Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The demonization of the working class

I just started reading Chavs: the Demonization of the Working Class by Owen Jones. The book is about Britain, but as I expected, from the opening pages it is so so applicable to the United States. Take this from the introduction:
Politicians, particularly in the Labour Party [for this country substitute Democratic Party], once spoke of improving the conditions of working-class people. But today's consensus is all about escaping the working class. The speeches of politicians are peppered with promises to enlarge the middle class. "Aspiration" has been redefined to mean individual self-enrichment: to scramble up the social ladder and become middle class. Social problems like poverty and unemployment were once understood as injustices that sprang from flaws within capitalism which, at the very least, had to be addressed. Yet today they have become understood as the consequences of personal behavior, individual defects and even choice.

The plight of some working-class people is commonly portrayed as a "poverty of ambition" on their part. It is their individual characteristics, rather than a deeply unequal society rigged in favor of the privileged, that is held responsible. In its extreme form, this has even led to a new Social Darwinism. According to the evolutionary psychiatrist Bruce Charlton, 'Poor people have a lower average IQ than wealthier people ... and this means that a much smaller percentage of working-class people than professional-class people will be able to reach the normal entrance requirements of the most selective universities."

... [A] government dominated by millionaires [is pushing] an aggressive program of cuts, unparalleled since the early 1920s. The global economic crisis that began in 2007 may have been triggered by the greed and incompetence of a wealthy banking elite [well, yeah, they accelerated it but it's really a structural crisis of capitalism but anyway the point here is a good one, that], yet it was working-class people who were--and are--expected to pay the price.
This evening here in New York we will be marching alongside Trayvon Martin's parents to protest the horrendous racist murder of their son in Florida last month, and the cops' and courts' efforts to sweep it under the rug. Working-class unity is needed now more than ever.