Wednesday, November 10, 2004
Our distinguished colleague Phil Nugent of Here Be Monsters recommends another entry in Slate's ongoing series "Why Americans Hate Democrats" -- this one by Laura Kipnis, whose pro-adultery tract Against Love we were reading with the keenest interest until the Queen of Zembla got that vaguely admonitory, where-is-my-cattle-prod look in her eye. (We are still curious to see how the book turns out and look forward to the musical version with Ewan McGregor):
Here's an interesting little factoid that I share at the risk of sounding, once more, elitist. (Sorry.) The United States ranks 14th out of 15 industrialized countries in per capita education spending. If we have an electorate incapable of thinking rationally about its own interests, who confuse politicians with old movie heroes, don't know much about history, and lap up the administration's lies about Iraq even after they've been repeatedly exposed as lies by the media, this might have something to do with never having been educated in the fundamental skills of critical thinking. (Note that Bush's much touted No Child Left Behind initiative, favoring rote learning and standardized testing, is the formula for an even more intellectually pacified and credulous electorate.)-- which led both us and Zemblan patriot P.S. to wonder: does Kipnis read the Onion, or does the Onion read Kipnis?
But corporate America doesn't require an educated or critical citizenry. Quite the contrary. What it requires is a passive work force narrowly trained to perform specific occupations for decreasing wages, who will then overconsume lavishly in their leisure hours. It all works out rather well: Job dissatisfaction is placated by an endless succession of consumer crap (creating new jobs—though probably overseas—making more crap); intellectual boredom is assuaged by a steady diet of media crap (thanks to media deregulation); and any remaining critical stirrings are mollified by supersize portions of tasteless crappy food (thanks to an unregulated food industry). The result: a stupefied, overstuffed citizenry glued to pricey entertainment centers, whose national hobby is ridiculing Europeans for wanting shorter work weeks, resisting American imports, and denouncing the disastrous American policy in Iraq.
The political culture of a country doesn't only take place in voting booths. It's lodged in this network of intersecting social institutions and practices—education, media, religion, workplace dignity (or lack of it), even the kind of food we eat. And at every instance, Democrats have ceded the territory or never fought for it in the first place. Into this mix add the brand of superstitious and authoritarian religiosity now dominating American life. When it comes to religion, once again, the old left had a few interesting things to say. Someone, I'm a little hesitant to say who at the moment, once called religion the "opiate of the masses." In other words, a painkiller, and an indispensable one, given the degree to which social conditions force a population to live the impoverished lives that make these kinds of substitutes for meaning and fulfillment necessary.
Then let's add high unemployment and rampant job insecurity—useful techniques for stifling social demands and crippling whatever opposition a viable labor movement would provide. Stir in a climate of terror, which this administration has been particularly adept at milking. It's not just that voting for social progress becomes less likely under such circumstances, it's that even basic social demands start to seem threatening. The fact that a majority of the country has come to accept the persistence of vast social inequities in the face of unprecedented wealth doesn't make these conditions any less reprehensible.
The economically disadvantaged segment of the U.S. population provided the decisive factor in another presidential election last Tuesday, handing control of the government to the rich and powerful once again.
"The Republican party—the party of industrial mega-capitalists, corporate financiers, power brokers, and the moneyed elite—would like to thank the undereducated rural poor, the struggling blue-collar workers in Middle America, and the God-fearing underpriviledged minorities who voted George W. Bush back into office," Karl Rove, senior advisor to Bush, told reporters at a press conference Monday. "You have selflessly sacrificed your well-being and voted against your own economic interest. For this, we humbly thank you" . . . .
"My family's been suffering ever since I lost my job at the screen-door factory, and I haven't seen a doctor for well on four years now," said father of four Buddy Kaldrin of Eerie, CO. "Shit, I don't even remember what a dentist's chair looks like... Basically, I'd give up if it weren't for God's grace. So it's good to know we have a president who cares about religion, too."
Kaldrin added: "That's why I always vote straight-ticket Republican, just like my daddy did, before he lost the farm and shot himself in the head, and just like his daddy did, before he died of black-lung disease in the company coal mines" . . . .
"The alliance between the tiny fraction at the top of the pyramid and the teeming masses of mouth-breathers at its enormous base has never been stronger," a triumphant Bush said. "We have an understanding, them and us. They help us stay rich, and in return, we help them stay poor. See? No matter what naysayers may think, the system works."
Added Bush: "God bless America's backwards hicks, lunchpail-toting blockheads, doddering elderly, and bumpity-car-driving Spanish-speakers."