Class Warfarin: Autopsy
by Joseph Natoli
“What’s broken is the basic bargain linking pay to production. The solution is to remake the bargain.”
Robert Reich, Aftershock
“Some of what I’ve heard coming out of Wisconsin . . . seems like more of an assault on unions.”
In the logistics of Class Warfarin we greedily consume the tenets of a globalized technocapitalism, accept its savagery, including a resulting plutocracy and wealth gap that expands faster than the debt. We consistently misidentify antidotes as the poison and the poison as an antidote. Ralph Nader says that we are in a tug of war but only one side is pulling. In Class Warfarin we are actually pulling on the wrong side. In Class Warfarin there is only one side that we can identify: the wealth side that we are always about to join. Of course, there is the Jerry Springer, now the Jersey Shore, side of underclass buffoons that, unlike ourselves, will never be Winners.
This self-deception is our present state of affairs. It’s necessary to make the poison look like what it really is -- poison, or, create everyday fare that is appealing but is not poison. In other words, what have been tyring to do in the Middle East since 9/11 -- that is, change the narrative of young Islamics regarding the U.S. -- is what we should be doing in our own country. Change from a narrative which poisons the many while nourishing the few. Because the numbers who are economically facing hard times or already in hard times far exceed the number who are doing well – “Ye are many, they are few!” (Shelly) -- elections in a democratic country appear to be the leverage the diminished many need in the sort of Class Warfarin we are in.
Barack Obama’s victory in the 2008 presidential election demonstrated the power of the many in a democratic society. Unfortunately this victory has not led either to an identification of the narrative poison Americans have been dieting upon or to implantation of a new and non-poisonous narrative in the American cultural imaginary.
For many, Obama’s mantra of “change” connected with an already existing psychology of enchantment and seduction regarding the “newest new.” “Change” was already what a limited attention span, a patience measured by high speed internet response, was addicted to. The American cultural imaginary is increasingly moving at the digital speed of 13 year old male World of Warcraft addicts, or at the online shopping speed of consumers now able to accelerate to digital speed the fulfillment of the American Dream – “getting stuff.” “Change” here means no more than a new rush of stimuli that an already over-stimulated and therefore corrupted attentiveness demands. “Change” has also been downsized to “social networking” levels where one is the Ruler of the Domain and “change” no more than a “friending” or “unfriending” gesture. “Politics”in the U.S. is what happens in the offline world but is trumped in the online world where any change can be ruled personally as not to matter, or “whatever.”
We have seen in the past two weeks however, in both Tunisia and Egypt, that “online” politics has a revolutionary mobilizing capacity that far exceeds the mobilizing force of Parisian wine shop gatherings before the French Revolution. Online politics in the Middle East is going beyond soma tablet seduction. These multitudes are no longer willing to ingest a poison that causes them to misidentify its source, causes them to somehow identify their Have Not status with that of a minority of Haves, and causes them to ignore a disastrous economic class divide and the ensuing assault on the Have Nots that must be waged for a plutocracy’s own protection. Such is not the case in the U.S. where there is as yet no recognition of the poisonous nature of our Class Warfarin.
The “change” that has been required in the U.S. since Reagan has not been forthcoming but perhaps may appear as suddenly as it now has in the Middle East. Reagan launched a pernicious Class Warfarin in which the very many not sharing the profits of globalized technocapitalism adopted the interests and survival tactics of the few who were profiting. What precedes a change is awareness and that awareness requires a clear exposition of a present poisonous feed and a future antidote. That has not happened in the U.S. As yet.
We need Tom Paine’s approach in Common Sense, but what we’ve gotten is Glenn Beck, a buffoon at the blackboard, and Sarah Palin, a distillation of that ruling majority insensibility and ignorance that de Tocqueville foresaw in American democracy’s future. If it’s true that celebrities, attractive women that hunt, and down home Mr. Smiths who go to Washington and speak down home truth have a hold on the American cultural imaginary, then it’s more than likely that Sarah Palin can win a 2012 Republican presidential primary. Her chances of winning a national election are questionable and none are questioning more than the wealth class who are, as Mitch McConnell has candidly asserted, dedicated to making Obama a one term president. Obama’s meteoric rise to the presidency and the heartfelt support he received from so many who had lost interest in politics stands as a clear message to the wealth class that the American cultural imaginary is mercurial. The attention span for politics is almost non-existent, mercurial by market design of course. No one remains satisfied with anything for very long. But that state of affairs is troubling to the wealth class in a democracy. Herein, perhaps, most Liberals would say lies a possible antidote in our Class Warfarin.
The threat of a radical eruption from the supremacy of market values resulting from democratic elections remains present, although there’s a fifty/fifty chance that the Tea Party will serve us Sarah Palin or Michelle Bachman or some other American Idol who might be our radical, electoral eruption. In other words, the poisonous Warfarin may even look more appealing to us after an alluring celebrity-like presidential campaign. However that plays out, what matters here is that we’ve found how Warfarin can at least be lethal to the wealthy few. There has been all signs of this since the “Affluenza” `90s: the obscenely wealthy, fed on their own poison of free chosen success and unstoppable will to power, can lose all connection with “ordinary people” and thus be incapable for that very reason of winning popular elections. The poison that dooms the many may thus eventually be dooming the few.
I have no confidence however in the power of elections to launch an intervention that will keep us from identifying with the so-called Winners and ignoring our own present plight. Our present brand of economics, which we wish to export worldwide, is a poison. Democratic elections are no antitote. Democratic elections are already strangled by an unbridled global technocapitalism we believe enhances our democratic freedoms and preempts a wealth divide that already exists. Democratic elections have not resuscitated the body politic. That body has choked on the endless bounties, comforts and conveniences of a chance riddled, Monopoly game like economics.
The Tea Party spies a villain outside themselves. No class warriors, they would attach “slow poison” to “excessive government spending and taxation” and uphold the core values of “Fiscal Responsibility, Constitutionally Limited Government, and Free Markets.” Although government regulation is not cited it seems clear that “Free Markets” are un-regulated markets.It’s more than odd that a grassroots populist movement isn’t here emerging from the unemployed and foreclosed, from what I call the poisoned, but from those who pay their mortgages and don’t want those “under water” on theirs to be assisted, don’t want minimum wage laws applied, don’t want health care to be extended to those who don’t have it, don’t want environmental regulations of any stripe, and don’t want unemployment compensation to be paid to the unemployed. What kind of “populist” group is this?
Any properly conducted autopsy will reveal that it's not Liberals, who have been corporate power's useful idiots, or President Obama, whose pragmatism only reinforces the already existing dominance of corporate power, or Big Government, which is already owned by corporate power, that murdered our middle class, once economically mobile democracy. Those who do think so have not been drinking the tea but the Kool-aid, or, as I have been phrasing it, the Warfarin. That Warfarin has worked its way into those who have not benefited from the Wild West of unbridled global capitalism. And it's being served by those who have benefited. Enormously.
The “glossary” of word/world implanted in our digestive tracts is not limited to the following entries in our autopsy report:
The “People” are defined not as a social/political aggregate but as individuals, those “free to choose” according to their own preferences, their own likes and dislikes. That such a definition does not lead to a collective “People” but rather to a “Me And Not You,” does not trouble a culture whose sense of society is limited to a “friending” and “unfriending” on Facebook;
Economic inequality is a product of personal choice. Gross economic inequality is no more than a pumped up incentive to Losers to become Winners;
Government is a problem, especially to all free ranging individualists who recognize no authority but a personal will empowered by an unconstrained “free to choose”;
Global warming is a yet another Liberal excuse for government to shackle the Free Market;
Technology is always the right answer even in cases where it has toxic results that can be remedied by more technology;
The wealth class is the engine that drives the economy and everything must be done to facilitate their winning ways, including tax rebates, deregulation of all sorts, and removal of governmental competition;
Super wealth trickles downward and eventually raises all boats;
Moral Hazard is avoided by ending all manner of government hand outs. Free personal choices lead some to success and others to misfortune. Both must accept total personal responsibility and the consequences of their choices;
Everything “public” should be “privatized”;
Class warfare is a product of enmity, jealousy and sour grapes;
Class warfare is “a back in the day” fixation of Analog socialists;
Every American has a chance to fulfill the American Dream if the government gets out of the way;
Freedom to choose is the highest good; the more choices you have, the freer you will be;
Free markets provide the most choices and therefore serve humanity’s highest good;
Free choice and free market are “free”because for Americans the words “free” and “freedom” have the magical power to elide all opposing and constraining conditions;
Consequences of free choice are never interrupted by chance, which is red meat for the Winners;
A sense of society goes no further than family whose values are the bedrock of America.
This is only the abridged glossary; the full autopsy report is really virtually infinite like Borges’ library. This is a word-to-mind enterprise we have been working on full time since Reagan, with only a slight slow-down in the Clinton years.
So how do you re-define everything?
Marx settled on revolution. Class Warfarin does not, however, wage war. There is no class struggle but only a feeding on a poison by the oblivious, a feeding on dreams of endless economic growth, on a visionary economics in which limitless wealth in the hands of a very few somehow spreads the wealth around, on a dream of personal choices freely made that have no societal impact. All this is axiomatic when one pursues the “bottom line” of profit. The poisoning is not planned nor is it conspiratorial but rather it results when one assumes a freedom -- which is always only visionary in society, in Nature and in ourselves -- somehow creates and is created by global economic competiveness and voracious consumption.
We are now a long way from recognizing constraints and limitations in our own human nature, in society and in Nature itself that in much earlier times necessity made us aware of. Necessity now, however, is variously identified, if recognized at all. The survival of our “exceptionalism” depends some say on debt and deficit reduction while some say greater Federal stimulus is necessary, precisely the necessity that the Tea Party refutes. It is the nature of our present Class Warfarin not to be able to find a way to escape our fate because we must endlessly argue over the necessity of doing so. The kind of warfare we are in re-defines “argument” not as a debate where reason will prevail but as a confrontation between the axiomatic “reasoning” of self-aggrandizing profit making which appeals to the satisfaction of market-generated appetites “unenlightened” by any concerns beyond self interest, and, Liberal/Progressive “reasoning” that challenges self interest with societal interest and therefore can only tack anemically against prevailing winds. A society long used to the “innovative” array of indulgences offered by a system which must increase profits by increasing indulgence ultimately rears the self-indulgent and the self-consumed.
There seems no way to refrain from consuming a culture that has already consumed us.
Perhaps technology has made us presumptuous and mindless of how we came to recognize freedom by its absence, how imprisonment of mind and body led to a yearning to be free. Imprisonment now appears differently. Ironically in our lust for a perfect personal freedom we cannot recognize the various ways we are imprisoned. Ironically, yet again, the pursuit of this perfect personal freedom is a primary cause of our imprisonment. It is the Warfarin we ingest, the struggle with our own minds, with an endless glossary of destructive connections we have made with the world.
Class Warfarin does not allow for a war among rich and poor; we have left all that on history’s website, engaged as we now are in updating our “All About Me” webpage. But Nature seems to be responding to the war we’ve made upon it. And no one can doubt that September 11th, 2001 has introduced a warfare that even George W. Bush recognized as having no end. And only the naïve will fail to imagine that the economic inequities which have pulled the carts of revolution in Egypt and elsewhere in the Middle East are not also present here in the U.S. . The autopsies of Ben Ali’s and Mubarak’s regimes are autopsies of plutocracies. At this moment in the U.S. our autopsy is not of the plutocracy but of the many who were looted by Wall Street and are now being crushed by the “austerity” campaign of the plutocrats.
Joseph Natoli has a website www.josephnatoli.com where links to his onliine writing can be found as well as his offline writing, aka books.