Friday, May 31, 2013

The Spoiled children of a spoiled class

Sociology without class analysis is like physics without calculus: it always entails a primitive regression to magical and occult forces. I’m thinking here of Elizabeth Kolbert’s article about spoiled American children inthe New Yorker, which has bits in it like: “The books [about disciplining children] are less how-to guides than how-not-to’s: how not to give in to your toddler, how not to intervene whenever your teen-ager looks bored, how not to spend two hundred thousand dollars on tuition only to find your twenty-something graduate back at home, drinking all your beer.
The last, of course, is the kicker – we are firmly in the territory of the top ten percent. The “you”, the “we”, these marks that seal the unsealable class divisions that now, more than ever, have appeared on the surface of every developed economy in the world – these interest me. This is not just the usual ideological brainwashing, the disguising of those divisions – this is a step further in magic thinking. The we is used to make those divisions disappear. The nudgery liberalism of the Obama era started out with the desire from bipartisanship that, in effect, was the objective correlative of the magic thinking of the upper class, which not only wants to change the lifestyles of the no doubt racist, sexist, homophobic proles, but also wants not to hear tiresome tales of increasing poverty, precariousness, and all the rest of what goes into what is really happening in the quicksand of everyday life for the vast majority of people.
Kolbert is not a stupid writer, and she has written some very good things about environmental issues, but she seems incorrigibly bound by her presumed you and we – identifying with the presumed readership of the New Yorker, who worry about what prep school to send the kids to. Her article contrasts the behavior of one six year old of the “Matsigenka, a tribe of about twelve thousand people who live in the Peruvian Amazon” with the children of thirty Los Angeles households being studied by another anthropologist, Elinor Ochs. In the maddening style of New Yorker’s premier purveyor of sociology-lite, Malcolm Gladwell, the data is given as though every fact was impenetrable to criticism and to history. Sociology-lite loves these atomic givens, upon which they immediately build a sort of theme of the moment. The theme of the moment – spoiled children – is a hotter issue now than ever before, given the royal fucking distributed to the children in the advanced economies at the moment – the fifty percent unemployment among the 17 to 30 crowd in the austerity ravaged lands of Spain, Portugal, Greece, Cyprus – and in the U.S., where Demos put out a report last year about the state of all those “beerdrinking” young college grads that “you” casually forked over 200 thou for:

“Young adults gained little ground in 2012.
Altogether, there are more than 5.6 million 18 to 34-year-olds who are willing and able to take a job and actively looking for work, but shut out of opportunities for employment. These young adults compose 45 percent of all unemployed Americans. An additional 4.7 million young people were underemployed—either working part time when they really wanted full-time positions or marginalized from the labor market altogether. Last year, the unemployment and underemployment rates for people under 25 were more than double those for workers over 35.
Young African American and Hispanic workers face higher unemployment and underemployment than white workers in their age groups.
Young adult Hispanic workers experience unemployment rates 25 percent higher than those of whites, while African Americans face rates approximately double. One in four African Americans between ages 18 and 24 is looking for a job but cannot find one, as are more than one in seven Hispanic young adults.”

I like the New Yorker, but I also use it as my little seismograph of sentiment among the liberal elite. Mostly, that sentiment is alarming – it tends towards the “punitive” liberalism of the Clinton era, where the answer was to lock up more poor kids and definitely take their freeloading mothers off the welfare rolls, which would allow us to… well, increase the Earned Income credit and make symbolic gestures towards environmentalism. Lately, the NY has been on a role, lecturing us for instance about having too much empathy (turns out there are people out there who don’t want the young, no doubt spoiled Dzhokhar Tsarnaev to be put on death row. They even, gasp, have sympathy with him for being shot up, instead of enjoying each wound and hoping that perhaps we will find some horses and draw and quarter him like they used to do in the old days. New Yorker readers have responded to this with enthusiasm, as per this video.  I suppose the return of punitive liberalism was the inevitable next step in the sad mockery of progressive politics that we see all around us – but I’m always willing to kick against the pricks, or bang my head against a wall – a spoiled child’s gesture – and scream that this is bullshit. That a spoiled class produces spoiled children is not going to break my heart – drink your parents beer is what I’d advise that mythical college grad in Kolbert’s imagination.

Southern California Death Trip

    “He was kind but he changed and I killed him,” reads the caption of the photo of a woman in an old tabloid. She was headed to ...