The Curious Malaise Of The Middle Class

The article, “The Curious Malaise Of The Middle Class”, by Jason Hirthler,, May 30, 2019, caught my attention. As anyone who has worked on concerns related to peace and justice soon discovers, it is very difficult to find more than a small group of people to work with. And I imagine many have also had my experience of finding the same small group of activists forms the core of many different justice efforts in their community.

As stated below, I was hoping the increasingly frequent and severe evidence that we are rapidly moving deeper into climate catastrophe would finally get people to take environmental destruction seriously and begin to do what needs to be done if future generations are going to have a livable, or any future. “One would think this would all be enough to launch a society on a different path of social organization. Yet we are not shifting gears…”

Yet the mainstream deliberately ignores the underlying causal catastrophe of neoliberalism. Fortunately, alternative and some academic media does mainstream journalism’s job on its behalf. Author Peter Phillips, for instance, details a number of telling figures in his recent book Giants: The Global Power Elite. As Phillips points out, when you argue for the current system, particularly in the US, you’re arguing for a capitalist oligarchy in which 1 percent of humanity controls more than half the world’s wealth, and in which 30 percent control 95 percent of the world’s wealth, leaving 70 percent of the world’s population to support itself on 5 percent of the world’s resources. Second, Thomas Piketty’s monumental study of capitalism demonstrated that it produces ever-widening inequality, which sociology has long found to be correlated with social and political conflict. Third, recent studies have shown marked rises in suicides as neoliberal austerity takes hold in the metropole itself, while hundreds of thousands of Indian farmers have already taken their own lives in an ongoing epidemic that provoked meager interest in western capitals. Fourth, it’s been conclusively argued that we are heading into the sixth mass extinction event in history, one produced by capitalist industrialization.

One would think this would all be enough to launch a society on a different path of social organization. Yet we are not shifting gears, save for a few outnumbered socialists in Washington, whose Cassandra warnings are washed away beneath a tide of media coverage of celebrity centrists declaring their candidacies for office. And then there is the teeming horde of hidebound conservatives, rehearsing underlined passages from their university textbooks and declaring, generally with affected weariness over watery tumblers of Kentucky mash, that capitalism is not a zero sum game. They argue that there is ever more growth available to us, and it will soon trickle down to even the laziest among us. This argument ignores the finitude of planetary resources, the dangers of financialization as a path to non-material growth, and the obvious refutation that more growth is pointless when it continues to be unequally divided, thanks to institutional fetters designed to ensure the upward flow of accumulation. All this as corporate largesse to the fossil fuel industry now exceeds the Pentagon budget.

“The Curious Malaise Of The Middle Class” by Jason Hirthler

The article then goes on to talk about “The Decline of Dreams”.

Despite these realities, the collective hope for escape to an alternative tomorrow is quietly reeled back, from heady dreams of communal democracy to more mundane daydreams of mini-breaks and tourism junkets to overdeveloped tropical venues. Capitalism’s bourgeoisie humbly accept this diminution of possibility in their lives, the very notion of class erased from their memories, leaving them to credit or blame themselves for their successes and failures—the ultimate form of alienation.

They accept too the acquisition of a few creature comforts, enough to cobble together a shambling quasi middle-class lifestyle, debt-fueled and marked by stress, obesity, and quotidian drudgery. Not to mention the high-decibal media cant reminding them of the frontier dangers of radical Islam, authoritarian socialist dictators, and more proximate perils of urban violence and auto-wrecks. They accept their lot. The intellectual dissidents, finding one avenue of resistance after another foreclosed, ideologically worn down, find themselves acting out the society of spectacle described by French philosopher Guy Debord. Acts of resistance become merely performative, rebellions normalized and incorporated within the horizons of neoliberal life, little more than a venting system for consumer frustration that, maddeningly, is said to represent the robust health of the democratic state. Once-ruddy rebels, enflamed by a raft of injustices, resolve into a tableaux of bored travelers, waiting for a call to board, hoping they will soon be ferried to the worlds of their imagination.

“The Curious Malaise Of The Middle Class” by Jason Hirthler

Even after a lifetime trying not to drown in apathy, I still have hope. One reason is even if older generations continue to try to hide from climate change, the younger generation has a different view. They were born into a deteriorating ecosystem, and know their future will be an increasingly hostile environment if drastic changes aren’t made immediately. Facing this common, existential threat, youth around the world are joining together to demand action. I’ve seen how important this supportive community is to the youth in the Sunrise Movement. This is the antidote to “the decline of dreams”.

And I continue to believe in the presence of the Spirit. I continue to believe in the beliefs of my Quaker community. And my spiritual life has been deepened by my new friendships with Native peoples. I sense a renewal of the Spirit in our world today.

“No matter what, we always have the power to choose hope over despair, engagement over apathy, kindness over indifference, love over hate.”

Cory Booker
This entry was posted in #NDAPL, climate change, First Nation-Farmer Climate Unity March, Green New Deal, Indigenous, Kheprw Institute, Quaker, Sunrise Movement, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

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