Tag Archives: social class

Audi’s Superbowl advert reminds us that class is boss in America

Summary: This brilliant analysis of Audi’s advertisement in the Superbowl reminds us that class is the unspeakable but dominant force in American society. Black men don’t have “male privilege” while rotting in prison from unjust convictions for rape. White coal miners don’t have “white privilege” while coughing their lives away with Black Lung. Neither Left nor Right want you to know this. Popular media is our mirror, revealing these truths that we cannot directly face.  {Second of two posts today.}

“It’s all about power and the unassailable might of money.”
— The great 21st century industrialist E. P. Arnold Royalton, in Speed Racer (2008).

Heroine of the Audi Superbowl advertisement

The Real Message Behind Audi’s Super Bowl Ad Isn’t Exactly An Uplifting One

Opening of an article by Jack Baruth at The Truth About Cars.

“The Internet is in the proverbial tizzy about Audi’s “feminist” Super Bowl advertisement, in which the automaker comes out in favor of equal pay for women.

“At first blush, the spot seems to be nothing but the usual corporate slacktivism, a feel-good fluff-vertorial making a “brave stand” in support of an issue that was decided long ago. I’m reminded of Joaquin Phoenix’s brilliant portrayal of Commodus in Gladiator, arriving in full armor as soon as he can do so without any risk. “Father, have I missed the battle?” Well, Audi, you’ve missed the war; if there’s a place in the United States where women are actually paid significantly less for doing the same job as men, it’s not evident from what I’m reading.

“After watching the one-minute advertisement carefully, however, I understood feminism, or equal pay, is the last thing Audi wants you to take away from it. The message is far subtler, and more powerful, than the dull recitation of the pseudo-progressive catechism droning on in the background. This spot is visual — and as you’ll see below, you can’t understand it until you watch it and see what it’s really telling you.

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A picture of America, showing a path to political reform

Summary: As we start a New Year and end this series about resolutions, here is a summary of American politics as I see them. It points the way to reform and a better future, if we are willing to pay the price.

American Power

 

Time has disproved most of Marx’s economics, but it has validated much of his sociology. As income inequality has returned to the peak of the Gilded Age (and still rising), the class structure has returned.

Marx’s schema of the classes accurately described 19th century society, but George Orwell gave us a model of a class structure that better fits modern 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 leaders of our political, non-profit, and business institutions. There is the outer party of managers, small business-people, and professionals. There are the proles, America’s workers, and the underclass.

Our elites

The bourgeois and inner party are America’s insiders. They have a common interest 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 might like to tinker on a small scale, shifting America to the Left or Right — but not radical change. They have leisure time, autonomy, security, and agency (the ability to influence events), which gives them a perspective on the world radically different than that of the lower classes (everybody else).

People in the upper classes prefer to marry within their class, just they in Pride and Prejudice. The professional and managerial classes call it “associative mating“. The rich marry each other; they call it “good sense”. That is why Elizabeth Bennet could not marry Mr. Darcy (nor could your daughter). Like their Gilded Age forbearers, they live on a scale almost unimaginable to the lower orders. Bill Gates’ palace is 6,000 sq ft larger than Hearst Castle.

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An anthropologist looks at America’s growing proletariat

Summary: Here anthropologist Maximilian Forte looks at America’s changing social structure (the rise of the 1%, death of the middle class) using perspectives from Rome, Marx, and modern identity politics. It’s one of his best essays, worthwhile reading about America’s most serious problem (fracturing our social cohesion, making solutions of the others difficult or impossible).  This is the material that should shape Campaign 2016.

Proletariat

 

The Ultimate Proletarian and
the Neoliberal Condition

By anthropologist Maximilian C. Forte.
From Zero Anthropology
Reposted with his generous permission

 

Middle class to proletariat

The word “Proletarian” has acquired many layers of meaning over the centuries, possibly in part because the many, historically changing situations of proletarians became more complex. Since the advent of western European capitalism in the 16th century, proletarians were defined as “members of the lowest class”. By the mid-1800s, they were “the lowest class” composed of “indigent wage-earners”.

For Marxists, proletarians were defined by their relationship to production — they rented out their labour in exchange for a wage, with wages kept lower than the market value of what they produced, and were separated from what they produced since they produced for exchange, and not for their own use. Lenin’s vision of the future involved a dictatorship of the proletariat, in the socialist phase toward communism.However, as anthropologists have argued, there have been many different degrees of autonomous access to resources among rural proletariats worldwide, simultaneously involved in both production for use (subsistence) and for exchange (cash crops). Some advanced the term “polybian” to describe people with multiple sources of income, besides that earned from wage labour.

Finally, Immanuel Wallerstein cautioned that the ultimate aim of capitalism was not the full proletarianization of workers — that is, reduced to a total dependency on wage labour to sustain themselves, because that would ultimately make capitalists responsible for the welfare and reproduction of the workforce. That is hardly the first priority of those committed to the ceaseless accumulation of capital. The ideal is maximum profit, which means wages held as low as possible. One can depress wages when it is known that workers have other sources of sustenance, where either they have their own plots of land where they can grow their own food and/or participate in the so-called informal economy as hucksters.

But when proletarians have no alternate avenues, then the need for “a job” and for wages, is at an absolute maximum. One of the fatal flaws of neoliberalism is that it has reduced a great many of us to exactly this state of total dependency on capitalists, at the same time as they have shirked all social responsibility (minor philanthropic palliatives aside).

Editor’s note: One of the great innovations of the post-WWII is corporations’ pushing wages below sustenance levels, forcing employees onto food stamps and Medicaid.

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Populism arises amidst American workers abandoned by both Left & Right

Summary: Populism has arisen from the lower middle class, Americans abandoned not just by the Right (owned by the 1%) but the Left as well. Populists are the swing vote in modern elections. Who they choose to ally with might create a coalition that rules for another generation. It was the Left in the New Deal. And now? Either way, populism will last beyond Campaign 2016.

Fork in the road

Decline of the middle class in America

This report by Gallup shows the fracturing of the middle class, as they are slowly ground down. We’re near the historic moment when more Americans identify as “working and lower class” than “middle class” — a milestone in the Right’s long project to reverse the New Deal. This shows the force powering the political fires now ignited. We’re just discussing what form it will take.

Americans are considerably less likely now than they were in 2008 and years prior to identify themselves as middle class or upper-middle class, while the percentage putting themselves in the working or lower class has risen. Currently, 51% of Americans say they are middle class or upper-middle class, while 48% say they are lower class or working class. In multiple surveys conducted from 2000 through 2008, an average of more than 60% of Americans identified as middle or upper-middle class.

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When marriage disappears: rising inequality as the threat to the family

Summary:  This post looks at the disintegration of the family, another example of America’s regression as we quietly surrendering generations of gains. The America we loved — relatively classless, with a big middle class, low inequality and high social mobility — dies a little every day. The evidence lies before us, obvious in the news and described by countless studies. But to see it would create pressure to take political action. Work, risk, expense! It’s not too late to reverse these trends, but time is not on our side.

When Marriage Disappears

When Marriage Disappears: The Retreat from Marriage in Middle America
The National Marriage Project, U of VA

Introduction

In middle America, marriage is in trouble. Among the affluent, marriage is stable and may even be getting stronger. Among the poor, marriage continues to be fragile and weak. But the most consequential marriage trend of our time concerns the broad center of our society, where marriage, that iconic middle-class institution, is foundering.

For the last few decades, the retreat from marriage has been regarded largely as a problem afflicting the poor. But today, it is spreading into the solid middle of the middle class. …

Race, Class, and Marriage

Forty-five years ago, Daniel Patrick Moynihan drew the nation’s attention to the growing racial divide in American family life with the release of his report, “The Negro Family: The Case for National Action.” Moynihan later noted that his report had just captured the first tremors of “the earthquake that shuddered through the American family” over the course of the last half century.

Moynihan was right. This can be seen in Figure S1, which tracks trends in the percentage of working-age adults (25–60) who are in intact marriages, by race and educational attainment. While it is true that the nation’s retreat from marriage started first among African Americans, it is also evident that the retreat from marriage has now clearly moved into the precincts of black and white Middle America.

Specifically, in both the 1970s and the 2000s, blacks in all educational groupings were less likely to be in intact marriage than were their white peers. For both groups, marriage trends were not clearly and consistently stratified by education in the 1970s. However, by the 2000s, they are clearly stratified, such that the most-educated whites and blacks are also the most likely to be in intact marriages, and the least-educated whites and blacks are also the least likely to be in intact marriages.

This report is too rich in insights to summarize. The message and graphs are clear; it’s easy to read. I strongly recommend reading it. Here’s one graph I found especially compelling.

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Are government workers America’s dumbest people?

Summary:  Today a journalist explains that government workers are “America’s dumbest people.” It’s an episode from social media, the stages of our time on which people dance out their values and beliefs. These conversations provide a mirror in which we can see western society, and from which we can deduce the hidden forces molding our society.

Bainbridge Colby on hatred and faction

A conversation about our polarized time

A good story starts with the action. AP: “Federal Government Suffers Massive Hacking Attack“. Next we turn for a reaction from a notable journalists on Twitter, a intelligent person whom I respect. It’s a trivial vignette, but telling about our time (and the 2nd such conversation I had this week on Twitter). He tweets the AP story with this framing…

“Dastardly Chinese discover identity of America’s dumbest people. So what are they going to do with this knowledge?”

This is a commonplace of our time — quite daft but stated as obvious fact even by intelligent, educated people. Much like belief that Bush Jr. is like Hitler, Obama is like Lenin, Blacks are inferior (or degenerates), or 97% of scientists believe that anthropogenic global warming will prove catastrophic by 2100 if not stopped. What happens when these people have their belief questioned?

My reply: “Is that a statement of tribal identity? Does it seem sensible or funny otherwise?” His reply…

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We’re strong and adaptable, but have a problem that might sink America.

Summary:  Today’s post gives a different perspective on the challenge of reforming America. Before we can fix our political machinery we must understand what’s wrong. This post gives a possible explanation.

This blasted itself out of my keyboard late last night. After it went up I divided it into 2 smaller and more focused posts. Tomorrow’s part 2 examines the implications of this diagnosis, and discusses two solutions.

“Stability is in unity.”
— Mencius (372 – 292 BC), Chinese philosopher, a follower of Confucius.

American Reform Party logo

Contents

  1. America’s strengths, & a weakness.
  2. Symptoms of political rigidity.
  3. The cause of our problems.
  4. For More Information.

(1) America’s strengths, and a weakness

Nations thrive over long periods not by luck (or not just luck), but by being adaptive, innovative, and intelligent in their public policy. What nations best deserve that description today? Singapore and the Nordic nations, certainly. Germany, Korea, and China, probably.

Does this describe the USA?  Our business sector has all of these qualities, as does our society with its incredible vitality. This was also true of our political regime — in the past. But somehow, sometime since WWII, our political institutions have become rigid, even stupid.

That’s bad news, since America has a different foundation than most nations. America is its political regime. We’re not defined by ethnicity, religion, economic ideology, or even geography (although many Americans confuse these things with the nation and feel alienated when they change).  We’re like Athens, but more so.

… the soul of the city was the regime, the arrangements of and participation in offices, deliberation about the just and the common good, choices about war and peace, the making of laws. … {Pericles’ famous funeral oration} says nothing about the gods, or the poetry, history, sculpture or philosophy of Athens. He praises its regime and finds beauty in its political achievement …  {From Allan Bloom’s Closing of the American Mind}

It has been the basis for America’s resiliency and power. But it’s a single point of failure: When our political regime weakens, the entire nation weakens.

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