Why do “working class whites” continue to vote against their own best interests?

It’s truly befuddling to me why the group labeled working class whites continue to prefer Republican candidates.

The results of the latest Associated Press-GfK survey says that this group favors Republicans 58% to 36% of Democrats, an incredible 22% margin.  The AP story announcing the survey results contrasts that poor showing with the last two elections, in which working class whites supported Republicans over Democrats by a margin of 11% and 9%.

Before we can go any further, we need to define white working class.  The survey and virtually all other researchers and pundits use this definition: “whites without four-year college degrees.”

Now this group currently represented 39% of all voters in the last presidential election (in which it was the only “racial group” to go for McCain). But a 2009 study by Roy Teixeira shows that over the past 20 years, the percentage of total voters who are white working class declined by 15%.  Teixeira also shows that all other “racial groups” are becoming more liberal, including middle class white.  Teixeira concludes that working class whites remain the only reliable group for Republicans.

Let’s keep in mind that attitudes might be slightly different today as a result of the mainstream media’s its incessant driving of the political dialogue rightward over the past year and its preoccupation with the Tea Party.  But Teixeira is talking about long-term trends, which may fluctuate from year to year but show a steady decline in the importance of the working class white voter and the continued movement of the rest of electorate leftward. 

The AP-GfK poll has not been posted at www.ap-gfkpoll.com yet, so I can’t delve into the details of the questions asked, the findings, the sample or the methodology.  The article did not mention the decline of the white working class population.  Nor did it cite the analysis by Sherry Linkon of the Center for Working-Class Studies, which suggests that the white working class voting pattern is more a function of geography than of race or education (57% of white workers in Massachusetts voted for Obama, but only 9% voted for him in Alabama). If the Republican lead in this group is regional, its impact on mid-term elections will be less important.

But despite the flaws in the AP story and the possible flaws in the initial survey, the results speak loud and clear.  On a national basis, working white class voters prefer Republicans so much today that for a Democratic candidate to win a national election, he or she would have to gain 59% of all other voters, a near impossible task, when you consider that 53% is typically called a landslide. 

The question remains, why? Economic and social theories and “laws” usually take it for granted that people always act in their best interests.  But how could it be in the best interests of people without college degrees, white or black, to vote Republican?  On average, people without four-year degrees earn less money than those with four-year degrees, regardless of their racial or ethnic background.  That means that they should be supporting policies that help those of modest means.

Let’s take a look at some of the positions that most Republicans have supported:

  • Many Republicans oppose the minimum wage and virtually all vote against any bill to raise the minimum wage.  And yet, when the minimum wage rises, so do all wages, a boon to the white working class.
  • Most Republicans are against labor unions.  What labor unions have tended to do historically is raise the wages and benefits of people without college diplomas, plus those with college degrees who make lower wages such as teachers and nurses.
  • Virtually all Republicans support lower taxes for higher incomes, which results in some combination of higher taxes for others and the creation of safe-haven investment opportunities for those wealthy enough to buy a lot of government bonds.  As a result of too low taxes and lots of government debt, those lower down on the economic ladder such as the white working class end up  paying more than their share because the rich are paying less than their share.  See my blogs of June 14  and 15 for more details.
  • Republicans are more apt to want to gut Social Security, and it was the Republican administration of Ronald Reagan that first started to roll the Social Security Trust Fund into the general budget and then claimed that the Trust Fund was near bankruptcy when all it needs to remain strong is get the money back that it lent the federal government.  Social Security has been one of the foundations of the retirement of most working class whites for years.

So what’s the attraction that the white working class has to Republican candidates?

It would be easy to evoke the pat answers of racism, resentment at losing wealth/power, social values, gun control or security, but I think it’s more complicated than any of these concepts and issues even as it involves most of them. 

Consider this analogy: No matter how much he hated the cook and how many times he heard that he’s already had his supper, the starving man will eat! The German playwright Berthold Brecht put it best when he said, “Erst kommt fressen, dann kommt Moralen,” which means, “first comes eating, then comes morals.”  The additional nuance in German is that Brecht says “fressen,” which is an animal eating, not “essen,” which is a human being eating. The meaning is clear, as is its application to voting: We vote with our stomachs, that is, we vote on economic issues. And yet, the white working class does not.

I want to do a little additional research and then explore with my readers more on this question: why do white working class voters vote against their own best economic interests?

O’Donnell, Paladino and other political candidates behaving badly.

The news hit earlier today that Christine O’Donnell, queen of the small and shrinking anti-masturbation movement and Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate in Delaware, lied about her academic career—yet again! 

A few months back, officials at Oxford University said that O’Donnell did not attend their university, as she had claimed.  Now Claremont Graduate University is disputing her claim to have attended there.

O’Donnell is far from the first politician to be caught in a bold-faced lie about past accomplishments.  Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal has referred to his past service in Viet Nam so many times that he may actually think he served under fire in Viet Nam during our illegal war there.  But in fact, he did not.  He’s either a liar or delusional—and which is worse?

What’s wrong with the thinking process of those candidates who lie about their past educational, military or other accomplishments?  When you lie about what you’re going to do in office or what you believe in, it’s likely that you won’t get caught, at least until years after the election.  And it’s understandable why candidates lie about their sexual peccadilloes or predilections (but it’s too bad that includes being gay and shame on those closeted politicians like Larry Craig who bash gays or vote against gay rights).

But in our era of computerized records and long institutional memories, why would any politician lie about a resume fact?  It shows a lack of judgment.  The best lying politicians have the good judgment to know when they can’t lie.  I believe that as soon as a lie emerges on a resume that the political party should disassociate itself from the candidate and select someone else to run.  Period, no questions asked.

Judgment is also the issue in the Paladino email scandal.  It’s now well documented that Carl Paladino, the Republican candidate for Governor, has sent a large number of offensive sexist and racist emails to friends and acquaintances. 

As Bob Herbert pointedly put in his article about Paladino’s disgusting emails, Paladino himself admits it showed “poor judgment.”  Here are some examples Herbert lists of Paladino’s “poor judgment”:

“Example: A photo showing a group of black men trying to get out of the way of an airplane that is apparently moving across a field. The caption reads: “Run niggers, run.”

Example: A doctored photo of President and Mrs. Obama showing the president in a stereotypical pimp’s costume holding the hand of the first lady, who is dressed as a prostitute in a grotesquely revealing outfit.

Example: A video clip of a nude couple engaged in intercourse with the title: “Miss France [expletive].” Mr. Paladino characterized it as “a keeper.”

Example: An image showing a woman performing a sexual act on a horse.”

No one in the Republican Party has taken the obvious next step and realized that these repeated emails call into question if Paladino’s judgment is good enough to put so much responsibility into his hands.  I hope voters in New York ignore the differences between Paladino and his opponent Andrew Cuomo.  After all, the New York state legislature will put reigns on both Paladino’s ultra right-wing proposals such as putting poor people into prison work camps and on Andrew Cuomo’s progressive instincts. Instead, New Yorkers, ask yourself if you want as Governor someone who would send these racist and degrading images.

And Maryland voters should ask themselves if they really want someone who is stupid enough to lie on her resume voting for them on nuclear treaties, war resolutions, economic recovery programs and other issues of national importance.

Financial columnist offers advice on love to the frugal: spend more money on your dates if you want to impress.

Once again we can count on the New York Times Ron Lieber to present the assumptions of the American ideology of consumerism as facts in an effort to convince readers that the way to happiness is to participate in the great American potlatch and spend lots of money, hopefully beyond your current means.

Several months back I wrote about Lieber using an article on how parents answer tough question from their children about the family finances to promote the core American value of consumerism—that the essence of all of life and all happiness is to buy things.   

Now in Saturday’s Times, Lieber offers advice to those frugal men who want to attract the typical American girl, whom of course Lieber implies as only being impressed by ostentatious displays of wealth.  Frugal, according to Merriam Webster, is “economical in the use or expenditure of resources: not wasteful or lavish.”  Sounds like something that most people would look for in a spouse.  But not according to Lieber and the expert he quotes.

Lieber starts the article by citing a recent ING study in which 1,000 people were asked what came to mind when certain words were used to describe a blind date.  Only 3.7% found “frugal” to be “sexy,” while 15% found a person described only with the word frugal to be “boring,” 27 % found frugal to be “stingy.”  Now much further down in the article, Lieber reports that 49% of survey respondents thought it was “smart” to be “frugal,” which to this blogger (who when single tended to go after women who liked smart men) pretty much invalidates the need for the article.  But Lieber buries this survey result deep in the article so he can persist in his veiled attack on those of us who aren’t spendthrifts.

Most of the rest of the article consists of the banter of experts and daters on why women (and gay men) don’t like to date frugal men.  In the very last few paragraphs, however, Lieber gives some advice for those who want to tell potential dates and mates that they are frugal in online ads.

The structure of this article is built on two absurdities: 1) The absurdity at the end which proposes that one would even mention being frugal in an online ad.  Why would it come up in a paragraph introduction?  Frugality or the lack of it could certainly emerge on a first date or even on a get-acquainted phone call or email exchange, but it seems odd and out-of-place to mention it in an online ad.  The advice is stupid because it’s telling you how to do correctly something that you shouldn’t even be doing.

2) The absurdity that a frugal person should be concerned because only 3.7% of the population thought one of the many traits he or she had was “sexy.”  First of all, it’s just one of many traits.  But even if it were all that mattered, so what!  At any given time, we assume that you’re in the market for one person only.  Why would you want to date someone who you know is incompatible because they do not like your frugality? Remember, the frugal members of the sex you are seeking also only have 3.7% of the population from which to select a date, mate or special friend.  Seek him or her, and forget about the others.  That’s what people do when they decide to only date professionals, members of their own faith, people who live within a 20-mile radius, bikers, those who abstain from drinking alcoholic beverages or those who like dogs.

Of course, Lieber’s idea is not to present a reasoned argument, but instead to indoctrinate all of us—frugal or otherwise—that the norm is what sociologist Thorstein Veblen called “conspicuous consumption” some 110 years ago.  All Lieber really wants to do is tell us that it is the frugal person who is the odd duck in the dating game and must seek to mediate the impact of his or her financial discipline by either changing or using euphemisms to describe it.  It’s just not true.

Wal-Mart makes it official: helicopter parents are a demographic group.

For the first time ever, I’ve spotted a TV commercial that focuses on helping the helicopter parent.  So let’s give Wal-Mart the credit it deserves for being the first to go after this upscale target market.

I’ve defined helicopter parents before.  They’re the ones who take absolute control of the lives of their children, especially when it comes to school and progressing towards college or other post-secondary education.  They’re the ones who are obsessed about getting in the “right” school, be it college, high school or kindergarten.  They hold their kids back a year so they do better in school and high school sports; have their kids take one course in summer school to have a lighter load during the high school year; hire educational consultants; put their kids through rigorous SAT training; wrestle over the phone with admissions counselors; make their kids go to high school summer camps at prestigious universities; and hire people to write their kids’ college application form essays.  There are even documented examples of parents going with their children to their first job interview.

And now one of Wal-Mart’s back-to-school TV commercials focuses on how the mass merchandiser can help the helicopter parent guide her child to a better elementary or middle school experience.  As with all the lifestyle ads that Wal-Mart has done over the past few years, the focus is on the adult woman shopper.  In the universe that Wal-Mart portrays in their lifestyle ads (as opposed to their ads about low prices), adult men are noticeably absent.

In this ad, shots of the mother shopping for back-to-school items are interspersed with shots of the mother helping the daughter to prepare for either a bake sale or other charitable project at the school or the girl’s campaign to be elected to a class office—I couldn’t really tell because the shots are all quite short to suggest a whirlwind of activity.  In helping the daughter we see some appropriate actions for adults, such as helping to make something.  But there are also some helicopter parent actions, the most obvious of which is a shot of the mother handing out flyers for something to other children at the school.  Now that’s just not appropriate—it should be up to the kid to do his or her own canvassing at school (or anywhere else), especially to other children.  It’s with a soft touch that Wal-Mart shows split- seconds of a parent providing a heavy helicopter touch.

Interestingly enough, the family in this case is African-American.  Let’s analyze that creative decision by Wal-Mart.  I haven’t seen any studies but I’m fairly confident that a helicopter parent is more likely to be upscale or rich than the non-helicopter parent, because the helicopter parent’s unhealthy interference into their children’s lives mostly manifests itself by buying primarily upscale goods and services.  Additionally, the case histories in the media about helicopter parenting skewer decidedly to the wealthier among us.

In the United State, sadly, even almost 50 years after the passage of the Civil Rights Act, African-Americans still have on average less income and wealth and a lower percentage of them would be considered upscale or wealthy.  So in a sense, even as the commercial quietly shows us that Wal-Mart can help in some basic helicoptering, it is aspirational for African-Americans, who, with rural white Americans, tend to symbolize the poor and lower middle class in this country in the mass media.  To this group, the message is, at least in part, “You may not be able to afford to send your child to a $1,500 SAT prep course, but you can still support their school career.” 

I’m not saying that Wal-Mart is advocating parental helicopterism.  It is merely accepting it as a new norm and trying to appeal to that segment of the market, while seeking to expand the number of people who have a helicopter motive as their rationale for engaging in a commercial transaction at Wal-Mart 

Arguments of those opposed to gay marriage don’t make any sense.

While Ground Zero may have become ground zero in the endless struggle for equal protection under the law, the skirmish in California over same-sex marriage slogs on like World War I’s Battle at Verdun.

Every day there’s news about the appeal of Judge Vaughn Walker’s decision to overturn the California ban on gay marriage.  Today I want to talk about an argument that the opponents of same-sex marriage (AKA the proponents of Proposition 8, which was the law the good Judge overturned) have been giving as a major reason to oppose allowing people of the same sex to marry: “that the state has an interest in promoting responsible procreation through heterosexual marriages which would be harmed if gay marriages were permitted.”  

The argument is specious because the existence of gay marriage does nothing to harm responsible procreation, and in fact may lead to a slight increase in more responsible procreation. 

Let’s say you believe that responsible procreation can only occur in a heterosexual marriage: What difference does it make to you then if people of the same sex marry?  Does anyone really believe that heterosexuals will stampede to gay marriage just because it’s available? 

Now to the argument that the presence of same-sex marriages in society would be a bad influence on children: that’s pretty absurd.  There is always a difference between the values of every home and those of our diverse society.  Good parents do a good job of instilling their values in their children.  Let me give you the example of our home when my ex-wife and I were raising my son: We actively spoke against tattoos, which are not allowed under Jewish law.  No Disney book, movie or TV was permitted.  We frowned on guns and didn’t allow any toy weaponry (until he got some giant soakers as a teen).  We also frowned on gambling.  To many Americans, some or all of these choices will seem odd, but we made them and they stuck, as my son has no tattoos, doesn’t gamble or carry a gun and is completely uninterested in virtually all manufactured entertainment.  In a similar way, a parent against same-sex marriage can instill those beliefs into their children, and if done with love quite effectively; but be forewarned, if your child is GLBT, it may not take.

Let’s assume that the essence of responsible procreation is responsible parenting. Would allowing gay marriage lead to less responsible parenting?  It is true that the more same-sex marriages there are, the more children, natural or adopted, will be raised in homes in which both parents are of the same sex.  But virtually all responsible studies on the issue of gay parenting show that children of gays grow up the same as children of heterosexual parents in every way.  That means they are no more or less likely to excel in what they do, no more or less likely to get into trouble, no more or less likely to be gay.  In other words, by allowing same-sex marriage, we increase the potential pool of responsible parents, and therefore the possibility of more responsible procreation.

Besides, procreation is not the only reason to marry: Among heterosexuals, there are plenty of marriages of convenience, marriages based on financial considerations and marriages in name only.  I know a number of happily married heterosexuals who have decided not to have children.  It’s their right, and that’s fine with me, and it should be fine with everyone else, too.

There are plenty of people that believe that homosexuality is a sin against their deity, and these people have a right not to marry people of the same sex in their churches, synagogues and mosques.  But we live in a secular country in which everyone is equal under the law.  Our state-performed marriages are civil, not religious ceremonies.  Now I see nothing wrong with the state validating marriages of religions which do not allow same-sex marriage.  By the same token, though, there is no reason that the state—which means our national, state and local governments—should have any bans on same-sex marriage.

It’s going to take a few more years, but I believe that eventually all the legal bans on same-sex marriage will fall in all states.  And after that, I predict that we will see religious organizations start to accept it more, as they seek to keep up with the changing times.  Conservatives have been quite successful turning back the clock on unionism and equitable distribution of wealth in America.  They’ve slowed things down considerably when it comes to matters of global warming and environmental protection.  I don’t know what will happen on these very important issues.  But when it comes to allowing same-sex marriage, I am very confident that victory is close at hand.

Blogger comes clean with his personal agenda of opinions on important issues of the day.

I never said I didn’t have opinions.  I have expressed a number of views over my first year of writing the OpEdge blog.  I think I have expressed these views explicitly and without rhetorical manipulations and that I have proven my points with facts and reason. 

So without further ado, here are the ideas that I have been promoting on OpEdge since I began the blog on August 5, 2009.  Call it my personal agenda.

First, my views on current events, all of which I believe are proven truths as matters of fact:

  • Since the ascension of Ronald Regan to the presidency 30 years ago, the United States has experienced a net transfer of wealth and income up the economic ladder from the poor and middle class to the wealthy.
  • It takes money to provide basic government services that we expect as residents of a post-industrial nation, and that means we have to raise taxes.
  • The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been huge failures and financial sinkholes and would never have been fought if the Bush II Administration had not knowingly deceived the American public.
  • Social Security is financially strong but endangered by right-wingers who do not want the federal government to pay the Social Security Trust fund what it has borrowed from the fund for the past 30 years.
  • The United States does not always have the right answer to social and economic problems and we could learn a lot by looking at the educational, public transportation, healthcare and other public services systems in Western Europe.

Two political and social views about which I did not get around to writing this past year are a woman’s right to an abortion and the right of gays to get a government-sanctioned marriage.  Sometime soon I will demonstrate my support for both those basic rights with detailed analyses.

Now for some broader, more philosophical ideas that I have expressed over the past year.  Of the four on this list, the first two are proven scientific theories, while the last two represent my subjective take on the lessons of human and natural history.

  • The overwhelming preponderance of scientific evidence concludes that global warming is occurring and that the actions of human beings are accelerating its pace.
  • Darwinism provides an accurate explanation of the origins of life in general and human beings in particular.
  • Nations thrive when there is a relatively equitable distribution of wealth among people and a large middle class, and decline when money begins to collect at the top of the wealth and income ladder.
  • To survive as a species, humans must reduce our population and I prefer that the means by which we decrease our numbers involve birth control and planning, and should not involve famine, war and pandemics.

Again, these are not my only beliefs, just the ones that I discussed on OpEdge this past year.  It will be interesting to see how different the list is when (and if) I do a 12-month review in the dog days of August 2011.

After one-year of blogging, your humble blogger OpEdge presents some conclusions, trends and assertions.

August 5 passed without my noticing that it was a year ago that day that I began writing OpEdge.

Over the year, I have posted a total of 177 entries.  I thought it might be fun to review what I covered in the first 52 weeks of OpEdge.  Interestingly enough, the common themes of a year’s worth of writing fall under four rubrics:

  1. Analysis of common propaganda techniques that the mass media, and in particular mainstream reporters, use to color the news with decidedly right-wing views.
  2. Identification of the core tenets of contemporary American ideology that serve as the assumptions and message points for virtually all the media we experience in all formats.
  3. Discussions of how specific news and news coverage reflect current and long-term social, media and entertainment trends.
  4. Presentation of my position on some of the pressing issues of the day.

Today we’ll look at the common propaganda techniques I analyzed over the past year.  Tomorrow, we’ll look at some of the core tenets of contemporary American ideology and discuss important news trends.  We’ll close this three-part series on Thursday with a review of my own political and cultural agenda.

Getting right to it, here is a list of the propaganda techniques that I analyzed over the past year.  For most of these I found and discussed multiple examples of reporters trying to color reporting through the use of these rhetorical devices.  In all cases, I named the rhetorical devices, although in some cases others may have previously used the same language to describe the same technique:

  • Argument by Anecdote: saying that one story proves a trend even if the statistics show that case, while dramatic, is exceptional or rare.
  • Conflation: Equating two events, objects, trends or facts that have nothing in common; for example, using fictional evidence to prove an historical trend or comparing Bush II’s spotty National Guard stint to the military record of war hero John Kerry.
  • Criteria Rigging: Selecting the criteria that will prove the point you want to make, for example, the studies that use criteria that exist in the suburbs to show that the top places to live are all in suburbs.
  • Expert Selection: Limiting the terms of the debate by the selection of experts; for example selecting an anti-labor professor to comment on an economic study or National Public Radio pitting David Brooks against E.J. Dionne and pretending its right versus left.
  • False Conclusions: Putting a false conclusion at the end of a paragraph or article that is factually based and logically reasoned.
  • False Labeling: Applying a false label to something, for example calling Obama a Socialist or saying that the cutting of hospital beds to meet reduced demand is rationing. 
  • Ideological Subtext: Having ideology guide the decisions you make in selection of details and points of view in your reporting or entertainment, especially when the presentation of these details treats the ideological assumption as a given or as already proved.   For example, in the new Robin Hood movie, Russell Crowe’s Robin is not taking from the rich to give to the poor, but instead fighting against unfair taxation.
  • Matt Drudge Gambit: Reporting that a disreputable reporter or media outlet, such as Matt Drudge or Glenn Beck, said something that you know probably is false.
  • Nazi Edit: Editing what someone has said to change his/her meaning, as Andrew Breitbart did to Shirley Sherrod.
  • Plain Old Lies: Knowingly publishing or saying something that isn’t true.
  • Question Rigging: Selecting the questions to get a better answer.  For example, instead of asking people if they believed global warming was occurring, research groups asked them if they thought the news media reported too much on global warming.  When asked the second way, many more people seem not to believe that global warming is occurring.
  • Speaking in Code: An old trick of racists everywhere, speaking in code means using euphemisms to refer to a group or its imagined collective failings; for example, when Reagan talked about “welfare queens” he spoke in code.
  • Trivialization: Reducing discussions of important decisions into trivialities, for example focusing on the personality differences between opponents while ignoring their substantive differences.
  • Wedging: Finding an area of common ground with a target group that will not agree with you on virtually any other issue.
  • Wrong Focus: Focusing on a minor part of a study or survey to support your position while ignoring the major finding, which undercuts your position. 

I’m starting to write a book on propaganda techniques and I just gave you my chapter titles.  For each technique, I intend to write a short essay filled with examples from the mainstream news media.  The hard part will be to select among the many daily examples of these cheap rhetorical tricks in main stream news reporting.

More tomorrow.

Chill out your sun-fevered brain with some interesting contemporary poetry.

Most book review sections approach summer as if it were a time to turn off the brain and wallow in escapist plots and fantasy characters.  Summer reading, we are told again and again, should focus on light, easy-to-digest genre fiction like mystery, sci-fi, gothic and romance.  The assumption, I guess, is that when sitting on the beach or in an airport your brain wants to join your body in doing nothing.

And maybe it’s true that a lot of people like to turn off the brain when on vacation, but I think to a great degree, the mass media approach to promoting summer reading material reduces to more indoctrination in anti-intellectualism, one of the underlying ideological tenets of our consumerist society.  We don’t think about it, we buy it.

I’m going to make a few recommendations for some books I’m reading this summer that I think offer a little more substantial fare; then do something self-serving and give you a list of poetry journals that have published my poems so far this year, in hopes that you will pick up a copy and delve into some interesting contemporary poetry as part of your summer reading.

First some books I’m looking at this summer:

Viet Nam: History of an Unwinnable War, John Prados: A masterful retelling of the Viet Nam war that pays special attention to narrating the sad litany of similarities between Viet Nam and Iraq-Afghanistan. 

Infinite Jest, David Foster Wallace: I haven’t started it yet, but the collective opinion of serious book reviewers is that it’s the literary masterpiece of the 90’s.

Poems of the Late T’ang, A. C. Graham, translator and editor: Some of the most interesting and beautiful sounding poetry I have ever read.

Populuxe, Thomas Hine: Okay I read this one last summer, but I thought this history of mass market product design and selling in the 1950’s was absolutely fabulous.  “Populuxe” in Hine’s shortening of the idea of popular luxury, which was a common theme to autos, house, appliances and vacations in the 1950’s, our first era of mass consumption.      

Now for a list of places that have published my poems so far this year, in alphabetical order, with the name of the poem, the date of the issue and a link if possible. 

580 Split #12 (Spring 2010): Forty Years Later

Cortland Review #46 (Winter 2010): “Instead of Sex

Ellipsis #46 (Spring 2010): “My Brother Still Runs Like Rain” and “Lament of the HR Director”

Evansville Review #20 (2010): “The World is Always with Us

Jewish Currents (Summer 2010): “The Mad Bomber of New York

Natural Language (Carnegie Library, 2010): “The Book of Littleman

Slant #23 (Spring 2010): “A French Peasant before the Revolution

Wilderness House Review Vol. 5, #1 (Spring 2010): “Remembering Darla

From time to time, people ask how they can support my blog.  My answer is: buy one or more of these issues of these journals; or buy my book Music from Words, which is available from the publisher, Bellday Books, Inc., www.belldaybooks.com or at most online or brick-and-mortar book stores.

Vampire is the perfect symbol for late-stage Age of Reagan in which politics of selfishness dominates all society.

I didn’t see it coming, but now that it’s here, it makes perfect sense.  I’m talking about the new vampire craze that has invaded popular fiction and movies, especially but not only for teenagers and young adults. 

The vampire—that human creature who stays alive by sucking the blood of other humans—is the perfect image for an age when selfishness reigns as the underlying ideology.  I call it the Age of Reagan because it was under Ronald Reagan’s leadership that the country began its turn towards selfishness.  Reagan expressed it best with his oft-told joke with the punch line, “I don’t have to run faster than the bear, just faster than you.” 

The idea of every person for him/herself alone is the basis of current free market economic theory.  It also serves as a major ideological underpinning of consumer journalism, advertising and even movies and TV entertainment.  Over the last year, I’ve written about how the politics of selfishness has guided advertising campaigns, survey methodologies, political statements, movies and consumer journalism.  I’ve been meaning to do some other small studies in this area.  For example, it seems that an inordinate number of ads are based on selfishness, for example, all the TV commercials in which cartoonish buffoons or savvy “chicks” hide the cereal, candy bar or pizza bread sticks from loved ones or friends.  And doesn’t it seem that situation comedies today teem with completely selfish and self-centered characters.  In fact, selfishness seems to be one of the central core themes of comedy today.  

Let’s get to the vampires now.  As is well documented in hundreds of studies, since about 1980 there has been a net transfer of wealth up the economic ladder from poor and middle class to wealthy.  Here are some of the most salient facts, all taken from William Domhoff’s studies:

  • The top 1% now owns 34% of all the wealth in the United States (last available recent numbers), compared to only 20.5% in 1979, for a gain of almost 69% in the past 30 years!
  • Income of the top 1% was only 12.8% of total income in 1982 and today  it’s about 21.3%—a gain of two-thirds!
  • The chief executive officers and presidents of companies now make many more times the money than their average full-time worker does.  In 1980, CEOs made about 42 times what the average worked was paid; the latest numbers are 344 to 1!  By the way, in Europe, it’s only 25 to 1.

I think it’s reasonable to say that all ideology and philosophy aside, the past 30 years that have been dominated by Ronald Reagan’s political and economic ideas have seen the rich taking more of the pie and leaving less for everyone else.  The rich have gotten richer to some extent by taking it from others.  One of the most profoundly dramatic and startling images of such a transfer of wealth is to call it blood-sucking.

We see and hear examples of symbolic blood-sucking every day: sub-prime mortgage sellers and consumer finance companies getting unsavvy consumers into bad deals; company layoffs followed by announcements of massive salaries to their CEOs;  warranties at exorbitant prices for equipment that never goes bad; parents gaming the process for getting into college by essentially using money to hoist their children above others who can’t afford SAT tutors, special summer camps and professional writers to compose admissions essays.  Kids and young adults (and everyone else for that matter) see all this selfishness and channel it into what appeals to them in their entertainment. 

It’s very hard not to be influenced by the ideology of an age, especially when it is pounded into you by the news media and mass culture on a daily basis.  A dominant ideology infects everything, including our entertainment.  What could be more natural to a teen raised today than to be fascinated by people who survive and thrive by drinking the blood of others?  To my mind, vampirism is the perfect literary symbol of our current selfish society.  I expect vampires to be a major and dominant image in mass culture for several more years.

Can a product be so wasteful and unnecessary that it is inherently immoral? Nestlé tests the limits.

For some years now, several companies have sold coffee-making systems that produce coffee and other warm beverages while creating a mountain of waste.  The coffee is in a sealed aluminum pod that the user inserts into the machine and voila, one cup of the coffee you selected is sent through a common dispenser into your probably Styrofoam cup.  Now these systems do not brew coffee in a different way as an espresso maker does; but rather they bring technology to the art of making instant coffee.  The pods come in an array of coffee strengths and flavors (usually artificial), and often include hot chocolate and some tea varieties.   

I have seen these set-ups from several companies in a number of homes and business, and I can see why businesses fall for this machine:

  • No more arguments about cleaning up the coffee pot
  • People get a wide choice of drinks
  • It’s completely sanitary

I don’t drink coffee, but the tea and hot chocolate from these contraptions has always struck me as having two strong back flavors—one of coffee and the other of that general processed flavor you can taste in certain processed foods. 

And these tins will accumulate quickly and create unnecessary waste.  It’s absurd—every cup of coffee, tea or cocoa makes another aluminum pod.  Whatever the convenience factor, how can anyone justify the packaging waste this system produces.

And now the New York Times reports that Nestlé is coming out with one of these pod systems just for tea!!! 

You remember Nestlé.

That’s the Swiss food giant that promoted infant formula over breast-feeding to mothers in less economically developed countries, which led to health problems and infant deaths because of the unavailability of clean water with which to mix the formula.

Nowadays, instead of exploiting the poor, Nestlé is pandering to the wasteful tendencies of our throwaway society. 

Okay, let’s take it all in:  You buy an expensive machine plus expensive pods of tea and whatever artificial flavorings and preservatives are also in there and you create a nice cup of litter for every single cup of tea you have—all to avoid boiling water.

It makes you wonder if there are some products such as these beverage making systems that are so useless and unnecessary that they are inherently immoral.

To all individuals and businesses:  Do not buy this machine.  Buy a tea pot and a coffee maker. 

And when you run into these machines, do what I have started doing: refuse to drink any beverage from them.  You don’t have to make a big deal about it if you don’t want to be confrontational.  Don’t say why you’re not having any coffee if you feel uncomfortable about “dissing” your client or your lawyer, or your significant other’s bourgeois parents whom you’re meeting for the first time.  Just don’t drink the coffee or tea.