Sunday, April 24, 2011

Misconceptions in the portrayal of the rich by the left, and how Fox news consistently wins on the issue

Not because there aren't folks who are very well off who aren't hostile to things like progressive taxation, raising the minimum wage, and other measures, but because how the Left occasionally frames it is a caricature, and one that I think people on some level know is a caricature. What I'm talking about is this: the idea that behind closed doors people who are well off have an aristocratic sort of blase support for a class based system, think that folks who are rich are just better than everyone else, and spent lots of time talking about how stupid workers are, while they drink wine and eat caviar.

As someone who has gone to elite institutions, graduating from a very elite high school (that I got into partially due to my writing skills), and then going to NYU, I can testify from personal exposure to folks who are very well off and to that culture that that sort of picture is not the case at all. The real case is something much more familiar, something not hidden at all but put in front of people all the time via conservative news outlets, which is why it's dangerous.

The truth about the rich, the damned, secret, truth that you find out when you get into these elite institutions, when they initiate you and tell you all the goods, is as follows: the ideology of wealth in America isn't an ideology that hates the poor so much as it is one that swaths privilege in layer upon layer of self justification. Instead of saying that working people are somehow inferior to the rich, and that rich people have a right to have lots of money, real well off people will be much more likely to say that they worked very hard to get where they are and that everyone can do it if they just try, and that because of this the workers who want higher wages are just trying to get something they don't deserve. No matter that in lots of cases there actually isn't a mountain of work that's produced a mountain of wealth, or that folks who want better pay aren't in most cases just wanting to sponge money off of people, this is what the ideology is. It's one of self justification rather than one of blame.

The least likely thing you'll hear from a person who is really well off is that inherited wealth is just a good thing, for instance. No matter how much money their parents had, or have, unless its to a point where they're the Rockefellers and it's impossible to justify it, folks who are rich will resort to the most Byzantine of self justifications to prove that they really deserve what they have based on hard work that their family has engaged in, and the scions often are forced to do token jobs like be baristas, for instance, in order to prove that they too work and struggle.

This self justifying ideology, then, goes from almost to the very top on down through the ranks of the bourgeois in America, to the level of small business owners. Everyone, everyone, wants to basically lie and say that they're very hard working meritocratic Americans, and the bourgeois world of the United States is suffused with hypocrisy to an extent possibly unequaled elsewhere. It's doubly annoying when some of the virtuous children of the self justifying bourgeoisie in the United States seek to make common cause with workers based on their parents making them wait tables as kids. In Europe, there are still folks who are rich who are like, "Eh, we're well off, so what? Not losing any sleep over it.", but not in the U.S.

All of this sort of ideology is very close to what Fox News and right wing libertarians put out. In fact, it's identical, although folks who are well off would probably not subscribe to some of the more outlandish and somewhat stupid ideas that Fox puts out. The ideas that Unions are parasites, that poor people want to sponge off the state, and that big government wants to put unnecessary regulations on business because they just don't understand how things operate in the real world are all ones that are shared by conservative members of the rich themselves.

And many workers have been won over to it, because this ideology jibes with what the feeling is that America should be about, no matter how unrealistic actually joining the ranks of very well off people is to many Americans of poorer working class backgrounds. There's no lying going on, rich people mostly believe that themselves as well, no matter that it's not a realistic explanation of how they got where they are either. They would be the last ones to admit that there was a disconnect in their own stories, though, because that would necessarily lead to an indictment of them by their own professed standards.

Because of the sameness in ideology, between Americanism and this rightwing libertarian business, attempts to drum up support for things based on a sort of cheese eating aristocrat model are doomed to failure, because good students of the rightwing media can easily challenge that assumption. Instead, the more Progressive tact, that talks about the issue in terms of fairness, and that does look at opulence engaged in by the rich without putting an extra coating of farce on it, appears to be the more effective one--when combined with arguments that actually try and deflate the message being echoed by the right wing media at every juncture.

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