December
10th 2009
Thursday Round-up: chapping your a$$ edition!

Posted under: American history, class, Gender, jobs, students, technoskepticism, unhappy endings

elvgrensnowfunWell, friends:  we’re in the midst of a butt-chapping deep freeze, thanks to an Alberta Clipper that just won’t quit.  It’s -15 degrees Fahrenheit here in Potterville, and won’t get above freezing until sometime this weekend.  Those of you in the East might be enjoying a snow day today, so here are a few tidbits to warm you up and get your engines running this morning:

  • Chris Hedges asks, “Are Liberals Pathetic?“  (h/t Susie at Suburban Guerrilla.)  He writes that their “sterile moral posturing, which is not only useless but humiliating, has made America’s liberal class an object of public derision.”  He then goes on to contrast elite, sheltered liberals with working class men who “knew precisely what to do with people who abused them. They may not have been liberal, they may not have finished high school, but they were far more grounded than most of those I studied with.”  What do you think?  I think he’s onto something, but he also engages in a romanticization of a partcular kind of working-class masculinity that equates “fighting” with manhood only, and by implication slights the liberal coalition of today which is based on feminists and gays.  Can we get away from these gendered tropes for criticizing the left?  (Hedges himself identifies the intersection of Wall Street and Pennsylvania Avenue that’s really to blame for Dem reluctance or even refusal to attempt real change.)
  • Hedges’ essay reminded me of an interesting piece by Joe Bageant on the absence of compassion among so-called “progressives” called “Shoot the Fat Guys, Hang the Smokers.”  I worry about this–it’s part of what I was trying to get at last year in most of my posts on Sarah Palin.  Laughing at or condescending to people isn’t a winning strategy.  Smugness will be the death of the left.
  • Clio Bluestocking brings us more tales from the Orwellian world of online teaching at her school–or, as Hacky McHackhack, the overpaid consultant puts it, “delivering education.”  Clio patiently explains why this description of their work will chap the a$$es of most teachers and professors:  It “suggests that we give the students the ‘education’ in a brown box and say ‘sign here, I will stamp your name as having received the education, and you can pick up your degree.’ . . . ‘Delivery’ suggests passivity, ‘education’ suggests action. If you do not see the difference, perhaps you should go evaluate your EdD-granting institution — you know, run an outcomes assessment on them — to see if they actually have any idea what ‘education’ means.”  And, the story only gets worse from there, when McHackhack comes up with a fabulous plan that would turn all professors into T.A.’sAwesome!  But, you’re not surprised, are you?  That’s what on-line courses are for!  Excellence without money for traditional disciplines, because now we have to fund “departments” of “online learning.”

You know, friends, I’ve come to the conclusion that those of us who teach in departments and disciplines that have been around for more than 20 years are doomed.  There’s no advantage for ladder-climbing university administrators in giving money to History, English, Anthropology, Political Science, or Foreign Languages departments so that they can hire more tenure-track faculty, give them adequate funds to support their research, and keep their faculty:student ratios low enough to improve the quality of teaching.  Borrrr-iinnnggg!!!  No–every administrator wants hir own Department of Shiny Distraction, or Center for Teaching Illusions, because it’s only starting a new department or center that will look good on a C.V. when they apply for their next Dean or Associate Provost position.

Well, it’s still super-duper cold here, and I better get some more clothes on, don’tchathink?

27 Comments »

27 Responses to “Thursday Round-up: chapping your a$$ edition!”

  1. Indyanna on 10 Dec 2009 at 9:50 am #

    On the fighting liberals question, this one puts me in mind of the very early days of the Weathermen in the late 1960s. The theory went something like this: blue collar people don’t trust effete long-haired collegiate protesters. They even laugh at them. The proposed solution was, get some quick haircuts, head into high schools in factory towns and ethnic neighborhoods, pick some quick fights with local toughs, and–win or lose them–you gain respect and “radicalize” the kids and win them over from, say, George Wallace to, say, Bobby Seale or Huey Newton. It didn’t seem to work, but maybe the historical jury is still out. I’m not even sure whether very many of these strategic cafeteria line fights even happened, or if this was just what it said in the poster.

    On the teach-by-tech issue, I’ve got a great anecdote on that one, but have to head off into the delivery room now.

  2. rootlesscosmo on 10 Dec 2009 at 10:51 am #

    @Indyanna: and not just the Weather faction of ate-period SDS; Progressive Labor (Maoist) also assigned its members to adopt working-class-acceptable personal styles, go into industry, and build a base. In fact this was an echo of a post-WW2 CPUSA strategy. Generally left unexamined is the gap between the Marxist prediction that circumstances will compel workers to shed false consciousness and give their allegiance to the revolution, and the enormous effort of self-effacement required of intellectuals to get this process off dead center. Why is there no Socialism in the United states? Still a good question.

    @historiann:
    Laughing at or condescending to people isn’t a winning strategy. Smugness will be the death of the left.

    I suspect derision and condescending accompany a conviction (not always explicit) that there is no winning strategy, and that the left is already as good as dead. As to which cf. your gloomy prognosis for teachers in established disciplines.

  3. Janice on 10 Dec 2009 at 10:56 am #

    I don’t think that we’re doomed but we’re ridiculously easy to discount. Right now I’m fighting to get our administration to acknowledge that we’re actually one of the highest enrolment programs at the university. Apparently someone’s going around saying that our enrolments are declining because, of course, history isn’t relevant. Even if the numbers say otherwise, what they claim MUST be true!

    /headdesk

  4. Mark K. on 10 Dec 2009 at 11:03 am #

    Re: higher ed innovations…

    I am frequently reminded of Thomas C. Oden in his book The Rebirth of Orthodoxy, where he notes, “Modern life feigns always to be original, yet its originality is tired and jaded…This imperative appears in everything I have written since the mid-seventies: a commitment to offer nothing original. This is not a joke but a solemn pledge.” (pp. 92-93) This might be an overstated goal, but as time goes on, I think there might be less overstatement in it than I once assumed.

    That said, even modest extensions of traditional scholarship can look shiny and exciting. (Or frightening–I remember when introducing questions of race, class and gender into scholarship was Destroying Academia. The point being, it doesn’t take a lot to convince people you’re doing something radical and new, even when you’re really not.) I think History, English, Anthropology, Political Science, and Foreign Languages departments have the opportunity to package their disciplines in ways that look good on administrators’ CV’s while also remaining true to their educational and scholarly values.

    I don’t think the effort would necessarily be intrinsically worthwhile, but as you say, the writing is on the wall for business as usual. One thing that I have noticed about small minds–and believe me, I feel very fortunate that I don’t really have to deal with any small minds at my current institution–is that they don’t want to work too hard at thinking about stuff. Easily distracted by shiny and new? Try to get them your version of shiny and new before someone else does, or worse, they’re forced to come up with something on their own. Because we know how *that* turns out.

    Sometimes, I’m can’t tell the difference between when I’m being drearily cynical or cheerfully optimistic…

  5. Historiann on 10 Dec 2009 at 11:07 am #

    ((headdesk)) indeed, Janice!

    History at my uni is still booming, although our efforts to shed some majors worked. (We instituted a higher foreign language competency requirement–students now have to progress through intermediate traning in another language, so for beginners that’s 2 years of language instead of just 1.) I think History is pretty popular everywhere, because it’s kind of a fallback major for those who don’t want to major in a certain professional track (education, engineering, etc.) but who don’t want to take a major that is perceived as too “fluffy” (languages, art history, etc. That’s not my opinion–I’m talking about what many undergraduates think.) History is the right combination of serious-sounding (because of its empiricism and evidence fetish) yet not too focused on a particular track.

    Love Indyanna’s neologism (or term repurposing?), “delivery room!”

  6. Historiann on 10 Dec 2009 at 11:13 am #

    Mark K. wrote, “Try to get them your version of shiny and new before someone else does, or worse, they’re forced to come up with something on their own. Because we know how *that* turns out.”

    Ha! I don’t know if any of you have clicked and read the links to Clio’s blog, but you really should. You really must. The story she tells is the truly cynical one–not because of her, but the cynicism inherent in creating “departments of online learning,” which are (as some of us suspected all along!) just strategies for de-skilling teaching.

    And rootlesscosmo: thanks for the deep background. It’s exactly that kind of stuff that Hedges’ article recalls. He went to Harvard himself, but chooses self-consciously to align with men he sees as more “authentic” perhaps because they haven’t had his advantages. I’m not saying he’s dishonest on his part–but I’m saying that maneuvers like this frequently have a disturbing “going native” patronizing tone, besides the dissing of feminists and fags that are more central to the liberal coalition of today.

  7. GayProf on 10 Dec 2009 at 12:51 pm #

    I love this: “Center for Teaching Illusions.”

    In terms of undergraduate enrollments, History isn’t exactly thriving at Big Midwestern U. Indeed, I think that I remember the AHA delivering a report that history enrollments are declining across the nation (But it sounds like maybe not so much at Baa Ram U or Janice’s institution — Which makes me wonder what is happening there that is bucking the trend. . .)

  8. Matt L on 10 Dec 2009 at 1:01 pm #

    Yeah, I dunno about the Liberals are weak and pathetic argument… It seems to go hand in hand with that ‘authenticity’ argument. Somehow masculine blue collar working class culture is authentic and rooted, while all that book learning is inauthentic, superficial, induces gayness, blah, blah, blah.

    The usual suspects who deploy this kind of reasoning are the privileged children (who went to Harvard) of privileged children who also went to Harvard. These are men (generally) who are ‘authentically’ privileged in a class sense, but want everyone to ignore that, and instead recognize that they are self-made men.

    My Grandfather was (authentically) polish-American working class with a high school education. He was proud that all four of his children graduated from college, and several of them earned graduate degrees to boot. He was really proud of his grand kids who all went to college too. Education was and is a guarantee of success and social mobility. It was not effete, weak, debilitating or inauthentic.

    Do I wish that the executive and legislative branches would show, as Julia Child said, “the courage of their convictions?” Yes, but that doesn’t mean that they need to posture and pose like bare-knuckle brawlers either.

  9. Historiann on 10 Dec 2009 at 1:03 pm #

    GayProf: obviously, it’s our top-notch faculty! And, the fact that we care.

    I thought the AHA had done a report a few years ago showing a rising number of History majors after 9/11, and all of the zeal for American history that event supposedly unleashed. (Outside of Teaching American History grants, I haven’t quite seen it myself.)

  10. Historiann on 10 Dec 2009 at 1:10 pm #

    Matt L. wrote: “My Grandfather was (authentically) polish-American working class with a high school education. He was proud that all four of his children graduated from college, and several of them earned graduate degrees to boot. He was really proud of his grand kids who all went to college too. Education was and is a guarantee of success and social mobility. It was not effete, weak, debilitating or inauthentic.”

    Very well put, Matt. (I’m surprised you didn’t go ahead and use the adjective “decadent” in the last quoted sentence, there!) Only the rich romanticize the working class. One of the big problems has been the erosion of working-class jobs that once enabled middle-class lifestyles. But the fags and the feminists aren’t to blame for that–it’s the fact that U.S. corporations took over Congress and the White House 30+ years ago that’s to blame for all of those jobs being shipped overseas. This is why I’ve been optimistic about the possibility for “green energy” jobs–that they might go to people with H.S. or CC degrees, and enable them to make a decent living.

    Universal health care or Medicare for All would be a tremendous step towards shoring up the crumbling middle- and working-classes. Too bad about all of that, eh?

  11. feMOMhist on 10 Dec 2009 at 1:15 pm #

    whole damn liberals are pathetic argument reminds me of grad school, in which highly gendered competition ensued between gradudes as to who had the more authentically “blue collar” roots. YAWN Newflash gradudes, once you fall in the alphabet soup, you join the ranks of the not blue collar.

    As for the “far more grounded” because they knew how to kick ass, to this historian sounds like those dudes were grounded in some sort of latter half of the 20th century cold war mentality.

  12. Matt L on 10 Dec 2009 at 1:21 pm #

    RE: Smugness – I would need some proof that there is actually a problem here. I am not convinced that the occasional scorn of the few (damn few) liberal taste makers actually registers deeply or widely in the popular culture. Does blue collar, Joe/Josephine Six Pack really wilt under the withering wit of Maureen Dowd (or who ever else pases for liberal in the pages of the NYT and WaPo)?

    Its just like that story about Vietnam vets getting beat up and spit on by hippies when they come back from the war. It didn’t happen and the stories about it happening don’t emerge until after “Rambo” comes out in the 1980s. The story emerges because it fits rather neatly with the Reagan Republican narrative of “its morning in America.” We lost Vietnam because of the D-F-Hippies (I’m looking at you McNamara). The soldiers were the victims of unscrupulous and craven politicians who launched a war without being serious about winning (LBJ).

    Smugness is more of the same pablum ginned up by authentic working class Americans like David Brooks and Michael Steele. Nobody likes to be laughed at. But what you have here is a bunch of Republican spin meisters running around telling The Base: “Look, look liberals (people on both coasts and in big cities, with fancy degrees) are laughing at you. We need to do something about these latte sipping elitists who are running finance and ruining the country.” Meanwhile, back on cloud blue state, liberals are doing their dishes, washing their clothes, working 9-5, picking the kids up from daycare, and watching “Antiques Roadshow” on PBS none the wiser that they are bringing America down from within.

  13. Historiann on 10 Dec 2009 at 2:18 pm #

    Just because David Brooks says it doesn’t make it not true, Matt! Check out that Joe Bageant article I linked to.

    Liberals are frequently more attached to their feelings of intellectual superiority than to winning. (See The Daily Howler’s takedowns of the smugfests nightly on MSNBC.) The standard attack on Republican candidates, from Ronald Reagan to George W. Bush to Sarah Palin, is that they’re stupid, they’re idiots, and they’re not to be taken seriously. And look how well that worked out for us!

    Many of the same liberals who went on and on for years about George W. Bush’s lack of experience and his thin resume then went on to nominate and elect the least experienced Dem President since. . .I don’t know who. Even Woodrow Wilson served a term as Governor of New Jersey! So clearly foolishness (not to mention hypocrisy) is party invariant.

  14. Kathleen Lowrey on 10 Dec 2009 at 2:48 pm #

    I think it’s under-analyzed how much smartness *is* a class issue in today’s society, though. The fights of feminism, anti-racism, etc. — and they are/were noble fights, not question — have basically revolved around making sure the meritocracy is race and sex blind. Great!

    Sort of.

    What I mean by that is, some people really are not very smart. And we have a society that — if it works according to its own highest ideals — punishes them viciously. Like, leftists hated, hated, hated GWB in part he cheated: he got to the top despite being manifestly not the smartest guy in any room, anywhere. And we love Obama for being manifestly proof that the system can work sometimes: black, but smart as hell, and at the top. Yay!

    sort of.

    Do less smart people actually deserve less good lives? I think we really need to ask this question – especially as educators. I think, sure, less smart people probably shouldn’t be doctors. They probably shouldn’t be bridge engineers, or design commercial aircraft. But should they be mocked with the same kind of easy disdain that used to be reserved for women and people of color? Should they just accept that they are never going to be very successful, in fact that they *should* never be very successful, for the sake of the larger social good? Should they accept that they should be poor while smart people should be rich because, after all, that’s only fair?

    What a bunch of crap! Seriously. And it’s a bunch of crap smart people are really, really, really bad at seeing because it works for them, and because it seems to have important values in place (race-blind, sex-blind). But isn’t being less brainy just as much something that you can’t “overcome” and shouldn’t be asked to overcome? Like, if we realize a rigid feudal stratificaiton of life outcomes on the basis of intelligence, is it cause to celebrate just b/c it will be racially and sexually diverse?

    Full disclosure: I make a great salary. My developmentally disabled sister can’t get a job. She’s actually a nicer person than I am. Meritocracy can kiss both our grits.

  15. Kathleen Lowrey on 10 Dec 2009 at 2:52 pm #

    and, whew, to circle back to my point — I think explains what smart leftists find baffling, which is, the appeal of showy incompetence. Bush, Palin, and then the many, many, many right wing ideologues who fake it.

    We need to take this issue away from the right by learning how to be compassionate about it, from not exploiting it in the manipulative way that they do, and – finally – by losing our collective sense that we deserve to come first cause we’re the smartest. It’s a crock, a really brutal crock.

  16. Matt L on 10 Dec 2009 at 2:57 pm #

    Historiann, Fair enough. I always thought Bush 43, Reagan and Palin did well electorally because they were authentic Americans. You know, the sort of people you would like to have a beer with. I also thought they did well because they had the conservatively correct views on guns, abortion, prisons, gay marriage, etc.

    I don’t have cable, so I am missing out on the smugfest you speak of. I guess I really don’t believe anything I see on TV anymore. But, I am an effete (decadent) liberal who does not watch enough of the cable televisions.

    Agreed, Obama was an inexperienced executive, but he seems to be a quick study. He has managed to scratch the right backs on Wall Street and will insure the continued survival of costly private (and profitable) health insurance for decades to come. I think he has caught on to “how things work” in Washington DC. I expect the defense budget will continue to grow at a healthy rate over the next eight years too.

  17. Indyanna on 10 Dec 2009 at 2:57 pm #

    On numbers of history majors (I love these braided threads), ours seem to be slipping as well, but only by resort to the reported numbers. The traffic in the hallways is not visibly lower. I tracked this question pretty conscientiously for a time, as the origins mythos in our department is that as numbers declined radically between 1975 and 1985, the very existence of the discipline here was threatened, because retirements would presumably not be replaced. The positions would rather be reassigned to the “new growth fields” in terms of consumer demand. The humanities disciplines forced through a new curriculum that required students to take courses in the threatened disciplines. So far so well. Retirements were MOSTLY replaced. But the perpetual obligation to teach an underimagined and never-since- maintained or serviced “history” course to non-major students enrolled only at bayonet point so eroded disciplinary coherence on the faculty level, that I think history majors here are voting with their “seats.” (to use that odd kiddieporn term-of-art that registrars use to reduce students to their most definitive body parts). As I would have done, back in my day.

    The numbers are somewhat problematic, too. I always used the numbers reported to AHA for the _Guide to Departments_ book, but there are often multiple conflicting figures floating around the institution.

  18. Matt L on 10 Dec 2009 at 3:24 pm #

    Oh, on history majors, our numbers have gone up a little bit in the past couple of years. The social science history teaching program has steady numbers too, even though there are no jobs for them in the upper Midwest.

    I read the Joe Bageant piece. Sorry, it seemed like a pity party. Yes, we are in a classist society where people judge you on appearance, diction and self presentation. Yes, nicotine is a horrible and addictive vice of the ‘proles.’ (A disclaimer, I had quit smoking for six years and then fell off the wagon two years ago. I feel rotten & god(dess) help me quit again.) But it is also irrelevant.

    There has been a class war of the rich against the poor for the last 30 years. Its called Reaganism. Its been perpetrated by the Republican Party and abetted by moderate Democrats. You can blame Alexander Cockburn for being a churlish d#*k towards the obese, but he is not responsible for the destruction of the education system or the flight of manufacturing overseas.

    The left or liberal democrats did not decide to build health care for children on the backs of poor smokers. “Reagan-Friedman thought” dictates that social services can’t be paid for by increasing income taxes on the wealthy. So Republicans and Moderate Democrats decided that they would impose a sin tax to pay for health care for children, in the name of bi-partisanship and compromise. (Funny how revenue neutrality is always a condition for starting a new social program, but never applies to new wars or new military spending.)

    Obama is simply the latest steward of this ideology and manager of the endless class war.

  19. Historiann on 10 Dec 2009 at 5:28 pm #

    Kathleen’s comments get very nicely at what I was suggesting, without nearly as much complexity or eloquence. I think we could extend Bageant’s arguments about the fat guys and the smokers to the not-so-smart. Thing is, those not-so-smart people know they’re being screwed. They were a critical part of Obama’s victory coalition, and because many of them are still hurting, still unemployed, and because whatever happens with health *insurance* reform, it’s not kicking in for YEARS, perhaps still without health care, they’re ripe for the picking by people who deploy populist rhetoric, whatever their actual policy positions. Palin is a populist heroine who is a voice for their anger that the world isn’t working the way it should for them. The Dems are doomed if they don’t try to start talking populism and (more importantly) enacting a populist platform.

    This all goes back to those discussions about whether the Dems are just ineffective or incompetent (as Hedges implies progressives are), or are they evil (that is, actually enacting the policies they’re comfortable with). I tend to go more with the latter than the former explanation. I agree with Matt’s analysis of Obama as “the latest steward of this [corporatist] ideology and manager of the endless class war.”

    N.B. When I cited Obama’s lack of experience, I wasn’t criticizing him for it. Many presidents have shown that you don’t have to have decades of legislative or executive experience in order to be effective. I was merely pointing out the fatuousness of those who hammered Bush because of his lack of experience, and then turned around to embrace Obama. Thus, the lack of reflection and willingness to engage in a cult of celebrity appears to afflict all people.

  20. Emma on 10 Dec 2009 at 7:29 pm #

    We need to take this issue away from the right by learning how to be compassionate about it, from not exploiting it in the manipulative way that they do, and – finally – by losing our collective sense that we deserve to come first cause we’re the smartest.

    We used to have a labor movement in the U.S. that was responsible for enabling a lot of guys who didn’t go to college to make really good livings. This election was a watershed for how dismissive the Democratic party was toward organized labor. And how dismissive it continues to be re: the health insurance reform. (You know who has “cadillac” health plans? Unionized workers, that’s who.) We need to bring these people back to the table.

  21. KoshemBos on 10 Dec 2009 at 8:30 pm #

    I find Chris Hedges’ article rambling, stream of consciousness, anecdotal writing more than a coherent analytical view of liberals in America. There is even the mandatory knock of something related to Israel, European decedent Christian owe the wide liberal universe.

    The real question is not what happened; we know most of the failures of the Liberals (look at the mirror). What we would like to know is: why? Can we change it? Can we have an impact on health care reform, beyond the regular mostly useless blog diet, than just replace the current uninsured with the many millions of illegal aligns?

    Chris Hedges has the right to be angry, but the real question is why did The Nation, stating explicitly that Obama is too close to wall Street, nevertheless endorsed him despite having another candidate who represented the blue collar workers and was not as close to WS as Obama?

  22. rootlesscosmo on 10 Dec 2009 at 9:25 pm #

    Not mentioned so far is that the subtext in “smugness” (as in its earlier version “limousine liberals”) is “privileged white N—-rlovers who want to deprive us hard-working white folks of our all-white neighborhoods/schools/job categories and spend our hard-earned taxes on idle Black folk and take away our guns so we can’t defend our whiteness.” Class ressentiment in the US is always racialized and gendered; “limousine liberals” are both fancy and nancy, their educated talk only a secret code that keeps us on the outside and their professed concern for people of color a pious cloak to hide their unclean letch for rough trade. The Marxist-Leninists’ projected cross-racial class unity came to grief on this (peculiarly American?) rock; Weather simply gave up on the white working class after 1969, though its strategy wasn’t much more successful than PL’s.

  23. Paul S. on 10 Dec 2009 at 9:44 pm #

    Laughing at or condescending to people isn’t a winning strategy. Smugness will be the death of the left.

    True enough, I think – it’s already hurt the left a LOT over the last 30 years. In fairness to the left, I think that their alleged sense of smug superiority is often grossly exaggerated by the populist right, but there is enough of the attitude in reality to give the right something to work with. Three other things that the right has been very successful in doing are – 1. Convincing large numbers of middle-class and lower-middle-class Americans that their economic interests are similar to those of the wealthiest portion of society – i.e., Bush’s tax cuts were widely popular with the middle class as well as the wealthy. 2. Convincing many people that economic issues are less important than “culture war” issues – i.e., millions of Americans of middle or low income probably vote Republican mainly because they see the party as being right on moral issues like anti-abortion and anti-same-sex-marriage, and largely ignore the negative effects that the economics of the right have on their lives. 3. Convincing many people that anything done by the government is automatically incompetent and inefficient while private industry is always capable and efficient – this belief is still influential with much of the U.S. population, despite a much less than efficient performance by leading private industries in the last couple of years, and that’s no small accomplishment.

  24. Susan on 10 Dec 2009 at 10:35 pm #

    What if you deliver education and no one is at home to receive it?

  25. Historiann on 11 Dec 2009 at 10:12 am #

    Susan–I think I’d put a requirement for a signature on my education deliveries, each and every one! (Others might find it acceptable to leave it on the doorstep or with a neighbor.)

    Emma’s point about the workers whose benefits stand to be taxed (instead of the millionaires and billionaires who live off of investment income!) is an excellent one. We’ll see who’s really running the show if labor gets the bill for health insurance reform (and if they don’t get card check ASAP next year). And let’s see if all of those union workers who knocked on doors and got people out on election day last year will do the same in 2010 and 2012!

  26. Kathleen Lowrey on 11 Dec 2009 at 1:58 pm #

    rootlesscosmo — I totes agree with you, of course, but I think the missing key is to really address the way American politics works on a moving wall of “the undeserving”, and the way the left is often as mean and brutal about it as the right.

    (I also — I just can’t get on board for the “oh for the days of the unions” discourse, the world economy has changed such that a lot of people are not, and will never be, “workers” in the old sense and “work” as a synonym for “virtue”, agh, don’t get me started).

    What if we had a politics of, hey, we’re gonna take care of everybody. So that people didn’t have this wild fear of falling into the “undeserving” class, or resentment that the “undeserving” class was getting too many goodies, or whatever. What if we had a politics that said, “you might not be very good at anything and you might need a lot of help and that’s okay!” I mean, I think one of the reasons Communism failed wasn’t that it was *too* generous but that it had one inflexible model of virtuous citizenry — the worker.

    What’s nice about capitalism is it recognizes the importance of the shirker — the hedonist, the pleasure seeker. What if that became the basis of our politics somehow? Heaven knows, as Historiann pointed out above, whatever the current base of lefty politics in the U.S. is, it’s not workin’.

  27. Emma on 12 Dec 2009 at 3:24 pm #

    Kathleen Lowery,

    I think casting comments about unions and organized labor movements as nostalgia for the old days misses a lot of the politics, history, and complexities of organized labor and diminishes both its successes and failures.

    If you want to talk about the plusses and minuses of organized labor I’m happy to do that. (For example, I said unions helped a lot of guys for a reason.) Or if you don’t want to talk about organized labor at all, that’s fine. But nothing I’m saying is about nostalgia for the “good old days”, which is what I took your comments to mean.

    Regardless of one’s utopian visions (and I have many which I think would match quite nicely with at least some of yours) people are going to work. I don’t see that workers are not “workers” in some unspecified “old sense” of the word. And the dynamics of labor will very likely be the same as they have been for all of recorded history (AFAICT). There are organized labor movements worldwide. I think that says something for their relevance today.

    I’m all for taking care of everybody. I think organized labor IS one way to help take care of everybody, not just the folks who are union members. So I don’t see the value of leaving organized labor in the dustbin, as you, IMO, imply will happen once we change our politics sufficiently. Rhetorically pole vaulting over the problem of labor’s relation to profits doesn’t make the issue go away. And since it hasn’t as of yet gone away, I think we’re better off grappling with it.

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