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Jul. 28 2010 - 11:26 am | 354 views | 1 recommendation | 12 comments

The world we have won?

This is my last blog for True/Slant.  It looks like I’ll be blogging elsewhere come September- but since no contracts are signed, I can’t really tell you where (hint: it rhymes with Morbes).  In the meantime, the LAST column gives me a chance to do something that blogging rarely allows me to do: reflect.  And upon reflection, this is what I’ve learned from my time at True/Slant.

When I first started this column, I was pissed.  Bush was still in office, two illegal and imperialistic wars were in full swing, and although the Wall Street Ponzi scheme built on the democratization of debt had not yet collapsed, it was increasingly clear that most of us had been screwed by Neoliberal capitalism. Three decades of tax giveaways to the richest Americans and the destruction of the social safety net meant 80% of us were worse off than in 1980.  I was finishing up a book on just that topic (American Plastic) and the more I knew about how in debt Americans were, the more angry I became.  It was clearly a case of us vs. them, the working classes vs. the super rich who were robbing us blind.   I truly believed that it was time to stop this nonsense, band together as the majority, and take our country back.  It was in this spirit that I started “Class Warfare.”

Ah, has the world changed since then.  Oh, don’t get me wrong.  The rich got even richer in 2009, the rest of us are worse off than ever, but the idea that there might be a possibility of uniting around our common class interests and taking our country back from the robber barons who have been running it seems so completely disconnected from reality that I want to travel back in time two years and throw a bucket of ice-water into my stupidly optimistic face.

If I had been shocked into reality with a faceful of water, perhaps I would have predicted the success with which white resentment would be mobilized in groups like the Tea Party.  The righteous anger of the white masses is not at the bankers and politicians who put us in this mess, but at Mexican immigrants.  And if I could have predicted that a huge portion of angry white Americans would have their rage misdirected, perhaps I could have also known that the Obama administration would not be able to resist the lure of military “solutions” to political and economic problems.  I might have even predicted that the Obama administration would be given far too much of a free pass by the “Left” to do whatever they saw fit, and what they saw fit was to govern as a Centrist Right party, especially without any pressure from their base.

Ah, but I was ever so young when True Slant editor Coates Bateman called me up two years ago and said “Listen, we’ve got this idea.”  Of course, I’m ever so much older now and can see that the world we have won is a bigger mess than I could have ever imagined.  A good map of the place we’re at can be found at today’s New York Times. It is a map of the latest vote on military spending in Afghanistan.  Just days after WikLeaks released documents to illustrate what a futile waste of life and resources the war in Afghanistan is, the House voted to spend another $59 BILLION dollars on it.  And where is the resistance to this total disaster?  The usual places- Democratic Vermont, Massachusetts, California, Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin.  Some unusual resistance in Florida, Arizona and Texas and then some Republican resistance in Utah and Texas.

The rest of the country?  Firmly on track to the end of Empire.  Red and Blue armies marching to their doom- too distracted by the promises of patriotism, guts and glory, to notice that the economy is collapsing, the environment is destroyed, and the Empire has already imploded.

But here’s the other lesson that I’ve learned .  We cannot give up.  There is too much at stake.  We can all do things- right now- to protect ourselves and our futures.  Here are ten of them.  You readers can think of hundreds, maybe thousands, more.  In other words, I may be less naive than I was at the beginning of “Class Warfare,” but I’m angrier than ever and more convinced that WE must do something about it.

1. First and foremost, we must demand that our government be of the people and for the people; not of and for big banks and big guns.  The only way to make this happen is to get campaign finance reform through.  Without that, no matter how brilliant and even ethical a candidate, they will be sucked into the inevitable desire to get re-elected and the constant prostitution of themselves for contributions to their campaigns.

2. Second, we must convert the economy to peaceful means.  Guns into plough shares and all that.  Economic conversion is NOT a pipe dream.  It is an absolute necessity because without it, we will always be wasting our resources on getting ready for wars and therefore there will always be a need to have wars.

3. Third, we must reinvigorate labor.  Until workers have some ability to represent themselves, Americans will continue to work more hours than anyone else on earth.  And working more hours means less time to exercise, to eat real food, to spend with our families, etc.  It’s not that Americans are falling apart because we live in a toxic food environment, but we live in a toxic food environment because our work environments are toxic.  Stop feeling lucky to have a job and realize that without workers, capitalism would not produce profit.  The owners of the means of production live off of our labor, and they live well.  Let them share the wealth or face strikes, walk outs, and general sabotage.

4. Fourth, we must figure out a way to get single payer healthcare.  We cannot even do it at a state level right now because the Obama administration not only shut down single payer as an option at the national level, but insisted that states not be allowed to implement their own single payer systems until well after the patchwork, half-assed system of national healthcare reform gets put into place.  States must fight for their rights to have single payer and opt out of the national Frankenstein monster of insurance coverage we’re being offered.  Healthcare should not be a product sold in the market for profit. It should be a basic human right.  Once all Americans have it, we will be able to band together for better working conditions.  In other words, a social safety net also allows labor to get organized against greed and exploitation.

5. Fifth, higher education MUST be reformed.  The system we have now of poor and working class students taking on ridiculous amounts of debt to get an education and then in half of the cases being forced to drop out of school before they’ve even finished their degree while upper class students get degrees from elite institutions at the cost of $50,000 a year, graduating with little or no debt and all the connections they’ll ever need, is the opposite of democracy.  It is an aristocracy- a way of passing wealth- economic, educational, and social- from one generation to the next while the vast majority of us are shut out.  Higher education should be affordable to anyone who qualifies and should not require a lifetime of debt.  Without this basic mechanism of fairness, the ruling elites will become increasingly dynastic.

6.  For higher education to become more fair, we have to make our elementary and high school education more fair.  No longer can we fund schools on property taxes- a way of ensuring rich neighborhoods with high property values have far more money for their schools than poor neighborhoods with low property values.  Higher education must be funded fairly across an entire state.  All students receive the same spending, regardless of the neighborhood they live in.  No more kindergartens without paper and crayons while in the next town over kindergartens have state of the art computers and swimming pools. Education that is fair and equal is a basic building block of democracy.  Without it, we are doomed.

7. Localize as much as possible.  We must opt out of the global economy.  Buy local foods, of course, but also move your money out of mega banks and put it in a local credit union, go see local live theater, consider a staycation and spend your leisure time and money where you live.  This is good for the environment, good for your money, but even more importantly, a necessary brake on the madness that is globalization.

8.  As long as we’re localizing, we might as well get involved.  Social psychologists are showing us what we already know:  Americans are a socially isolated and therefore unhappy bunch.  And coupling does not solve our isolation- in fact, coupling may increase our social isolation.  So we must go out and join a local knitting group or even a religious group, invite your neighbors for dinner or start a community garden.  We cannot solve our social isolation by technology- social networks, blogging communities, and online dating are fine, but we actually need to spend time in the same physical location with other human beings.

9. We may have screwed up the earth beyond repair, but we better start working now on creating real alternatives to the oil economy or we’re going to burn up in a blaze of global warming as we drown in seas of oil.  In the same way that we must force the government to convert the military economy to a peaceful one, we damn well better force them to convert the oil economy to a sustainable one.  We have to force the state to regulate oil, tax gas, and invest in public transit and clean energy technologies.  Period.  Or we all die.

10.  This is the most important one so pay attention.  I know this is a long blog and kinda preachy, but it’s aimed as much at me as at you.  Anger is a far better response to threat than depression or apathy.  We ought to be angry and we have to utilize that anger into action or we will perish as a country and possibly as a species.  We cannot afford to wait and see.  We cannot afford to allow half of the country to flirt with fascism.  We have to work now to convince our fellow Americans to stop worrying about imaginary threats and focus on what’s really going on.  We have to work right now to focus ourselves on what our real interests are and not get distracted by pretty little pieces of plastic- like our new i-phones or our new breast implants.  We have to band together as a class of people who are less economically secure, less environmentally secure, less emotionally secure than ever.  Even if we don’t figure a way out, at least we’ll perish knowing that we’re in this together.

And it is that human connection, the class as a group with solidarity and support for itself, that can move us from Class Warfare to class action.


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  1. collapse expand

    I recommend that you open your mind just a teeny, tiny crack, Laurie. Thinking you’ve got it all figured out (as you obviously chronically do) is a fast road to nowhere. Just something to remember – take it or leave it. (Gee, I wonder which one it will be.)

    • collapse expand

      Dude, or dudess, it really sounds like you have a big mug of the cool aid in your hand, watching televised propaganda, sitting your fat (and stupid, mal educated) ass right in the middle of “NOWHERE” to lecture others. How did you get there, since you know so much?

      In response to another comment. See in context »
  2. collapse expand

    I love your passion, Laurie. 5, 6, and 7 were my favorite. What you are missing is that the “solidarity” that you espouse will lead to a different type of enslavement by a different type of elitists. The left had a great opportunity with Obama. Turns out he is a prince amongst banksters (a poster for limited government) and deserves your scorn more than a loony fanatic fringe of ignorant middle-aged white people. Sabotoge?

  3. collapse expand

    “First and foremost, we must demand that our government be of the people and for the people; not of and for big banks and big guns. The only way to make this happen is to get campaign finance reform through.”

    You want to open a discussion of class warfare and class action with campaign finance reform?! The people who run the empire are the same exact people who got a couple trillion dollars to cover their crooked gambling habits. They can’t ever be voted out, because they were never voted in. How the fuck is campaign finance reform gonna alter that fact?

    400 families own 98% of everything in this country. Seriously, how difficult would it be to round them up and put their ill-gotten gains back into the public kitty, where it all came from in the first fucking place? We’re not communist China; we don’t need a “cultural revolution.” We don’t need to round up millions and put them in gulags. Virtually all our problems can be made to go away over night, and all we have to do is tell a handful of oligarchs to shut the fuck up and go lay down by their dish.

    And yet here we are. Three centuries of scientific progress and Liberalism has brought us a millenial golden age, a time without rival in history. The poorest among us live better that any medieval monarch. Why?

    Because we live in the house that Reason built. But therein lies the rub. The house that Reason built is now full of unruly and ungrateful children, who don’t give a fuck about Reason, or Liberty, or the house that they built. They awake every day to a banquet of unbelievable splendor, with a place set just for them every morning. And what is the topic of conversation at this table? All the ungrateful pricks do is bitch and bellyache about the place settings, or the waitstaff uniforms. Given half a chance, most of them would like to burn the house that Reason built to the ground.

    And what will be left after the house that Reason built is gone? Why, the house that Faith built, of course. Ask anybody, they’ll sing the praises of the house that Faith built all day long. Never mind that the house that Faith built has screams of horror and agony rising from the cellar. Never mind that it smells like roasting human flesh. Don’t worry about that, brothers and sisters. After living in the house that Reason built, there’s no longer any question that we’d all be better of in the house that Faith built.

    There is, of course, a bright side to this. There are still a few like me. And if those aforementioned ungrateful pricks do manage to burn down the house that Reason built, I’ll be goddamned if I stand idly by and leave the house that Faith built standing.

  4. collapse expand

    Agree wholeheartedly with almost everything you’ve said here, with the exception of #6. Be careful what you wish for.

    I live in California and have kids in the public schools. Originally from the East Coast, I’ve learned how NOT to fund education by watching the funding dysfunction here. Between Prop. 13 gutting the revenue available to schools, and the unintended consequences of funding school districts equally from Sacramento, we’ve gone from being the best school system in the nation in the late 70’s, to one in which the per student expenditure rivals Mississippi. The aforementioned unintended consequence is that the wealthier districts decided to start non-profit “educational foundations” in which private donations are augmenting the state allocation. So the noble idea of funding every school equally has been subverted by fundraising activities on a district by district basis, which continues the funding inequality. And who can blame parents? When they see the pittance given to them by the state because the politicians refuse to confront higher taxes, they realize a decent education cannot be had with that paltry budget.

    So the funding system is indeed broken, but equalizing the distributions is only OK if each state is adequately funding the schools to begin with. You can’t start with a near-empty pot of money and expect it to do the job.

    • collapse expand

      This is not clear, and as a non-californian, I do not understand why funding supposedly went wrong in California. Blaming the principle of educating-all-future-citizens seems misdirected when we don’t understand how that was the principle in play that ruined California.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
      • collapse expand

        My point is simply that if you’re going to equalize school funding, the funding better be at an adequate level; at least $11,000-$13,000 per kid per year. The revenue pots keep getting smaller because no politician wants to do the right thing by raising taxes, and so dividing an ever-decreasing pool of money equally is no solution.

        In response to another comment. See in context »
        • collapse expand

          I understood this version much more clearly. Thank you for spelling it out. In principle I agree with you point, but I think the snafu is that no politician (except Kucinich) wants to divert money from the Imperial Wars to the Homeland Educational Funds. Else we could educate and feed the world (or at least the uneducated and hungry parts). Shame on us.

          In response to another comment. See in context »
  5. collapse expand

    YOU are my idol. I agree with everything (EVERYTHING) you said (one tiny little exception, later) and YOU said it brilliantly. I have waited most of the last four years for someone besides myself to admit that the most basic problem is MAL-education of our co-citizens, and children. I am of the educational aristocracy (full scholarship to ivy league undergraduate, then parents paid for medical school) and I don’t think it is fair. Not fair at all. In the sixties we studied government, but children do not learn anything about society, politics, power, theory or the world nowadays. They bathe in nationalistic drivel, popstars and glam TV. Adults I confront with the lies of FAUX news don’t believe my truth because it is “not possible” that news casters would lie. ‘Not possible’ reminds me of the propaganda inside the Third Reich – “Vee are not killink da Chews, nein nein. Unmöglich. Not pozzzibel”.
    Education is of course local, very local, and we can all go to the BOE meetings and rant. The fascists do it, and have been doing it since the seventies when this “vast right wing conspiracy” started. That is exactly how they started also.
    It will be a long struggle, which I won’t see the end of (if ever it ends). I just get tired of being looked at as if “I” were the crazy one, don’t you? It is hard to maintain compassionate love for proles who refuse to be angry about their oppression. I simply cannot understand how they remain so complacent, and think we are silly. Totally mystifying.
    The one little exception I mentioned is that more than half of this country “flirts” with fascism. Likely ninety percent flirts with it, but only ten percent (us) know what it is and where it is. Frankly, lack of education has totally ruined this current crop of Americans.
    I will miss you, sincerely, I will. Best of what’s left, for however long it lasts.

  6. collapse expand

    Good luck. I’m really looking forward to your book.

  7. collapse expand

    Oh, and I wanted to add– great post, and great points.
    It sure would be nice if we found a more equitable way to finance schools in our time.

  8. collapse expand

    “The system we have now of poor and working class students taking on ridiculous amounts of debt to get an education and then in half of the cases being forced to drop out of school before they’ve even finished their degree while upper class students get degrees from elite institutions at the cost of $50,000 a year, graduating with little or no debt and all the connections they’ll ever need, is the opposite of democracy. ”

    This makes things sound better than they are. The debt burden doesn’t end at poor and working class students, though they are the most adversely affected. Upper middle class can maybe get you through undergrad debt-free, depending on where you go, how upper middle you are, and what kind of financial aid you qualify for, but add a masters to the picture and forget about it–especially if you want to go to the kind of institution that will give you the best chance of landing a job that can service all that debt. After my MPP, I’ll be about $80k in debt, and I’m the only child of a family whose pre-tax income puts them in the 98-99th percentile of earners. Then again, in this day and age maybe $80K qualifies as “little” debt.

    Not that that means there’s political will to change things; upper middles are probably too scared to lose what they have to complain about it.

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    About Me

    I'm an academic who does not believe in abstract knowledge. Like Marx, I think the point isn't just to describe the world, but to change it. Unlike Marx I don't have Engels sending me my monthly rent. So I have a day job teaching sociology at Middlebury College. In my real life, I'm a fighter (taekwondo) and a writer

    (Salon, Legal Affairs, NPR's "All Things Considered") and now this blog. My second book, American Plastic: Boob Jobs, Credit Cards, and the Spirit of Our Time, is a critique of neoliberal capitalism through cosmetic surgery. American Plastic will be published by Beacon in 2010.

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