A Freeway in Hell

My thoughts on the nature of our late capitalist society. The title should give some clue what I think of that! US 101 or I-80 as metaphor for our imperatives. Besides worrying about what sort of black hole we are speeding into, I like airships. One reason being the almost inescapble desire to have one to get out of a traffic jam!

Location: Sonoma County, California

Grew up a military brat, Californian-in-exile, reactionary libertarian-essentially spent the 70s on Mars, for I am hearing impaired and I did not know what the music was saying. Generally still don't unless I listen to it over and over or find the words captioned on a movie or somewhere on line. Came "back" to California to begin my adult life, have not lived elsewhere since. No regrets there despite our problems here. Have studied physics, more math than most human beings will ever need, worked on spaceship projects (well, one) at JPL. Lived with a wonderful disabled person who lives no more--L Natasha Littletree RIP October 2004. I have a life plan, just kind of vague on some of the short-term stuff.

Monday, September 12, 2005

An Aristocracy of Demerit

In reply to a Skippy post by Cookie Jill, "missing in partying action," which simply asks where those lovable Bush twins (with picture of one of them, I can't tell which) sticking her tongue out at we the people, have gotten to during the current crisis of Hurricane Katrina (shall we call it "Floodgate?") a reader named Charly asks:

"I still don't understand how AMERICA...home of the quote-un-quote "free" and "brave...has a RULING CLASS that everyone KNOWS ABOUT...and everyone is OKAY WITH THIS???? "

Ah, Charly, weren't you raised to believe that the USA has an "aristocracy of merit?"

Perhaps it is inevitable that all peoples everywhere who have a society more economically sophisticated than the gatherer-hunters we evolved as must have some kind of ruling class. I sort of hope not, but I am perfectly well prepared to live with the idea that some people will be privileged to have their hands on the ruling levers. Even the anarchist Utopia that Ursula LeGuin imagined in her science fiction novel The Dispossessed had evolved a sort of ruling clique on Anarres; one of her themes was that their idealism demanded renewed revolution, and that is something her scientist protagonist Shevek and his friends stumbled into doing in his generation. But he saw how worthwhile the effort was when he went to the capitalist Utopia of the nation of A-Io on their homeworld, Urras, which Anarres was the moon of.

My personal political philosophy is that people need to struggle for power in whatever system they live in; if they do, they will be heard in some way (perhaps beaten down brutally for the effort, but the alternative is to be even more brutally beaten down if they don't act up). If they don't fight for themselves no one will save them. But it could be that a society that has tremendous disparities in standards of living and political rights might be a decent one--if and only if the ruling class is held by the majority to deliver good rule that considers the interests of everyone. To get that, everyone has to have a de facto recognized right to speak up.

The apologists for the American class system argue that Americans do have that right. However, they generally also scheme to find ways to abolish or sidestep that right, and insofar as they have succeeded, our "aristocracy of merit" has evolved into a just plain aristocracy, with all the abuses and outrages we find in the history books and overseas where we can easily see them.

I think it is only logical that a society that respects the interests and needs of everyone will evolve into a more egalitarian society since I think "merit" is pretty evenly distributed. I might be wrong about that too. But the opposite idea, that social stratification leads to more excellence, seems amply and dismally disproved again and again.

I have a book by Kevin Phillips, American Dynasty: Aristocracy, Fortune, and the Politics of Deceit in the House of Bush. One of his themes is that in general the USA has been slipping for some time into a genuine oligarchic aristocracy; today the ruling classes and the snobs and wanna-bes are not ashamed to tie their precious families to old Europe's ruling clans. The Bushes claim to be related to Queen Elizabeth II.

A major claim of such fatheaded apologists for our ruling system as George Gilder (author among other things of The Inevitability of Patriarchy, and lately notorious as an advocate of "Intelligent Design") is that the ruling classes are in fact demographically transformed as poor people with drive displace the feckless third and fourth generation trust fund babies. The Bush twins, and Dan Quayle, and aWol himself, seem to indicate otherwise and serious and scrupulous study of our ruling families exposes this myth for the lie it is.

It is often said that Americans tolerate the abuses of our system because they hope to become rich and get cut in on the spoils. I wonder if that is true to any significant extent; if it is, it is high time we wipe away that illusion. But I suspect that the large majority already realize the system doesn't work that way.

This is why our rulers are so afraid of democracy or even values (such as judgment on pragmatic performance) that might hold them accountable in any way. They are juggling illusions, people see through them, and they know it. Hence the growing interest in means of repression.