Saturday, March 21

Sitting on the (virtual) Left Bank, watching the (class) war go by.



I'm astonished at how like the last progressive revolution this one will be. There are muckrakers (Matt Taibbi) evil big business villains (AIG) and really, Barack Obama should be reading the biographies of Woodrow Wilson rather than FDR. I worry about our addiction to experts to solve our problems. Timothy Geitner was chosen (and so was Tom Daschle at HHS) because of their expertise, but that expertise is due to their closeness to the problems that they're facing. You apparently can't be an "expert" in the healthcare crisis without having been a lobbyist for Blue Cross/Blue Shield, or an expert in Banking without having "Citi" on your resume.

I love articles about demography, marketing, and grouping of individuals along education and class status. These articles are never completely accurate, and some are out-and-out wrong. Take this one, by in The Atlantic Monthly, :

...perhaps these times of hardship will see a return of the true bohemian, as in the days when the Left Bank was actually squalid. Stylistically, some artistic people are returning to thrift chic (either Goodwill retro wear, or something akin to the party a girlfriend threw recently called “Bitch Swap,” where you trade around the rags you’re tired of). ….listen for poignant, witty Frank O’Hara stories about transformative experiences that occur on public transportation (in the rain), on This American Life. As Borders stores shutter, perhaps we’ll see a reflowering of public libraries. In any case, unable to secure those astronomical loans, more Xers will have to start rubbing shoulders with The Other, living in truly mixed neighborhoods, next door to such noncreative types as Kohl’s-shopping back-office workers and actual not-yet-ready-for-their-close-up-in-Yoga- Journal immigrants.

This economic catastrophe is teaching the Xers that their prized self-¬expression and their embrace of personal choice leads to … the collapse of capitalism. Time to inculcate not those self-satisfyingly hip and rebellious values—innovation! self-fulfillment!—cherished by the creative class (a class, after all, that includes in its ranks those buccaneering entrepreneurs who’ve led us down the primrose path), but those staid and stolid values of the bourgeoisie: industry, sobriety, moderation, self-discipline, and avoidance of debt.


Okay, who the HELL is she talking about? Well, she’s talking about herself and her artist/writer LA/New York friends. People who have, or until recently HAD, paid jobs at the Atlantic. Remember David Brooks, when he assured the “bourgeois bohemians” or Bobos, as he called them, in 2001 (also in The Atlantic):

“…there's talk of widening income gaps, and there are certainly widening social gaps -- between the people who shop at a Restoration Hardware, for example, and the people who wouldn't get all the verbal references at a store like that, all those sly references to F. Scott Fitzgerald novels and such. But as I went around the country, I didn't find much social resentment.

Actually, I saw a woman get arrested at a Restoration Hardware in Palo Alto for yelling at some of the rich customers. She was yelling "You rich bitch!" and things like that. I thought, Here's real social resentment—here comes the revolution! But other than that incident I really didn't find much. What I did find was a society that doesn't resent the elites—that doesn't have a clear sense that some people are better than others. Everybody seems to belong to their own little clique. There's no sense of inferiority. And therefore no sense of resentment.

So does that mean that Boboism is here to stay?


I don't see anything toppling it. I don't see any mass populist revolt against it. What I do see is an elite that's very good at co-opting things. Marx said the most dangerous elites were the ones who could absorb the talented members of the oppressed classes. And thanks to admissions committees and outreach programs and things like that, Bobos are very good at absorbing talented people into their ranks. So I really see this group lasting and lasting and lasting.
David, honey, Arianna Huffington is BANKING on "absorbing the talented members of the oppressed classes" and paying them in eyeballs, isn't she? And Brooks, you must kiss your lucky ass every morning that the public has a short memory, but that kinda goes without saying.

I never cared much about money, particularly in terms of salary. That sounds like a lie, even to me, but then I remember an interview I had, the interviewer asked me if I cared about money and I said no. The job interviewer said, "It's obvious from your resume you don't." There was another opportunity I had to go into management once. My boss loved my work at IT helpdesk and suggested I could move into IT management. I looked at him and said, Boss, I've seen my supervisor's computer desktop. It's full of "continuous process improvement” folders. Why would I want to give up a job where I'm actually helping people to work on that kind of ...I didn't say Bullshit but he was a former drill sergeant, so I didn't have to. I know I had his respect for my decision, since he was the same way. What you do and what you fix is much more important than what other's name you. I can smell a person impressed by the title "manager" a mile away and I avoid those people.

The thing is, we have a President like that, now, too. It's really shaking up Washington that oh my fucking god the President really doesn't care about power. Well, get this: he does care about power, but only to the extent that power will help him accomplish something. He was born after 1960. Coincidence? I think not.

I'm not laying blame and saying "the economic debacle is not MY generation's fault." This is about "You’ve handed my generation a huge mess and expect us to find a way to put Humpty back together again. What we’ve got to work with is a dustpan of worthless dollar bills owned by China."

The largest generational divide in this country is between those Hillary Clinton’s age (62 ish) AND those Barack Obama’s age (47 ish). I do feel for those almost ready to retire who feel the rug has been pulled out from under them, but get this: a whole big lot of 40 somethings don’t think Social Security will be there for them at all, let alone some fucking mutual fund.

And I really shake my head at the “journalism” above, because it points not to a real drive to end greed and downsize, but to, let’s be honest, poverty chic. The boomers will never be old and poor. They will be the seasoned and frugal generation. Everything that happens leads to the “ever new kind of cool” that boomers are so addicted to. My friend JR put it so well, “The generation that INVENTED the lifestyle is going to find a way.” Economic need? Ooh, let’s make elder communes. Tap water reduces the landfill! Local food, thrift stores, vintage! No matter what and no matter how bad it gets, the Clinton/Huffington generation will make their response to it cool.

We're facing more than an economic crisis. This is a race to the bottom at the moment, and one of the problems is, those of us who never had a big stake in capitalism aren't all that upset about it. I was reading Figleaf (nsfw) the other day and this statement astonished me: "Despite having been homeless for nearly two years and nearly homeless for another two I don't really think I know that much about poverty...in gendered terms," Well, setting aside the gender part of his statement being under-housed for four years is a sure sign of knowing quite a bit about poverty.

Is Figleaf in denial?

I spoke to a fellow gen xer about this and he said "well, but compared to the underclass in the third world he is not in poverty." I agreed, but see where we 40 somethings took that? Not to pitchforks and torches, but to bowing our heads that we are not in Darfur. It's a crazy-ness, because we have a right to get mad at the greed that says it's okay for a Presidential candidate to NOT KNOW how many fucking houses he owns off the top of his head, and a gifted white guy writer is semi-homeless for four years, but that's okay because, what, his wife doesn't own a brewery estate? And after all, at least white guy gifted writer isn't in Darfur. What is fucking WRONG with this picture? I don't get it sometimes.

A lot of boomers genuinely agree with the following simple rules:

  1. The world owes everyone on this planet a decent home and a enough to live on.
  2. And we've all been put here to help each other get there.
  3. We’ve got to give up greed on an individual level to make that happen.

Too many of the wealthiest people on the planet don't get that. Here's an extreme thought: what if everyone who subscribed to Real Simple, Voluntary Simplicity, and Yoga Journal had cashed in what they didn't need to live on, most of their 401K's, for Darfur? They didn't, and I'm not chiding them for that. I'm saying there's a huge difference between voluntary poverty for the sake of patting one's own back in yoga sun saluation. Welcome, America, to not-so-voluntary poverty. Greed is not good.

This is not a dollars and cents problem. It is a sense of right and wrong problem. Paul or whoever wrote this down for Paul in Corinthians and Ephesians, so many centuries ago, got it. (from the Weymouth Translation)
The weapons with which we fight are not human weapons, but are mighty for God in overthrowing strong fortresses. For we overthrow arrogant 'reckonings,' and every stronghold that towers high in defiance of the knowledge of God.

For ours is not a conflict with mere flesh and blood, but with the despotisms, the empires, the forces that control and govern this dark world--the spiritual hosts of evil arrayed against us in the heavenly warfare.

I have my own myopia, in that I have surrounded myself with poor struggling writers online. So I think that’s who matters. We’re the creative class who won’t be adopted by Arianna for no money down, not because we’re holding out for her money but because we really truly don’t want it on her terms. I love the Twitter bio: “will eventually grow up and get a real job. Until then, will keep making things up and writing them down.” But that’s Neil Gaiman’s Twitter bio, the guy who wrote Coraline and Sandman. Age? 48, baby. A real job? Huh.

The squalid Left Bank is now virtual, you see. And we've even got a philosophy (natch) called New Puritanism. It's the perfect muckraker/progressive/'save the world and bite the hand that feeds' zeitgeist:
The terms New Puritan and Neo-Cromwellians were coined by Jim Murphy, associate director of the Future Foundation, to describe a perceived trend in British society. The term, which has been adopted by a number of main stream newspapers and other media, refers to the increasing tendency for the young middle classes to accept increasing regulation and self regulation of their life curtailing the "consumption culture". ...The Observer suggests a further example: at the point of sale in a major High Street store the assistant states "I'm duty bound to ask you if you want to open a store card with a preposterously uncompetitive interest rate". The reporter declines. "Good," he said, "I never push them, sometimes I don't even mention them, because they just encourage people to get into debt. Personally, I'd ban store cards." Clearly such suggestions have implications for many aspects of the economy...
Gee, I'd like to buy that High Street store clerk a fair-trade latte. Wanna meet me after yoga class?

19 comments:

  1. 'bourgeois bohemians'...? What the f*ck color is Brooksie's parachute? That's like 'liberal fascism' - a dichotomous contrast that only makes sense in the mind of one whose cognitive dissonance is ringing like a four-alarm firehouse bell.

    I've been a broke-ass real boho most all of my purple life, sadly by deceit and to some degree design - So I just deal, using whatever freedom and imagination brings to hand.

    Arianna had me, but she couldn't keep me because I believe in truth and her minions felt that it made their phony-baloney jobs in need of justification. S'okay, the pay was shite and there was no room for vertical career enhancement anyway.

    To Hell with the co-opters. They can't give me back what their ways took from the commonweal, and discomfiting their status quo is like Christmas morning for me.

    ;>)

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  2. Love, love, LOVE this post! Loved it enough to come out of lurking!

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  3. This was a great article, thanks for writing it.

    I love how people who have never been poor a day in their lives write about some rose-colored world of clothes swapping and goodwill hunting (see what I did there? lol) like it's some sort of day trip from the Hamptons.

    It's so insulting to those of us that really are poor. That have to choose between medication and food. That have to decide if we can afford a whole gallon of milk. Now is some of that situation our own doing? Sure, but is it anymore our fault than it is theirs? I worked for a doctor for YEARS that made assloads of money. I didn't see a raise for 3 years and was only making $10.50 after 6 1/2 years of toiling. But well, he needed a new Lexus.

    This status idea is such utter bullshit. That piece about people who don't make $250,000 couldn't possibly manage the jobs that these AIG fucks have is really infuriating. It's obvious that all that is required for those jobs is the ability to bullshit and the lack of a soul.

    I don't know guess I'm a bit off track here, but this idea that just because someone calls themselves a CEO and makes a six figure income makes them something to look up to makes me ill.

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  4. I am on my (virtual) feet applauding.

    Re the boomers, did you ever notice that in the radio world, it used to be that when a piece of popular music reached the age of 10 or 15 years it was dubbed an "oldie". That is, until the boomers' music reached that age. That's when we got "classic rock."

    Lousy self-centered boomers.

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  5. Well, get this: he does care about power, but only to the extent that power will help him accomplish something. He was born after 1960. Coincidence? I think not.

    That's what Bill Clinton was after, and Jimmy Carter. That's Boomer and WWII generation, BTW.

    GenXers didn't write The Corporation or Zen Of Motorcycle Maintenance. There have been power-hungry people in every generation of the last century at least, and plenty of people who called them out for what they are.

    So yes, it's just coincidence.

    qwerty, I think it's a shame what's happened to the music industry in the last twenty years. Music used to be fun. But attributing the term "classic rock" to "Lousy self-centered boomers" is just as self-righteously masturbational as the most self-righteously masturbational thing my generation's ever done. There was "classic" music before we came along.

    Don't worry, you guys will get to be your own kind of assholes. Some of you are clearly already there.

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  6. Cujo I tried to be clear in this post that there are Boomers who get it. But there is so much unacknowledged privilege in that enormous generation. My friend who was born in 1946 pointed out to me that every single time she grew old enough to change schools there was a brand new school building waiting for her. She was always the first in her school building through the 12th GRADE.

    I'm tired of Atlantic magazine authors telling all of us. from both generations, that lifestyle choice trumps real class issues. It doesn't.

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  7. Also Cujo, Clinton and Carter never had the cahones to hold parlimentary style conferences with reports from Senators on small group meetings addressing things like...spending. Carter, who has clearly learned since the 70's, was so vindictive as President that he wouldn't have shared the stage with many congressmen at all. Clinton threw away his chances lots of times in lots of ways, as we all know, mostly based on arrogance. It's okay to hold those Democrats up as examples of Democratic leadership, but as using power to accomplish deep change, they failed. The jury will be out on Obama for years to come.

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  8. Righteously great rant. I too am the voluntary poor and paying close attention. I just wish I were doing it in Canada. I live in the garage so I can rent the house so I can keep writing. But I do worry that I'll run out of possible renters when everyone loses their jobs.

    I am, however, a filthy hippy boomer.

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  9. And yet it's no "coincidence" that Obama was born after 1960? Not based on that analysis.

    I wasn't discussing Carter's style, just his motivation, which is what the sentence I quoted was referring to. His Administration was ineffectual at least partly because he lacked the ability to deal well with other opinions. He had a reputation as a micromanager, which I haven't had much reason to disagree with. His activities since he left office were in many ways a continuation of what he tried to do while he was President. There was little for him to "get" there.

    His behavior toward the Bushes at the Coretta Scott King funeral shows he still has the spite thing going, too.

    Clinton, on the other hand, was very good at intellectual inclusion, and seemed to do a somewhat better job of delegating. Considering that Clinton had a Republican Congress to work with for most of his time in office, and that they did their best to remove him from office for no good reason, he was pretty effective.

    The ways that Obama reminds me of Clinton are both eerie and sobering. Both are brilliant, with minds that are curious and intellectually voracious. They're married to accomplished women. Unfortunately, both have demonstrated an urge to go with the flow, no matter where that might lead. I'd be afraid of Bill Clinton being President right now, and had serious doubts about Hillary Clinton for the same reason. To me, that doesn't bode well for the next few years.

    Hopefully, the times will make the man, as they sometimes do. If they do, though, it won't be the first time. Did someone mention Woodrow Wilson? ;) Harry Truman would be another inspirational example, I suppose.

    What really makes me react so negatively, though, is that I heard all this same sort of talk from Boomers when we were young. I thought it was nonsense then, and still do. Each generation has its own problems to face, and different cultural influences. Each can be self-absorbed and petty, or altruistic and cooperative, depending what's demanded of it.

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  10. The Boomer generation coming into retirement are the ones who lived in the era where companies figured out how to pull the rug out from employees, pensions were scrapped, full time jobs with benefits were replaced with part time work @ 39.9 hours so as to avoid giving benefits. Whatever they were able to scrimp & stash into a 401k was just ravished by Wall Street's grand fuck ups (still waiting for the arrests)...
    Add to this Social Security has been grossly mismanaged, the volume of people coming into retirement age, all create the perfect storm.
    Oh! and modern medicine has figured out ways to allow people to live much longer-- sometimes a quantity vs quality issue.... and believe me when I say elder care ain't cheap.

    We are sooooo screwed!

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  11. Fran, you know I love ya. When we say "companies figured out" how to screw people in order to make more money, NO.

    It wasn't companies. It was PEOPLE. MANAGERS. Fellow human beings came up with 401Ks, which forced workers who wanted retirement to save it in the stock market and KEEP it in the stock market or pay a penalty! I guess that's what I'm getting at. Phil Gramm said deregulating the financial industries was a great idea. He's not a company, he was an elected representative of US.

    If we don't learn that lesson, we are really screwed, not just financially.

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  12. BG, I wish I had a nickle for every time I've heard "a whole big lot of 40 somethings don’t think Social Security will be there for them at all" ... when I FIRST started hearing this it was in reference to 20-somethings. For more than 40 years I've heard this mantra and guess what? People are STILL receiving SS benefits.

    Are we facing tough times now? You bet ... but EVERY generation has faced tough times ... and NO generation is perfect.

    And I'd love to meet someone who went to a new school every year, because that's not my experience.

    The jury is still out on Obama. I am hoping he succeeds, but it would be hard to argue that his most pressing issue is the economy, and does he even have his team in place?


    BAC

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  13. QuietChaos11:18 AM

    Interesting blog and post, Blue Gal. But it’s missing an important part of the equation...an important generational context to your comments, that is also relevant because you're 45 yourself: Generation Jones, born 1954-1965, between the Boomers and Generation X. Google Generation Jones, and you’ll see it’s gotten a ton of media attention, and many top commentators from many top publications and networks (Washington Post, Time magazine, NBC, Newsweek, ABC, etc.) now specifically use this term.

    Here is a recent op-ed in USA TODAY about GenJones which is on point re. your article:
    http://www.usatoday.com/printedition/news/20090127/column27_st.art.htm

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  14. best thing i've read in days. thanks.

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  15. That's very helpful, quietchaos, thanks.

    And BAC, you would love K, the woman with all new schools. She joined the Peace Corps, travelled through Kenya, and met her husband at a Robert Bly/Iron John conference. She's a little blond Buddhist is a big house in the Boston suburbs, and she's too much. But I love her because of her AWARENESS of the 'too much' part of her generational experience.

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  16. BG I probably reacted strongly to the whole generational experience because of my geographical experience. The daughter of working class parents in a small (2000 people) working class community. My first awareness of anything political was John Kennedy's presidential campaign when he told us "ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country." A whole lot of us believed that.

    In 2000 I was at an event in NH called College Convention 2000, where college students had an opportunity to ask questions of many of the candidates running for president. A consistent question was "what have you done for me?" Only John McCain had the courage to share the JFK quote with them, and challenge them to take action. This was before he sold his soul to the dark side.

    I think every generation has included individuals who don't care about making money, who DO care about making money, who are greedy, or who want to give back to make the world a better place for everyone.


    BAC

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  17. The wiki on generation jones captures my feelings about growing up beautifully.
    I do still use jones. I despised the yuppy ethos.
    I never took the bait for conservatism.
    Here is my favorite use of jones

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  18. Just to be clear, while I was street poor for nearly four years, and nearly as poor for years after that, that was years ago (Ford, Carter, and Reagan were presidents.) Then during the dotcom boom (under Clinton) I was, briefly, barely, a paper millionaire. Now I'm solidly a bit below median income and, barring some pretty serious serendipidy, likely to stay there.

    Anyway, when I said I didn't have much experience of contemporary poverty what I meant was that *when* I was homeless I was *so* bottom-out-of-sight (high-school dropout, long-haired hippy, wandering wastrel panhandler and street musician, low-end bar gopher) I didn't really have much experience of the kind of poverty facing people with families (possibly *single* with familes), below-waterline mortgages, uncertain job prospects, who couldn't just hang out their thumb because they heard there might be construction work in Atlanta, cannery work in Alaska, a street-vendor gig in the Bay Area, or a "donor center" in New England that paid double for selling blood plasma. In other words I had a lot of too-close-for-comfort experience of near-starvation vagabondage but not so much about the quiet-desperation culture of Nickled and Dimed.

    Which is more about me than I'm usually comfortable disclosing... and may not be entirely relevant to the core of your very pointed, poignant post, Blue Gal.

    Take care... and good luck to us all,

    figleaf

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  19. Randall2:59 AM

    I know I'm late to the party, but this is one of the best things I've read since Billmon from the Whiskey Bar Days.

    Thanks!!

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I really look forward to hearing what you have to say. I do moderate comments, but non-spam comments will take less than 24 hours to appear... Thanks!