If you don’t have a workweek on the horizon, stick around here anyhow. For the love of God, I’m not the one shaming the unemployed. Nor am I the one breathlessly complaining that it’s Monday again on drivetime radio, even if it is, and even if I have work instead of time.
There’s a meme on the right, popular among #TCOT assholes who brag about their own self-sufficiency, that Bernie Sanders wants to give everyone free shit. There are two obvious implications here. One, usually made explicitly, is that Bernie is a dumbass socialist shitlib who doesn’t understand how economies work and why his government programs will fail. This is farfetched, if not purposely dishonest: Vermont has an exceptionally robust and diversified skilled crafts economy and a significant heavy industrial base, none of which Sanders is proposing to strangle or has used his leadership to strangle in the past. This private-sector economy thrives in a state with one of the least slavedriving mentalities in the country, probably because massa and the foreman have historically been too busy in certain other states to take up trades of their own. The other implication of this free stuff meme is that right-of-center politicians never play gimmedat politics. This is one of the most provably bogus big lies in American politics. Rear-echelon operations in the US military are nothing but gimmedats, and the recent deployments of the leaner, more competent frontline forces to Africa and Asia have been in furtherance of well-connected gimmedat corporate interests back home.
It’s worth noting that #TCOT has largely spared Hillary Clinton from this free shit meme. This is a rare foray from the right-wing fever swamp into reality-based politics. Hillary, one of the least generous and least public-spirited American politicians of our time, doesn’t do socialism for the little people. She has never been interested in sober, equitable redistribution so much as in fraud and robbery by, of, and for the haute bourgeoisie. Bernie wants to nurture a broad middle class through whatever combination of public and private enterprise seems to work best, but Hillary badger don’t care. Her reckoning is that Trenton makes, the world takes, and bitch you’re Trenton because I’m the whole world.
The Bern unit is getting its message out in spite of mainstream media that will hardly do a thing to recap Bill and Hillary Clinton’s stunning record of venality. In most cases, major media outlets can’t resist covering such salacious behavior, but the Clintons aren’t most people. There are a lot of sniveling little shitbirds with no hard skills in the press who know that Hillary Clinton is looking out for them in exchange for their propaganda services. The problem with Bernie, which is also the problem with the Donald, is that effective socialism (not the half-assed, disingenuous consensus version that has been implemented in the hope of getting loud high bougie elements to shut up for fifteen minutes) would knock Beltway social climbers down a peg or two. They’d end up with fewer Guatemalans and house Negroes at their beck and call, and with more of the darkies presuming some degree of social and civic equality. (Low Whitey is an irrelevancy immediately around Washington and Manhattan.)
I don’t think I’m exaggerating this at all. One result of a broader, more equitable socialism would be that black and brown people would spend less time in service to amoral strivers, the latter tending white. Front-of-the-house restaurant and hotel operations in Acelaland are very heavily black, while back-of-the-house operations and under-the-table household staffing is very heavily campesino, as witnessed by the recurrent scandals involving candidates for high office who hired Central American nannies with irregular papers to watch their children. If anyone had a close eye on the day labor market, these scandals would be even more prolific, but nobody knows from hour to hour who’s up for an odd job not involving fluency in English in the Home Depot parking lot.
It’s inevitable that bleeding hearts take a look at this arrangement and find it unconscionable that this underpaid working class is being run into the ground so that useless mandarins aren’t a tiny bit inconvenienced when they need a salad for lunch right now. Food service jobs are physically demanding, most of them pay shit, and the people holding them often spend exhausting amounts of time getting to and from work on disjointed bus systems. The political will has never existed in most parts of the United States to make life for the servant class more manageable, or even pleasant, since #TCOT avers that we’re spending too much money on the goddamn projects and the goddamn MTA already, but the idea of the children of these beleaguered sandwich artists and busboys being able to better themselves is Wow Much american Such dream, so that’s where the economic left focuses instead, as a compromise.
Hence free college tuition. Over two or three generations, everyone is supposed to stop slaving away at the family diner and go to medical school.That’s what the Greeks did, after all, and that’s why we have Vietnamese families to run the current generation of pho joints while their kids study to be civil engineers. Ours is a country where a family can go from running a rug warehouse on a soul-crushing industrial backstreet in Sylmar to Kim Kardashian in three generations. Or something like that. As Yogi Berra said when a Jew was elected Lord Mayor of Dublin, only in America. The idea is that we educate these people’s kids, and they study harder than the native-stock layabouts among their classmates, and eventually some new cohort of enterprising immigrants shows up to do the grunt work. We have these situations where father was a neurosurgeon in Saigon, his son is a neurosurgeon in San Jose, but in the meantime father was a hospital orderly in San Jose–hey, how did that happen? That couldn’t have involved Hueys and CIA proxy governments, could it? Gee, the Lord works in mysterious ways.
It’s the air we breathe. No one proposes an alternate economic baseline in which the US Deep State and its allies stop immiserating foreign populations and turning them into refugees who come to the United States to carry on the family restaurant tradition. It’s so obvious that there will always be new immigrant streams coming to us to save us from our own demographic and economic fecklessness that no one asks what prompted the immigrants to leave their homes, and whether it had anything to do with US intelligence assets. Shit keeps hitting the fan with the Central American peasant diaspora, in part because Honduras has levels of violent crime that would normally be associated with a civil war, but for all the US military resources that have been wasted in Afghanistan, no one in Washington is interested in sending police or military units to help pacify the Honduran slums. The dereliction here is perfectly rational, in an extremely cold way, from the perspective of keeping ordinary Hondurans in service to wealthy Americans, whether on the banana plantations, at restaurant dishwashers, on construction sites, or on someone’s household staff. Prosperous foreign countries aren’t ones that can be scraped for scab labor. The United States obviously does not have a national interest in keeping Honduras violent and chaotic, as shown by the stream of refugees desperate enough to squat on top of freight trains and brave gangs of Mexican police and robbers (I repeat myself), but certain wealthy and affluent elements in the United States do have a narrow self-interest in keeping Honduras violent and chaotic.
Still, it’s considered bad form to suggest that the children and grandchildren of wetbacks be kept generationally in service to Bougie when there’s a chance that they might be able to make something of themselves. That’s a little too openly bigoted for polite American tastes. At the same time, college is expensive, yo. If it’s free, it won’t be expensive anymore. This is half-cocked thinking and a proposed misallocation of government money, but it’s a half-cocked misallocation in furtherance of the American Dream.
It’s only a bit radical. A truly radical solution would be to devote government policy to obliterating the rotten class system. Huge progress could be made to this end for fairly small outlays, but the political will just isn’t there; as a polity, it seems, we would rather spend our money on cops, prisons, and military adventurism than on government services that are not part of the police state. Plenty of people say that they’re all about leadership and government service, but nobody wants to ask the California Highway Patrol unions to consider pay cuts, since they’re mostly just kind of driving around wherever, anyway. Nobody wants to take the flak for being against the police. Of course, this is not a fuck porky proposal. I’m not against the CHP or its officers; my objection is to the insistence that Chippies be paid enough to afford recreational boats on a single salary for work that is often not very demanding at a time when the California state treasury is still something of a mess, with far more claimants than willing net contributors. As they say, money doesn’t grow on trees. I know for a fact that that isn’t entirely true, but the prevailing piece rates for olives are fucking terrible, not worth the effort as an economic proposition.
The cops want theirs. The prison guards want theirs. Now the students want theirs. Given that college administrators have spent decades looting the proceeds of student debt, free tuition holds a certain equitable appeal. It’s long been available in the armed forces, but for a price. Letting students study, or “study,” for free makes more or less as much sense as structuring the union rules to allow high-seniority train operators to make $110,000 a year pushing buttons for BART. How these lazy fuckers can ever look an Amtrak engineer or, shit, a Muni driver in the eye and call what they do for a living work is beyond me. Or a BART maintenance of way employee, for that matter. For what it’s worth, though, they do show up, and they don’t get up in anyone’s face or fuck with policy, except as it pertains to paying them handsomely to do next to nothing.
It’s always important for a lazy American to have a halfway credible story for why his particular form of laziness is not parasitism. It’s a party foul to be Cliven Bundy’s shiftless friend the Negro, sitting on a stoop in North Las Vegas all the live-long day. You can be whiter than Sam Dotson but less educated and earn no less scorn for doing exactly the same thing, by the way. (If you’re as White as Sam Dotson, though, you’re good; social proof is on your side, because Whiter does not exist.) This is a country where being poor and openly lazy for $20k a year is considered beyond the pale, but being affluent and cagily lazy for $100k is totally cool. Three Chippies hanging out at the Truckee Starbucks for an hour and a half in the middle of the summer looks sort of like work if you’re paying absolutely no attention. That’s what excellent paramilitary posture and manner of speech are worth: distracting the most oblivious civvies from the possibly embarrassing truth that one is getting $30 an hour in base pay to sit on ass in front of a coffeeshop and chitchat about who just got a transfer to Fresno. There’s nothing exactly wrong with that; if they’re keeping to themselves at Starbucks, they aren’t out hassling anyone, and the highways will do fine without them for the afternoon. Still, if the goal is the stewardship of state finances, that’s not how to do it.
It’s kind of like college, in the most sentimental sense, but with less hair. Some people get cash or credit stipends to hang out and not do anything much, unless they feel like doing something more than bong hits or espresso shots. Others have to bust ass because they’re given no such consideration. The sentimental notion of college is that it’s a refuge from the crude, unpleasant world of work and worry. This must make work-study students want to frag the toffs. Why should a Mexican earn minimum wage to cut lettuce and live in near squalor while some rich bitch is effectively paid to hang out in the USC cafeteria and eat lettuce? Because she’s a Mexican? (#LeanIn.) But her American-born daughter isn’t, like, totally Mexican, so maybe she should get a scholarship to go to San Jose State and eat lettuce. This doesn’t make sense, but it’s roughly how America works.
There are many cake majors and inappropriately politicized majors at state schools. None of this distinguishes CSU Dominguez Hills from Columbia. The social proof of UC Santa Cruz to pull this shit could go either way, since it receives state funding but also harbors large numbers of rich, no-account stoner layabouts whose parents pay full tuition. Government money is appropriated to pay losers to study applied hashtag activism with full room, board, and outpatient medical care. Government money is also being appropriated to pay winners to put on dress tans and drink coffee for a living. These two expenditures anger different portions of the electorate for what amount to aesthetic reasons, but both are net drains on the real economy. The Chippies will have to put on utility blues come winter and deal with chain controls and spin-out accidents in God-awful weather, but the fill-in-the-blank studies majors will probably end up as baristas, if they aren’t already working part time to pay for school. They should be sure to keep the Pellegrino in stock so that they’re ready to pop some punk-ass Chips.
Why should your tax dollars pay for this shit? Take it up with your state assemblyman. Pester Moonbeam’s phone operators about government waste. Maybe they’ll talk to him about trimming some more fat. Hell, I dunno. Sometimes these gambits work. Moonbeam V. 2.1 and 2.2 has made more progress towards refocusing state budgeting and services than I was expecting, given the history of dog-ass partisanship in the legislature. Then again, when police dependents are the ones complaining about government waste, all I can think is, shit, white girl. This isn’t even a moral judgment per se, just a practical judgment that any budgeting crisis being addressed by stakeholders with a mentality like that is insoluble. Everyone has to nurse with Mama Sugar all at once. As Americans, we’re lucky that we don’t spend more time, not less, fighting amongst ourselves like piglets at the tit.
Free college, like free a lot of things, has its attractions. I, for one, would be cool with more free rail and bus fare. The California Comet offered an excellent style of ride, and the state Secretary of Transportation was a bastard to order Amtrak to mothball it. Trains are fly as shit; fuck your G6. College can be cool, too. Many college students would still be unemployed if they weren’t enrolled because the economy is garbage. That’s the way it is, Kronkite, and our leaders aren’t taking it seriously enough to actually fix it. Colleges are better than average places for intelligent, thoughtful people to find friends and spouses. The social aspect alone can make them worthwhile, as long as the social climbing isn’t overwhelmingly noxious.
At the same time, if crosstown bus fare isn’t free, maybe college shouldn’t be free, either. I’m just sayin’. And college is absolutely, without a doubt, overrated. It is neither necessary nor sufficient for a life of the mind, and it is neither necessary nor sufficient for professional training. Speaking of a life of the mind, we should get our heads out of our asses about college men and women being smarter and more cultured. On balance, I guess they are, but that doesn’t give them cause to be superior about it. A critically thinking, intellectually engaged public wouldn’t fall for a tenth of the bullshit emanating from college admissions and, God save us all, development offices. It’s weird to have a bachelor’s degree in the liberal arts and think of the college-educated as “them” rather than “us,” but that’s basically how I feel, and I don’t think it’s exactly hypocritical. When I consider the amount of condescension I’ve attracted from my nominal peers, I hate to think of how they must treat high school dropouts, or how I myself would probably treat high school dropouts if I took my social cues from these supercilious twits.
The solution, if there is one, is for students (their parents?) to pay something for higher education, but little enough to dislodge the rentiers by depriving them of excess revenue. It is vital to make college admissions more flexible than they are and to drive away the menacing extortionists who tell harried high school students that their chances at success are now or never. This is one of the immense benefits of the US community college model, which is a beacon for many other countries. Having an alternative to the rat race is crucial.
The best thing that can be done is to maintain a middle ground between balls-to-the-wall cutthroat competition, which ruins a country’s youth, and consequence-free indolence under university auspices, which saps the initiative of young people to do anything worthwhile with their lives. That is, any school that you’ve been following in US News & World Report rankings or on College Humor or Total Frat Move should be dissolved, its dormitories expropriated for public housing and its grounds for community garden plots or food forests. Limited exceptions would be reasonable on a case-by-case basis. In some of these cases, we’re dealing with hardcore spiritual pathology. That’s the only way a liberal arts college can jack up its tuition without first improving its services and get a flood of applications from students (again, parents?) who suddenly admire and cherish the institution as a Veblen good. Every last soul involved in such a frenzy belongs in a Maoist agricultural commune. If that kind of attitude truly cannot be fixed, it at least ought to be punished.
Of course, purging these ugly elements from the academy pending their repentance (I’m not a full Stalinist, now) would defeat one of the main socioeconomic purposes of college: the maintenance of the caste system. A number of the old-line WASP’s got severely butthurt when the Jews, and then the Asians, started outsmarting and outworking them into prestigious university slots that they considered their own birthright for being classy-ass honkies. There are elite elements to this day that find the GI Bill and the subsequent expansion of the state school systems quite distasteful, who believe that this democratization of education has cheapened their own degrees.
This is not the stance of a person who loves learning. A sensible person of intellectual curiosity does not want to be surrounded by a public of dirt-ignorant idiots, but by fellow citizens who share some measure of intellectual engagement. Deliberately keeping other people ill-educated is not something that the sincerely erudite want to do. It is, however, a beloved goal of social climbers. It’s social climbers who enjoy treating education as a zero-sum game and using it as a weapon against their enemies.
It’s true that not everybody has the aptitude or the drive to succeed in college. In an equitable society, this would be fine, since many people don’t want to go directly from high school to college and some don’t want to go to college at all. For the past few decades, however, American leaders have increasingly been intoning that a college education is the sine qua non of economic success. This means that to tell someone that he is unfit for college is to tell him that he doesn’t deserve to live comfortably. Again, this has nothing to do with a life of the mind, or with the development of useful sciences, or with anything else about the university that is not malignant. It’s a way of saying, look, man, you’re stupid, so you deserve a life of hereditary poverty, but I’m smart, so I deserve three hots and a cot no matter what.
This is a deeply antidemocratic worldview. Few American adhere strongly to anything of the sort, and those who do are rarely foolish enough to say so explicitly, but it’s disturbingly common in the upper reaches of society, among people with dangerous levels of power and influence. They need to justify themselves somehow, or they’ll feel too guilty to enjoy their own privilege.
Disdain for the poors going to college, and for the colleges that admit them, comes from exactly the same impulse that inspires a somewhat different segment of the haute bourgeoisie to complain about airline deregulation. Flying, they say, used to be glamorous and classy. People used to get dressed up for flights. The planes weren’t so horribly crowded. Travelers weren’t so rude. Maybe (for the more open reactionary) the stewardesses were sexier, and you were allowed to call them stewardesses.
These complaints are not just directed at the actual deterioration of service, some of which is objectively true and dismaying. American Airlines now charges $25 to self-check a first bag, with steeply increasing fees for additional bags. Meal service on domestic flights is gone in coach, where passengers need a credit card to buy a little package of cheese and crackers for eight dollars. Legroom in the back of coach has been getting tighter, sometimes dangerously cramped. Planes are overrun with assholes trying to cram full suitcases into overhead compartments, in part because the airlines have taken to shaking passengers down for checked baggage fees. But complaining about flights being fuller than in the old days, and other passengers dressing shabbily, unlike Don Draper? Many of these riffraff are just happy not to be spending two or three days straight on Greyhound. Why the hell should they give a shit about some snotty bougie who feels nostalgic for Pan Am? Flights used to run empty because government regulators rewarded inefficiency. The carbon footprint per passenger, in case one actually gives a damn, is a lot lower on late-model planes flying full than it was on a two-thirds-empty DC-10. Fares are now low enough on many flights that ordinary Americans can afford to fly regularly, and commercial aviation in the West has reached unprecedented levels of safety.
God, why are the poors polluting the academy AND the skies? This is exactly how some of the highbrow critics think, if not in so many words. They don’t appreciate the unwashed, uncultured masses getting access to formerly classy things like air travel and higher education. They’re uncomfortable with the poors getting a taste of these things that they were never meant to have.
Pleasant thoughts, I know. Today may not be my Monday, but I slept at JFK the other night (a bit), and then on American’s morning flight to Las Vegas, which made it my redeye. Now I’m staying across the street from a restaurant that offers free meals to anyone weighing at least 350 pounds while beggars out front claim to be starving and suffering from Stage 3 cancer. If a college cafeteria can feed more people less food per person, that alone might justify more education spending. Or we could do food banks and free meals, but that would be far too inexpensive and utilitarian, I’m guessing.
By the way, there’s a rule against sleeping on the city buses in Las Vegas. Anybody who actually enforces it needs to be mugged by tweakers, but looking around some of these neighborhoods, I get the feeling that justice may not be too far away. This is a great town to take some meth and snuggle convulsively with a chihuahua. But of course the authorities here would rather the little people be awake than be woke.