involves a centuries-old class war and much else besides.

It’s this combination of factors that is so strange to my mind. All of it gets mixed up. Why is the young poor black man the ultimate in bigoted scapegoating and police targeting? What does this stereotype represent in our collective psyche?

Romney’s Class War

I’ve been saying for a while that this election is Obama’s to lose, but I have to admit recently that Romney is doing his best to lose. I’m not even speaking as an Obama supporter.

The media is particularly getting excited about Romney’s comment that 47% of Americans are freeloaders with a victim mentality and that these people will inevitably vote for Obama because they are looking for handouts from government. Two things stand out to me. First, Romney is admitting there is a class war and that he is fighting on the side of the rich. Second, this recording simply proves what many rich Republicans say in private when around other rich Republicans.

Even though I’m not an Obama supporter, I have decided to vote for Obama. My decision came before this recent event. What brought me out of voter apathy was the endless attacks by Republicans to suppress the votes of the poor and disadvantaged. This became most clear recently with the changes to state voting laws, although it had already become clear with the morally depraved attack on and destruction of ACORN, one of the few organizations that helped lower class Americans.

It forms a truly dark picture of cynicism. This class war that isn’t just about economics, isn’t just about unemployment and stagnating wages, isn’t just about ensuring tax cuts for the rich, isn’t just about outsourcing American jobs, isn’t just about redistributing America’s wealth to the already wealthy, isn’t just about eliminating the remains of the safety net. More fundamentally, the voter suppression tactics demonstrate Republicans are trying to disempower and disenfranchise all Americans who aren’t apart of the upper classes. Republicans are flirting with plutocracy and the Republican elite seem to have already fully embraced their role as plutocrats.

I find this disturbing. I know the Democratic Party has its own problems. I realize Democrats haven’t always been the best defenders of democracy. But at least Democrats aren’t actively attacking average Americans who are just trying to get by.

That is why as an Independent I’m voting for Obama. I’m not voting for the lesser of two evils. My vote isn’t about party politics. I’m voting for Obama in order to vote against those who attack democracy. I’m rather fond of democracy and I don’t want to see it any further harmed. Democracy and plutocracy are incompatible. Every generation must choose democracy again and so every generation faces the possibility of losing democracy.

 
Unlike Romney, I don’t see all of this as a simple class war. There are rich people for democracy and lower class people against democracy. The American Dream of an egalitarian society isn’t about attacking the rich and giving to the poor. It’s about making a better life possible for everyone.

Revolutionary Class War: Paine & Washington

There is an interesting incident during the revolutionary era (see links below for more detailed discussion). In Philadelphia, certain politicians and financiers were accused of profiteering and even treason. Paine was at the center of this, but he wasn’t alone in this fight. It was one of the incidents that made it clear how much the Revolutionary War was also a class war.

Besides the profiteering trials, the revolutionary era and the era immediately following was filled with conflicts between those who fought for the new country and those who wanted to rule over it. For example, consider some of the ‘rebellions’ following the Revolutionary War. While many of the elites profited from the war, many of the soldiers lost their property, their patriotic sacrifices having meant nothing to those who valued only profit and power.

Although having been close allies with Paine in ensuring the army survived, Washington found himself on the opposite side of Paine when it came to this class war. The side of Washington’s friends and associates (Silas Deane, Gouverneur Morris, etc) also happened to be the wrong side for some of these elites turned out to not be trustworthy people of high moral standards. I don’t know that Washington ever directly defended these corrupt aristocrats, but it nonetheless drove a wedge in between his relationship with Paine.

It appears Washington’s identity as an elite was greater than his identity as a revolutionary defender of liberty. In the end, Washington was more of a typical politician in seeking compromise and political advancement whereas Paine was more of a typical revolutionary in refusing compromise and never abandoning the radical impulse. As I understand it, Washington never fully or publicly acknowledged Paine after this time (such as not acknowledging Paine’s dedicating Rights of Man to Washington), despite how closely they had worked together, and despite how much Paine had helped him and respected him.

Paine didn’t initially blame Washington, but like other elites Washington seemingly held a grudge against Paine. It took Paine to end up abandoned in a French prison awaiting the guillotine to realize Washington’s true allegiance.

The accusations of that time have been debated ever since. In some cases, though, documents were later revealed to show Paine was right. America was built on war profiteering and it continues to this day with no-bid contracts being given to companies with political connections.

http://www.counterpunch.org/2007/02/01/our-founding-war-profiteers/

“A majority of Congress wasn’t bothered by the Deane’s and Morris’s corruption (many of whom engaged in similar practices themselves), but they were particularly annoyed that Paine had revealed the secret arrangements with the French. Paine was dismissed from his post as Secretary to the Committee for Foreign Affairs for this supposed indiscretion. (Even though England probably new about it anyway.) In the end, of course, an interim compromise was reached and America paid part of the bill. Congress took no action on the allegations against Deane. The affair was dropped form the public press and Deane went to Europe, never to return, dying in poverty.

“Paine, back in private life, continued to attack Robert and his friend Geuvenor (his name) Morris who were continuing to profit from the Revolutionary War. Inflation was rampant, but the war profiteers were seemingly immune, further outraging Paine. The unpaid French debt demanded by Beaumarchais and Deane floated around in the back rooms of Congress for several decades, and in 1839 Congress mysteriously voted to give the heirs of Silas Deane $39,000. It wasn’t until the 1990s, however, that historians would uncover documents in British archives which showed that Deane had been an English loyalist all along-a war profiteer AND a traitor. Paine was finally vindicated, but the war profiteers had long since taken the money and run.”

http://digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc11037/m2/1/high_res_d/thesis.pdf

“What had started out as debate over the conduct and role of an American Commissioner to France had become a struggle between radicals and conservatives in Pennsylvania. Wealthy merchants and professional aristocrats there had been organizing to overthrow the state’s 1777 Constitution, which, according to them, committed the cardinal sin of allowing the common people a voice in their government.77 The radical wing in this contest was comprised of small farmers and mechanics, whom Paine supported. He saw himself as a sentry doing his duty to protect the ideals of classical republicanism and defend the American cause. In a series of articles sent to press Paine defended the 1777 Pennsylvania Constitution and attacked those who sought to deprive the people of their democratic rights.78 Following the state elections in 1779, the Constitutionalists – those whom Paine defended – won a resounding victory and, as a reward for his part in arousing popular support for the Constitution, the new Assembly appointed Paine its Clerk. This new position not only gave him a new job, but also a chance to befriend many influential and powerful leaders in the Pennsylvania Assembly and the opportunity to influence legislation. The Silas Deane Affair, however, brought out many powerful enemies that would resurface later in Paine’s life. Throughout this ordeal, Paine received no support from his ally George Washington. Because of Deane’s involvement in the supplying of the army, Washington understood the ramifications of the controversy and his correspondence shows that he was actually well informed on the situation.

“It is true that Washington and Deane were friends before the war and in its early years. Washington, in fact, had supported Deane’s commissioning to travel to France and continued to support Deane until July 1778. After Deane’s correspondence was revealed, however, Washington remarked “I wish never to hear or see anything more of so infamous a character.”79 As Deane’s world was falling apart he appealed to Washington and John Jay for help, but was met with silence.80 One would think that the General would have, at this point, acknowledged Paine’s positive and constructive involvement in exposing a war profiteer and traitor to the cause. And yet, Washington neither wrote to nor mentioned Paine in his correspondence concerning the controversy. Perhaps it was Paine’s attacks on the wealthy elites of Pennsylvania that turned Washington off to Paine. He was after all a wealthy, conservative, elite himself and had worked hard to be considered in that mode. Washington had only known Paine as a propagandist that defended the same things he believed in – independence, high morale, supplying the army, the American war effort – and it is entirely possible that Washington was off put by Paine’s successful and populistic attempts to sway public opinion in a direction that ran counter to Washington’s own sentiments.”

Class War is a Rigged Game

As long as there is class war, the lower classes will never be able to be free. It is hard to break the power of an elite. Even if this is accomplished, it is easy for this elite or a new elite to gain power again. It is endless.

It seems to me that struggle from below will never by itself solve the problem. Somehow the elite has to be transformed by coming to realize that what negatively impacts the lower classes also negatively impacts the elite.

It seems to me that playing into the class war rhetoric will always lead to the upper class winning. It is a rigged game.

The reason it is rigged is because it is an easy game for the elite to win and a difficult, if not impossible, game for the lower classes to win. The elite a small group by definition and it is easy for them to organize, especially as they have so much in common in terms of culture and economics. The lower classes, however, are vast and diverse which makes organization difficult. The elite always have the upper hand in a class war.

The game itself has to change.

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?

The War on Democracy: a simple answer

I have a relatively simple thought I want to share about democracy. It’s somewhat in the context of my recent thoughts about Thomas Paine’s vision of America, but it’s directly inspired by my having just watched the John Pilger’s documentary ‘The War on Democracy’.

Democracy is a potential that has yet to fully manifest in American politics and in international politics, partly because the US and other global superpowers have often gone out of their way to crush emerging democracies. Watching Pilger’s documentary, I became aware that it’s not an issue of creating the right political system or the right economic system. Merely having elections doesn’t a democracy make. A political system can’t be free. Only people can be free. This is also why a free market makes no sense. Many systems can be claimed as free, but the measure is whether or not the people are free. A system can’t make people free. Only people can demand their own freedom and they must do it collectively (freedom for all or freedom for none). And only free people can make systems that serve freedom.

This is why partisanship and ideological debate is meaningless. It doesn’t matter what inspiring rhetoric is spewed by a politician even if well-meaning. It doesn’t matter what argument can be made for why any particular system should work better. Everyone has there own arguments that they are convinced by… and yet such debate and ideological posturing hasn’t led to real democracy. What is forgotten is that a system isn’t an abstract model to be enforced onto people. A system is created by people. A system merely represents the way people relate to one another.

Democracy is ultimately more about how an entire society (in all aspects, on all levels) functions and not just about politics. If there isn’t grassroots organization in communities and in workplaces, then there can be no democracy. Grassroots organization directly relates to egalitarianism because such foundations of democracy can’t operate in a class-based society. And a class-based society will always exist where there is inequality of wealth and power, an inequality of opportunities and justice, and inequality of freedom and rights.

In our present global society, we have a class-based society that maintains its power and wealth through constant class war (and often actual war as well, along with coups and propaganda). In America which is the wealthiest nation in the world, a quarter of the population lives in poverty while a small percentage controls most of the government, media, and means of production. It’s corporatism because there is no clear division between the public and private sectors. A revolving door exists between big business and big government. That is the tricky part because no single person or single sector or single anything can be blamed. It’s a whole class of people who are in collusion, whether directly or indirectly, by shared interests. Getting rid of one aspect would just shift the problem to another aspect. Limiting the power of corrupt politicians would just increase the power of corrupt capitalists, and vice versa. It’s a social problem, not a political or economic problem.

Arguing about ideology just ends up helping to perpetuate the problem. We have to look at it on the level of real humans. This means we have to begin with empathy and compassion. We can’t just think what will help me and my own. Rather, we have to consider what will help all. It may seem naive, but it’s the vision that Paine wrote about and it’s the vision that inspired the American Revolution. Paine saw this as not just a battle for Americans gaining national self-control. What Paine hoped for was a global revolution that would spread from country to country until all people were free. When the US government (often with the support of Americans) attack other countries claiming to defend their own freedom, they are actually destroying their own freedom. The greatest insight Paine had was that we can only have the rights we are willing to allow others. Research shows that even the rich are better off in societies that have less economic inequality. The wealthy elite have been waging a class war, but they don’t realize they are destroying the society they are a part of. No walled community will keep them safe forever.

It’s not about just blaming the rich. The elite are able to rule because the majority allows them to. People have to demand freedom which is a hard thing to do in a society whose population is kept ignorant and isolated. All people need to wake up, rich and poor alike. Class war can’t be ended by more class war. We must end the ignorance by increasing the sharing of knowledge. We must end isolation by creating a strong sense of community where people understand that there fate is tied with the fate of all. Changing society is probably a lot easier than it seems. Fear and apathy is what holds us back. If people were to wake up for just a moment, to see clearly with their own eyes, to feel fully with their own hearts, society would transform over night. The problems of society are right in front of us every day. We walk by pretending not to notice, pretending to be mature adults with our cynicism and realpolitik.

We, as a species, are at a critical juncture. We either collectively wake up and embrace democratic values (which simply means caring about other people) or we’ll keep going down this path of collective self-destruction. But few people want to face the obvious, to see the writing on the wall. The answer is simple, assuming people actually want an answer. It’s a choice between caring or not caring… between caring about others, all others or not, between caring about society or not, between caring about the environment or not, between caring about the fate of future generations or not. You can always choose selfishness and greed, you can always choose ideological righteousness or ethnocentrism, but your neighbors and your grandchildren will suffer horribly for your sins… and, depending on how long you live, you might get the opportunity to suffer for your own sins as well. If we don’t change our ways, the inevitable results won’t be desirable even for the richest of the rich. I don’t envy future generations.

A Fundamental Flaw of Free Markets

This video is an explanation of the type of issue I often consider. Listening to it, it got me thinking about why this needs to be explained.

Going by the data I’ve seen, this explanation seems obvious. I honestly can’t see any other convincing explanation. Yes, some rich people are deserving, but many aren’t deserving of being as rich as they are or aren’t any more deserving (in terms of talent, intelligence, ambition, etc) than many less advantaged people.

So, why doesn’t this seem obvious to many conservatives? What keeps them from seeing it? I suspect many refuse to seriously consider the data because it contradicts their beliefs and assumptions. That is understandable. If they get all their news from Fox News, Wall Street Journal, and right-wing talk shows, they probably never (or, at least, very rarely) would even come across any data that contradicts their beliefs and assumptions. That is sad, but understandable.

Still, I doubt that this explains it all. There has to be many conservatives who are familiar with the data and yet still support the rich having advantages. Why?

Is it just team sports mentality, just rich people defending other rich people that they personally identify with as being part of their group? That makes sense psychologically. Poor people do the same thing, although less effectively since they less power.

Another explanation is that some people believe that, despite inequality being morally wrong or less than perfect, is still better than the alternative. Maybe it’s a belief that the egalitarian vision is dangerous. It’s better to have an imperfect system than to risk its destruction by trying to improve it. Certainly, some conservatives do believe this, but I find it a bit too convenient that they many rich conservatives just so happen to support the analysis that benefits them personally.

Yet another explanation is that some people are just cynical. They have theirs. Fuck everyone else. They are on top of the wall and so they kick the ladder away to ensure no one can challenge their position of power. I wonder about this. How many conservatives are this cynical? Or, if not quite this cynical, how many conservatives are to varying degrees motivated by cynicism?

I don’t ask this as a way to dismiss all conservatives and all rich people. I genuinely want to understand what motivates people, want to understand why inequality keeps growing in this country. I can’t believe it’s a mere accidental side effect of an otherwise moral system. There is a class war going on, but I don’t know how many people even see it. For those who don’t see it, what is their incentive in remaining blind to the suffering of others?

Meritocracy? Growing Poor, Shrinking Middle Class

Let me give some context to why I’m posting all of this. 

I heard two different people talk about why some social liberals vote Republican.  The stated reason of these people is that they aspire to climb the ladder of socio-economic success, and they think Republican policies will favor the middle class and the striving business entrepreneur.  This, of course, isn’t based on the reality as the middle class has been shrinking and the government growing ever since Reagan’s administration.  The tax cuts that Republican politicians preach about mostly only favor the rich.  These middle class Republican voters may dream of becoming rich, but this American Dream of meritocracy is a fool’s dream.

I think this is similar to the reason why the poor white working class votes the way they do.  They have more in common with poor minorities and immigrants, but they see these other poor people as their enemy.  So, they vote for the Republican party with it’s policies that favor the rich.  Democratic policies, on the other hand, tend to be more beneficial to the poor which is why the minorities and immigrants vote Democrat. 

A difference with the poor white working class is that they’re not as poor as many minorities and immigrants.  Looking down on the even poorer gives them a sense of superiority and this breeds a lot of racial hatred.  It’s no accident that the conservative movement has promoted the superiority of “white culture” for decades and many conservatives still openly promote it without any sense of shame.

The middle class is shrinking even as more people are trying to identify themselves as middle class.  The conservative movment has preyed upon the class wars and mixed it with the culture wars.  This “middle class” perceives themselves as hard working real Americans.  Conservative politicians and pundits tell this “middle class” that their meritocratic aspirations are threatened by the socialism of the liberal elites and the moral depravity of poor minorities.  Meanwhile, the true wealthy elite (with it’s corporatism and military-industrial complex) increasingly takes over our country… wrapping itself in the American flag.

‘No Labor Market Recession For America’s Affluent,’ Low-Wage Workers Hit Hardest: STUDY
By Ryan McCarthy

Though the national unemployment rate dipped slightly in January to 9.7 percent, a new study suggests that not only have low-income workers been the hardest hit by the jobs crisis — but, shockingly, there has been “no labor market recession for America’s affluent.”

The study from Andrew Sum, Ishwar Khatiwada and Sheila Palma at Northeastern University’s Center for Labor Market Studies suggests that the unemployment problem is largely a problem for low-wage workers (hat tip to the Curious Capitalist).

Our Polarized Society
With no middle ground, we are always on opposing sides.
By Ken Eisold, PhD

Here is where real, underlying social issues come into play, the second reason for our increasing polarization. The gap between the rich and the poor has been growing. This is reflected in one way by the growing disparity between workers salaries and the lavish compensation packages of top executives, but more generally in the increasing erosion and fragmentation of the middle class. As a result, two increasingly distinct and identifiable interest groups are emerging.

This is not simply the rich versus the poor, of course, those who have and those who don’t. If that were so, the rich would not stand much of chance. It is a matter of identification and aspiration, those who do not want their opportunities diluted by taxes to provide social safety nets for the poor, those who emphasize the importance of sacrifice and discipline in getting ahead, who are convinced they will succeed and are motivated by the achievements of others, the stories of hyper-successful geeks and those who have worked their way up the ranks.

On the other hand, there are those at the margins of our national prosperity who tend to be left out, those sinking in status, and those troubled by our unequal access to security and protection against suffering. Many also don’t like the picture that is emerging and want a more equal society, but they, too, increasingly have no choice but to side with the underdogs.

Lulled by the celebritariat
By Toby Young

Michael disapproved of meritocracy because he saw it as a way of legitimising inequality. After all, if everyone starts out on a level playing field, then the resulting allocation of rewards—however unequal—seems fair. Those at the very pinnacle of our society might not inherit their privileged position, as their forebears had done, but its pyramid-like shape would be preserved. Indeed, once this hierarchical structure became legitimised, as it would in a meritocratic society, it was likely that power and wealth would become concentrated in even fewer hands.  […]  Analysts of the broader sweep of social mobility are divided on how much it has slowed down (see David Goodhart’s previous article), but there is some consensus that there has been a falling off since the time my father wrote Meritocracy.

[…]  Writing in the 1960s, the sociologist WG Runciman, author of Relative Deprivation and Social Justice, argued that ordinary people tolerate high levels of inequality because they don’t compare themselves with those at the top, but with people like themselves. By that measure, they are far better off than they were 50 years ago, even if their incomes have grown by a smaller percentage than the top earners.

However, this argument doesn’t seem plausible any longer. Mark Pearson, the head of the OECD’s social policy division, has identified something he calls the “Hello! magazine effect” whereby people now compare themselves with the most successful members of society, thereby increasing their insecurity and sense of deprivation. This appears to be tied up with the decline of deference. A person’s social background may still affect their life chances, but it no longer plays such an important role in determining their attitudes and aspirations, particularly towards those higher up—and lower down—the food chain

[…]  As Ferdinand Mount notes in Mind the Gap: “The old class markers have become taboo… The manners of classlessness have become de rigueur.” To put it another way: a profound increase in economic inequality has been accompanied by a dramatic increase in social and cultural equality. We can see this most clearly in changing attitudes to popular culture. It is a cliché to point out that the distinction between high and low culture has all but disappeared in the past 25 years or so. In this free-for-all it is high culture that has been the loser, with most educated people under 45 embracing popular culture almost exclusively.  […]  The rich and the poor no longer live in two nations, at least not socially. Economic divisions may be more pronounced than ever, but we support the same football teams, watch the same television programmes, go to the same movies. Mass culture is for everyone, not just the masses.

[…]  If this is the case, I believe it is largely due to the emergence of a new class that my father didn’t anticipate and which, for want of a better word, I shall call the “celebritariat.” […] the premier league footballers and their wives, pop stars, movie stars, soap stars and the like.  […]  If the celebritariat really does play a role in legitimising economic inequality, it is also because ordinary people imagine that they, too, could become members. A YouGov poll of nearly 800 16-19-year-olds conducted on behalf of the Learning and Skills Council in 2006 revealed that 11 per cent said they were “waiting to be discovered.”

Some commentators believe that the preponderance of reality shows and their casts of freaks and wannabes—the lumpen celebritariat—have devalued the whole notion of stardom. Yet the YouGov survey discovered that appearing on a reality television programme was a popular career option among teenagers, and another poll found 26 per cent of 16 to 19 year olds believe it is easy to secure a career in sports, entertainment or the media. If the existence of the celebrity class does play a role in securing people’s consent to our winner-takes-all society, then the fact that the entry requirements are so low helps this process along. If people believe there is a genuine chance they might be catapulted to the top, they’re more likely to endorse a system in which success is so highly rewarded. To paraphrase the advertising slogan for the National Lottery, it could be them. As with the lottery, people may know that the actual chances of winning are low but the selection mechanism itself is fair—a level playing field. After that, their “specialness” will take care of the rest.