Class Warfarin: Hemorrhaging
by Joseph Natoli
“The richest 1% took $7 of every $100 of America’s income in 1980. They have increased that to $20 of every $100 today. In just one generation they’ve TRIPLED their cut of the pie.”
--Paul Buchheit, CommonDreams.org 12.7/2010
We need to take a closer look at the convoluted and arcane present hemorrhaging of the multitudes, especially in the light of revolutions now taking place in Tunisia and Egypt.
As Secretary of State Hillary Clinton sees it, Egyptians are revolting in the hope of gaining “greater political and economic freedom.” They want a “peaceful transition to democracy, not faux democracy.” That’s what Hillary Clinton and presumably the Obama administration hope. What is actually be the case is that 1 in 3 males between the ages of 15 and 29 are unemployed in Egypt, which has a poverty rate of 21.6%. The unemployed young have no access to the ruling elite and are now achieving revolutionary access. The Egyptians want jobs, want a livable income, want to be able to feed their families and provide a good education for their children. They want some share in the country’s prosperity.
Sound familiar? It’s not “economic freedom” in the entrepreneurial sense of being free to start a business but economic equality, or some fair degree of it, that is the economic issue. Elite areas in Cairo have been looted, clearly signifying that this is a class war exploding. But Egypt has a 34.4 Gini coefficient rating (100 representing a situation where one person has all the money) while the U.S. has a 45 Gini rating. And right now the unemployment rate for the young stands at close to 27% for the young in the U.S. while 1 out of 4 black Americans remains unemployed. The wealth divide is not as great in Egypt as it is right now in the U.S.. Might we then be the next to face this outburst of anger and frustration and might we not be wise to attend to our own class warfare? We need to recognize that it’s not a classic Marxist class warfare that presents itself now but one that view as a poisoning across lines which I describe as “Class Warfarin.”
You could say that there is a sort of equally distributed poisoning occurring in Class Warfarin. That is, it is unless you mind the hemorrhaging, which is what brings Warfarin to my mind. A great many souls hemorrhaged after the 2008 Great Recession, manifested by everything from loss of jobs, homes and savings to any sense of future security or possible recovery. The Dow Jones, however, has risen above 11,000 and continues to rise. A day before Thanksgiving 2010 the NY Times reported “Signs of Swagger, Wallets Out, Wall Street Dares to Celebrate.” “Even as workers are struggling, American companies earned profits at a breakneck annual pace of $1.659 trillion in the third quarter. That is the highest figure recorded since the government began keeping track over 60 years ago.” Wall Street “survivors” of the 2008 globalized financial chicanery they themselves engineered (mercifully not “social engineering”) and who were rescued by taxpayers are now competing with each other for $400,000 Southampton summer homes, eliding the wrinkles of recession with cosmetic surgery and once again enjoying the Prime Cowboy Rib Steak at Manhattan’s Porter House.
The hemorrhaging of the middle class goes on while the lower class is in death throes out in the field. But the middle class is our focal point, the center of our cultural panopticon and not the lower class. This middle class that flourished from the end of WWII to Reagan, a time when the top 1% garnered about 10% of the total national income. From 1980 to 2005 that top 1% held 24% of the GNP, experiencing an 80% increase in GNP share. What narrative results from this is simply told: a long period of economic well-being for the middle class nurtured a sense of “one big happy family,” made any reference to class divide incomprehensible even when, since Reagan, a corporate politics has denuded the middle class and transformed a middle class democracy into oligarchy. A critique which could disclose the delusions of a middle class which holds onto a political and economic glossary of a former time and a former state of being is itself pre-empted by that glossary of delusions.
For example, the present American middle class transposes socialist inspired talk of class warfare into almost every action President Obama has taken. They do this first, because almost every issue is tied to our wealth divide. From tax rebates to the wealthy, bail outs to banks and not directly to people, government supported health care, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, global warming, warfare, financial regulations, economic Stimulus, only a critique the middle class denies itself can reveal this. And, secondly, they do this because the middle class is historically wired to deal with wealth divide issues in this way. Ronald Reagan’s supply side experiment, which according to his own budget director was no more than a way to funnel money to the wealthy, quadrupled the national debt in twelve years. Bruce Bartlett reports in the Fiscal Times (September 17, 2010) that there is no evidence that George W. Bush’s tax cuts to the wealthy had any positive impact on the economy, although they added to the deficit and widened the wealth gap.
Because Obama adopts a pragmatist philosophy, he will neither explicate the class connection nor attempt to re-orient the middle class on the topic of class. What is doable given present existing conditions is what defines the pragmatic approach. This, of course, is quite the opposite of Obama’s campaign slogan of “Yes, we can!” which asserts human will above present existing conditions.
Obama surrendered to the Republican demand to extend Bush tax cuts to the wealthy because the Republicans already owned the field, the American cultural imaginary. Obama’s mission was to make clear the inanity and danger of such an extension by reviewing just what such tax cuts and the Voodoo economics inspiring it have accomplished, or failed to accomplish. Republicans had already succeeded in labeling any refusal to extend tax cuts to the wealthy as a “tax increase,” words as incendiary in the present American cultural imaginary as a red cape in a bull fight. Persuasive oratorical skills plus deft moves on the political chessboard may have incited not white, soccer mom Tea Party protest but real anger from all those who have not experienced a sweet bonus-laden Wall Street rebound from the recession Wall Street itself had caused.
Because Obama’s experience is in rising above politics and bringing conflict to some level where it bows to a “communicative rationality,” he has zero experience playing real world political chess. You can’t learn the game if you already think it’s been superseded, that it’s analogue and old, over and adios, that it’s old politics back in the day. If you replace “politics” with “human nature” or with “history,” you can see how impossible and dangerous this mindset is.
What stands in the way of the middle class adopting my “Warfarin” view of class warfare, a view of themselves devouring a slow poison, an anticoagulant that dissolves any form of real solidarity, dissolves all feelings of compassion based on mutualism and not vicious competitiveness, and leaves them isolated and mystified as to why they suffer, why their middle class dreams fall apart?
“One man’s poison is another man’s happiness,” which is one way of pointing out that “slow poison” is no more than two words waiting to be attached to reality. Some argue that if we downsized government and got left-leaning regulators out of the way, we’d flush the poison out of our system. Others might argue that the rich have been making war on the middle class for decades and that it’s time to pursue a politics that recognizes this. What we are presently facing, however, is not this neat antagonism but an American cultural imaginary which has already flushed liberal, progressive and left-leaning proclivities out of its system. The battle for the “hearts and minds” we hope to win elsewhere has already been won here where market rule rules.
Like the rat we can’t make a connection between our decline and our appetites, or, more precisely, what we’ve been fed that’s labeled “fair and balanced,” what comes out of the mouth of Glenn Beck who is “telling us the truth otherwise he wouldn’t be allowed to say it,” and Rush Limbaugh, another vaudevillian with a 40 million dollar a year salary, who is telling us “the way things ought to be.”
Our poison is a long litany of “truisms” out of the mouths of clowns who work into our heads a long chain of word and world signification which binds us to a politics of “Let Markets Rule Everywhere” or to an obliviousness of “Let My Personal Will Rule Everywhere.” The latter mantra infects the Millennial generation like a virus while the former--Wild West Market Rule--chains “personal choice” to what is manufactured and marketed to serve profit alone.
Class Warfarin is therefore not a class war in which an oppressed and tyrannized proletariat must toe the line against an oppressing and tyrannizing master elite. Our authentic selves are not being waylaid by the “capitalist pigs.” What we are now--botoxed surfaced as well as deep within --is a sort of human bricolage made of a consuming addicted culture we are part of, a culture that offers an endless array of seductive choices, as seductive and appealing as the Warfarin niblets set out for rats, a culture that over-stimulates us on and off-line from head to toe.
Class Warfarin can’t set up monsters to be slain when we ourselves bear within us, like Lawrence Talbot, aka The Wolfman, the DNA of monstrosity, when we ourselves have ingested the stuff upon which monstrosity is made. More to come.
Joseph Natoli is the former series editor of POSTMODERN CULTURE for the SUNY Press (1990-2009) where he tried to arrange an early edited collection of BAD SUBJECTS pieces.