Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Twisted Message That Suckers Love

The wealthy elite: They're a tribe all right...

I now define life in America, perhaps in all the developed world -- don't know the undeveloped world well enough -- as a struggle to align tribes for control of private business and public policy.

Some of you don't need schooling on this, I'm sure. But as an argument that I've come to favor, I need to repeat or perhaps restate it: American political and economic thought is shaped and harnessed by competing interests that often hide their essential tribal nature. Let's make a rule for that:
  • We are who we hang with, who we collect with. Taking Personal Responsibility™ is a ploy used to hide the fact that we're in the thrall of our chosen interest group, or tribe. An example of this, as the charade it is, is that Taking Personal Responsibility™ often means organizing to get our slice of other people's wealth or productivity at a personal cost to them. This may be called capitalism.
Okay, I'm sorry if that's pretty dense. Here's our Rule One, restated: We Are Who We Collect With But We Pretend That We Are An Individual Who Plays By The Rules.

Now, the implications of this are vast and the iterations are legion. The first and most important implication is that it's a message easily twisted for personal gain by capturing wealth, influence, and power. Why? Because it's appealing to many people on different levels, depending on how much a given person can grok the implications.

Suckers love the rule because it gives them an ethical basis for interaction within their tribe and the other tribes they interact with. I Work Hard And Play By The Rules So I'm Okay. These particular people might not notice that others may not apply Rule One the way they do.

Non-suckers apply the rule thusly: I Have So Much Money That I Make The Rules. These people, as a tribe, are smaller in number. Let's call them plutocrats or oligarchs, even kleptocrats -- because that's what they are.

The Koch brothers are examples of this elite tribe. The Kochs take one extra step that many other members of the tribe don't: They use a good portion of their fortune to create or hone the twisted message, which is what?
We oppose collectivism. We approve of individualism. We highly recommend Taking Personal Responsibility™. While people are doing that, we're taking as big a slice out of their personal wealth and productivity as we can, and take that wealth and productivity and turn it into political power. For whom? Our elite tribe, our very special collective, the one that we say we don't belong to. Because we are free, we love liberty, we are individualists, and we Take Personal Responsibility™.
This is our Wizard-of-Oz-behind-the-curtain moment. Suckers who love the twisted message -- that no one or no elite collective is pulling the levers behind any curtain -- are the patsies who Work Hard And Play By the Rules.

The Kochs and others in their collective love the rubes who say "I'm going to get mine someday." A few do get theirs and prove the rule, or the exception, or whatever. But these days, in the era of the .01 percent, damned few actually do. And the Kochs are amused as they watch the unclean masses -- also known as suckers -- who peer through the bars of the Kochs' gated communities and say, "I'll move in there someday."

The Kochs are capital and most of the masses are labor. And the Kochs love it that way. They especially love those in the masses who Work Hard And Play By The Rules. Let's realize, though, that those in the Kochs' tribe don't. They both make and fake the rules. They may do this for reasons they believe are just, given their status as society's rule makers. The key is, though, that they don't feel obliged to follow them.

But they do expect the rest of us to do so. There's a word for that: suckers.

Note. I've just offered quite a cynical view, but such cynicism is called for these days. There is, however, a limit to that cynicism, which is explained quite well in this Krugman blog post that also contains a link to the recent Princeton study that has influenced my recent conclusions on the limits of policy possibilities in an America verging on oligarchy or, at the very least, plutocracy.

Krugman's key point:
So it’s worth pointing out it does make a difference [which party is in power]. Yes, Democrats pay a lot of attention to plutocrats, and even make a point of inviting Patrimonial Capitalism: The Next Generation to White House galas (I would have missed that, even though it’s in my own paper, but for Kathleen Geier. Thanks!). But it’s quite wrong to say that the parties’ behavior in office is the same. As Floyd Norris points out, Obama has in fact significantly raised taxes on very high incomes, largely through special surcharges included in the Affordable Care Act; and what the Act does with the extra revenue is expand Medicaid and provide subsidies on the exchanges, both means-tested programs whose beneficiaries tend to be mainly lower-income adults. The net effect will be significant losses for the super-elite — not crippling losses, to be sure, and hardly anything that will affect their elite status — and major gains to tens of millions of less fortunate Americans.
It's not much, this difference between Democratic and Republican policy, but, as Mercutio said of the mortal wound he suffered in a sword fight with Tybalt in Romeo and Juliet, "Ay, ay, a scratch, a scratch; marry, 'tis enough."

It is enough, this policy difference, even as we resent the paltry difference it represents. It does, however, tell us why it's worth fighting for. Because, as Louis XV said, "Après moi, le déluge." In our current reality -- a democracy shifting almost without respite toward oligarchy -- le déluge, or the flood, is the transformation toward rule by the Kochs, the Waltons, the Zells, the Langones, and the Perkins and their children, and their children's children.

Walmart: a store chain the poor can work in, shop in, die in.

Final note. I'm not suggesting there's no value in living a moral, ethical life. I believe it's the only life worth living. I am, however, insisting that we not be deluded into thinking that the plutocrats and oligarchs are the guys in the white hats. They're not and they are aligned against us. So it's ever onward to obtain our slice, the morally, the ethically, the better. And don't be a sucker.

Absolute final note. I don't mean to suggest that we're either suckers or members of the Koch brothers' tribe. Many of us go to work (or not) and do just fine (or not) and come home and light up a joint (or not) and watch Survivor (or not). People live without being suckers. I've just noticed a good number who are suckers, and a key reason is that they don't know it. I don't feel good about it, but there it is.

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