All things excellent are as difficult as they are rare.


03 November 2011

The View From the Bleachers

There's a fight going on. Depending on who you ask, it's a fight between the New Class Elites...

In social theory, OWS is best understood not as a populist movement against the bankers, but instead as the breakdown of the New Class into its two increasingly disconnected parts. The upper tier, the bankers-government bankers-super credentialed elites. But also the lower tier, those who saw themselves entitled to a white collar job in the Virtue Industries of government and non-profits — the helping professions, the culture industry, the virtueocracies, the industries of therapeutic social control, as Christopher Lasch pointed out in his final book, The Revolt of the Elites.

... or a fight between the haves and the have-nots.

As the police in Oakland, California, breaking up the occupy protests there, "Occupy Oakland." Part of the "Occupy Wall Street" movement is for economic justice. This one in California, the police moved in with batons swinging, they tore down tents and smashed signs.

They sent tear gas grenades into the crowd. The cops are also alleged to have fired rubber bullets, something they are denying, despite injuries to protesters that look like they were caused by rubber bullets. And police admits to firing bean bag rounds, though.

It might even be a fight between the taxpayers and the government dependent class.

America is engaged in class war, but not of the sort one reads about in the mainstream press. The truly indigent - young African-American men, for example, most of whom are now unemployed - have little to do in this war. Large corporations for the most part are bystanders as well; they will make their peace with the victor. This is a war of survival between the productive middle class on one hand, and the dependents of the state on the other.

But those fights seem to me to be mere power struggles, purely economic and political in nature. The fight between the haves and the have-nots is not -- despite the rhetoric -- grounded in a moral complaint. The fact that someone has a lot of stuff doesn't make them evil, no matter how much you shriek that it does.

That's not to say that the possible outcomes of these fights can't be talked about sensibly in moral terms. I'm merely pointing out that the conflicts themselves aren't really about moral complaints.

But there's another way of looking at this conflict that does make it a moral issue -- one that I, frankly, find compelling. Via Joanne, we are given a number of arguments by Alex Pareene over at Salon about why it is that the 99% has gotten such a raw deal. On the whole, the piece is excremental and its litany of broken promises can be refuted simply by pointing out that adults make choices, sometimes things don't work out, and ultimately the only person responsible for you is you.

But there is one line of argument that Pareene raises which can't be dismissed this way:
For the young, higher education was said to be a ticket to class mobility, or at least a secure career. Instead, middle-class students have taken on billions of dollars of inescapable debt during a prolonged jobs crisis. Lower-income students are blatantly ripped off by usurious scam artists working for educationally dubious for-profit schools. Even those seeking to join the professional class, through medical school or law school, find themselves with mountains of debt and dwindling job prospects.

This is a real complaint. It's one thing to be misled by political leaders as adults. No one put a gun to your head and forced you to vote democratic, or forced you to purchase that home that the laws of mathematics said you couldn't afford.

But it's another thing to be misled as a child, to be given a false vision of the world, and to take your first steps into adulthood in trust of that vision. I think the "broken social promises" complaint Pareene presents is a valid one when it comes to the young. They're adults now (maybe), but they weren't really fully autonomous when they made the decisions that they did. Indeed, we've been structuring society precisely to make them less autonomous. (Stay on your parents' insurance till your 26???).

This complaint is, morally speaking, much more grounded and coherent than the disorganized class warfare blather that generally comes out of the Occupiers/99 percenters as rhetorical cover for their praxis struggle.

Indeed, and this is where the title of this post comes in, as a member of Generation X, what this moral conflict looks like to me is a fight between the Boomers and the Millennials. "Our parents lied to us about life!" seems to sum it up nicely.

And the millennials are right. The Boomers really screwed up. They should be ashamed of themselves, and if they had any sense of shame, they'd do what they could to make things right.

Unfortunately, as a generation, they don't. Have shame, that is. So what sort of redress can be given for this moral wrong that has been perpetrated against the Millennials?

Well, just because you're correct that your parents were horrible and lied to you doesn't mean you get compensated for it. You just have to deal. Yes, you have the moral high ground -- it was wrong for your parents and their friends and coworkers and the others in their generation to lie to you about the efficacy of the college degree, just like it was wrong of them to destroy its value at the same time by beginning the transformation of college into a high school extension program in order to subvert the Draft and establish a wider political power base.

So to the extent that their complaints actually reflect a genuine, grounded moral outrage, I have great sympathy for the mis-named "99%". I genuinely feel bad about how they were misled and saddled with unsustainable personal debt to pursue worthless degrees... all because they had faith in what the Boomers told them. It's an awful place to be and it's unjust.

That doesn't mean there's compensation coming. Not by moral implication, anyway.

Though there may well be compensation coming. As I said above, in addition to the valid moral complaint, there's also a pure praxis struggle going on -- a raw force fight for political and economic power. There's even odds, I think, that the Occupiers are going to win this fight, so they'll probably get their compensation for their parents misleading them -- it will just be because they took it, not because they morally deserve it.

And, knowing how history works, it's going to be us Gen-Xers in the bleachers who are going to have to pay it.

Pass the mustard. I'm going to enjoy this hot dog before someone down there tries to take it from me.

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