Thanksgiving Is Ruined

The Personal is Political. The Political is Personal.

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November 24, 2011
#OWS       #OTiR?

Each year at around this time, TiR attempts with fear and trembling to interrogate its namesake proposition: Is it really true? If so, how true is it? How deep does it go?

We look around this year and wonder whether the proliferating Occupy and indignados movements have anything to reveal, on this question.

Thus, TiR returned to reread a locus classicus text of the year, the prescient "Of the 1%, by the 1%, for the 1%" (here), by early Zuccotti Park visitor Joseph Stiglitz.

[Though published in spring 2011, months before the occupations in the USA began, TiR wonders whether much of the much-debated "message" behind OWS has never been stated better than by Stiglitz here . . .

unless one looks at the message as enunciated / performed via the occupations' ever-evolving practice itself, which, to take Simon Tarrow's "identity movement" idea one step further, might be summarized as a deceptively simple "We Are the 99%."

(Indeed, is not the messaging effectiveness of the occupations reflected in how most of the points raised in Stiglitz's text, now only six months old, already sound obvious, if not yawn-inducingly trite and old hat to the petulant, jaded, inner smartypants persona that much of culture today increasingly encourages us to adopt?)]


However, TiR's blood ran cold as we reread the piece, as close scrutiny yielded an almost encoded message that we'd somehow previously overlooked, which seemed to rise unmistakably from the very first paragraph:
It’s no use pretending that what has obviously happened has not in fact happened. The upper 1 percent of Americans are now taking in nearly a quarter of the nation’s income every year. In terms of wealth rather than income, the top 1 percent control 40 percent. Their lot in life has improved considerably. Twenty-five years ago, the corresponding figures were 12 percent and 33 percent. One response might be to celebrate the ingenuity and drive that brought good fortune to these people, and to contend that a rising tide lifts all boats. That response would be misguided. While the top 1 percent have seen their incomes rise 18 percent over the past decade, those in the middle have actually seen their incomes fall. For men with only high-school degrees, the decline has been precipitous—12 percent in the last quarter-century alone. All the growth in recent decades—and more—has gone to those at the top. In terms of income equality, America lags behind any country in the old, ossified Europe that President George W. Bush used to deride. Among our closest counterparts are Russia with its oligarchs and Iran. While many of the old centers of inequality in Latin America, such as Brazil, have been striving in recent years, rather successfully, to improve the plight of the poor and reduce gaps in income, America has allowed inequality to grow.

Astonished, we discerned the same, some paragraphs further on:
America’s inequality distorts our society in every conceivable way. There is, for one thing, a well-documented lifestyle effect—people outside the top 1 percent increasingly live beyond their means. Trickle-down economics may be a chimera, but trickle-down behaviorism is very real. Inequality massively distorts our foreign policy. The top 1 percent rarely serve in the military—the reality is that the “all-volunteer” army does not pay enough to attract their sons and daughters, and patriotism goes only so far. Plus, the wealthiest class feels no pinch from higher taxes when the nation goes to war: borrowed money will pay for all that. Foreign policy, by definition, is about the balancing of national interests and national resources. With the top 1 percent in charge, and paying no price, the notion of balance and restraint goes out the window. There is no limit to the adventures we can undertake; corporations and contractors stand only to gain. The rules of economic globalization are likewise designed to benefit the rich: they encourage competition among countries for business, which drives down taxes on corporations, weakens health and enironmental protections, and undermines what used to be viewed as the “core” labor rights, which include the right to collective bargaining. Imagine what the world might look like if the ruleswere designed instead to encourage competition among countries for workers. Governments would compete in providing economic security, low taxes on ordinary wage earners, good education, and a clean environment—things workers care about. But the top 1 percent don’t need to care.

Until at last we staggered thunderstruck to the last paragraphs of the piece, from which the merciless, inescapable message again could not be suppressed from floating up:
In recent weeks we have watched people taking to the streets by the millions to protest political, economic, and social conditions in the oppressive societies they inhabit. Governments have been toppled in Egypt and Tunisia. Protests have erupted in Libya, Yemen, and Bahrain. The ruling families elsewhere in the region look on nervously from their air-conditioned penthouses—will they be next? They are right to worry. These are societies where a minuscule fraction of the population—less than 1 percent—controls the lion’s share of the wealth; where wealth is a main determinant of power; where entrenched corruption of one sort or another is a way of life; and where the wealthiest often stand actively in the way of policies that would improve life for people in general.

As we gaze out at the popular fervor in the streets, one question to ask ourselves is this: When will it come to America? In important ways, our own country has become like one of these distant, troubled places. . . .

The top 1 percent have the best houses, the best educations, the best doctors, and the best lifestyles, but there is one thing that money doesn’t seem to have bought: an understanding that their fate is bound up with how the other 99 percent live. Throughout history, this is something that the top 1 percent eventually do learn. Too late.

Could it indeed be that, underlying the many claims and propositions advanced by the Occupiers, on some subterranean level, the basic, awful truth that awaits its day to emerge towards conscious discovery and challenge is none other than ________________ ??

Time will tell.