Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Why Do They Hate Us?

For the purposes of this blog when I say “they” I am referring to Republicans and the very wealthy people and corporations they represent. I realize, of course, there may be some rare exceptions to the generalized “they.” When I refer to “us” I mean ordinary working people, the Middle Class and the poor, what might well be described at the moment as the 99%.

Why do I believe they “hate” us? Because when following what they say and do I think that best describes the situation, and I have no other better explanation. For example, they do not want us to have a living wage. In fact they want us to have the least amount of wages possible, even if that means living either in poverty or on the margin of poverty. They do not want us to have universal health care. They do not want us to have Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, or unemployment insurance, nor do they want us to have even food stamps. They do not want us to have an Environmental Protection Agency or even a Consumer Protection Agency, and they also do not want us to have clean air and water if that in any way interferes with their profits. They do not want women to have a choice when it comes to their own bodies and lives, even to the point of wanting to deny basic contraception, and they do not want poor women to even have basic health care. Basically they do not even want us to own homes and be able to feed our families. They do not want us to have a tax break by allowing an extension of the Payroll Tax deduction, in effect raising taxes on us rather than on those making more than a million dollars a year. In this case they have previously argued that tax breaks for the wealthy do not have to be paid for whereas tax breaks for us do have to be paid for. The promise they made to the illegitimate Clown Prince of taxes, Grover Norquist, never to raise taxes under any circumstances suddenly doesn’t apply when it comes to raising our taxes (either they do not understand hypocrisy or they just don’t care). They apparently do not really want us to have jobs, beyond a basic labor force working for minimum wages, as they have consistently blocked any attempt on the part of President Obama to create jobs (while criticizing him for not creating jobs). They also do not want any regulations that might interfere with profits no matter how egregious the results may be. In short, they do not want us to have anything whatsoever that might possibly make our lives easier or more pleasant. As I believe this is demonstrably true (just look at their behavior for the past few years) I conclude they must just basically hate us.

Well, upon reflection, perhaps hate is not the most precise description of their feelings toward us. It is probably more precise to say they “despise” us. In order to hate someone you at least have to be aware of them, know them at least minimally, and actively hate them. It is easier and probably more correct in this case to say they despise us, as that way it doesn’t matter if they know us or not, they can just despise us in general as a group. The obvious question that arises, whether it is actual hatred or merely a matter of despising us, is why? This is not a very easy question to answer, and certainly cannot be answered here. The most basic answer probably has to do with the change from living in small scale societies where relations are mainly between kin and friends, face-to-face, and tradition-based, to more formal large scale more dehumanized societies based more exclusively upon legal contracts between anonymous individuals. But I think it also has to do with the change from bartering to a society based upon monetary exchange, and ultimately, in our contemporary case, a form of unregulated capitalism whose only goal is profit. In such a system, as Polanyi so brilliantly pointed out, everything has to be perceived as a commodity, so land, labor, and capital all become commodities. But as labor is just another word for behavior, in this case work, it is itself dehumanized. Workers have no existence outside of the market place, they, like other commodities, are for sale and are easily replaced, just part of the larger system like nuts and bolts. As such it is easy to denigrate and dehumanize them, forgetting they are also human beings. Their only value is as labor, something convertible to capital.

Marx, of course, perceived this clearly, and pointed out, rightly I believe, that capital is essentially dead labor. Even Abraham Lincoln, surely not a communist sympathizer, perceived this situation clearly:

Labor is prior to, and independent of, capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration.
Abraham Lincoln

This is precisely the very opposite of the situation facing labor at the moment, and, indeed, throughout the history of capitalism. The history of violence between management and labor is well known, as is the difficult history of the 40 hour work week, the 8 hour day, paid vacations, retirement benefits, and so on. All of these hard-won concessions are even now subject to the ravages of management, as in Wisconsin and other states. Workers and their families are occupying the streets of our cities protesting the loss of their wages, homes, retirement benefits, and lack of health care, still despised by those with capital, a strange non-commodity with the ability to reproduce itself. It seems to me that once someone has accumulated enough capital they become creatures on another level of society. It doesn’t matter how they came by their capital, in some cases it is inherited, in years gone by some acquired it through crime and prostitution, in more recent years some acquired it through illegal drug sales, but once acquired it allows one to live a different life:

“Tis a common proof,
That lowliness is young ambitions ladder,
Whereto the climber-upward turns his face;
But when he once attains the upmost round,
He then unto the ladder turns his back,
Looks in the clouds, scorning the base degrees
By which he did ascend.”

Julius Caesar
Act II Scene I

No comments: