Summary: The posts this week mark a conclusion to years of analysis on the FM website, as I struggle to understand what’s happening to America. The last piece of the puzzle came with my absurdly slow realization that Fox News is the model news provider for our New America. This is the fourth and last in a series briefly describing where we are, and what I personally am attempting to do about it. These posts rarely speak in the first person, but this is the exception.
- A look at America’s classes
- The mass market for information
- Another path
- For More Information
(1) A look at America’s classes
Many American do not know the strength of the class system in America during the Gilded Age, before its disruption by WWII and the creation afterwards of a large middle class. For an entertaining introduction, I recommend watching Stella Dallas, with Barbara Stanwyck in the title role (1937). It describes the powerful role of class in our past, and perhaps in our future.
Time has disproved most of Marx’s economics, but it has validated much of his sociology. George Orwell gives us an updated model of a class structure that fits our America. There is the bourgeois, the top few percent who own most of America (the 1% own over a third; the top 3% over half). There is the inner party, the highly-paid senior leadership of our political and corporate institutions. There is the outer party of managers, small business-people, and professionals. There are the proles, America’s workers and its underclass.
The bourgeois and inner party are the insiders. They have a common interest with their peers in preserving the political and social systems that have given them so much, so most are conservative in the literal meaning of the term. They desire tinkering with the details, shifting America to the Left or Right — but not radical change. They have leisure time, autonomy, and agency (the ability to influence events), which gives them a perspective on the world radically different than that of the lower classes.
The outer party are politically impotent, divided amongst themselves and busy with the routine of their lives, but potentially politically powerful. Jefferson saw farmers, merchants, and craftsman of America as the foundation of the Republic. Those classes were wiped out during the Gilded Age; the outer party has their descendents, and potentially can play an equivalent role. However, as employees the Outer Party lack the economic independence that Jefferson believed made them indomitable and wise, unlike the equally liberty-loving mobs of Paris.
The proles are uninterested in politics, unless aroused and channeled by organizations focused on doing so. Political machines and unions effectively did so in our past; only shards of these remain today.
(2) The mass market for information
Anyone selling information and analysis probably targets the outer party — the large body of people interested in current events and with the income to either pay for it or to attract advertisers. What does the outer party want for information? America’s free markets answer that question with relentless efficiency: look at what they get to see what they want. Here are the answers to things that for so long baffled me.
The outer party wants simple stories of good guys and bad guys that explain events. Cheer our team! Thrill at tales of the bad guys’ dastardly deeds! They want stories that provide entertainment and catharsis plus a sense of belonging to a community (more accurately a virtual tribe). Politically ineffectual, they want to believe themselves engaged. So they consume information (becoming well-informed) and write posts or comments (21st C letters to the editor). They are fans cheering and booing political actors, writing fan fiction.
This explains American’s disinterest in experts’ past record of failed predictions and bad advice. What we read need not be accurate since we have no intent to use this information. A collector of maps doesn’t ask if the maps are correct; they wants pretty maps — with colorful dragons on edges. Only those navigating to a destination demand accurate charts.
What the outer party avoids provides more clues. They don’t want responsibility. It’s no longer in many (most?) American’s mind that we have responsibility for the actions of our government, which would mandate our involvement — or that we have the power to run America, which requires that political action become a personal priority for every citizen. The right fetishists individual action and considers collective action an anathema. On the Left calls to action are either ethereal — replace capitalism, trivial (vote for Hillary), or personal (recycle bottles). The 1% approves of both attitudes.
Good content describes problems but seldom point to specific means of direct political action. It’s depressing to read about the years of difficult work needed to reform America. It’s boring to read about the technical details of political tactics.
Brilliant minds in the media business understand us, and so their products provide infotainment packaged as serious news and analysis. Fox was one of the first to realize this and the most determined to provide what we want — and so became the largest beneficiary from the evolution of Americans from citizens to subjects. To survive most of the news media must follow in their footsteps, or find patrons in the 1% to fund them (e.g., Jeff Bezos for the Washington Post, Pierre Omidyar at The Intercept).
Life moves faster on the internet, and the big nodes that get the traffic are those that have adapted to the outer party of a New America.
(3) Another path
These things appear vividly in the statistics of the FM website, data on 3,200 posts with 5.7 million page views over 7+ years, with 38 thousand comments. People love lurid descriptions with problems. Those pointing to bad guys go nova. Posts describing what we can do as a people to fix problems get less traffic. Those proposing action for you and I get less traffic. Those that say we are responsible for America get little traffic. They are kryptonite for traffic. It’s like attempting to sell holy water to vampires.
The second most common rebuttal to these posts (after “reform is impossible”): I seldom propose specific measures to reform America’s politics. That’s correct. Rather than ask you to pursue my goals and values, I ask that ask that you work for yours. Get involved in the movement to reform America’s politics in the way that best suits you. Material on the FM website will help you to do so.
I have faith in all you — us — and that more citizen involvement will make a better and stronger America. I don’t ask you to share that faith. I ask you only to have faith in yourself, and see us as the crew of America — not its passengers.
Here are two summaries of my recommendations:
- What if Samuel Adams tried to start the Revolution by blogging? — Describing our situation; pointing to a way forward.
- Can we organize the political reform of America? Our past shows how.
- Enough analysis! America is broken. Here are some ways to fix it.
(4) A closing note
These posts mark my journey over the past decade. Most of my colleagues have dropped out along the way, either in retirement or in despair. I started in confusion and slowly crawled forward to a clearer understanding. Nowhere is this clearer than in my posts about political reform, describing what lies ahead if we do nothing — and what our future might be if we work together.
The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.
— A poem that appears in several forms in The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings.
(4) For More Information
If you liked this post, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. See the links at the pages About the quiet coup in America and Reforming America: steps to new politics. Also see the other posts in this series…
- What if Samuel Adams tried to start the Revolution by blogging?
- Samuel Adams started the Revolution because he didn’t have Twitter.
- Can Constitutional amendments save the Republic?
- We’re strong and adaptable, but have a problem that might sink America.
- Enough analysis! America is broken. Here are some ways to fix it.