Most Americans Pleasantly Surprised System Hasn’t Collapsed Yet

“How well are things going in the country today: very well, fairly well, pretty badly or very badly?”

That is from a CNN poll. I enjoy looking at polling data. But I must admit a question like this perplexes me. What does this question even mean? What is it specifically asking about? What is being referred to by ‘things’? What was the context in which it was asked? Were there questions that preceded it and framed it?

Here is the breakdown of responses:
Very well 13%
Fairly well 45%
Pretty badly 28%
Very badly 12%

This question has been asked by CNN going back to 2005. When the options of “very well” and “fairly well” are combined, that is a majority of Americans who generally consider ‘things’ to be doing ‘well’. That percentage is higher than it has been in all those years of polling. Even before the 2008 Great Recession, it wasn’t quite that high.

Obviously, most people asked this question weren’t thinking of the president, congress, etc which get low favorable ratings in public opinion. These ratings are at historical lows. Other polling doesn’t make clear that it is about the economy either. The U.S. population is about evenly split over the economy being better now than a year ago. But even that is hard to interpret considering about half the population is unemployed or underemployed. A large part of the population is in poverty or close to it. This is probably how most people think about the economy, as personal experience and not abstract data.

Inequality continues to rise, housing and healthcare and education costs are higher than ever, wages continue to stagnate, few Americans have any retirement savings or even enough money to pay for a major emergency, job security is an endangered species, and good benefits are no longer included as part of the American Dream. Plus, personal and national debt keeps on growing, big banks that were too big to fail that they were bailed out to avoid financial collapse are now even bigger, new kinds of monopoly-like corporations are forming within multiple markets, and related to high inequality a number of serious thinkers including President Jimmy Carter have stated that the United States is now a banana republic.

It probably shouldn’t be interpreted as high praise that the economy is doing slightly less worse or maintaining expected levels of crappiness. In this context, doing well might simply mean that the situation is tolerable enough to not yet incite mass revolt and possibly revolution.

Furthermore, even though supported by many, most Americans don’t think Trump’s tax cut will personally benefit them. As for the future, the population is split three ways about the economy getting better, remaining the same, or getting worse (causing one to wonder, since some of those who support the tax cut apparently don’t believe it will improve the economy for either themselves or other people). The conclusion of things doing well is far from being a straightforward appraisal of confident hope or satisfied contentment.

To consider other areas, I can’t imagine that the majority of the polled believe that U.S. foreign policy is doing well. The war on terror drags on with growing conflict or worsening relations with Russia, Iran, Syria, and other countries. Nuclear threats abound and have received much media attention. And the specter of nuclear war and possibly world war looms in the background. The U.S. military is stuck in permanent occupation of numerous parts of the world. Worse still, the U.S. has never been this hated and mistrusted on the world stage in living memory. Many Americans are feeling embarrassed, ashamed, and defensive about their country’s standing in world opinion.

On a more direct level for Americans, it is clear to everyone that the country is more divided than ever, especially along class and generational lines. For multiple reasons, there are high levels of stress in our society that have been erupting in acts of mass violence and, more generally, has caused a spike in such things as mental illness. Also, there is an opioid epidemic and mortality rates are worsening for multiple demographics: the middle aged, rural whites, rural women, etc. Inequality is growing and everyone knows it, and it is slowly sinking in that inequality is and always was about far more than merely the economy. Big biz, especially big banks, gets about as low of ratings as seen in public polling as does big gov. The favorable ratings of capitalism are quickly dropping while the favorable ratings of socialism are on the rise.

Americans don’t seem particularly optimistic at the moment. Maybe public opinion has to be interpreted as a relative perception in any given moment. Asking people how well things are is asking them how well is it compared to how badly things have been. And maybe the only thing implied in the polling is that many Americans don’t believe or don’t want to believe that it is going to get even worse. It could be that it feels like we are finally bottoming out as a nation and that this is as bad as it can get. If nothing else, Donald Trump as president demonstrates that a complete idiot can be the leader without all of it entirely collapsing, at least not immediately.

I guess some people find it reassuring that the teetering ramshackle of a system somehow miraculously manages to hold together. Maybe, just maybe we will make it. Then again, most of those who state things are doing well could be older Americans who assume that the consequences and costs will be delayed long enough that they will never have to deal with them. It’s not their problem, even as they helped to cause it. Let the young clean up the mess.

Or it could more simply be standard denial without much if any clear thought about where it is all heading. As long as the social order more or less remains intact for the moment, the general mood is that we are doing as well as can be expected under present dire circumstances. Most Americans unlikely want to think beyond that. Whatever it takes to avoid paralyzing despair, that seems to be the prevailing mindset. It’s as good of an interpretation as any other.

* * *

Giving it one more thought, I realized the explanation could be even simpler than any of those above speculations. It could be so simple as to be boring. Let me share the most down-to-earth possibility.

It might come down to timing. The responses are snapshot at a particular moment. It might not even represent public opinion from earlier in the year or public opinion a short while later. All responses came between the second and fifth of this month, a three day period. Whatever happened to be in the news cycle at that moment might have influenced the answer chosen. So, what was going on at the beginning of this month? One of the biggest events widely reported in the news during the prior week and into the polling period was the peace declared between North Korea and South Korea. President Trump, of course, took all credit for it. And, only a few days before CNN did their polling, a crowd of his fans chanted ‘Nobel’ indicating that they thought he deserved the Nobel Peace Prize.

It was a somewhat random event in terms of when it happened. But, as I argued elsewhere, Trump did deserve some credit. He has been so unpredictably crazy that South Koreans, in their own public polling last year, admitted they feared the United States more than they feared North Korea. Whether or not most other Americans wanted to give Trump credit, it would be taken as a positive result to many Americans. For more than a half century, the corporate media as the propaganda wing of the U.S. government has never tired of fear-mongering about North Korea. Any lessening of that fear, even if only momentary, would feel like a relief to many Americans.

That is the one thing that comes to mind in what has been in the news lately. It does coincide perfectly when the question was asked. The only other big thing going on was the investigation into the Russians and the Trump administration. But that has been going on so long that most Americans are now ignoring it as so much hype and noise. Disregarding the investigation and instead considering the Korean peace talk, that would explain a lot. If the question had been asked weeks or months earlier or the Korean peace talk had happened later, it’s possible the poll results would have been skewed the other direction.

The only way such a poll question could be meaningful is if it was asked multiple times throughout the year and maybe averaged out across the entire year or across a president’s entire time in office. But I doubt CNN is all that interested in meaningful results. Such polls aren’t intended to be analyzed in depth. They are just interesting tidbits of data for a news company to throw out. Public polling, after all, offers corporate media a semblance of legitimacy while being a thousand times cheaper to do than investigative journalism. And poll results are easier to put into a short piece with a catchy title, such as in this case: “CNN Poll: Trump approval steady amid rising outlook for the country“. Anything that will attract viewers and advertising dollars.

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Just Another Day in an Evil Corporation

“We have all been trained to identify more closely with the abusive personal and social dynamics we call civilization than with our own life and the lives of those around us, including the landbase. People will do anything—go to any absurd length—to hide the abuse from themselves and everyone around them. Everything about this culture—and I mean everything—from its absurd “entertainment” to its equally absurd “philosophy” to its politics to its science to its interspecies relations to its intrahuman relations is all about protecting the abusive dynamics.”
 ~ Derrick Jensen, Endgame

I noticed the following clear example of corporate propaganda. It starts off seeming like a real news report, but it becomes clear that this is just corporate news rationalizing away corporate wrongdoing. I don’t know if there is a direct conflict of interest. It could just be institutionalized bias in giving big business the benefit of the doubt even when the evidence is damning.

I was able to see this as corporate propaganda because I’d already seen other reports about it from sources outside of the mainstream. What caught my attention was the info left out and the way the reported info was spun. Several details I recall (hopefully I’m recalling correctly) from the other news report are:

  • The workers have long days (as I recall something like up to 15 hr days) which would, of course, be illegal in the US.
  • The workers have high quotas and are penalized if they don’t meet those quotas.
  • The workers have high incidents of repetitive injury which causes them to lose their jobs at high rates and I’m sure they don’t have disability compensation like we have in the US.
  • The workers are the poorest of the poor in a society that has almost no opportunity for the poor.
  • The workers have families who depend on their paychecks.

To be fair, this news report did report one unpleasant truth. They mentioned that the managers had a history of abusing workers.

These workers are young people from rural areas. This is their first employment and first time away from family. They are simultaneously isolated from everything they knew and they are surrounded by strangers. In fact, they are forced to live in a room with eight other workers and so have no personal space or time to themselves. They have little chance to make friends as they’re constantly working and there is high turnover. The factory is entirely enclosed and so the workers have their entire lives controlled by the corporation. Worse still, this oppressive factory exists in one of the most oppressive countries in the developed world. These workers have little if any legal recourse and I truly doubt they have union representation. These are just poor people to be used up in a year or two and then replaced (like cogs in a machine) by an endless supply of the desperately poor.

All of this is done to create cheap products for rich people around the world. Foxconn makes parts for companies such as Apple (iPhone and iPad), Dell, Hewlett-Packard, and Nokia.

The news report wasn’t half bad for corporate media. They were honest about some of the issues, but they had to spin it right at the end. Suicide cluster? They compare it to angsty teenagers who commit suicide because other angsty teenagers had committed suicide. They have got to be kidding. If they’re going to be in the business of corporate propaganda, they need to do a better job than that.

For more detailed info, here is the section from the Wikipedia article on Foxconn:

In June 2006, allegations of Foxconn operating abusive employment practices came to light as reported by Mail that were later denied by Foxconn.[8][9] Apple launched an investigation into these claims.[10] The result was that the claims of mistreatment of employees were judged by the Apple inspection team to be largely unfounded, but the inspection team also discovered that at peak production times some of the employees were working more hours than Apple’s acceptable “Code of Conduct” limit of 60 hours and 25% of the time workers did not get at least one day off each week.[11] These same workers complained there were not enough overtime work during off peak periods. The auditing team also discovered that workers had been punished by being made to stand at attention for extended periods,[12] and junior employees were subjected to military-style drills.[13]

Foxconn admitted that it makes workers do an extra 80 hours overtime per month while the local labor law only permits 36 hours[14] Foxconn sued Wang You and Weng Bao of China Business News, the journalists responsible for revealing these practices, for $3.77 million and filed a successful court ruling to have the journalists’ assets frozen.[15] Some disagree with the demands and the court ruling.[16] Reporters Without Borders sent a letter to Apple Computer CEO Steve Jobs to implore Foxconn to drop the case.[17] Later Foxconn reduced the demand to a symbolic 1 yuan (12 U.S. cents), withdrew the request to freeze the journalists’ personal assets and initiated legal proceedings to sue their employer.[citation needed]

In a conversation between a Reuters journalist who had visited the Foxconn factory and a BBC interviewer broadcast on 27th May 2010,[18] the Reuters journalist commented that “many workers told us that throughout their shift…they are not allowed to speak at all, so there is absolutely no conversation at all between workers during their shift”.

It obviously annoyed me that this was corporate propaganda at worst and corporate spin at best. However, what specifically annoyed me was that this was just another day in the world of capitalism. Our wealth is built on immense suffering. Factories like this exist all over the world. People are abused by management, driven to suicide and harmed by unsafe working conditions. They’re poor when get these jobs and they’re poor after the company gets rid of them (if they don’t get rid of themselves first).

The same mentality that allows Foxconn to operate as it does also allows BP to operate the way it has been operating. While the rich get richer, the poor suffer and the environment is destroyed. This is how capitalism operates, how it has always operated.

This disgusts me. We in the West like to feel morally superior because we no longer enslave our own poor and we no longer persecute our own indigenous, but our capitalist system is dependent on countries that still do these things. I can’t even begin to explain how much this disgusts me. I really don’t see the average transnational corporation being any better than the average totalitarian government. These people are the worse of the worse. Even studies have proven that people who get positions in upper management show higher rates of sociopathic behavior. It’s just an obvious fact. Anyone with eyes to see can see the obvious. Yet, corporate media goes on spinning their stories.

This kind of evil is in some ways worse than something like the oppression under a Hitler, Stalin or Mao. At least, we (in the “civilized” world) can look back at those totalitarian governments and see them honestly as manifestations of the worst in humans. The immorality of corporations, however, is so much more subtle and hidden. We don’t have to see or even know about all of the suffering. It happens elsewhere to other people. I’m continually surprised by how ignorant most people are (including educated people) about what goes on in the world, but what saddens me is that most people don’t seem to care. It breaks my heart again and again.

No matter how outraged I feel, I can’t do anything to stop it. Every major corporation does business in oppressive countries. In capitalism, there is no choice between buying products from moral or immoral companies. They’re all immoral… or at least they’re all part of the same immoral system. Foxconn, for example, makes parts for all of the major technology companies. Most of the time, you don’t know (and can’t find out) where products and parts are made and where the natural resources were taken and how. Few people want to know… just as long as it doesn’t harm them personally. The only way to not contribute to the evil that is capitalism would be to entirely go off the grid and not even buy so much as a nail to pound two boards together.

To be honest, corporations in and of themselves aren’t the real problem. They are just a symptom of the disease. We all are the disease. We all are a part of the corruption and despair. It’s just a fact that capitalism as it exists couldn’t continue as it is without all of our support, whether overt or implicit. The same poor who are oppressed also join the various militaries of the world and oppress others. The wealthy may think they’re above it all, but they’re not. The disease touches everything, corrupts everything. Pollution and violence knows no political boundaries. The rich and the poor blindly follow along the path that those before them have travelled. The suicide of the Foxconn workers is just a sign of the collective suicide that the human species is committing.

“What does a scanner see? I mean, really see? Into the head? Down into the heart? Does a passive infrared scanner ? see into me ? into us ? clearly or darkly? I hope it does see clearly, because I can’t any longer these days see into myself. I see only murk. Murk outside; murk inside. I hope, for everyone’s sake, the scanners do better. Because if the scanner sees only darkly, the way I myself do, then we are cursed, cursed again and like we have been continually, and we’ll wind up dead this way, knowing very little and getting that little fragment wrong too.”