I’ve just seen the pilot episode of Revolution, a TV sci-fi by Jon Favreau in which within the first few minutes all power is lost all over the planet. Four more minutes into the pilot and we are fifteen years into the future, a very dystopic future which has all the appearance of the middle ages, of the return of a pre-industrial agrarian society, but not one with the protection of the feudal system but rather a tribal, anarchic, violent landscape in which there is no compact, Lockean or feudal. This is a depraved, degenerate landscape where no one is to be trusted.
Is this what the U.S. is heading for?
Are there harbingers, signs that we are retrogressing at warp speed?
Here’s “The History of Retrogression” as a tweet list:
1. 1886 Establishment of corporate personhood and the extension of the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment to “metaphysical” persons such as corporations;
2. 1980: The beginning of and persistent life of Reagonmics and “trickle down”/”supply side” economics;
3. 2008: Wall Street looting and plundering facilitated by computer based modeling and trader programs;
4. 2010: Citizens United ruling asserting money is speech and therefore protected by the First Amendment;
5. 2011: In the last 30 years the top 1% of households income grew by 275% while middle class income grew 40%;
6. 2012: 47% of the population has been written off by a presidential candidate as not worth addressing.
Here’s the beyond 140 characters portrait:
1. Collapse of Unions and a Compact Between Workers and Owners:
Our blue collar working class has not had a feudal compact with the Lord of the Manor but it did have the power according to the 1935 Wagner Act to engage in concerted action in the private sector. The Taft-Hartley act of 1947 focused on protecting employers from unions and prohibited much that had been allowed by the Wagner Act. Union membership as of 2012 in the private sector stood at 6.9% while in the public sector 37%, but the 2010 electoral victories of Republican governors has initiated an assault on public sector unions. Though there were more than enough signatures for a recall election of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, “Money Power” not only ran over “People Power” — Walker campaign war chest was vastly larger than challenger Tom Barrett’s — but proved that money is indeed speech — and visuals– that repeatedly program the minds of even those whose interests reside in the opposite direction.
2. Distortions in the American mass psyche:
Because the American cultural psyche is deeply embedded in the belief that only personal choices can affect how we think and what we think, the argument that Citizens United will eventually turn egalitarian-intended democracy to an even deeper entrenchment of plutocracy has no traction. Deply entrenched in the American mass psyche is also the idea that the “playing field” is always level and all circumstances can be subdued by a “will to power. Thus, the Many are blind to what clearly sways the illusion of personal autonomy, choice is imagined to be more free than it is, and a predatory economic system and those who benefit from it go unnoticed. Dan Quayle misspoke so long ago when he said “A mind is a terrible thing” but it was a slip of the tongue that revealed an ancient truth. The mind that takes an unclouded look at injustice and can discern its causes and can see what is beneficial and what is not is a dangerous mind, dangerous to those who are Lords of the Manor and now only seek to prove that they have the money and the power to bend democracy and its vote to their will.
3. Results of a Disastrous Wealth Divide:
Our zero sum winner or loser economic system has led to the impoverishment of many, both in body and mind, and to a society that is not only politically divided but a society that is politically divided because it has no across-the-classes sociability, no serf to Manor House relationship, and therefore no understanding and no community of the imagination, nor of history, nor of the future. The speed at which the 47% are descending to all manner of distractions, addictions and dysfunctionality, all fueled by a mind and body impoverishment, puts both fear and disgust in the minds of a wealth class, not a mere 1% but a top 20%. We live now in a society that awaits recognition on the part of 47% of their failures and awaits their assumption of a personal responsibility that asks nothing of others. Even the 47% see no way out of their plight beyond this acceptance and confession. Because this is not remedy but illusion, it is a hope that can never be fulfilled. And because it cannot, the fear and disgust felt by he Manor House Lords will grown. Avidly and deeply will the Winning class seek to dissociate themselves from the Losers and more strenuously will they demand a 21st century fealty, which yet does not seem as probable as a revolution.
4. The Collapse of Middle Class Well-Being:
The New York Times has reported that researchers “have long documented that the most educated Americans were making the biggest gains in life expectancy, but now they say mortality data show that life spans for some of the least educated Americans are actually contracting.” (Sept. 21, 2012). Rolling Stone’s “The Sharp, Sudden Decline of the Middle Class” describes the impoverishment well:
Millions of middle-class Americans are now receiving unemployment benefits, and many find themselves compelled by the meagerness of the assistance to shun opportunity and forgo productivity in favor of a ceaseless focus on daily survival. The system’s incoherence and contempt for its dependents fluoresce brilliantly in the wake of a historic event like the Great Recession. When floodwaters cover our homes, we expect that FEMA workers with emergency checks and blankets will find us. There is no moral or substantive difference between a hundred-year flood and the near-destruction of the global financial system by speculators immune from consequence. But if you and your spouse both lose your jobs and assets because of an unprecedented economic cataclysm having nothing to do with you, you quickly discover that your society expects you and your children to live malnourished on the streets indefinitely. That kind of truth, says Nancy Kapp, “really screws with people’s heads.” (Jeff Tietz June 25, 2012)
5. The New Imperialism of a Cybertech Created Globalized Capitalism:
The Huffington Post reports that “[j]obs that can sustain a middle-class lifestyle are disappearing, as low-wage jobs take their place, according to a new study by the National Employment Law Project. Three-fifths of all jobs lost during the recession paid middle-income wages, while roughly three-fifths of new jobs created during the economic recovery pay low wages, NELP found. Both economic forces and government budget cuts are causing this deficit of good jobs, according to the study.” (Bonnie Kavoussi, “Low-Wage Jobs Replace Middle-Income Work, Study Finds,” August 31, 2012.)
The mobility of money is now matched by the mobility of product and workers enabling an outsourcing that can be effectively maintained by the genius of cybertech. What has clearly happened is that those poised to profit from this computer facilitated extension of le ROI (return on investments) have been able to sideline worker, consumer and environmental rights and protections and center stage profit to shareholders. Shareholders then become the new citizens, the ones who have “skin in the game” and have the power to tilt democracy in their direction, in the direction of plutocracy.
6. The Collapse of Public Education:
“Whenever the people are well-informed,” Thomas Jefferson wrote, ” they can be trusted with their own government; that, whenever things get so far wrong as to attract their notice, they may be relied on to set them right.” The educated mind perceives when things are “so far wrong” that they need remediation. A mind manufactured by the interests of profit with its powerful tools of 24/7 access and reachability, is a mind so “water-boarded” that what’s wrong looks right, what’s a remedy looks like a threat. It’s a mind in an upside down, Alice in Wonderland world.
Equally administered and funded education for all is an antidote, a defense, and, in the view of those who seek to persuade for profit, an offense against their credo of profit everywhere and anywhere. It is therefore not surprising that public education has come under fire from a wealth class that fears the rising ire of an unbamboozled populace.
7. The Distaining of the 47%:
Doubtlessly the 1% the Occupy Wall Street protesters point to are becoming more ensconced in their 98 million dollar condos, private jets and Canary Island accounts and seem like the Lords of the Manor. But there is also a top 20%-ish, a professional class, an equestrian class, that services the elite, and who enjoy incomes not dependent upon wages. Their numbers counterbalance a 20%-ish who hold on to the belief that government is not the problem but rather a wayward economic system. The 47%-ish now brought to center stage by Mitt Romney, seem rather like those peasants you see in the Bosch paintings, or at their best, in Breughel. Neither party addresses these people because they don’t vote. The 13%-ish who make up their minds in the voting booth are not swayed by wealth or by ideology but by the last media bombardment. Nevertheless, we already have the class divide of the middle ages even though more than half the population remains oblivious to this.
It is clear that Mitt Romney does not pre-figure a Lord of the Manor but is already one, and he awaits a ratifying vote in a democracy, a confirmation of his privilege, a crowning. If we were not so close to the middle ages, such confirmation would be replaced by tar and feathers. But we are close and the 2012 presidential election already haunts us as repeat of the 2000 election.
In his op-ed NY Times piece, “Disdain for Workers,” Paul Krugman writes of “the elite’s contempt for the masses” which in the past “knew enough to keep it to themselves and managed to fake some appreciation for ordinary workers. At this point, however, the [Republican] party’s contempt for the working class is apparently too complete, too pervasive to hide.” This is “a party that considers the rest of us unworthy of even a pretense of respect.”(Sept. 21, 2012)
It’s something of an injustice to medieval life to say that all these harbingers of what is to come point to a return to the medieval. We are now experiencing a decay in any notion of community or any sense of a social ethic that binds us beyond the fractures caused by our Winner/Loser ethos.
In a paraphrase of Walter Sobchak, the great expounder of “what it is” in the film The Big Lebowski, “at least the middle ages had a communitarian ethos.”