Sunday, April 24, 2011

A Question and Some Answers

Daniel Little works through some of the numbers on income per percentile of the American population and asks
The big mystery is -- why do the majority of Americans accept this shifting equation without protest? And how can progressive political organizations and movements do a better job of communicating the basic social realities of our economy and our democracy to a mass audience? Social justice isn't a "special interest" -- it is a commitment to the fundamental interests and dignity of the majority of Americans.
David Kaiser suggests an answer:
The United States and much of the world are suffering from a terrible crisis of authority, both because of an increasing emphasis on individual self-expression, and because the intellectual basis of authority has been destroyed.
It is a great irony that participation at the highest levels of our society has been opened up to women, minorities, and gays during the same period in which the idea of "common good" has gone into eclipse.
I'd add another factor I haven't seen mentioned elsewhere. It's a variant on the "bread and circuses" theme. You're unhappy with your life? Not making enough money? But you're better than...somebody. Fill in the blanks; Rightwingers have used all the usual scapegoats, those that Kaiser mentioned, Muslims, and probably some that don't spring immediately to my mind.

The moral indignation machine has been revved up. But hate has a "use by" date. It gets old after a while, particularly when the dire effects of those slated to be hated don't materialize and some of them live down the block. So another target has been found.

I manage my household respectably and pay my debts. Why shouldn't the national government? They're embarrassing me by doing something I wouldn't do! I'm better than those slobs in Congress! Let's show them a thing or two!

Of course, as any number of commentators have pointed out, this morality doesn't transfer. But it keeps people from sitting down and thinking about the reality of their situation.

1 comment:

troutsky said...

Rather than a crisis of authority I would suggest it is a crisis of meaning. Capitalism can produce many things but it cannot produce meaning.Bread and circuses or moral structures can only pretend to fill the void and only for a time.