By Gaius Publius, a professional writer living on the West Coast of the United States. Click here for more. Follow him on Twitter @Gaius_Publius and Facebook. Cross posted from AmericaBlog
I want to give you a picture of our rulers, our betters. You may think of them as far-seeing modernists (Eric Schmidt, stand up please) or vaguely boorish (Mr. Trump? Mr. Adelson?). But even the lowest of your visions of them would, in the main, be generous.
Their depravity and psychopathology is worse than your worst imaginings.
The writer Chris Hedges was raised among the rich, though he was not one of them. In a piece that presses for popular resistance, “Let’s Get This Class War Started,” he starts with this observation and story. I think this is required reading.
A portrait of Our Betters. Hedges writes (my emphasis and some reparagraphing throughout):
“The rich are different from us,” F. Scott Fitzgerald is said to have remarked to Ernest Hemingway, to which Hemingway allegedly replied, “Yes, they have more money.”
The exchange, although it never actually took place, sums up a wisdom Fitzgerald had that eluded Hemingway.
The rich are different. The cocoon of wealth and privilege permits the rich to turn those around them into compliant workers, hangers-on, servants, flatterers and sycophants. Wealth breeds, as Fitzgerald illustrated in “The Great Gatsby” and his short story “The Rich Boy,” a class of people for whom human beings are disposable commodities.
Colleagues, associates, employees, kitchen staff, servants, gardeners, tutors, personal trainers, even friends and family, bend to the whims of the wealthy or disappear. Once oligarchs achieve unchecked economic and political power, as they have in the United States, the citizens too become disposable.
And now the story:
The public face of the oligarchic class bears little resemblance to the private face. I, like Fitzgerald, was thrown into the embrace of the upper crust when young.
I was shipped off as a scholarship student at the age of 10 to an exclusive New England boarding school. I had classmates whose fathers—fathers they rarely saw—arrived at the school in their limousines accompanied by personal photographers (and at times their mistresses), so the press could be fed images of rich and famous men playing the role of good fathers.
I spent time in the homes of the ultra-rich and powerful, watching my classmates, who were children, callously order around men and women who worked as their chauffeurs, cooks, nannies and servants. When the sons and daughters of the rich get into serious trouble there are always lawyers, publicists and political personages to protect them—George W. Bush’s life is a case study in the insidious affirmative action for the rich.
The rich have a snobbish disdain for the poor—despite well-publicized acts of philanthropy—and the middle class. These lower classes are viewed as uncouth parasites, annoyances that have to be endured, at times placated and always controlled in the quest to amass more power and money. My hatred of authority, along with my loathing for the pretensions, heartlessness and sense of entitlement of the rich, comes from living among the privileged. It was a deeply unpleasant experience. But it exposed me to their insatiable selfishness and hedonism. I learned, as a boy, who were my enemies.
Hedges sums up the consequences of our failure to imagine:
The inability to grasp the pathology of our oligarchic rulers is one of our gravest faults. We have been blinded to the depravity of our ruling elite by the relentless propaganda of public relations firms that work on behalf of corporations and the rich.
Compliant politicians, clueless entertainers and our vapid, corporate-funded popular culture, which holds up the rich as leaders to emulate and assures us that through diligence and hard work we can join them, keep us from seeing the truth.
“They were careless people, Tom and Daisy,” Fitzgerald wrote of the wealthy couple at the center of Gatsby’s life. “They smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made.”
A look at the dark heart, the absolute core of the problem we face in America and indeed, the world.
I’ll comment at length on this later. But I want now just that you read this and absorb its images. Children bossing around adults with careless, thoughtless superiority. A world of Draco Malfoys, true children of the class that breeds them.
Or maybe you prefer this guy, Pete Peterson’s grandson, whom digby called “a living argument against aristocracy“:
I’m a little slow on the uptake, I guess, because I didn’t know that this little jerk is the grandson of Pete Peterson, scourge of the safety net. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a greater argument for an estate tax. A huge one.
Ladies and gentlemen, a portrait of Our Betters. Here until we make them leave.UPDATE: In addition to her comments at the end of this piece, digby piles on here from her personal experience. Please do read.
I mean really. Poor people and middle income people can be shiht heads too. You just don’t see in the paper unless it’s the crime section. It’s best not to read about stuff like this or watch it on TV. You wouldn’t eat dogshiht off a sidewalk. Why eat it with your mind? To be born very poor or very rich, two woeful burdens that any sane person would throw off from inside the womb.
Master thyself, then others shall thee beare”
Pull down thy vanity
Thou art a beaten dog beneath the hail,
A swollen magpie in a fitful sun,
Half black half white
Nor knowst’ou wing from tail
Pull down thy vanity
How mean thy hates
Fostered in falsity,
Pull down thy vanity,
Rathe to destroy, niggard in charity,
Pull down thy vanity,
I say pull down.
-Ezra Pound, Canto LXXXI
“Poor people and middle income people can be shiht heads too.”
Yup. That was quite the screed up there. I come to this blog for an intelligent perspective on the class war raging about us, but, c’mon. Seems like somebody was bullied a lot way back in private school.
If rich people want to be obnoxious that’s their business. What the article is getting at is that they’ve got no business ruling, commanding, or otherwise dominating anything or anyone else.
But that’s who generally rule any society, particularly one that believes virtue = wealth. They are just following the values most Americans hold.
Is there another way to choose who leads? Or do you believe in no-leaders?
Yes, I actually do believe in no leaders, or maybe better said, I believe in decentralization to the point that most people are making their own decisions. Since the current paradigm is working so incredibly poorly, how about trying something truly revolutionary. Per Wikipedia – “Anarchism is generally defined as the political philosophy which holds the state to be immoral, or alternatively as opposing authority in the conduct of human relations. Proponents of anarchism (known as “anarchists”) advocate stateless societies based on what sometimes is defined like non-hierarchical organizations, and in another times is defined like voluntary associations..
The State IS immoral; immoral beyond words to describe it. That cannot be disputed. Therefore, I do not see how anarchism can be worse than capitalism, but that’s just me.
The main problem with “the state is immoral” is that we don’t have a definition or morality or immorality without that we can’t say those words. Anarchy is an appealing idea, like libertarianism, and I think it is an idea that needs to be thought about seriously but as a system of governance it can’t work as things stand if for no other reason that tightly organized bands with hierarchies and military prowess will conquer and have conquered anarchic bands as history has shown.
There is a modern argument for anarchism in the sense that it is more pragmatic, in a technological society to give maximum freedom to the individuals within an overall state apparatus that is organized to guarantee freedom from violence and coercion from other actors, i.e., corporations, gangs, random people with guns and so on.
The presupposition is that I can defend and take care of myself without anybody’s help. This idea is unconsciously predicated on the fact that almost everyone else lives in a society and can make guns, ammo, drugs, spare parts, tools, fuel, lubricants, electricity, and that all these things will be available to my rugged individualistic self when I need them. Throw everyone into this anarchic state of absolutely localism and all those external inputs go away. Imagine 300 million Americans, no less 7 billion humans, trying this “lifestyle” on for size. In 30 years five billion of them will be dead. But I think that’s the hidden agenda of these anarcho-back-to-nature types. They want to see those people eliminated so they can adopt their desired lifestyle. They are as loathsome to me as the plutocrats who misgovern us now, because they don’t care about people, only having things there way.
Oddly enough that is probably the sustainable option. Like it or not.
This comment has made me think of the myriad zombie fictions that are currently popular. I suspect a lot of their fans are self-styled survivalist types who love the idea of a world where the institutions and rules have disappeared, and now they can prove how tough and manly they are in the wasteland.
But in these fictions, as well as non-zombie ones like Fallout or Mad Max, people don’t actually produce much, if anything. They scrape out an existence by living in cobbled together shelters and regularly going out on supply raids to salvage what remains of the old, industrialized world. It’s ultimately a hopeless, fleeting existence, the only possible longterm outcome is everyone dies when the supplies eventually run out or they adapt to a much more primitive way of life and lose all traces of the old world altogether. The latter is exactly what happens in the classic Earth Abides, and very quickly too, within just a couple generations.
And all of this is the result of the disintegration of civilization through various disasters. The idea that this something desirable that we should strive for is insane. Which brings us back to your point, which is that none (or at least most) of the anarchists desire such a fallen world, they’re just too stupid to realize that it would be the end result of the kind of society they envision. You simply can’t maintain modern existence, let alone continue to advance, without a state. Period.
Most people do not care about ‘people’, they care about themselves, their near kin, and maybe some immediate friends and neighbors. If these supposed anarcho-primitivists have a similar outlook, they are just like almost everyone else. But I have never met an anarcho-primitivist, so I can’t my personal observation of the type.
The State is not immoral…it is merely an organization of humans working together to achieve some ends. Rather, it is the people in the State that allows it or causes it to be immoral; either they manipulate the state to further their own ends, or they are compliant or willfully ignorant of the evil done by others by the state. If the state were filled with people of good heart, open eyes, and a courageous heart, the state could achieve much good.
The libertarian/anarchist fantasy, needs to be combatted for what it is, a fantasy. Their fantasy is predicated on the hope that people are ready and willing to spontaneously organize and cooperate together to discern the right course of action and to act accordingly. Where do they have any evidence where a large group of people, on the scale of a city or larger, have been able to cooperate on a long term basis, to produce a myriad of goods and services from which they all benefit. And how do you resolve conflict when there are substantial and differences in perspective and values? If there is no state, it is possible that the competing interests can cause conflicts to spiral into aggression and violence. Until anarchists and libertatian can solve these problems on a large scale, their hope for a ‘stateless land’ is hopeless.
Mind you, anarchist and libertarions maybe driven by a sincere desire to see justice prevail and the crooked punished; it is their frustration with the present governement that causes them to desire a ‘stateless nation’. So they can still be allies in the desire to bring about justice.
I agree–I was sort of blundering around the thought that anarchism or libertarianism can exist but only, in my view, within what you and I would describe as a social democracy. Maximum liberty with minimum social harm in other words. Like the idea of a free market a utterly free politics is useful as an idea but has no practical benefit–because these situations are impossible.
the real problem with Libratrianism and Anarchism is that both hope that their utopia will work, which when it hits real live, fails as bad any other version does. we humans will not live i n perfect harmony. and give any group or individual of us more power and eliminate thing to offset that, and you will end up with a dictatorship instead. individuals will always get run over by a group. and individuals with wealth can easily create groups of their own. the rest of us are not that lucky.
No. They take it as an article of faith that it will work. And that its critics are working for the devil to subvert the virtuous such as them selves.
Your position is complete gibberish. The state is no longer a set of nobles and kings who are above (or mostly above) the law. It is, at least ostensibly, of and by the people. If the government is doing something you don’t like, campaign for change, or better yet run for office yourself.
Or rather that’s how it’s supposed to work. It has been completely subverted by money because the various safeguards that were in place have been overturned one by one. What you’re suggesting is a type of society that doesn’t have any meaningful central control, and thus no safeguards in the first place. Your vision is only possible if you ignore that every person has within them ample capacity to be a complete and utter bastard if given the smallest amount of power and no restraints.
Your ‘utopia’ is also inherently incapable of functioning, if at all, as any kind of a remotely modern society. Anarchists and Libertarians (and I’m hard pressed to find what the actual difference between the two is supposed to be. As far as I can tell America just lives in a bubble and has managed to repackage anarchism as a right-wing ideology) seem to be completely oblivious to the many commonplace and vital services the ‘evil/incompetent’ government runs all day, everyday, without them even taking notice, these days increasingly valiantly in the face of constant budget cuts. Your garbage is picked up regularly, isn’t it? And all you people do is sit back and hurl hate and scorn.
“Is there another way to choose who leads?”
I was thinking in terms of something called “popular vote”, in the private as well as the public sector.
Had we stuck with allowing social democracy to continue rather than rolling it back we would have moved towards workplace democracy of some sort. Even management gurus believe it would be a positive direction to go in.
Maybe we can learn from people actually doing it.
I’m an advocate of the Potlatch Model. Under this system the purpose of acquiring wealth is to throw a huge party and give it all away, thus acquiring fame and prestige.
In a modern Republic a few laws might be necessary to establish the Potlatch as a cultural norm.
Each year the richest 500 individuals will be required to give away 50% of their wealth— not by sponsoring the right/left wing “think tank” of their choice but by adding their wealth to a common pool with distribution determined by popular one-man one-vote decision. Hiding income overseas or failing to contribute to the Potlatch will carry a mandatory ten year prison sentence with part of the time spent on public display in stocks in Times Square (for Wall Street banksters)or Main Street if the scofflaw happens to be from Omaha. “Big Men” who willingly join the Potlatch go to the bottom of the list for a couple of years before becoming “eligible” for Potlatch again.
And by the way, there will be a 100% estate tax upon death, with all proceeds distributed equally to every citizen who reaches the age of maturity– regardless of race, creed or class. Pete Peterson’s kid deserves the same start in life as the son of a Bronx crack dealer.
Real Democracy in action.
The rich giving away stuff on an annual basis used to be the society/culture of South America. It kept everything in balance…until the missionaries showed up. Once the Christians told the “heathens” to stop practicing charity, everything went to hell….
Here in the U.S. we have pastors of megachurches (not to mention the charlatans on TV) telling people that Jesus wants you to be rich. Somebody please pass me a barf bag before you pass me a pitchfork and a torch.
I think that trying to make a case that all rich people and their heirs are just helpless spoiled children when it comes to normal day to day living is a bit overstated.
Take Paris Hilton for example. A few years back she discovered her ex-boy friend was selling copies of a home porno flick they made together.
At first Paris was outraged because he was selling the flick without consulting her first, but then collected her wits and confronted her ex and demanded half the profit.
Personally, and without her legal staff involved!
He agreed, and I was impressed with her business acumen and negotiating skills.
Now that’s what I would call “getting competitive”!
One might think such an example could show the idle poor how to succeed. But to be fair, a woman needs capital for that business plan. Not everybody can just lay around and make money like that right away.
The rich can act like they own human beings for systematic reasons, because of capitalism.
“The cocoon of wealth and privilege PERMITS the rich to turn those around them into compliant workers, hangers-on, servants, flatterers and sycophants”
It’s the system and the economic and power dynamics that allow that, it’s nothing inherent in rich people all being naturally horrible. But that’s class which I’m sure Hedges gets.
Re: I was impressed with her business acumen and negotiating skills.
An example of the moral imbecility increasingly characterizing our “culture.”
You miss his point entirely. The poor can not influence law makers in forming or administering laws, tax codes, trading policies, campaign donations etc.
This is indeed an intellectual website, please respect individuals time.
“Perfect liberty can never happen if government heeds or is entrusted to the mean rapacity, the monopolizing spirit of merchants and manufactures who neither are, nor ought to be the rulers of mankind.”
The Wealth of Nations.
The poor are different from you and me.
The nights are longer.
1) If you ever get chance, observe the rich and privileged up close. Even if only passively viewing them in their world, you may, like I did, come to the conclusion that being so far out the ordinary is a curse. Generally, the very well off are unhappy, riven with the thought of “losing it all” and lacking sufficient time or ability to enjoy their spoils.
2) From 1) above, as a case in point, I had a couple of weeks ago cause to visit the residence of a mildly wealthy individual with whom I had some business to conduct. Not truly vast wealth, maybe £10M net worth. Sitting outside was the man’s wife who was accompanied by two friends. Listening in on their conversation and observing their interactions, it was obvious that they were, collectively, bored out of their minds. Not unintelligent women, they nevertheless cut a scene of collective misery. At least women in such situations, by-and-large, can be harmlessly destructive (either self destructive or destructive to their immediate circle of friends and family. Men, rich men particularly conversely, feel due to cultural influences more pressure to exert their destructivity further and wider. And as such are more dangerous. These are sweeping generalisations naturally. Not all poor are pillars of the community and not all rich are incurable menaces to society. But the rich have more scope for inflicting their defects of character on a wider audience.
3) As a professional sycophant, I feel I ought to offer a warning on the perniciousness of giving in to the lure of sycophancy. Many people are deluded into thinking that somehow they are made of more resolute moral fibre and would not let them be swayed by the shallow pleasures of flattery and, more crudely, kiss-ass. But the games which people can play are onion-like in their complexity and so are the layers of illusion which people can get swept up in. I had a boss who insisted that he only listened to “straight talkers”, “honest reports”, “no management cr*p”. It was, alas, all too easy to manipulate him by providing a steady diet of pseudo-directness which was basically hard-nosed banter in which he controlled “the line” where he decided enough was enough and there was a little too much honesty being exhibited. This drawing and redrawing of “the line” with him getting to make the call on the various shades of grey was where he extracted the tribute from subordinates. He didn’t even know he was doing it, because he could fool himself into thinking that he was encouraging directness in communication and eschewing yes-men. But he could be played just as easily (well, not quite as easily, it was a bit more subtle) as the out-and-out flattery seeker.
You are describing the inheritor rich, a class for which little justification exists. On balance, they are odd, useless, boring, warped, foolish, degenerate. Some manage to overcome their status by cultivating talents, but their class curse is they don’t have to do a damn thing, and most of them don’t. As a group they are less interesting than the dogs they dote on. Once upon a time we had an estate tax which threatened their vapid existence. Their politicians defanged it.
A bigger problem today is the executive rich. These guys are talented and their talent is for grabbing everything, taking no prisoners in the process. Forget about preppy twerps; worry more about CEO looters.
They have another talent: grovelling.
While the brilliant inventor/innovator figure is promoted in the MSM, and has been for literally decades, the reality is that most C level executives with eight figure salaries got their positions by sticking the nose up the right butt and getting pulled to the top.
Most of them could disappear and the real economy would operate with no change (except a lighter cost for their compensation) but the tenets of the mystery religion of ‘leadership’ is broadcast almost without letup.
Excellent comment, well stated and apt. Your observations are close to my experiences. We are, indeed complex beings.
“Bureaucracy structures for managers an intricate series of moral mazes. Even the inviting paths out of the puzzle often turn out to be invitations to jeopardy.” – Robert Jackall, Moral Mazes: The World of Corporate Managers
I remember reading some research on depression. The scientists set out to prove that depressed people tend to underestimate themselves.
However, their research resulted in showing that depressed people were quite accurate in the assessment of their capabilities.
The moral of the story:
One NEEDS to be deluded to be optimistic.
And to get to the top, one absolutely needs to be optimistic.
That is our curse.
And ever since I’ve found ways to deceive myself, I’ve noticed an increase in contentment.
A lot of people on this blog search for the truth but the truth is that our brains are full of heuristics that stop us from seeing the truth.
Indeed! But there are paths and techniques designed to pull you out of your mythological frameworks (system of heuristics I suppose). We can alter our consciousness and open up our field of awareness through spiritual techniques and even psychedelics. We can’t permanently escape our conditioning but we can open up and expand beyond our narrow view of life. That, to me, is the path to cultural and political change–I see no other path.
I was taught this phrase a long time ago. It is ascribed to Gramsci: “Pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will.” You understand all that can go wrong, then you go out and try based on the certain truth that if you don’t try, it is not going to happen.
As for the rich, it is the scope of their mischief, as Clive points out, that is the difference. Sure, a poor man may be as bad as a rich one. But the damage they inflict is of a completely different order. A poor man may go off with his gun and shoot up a school, a store, a church, a post office. He kills on average four or five people, then himself (or the cops gun him down). Now, think about the environmental impact of fracking, or Bhopal, or the BP oil fire/spill (everyone forgets the 11 men killed when the rig, doing what it shouldn’t have been doing, exploded). Think about the people who flooded places like Afghanistan and Syria with guns and ammo. Or the fight to keep AIDS drugs from poor Africans so that the no patent rights would be infringed. The rich can do such great harm that it is irrelevant that they may be on average no more immoral than the poor. So long as they have the power to do harm, they have to be held to a vastly higher standard. The evil of our society is that instead of a higher standard, wealth buys you a level of immunity and an ability to cover up and plea bargain your behavior the poor can only dream of.
*applauds James Levy*
the even more appalling thing as that these people may not have any direct malevolence. these casualties are simply the ‘cost of doing business.’
they don’t care either way. it is a-morality rather than immorality.
Excellent comment Mr. Levy. Thank you.
I’m completely pessimistic (and nihilist on top of it). I don’t see humanity getting out of this century unscathed, and either completely extinct or at least living in caves within 200 years. If it isn’t the crop failure and coastal flooding from global warming it’ll be a super bug that devastates the population in our now post-antibiotics world. Or maybe it will be the radiation in the ocean foodchain, assuming they don’t mess up moving the fuel rods and just poison the entire northern hemisphere outright. And that isn’t even counting all the ways we could damage ourselves that are completely artificial, like if the economy disappears tomorrow because someone screwed up a derivatives calculation.
But complete hoplessness at any chance of longterm survival isn’t the same as saying “don’t do anything”. You might as well try, nothing better to do with your time I figure. We all can at least do something meaningful on a micro-level, make life a little less terrible for at least one person somewhere, if only for a short time. Whether building houses in Africa for three months or giving change to a hobo, at least it’s something.
This is almost certainly the piece you meant:
I’ve got my own views on optimism v. pessimism. Pessimism works if you are also tenacious. But then again, my father’s side of the family is dour Yankees who made their living as farmers and commercial fishermen (sea captains and cooks for the last 200+ years). Even now with much better equipment, commercial fishing has the highest mortality rate of any line of work. So undue optimism can get you dead.
Wow! You really are a repository of information.
I read a lot and rarely keep stuff on file, unless it’s data. It fits but I could have sworn it was more recent. I’ll try to find it.
Indeed I have observed the Rich up close and personal as a creator of the toys they acquire to display their egos. (That is one reason I’m Crazy–)
Common psychological characteristics of our Masters:
Extreme personal insecurity leading to attempts to compensate by dominating others or by hiring a cadre of sycophants who’s role is to follow the chosen one about and continually tell him/her how wonderful they are.
Extreme self-centeredness and inability to emphasize with others– even ones from the same social class.
Unhappiness due to a value system that only values material things which never provide lasting satisfaction.
Incompetence in performing the most menial ordinary tasks because they have always had servants to take care of them. Things like picking up last nights party dress thrown on the floor or lacing one’s own shoelaces are beyond them. Behind the veneer of arrogance lies the self knowledge that they have no basic survival skills and with it a fear of the rabble classes.
The Smiths and the Joneses send their regards.
Having worked for the rich on the Upper East Side of Manhattan from the mid-80’s to the mid-90’s (Four story, +4000 sf single family houses with back yard gardens!), Yves, you’re spot on about disposability of the people who work for them. No doubt it’s only gotten worse since then.
The “Why Poverty?” series had an episode on Manhattan’s super-rich barrios.
I especially liked what the ex-doorman at the Koch’s condo had to say about the two brothers:
Oops! That’s in Spanish. Here it is in English:
I wonder what the New Left’s Sheridan will have to say about all of this?
Hedges is no doubt correct in his portrayal of the elite – vile, despicable beings deserving of one Mme. Guillotine.
I’ve always preferred associating with my own class, namely that of the working classes, which despite protestations from many, is actually the class most belong too. For if you are one pay cheque away from losing the roof over your head and putting food on the table, then by clear definition, you must be working class, or an over extended wannabe middle class person unable to grasp the reality that a middle class per on is one who’s able to live off their own financial resources without recourse to paid employment.
What an odd definition of middle class.
Certainly not odd at all, its based on a UK definition of what constitutes a member of the middle class, its not based on analytical observances such as those by Marx or Webber, and of course is highly elitist. In any case, class is but social stratification, and each segment within society has a differing opinion of what allows membership of said segment – you can be as wealthy as hell, but never part of the ruling elite, which by necessity of maintaining its eliteness, requires more than just the accumulation of wealth alone.
C Wright Mills in the Power Elite was quite good at these nuances of Class and the Elite itself, as Hedges himself observes, one of the primary foundations of the maintenance of the Power Elite is its access to private education at a tender age.
And these are the people who think “entitlement programs” are ruining our democracy.
Entitlement programs are ruining your democracy. The U.S. has turned into one big entitlement program for the rich.
Brother could you spare a corporate tax break?
Or at the very least, a mark-to-market accounting derivative of it?
Why is the text of these posts now partially blocked by ads? The ones on the side are bad enough, but these actually block out the text.
Is there an icon of an “X” in the upper right corner of the problem ad? If so, click the “X”, and it will either go away, or diminish in size. But you may have a completely different ad from what I have on my computer…..
While I think there is a strong tendency to Malfoy-ism, on balance, rich kids are not that much different from others–American high schools are designed to be cruel and stupid places. Yes, the rich usually believe their own mythology and they are surrounded by flatters as well as con artists. Many of them are distrustful and naive and fall under the spell of their minders but most are just like any average asshole. I’ve met working class people who were more radically materialistic and greedy than some rich people I’ve known.
Here is my point–it’s the system stupid. We live in a whole system one that rewards certain forms of behavior (greed, larceny, insensitivity, selfishness) and punishes others (compassion, courage, truth-seeking and most of the traditional virtues). That we do as well as we do is a f!cking miracle.
I’ve had the good fortune to hang out with drunks and homeless people, criminals, rich people, working class folks and my own preference is probably for people of lower incomes and bohos cause that’s what I’m about but I don’t think its useful to categorize rich people as vile even though, on a personal level, they aren’t people I like hanging with.
We Americans have freely chosen to accept a system that rewards vice and punishes virtue–we collectively like it that way. We like we like Walter White and Dirty Harry–in short, we are the problem. Yes, we’ve been manipulated by the most sophisticated mind-control regime ever created but, at any time, we can break the spell–all the information is there, all the fairy tales, spiritual traditions, social-science, tell us where we are at and what we ought to be doing if we, collectively, had solid values. Deep down we know we accept this regime because it provides us what we want, drugs, porn, movies, sports, games, endless toys, and status symbols and in exchange we kiss the behind of the bosses. Yes, they ought to be more responsible and there have been ruling elites who actually cared about the people they rule–but within cultures where virtue was something that was generally accepted by the people as a whole.
Of course we ought to be pointing out the stunning excess of the rich who have never been more outrageously conspicuous in their consumption but then so has everyone else if they can manage it. Morality starts at home, people, and let he (or she) who is without sin cast the first stone.
We’re supposed to like Walter White, at least at first. He’s a genuinely good, likable person. The entire point of the show is that he gradually becomes a monster at least as bad as the various people he encounters, and often kills, along the way. By the end his own family has disowned and despises him and he has nothing. We’re aren’t supposed to be rooting for him at that point, just perversely intrigued to see how it all ends.
If people do still like him, or focus only on how ‘badass’ he is, and I know there are people doing both those things, that’s a failure on the part of the viewer, because that’s clearly not the message the show intended.
The portrait of our betters, images of Draco Malfoys and Peter Cary “PC” Peterson, true children of the class that breeds them … careless, thoughtless superiority.
The extremes of wealth and poverty… educational inequality… separate and unequal…not only are schools for rich and poor blatantly unequal, the gulf between the two extremes is widening.
“If you grow up in the South Bronx today or in south-central Los Angeles or Pittsburgh or Philadelphia, you quickly come to understand that you have been set apart and that there’s no will in this society to bring you back into the mainstream. The kids have eyes and they can see, and they have ears and they can hear. Kids notice that no politicians talk about this. Nobody says we’re going to make them less separate and more equal. Nobody says that.” – Jonathan Kozol
“About injustice, most poor children in America cannot be fooled. Children, of course, don’t understand at first that they are being cheated. They come to school with a degree of faith and optimism, and they often seem to thrive during the first few years. It is sometimes not until the third grade that their teachers start to see the warning signs of failure. By the fourth grade many children see it too. “These kids are aware of their failures,” says a fourth grade teacher in Chicago. “Some of them act like the game’s already over.” – Jonathan Kozol, Savage Inequalities
The increasing emphasis on “high-stakes” testing and its pressures on children, teachers and principals, and the severe effects that testing failure has for schools and their staffs have even further adversely affected education for the poor and minorities.
“There is something deeply hypocritical in a society that holds an inner-city child only eight years old ‘accountable’ for her performance on a high-stakes standardized exam but does not hold the high officials of our government accountable for robbing her of what they gave their own kids six or seven years before.” ― Jonathan Kozol, The Shame of the Nation: The Restoration of Apartheid Schooling in America
Kozol should be required reading for anyone who has an interest in education–he is almost completely ignored by policy makers of both parties–their absurd education policies are seriously hampering the ability of society to adjust to the new realities we are facing.
I really appreciate the reminders about Kozol, whom I read and was inspired by many years ago. I’m overdue to catch up with what he’s writing these days. Thanks!
There is an excellent book by Peter McLaren too called “Life in Schools” for more of socialist view of privatized education.
Kozol gets right to the heart of it. you want to know why inner city ghetto kids drop out? because they know that they are participating in a sham. that the deck has been deliberately stacked against them, that they are being held to standards that have nothing to do with the reality of their daily lives, and that once they finally do get out of there, it will be about as useless as never having been in.
that said, I personally identified with Chris Rock’s examination of what awaits a ‘dropout’:
(I dropped out myself in the 10th grade. well, in California, you can take an exit exam which gives you the equivalent of a diploma/GED and leave of your own free will)
the problem is, most poor students know that the piece of paper is a lie—there is no healthy economy out there waiting for them to take part in simply because they’ve earned the right to be an adult officially. and they know that, unless they are academically excellent (and in school districts, it is usually but not always the more affluent among them that are the most academically excellent) they won’t be going to college. if they’re lucky, they’ll be able to land a job at UPS or something and live somewhat decently.
meanwhile, they’re trapped in a system which has obviously been deliberately degraded to the point that it doesn’t function properly, and engaged in a the farce of trying to learn something valuable. it’s called –deliberately set up to fail–and those students know it.
I tried reading Harry Potter, since somebody gave me a book for Xmas once, but didn’t really care for it. I suppose the Draco Malfoy character is handled as a lesson in bad behavior, but not an indictment of a class, or of a society that establishes such roles for children and adults? I guess I’ll give JK Rowling more credit than “Richie Rich” comics, but that’s how it was handled there — “Richie” and his butler “Cadbury” were pals, while his malevolent cousin Reggie was a spoiled brat who abused servants and everyone else. Nothing wrong with vast class differences, it implied, if the individuals involved behaved decently.
At that link cited, digby doesn’t specify the cause of his disgust with the Peterson spawn. In fact the quote he offers suggests the young man is at least a little conflicted about his position, or aware he should be, or thinking about it — which is an element of nuance to the whole thing.
It does seem to upset the “natural order” of things, for children to grow up that way. It seems like it would warp your mind. (Though perhaps we are all mind-warped by culture?)
Id be ok with the rich if they did something to deserve it and didn’t spend their extra wealth buying up the ‘democracy’ to advance their own interests and SCREW EVERYONE ELSE OVER.
But the idea of a wealthy class with some kind of noblesse oblige and devoid of characteropathy is probably an illusion, and probably not historically demonstrable.
Though I do want to say I always thought that Richie rich cartoon was terribly cute ^_^ But like the far majority of childrens cartoons, its just a fantasy. Most kids grow up and realize the world isn’t like it is in My Little Pony or whatever.
There have been many instances in history of a well-run state by oligarchies. Just look at any well-run society since, one way or another, all societies are oligarchs. I suggest that through most of its history the Roman Republic and later the Empire was run fairly well by a ruling elite schooled in Stoicism. Yes, many of its institutions were corrupt because Roman culture penalized innovation but still…. I would also consider some Chinese Emperors, certainly the Mughals in India and the first few centuries of Ottoman rule and so on. Benevolent rulers were even more common in smaller states but I won’t go into that. The point is we may find all kinds of problems with these states but the elites did care for their people they just had different values than we do now.
Thanks for bringing this on up Tim. I loathe — utterly detest and dislike with a passion — Rowling’s unjustifiably popular “Harry Potter” serial. The lapping up of this unspeakable tripe by the often young and impressionable minds is inexplicable. I’ve never encountered in fiction such a seductive but odious carrying water for defenders of birthright privilege — maybe there’s some Victorian-era novels and you could point to or perhaps the Bronte sister’s works but they had the excuse that they were, being generous, pastiches of underlying contemporary social moirés.
Hardly at all does one find in critiques of the serial the central theme of separateness of “the gifted” — gifted by simple reason of an unearned but inherited (or spontaneously occurring) ability from the “ordinary”. Even the ordinary are given a disparaging name “Muggles” by those who are lucky enough to have the privilege of not being your average Joe. And as for the books themselves, the lack of self-awareness of this secluded society of better-than-everyone-else magic wielders who not infrequently endanger the rest of humanity is simply staggering. The high-handed “we’ll keep our own house in order and not involve the little people outside of it” theme could almost be a parable for our times. Substitute Hogwarts for JPM or Goldman Sachs and people would be outraged.
Perhaps this is Rowling’s secret hidden parable — the dangers presented by a clique who operate in their own world with their own rules.
But I doubt it.
I think the novels should be taken at face value, and their popularity a testament to the unwholesome desires of those of us stuck outside the land of the special ones to, often secretly, be part of it. Who amongst us doesn’t sometimes wish that we were the kids who could go to Hogwarts and rise above the rest of ’em ?
Yuck. I feel sullied just thinking about it !
The struggle we face is in the magical sphere, i.e, the world of that we call the unconscious. We have been experiencing several generations of mind-control by the most brilliant and creative people in the world to get us to do their will–this is magic. We might say that the whole PR/Advertising/Media is Voldermort–he seeks power as the only point of life which is exactly the agenda of the corporations and their servants (Deatheaters). The Potter series resonates with that reality and gives young people who, when the series came out, felt helpless in a world of stunning complexity and choices and who were being increasingly being pressured to perform tricks for their parents. Countermeasures were needed even if it was fantasy.
The young students were learning to take power into their hands through training. I believe that is what we need to do in fact rather than fantasy.
Having said that the Potter books weren’t very well written as far as I was concerned but my kids all loved them–and they were pretty sophisticated kids who had been exposed to theater, music, dance, great literature (and liked it) at an early age and so did all their friends. It fired their imaginations in ways I did not expect.
Yeah, I grew up reading and loving Roald Dahl (to name another British story-teller) who has a sharp satirical sensibility. You’re probably right that Rowling was serving up more of a personal power fantasy. My takeaway was also that her level of *craft* was very high, in terms of her ability to create very cinematic scenes — which Dickens did as well — where you could effortlessly visualize and imagine all the action described.
I only made it to page 40 of the first book years ago with my daughter, who didn’t take to it. Not my bag either, but I was gobsmacked by the number of adults sharing the bus or train on the way home wolfing the pages down.
But I saw Rowling being interviewed by Jennifer Byrne on the ABC Book Club recently and I must say I warmed to her:
She’s a nervy, intense person who was poor and depressed and alone when she wrote the first book, and the comment above ‘Who amongst us doesn’t sometimes wish that we were the kids who could go to Hogwarts and rise above the rest of ‘em’ to a degree reflects both her own situation and her transcendence of it. Her emotion when recalling that period, and her anger when discussing attitudes toward the poor indicate to me that no matter how lofty her circumstances become she could never become a true card-carrying 1%er of the type discussed above.
Her children however, that might be another story. Her proximity to penury will never leave her, but the kids won’t have had that salutary experience and it will be difficult for her to prevent the ‘rich are different’ syndrome in her own nest.
The Peterson progeny above might end up managing to transcend his circumstances too, and become a useful and respected member of society rather than just his class. But that would take as much smarts and independence of spirit as Rowling displayed, perhaps more given the reversal of incentives. For that to happen he would need to be part of the effort to dismantle his class.
Most of us find it hard to escape the general tenor of the circumstances we find ourselves in; many of us don’t especially aspire to, and some of us, due a lack perhaps of cojones or brains, simply can’t. The rich are no different in that respect. The other side of that coin is that ‘there but for the grace of God go I’ – how many of us would be any different if it was us waallowing around in the lap of luxury?
Interesting tie-in with that link the other day about the Thai prince, ruler in waiting, who half his country cannot countenance becoming king as he is a rich, aggressive, spoilt sex-addict and accident waiting to happen.
It’s a syndrome sans frontieres.
As someone who read the books and enjoyed them, I think you are being a bit tough on Ms. Rowling here. Granted the whole idea of a separate magical world that is invisible to normal people is troubling in some respects, but it’s also a fairly common theme in children’s literature, for reasons other replies have covered. While Rowling doesn’t ever explicitly address the consequences of this, she does so indirectly a few times. There is a faction in her world that really does believe normal people are inferior and should be dominated or enslaved, and we learn later in the books that the villain of the series (Voldemort) arose from this faction originally. She also presents the consequences of corruption among the governing body in some of the later books. I don’t think they are quite the advertisements for the class system that you think they are – her main characters typically come from humble origins, and while the archetypes of the 1% and children of privilege exist, they are usually the bad guys.
On this subject, I’d be curious to hear what you think of Tolkien and Lord of the Rings. If you’re talking about water carriers for the upper classes then I think he fits the bill much better than Ms. Rowling does. Those of us that love his books do so in spite of this, rather than because of it.
While I understand your reservations I confess to a fascination with Harry Potter et al. A few points in its defence.
1. Rowling worked for Amnesty International as a relatively ordinary person and knew as much about injustice as anyone.
2. Harry Potter makes a lot more sense if you understand the old now dead Great Britain of Biggles and Blyton’s Famous Five – from a distance. There is still a deep nostalgia for those old days which were so loaded with contradictions – a democratic empire??!! Of course so much justice was hidden as Orwell showed and much still remains. In many respects the Potter books are an allegory of this perspective.
3. There are many unanswered ambiguities in the Harry Potter stories – especially the suppression of the Elves and so many other subcultures, the rotten political system and unspoken prejudices of even our heroes. Interestingly Harry doesn’t question things, but rather Hermione.
Probably this is why this fictional universe is actually quite fascinating.
In respect to the blog topic – rich people – Rowling is an interesting oddity who got there not by being a power munger in the normal sense though she is far from stupid. It will be interesting to see how she develops in future years.
Life is a pecking order. The upper and middle-class hate the poor as well. How many middle class people are “too good” to do janitorial duties at their work place? It’s how our culture shapes us from an early age.
Tragically, it too often seems that working class individuals hate the poor the most. I think plain fear drives all of this hatred.
Middle and working class folks are all too aware that we could join the ranks of the poor in an instant: a job lost, a major illness, and thunk. There we are. It’s terrifying, and we project that terror onto the poor.
that could be a part, but I think a LARGE part in this country is simply pure resentment. having known people like this, the attitude is usually something like “I work my ASS off, and everyone else should too. why are you allowed to be alive when you don’t do anything. you should have to suffer just like the rest of us!”
hard to deny that a lot of this is driven by the Welfare Queen propaganda.
Indeed, one of the major driving force of this economy is status. People don’t buy the silly shoes, handbags, and over-sized houses because they are comfortable but for status. People, particularly women will size you up from the shoes up in power centers to ascertain whether you are worth listening to or not.
Of course, it doesn’t have to be this way–it’s a miserable way to live.
This speaks to Chomsky’s point in the movie The Corporation around the manufacturing of wants into needs. For this to occur, the public is showered with material good, models or human exemplars and embedded self-righteous desire to spend one’s own life in the pursuit of these needs.
By merging group psychology, public relations and high finance, our consumer culture on steroids takes a hit of the debt generating blob of conspicuous consumers who go to great lengths to be seen as the model consumer. The owners of these systems ply the wannabees with just the right mix of “social media crack, pimped attention, and spectacle seeking indifference as to manufacture consent.
Now there’s a topic… the nexus of sex and status demands placed on men by women. Driving men to who knows what cut-throat means to keep up, even if on a subconscious level. The Id (male and female) driving everything, at bottom?
The new Ridley Scott/Cormac McCarthy movie “The Counselor” (which got terrible reviews but is “interesting” at least) dwells on this a little. Brad Pitt tells the main guy (the titular counselor) he, Brad, doesn’t need the money, he could live in a monastery… except for the women, he can’t give up the women. Even though “he’s seen everything, and it’s all shit.”
Also Cameron Diaz plays a femme fatale villainess dragon lady (badly, I and the critics agree) who is absolutely amoral. Her boyfriend mentions this to the counselor as well at some point, how women are completely amoral, and that’s why it fascinates them to see it in men, the conflicted morality. And, he says, they can forgive anything in a man, except to be boring.
As an old friend used to say “gasp.” Sex is a whole nest of complexities a sticky morass of conflicting feelings. It’s where everything meets and comes together–it is the essence of the universe which is, after all one big cosmic “bang” of yin and yang and all mixtures in between.
But one thing I’ve noticed is that people in our culture get it very mixed up perhaps because the Christian religion (and other religions), early on, tried to delete sex from God–ya can’t do it without inviting both religious and sexual perversion.
In 1936, FDR recognized these privilileged princes. They hid under a rock until Ronald Reagan. Now they shut down the government and try to shred our meager perks, the “safety nets” and New Deal.
“It was natural and perhaps human that the privileged princes of these new economic dynasties, thirsting for power, reached out for control over Government itself. They created a new despotism and wrapped it in the robes of legal sanction. In its service new mercenaries sought to regiment the people, their labor, and their property. And as a result the average man once more confronts the problem that faced the Minute Man.” …
American Presidency Project: Franklin D. Roosevelt: Acceptance Speech for the Renomination for the Presidency, Philadelphia, Pa.
I think this article dovetails quite nicely with something that Jesse just put up…
Or to paraphrase Ann Richards… Being born into wealth is the same as being born on 3rd base and thinking you’ve hit a triple.
“The rich can buy everything but health, virtue, friendship, wit, good looks, love, pride, intelligence, grace, and, if you need it, happiness.” — Edward Abbey
“The rich are not very nice. That’s why they’re rich.” — Edward Abbey
“The most striking thing about the rich is the gracious democracy of their manners — and the crude vulgarity of their way of life.” — Edward Abbey
Actually, with the advent of plastic surgery, it could be argued that they CAN buy good looks…
And anyway they also get better healthcare.
But the list is still INCREDIBLY long even without those two items. And anyway, compared to virtue, what matters good looks?
Well, if I were Pete Peterson’s grandson, I would never sleep over at Great Grand Pa’s house for worry that my brain would wake up in a formaldehyde jar and Great Grand Pa would be tooling around in my body and doing all my groupies.
Btw: There is something that always bothered me about guys wearing scarfs. Don’t know why that is. But then again I don’t think about it that much.
Hmm. I find most of the plastic surgery pursued by the wealthy to be repulsive and sad.
I would phrase it as more health care not necessairly better, see Michael Jackson and Anna Nicole Smith as examples.
If cash were the only currency then musing such as this would be pointless. Thank goodness for the element known as scarcity.
Yes. An element that can be created at will. I mean, budget deficits are just numbers, right?
If amassing wealth is the name of the game (it is)
and if wealth is defined as money/property/power (it is)
then we can expect nothing else.
If we want something different, I suggest we need fundamentally different cultural definitions of wealth as part of generating/establishing a very different money system (to today’s) and a very different economics. Until we get these changes going and bedded down, what Hedges describes is the natural state of affairs.
Speaking of Eric Schmidt… I worked as an intern for Novell, the first company Eric Schmidt ran as CEO, and several of my good friends worked closely enough with him to see him with the public facade down. Even though he was “only” a millionaire instead of the multi-billionaire he became by parachuting into Google at exactly the right time, he was already notoriously dismissive of the “little people”.
My favorite story: Eric was in Utah (a place he detested, but where 80% of his employees were located) and was having dinner at an Italian restaurant with several mid to senior level execs. Eric called over a young lady who was going from table to table serenading the diners for tips, and said “I will pay you $100 if you stop singing until I’ve left the restaurant”.
She took the money, and didn’t serenade another table until the Novell group had left.
Novell, of course, cratered.
My father grew up poor. But in the 1960’s and 70’s, he and my mom created a successful and lucrative business. We weren’t rich, but were well off by the standards of our blue-collar town.
My brother and sister went to work for my dad, I left home because I was unable to handle the power games he played on us. I have lived a life very independent of my family.
Since then, my father basically ran the business into the ground. What worked in the 1970’s didn’t work in the late 1980’s and beyond. But he was such a meglomaniac, he could never see it.
By the time of the recession, the business was in it’s death throes. My father laid off my sister, who, at 50, had worked her whole adult life for him. In addition, he transferred some of his property to my brother. My sister got nothing. She is now on food stamps, barely surviving, after dedicating her life to a man who cast her off.
My brother isn’t much better off. He is totally controlled by my dad, who won’t let him do anything to modernize the business. It’s like my dad is feeding off my brother’s life, sucking it out of him like a vampire.
My father thinks he is part of the 1%, although he is delusional. He believes every success we have had is because of him. He surrounds himself with people who give him validation that he is a great man, while they exploit him for whatever they can get out of him. None of us children love him–my brother especially hates him.
To me, the only difference between my dad and Donald Trump is the money and the hair.
I am saying all this not because I want to complain about my dad, but because I feel interacting with him has given me insight into the thinking of the wealthy and powerful. Even the children he supposedly loves are only worthy as long as they provide some use to him. If we no longer serve a purpose, we are cast off.
People like him are dangerous. They have no concern about others, except when it gives them the feeling that they are being generous and kind. There is no recognition of the ocntributions of others, and no compassion for those who are less fortunate.
I see the wealthy and powerful of this country facing the same future as my dad. They will tear down what makes us great in order to maintain their delusions of control. My fear is that too many people will end up like my sister–poor and having few options.
I am an economist, and I do what I can to spread the word about the failures of markets, capitalism, and the limits of the thinking that has brought us to where we are at. My hope is that progressive thinking will finally predominate in the US, and we will be able to restore hope to the people, but, my fear is it will go the way of my family’s fortune.
Thank you so so much for retelling this. It must have been hard for you, but I am terribly terribly grateful.
This is the kind of society that is created when profit is put above other people. If this kind of lust for money can tear apart a family like this, of course it can tear apart communities, nations and societies.
‘The Donald’ is a buffoon, the real power behind the Trump name is Donald’s father, Fred.
Fred built the construction business that Donald assumed, Fred also bailed out Donald when he became over-extended in the late 1980s.
I too want to thank sjb for telling this.
Sounds like textbook narcissistic personality disorder. A diagnosable clinical condition. And hell on whoever it touches.
If true, you are lucky to have gotton out of his gravitational pull. No good options. Rarely ends well for those stuck in the vortex. Sorry to say.
“Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”
We can translate the “kingdom of God” for the true Self (in Vedanta the Atman or true self beyond conditioning is Brahman or God).
Riches can distort people–it is a responsibility to have extra money and weighs people down–it attracts the worst characters in society to try to take that money. I counsel all rich people to give it up–to stop being self-indulgent and work for the betterment of others. Sadly, in the U.S. we lack values other than morality = wealth despite the fact that most Americans falsely call themselves “Christians” (they’re mainly liars).
Yep, count yourself lucky you got out with your sanity more-or-less intact sjb. I’ve seen first hand how children getting enmeshed in the family business is fraught with mutual dependency and resentment. You really don’t want to go there. Unfortunately some parents due to their own mental health issues want to control their children’s lives; providing them with access to, and their only supply of, material wealth is a sure-fire way of creating barriers to children being able to establish an existence outside of their parent’s identities.
Yep, psychopaths truly are not like the rest of us.
It is worth pondering, though, how most of the oppression of our system is not carried out by the wealthy. Rather, it’s implemented by the educated technocrats in law and medicine and education and media and banking and so forth.
That of course is much trickier as a morality play, because it implicates most comfortable Democrats who have enabled and even embraced the authoritarian assault on the Constitution and its fundamental philosophy of rule of law and individual rights.
Pretty funny, an investment blog castigating its putative customers.
BTW: I lived in NYC for 15 years and it was- and is indeed all about money and power; so is Washington, DC.
There are the ‘Peoples’ Millionaires’.
Nothing is cut-and-dried:
Indeed, the rich are obnoxious and their children are annoying but the real problem is at the end of your driveway, you better get rid of it before it gets rid of you.
This is the farthest from an “investment” blog. The post being commented on here is proof of that.
This isn’t and has never been an “investment blog” Seeking Alpha is over there.
The Stanford Prison experiment comes to mind where student guards became aggressive and student prisoners became depressed and submissive. That power corrupts has been with us through out history, so for this post to have impact it really needs to demonstrate that something has signifcantly changed in the relationship.
Power is not something limited to power hungry individuals or organizations. It is part of every social interaction where people have the capacity to influence one another’s states. So its not just about the rich or the CEO, but about teacher student, parent child, supervisor employee, wife and husband relationships.
Studies of primate societies tend to show that those who tend to rise in power have specific qualities like charm, ability to intermediate in conflicts, group norm enforcement,and fair resource allocation. Once power is gained then there becomes a conflict between benefiting the society as a whole and maintaining ones own power. In primates this can involve not diseminating essential knowledge, targetting those which are different ,favouritism, retaining a larger share of resources,and seeing everyone as either with you or against you. Often those who are struggling hardest to retain power behave the worst.
My view is that mass media has played a part, where people become a brand to be sold rather than an individual. Globalisation plays a part in favouring the deal maker over the visionary. Over all it is the polarisation of power where those in power are desperate to hold on in the face of questioning blogs, media revelations, and those without power sharpening the pitchforks. Demanding obedience, enforcing the norm, reducing risk by making people replaceable, claiming a larger share of resources is the sign of those falling from power. In the meantime we wait for the visionary statesman to emerge and change the world, part of me hopes it will be the little girl I saw in the park the other day picking daisies and handing one to every stranger that passed by.
You’ll wait in vain. We are entering a profoundly different era in our history–one of distributed power. We still need leaders just not “one” leader.
The poor and middle classes are not just expendable to the rich, not just commodities. To the rich, they smell bad, they are aimless lazy good-for-nothings, and their odor must be eliminated. As an illustration of this, the “occupy occupy” movement at Yale wanted to spray the occupy protesters with fabreze.
“The original plan for the young Republicans’ counter-protest involved spraying the Occupy New Haven marchers with Febreze, because, you know, the marchers might as well have been a bunch of dirty, smelly hippies. They weren’t. I know. I was there. Young and old, college students and mid-career professionals. Teachers and doctors and lawyers. Mostly white, but some other races, too. Veterans and people of faith. Parents and their children. In their own ways, they all called for justice. No one identified themselves as the 1 percent.”
The smell that terrifies those Young Republicans is what they perceive to be the stink of failure. Failure (as in being poor, or getting caught or losing money) is the one unpardonable sin in our culture. Bernie Madoff wasn’t reprehensible because he was a ganef– people who had any sense knew he was a crook for years; he was reprehensible because he was a grifter who lost track of who the proper marks were and who needed to be paid off. The “London Whale” was placing unconscionable high-risk bets for Jamie et al. for months. His only crime was betting wrong and losing. Republicans understand this and embrace the ethic. Democrats prevaricate (what else is new) but deep down feel the same way. That’s why the Democratic Party as an institution hates Carter’s guts to this day and banished Walter Mondale to the wilderness.
Longtime lurker. I propose that we call the 1% and their minions, the parasite class. THey are parasites and they are killing their host.
It’s the system stupid. Capitalism has never functioned as a socially beneficial system without serious intervention by the state, also known as government, society, and the sovereign. The rest of the world knows this. Why don’t we? We just can’t be this stupid. That photo of Pete Peterson’s grandson looks like a portrait of capitalism itself. An unhappy adolescent, with dead eyes, unable to get past his own existential crisis.
ha! funny, and true.
he looks like half the people I will see at Uni today– both male and female.
they forgot the cell-phone staredown stupor.
C. Wright Mills argued that we can’t see this because our society was started without an aristocracy or church that could posit or embody different values than those of the merchant. America was born capitalist, organized and ruled by capitalist farmers and capitalist merchants. Other values are alien to us, or were subordinated at the start when religion became an exclusively private matter. The only “religious” values we really ever hear therefore must dovetail with those of the marketplace: thrift, self-restraint, hard work, accepting one’s lot, understanding one’s place, and obeying (male) authority. The Beatitudes need not apply.
hate the rich? I hate their power over the rest of us.
if they behave as Chris Hedges says, it is no different than a modestly affluent person treats their nanny or maid, or most bosses in my experience treat their employees (with impunity). the impulse to exploit power differentials is universal, it seems.
if I had been raised with money, I wouldn’t be any different than they are most likely. having thought about becoming wealthy, it would seem like a big relief for me but that is thinking about the present ‘me’ and my financial worries and not having spent a lifetime in the embrace of it.
if the children act like brats, regardless of class, that is the parents fault. and oddly enough, it is often the fault of giving them too little attention, and then trying to bribe them to do what you want (poor people can do this as well–“i’ll get you candy if you do x” is usually affordable).
parenting is such an important job, that people need to start recognizing whether they will be bad at it, regardless of their bank account size, and bailing out if they are not up to the task of trying to instill proper values of decency, justic and psychological basis of empathy.
I share the sentiment of your antipathy for the uber wealthy. However, I reminded of Foucault’s work on power.
“Power is not an institution, and not a structure; neither is it a certain strength we are endowed with; it is the name that one attributes to a complex strategical situation in a particular society.”
This makes me think of power as tactic, something much easier to combat, expose and make right.
The rich behaving badly is not grounds for mass condemnation of the rich as a class. We condemn them because they are in charge of this society and they are not accepting that responsibility, i.e., to lead. Other ruling classes at other times and places have taken that responsibility sometimes brutally sometimes not but often they cared about the cultures they represented not just their selfish interests.
Rome had a few very self-indulgent Emperors but, on the whole, were ruled by a ruling elite that believed in a moral code based on Stoicism that enabled Rome to last longer than it should have. Sadly our ruling elites have lost the moral codes (even if we don’t agree with them) of their ancestors and have replaced those codes with self-interest or the interest of their own class.
In contrast, the attitude behind cutting food aid to poor children is that their parents should not have them if they are not rich enough to feed them. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/j-mijin-cha/poor-people-do-not-deserv_b_4186104.html
At the bottom of ALL social/political/economic issues is the morality. We have confused and contradictory policies because we don’t agree on moral values. There are substantial numbers of people rich and poor that utterly reject what were once considered Judeo-Christian/Western Humanist values. For these people Scrooge before his enlightenment was a saint and a devil afterwards.
Nicely said. I have been saying this since the mid-eighties when I became exposed to the rich while training to be a lawyer. They really do not like other classes and have an active interest in keeping others from gaining any measure of wealth. That is a generalization but the exceptions are rare and unusual. One way they have avoided the guillotine is by convincing the rabble that they do can one day be rich and be like them: hate the others-lower classes. It is hard to explain to other people unless you have been in the midst of the wealthy and really hear what they think. A very disturbing place full of sociopaths- I will say what wasn’t said on Hullabalo.
There won’t be any class warfare because there’s no class solidarity. Here in San Francisco we just had a subway transit workers strike. The lack of sympathy, the anger and condemnation from other workers–it should be illegal for the transit workers to strike, I don’t have a pension or health benefits, neither should they, etc.–make it clear the 0.1% will continue to rule. The lack of logic in this thinking is baffling, but there it is.
“I don’t have a pension or health benefits, neither should they…”
As a Bay Area resident, I was ready to puke every time I watched one of those dopes on the local news spewing their anti-union know-nothing bull. The union workers influence brought this and other industrial cesspool countries out of Dickensian hell and this is the thanks they get from short-sighted morons too scared of their boss to stay home in solidarity.
Has these yahoos who whine about their inconvenience while transit workers were on strike used their skulls, they’d have applied for a union job themselves. Instead, they’re more than eager to bring back that Dickensian nightmare … to accomplish exactly what TPTB dream of… complete destruction of working class organizations.
BTW, the bitch about BART wages? All the transit union is doing is simply trying to keep up with the true cost of living in the Bay Area over the past 40 years. Not even.. just trying to keep up. The BART workers are simply smarter than the whiners.
BART is great, but it is also heavily, HEAVILY subsidized. and their ‘top class’ employees do get a very, VERY good wage and a very good retirement. not that I begrudge them, but I used to ride BART daily to school, and knew the drivers and trainee-drivers on that route very well. if they were telling the truth about themselves, they were making 80-100k annually, and had nice homes with swimming pools. I don’t resent that, but they must realize that most of their riders are not in the same class and mistakenly believe that the fares those riders provide are ‘paying’ for those luxurious wages & benefits.
back in the 90s I read a long newspaper expose (was it in the East Bay Express? can’t remember) about how heavily subsidized BART has always been by the government, and how the major employers in downtown SF got their political muscle together to get their valuable staff into downtown (valuable staff who obviously even when BART was built weren’t living in SF—cost of living? hrm…). this article said that the average fare of $4 to cross the transbay tube was costing the taxpayers $26!!!
I used to think about that article while staring into the darkness, wondering whether an earthquake would happen while I was trying to get to the Asian Art Museum or Union Square.
“….if they were telling the truth about themselves, they were making 80-100k annually, and had nice homes with swimming pools.”
A bit of boast, seems.
hilarious! ulterior motives, perhaps? dunno. I was young and dumb(er) at the time. also, have an exaggerated memory for numbers–no matter how I try I always remember them wrong, although I appear to remember the details of people’s lives pretty well (as in, can meet them at a dinner party after many years of no contact and know they have 2 kids and work at XYZcorp, and so on).
perhaps my brain added 20 years of inflation.
notice the article is not even specific about what they make–at one point saying anywhere from 66-74k annually. that’s still quite a bit.
these guys all lived out in Concord then, if memory serves. easy to get to work, at least. and cheaper back then as well.
— “I don’t have a pension or health benefits, neither should they.”
— “The union workers influence brought this and other industrial cesspool countries out of Dickensian hell and this is the thanks they get from short-sighted morons too scared of their boss to stay home in solidarity.
Has these yahoos who whine about their inconvenience while transit workers were on strike used their skulls, they’d have applied for a union job themselves.”
Here’s a question, though. What’s wrong with universal old age pensions?
Lets cut it down to what counts and skip all the intellectualizing.
Its us or them.
Take your pick.
One connection I’ve always found interesting is the Chicago School of Economics and the attitudes of the rich.
The base assumption of Chicago is that everything in the world can be ranked on a single scale, and that scale is money. Everything is measured in dollars.
The base assumption of the 1% is that your status as a human being is measured in money. Everyone is measured in dollars.
Are the 1% Chicago without the fig leaf of excluding individual human lives, or is Chicago the 1% with a subtext that includes our neighbors? Because no one admits to being just a commodity.
That exchange btwn. F Scott and Hemingway did take place, but Hemingway’s response was stolen from an Irish woman journalist, whose name I forget, It’s in the study Hemingway Vs. Fitzgerald.
Regarding the debate about the role of the state in the above comments:
There is a potential, possible point of convergence/alliance between the anarchist, libertarian and progressive communities on the future role of the State—if they could hammer out an agreement on a new genuine federal political structure.
One could characterize a genuine federation as an aggregation of politically organized territories.
One key feature of a 21st century federalism might include a “bottom-up “ approach where local sovereignty would be guaranteed (historically in the US the anti-Federalist critics of Madison and Hamilton were the true Federalists). Top-down federalism, on the other hand (sometime advocated by social-democrats)are plans that tend to involve primarily lip-service to local community autonomy and end-up with the smaller political units simply becoming administrative branches of the Federal government(the type of coercive federalism we have today).
A second feature of a more populist federalism might include the principal of subsidiarity, according to which only those functions which cannot be effectively carried out at a local level will come under jurisdiction of the next higher level.
A third feature of a more populist federalism might include making the presence of a bill of rights within the constitutions of each of the lowest political units a condition for becoming a part of the federation.
“To be smart enough to get all that money you must be dull enough to want it.”
Large disparities in wealth serve no social purpose and indeed are destructive of society. This is why the rich and their servant elites go to such lengths to separate their accumulation of wealth from any discussion of whether wealth accumulation serves any socially beneficial purpose.
The rich did not earn their wealth. Their labor did not create it. Their labor does not stand behind it. Put simply, they do not deserve it. They will do anything to keep us from focusing on this one simple fact, and infinitely worse, acting upon it. The government, the parties, the legal system, academia, the media, popular culture, they own them all and they use them all to validate their wealth, its acquisition and retention. And they use them all to suppress any challenge to their wealth.
The reason I prefer the term “kleptocracy” to any other to describe our current political and economic system is that crime is the very essence of it. The rich did not “earn” their wealth. They stole it. Their wealth is based on crimes, theft, fraud, violence, and yes, murder. Tens of thousands die each year from lack of healthcare alone, and no, Obamacare, or rather the unraveling of Obamacare, is not going to change that much. The housing bubble and the meltdown were based on the biggest frauds in human history. Not only did they go unpunished but those who perpetrated them were bailed out and left to do it all over again.
Much is made of a figure like George Soros, the “liberal” billionaire. But what gets lost is that while Soros made his billions making “smart” bets, those who ultimately made good those bets were tens of millions of ordinary people who never even knew those bets had been made, or their connection to them. All they knew was that they were more impoverished but not why or how or by whom. And as with Soros, this can be multiplied and extended throughout the class of the rich and the elites. They do not create wealth. They extract it, and in doing so, the rest of us become poorer.
Excellent. Thank you.
It’s not that simple. The system allows the worst instincts to surface–it’s not the individual rich f!cks who are to blame but the fact the proletariat sold their souls for baubles, toys, porn and the privilege of entertaining themselves to death. It wasn’t always kleptocracy–there was more diversity in even the American scene–it is only in recent years–basically post 9/11 that this system fully matured.
Yes, blame the victims and not those who committed the crimes.
Can we do both? I’d just like to assign more of the punishment to the conniving bastards who rig the game and argue they deserve their rewards because of their ability. Let them walk that talk…actual capitalism to crash it and then maybe we can rebuild with a populist ideology. But Morris Berman is right, were a nation of hustlers. Any heads cut off now will largely be replaced with clones. The rot at the core of our culture that binds us is real and cannot be ignored if we are to substantively change.
Your comments remind me of how at one point, author Stephen King found out that his writing had created for the Big Publisher who held him under contract a marvelous 17% of their wealth. His books had allowed this Publisher almost one fifth of their profit margin each and every year. Yet when brought to the Publishing House, many of the VP’s he was introduced to didn’t know him, or even his books. The same VP who knew the President of the Publishing House’s favorite restaurant, golf course, and favorite charity had no idea who Stephen King was, even though King might have been the supplier of those monies allowing the VP to hold a job.
So when Self Publishing became possible, Stephen King jumped ship, as he was sick of letting money he created get siphoned off to slick, pompous know nothings.
Regarding disposal of the parasitic poor, one must consult Mr. Fundamental Flaw* himself, Ayn Rand disciple and former Criminal Reserve chair, Alan Greenspan:
Yes, don’t let them eat cake (or food stamps), let them perish. War is one profitable method of parasite population-reduction. Of course it all depends on one’s definition of parasite: one man’s central banker is another man’s parasite.
Apparently today, Greenspan’s only fundamental flaw was in once thinking that his worldview included a fundamental flaw. Now he knows better. But let us hope he’s right about one thing: that “justice is unrelenting”.
On the Theme of Dickens he caught the behaviors quite well in the person of Scrooge before the spirits arrived. Recall Scrooge’s comment about the surplus population. So the attitude has been around for over 150 years.
My thought is that although various conditions can engender subclinical psychopathy, wealth is a condition that can readily engender that mental disorder, that is, personalities displaying an abnormal lack of empathy, displaying a lack of remorse for the harm they cause, displaying supreme selfishness, as well as manipulation, deceitfulness, exploitation, self-inflation, and so on.
I come from the working class but spent over ten years living in an elite New England college town; it was something of an on-the-job-training experience in the sociology or anthropology of class. A buddy of mine was dating a very liberal heiress (a pleasant anomaly from my observation) who told me that the worst outlook–on-life problem of her class was an obsession with the principle of “management efficiency,” which contextually meant “profits before people” or “profits before morality.” This “principle” and others like it are cultivated from birth onward, and the rest of us suffer the consequences. We reap what we sow.
We all reap what we sow….I vote for kindness, compassion, caring about others as we do about ourselves…..It is said a stingy man is eager to get rich and is unaware that poverty awaits him or A faithful man will be richly blessed, but one eager to get rich will not go unpunished. Each gets to choose….make mine faithful to God the Father, I love the life He has blessed me and my with….
Well said. Here is another angle on the same issue.
For people who work for a living, they want wages to be high. However, for the rich as a class – rentiers, landowners, etc. – they want wages to be low. They want poverty (‘affordable labor costs’, ‘competitive wage structure etc.). In fact, rentiers as a class require mass poverty even to exist.
A problem is that the rich, because they are rich, have a lot of power to make things break their way, and to propagandize that this is how it should be. Certainly there are many working-class jerks, but they don’t do much damage because they don’t have much power.
At the end of the middle ages, when the Black Death had limited the European population for generations, there was a ‘labor shortage’. This meant that wages for the many shot up, there was abundant spare capital to invest in new enterprises, and landed estates that were run by people without any managerial talent collapsed. How terrible. What the rich dream of is going back to pre-renaissance Europe: an overpopulated land where workers can be compelled to work for subsistence wages, and also to kiss the feet of their landed betters.
That’s why the rich, more than anything, want rapid population growth. It was the consensus of both Classical and Keynesian economics that prosperity required a stable or very slowly growing population. That wisdom has been overturned, not by experience or logic, but by massive funding by the rich who want more than anything an entire world turned back to the 11th century. As global population finally pushes up against the limits of our technology, it looks like the rich are going to have their wish. Oh, but we can’t talk about this because anyone who does will be publicly slandered, denied employment in universities and newspapers etc.
Yes, the rich are different from you and me. They are scum preening about how noble they are while they bend their every effort into turning the world into hell so that they can continue to rake in their unearned profits.
The Romney set would likely chock up any critique whatsoever of car elevators or dressage to unseemly jealousy–indeed, jealousy seems to be the single emotion 1%ers project onto their lessers. It’s funny how the Quality never seem to see how their little hobbies might come off as repulsively garrish, embarrassing to behold, a la fat Elvis.
The Rich have achieved solidarity of ideological purpose and political means as a class. Meanwhile, the working classes are in disarray.
Every day that you go to work you are behind enemy lines, but too few working class people seem to know this or care. Or, if you do care, what can be done about it? The predominant mindset I deal with every day at work is “it is what it is,” which has become the watchword of our age. Some other gems I hear a lot at work are “Be thankful you have a job,” and “it could be worse.”
All of these coping strategies and rationales are a race to the bottom. Again, what can be done?
I’m dissapointed that so much of the comments had little to say concerning from where we need to choose our leaders. The reality is, we can continue to pick the priviledged fruit of the poisoned tree of the 1% OR….and don’t wait for it….pick our friends, neighbors and family members or even ourselves for some public service!
At the end of the day I pat my dog I give him what he needs he gives me what I need. The important thing is we give each other something. Sometimes I think my dog is more human than me.