Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Today's America is a class act

The United States ranks behind every industrial nation except France in the percentage of overall economic activity devoted to manufacturing (...) Manufacturing has long been viewed as an essential pillar of a powerful economy. It generates millions of well-paid jobs for those with only a high school education, a huge segment of the population. New York Times

“It wasn’t the US service sector that defeated Japan,” notes Robert Dujarric of Temple University in Tokyo. Well-paid blue-collar jobs, he adds, have been a pillar of Japan’s postwar social equality. Financial Times

(Meth is) “the only example of a widely consumed illegal narcotic that might be called vocational, as opposed to recreational.” It was given to starving Nazi soldiers to keep them in warrior mode on the Russian front. Now it’s a preferred stimulant for people working two jobs in low-wage purgatory. "Methland vs. Mythland" Timothy Egan - NYT
David Seaton's News Links
Everybody has their own way of thinking: some people think in facts and figures, I think in symbols and metaphors.

I am ever searching for the correct symbol or metaphor, and when I find the one that feels just right, everything else: thinking, talking and writing, comes easily to me, just like ringing a bell.

I love to put some quotes and pictures, like the ones above, together and hear how they resonate like a chord played on a well tuned instrument. For me, much of what we are facing today is resumed, almost like a poem in these snippets

The key visual metaphor is that of the meth addict's transformation from hillbilly beauty into death's head. The key phrase is the one from Robert Dujarric in Tokyo: well paid blue-collar jobs, are the pillar of social equality, followed by the NYT stating that those with only a high school education make up a huge percentage of the US population. That is the present situation in a nutshell.

I was struck by a line in president Barack Obama's much reported NAACP speech, where he, a supposed "lefty", addressed this advice to young African-Americans:
“They might think they’ve got a pretty jump shot or a pretty good flow,” Mr. Obama said, “but our kids can’t all aspire to be LeBron or Lil Wayne. I want them aspiring to be scientists and engineers, doctors and teachers, not just ballers and rappers. I want them aspiring to be a Supreme Court justice. I want them aspiring to be president of the United States of America.”
My first reaction to that paragraph was that aspiring to be a rapper or a professional basketball player was just as realistic as aspiring to be a scientist or engineer and certainly more realistic than aspiring to be a Supreme Court Justice or president of the USA, as between the White House and the Supreme Court there are only ten jobs, whereas to begin with there are 1,696 basketball players in the NBA... (Sorry, but I can't find the number of openings for hip-hop artists).

I immediately thought on reading Obama's words, "what's wrong with aspiring to having a union card and working in a factory at union rates and getting married on that pay, buying a house and raising a family, seeing some of your kids go to college and then retiring on a decent pension and going fishing with your grandchildren?"

What is supposed to happen to people who don't have the natural aptitude or interests to be scientists and engineers, doctors and teachers? Or specialists in derivatives or other such useful types?

In today' America are they fated to end up like the woman in the photographs, fated to taking methamphetamine in order to be able to stand the strain of working 60 plus hour weeks at minimum wage without any unions or medical coverage?

Is there only to be a future in America for knowledge workers?

If so, we as a people are in deep, deep, shit.

Because that is not really in our DNA.

For thousands of years our species has mostly worked with its hands and as a simple matter of natural selection, not everyone who is an able bodied, willing and honest person is interested in reading and studying.

As Italian author Alberto Moravia once said, the number of illiterates is constant, but nowadays the illiterates know how to read.

And this is just as true for white people as for black people in today's America.

In many senses we really are living in a post-racial society.

Today the real question is class and poverty, not race.

Most of the white working poor of today's America would happily trade the pale complexion of their nether parts to be an African-American UAW worker in the 1950s and 60s Detroit.

Today, instead of a society where race inevitably determines status, we live is society of sharp class divisions, where class, except for those with inherited wealth, is based on educational attainment and that educational attainment itself is in great part based on the parent's social class and the income that comes with it.

Within living memory the sons and daughters of the line workers of unionized American manufacturers, who showed aptitude for study, could go to excellent state land grant universities and their brothers and sisters who didn't like school could look forward to the same decent life as their parents had enjoyed... That didn't last very long did it?

In today's America it is very difficult for an American from a poor family of any race, no matter how intelligent he or she might be, to get a first class education or, with parents (or single parent) working at two jobs, the supportive and stable family life to be able to concentrate on their studies and thus escape from poverty.

The heart of the matter is that America's once proud working class, both white and black, is being transformed, has been transformed, into a classic "lumpenproletariat" or "ragged proletariat". Here is how the Encyclopaedia Britannica defines that term:
(German: “rabble proletariat”), according to Karl Marx in The Communist Manifesto, the lowest stratum of the industrial working class, including also such undesirables as tramps and criminals. The members of the Lumpenproletariat—this “social scum,” said Marx—are not only disinclined to participate in revolutionary activities with their “rightful brethren,” the proletariat, but also tend to act as the “bribed tools of reactionary intrigue.”
What could be a better description of the working poor followers of Sarah Palin's, or of any populist of the right that may arise in the near future's, than as "bribed tools of reactionary intrigue"?

Are any right wing populists, who go in mostly for creationism, abortion and guns, going to advocate strong labor unions, a higher minimum wage, universal health care and keeping the jobs in the USA? I doubt it very much, don't you?

Will anybody else advocate those things? DS


stunted said...

Thank you very much for this post.
The Moravia quote is sadly delicious and no, there is no one to advocate those things. The definition of lumpenproletariat is spot-on and neatly describes the entire American proletariat, though the dangerous criminals who are screwing the country seem to be in the upper classes. We are in deep, deep shit but persist in confusing it for Nutella. Americans have forgotten that the citizenry is the sovereign and it seems nothing is grotesque enough to push them into the streets to demand an end to the ongoing raping and pilfering. So be it. The people have spoken with their crushingly loud silence. Would that Americans had an ounce, since we don't deal in grams and litres, of the courage the Iranians are showing on their streets.

Anonymous said...

Instead of encouraging a blue-collar worker to get a job stamping a label on a can or doing something other kind of assembly line work, why not encourage them to learn a trade? If they're going to work with their hands why not do something that they enjoy instead of some mind-numbing repetition that could be done better by a machine? Why not train them for the jobs that are actually available out there? Why not encourage them to start their own business? Why not (brace yourself!), encourage them to pursue higher education? I know you think their not as smart as you and they couldnt handle it, but they might surprise you. Studies are actually showing that it is true that how hard you work is far more important than how smart you are. How is increasing someones dependence supposed to improve their condition?

The problem with your point of view is that it exposes a fundemental hypocrisy in the minds of people like you. And I do mean to use the words "people like you". You like to cloak your condescending attitude towards the working class to give the appearance of compassion. And Palin and Republicans swoop in and take advantage of it.

Take the Japanese. You know what really defeated them? They could produce a high-quality product for very cheap, but they couldnt THINK of a product that they could produce that anyone outside of Japan would want. And their efforts to subsidize businesses to keep these "high-paying jobs" for the blue collar workers are one of the reasons their economy has been stagnant for over a decade. Meanwhile, the jobs are dissapearing anyway. So much for social equality. And also, Japanese car companies are destroying GM right now BECAUSE of the UAW.

Could a factory worker really afford to send their kid to a good college on their salary these days? I have $17,000 in student loans to pay off, so my guess would be no.

The point is the fact that you think that people in the US cling to their guns and their God and smoke meth is because smart people like you dont give the stupid people an easy job to do for a pension is not only elitist, it's ignorant too. With just a touch of narcissism thrown in for good measure. People are more likely to start smoking meth because they're leading an unfulfilling life with no hope of it ever getting that much better, not because they're working 60 hour weeks. I know people working 60 hour weeks that are happier than people who are working a temp job. The guys on the temp job are the people who are more likely to smoke meth. They have nothing better to do. Besides, it's not like they were taught to expect more out of themselves, right?

The Impudent Dogsbody

David Seaton's Newslinks said...

First I am very interested in a stable society and that means taking care of people who are not exceptionally talented or motivated (the vast majority) I don't consider this "elitist" (though I don't much care) because most of the ancestors and descendants of exceptionally talented or motivated were and will be just average to below average. I believe that the exceptionally talented or motivated are more than able to take care of themselves and that society's role is to "uplift the masses", to give the "salt of the earth" a comfortable life with the possibility of enjoying fully the simple pleasures of peace, a family, culture, health and leisure. This will also provide a better background for the exceptionally talented or motivated to make their contribution too.

Anonymous said...

Fair enough. But then the question is how do you provide all of these things to the people? There's better ways to provide for the people who are not exceptionally talented without turning them into dependent children. "We have to rise together or we're all going to fall seperately" right? Well, what's has proven effective at uplifting the masses? It's called free trade. All the left wing rhetoric in the world cant gloss over that fact. That's why the left has gotten shellacked in elections all over the world. They dont have a real alternative to free trade. If a plant shuts down in the US, why not allow a Japanese company to set up shop and provide manufacturing jobs HERE?

Also, expecting the talented and motivated to act out of a sense of resonsibility towards the "masses" is naive in the extreme.

You dont uplift the masses by subsidizing their weakness.

The Impudent Dogsbody

john said...

Welcome back, D-body.