Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Solidarity Culture

Matt Taibbi has a very interesting interview with Maria Armoudian on AlterNet. One answer from Taibbi in particular caught my attention. Taibbi writes in response to a question about the media's handling of the financial industry and its role in the current economic crisis:

"It’s funny, my father’s a journalist; I grew up around journalists. When I was a kid, there had been a culture change in our business. Way back in the day, I think journalists were mostly working-class guys. A lot of them didn’t go to college; they either worked hard as paper boys or at a printer or something like that. A classic example is a guy like Seymour Hirsch, who was a career newspaperman. That’s where he started. It was a trade, not a profession. I think after All the President’s Men, journalism became sexy. By the time I was on the campaign trail, most of the people who were on the plane following the candidates around were Ivy League people. And they mean well, but they’re mostly turned on by proximity to power, and they like to have this insider status. That notion of being outsiders who police people in power has disappeared from the profession in general. It’s a subtle thing, but it definitely showed up in this crisis where class was such an unspoken issue."

Taibbi's discussion of the changes in the culture of journalism can really be applied to the rest of America's institutions. Part of the problem in the United States is a lack of any clear populist consciousness outside of the self-defeating populism exemplified by the Tea Party. Most people seem resigned to simply accept the domination of neoliberalism while trying their best to succeed in the system as it is. It is no wonder that trends like the Gospel of Wealth, self-help books, positive thinking and other methodologies designed to help the striver reach the American Dream have had such a strong following. It is no wonder that young Americans are willing to engage in increasingly fierce competition and go deep into debt for a chance at entering one of the few lucrative professions left in America.

Unfortunately, for many Americans, the American Dream based on individual accomplishment is becoming much more difficult to obtain. Even well-educated workers are having a hard time obtaining the “good life” with only one spouse working full time. Contrast this to the Keynes-Beveridge economic model which called for one worker per household bringing home enough income to sustain a decent lifestyle for a family, even if the worker was not highly educated.

Now, what the old school journalists and their counterparts in other trades had in common was a kind of populist consciousness. They understood that working people could only successfully fend off plutocratic forces by standing together in a spirit of solidarity and by being critical of those same plutocratic forces, not giving in to the kind of language about “producers” and “job-creators” that seems to enthral so many conservatives. As Taibbi discusses in another part of the interview, the Tea Party functions to displace Middle American anger onto racial or ethnic minorities, or poor people generally, or liberal college professors, or some other easy target. Similar tactics helped damage populism in the South, as Southern Democrats and others used racial animosity to break up a populist alliance of poor blacks and poor whites.

Genuine populism can only exist in a culture that values conscious solidarity between people who refuse to be dominated by the plutocratic forces in society. As long as the American people cling to Randian fantasies of lone, rugged individuals conquering all that is before them, our politics won’t change and it will likely only get worse. We will continue to have a simulacrum of democracy hiding the reality of a political system awash in money, where voting is increasingly reduced to a meaningless ritual. And if things still don’t work out, at least we can perhaps get away from this increasingly nasty, grasping, rootless, cruel, and alienating culture of ours.


  1. I used to think that it was a good thing that almost all women had jobs outside the home these days.

    However, I became a father last week and my wife would love to stay at home and bring up our daughter full-time (at the moment she has managed to wrangle a whole year off with sick leave and maternity leave.)

    Unfortunately this would be financially impossible.

    Women in the past fought (rightly) for the right too work.

    Now their granddaughters have no choice..

  2. Congratulations! I am happy to hear about your growing family!

    I agree with you, choice is an important component of the issue. My grandmother worked at a candy shop just to get out of the house and have something to do while her children were at school. My grandfather made good enough money as a master carpenter in a union shop so that the candy shop job was not really necessary, but my grandmother still enjoyed having a little job to go to.

    Of course, this was in the 1950s and 1960s, when it was much easier for working-class women to be able to have these kinds of choices because strong unions helped obtain good wages for many working men. Now, many women are practically pushed into the workforce, even when they might rather stay home with their children, because of stagnant or declining wages for working men.