The American elite does not pay attention to or understand history. I mean the elite broadly here, not some easily cornered and shit-upon One Percent, but a more nebulous elite fully encompassing the top decile and diffusing through most of the top quartile, with sporadic but signficant support at lower levels yet. The amount of class arrogance beneath, say, the top five or ten percent seems to be diminishing as the American class system hardens into a more overt system of caste and cutthroat elites increasingly chew up and spit out people who, absent such hostility and belligerence, would contentedly remain their peers, but at the top, among the wildly sucessful winners, the arrogance is setting in like rigor mortis.
The great category error of Occupy Wall Street is to assume that the One Percent have some intrinsic ninja-like power to hypnotize a supermajority of their compatriots or to personally terrorize all dissidents in a representative democracy. The notion is that this sheltered, privileged, rather effete superelite has simply mindfucked to walking death a population that, with more clarity of mind, could easily overrun the Hamptons, Aspen, Palo Alto, and whatever and impress its members into chain gangs by brute force. The problem is just that the rest of us have been narcotized by television and don’t know what’s best for us because we’re being kept in purposeful ignorance.
This is a provably incorrect worldview. It is exceedingly well established that the superwealthy buy the support, or at least the contented assent, of a wide variety of servants and retainers. They may try to buy the allegiance of their extended staff on the cheap, but they aren’t so daft as to expect the lot of them to work for free out of love for their social superiors. The One Percent know full well that they’re hiring mercenaries, and they pay them accordingly. It’s a decentralized version of Downton Abbey, one so sprawling and baroque that its management would drive Mr. Carson to an all-day gin habit. The staff these grandees have in their pocket include entire payrolls at companies that they own, marketers (Mad Men), physicians (Royal Pains), lawyers, teachers, school administrators, school staff, entire prep schools and colleges, the University of Oregon football program, personal chefs, private airline pilots, everyone else working in the small jet business, commercial airlines (they fly first class, where the fat margins are), high-end grocers, coke dealers, call girls, rent boys—my God, Thomas, fix me another Old Fashioned, I’m afraid that’s only a partial list! The wealthy don’t sit in front of gold safes in their offices, avariciously hoarding all they can lay eyes on like Scrooge McDuck, because they can’t. The money is useless if they don’t spend it. It’s a claim on other people’s labor, just like your money or mine. Shit, Michael Jackson went into debt to buy his own fucking Pedo Bear-approved amusement park.
As I said, that’s a partial list. I forgot to mention cops. You’d be a n00b to think that the wealthy aren’t on a first-name basis with the commissioner and the chief of detectives. They do everything they can to buy entire police departments. Ideally, they negotiate directly with the Patrolman’s Benevolent Association and the Richmond Borough Council. They lease out half of Staten Island as a tax-farming franchise. My ancestors merely ran dairy cattle there, and rented out some apartments on Bradley Avenue.
The American class structure would have collapsed decades, maybe even centuries, ago if the top echelon had merely condescendingly instructed everyone beneath it to wait on it hand and foot for a pittance. The problem isn’t just with the One Percent. It’s with the One Percent and everyone who has a first-, second-, or third-order professional relationship with the One Percent and would be put out of work if the very wealthy started hoarding their financial wealth in earnest. It’s a lot more than just one percent of the population. It’s more like the most politically engaged top quintile.
This only sounds like a stable social order. It’s actually quite unstable. It’s chronically besieged by its disaffected victims, and it costs a huge fortune to maintain. The king’s shilling is a lot more than a shilling, and it’s payable fortnightly.
Look at Ferguson. A few dozen white supremacist citizen militia cosplay kooks and self-deployed police showed up to contribute unwanted muscle to the suppression effort, but they were outnumbered dozens of times over by police who were formally deployed on overtime payroll, first under the command of the St. Louis County Police, then of the Highway Patrol, then of the Unified Command. The protesters, meanwhile, were overwhelmingly locals who were angry about their ongoing mistreatment at the hands of the Ferguson Police Department. Ferguson’s rotten borough government had had to pay dozens of employees above-market salaries to operate a municipal tax-farming operation under force of arms, and when the authorities pushed their subjects over the edge by killing Michael Brown, they spent weeks relying on mutual aid from outside police agencies, at a volume that the Ferguson Police Department was and remains in no position to reciprocate, for the suppression of protests that had been provoked by the lawlessness and brutality of their own unaccountable municipal government. Despite this show of force, the police left a number of small businesses either exposed to looters and arsonists or under the unauthorized guard of ad hoc vigilante squads.
Ferguson is an excellent example of a dangerous miscalculation by the ruling elite. There is no way on earth that a 53-member police force can maintain civil order in a city of 22,000 without letting most of its work be done through natural law. Many of Ferguson’s cops don’t even live in town. Darren Wilson and Barbara Spradling live in South County. The Ferguson Police Department is a shift-work mercenary outfit. Any of its regular watches could be successfully overrun in full by a motivated street gang or militia made up entirely of city residents. Shit, every sworn officer in the department deployed simultaneously could be successfully overrun by a motivated local insurgency within half an hour.
This is why Ferguson had to call on so much fucking mutual aid. It couldn’t finish what it had started without socializing its losses to St. Louis County, St. Louis City, and the State of Missouri. This is why Sam Dotson spent most of August traveling back and forth across the county line, juggling meetings in North St. Louis over the Kajieme Powell shooting and in Ferguson over the Brown shooting.This is why he, Ron Johnson, Ron Replogle, and various junior officers from the Highway Patrol spent so much time walking with protesters and doing meet-and-greet sessions. Police chestnuts had to be pulled out of the fire in the nick of time, including Johnson’s. The alternative would have resembled Fallujah.
Again, these protests were only proximally about race. The underlying problem was caste. It just happened that most of the low-caste victims of this troubled regime were black and most of its enforcers were white. The opportunity to prey on vulnerable black people under color of authority must have attracted an unusually large number of white racists to police forces in St. Louis County, but there’s no reason why an equivalently brutal regime couldn’t be run by white officers on white constituents in, say, Albuquerque, or Fulerton.
If the protests had really, truly been a race riot, Sam Dotson wouldn’t have received such a warm reception. Dotson is white as shit, and he was able to have mostly cordial chats with black protesters for hours on end. His counterpart in Ferguson, Tom Jackson, is also super duper white, but in a much rougher way, and he couldn’t walk with protesters for half an hour without comparing himself to the victim of a lynch mob and getting caught up in a street brawl. To anyone who isn’t a white-girl-bleed-a-lot underclass thug or neoreactionary nutjob, the difference between the two is obvious: Dotson has top-notch social skills and graces, and Jackson is a shifty creep. We’ll come back to this shortly.
But these surnames that keep popping up. Wilson. Brown. Jackson. Knowles. Johnson. Powell. Dotson. It’s like a wet dream of the British National Party about a beautiful, bygone England. Sir Robert himself couldn’t have fielded a proper London detective squad from this crowd: not enough Scotsmen. He’d need to at least bring in a Detective-Constable Ferguson. My Johnson ancestors were Swedes, but I doubt the same is true of the captain. How far afield must we go to find anyone who so much as has a German-sounding surname?
Two out of three ain’t bad.
We have a society in the United States that is increasingly untenable for the poor. The frontal attacks on workplace safety enforcement by the Reagan Administration and the Congressional Republican class of 1995, for example, were shockingly antisocial. They didn’t get much press at the time, and they remain little discussed in mainstream political histories. The thing was that the big cohort of Boomer voters was checking back in from the sixties as this strangulation of the administrative apparatus of the commonweal was in progress. These voters were smug wonders who knew that they themselves would never be poor, uneducated, or unskilled. Hacking at beef carcasses in a slaughterhouse was square, man. Slaving away for the Man in a steel mill was totally not groovy when a mofo could put on a power suit and get shit done, mostly by and to the other people doing the actual work.
Boomers sold out by the graduating class. Their grandchildren can’t sell out. No one’s fucking buying is why. In this case, I’m not talking just about generationally poor youngsters who were on course to draw the short end of the stick in any event. I’m talking about normally functioning twenty-somethings from families with 95th-percentile household incomes, fifth-generation college graduates, third-generation terminal degree holders, that kind of thing. These are people who should have steady payroll work for the asking. They don’t.
In retrospect, the obnoxious antics from the unemployed, and seemingly entitled, humanities graduates in Occupy were a shot across the bow. These kids weren’t even employed as canvassers for fruitcake activist organizations. They were coming from affluent, well-connected families, and they were getting spit out of much wealthier, better-connected alma maters into a job market that they couldn’t navigate. Based on my own experience with Dickinson College and its alumni, I assume that their alma maters and their fellow alumni were overwhelmingly leaving them to their own devices, and probably standing by with a smirk, watching them flounder.
What this means is that the elite is not taking care of its own. These are largely people who absolutely are unethical enough to manipulate the job market for the hereditary advantage of their socioeconomic peers with no consideration for the effects on the less well-off (e.g., unpaid internships), but for some reason they won’t use their muscle to directly place their unemployed junior cronies into payroll positions. It’s porbably because they disingenuously expect Junior to hustle and kiss ass like a good self-made American.
Here’s an example. The Dickinson Career Center has the resources to host a fucking Etiquette Luncheon, where one is taught how to eat French onion soup like an Astor or some shit, and it has the connections to host mock interviews and job fairs, but as far as I know it does not have the wherewithal to arrange the immediate placement of unemployed alumni into open positions for which they appear qualified. Yes, I mean come-by-at-eight-tomorrow-morning placements. If the principals at ten-acre independent farms are able to do this, Dickinson College can goddamn well do it, too. Instead, the Dickinson Career Center is happy to teach Young Scholars how to play the customary mind games with corner office types and managerial-class wankers, but it shits the bed when it’s time to actually deliver the fucking goods. And, no, with an annual tuition in the high forties and an endowment pushing $150k per enrolled student, this absolutely is not acceptable. Of course we fucking deserve an immediate job placement option in exchange for that, and of course it’s a disgrace that the Career Center doesn’t arrange immediate placements for unemployed alumni as a matter of course.
But let’s leave aside the ethical implications of an expensive college willfully assenting to the ongoing unemployment of its alumni because they should be developing the skills to smooth-talk their way into a job instead of developing actual job skills in an actual job right now. There’s a practical implication of this mindset, one that the American leadership class has lately been too daft to notice. An employable population of downwardly mobile people with high educational attainment is not the stuff of social stability. It’s no coincidence that Cesar Chavez was a scion of the dislocated Jeffersonian yeomanry. His family had had a good deal as smallholders in Arizona, and it was taken away from them, forcing them to go on the road with all the Okies.
What Dickinson does to alumni who fail to launch is very similar. Hear me out on this; it is not the White Whine it may look at first blush. Under Bill Durden’s fiscally successful but morally disastrous presidency, whose youngest alumni are still completing their undergraduate educations, students were bombarded by messages of aggrandizement. We were constantly told that Dickinson had the best academics, the best faculty, the best extracurricular programming, the best financial stewardship. We were told that we, its students, had the best critical thinking skills, the most well-rounded backgrounds, the best preparation to Engage the World, and the best alumni network at our disposal. We were on the verge of escape velocity from the gravitational pull of Gettysburg, shooting for the elite solar system containing the Ivies, the Seven Sisters, Haverford, Reed.
By the time I graduated, I had long considered Bill Durden an incorrigible moral failure and a bumptious charlatan. But the thing about his propaganda was that it was omnipresent. It was in the air we breathed. In some form or other, it was a background noise. Probably half the student body and 95% of students in “leadership” positions believed the happy horseshit, and the believers wouldn’t shut up about it. It was usually impossible to get through a speech on the quad or an administration or alumni mixer without being blasted with this toxic mixture of aggrandizement and condescension. It was so chronic and overbearing that only the insensate could come through without being spiritually affected in a nefarious way.
Durden and his crew were doing everything in their power to brainwash us, for money, mostly. I understood this and was thoroughly disgusted, but understanding intellectually that one’s college is being turned into a cult and its promotional copy is fast becoming a form of brainwashing is not enough to counteract the visceral ill effects of being bombarded by this propaganda from all directions for years on end. It’s easy to get into a situation in which it looks like everybody else is successful, just like Durden said they’d be, because stories of success are what get published in the alumni updates section of the quarterly magazine and most people on Facebook are too goddamn servile to be halfway honest with their own friends and close acquaintances if they get into difficult circumstances. Even when I hung out with other Dickinson alumni, the message was often, “ha ha ha, I’m not a fuckup, but you are!” For years, every time I had trouble at work or couldn’t find work, a bad feeling washed over me that maybe there really was something wrong with me that was not wrong with my classmates. As a Dickinsonian, how could I not be a success? I was supposed to be charmed, but things weren’t working out. Maybe it was because I hadn’t applied myself enough and had gotten mediocre grades. Maybe I hadn’t been worthy of admission.
This feeling was involuntary. It was too primal to escape. I kept remembering that I had successfully held down payroll jobs at Hersheypark in four summer seasons, three of them while I was enrolled at Dickinson, and that I would have worked many more hours than I did had I not spent large parts of the last three summers traveling at my parents’ suggestion, even insistence. Depressive episodes that had left me unable to complete my homework or maintain attention in class hadn’t really affected my work performance at Hersheypark. On the other hand, I had quit my last job at Hersheypark without notice because the work conditions had suddenly gone to hell just before Labor Day and everyone, including me, was getting ugly in the Indian Summer, and it ended up taking me two and a half years to find another consistent payroll job. In retrospect, with more experience, I know for a fact that there were serious structural and ethical problems with the industries where I was looking for work, but I was too naïve to know what the hell was going on at the time.
Surprisingly, I’m getting a much better idea of my peers’ employment histories by browsing their LinkedIn profiles. I guess they’re more honest on LinkedIn than on Facebook because falsifying employment dates or making up past jobs would make them feel scummy in a way that timidly censoring themselves on Facebook does not. This is impressive for a platform that uses so much truly autistic syntax. Seriously, LinkedIn has a Chinese instruction manual’s relationship to the English language.
Please enjoy with chopsticks, the traditional and typical.
It’s become obvious that the environmental consulting firm fired me as part of a year of the long knives; multiple colleagues who had their shit together left the company within a year of my being fired, many of them with tenures well above the industry average. I’m coming across many more employment gaps of six, twelve, even eighteen months than I expected. Unfortunately, the crazy waddling horror was apparently one of the last to leave our consulting firm and one of the first to get rehired elsewhere, the sooner to poison another workplace with tantrums and threats to sue for obesity discrimination. Not surprisingly, she has a string of five professional certifications after her name on her LinkedIn profile.
What’s disheartening is all the grandiose crap I’m coming across on LinkedIn from people I had hoped would be more modest and thoughtful.A woman who I was told on good secondhand authority was given a sinecure at Dickinson in exchange for a $50,000 donation from her parents is in a doctoral program in education and has delivered a TedX talk on, I’m assuming based on her Twitter feed, linguistically inflated pedagogical nonsense of some sort. A sort of ex-girlfriend of mine describes herself as something like a “contributor to valued and valuable teams” at her company. A roommate’s ex-girlfriend has a blog that is surprisingly well-written but too heavy on diversionary feminist platitudes about having a bunch of sisters. The “budding activist” sister, I have to infer, is marginally attached to the labor market. Both of these women are overly involved in Lean In-style feminist circle-jerking. I’m still fond of that ex-girlfriend, although I haven’t seen her in years and we had a short and really tumultuous relationship, but she, like so many of her socioeconomic peers, is part of the problem.
Dickinson has an entire academic department, International Business and Management, devoted to the education of Young Turks in the ways of high crassness. On the whole, the IB&M graduates I’ve known are of much better moral and intellectual character than can be ever be expected of such a department. Even the dimwitted ones tend to be good-natured enough. The much bigger problem is that they get plugged into psychopathic organizations after they graduate.
The other problem, of course, is that so many honorable lines of work in this country pay shit. I pruna da grapevine, but I don’t very much makea da money. So it goes. This problem is related to the social climbing of my LinkedIn crowd. Of course we don’t have #EqualPay. Such a thing would make the yuppies shit bricks.