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Current State Of The American Middle Class
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9/25/2013 2:34:13 AM
Posted: 3 years ago
I started reflecting on the state of the country's socio-cultural/political climate and fully appreciated for the first time that we are living on the cusp of a huge battle between the people and the state-corporate complex. A historical popular uprising or movement. Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party (before it was hijacked by establishment Republicans) are evidence of grassroots organization, borne out of public frustration and indignation against the status quo, raising public consciousness and forcing themselves into the political lexicon. And that was just the beginning - the broad anti-establishment sentiment which those movements expressed is rising at an abnormally rapid rate, especially, it seems, in the last year or so. People, especially those in their mid-30s and under, are quickly becoming more and more "liberal" in their attitudes toward social and cultural mentalities, and the actions which trigger that paradigm shift are increasing, ironically perpetuating and motivating those that oppose them. (See the Drug War, police state, government surveillance, the military industrial complex, bailouts, the "1%", etc.)
I think it's almost inevitable at this point. More things to consider: Edward Snowden, prevention (or delaying) of the war in Syria, anti-corporate/"1%" sentiment among broad sections of the population (actually, pretty much from the upper middle class downward I think), and just a general disdain of a power structure which is continually becoming more obviously disinterested in the well-being of the vast majority of the country. People want to get something from their taxes. They demand security and the ability to reasonably expect the same of their children, not a world where everything seems to be going downhill in terms of job security, decent political representation, and how much you need to pay for basic modern rights (I am differentiating from "natural" rights) that, in any healthy society, should be covered by taxes or however the government is funded. People don't want to be straddled in tens of thousand of dollars of debt when they're entering the work force solely because they had to get a higher education to even be reasonably competitive in the non-minimum wage job market. But prices are going up, way up, and incomes are remaining stagnant at best for 99% of the country as they have been since the late 70s (with the exception of those whose incomes are not just stagnant but increasing exponentially), poverty is at its highest rates in 20 years, and I can observe the effects it's having on most of the people I encounter in the institutions and communities with which I associate.
I observe their anxiety, repression, fractionalization, hopelessness, alienation, frustration, and anger. I observe the feelings of bleakness, monotony, and depression and the slowly dawning revelation that methods of repression and apathy will exacerbate, not solve, the problem. If I had to describe the general vibes I'm picking up from the middle class right now, it's emptiness, lack of fulfillment/satisfaction, and increasingly failing attempts to repress the knowledge that they're getting fucked over by the traditional political system. Everybody knows that everything is going downhill; many different groups recognize mostly similar problems but identify different causes/sources and methods of solving them. And this is all among the middle class with which I find myself inexorably tied to. And the East Coast, especially near New York City, is tremendously expensive, so most of the people I observe and interact with are middle or upper middle class. And, interestingly, I think it is the middle class that will primarily drive the social manifestation of all these feelings, because generally, the richest families are too comfortable to feel indignation and outrage, and on the opposite ends of the spectrum the poorest families are generally too disenfranchised, uneducated, and just trying to eek out a living; they typically lack either the knowledge or the time and effort it takes to get involved politically.
So it's very interesting that the middle class is acquiring this new sense of solidarity against the "powers that be" and the absurdly wealthy in general (although I don't believe people should be discriminated against just by virtue of how much money they have; take Bill Gates, and the things he has almost single handedly done in third world countries). I think, just like the counter-culture of the '60s, whatever happens will be primarily driven by young white middle class adults but I also think this time it will be more diverse in terms of race and gender. It would be curious to see how many people on the opposite ends of the spectrum are involved - I watched a bunch of videos on Occupy Wall Street and there were quite a bunch of seriously wealthy people there, advocating for drastically higher taxes. Now that would be a real movement, a force to be reckoned with, something the powers that be would either have to actively extinguish or acquiesce to (if only in some regards). All I know is that currently, the political and business establishments are scared shitless. There's a taste in the air that indicates a mountain tension just begging to burst. Now all the people have to do is shatter the political apathy that has defined the American citizen for the last 30 or so years and commit to fight for establishing the kind of egalitarian society we were trying to build from the 30s until the 60s (of course, being a left anarchist, I abhor the specific methods of that fight, and I think the American political system must be systematically dismantled and restructured in order to truly succeed in this goal. It's no wonder, by the way, that the time period from the 40s until the late 70s is referred to by economists as the Great Compression, an age of "extraordinary wage compression". It is not a surprise that this the time period during which our job market was most secure.
In order for this paradigm shift to occur, the public is going to have to continue along the rising trend of shedding apathy and repression for opinionated indignation and disconnect from/opposition to the "authorities" and the traditional political route. Maybe it's just a combination of my youthful naivete and idealism speaking - but I think the country's on the verge of something historic the likes of which have not been seen here since the early to mid 70s. I still unabashedly place hope in some parts of the traditional American spirit which have remained dormant for far too long. I, one of the most cynically anti-nationalist people I know, am proud see myself as taking part in that rich culture and the people, places and things which gave birth to it and who it birthed in turn. At the very least you could say that in general we used to be a more vibrant and idealistic people, constantly striving for better lives for us and for our descendants... not apathetic, resigned to mediocrity and the fate that things can only get worse for our children. If we can learn a bit from the shortcomings of the 60s-70s progressive cultural battle and why it didn't achieve all its stated "lofty and revolutionary" goals, there may yet be a battle to preserve basic income security that the establishment is so callously indifferent to. Who knows - we might even be able to promote new kinds of social systems, more in line with modern progressive opinion, hopefully more decentralized and less reliant on coercion, and adaptable for the 21st century. It occurs to me now that for the first time since Occupy Wall Street swept the country up in dialogue of inequality of income, opportunity, and political representation, I find myself hopeful -- if ever so mildly -- that the traditional and even modern notions of the American Dream won't go down without a fight from those who still believe it can, must, and deserves to be salvaged.