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Dear fellow educated bourgeois lefty white Americans: - A Shout Out to My Pepys [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]
The American Caliban

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Dear fellow educated bourgeois lefty white Americans: [Mar. 20th, 2011|10:25 pm]
The American Caliban
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[Current Mood |quixotic]

The Angry White Guy on TV is nasty, brutish, and probably short. He bulges with barely repressed bigotry. He and his Angry White Lady wife hate foreigners, Muslims, intellectuals, and anyone with politics to the left of Ronald Reagan. He's poorly educated, or perhaps just willfully ignorant. He feasts on improbable conspiracy theories and violent languages provided by TV personalities who are paid to do this by nauseating billionaires. Worst of all, he's intent on sawing off his own branch by attacking public infrastructure that he needs, and taking everyone else with him.

Christ, what an asshole.

That having been said, we need to check ourselves. Angry White Guy opposes us on serious political issues. No good can come from appeasing know-nothing reactionary populism (hear that, White House?) and we mustn't. There's something else we mustn't do either.

My own reading of the progressive and liberal response to the Angry White Guy depresses. Major media, writers, bloggers, and others take the same easy route every time. We're snobs.

We hit Angry White Guy with the class bat. He has terrible taste: NASCAR shirts, chain restaurants, airbrushed van art, current Nashville country music, and the 2009 Chevrolet Monte Carlo. He's a Guido or an Okie or a backwoods Ozarks rapist out of Deliverance. Worse, he's a suburbanized version of all these things, without even the Noble Savage credibility of "real" country folk. Not only is he a Christian, but he's got bad taste there too: he goes to a suburban megachurch. His hobbies are ridiculous: guns, powerboating on fake lakes, scrapbooking for the ladies.

Okay, I'll stop now.

The next level of failure comes when we take a moment to ask why he's being so awful. At this point, patronizing explanations arrive: AWG doesn't really know what's going on. He lacks our education, our sophistication, our informed perspective. If only he'd been plucked out of his awful culture and groomed! Neither does he have the deep but self-accepting guilt we feel at our own privilege, much less our natural generosity towards the less fortunate. The empathy we draw from this gives us a wider view of the world than his. Unfortunately, AWG is stuck. He can't enlighten himself, and oddly enough he doesn't react well when we arrive to explain him to himself. He wants all the riches to himself and hates the poor. Again and again we explain that he's really poor like them and should be nicer. Why can't he get that?

Now that we've told Angry White Guy that he's a few notches below us, a Snopes to our Sartoris, unenlightened, hard-hearted, greedy, a victim of his own (lesser) culture, and frankly a bit dim, we can declare victory with satisfaction.

Sometimes real information is stuffed in the cracks of this big shitball: how taxes work and where money goes, why wars are being fought, why pluralism and tolerance make sense, why things are hurting so damn much right now. I doubt anyone but the converted hears the Gospel over all this crappy preaching. We exit smirking and now Angry White Guy is ten times as angry with more reason than ever.

I propose a different line of communication. Set aside the aristocratic mess detailed above and just talk straight. There's an honest, simple message with some punch to it:

You and I are up against the same enemy. I know you don't think so, but hear me out, because we're in danger. The big money guys and their friends in Washington are doing their best to grind us all down into the streets. Everyone on television is lying because they're paid to lie, and that means the ones you like as much as the ones we like. There aren't any fancy conspiracies, just jerks with money who want more. The only way we can push back on these guys is to hold our noses and work together on the shit we have in common. Otherwise, we're all fucked.


Maybe some others among my people have a different way of putting it, but it might just be time to switch off the Snide Channel and try something more like this.
LinkReply

Comments:
[User Picture]From: anaisdjuna
2011-03-21 05:36 am (UTC)

Right on. *nods and repeats Right on*
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[User Picture]From: everydaylloyd
2011-03-21 06:07 am (UTC)

Yes

Hear hear!
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[User Picture]From: flipzagging
2011-03-21 08:17 am (UTC)
My thoughts on this are kind of incoherent, but that never stopped me before.

1) Yes, a thousand times yes. Even if it doesn't result in immediate coalitions, being humble is the first step.

2) In total contradiction to #1: Angry White Guy is this way because, let's face it, he is pretty ignorant. And let's not pretend that we can pander to their prejudices without any sacrifices. Sooner or later Angry White Guy is going to say something about those dirty mexicans and then you'll start wondering if the next episode of This American Life has hit the podcast or not.

So the ignorant have always been vulnerable to propaganda. Why, then, do they not act in their own interest?

What's missing here are structures and institutions. It's not the ideology, so much as the existence of an organization at all. In the past, Angry White Guy had unions, or agricultural coops, churches, and so on. These organizations created structures that could then usefully form alliances, sometimes even with students and other Librul Elitists.

Unions are mostly gone, and the ones that are still vital aren't exactly blameless either. Farming, a trade which once produced networks of cooperation, is now an insignificant part of the economy. The mainstream churches in the US seem to have given up on the idea of social responsibility; they now focus on a believer's "personal" relationship with God.

In place of all these, the average individual's leisure time is now almost wholly consumed by what Orwell called "solitary mechanical amusements". The internet is changing this, although it's uncertain how much.

So, my point is, maybe individual outreach from Librul Elitists is not the answer. In fact, maybe trying to corral them into our styles of activism isn't a good idea.

Maybe what's missing is a way for Angry White Guy to join meaningfully with his peers to address his interests. That kind of organization can make alliances, and will sooner or later have to get real about what is and isn't important.

The Tea Party should have been that force, but it seems to be already consumed by politics as usual.
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[User Picture]From: substitute
2011-03-21 08:29 pm (UTC)
I agree that the "individual outreach" you mention isn't the answer. It isn't really a big answer at all. I do maintain that the current method is terribly destructive and makes the left weaker each time it happens.

And I think we are peers. The appropriation of aristocracy on the part of the American upper middle class would be hilarious if it wasn't so sad. I'm $30K and four years of school ahead of Joe the Plumber, and that's not much.
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[User Picture]From: mlr
2011-03-21 10:28 am (UTC)
That's a pretty mean stereotype there.

My boss is someone who casually fits this stereotype. You would be surprised how little anger is actually a factor in his life. Of course he played high school football, and he's a Christian, and he hunts and own guns and drives a pick-up. But he's no more a sucker for Fox news, etc. than his counterpart in San Francisco would be a sucker for Rachel Maddow or Chris Hitchens, etc. Though to someone on the opposite side of his politics (like myself), this is an assumption you would make.

He is surprisingly intelligent. He's doesn't have an education beyond a state university bachelor's. But he is very nimble: in business negotiations, in technical conversations, in most everything I've witnessed. I consider myself (like everyone on my friends list) fairly intelligent, but I am very alert when I am having a conversation with him, because in general he's quicker with his mind.

He manages to keep a small company of ten people in the cell phone industry not only afloat but profitable. He hired two gay people (one of which is me) and one Canadian who works remotely. He has never had the bad manners to ever make me feel uncomfortable or unwelcome. He is very challenging as a boss, but also very generous. (One rule in the company: there is no proscribed sick leave or vacation days. People are supposed to take what they need. It also clears his desk of all the B.S. that goes along with work time. You would be surprised what an efficient and effective policy this is for a small company.)

He's also fairly well travelled for a redneck in the red states, and not all the usual places: Papua New Guinea, Malaysia, Laos, Thailand. He just got back from Thailand where his second grandchild was born.

Yes - big money has had it's hand in our back pocket since the 1950s - and it accelerated greatly in the 1980s. And big money could not be more pleased that 'politics' for most Americans means name calling. That the country is supposedly 'divided' equally into two opposing groups suits their ambition like a glove.
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[User Picture]From: substitute
2011-03-21 10:44 am (UTC)
The stereotype is indeed mean, and unfair. Also, it's ignorant, as your example shows. I hope my essay communicated that adequately, since that was the primary point!
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[User Picture]From: mlr
2011-03-21 12:03 pm (UTC)
I should have made it clear that I concur with your point.
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[User Picture]From: torgo_x
2011-03-22 11:25 pm (UTC)

USA-AWG

But is he angry?
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[User Picture]From: mallorys_camera
2011-03-21 11:15 am (UTC)
Love this.
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[User Picture]From: door
2011-03-21 01:35 pm (UTC)
Bravo! I love this post.
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[User Picture]From: taskboy3000
2011-03-21 02:19 pm (UTC)

Too close to home

As this is a battle that plays out in my own family, I can tell you why this reasonable approach does not work.

Facts. We got ours and they have theirs.

Without a shared reality, we cannot design a solution.

Who are the "greedy people" screwing us? Businesses? Unions? Democrats? Republicans? If you believe government is always the problem, it cannot be part of the solution.

These are neo-anarchist days of deep self-delusion.

I'm slowing getting pushed in the Fascism camp.
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[User Picture]From: substitute
2011-03-21 08:26 pm (UTC)

Re: Too close to home

I believe that it doesn't work in your family! Also, my little contribution isn't a solution, much less the solution. I do still maintain that talking to people straight and finding common ground beats lecturing and mocking, not just because it's nicer, but because it's the only thing that ADMITS the possibility of something other than civil war.
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[User Picture]From: taskboy3000
2011-03-21 08:30 pm (UTC)

Re: Too close to home

Unfortunately, I'm resigned to the upcoming Civil War.

Only a dramatic improvement in the lives of the middle class will avert this undesirable outcome.
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[User Picture]From: springheel_jack
2011-03-21 03:12 pm (UTC)
I think to a degree you're still doing it - the thing that separates us is that they're missing a Big Truth, class. But why don't, or can't, they understand? It leads to the same place - their schools are worse, they don't read, they watch bad things on television, they're watching football or tinkering with their cars when they should be reading or organizing. Something about Them or their culture is worse.

I don't think that's it at all. They're not crypto-socialists from whom the truth is hidden. They in fact value something that is perfectly coherent but irreconcilable with what we want. We don't have the same enemies.
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[User Picture]From: substitute
2011-03-21 08:24 pm (UTC)
I get that. And I don't think I have some Big Solution to the class and culture firefight. But there is a mass of people out there who are aren't necessarily stereotypes, and shouldn't be written off and mocked as such. Not because it isn't nice, but because it makes things worse and not better.
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[User Picture]From: springheel_jack
2011-03-21 08:50 pm (UTC)
I agree with that part, though less because our snobbery keeps us from making common ground, which I suspect doesn't really exist, but because it prevents us from seeing clearly. Snobbery is one of the left's worst tics. (Not being convinced of the authoritativeness of deductive and inductive reasoning being the other.)

I think what you and I probably share is a commitment to egalitarianism, and I think they don't. They want hierarchy - religious, social-darwinian, aristocratic. It's the source of all value.

Given that, I don't know what common ground there is. They are never going to be convinced by anyone who wants an equal chance for the blacks, gays, women, and the poor, even if that means they get a chance, too. That's not what they want.
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[User Picture]From: capn_jil
2011-03-23 08:03 pm (UTC)
"their schools are worse, they don't read, they watch bad things on television, they're watching football or tinkering with their cars when they should be reading or organizing. Something about Them or their culture is worse. "

Oh my god.
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[User Picture]From: mcpino
2011-03-21 04:14 pm (UTC)
Required reading.
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[User Picture]From: smokeysizzlebar
2011-03-21 05:28 pm (UTC)

Good stuff

This is one of my favorite things written by you.

What the left and right both fail to understand is that markets rule the world, not shadowy cabals of guys who look like Mr. Burns.

But I dare posit that, to most people, markets are an esoteric, abstract concept and both the left and right like definable, tangible bogeymen (e.g. George Bush; Obama; Big Pharma; Dick Cheney; Big Tobacco; drugs; bin Laden, etc.).

The world is safer to them and less capricious that way.

To face reality would scare them all silly and make them perpetually catatonic.

I struggle with not savagely hating them for this cowardice.
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[User Picture]From: kafkateer
2011-03-21 07:36 pm (UTC)

i have been turning this over all day. all day!

keenly aware that i'm not going to be able to add much to this discussion, but it certainly has me thinking
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[User Picture]From: gordonzola
2011-03-21 11:32 pm (UTC)

just thinking out loud

Making it even trickier at times is when it's done by people who actually *do* come from the same place. My workplace, for example, is full of freaks, but freaks who are mostly working class and not college educated. But man, they hate the people they grew up with. Often for very good reasons. It's why they escaped to SF.

If there was a coherent left, could these folks have a good reason to get over that? Should they?
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[User Picture]From: substitute
2011-03-22 01:42 am (UTC)

Re: just thinking out loud

They're right. And I have enough Orange County Hate Damage to see why. It's a question of audience and intent. If I am sending a message to people I want to influence, it's not smart to insult a third of them. People who think they're fighting the good fight and who talk this way are making it worse.

Someone who goes off on my crappy home town and the ridiculous assholes who live there and you wouldn't believe the fucking pastor and my GOD DAMN DAD is honest, legitimate, and probably right. That person doesn't pretend to be somehow advancing the argument or reaching opponents, either!
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[User Picture]From: litch
2011-03-22 03:45 pm (UTC)
I'm having a hard time formulating my objections to this essay. There is snideness on the liberal side but it's not unique, "they started it" but that's lame & pointless.

Maybe it's this: you can't change or control the the way you feel, you can only change how you express that but that quickly vears into inauthenticy. We do need to make common cause with the reasonable moderates and some do get turned off by the snideness but some also share the snark.

Jon Stewart has brought more moderates to the left than just about anyone, he didn't do that by sparing the snark, he did it by being authentically snarky while remaining vulnerable & approachable. So rather than trying to not be snark and giving off a phony vibe a better route might be just to make sure to remain open & approachable while still snarky
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[User Picture]From: torgo_x
2011-03-23 03:33 am (UTC)

Stewart

I worry that the absolute brilliantest bestest case scenario of what he'll get from his really problematic guests is this.
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[User Picture]From: torgo_x
2011-03-23 03:04 am (UTC)

Dunno

I am authentically, seriously, and anxiously uncertain: I think that Angry White Guy twitches and yells, and worse than yells, at the idea that I could be married. And I think that when that parade (successfully) passed through half the states in the country to make my marriage unconstitutional, Angry White Guy invariably and numerously marched as close as he could get toward the front of that parade. I don't know if he's the leader, but I think he's following as hard as he can.

Because if what I think about Angry White Guy is true, then that means that even if he's losing his house because of medical debt, then he decided to take me down with him, just out of spite-- spite even against the sick.

I have to know whether what I think about Angry White Guy is true, but I can't predict what any answer would then make me want.

Edited at 2011-03-23 03:08 am (UTC)

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[User Picture]From: torgo_x
2011-03-23 04:40 am (UTC)

Daing

This is a hard problem.
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