The United States ranks behind every industrial nation except France in the percentage of overall economic activity devoted to manufacturing (…) Manufacturing has long been viewed as an essential pillar of a powerful economy. It generates millions of well-paid jobs for those with only a high school education, a huge segment of the population. — The New York Times
“It wasn’t the US service sector that defeated Japan,” notes Robert Dujarric of Temple University in Tokyo. Well-paid blue-collar jobs, he adds, have been a pillar of Japan’s postwar social equality. — Financial Times
(Meth is) “the only example of a widely consumed illegal narcotic that might be called vocational, as opposed to recreational.” It was given to starving Nazi soldiers to keep them in warrior mode on the Russian front. Now it’s a preferred stimulant for people working two jobs in low-wage purgatory. — “Methland vs. Mythland,” Timothy Egan, The New York Times
Everybody has their own way of thinking: some people think in facts and figures, I think in symbols and metaphors.
I am ever searching for the correct symbol or metaphor, and when I find the one that feels just right, everything else: thinking, talking and writing, comes easily to me, just like ringing a bell.
I love to put some quotes and pictures, like the ones above, together and hear how they resonate like a chord played on a well tuned instrument. For me, much of what we are facing today is resumed, almost like a poem in these snippets
The key visual metaphor is that of the meth addict’s transformation from hillbilly beauty into death’s head. The key phrase is the one from Robert Dujarric in Tokyo: well paid blue-collar jobs, are the pillar of social equality, followed by the Times stating that those with only a high school education make up a huge percentage of the US population. That is the present situation in a nutshell.
I was struck by a line in president Barack Obama’s much reported NAACP speech, where he, a supposed “lefty,” addressed this advice to young African-Americans:
“They might think they’ve got a pretty jump shot or a pretty good flow,” Mr. Obama said, “but our kids can’t all aspire to be LeBron or Lil Wayne. I want them aspiring to be scientists and engineers, doctors and teachers, not just ballers and rappers. I want them aspiring to be a Supreme Court justice. I want them aspiring to be president of the United States of America.”
My first reaction to that paragraph was that aspiring to be a rapper or a professional basketball player was just as realistic as aspiring to be a scientist or engineer and certainly more realistic than aspiring to be a Supreme Court justice or president of the U.S., as between the White House and the Supreme Court there are only ten jobs, whereas to begin with there are about 360 basketball players in the NBA … (Sorry, but I can’t find the number of openings for hip-hop artists).
I immediately thought on reading Obama’s words, “what’s wrong with aspiring to having a union card and working in a factory at union rates and getting married on that pay, buying a house and raising a family, seeing some of your kids go to college and then retiring on a decent pension and going fishing with your grandchildren?”
What is supposed to happen to people who don’t have the natural aptitude or interests to be scientists and engineers, doctors and teachers? Or specialists in derivatives or other such useful types?
In today’s America are they fated to end up like the woman in the photographs, fated to take methamphetamine in order to be able to stand the strain of working 60-plus-hour weeks at minimum wage without any unions or medical coverage?
Is there only to be a future in America for knowledge workers?
If so, we as a people are in deep, deep, shit.
Because that is not really in our DNA.
For thousands of years our species has mostly worked with its hands and as a simple matter of natural selection, not everyone who is an able bodied, willing and honest person is interested in reading and studying.
As Italian author Alberto Moravia once said, the number of illiterates is constant, but nowadays the illiterates know how to read.
And this is just as true for white people as for black people in today’s America.
In many senses we really are living in a post-racial society.
Today the real question is class and poverty, not race.
Most of the white working poor of today’s America would happily trade the pale complexion of their nether parts to be an African-American UAW worker in the 1950s and 60s Detroit.
Today, instead of a society where race inevitably determines status, we live is society of sharp class divisions, where class, except for those with inherited wealth, is based on educational attainment and that educational attainment itself is in great part based on the parent’s social class and the income that comes with it.
Within living memory the sons and daughters of the line workers of unionized American manufacturers, who showed aptitude for study, could go to excellent state land grant universities and their brothers and sisters who didn’t like school could look forward to the same decent life as their parents had enjoyed …
That didn’t last very long did it?
In today’s America it is very difficult for an American from a poor family of any race, no matter how intelligent he or she might be, to get a first class education or, with parents (or single parent) working at two jobs, the supportive and stable family life to be able to concentrate on their studies and thus escape from poverty.
The heart of the matter is that America’s once proud working class, both white and black, is being transformed, has been transformed, into a classic “lumpenproletariat” or “ragged proletariat.” Here is how the Encyclopaedia Britannica defines that term:
(German: “rabble proletariat”), according to Karl Marx in The Communist Manifesto, the lowest stratum of the industrial working class, including also such undesirables as tramps and criminals. The members of the Lumpenproletariat—this “social scum,” said Marx—are not only disinclined to participate in revolutionary activities with their “rightful brethren,” the proletariat, but also tend to act as the “bribed tools of reactionary intrigue.”
What could be a better description of the working poor followers of Sarah Palin’s, or of any populist of the right that may arise in the near future’s, than as “bribed tools of reactionary intrigue”?
Are any right-wing populists, who go in mostly for creationism, abortion and guns, going to advocate strong labor unions, a higher minimum wage, universal health care and keeping the jobs in the U.S.? I doubt it very much, don’t you?
Will anybody else advocate those things?
Crossposted from David Seaton’s News Links.
Content posted to MyMPN open blogs is the opinion of the author alone, and should not be attributed to MintPress News.