Saturday, March 21, 2015

Clutter, Capitalism and Inequality: Why So Many Uncaring 'Muricans ?

Young woman during an Occupy protest in 2011. Young people - under 35 - are more likely to be invested in issues of income inequality.

It was somewhat shocking to read in the Denver Post yesterday ('Income Inequality, Americans Don't Care', p. 12A) how blasé most of our countrymen are to the growing problem of income, economic inequality. It's as if all their brains have been numbed or administered a powerful narcotic. Another possibility is that their consciousness has been falsified by a drumbeat  of framing by the corporate media to ignore the problem or regard it as inapplicable to them. We call this regrettable mental condition "false consciousness" about which I have written earlier, e.g.

Anyway, the Post piece is extracted from  this article in the Associated Press, which pulls data from the General Social Survey and the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago. The saddest aspect of the central article is that the gap between the rich and the rest of us continues to grow, but just as American wages have stagnated, so too has the public’s interest in combating income inequality.

Why? Don't they believe this inequality applies to them? Do they not think it will ever catch up to them? Say after losing a job and health care to a serious illness and having no lifeline, not one - while the elites howl with laughter. Who knows? But one of the most pathetic segments of the piece noted:

"The public's focus on income inequality has remained stagnant over the past 36 years.  Less than half of Americans — 46 percent — say the government ought to reduce income differences between the rich and the poor, a level that has held fairly steady since the survey began asking the question in 1978. Thirty-seven percent say the government shouldn't concern itself with income differences, while the rest don't feel strongly either way"

WTF?! Are these people comatose or zombies? Or, maybe they are so enmeshed in their 'toys' - from X-boxes, to new cars or big homes, they don't care anymore. Consumption has converted them all into deadheads  It's as if all their brains have been numbed, de-sensitized by all the crap they've bought. 

This isn't that farfetched. According to Stanford Professor Janet Spitz in her article: "I Have Way More Stuff Than You': How Is This Normal? ('Democratic Left' magazine, p. 4) , consumption and clutter plays a major role in desensitizing brains to the predicaments of others.  How much consumption and clutter are talking about?

According to a recent article in TIME, p. 44, March 23, Americans now have so much 'stuff' they have to either rent storage units to put it all or their homes have become nests of clutter - with stuff piled up in ever room to the extent the living space is non-existent.  There are now 48,500 storage facilities  nationwide- raking in $24 billion a year. There are so many they "could fill three Manhattans and outnumber all the Wendys, McDonalds, Burger Kings and Starbucks in the U.S. put together".

How is this even possible? Well, one reason is that the consumption is fueling ever lower prices. According to the TIME article: "In the past decade, the cost of cell phones, toys, computers and televisions has plunged - thanks in large part to overseas manufacturing."

But that overseas manufacturing is mainly paying slave wages, after the decent American manufacturing jobs were shipped out  (via "globalization") to places as diverse as Beijing, and Bangalore. So, the stuff you have accumulated basically comes from capitalist wage slaves in poor nations. Your cheapo prices sustains their misery while it befuddles your brain by the sheer accumulation and distractions. All this was well described by Benjamin Barber in his book, 'Consumed'.

Thus, according to Prof. Spitz, a large part of our blasé attitude to inequality derives from being blinded by our own consumption. This in turn is fed by a run amuck market fundamentalism. As she puts it (p. 5): "The rightward ideological shift toward market fundamentalism creates problems for practical democracy too."

Well, of course! Because bastardized Supreme Court decisions like 'Citizens United' have basically converted our election process into a race to the bottom by political whores. Those whose money caches are filled the most and fastest by their corporate owners-  whether the Koch bros. or Sheldon Adelson,  become the winners and get to govern. But they do so for the corporations and special monied interests, not us.  That also includes domination of the media by which can they control what we get to see and hear about issues. If those problems like income inequality are never discussed, or else dismissed, then it will be off people's radar. So no wonder their disinterest. As noted in the Post article, quoting the Center for American Progress’ John Halpin: "This is an elite debate, and it's filtered through partisan lenses. It hasn't been strong enough to change the public's mind."

Well, it should!

People's lack of education also plays into their false consciousness or disinterest in inequality, leading to false beliefs regarding perception of class in relation to income levels. As a first test, ask ten Americans off the street what income class they belong to. Nine of ten, or more likely all ten, will say "middle class" - even if unemployed for a year, on food stamps, and about to have their home foreclosed.

A more concrete study of class in relation to income level was a (2003) survey conducted by The Economic Policy Institute. It asked generally where people thought they were in the economic spectrum: upper 1% (earning $320,000 year or more); upper 5% (> $80,000) or where?

Unbelievably, a full 19% in this random survey claimed they were in the privileged class of the top 1%.!  A virtual statistical impossibility in any random study. In fact, internal survey cross-check questions on income category showed many of these working at a little above minimum wage, and even the highest were at barely $44,000/yr. Nowhere near the 1% threshold! Other commentators at the time on this study (e.g. Froma Harrop, Ellen Goodman) pointed to this ignorance as a basis for supporting such crap as the Bush tax cuts, which overwhelmingly favored the rich elites. Thus:

A) They didn't know where they themselves fit, and indeed inflated their wealth and positions and

B) they actually believed they'd be millionaires one fine day and be able to partake of the tax cuts. (Or 'death tax' benefits).

In fact, they were deliriously out of touch with reality. As author Michael Parenti has noted ('Dirty Truths') 94% of all wealth comes by way of inheritance, not paid work. So, they are fooling themselves. Unless they have a rich elder relative hidden away with a vast fortune, they'd be better off thinking they may have to work until they're 70 or 80 and even that may not be enough to stay in place.

But sadly, the Overclass and its minions (including the GOP Party, a basic "sub-division") consistently get working class folk to act against their own vested interests by distracting them with moralism ploys - raising "moral" issues like abortion, porn, gays and what not - just long enough so that many working class voters keep they're eyes off the ball when election day arrives. Then these workers wonder why they never get ahead.

Fortunately, there appears to be a ray of hope. Young people, Millennials, appear to be more likely to have income inequality on their personal radar. According to the AP piece:

"Younger adults — those under age 35 — are more likely than older adults to say the government should do something about the gap.”

Let's hope they take up the banner again, perhaps in a revived 'Occupy Wall Street' movement, driven by as many or more people than we've seen act in the post-Ferguson racial milieu. Because, in the end, the two issues are inextricable bound.


Caleb Shay said...

What about the drug tolcapone? That has been found to make people intolerant of inequity so maybe we can use it on a mass scale to change people's behavior. Yes or no?

Copernicus said...

Hadn't heard of this drug. But in any case, what is the use? One would have to put it in every reservoir - illegal - and even then there's no assurance it would do what it is supposedly intended to.

So, I'm afraid we're relegated to the slow and steady path of changing (hopefully) one mind at a time!