Universal Translator

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The End of the Stealth War - Redux

As I've mentioned here and here, one of the things that fascinates me about the Occupy Movement is how it has cast the attitude of our economic elite into sharp relief.  It used to be that those who were better off in society tried not to draw too much attention to the fact.  Until recently, doing so was considered gauche; before that, it was considered downright dangerous.

(This might be apocryphal, but I do remember reading years ago that one of the reasons the homes of wealthy Romans were all inwardly oriented about a central open square, with no windows and few doors opening out to the street, was that they didn't want the poor to actually see how well the rich were living.)

But no longer.  Maybe it's America's celebrity culture, our desire to worship the rich and ridiculous as "stars," but even the Occupy Movement hasn't moved these people to a sense of shame, or even of discretion.  Read here about the 27 year old bankster who laments the fact his compensation last year was only $500,000.  Read here about CitiGroup licking its chops to serve "the new Plutonomy."  Truly, these people have completely internalized the underlying belief that they are, in fact, the Lords and Masters of the rest of us.

What is surprising, and not a little saddening, is that "the 99%" may have internalized this belief as well.  Over at Rortybomb, Mike Konczal created an algorithm that reads the pages of the We Are the 99% tumblr and "then goes through it to try and find interesting points."

Konczal's results are interesting and I highly recommend clicking over to read them in their entirety, but this jumped out at me:

[T]he demands I found aren’t the ones of the go-go 90s-00s, but instead a far more ancient cry, one of premodernity and antiquity. 
Let’s bring up a favorite quote around here.  Anthropologist David Graeber cites historian Moses Finley, who identified “the perennial revolutionary programme of antiquity -- cancel debts and redistribute the land -- as the slogan of a peasantry, not of a working class.”  And think through these cases.  The overwhelming majority of these statements are actionable demands in the form of (i) free us from the bondage of these debts and (ii) give us a bare minimum to survive on in order to lead decent lives (or, in pre-Industrial terms, give us some land).  In Finley’s terms, these are the demands of a peasantry, not a working class. 
The actual ideology of modernity, broadly speaking, is absent.  There isn’t . . . demands for cheap gas, cheaper credit, giant houses, bigger electronics all under the cynical "Ownership Society" banner.  The demands are broadly for health care, education and not to feel exploited at the high-level, and the desire to not live month-to-month on bills, food and rent and under less of the burden of debt at the practical level.
The people in the tumblr aren’t demanding to bring democracy into the workplace via large-scale unionization, much less shorter work days and more pay.  They aren’t talking the language of mid-twentieth century liberalism, where everyone puts on blindfolds and cuts slices of pie to share.  The 99% looks too beaten down to demand anything as grand as “fairness” in their distribution of the economy.  There’s no call for some sort of post-industrial personal fulfillment in their labor – very few even invoke the idea that a job should “mean something.”  It’s straight out of antiquity – free us from the bondage of our debts and give us a basic ability to survive. 
(emphasis added).
You know . . . I read a lot of science fiction in my youth, particularly classics by the masters writing back in the 50's and 60's, and I don't recall ever reading a story that predicted  that 21st century America would be a place that married iPads, smartphones and facebook to a social structure straight out of 14th century France.

Strange days.

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