Friday, July 27, 2018
"The Birth of a New American Aristocracy" in "The Atlantic"; Matthew Stewart warns us all
Matthew Stewart offers “The Birth of a New American Aristocracy”, p. 48, photographs by Craig Cutler, in rgw June 2015 issue of “The Atlantic”. This is indeed a booklet, in ten sections. Here is the link.
The tagline duly scolds me. “The class divide is already toxic, and is fast becoming unbridgeable. You’re probably part of the problem.”
You could say that the article seems like an existential attack on meritocracy as an ideology that stabilizes inequality. “It is one of the delusions of our meritocratic class, however, to assume that if our actions are individually blameless, then the sum of our actions will be good for society.”
The problem is that the actions of the top 0.1% demand nothing from the next 9.9% (I’m probably in the lower portion of that decile) Instead, us 9.9-crowd plod along as if we were responsible people, and it is the labor or the lower 90% that props us up. That may sound like Marxism.
There is particularly the case of assertive mating and segmenting of social capital (which should worry Charles Murray). There is restrictive zoning of housing, occupational licensing (a favorite target of libertarians), and politicized public schools that add to the inequality.
Toward the end, Stewart provides ample warning on how the politics of resentment works – it got Trump elected, and then Trump’s policies started hurting the bottom 90% even more. But the problem is that could gradually become the bottom 95% as people like me become politically expendable.
Stewart seems to want federal solutions, like single-payer health care, gun control, much more education assistance, stronger unions, and more identity politics, to solve the problems.
The problem, as good Democrats know, that makes it too easy on us personally. The question, as his essay ends, is how involved should we (or must we) get personally. “We need to peel our eyes away from the mirror of our own success and think about what we can do in our everyday lives for people who aren’t our neighbors.” Maybe that does get personal. “We should be fighting for opportunities for other people’s children as if the future of our own children depended on it. It probably does.” That sounds more conventionally political.
The best way to protect your own freedom, if you got any hand up at all, is to pass the hand up to someone else, individually. That’s “pay it forward” in reverse gear. Indeed, I find myself watching my own back, fending off spammy but threatening disruptions from those who can’t make a living in the current setup. It is very difficult to become personal with people who seem hapless and not personally appealing (we get into the issue of drugs – opioids --, obesity, illiteracy – and I do think the correlation to race is overblown). ';m not someone to make someone else whom I did not think well of "all right." False meritocracy is self-reinforcing. And probably not sustainable. Personal fascism begets political fascism (as the end result of "purification"). Then, you’re not a victim if what you had gets taken away from you.