Friday, September 25, 2015

The Muddle Class

There is nothing more sacrosanct in common American discourse than the Middle Class. Every politician, from the pig-ignorant Chris Christie to the brilliant but doomed Bernie Sanders must and will appeal to this vaguely defined constituency. Every marketing campaign takes it as a given that their target audience is this All-American ideal of material security, festering somewhere in the suburbs. Even the self-proclaimed intelligentsia will talk and talk about the importance of the Middle Class without ever getting near the truth.

I got to see that third one up close and personal over the weekend. The annual Brooklyn Book Festival assembled a panel of progressive boomers - with a few token brown ladies - to discuss the current state of the Middle Class. What followed was an hour of kvetching over the particulars of "economic class" versus "creative class" with not a single criticism of capitalism raised once. These strident New York Liberals managed an entire hour discussing class without once discussing power. It would be impressive if it weren't so goddamn grotesque.

I'm going to explain this in much fewer, and much more true words than that gaggle of iconoclast-wannabes: The American Middle Class is defined by fear. A fear of losing their privileged position in the suburbs of course but just as much a fear of sticking out too much. For all their striving, Middle Class Americans are terrified of stepping out of bounds of their regimented culture, where lawns and wine pedantry replace anything close to a philosophy.

The panel managed to demonstrate this fear quite well. One gentleman who spoke the most and was the most obnoxious lamented how his now adult children in the "creative class" do not have the material security he enjoyed at their age in the 1970s. You'd think this would necessitate a discussion of the impersonal mechanisms of the global economy and you'd be wrong - this was merely a launchpad for for the much more pressing issue of the kids listening to that hippity-hop music these days.

Really, that was his beef. He referred to music and film as "cultural capital," betraying his own commitment to the very system that is screwing his children. Middle class middle-brows like him - like the entire panel and most of the audience - are today in a perpetual state of crisis because they can no longer expect the same material comfort and security of these traditional class signifiers... but they absolutely will not turn on capitalism.

Because of fear. A very real fear of their own lack of power in the world. A fear working schmucks got over generations ago but which the celebrated Middle Class has been insulated from for the half century following World War II. They can point to all the cultural signifiers of class they like - New York Times, hybrid cars - but they can no longer distract themselves from the stark truth that a homeowner with a white color job holds just as much political power in modern America as a migrant fruit-picker.

You won't ever hear that from the mandarins of America's cultural liberals. They stopped talking about the power dynamics of class back when Eugene Debs was sitting in prison for having the courage of his convictions. But, thanks to the rise of identity politics, they can point to material possessions and snobbery as a class marker - which leads to declaring Beyonce and Jay-Z "upper class" despite their lack of power over the economy or who the US bombs next. Further, when class standing is merely a matter of consumption, these lukewarm liberals can comfort themselves with the delusion "I can always advance."

By its very nature a capitalist class system stymies advancement. The more people you have with real political power, the more you'll have to spread the spoils of American production. Many an American liberal thinks unions are a good idea but you'll rarely find them manning the picket line with the McDonald's workers or supporting a strike by bus drivers. Not just for base selfishness or because "working class" in America more often than not is synonymous with "brown skin" but because again that fear of sticking out too much. It could give people the wrong idea and hurt your career, then how would you make the mortgage payment on your overpriced house? Or pay back the exorbitant student loan that primarily goes to a labyrinth of bureaucracy rather than the ever more impoverished professors? They rationalize it as "I can't afford to take a risk, not in this economy," ignoring that they can be canned at any time for any reason because that's what the people with the power want.

The panel, the audience, and all those obedient blue state voters who are wringing their hands over the collapse of the middle class would like to think they live in an era of tumult and transformation but really this is just an era of more honest predation.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Confessions of a Wage Slave, IV

There was an absolute scandal one day due to some woman's improper attire. Not just a skirt, but a denim skirt. Oh, what unholy horrors! Denim at the office! Anything but a durable cotton blend!

Now why, might you ask, would anyone care about a denim skirt? There are certainly worse things to wear, like a rubber inner tube and a smile. But it seems what really ruffled the feathered hair wasn't just the garment in question, but that it was hanging around the bread pudding ass of a fat girl.

You heard right, these office cows were scandalized by the sight of a fat chick in tight clothes. You'd think they'd never seen Springer or a mirror. But this just makes things more bizarre now, doesn't it? Fat wage-hags, the most appalling creature to ever emerge from America's drywall caves, and they spend a whole day tittering over another fatty like her weight were some anomaly, or maybe like she just broke some secret fatty code...

A-ha! I bet that's it; they're really scandalized because one of their own took a chance, took the chance of displaying her blubber to the world without the decency to be obsessively self-conscious!

You have to understand, the white-collar slaves populating this country are some of the ugliest humans in the world - fat, saggy potato-people with butts like watermelons. They don't want other, prettier humans looking directly at them. Ever. So, for this lone fat chick to display her folds with confidence, that just won't fly.

"She thinks she's all that but she's not!"

"People like her really need to be stopped from looking like that."

"I don't think she even realizes..."

Translation: If I can't feel pretty, no one can.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Confessions of a Wage Slave, III

If you ever wonder how Americans can so consistently elect the most venal, mendacious squareheads, look no further than your own boss.

Melvin was a goddamn caricature of this norm - the mean, petty tyrant who heaps abuse on his underlings for sadistic thrill. I hope that cocksucker's choked to death on his own bile by now...

But that's the problem. That's how Modern Slavery perpetuates itself, dehumanizing the guy next to you, encouraging paranoia and cruelty until you've got a whole country that doesn't need a whole lot of convincing before bombing the shit out of a weaker country.

It's a bully culture and it keeps itself going through more bullying.

Melvin was the sort of thing Darwin would call "adaptive." He didn't fill the ocean with cold-blooded cannibals, he just found a way to swim in it. That's the harshest lesson you're going to have to learn: You can't win against the monsters because the system exists for them.

I learned that the way most hard lessons are learned - getting sacked. I refused to drive a delivery van with faulty breaks and no insurance. And Melvin, perfect archetype that he is, didn't even fire me to my face. Got HR to leave a voice message.

Yes, it's horribly unfair. And illegal. But what could I do about it? Sue him or the University? Suing him would eventually mean suing the University - then who wins? The recent college grad with four thousand dollars and a clunker to his name or the entrenched provincial oligarchy?

Yeah, I could've won the moral high ground, but I'd be unemployable in the town - and probably everywhere else - for the rest of my life.

So I moved on. Got another rotten job. The same as you.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Confessions of a Wage Slave, II

Every week I would hear the same complaints about the same person from my co-workers at General Dynamics.

This woman proved incapable of filing reports properly, responding to emails within the same fiscal year, or displaying any of the competence normally associated with someone who completed third grade. So, classic middle-management potential.

But her failures weren't the issue. No, the issue was her attitude. You see, this special ed case was rude! and that just won't do...

"Why, I'm going to fuss and fume to everyone within shouting distance until the problem goes away!"

It never occurred to these spinsters to hang up the phone, reject the reports, or anything else that would cause the offending party to maybe get her own shit together.

No, they had to resolve this in such a way that this woman could file another report incorrectly the next week and get the whole process rolling again. I'm not sure why this song and dance continued.

Maybe some cognitive dissonance from the passive-aggression drilled into southern ladies smacking head first into the aggressive-aggression to which all Americans are socialized: "I have to be polite to her, but I can't let her win! And not inviting her to the potluck isn't working!"

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Coward in Chief

The single most striking thing about Donald Trump's presidential campaign is also the single thing nobody in the respectable media will dare say aloud: The man is scared stupid.

I remarked on Mitt Romney having a similar problem some years ago, but Trump is much worse. Where Romney displayed the venal grasping typical of the business class, Trump's campaign is a desperate search for self-validation. He can't stop talking about his poll numbers or how he got such high marks as an undergrad, except when asserting for the umpteenth time that whatever demographic he just insulted really truly loves him. It's so transparent and yet no one will state the obvious that Donald Trump has crushingly low self-esteem.

For further proof, look at his defensiveness on, well, damn near everything. An offhand crack about his ugly hair sent Trump into a Twitter tirade, protesting too much at insinuations he wears a toupee. When Univision reporter Jorge Ramos asked him about his immigration policy, he panicked and had Ramos thrown out. Megyn Kelly had the temerity to question his choice of words and he spent the next week talking about her period! These are not the actions of a confident man.


He's gotten a tremendous amount of attention so far for two reasons: a) the only other campaign story is Hillary Clinton's emails and not a single person really gives a damn about that and b) Trump seeks out attention like that grubby kid who's single mom was always too drunk to pay any attention to him. Trump says ugly, hateful things for the same reason a fourteen year old who just discovered punk rock says "Fuck!" at the family dinner table. He needs attention to validate his monad existence, any attention at all. He is terrified of being thought a loser, which is a terror often found in losers.

It's a blatant and easily exploited weakness. Donald Trump insists everyone loves him because he just doesn't love himself. Take away the news cameras, the crowds of racist rubes, and he'll shrivel up in misery and self-loathing. Putting such a fragile person in any position of power, let alone at the head of the world's most heavily armed empire, is guaranteeing not just trouble but embarrasment. Donald Trump is so desperate for the affections of others that he'd bomb his own casinos in his first hundred days in office if Vladimir Putin said it would get him invited to the next Shanghai Cooperation Organization mixer.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Confessions of a Wage Slave, I

If you work in America you are suicidal. It's as simple as that. Every gainfully employed person in this country longs for death, pines for it, only survives the day with a deep-down hope for that sweet and final release.

Don't believe me?

"I can't wait until lunch..."

"Is it five yet?"

"Thank god this week is over..."

"Oh, I wish this month would hurry up and end!"

Yes, every working American - especially in the office - is in love with death, the only end to the rat race. Why else would someone wish so strongly for the hours of their own precious life to speed by?