Cultural Stroke (not of luck)by Daniel R. Hirtler on 02/18/11
The behavior of americans still amazes me, and I still long to be made French. The acceptability of some of the negative public reactions in the public discourse surrounding the impending deunionization of Wisconsin really shocks me.
I can understand how the rich, particularly the rich who clawed their way to the top, dehumanize the ordinary worker, but I cannot understand how ordinary workers and the poor take the lies that the rich put out in the media and internalize it as their own - they spout hatred of themselves as their own thoughts now (having strangely put themselves in their overlords' place). This is an example of relativity turned into a weapon of mass destruction.
I can see two explanations for this, both of which manifest serious cultural illness. The first is that most people are actually life slackers and they condemn others who are in the position of what they know themselves to be. The second is that our culture has succeeded in alienating its members to such a degree that each individual truly feels that he or she is really not like any of the others in his or her position, and therefore, if he or she has hopes and dreams and personal energy to meet the demands of life, then the others do not.
The first explanation would presuppose a great number of people in our culture who accept themselves as worthless and despicable. That explanation is also not really plausible because the behavior of slackers is to scheme to get by without having to do the work that is needed to get by legitimately. It is work of a different kind. That type of work is best done under the cover of others scheming too. A slacker would tend not to draw attention to scheming and slacking because it diminishes the likelihood of his or her own success scheming and slacking.
The second explanation is actually visible in nursing homes in the interpersonal relationships between the patients. Each patient sees his or her stay in the nursing home as an aberration, and cannot see anything in common with any of the other patients; so much so that the other patients are not really human to him or her. No real community develops between the patients.
If it is true that isolation has brought us to a state in which we have no empathy for people who are in our own position, one would wonder where we place our empathy, if we have any left to us. I think we develop an empathetic relationship with the images of our own hopes for the future. Sadly, our image making capacity is culturally limited, and our ability to hope is confused with the desire for the cozy feeling of security, and all of it is molded by the mind-numbing volume of media which is presenting us the messages of the rich. The result is empathy of the (decent) ordinary man for the (selfish) rich.
Since the highest good of capitalistic endeavors is to bargain for the best position, I do not see how anyone can support taking away a worker's right to bargain collectively to obtain the best contract with his or her employer. Furthermore, it seems hard to connect deunionization with an ability for an employer to reduce expenditures unless the employer intends to use that newfound power over worker to diminish the workers' living and working conditions unilaterally. What person would be in favor of that? It certainly should not be a worker!
Perhaps we need a cultural strike, to get a little free time back, while we still have a little bit of humanity left. As we strike, we should get to know each other a little bit, to see that humanity resides in others too. While we are at it, maybe we could find something in our american culture that is worth saving. If not, I think we are a culture in the final state of decline, and not long for this world.