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Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Why Now? What the Timing of the Plutocratic Pity-Party Tells Us About Our Prospects

There are lots of examples illustrating the loathsomeness of the Perkins-style whiner winners of American plutocracy for those who still need them in Joan Walsh's Filthy Rich But Secretly Terrified: Inside the One Percent’s Sore-Winner Backlash, but you should know going in that the substance of the article happens in the subtitle: "Why are the super-rich whining so much? They rigged the game for themselves, but are terrified of being discovered."

Walsh goes on to note that the timing for all this winner-whining is a bit strange given that there is no real chance that taxes are about to be made more progressive, that financial transactions are about to be taxed, that the carried interest loophole is about to be nixed, that urgently necessary environmental regulations will be put in place that actually dint the profitability of fossil fuel companies, or anything like that. Back when Ayn Rand wrote her idiotic screed, "America's Persecuted Minority: Big Business," at least she was responding in her predictably awful way to the real threat to the elite-incumbent status quo represented by still lingering Great Society programs and then-burgeoning environmentalist demands. And she was not the only one: from that time dates the organization of a host of deceptive and obfuscatory think-tanks pushing corporate deceptions competing with and then reshaping the research of the Academy, together with a mobilization of sexualized and racialized resentments and fears via the newly organized "religious right" to fracture and canalize the energies of working class majorities to enable plutocratic minorities in a notionally democratic government.

But why now?

Democrats have a near lock on the presidency (given the existing party duopoly, however, that is something we can never be complacent about), but the Republican strategy of total obstructionism has more or less locked the executive in the White House. The inherent rural against urban bias in Congressional representation exacerbated by gerrymandering and dienfranchisement schemes has ensured that Republicans can maintain a majority in the House even when millions more votes are cast for Democrats than Republicans. The dependence of all elected officials, of whatever party, on corporate donations and of legislation on the knowledge-base of corporate framings of public problems ensures that incumbent elites retain an outside and injurious influence on policy even when Republicans lose.

So, again, what is with the plutocratic pity-party? Why, specifically, now?

As I said, Walsh goes on to provide lots of evidence of gross sexism and intolerance and oblivious plutocratic narcissism in this weird Poor Billionaire pity-party, but no real answer to her own question. I believe that the answer to her quandary is that the unholy multi-generational Movement Republic bargain using white-racist and patriarchal anxieties to fool majorities into voting against their own best interests may still be working for now but looks like it isn't going to be working for long -- demographic realities no less than extreme weather and resource descent and infrastructure failure are exposing the fundamental imposture that has driven American partisan politics shaped first of all by Movement Republican priorities for nearly half a century.

While the dam of Republican Obstructionism is still holding back progress for now, the self-marginalizing extremity and madness of Movement Conservatism reveals its desperation. Self-congratulatory plutocratic defenses of wealth concentration and declarations that there are no problems (like climate catastrophe or inequitable racist legacies) demanding efficacious government redress are falling apart in the face of reality. The Republicans have lost the argument and are holding on to power by their fingernails instead. Of course, Republicans never really won the argument -- Keynesian macroeconomics, sustainable practices recommended by climate science, harm reduction policy models on drug abuse, gun safety, mass incarceration, sex education, abortion access, fair use of public airwaves and intellectual property always made more sense, were always supported by the evidence, and always benefited majorities. Incumbent elites lied about the results and the outcomes to preserve their parochial profit-taking, and they appealed to irrational greed, sloth, fears, and resentments to restrain majorities from organizing and getting in their way.

But if Movement Conservatism has always been a Big Lie and Satanic Pact (plutocratic minorities served by just enough duped white racist patriarchal theocratic paranoid greedheads to scrape a working majority in a generally demoralized and apathetic public), it hasn't always been so damn crazy that its face was Ted Cruz trying to blow up the government on a daily basis in evangelical cadences with that used car salesmen smile. I think the plutocrats are recoiling from the monster they made even if they know that monster is why they've got it made. Also, it may be that the specific timing of the freakout coincided with the moment after procedural shenanigans and then death panel mob scenes and then court challenges right up to the Supreme Court and then a re-election referendum and then the momentarily botched website roll-out all failed to kill Obamacare and millions signed up for a program that they will not relinquish and which finally if only problematically and unweildily establishes healthcare as a basic right and so begins to establish the basic security of health, education, and income as enabling conditions of the scene of legible consent to everyday commerce and hence drown libertarianism in its bloody trough for good and all.

It's been an ill season for social justice, this epoch of Movement Republicanism, but the assholes have lost and they know they have lost and they know that they maintain their position as winners despite their loss only by behaving more and more badly by the moment and they even know that the price of this bad behavior is likely to be a punishment more severe by the minute, but they just cannot help themselves anyway. And it is that fact, not only that they have lost and they are going to have to pay and that they deserve to pay that accounts for the timing of the plutocratic freakout.

Of course, the rich will still be much richer than they deserve to be even when we take away some of their stolen treasure pile to build a world that actually survives for them to live in as well as everybody else. In this, the panicky plutocrats are a lot like the white racist gun nuts foaming at the mouth about Standing Their Ground and Taking Back America: almost all of them will find that living in a more equitable diverse world doesn't actually require them to give up anything worth having. Most of the people destroying the world with their greed and bigotry won't be made less happy when they are made to stop destroying the world -- and no doubt many of them will simply let go of a lot of pointless misery and dumb fear and find their way to contentment instead. This is, of course, a little irritating to those of us who have been batting their evil idiocy all this time, but inequity, intolerance, and unsustainability are far worse and I daresay we would rest content in their amelioration whatever the contentment of our foes in a defeat that will cost them less than they expected, and in fact will cost many of them less than their struggle to defeat us all this time.


jimf said...

> It's been an ill season for social justice, this epoch of
> Movement Republicanism, but the assholes have lost and they
> know they have lost and they know that they maintain their
> position as winners despite their loss only by behaving
> more and more badly by the moment and they they know that the
> price of this bad behavior is likely to be a punishment more
> severe by the minute but they just cannot help themselves anyway.
> And it is that fact, not only that they have lost and they are
> going to have to pay and that they deserve to pay that accounts
> for the timing of the plutocratic freakout.

From today's Pharyngula:
Feb 19 2014

Corporatist Scum
by PZ Myers

So the obscenely rich aren’t just profiting off us, they’re
**laughing** at us. The wealthy scum floating at the top of
New York society have an annual dinner at which they dress up
and sing parody songs and gloat about their money and privilege,
and this year a reporter crashed the party and wrote it up.
It’s as disgusting as you might imagine.

He was eventually caught out and escorted out. It’s a good
sign that he wasn’t summarily shot or even knouted, but
that the frantic billionaires tried to bribe him not to
run the story.

> I wasn’t going to be bribed off my story, but I understood
> their panic. Here, after all, was a group that included
> many of the executives whose firms had collectively wrecked
> the global economy in 2008 and 2009. And they were laughing
> off the entire disaster in private, as if it were a
> long-forgotten lark. (Or worse, sing about it — one of the
> last skits of the night was a self-congratulatory parody of
> ABBA’s “Dancing Queen,” called “Bailout King.”) These were
> activities that amounted to a gigantic middle finger to
> Main Street and that, if made public, could end careers and
> damage very public reputations.

Young, naive, idealistic reporter (they still make those?)! They knew
nothing would end careers or damage reputations — they don’t really
care that much about what the little people say about them,
except that they might face a slight loss of dignity with people
they normally just wipe off their shoes.

The press is in their pocket. Nothing will be done. No outrage will
follow. The Occupy movement dribbled away into ineffectiveness.
The next presidential battle will be an absurdly extravagant
event between an array of corporate stooges who are entirely
reliant on donations from billionaires to get elected. They
can piss on us all they want, and we’ll argue ferociously over
which grand protector of the pissoire we should vote for.

Well, as Leona Helmsley used to say, "taxes are for the
little people". Too bad there wasn't a video, though.

And from the comment thread:

Josh, Official SpokesGay

19 February 2014

Amazing how many people will find this behavior to be a shock.
The American capacity for overlooking the obvious contempt and
dehumanized way in which the rich see the rest of us is bottomless.

They have always hated the poor, or the merely not rich. Always.
And when they’re allowed to aggregate Gilded-Age-level wealth
they *always* show their true colors this way. These are the
same people who had union workers killed in the early 20th century.
They’ll do it today, too.

Rich people fucking hate you. They don’t care that you,
self-pwning “middle class” person, vote Republican (though
I do and I despise you for it). They hate you, and they’d
see you starving and powerless or dead before they gave
a thought to your humanity.

jimf said...

> [T]hey’d see you starving and powerless or dead before they gave
> a thought to your humanity.

So, of course, would most of the Extropians, Transhumanists, and
Sci-Fi-and-Ayn-Rand fans who litter the Web these days. Except
these latter, by and large, are merely living in a narcissistic fantasy.

(They're called "Outwarders" in an SF novel from 1998 which takes
them rather more seriously than they deserve:)

[I]t's 2062. . .

The kid is about nineteen and must be a recent arrival: he’s fat,
and nobody gets or stays fat in free fall (it’s that great weightloss
diet we have).

His face, dotted with more eruptions than Io, calls
to mind all the pizzas he must’ve stuffed in it. His eyes tend
to bulge: the modern equivalent of pebble lenses, due to several
corrective cornea ops for reading-induced myopia. Disdaining the
hops and hemp as unhealthy, he’s sucking some vile cocktail of
smart drugs, spiked with euphorics. He knows everything.

‘You’re the dreamer,’ he says. He waves a hand at the window,
thirty feet away on the other side of the wreck-deck. Through the
mass of drifting drinkers, through clouds of smoke and stray
droplets, the image of a brick-red surface crawls past. Madagascar,
I’d know it anywhere. ‘You’re still stuck in commie altruism.
You want to help people who’re beyond help. They’re doomed.
“Earth the Third World”, ha-ha. Time to grow up and get with the
programme, Ellen. Time to move it out. There’s a big universe out there.’
‘My point exactly.’ I gesture, too, at what’s now the Indian Ocean.
‘And Earth is part of it. You want to live in a virtual reality.’

‘Not entirely.’ He smiles, showing bad teeth. ‘We’ll pay a lot of
attention to the outside. We’ll have to, if we’re gonna turn all that
dumb mass into smart-matter. Matter that thinks, and dreams.
A world of wonders, where you can be anything you like, not what chance
and your genes have made you.’

‘I don’t want to turn the universe into a big computer running virtual
realities,’ I tell him. ‘And don’t call me a “commie altruist”, by the way.
It’s just ordinary human concern. I just don’t like to
see people suffer, so it would be very unselfish
of me to ignore ten billion people blundering into
the dark.’

‘You won’t have to see them suffer,’ he tells me, with insufferable
assurance. ‘You can just edit them out. Anyway, their problems are
their problem. Why make them yours?’

-- Ken MacLeod, _The Cassini Division_
Chapter 4, "The State of the Art"