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On class consciousness

Here's a pretty old post from the blog archives of Geekery Today; it was written about 16 years ago, in 2008, on the World Wide Web.

Oh, Utne. What won’t you romanticize?

Fellow workers, I know that times are tough. Lots of people are losing their jobs. Lots of people are losing their homes.

But I’m sure that, as you hit the skids, or as you try to figure out how to feed yourself and your family without any income, you’ll be very glad to know that your economic pain is contributing to a national character correction, which might eventually lead to your city’s government adding a few more bike lanes, to penny-pinching high-enders shopping for their overpriced organic arugula at Safeway instead of at Whole Foods, and to some other high-enders, who had enough money in the bank to spend the past several years on a fossil-fueled consumerist binge that they need to be jolted out of, to possibly stop buying quite as much stuff as they used to buy. I am sure that you will feel grateful for your chance to play your part in this great national exercise in character-building and simple living. Right after you finish eating saltines for dinner.

By the way, in case you were wondering, other great ways of making a national character correction include a total-war command economy and blowing the hell out of a few million fellow workers in far away countries.

Do I need to mention what a special kind of professional-class Progressive self-absorption, callousness, and obliviousness it takes to write something like In Praise of Economic Pain — and then to pass it off as Leftist commentary, no less? Do I need to mention how very clear it is that the intended audience of an article like this are people who, as a class, are generally fairly secure in their own living situation and income, and so in no really great danger of ever feeling much of the economic pain that they are so quick to praise?

Well, if do, then I guess I just did.

Fellow workers, are these your allies? Do they speak for you? Have their methods worked for you? Is this the change you can believe in?

If not, then what we need to do is to get together — all of us who are small enough to fail — and cut through the seasonal noise and start talking about ways that we can unite amongst ourselves in order to take control of the conditions of our lives and our labor. We need to talk fighting unions and the victories that they can win. We need to talk mutual aid and how we can help each other, person to person, in our own neighborhoods and through our own efforts, through both bad times and good. We need to talk direct action, about organizing and taking control of the conditions of our lives in ways that don’t take ballot boxes or political parties or coalition partners who are too busy Believing in Change to bother themselves about whether we eat or starve, about the ways that we can do these things ourselves, with our own hands.

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  1. Nick Manley


    It does really disturb me that material self-renunciation has become part of the image of “the left”. You correctly point out how this is only really possible for people who aren’t in serious material need.

    For example, I doubt these ideas would rightfully receive much credence in a third world shanty town.

    The left shouldn’t promote forms of political idealism that champion material self-renunciation in the name of a fuzzy New Agey concept of anti-materialist spirituality.

    As a pretty strict secularist influenced by Objectivist ideas on metaphysics, I take the view that reality is the material world I can obtain knowledge of via my sensory organs. My spirituality is about experiences I have on this Earth involving the material world around me.

  2. Darian W

    Don’t worry, I’m sure the liberals have plans for the poor! Whether using their suffering for political points or controlling them through bigger government programs so they’ll be out of the way and out of the conscience, the less fortunate are never forgotten. That’s national socialism we can believe in!

  3. Nick Manley

    The allegedly limited government loving conservative Republicans will make sure to do their part by conscripting the poor in future unnecessary wars…

    Like John McCain says: country first!

    Finally, a man who understands the importance of subordinating yourself to the national volk.

  4. Niccolo

    It is clear to me, and has been some time, that the “liberal progressives” are losing all weight with the workers.

    Workers have come to understand that people like Walter Veltroni and the PD, or other European and American equivalents are a bunch of upper-crust “limousine liberals” who care about as much for them as men like Silvio Berlusconi do.

    I think it’s a good time to be an Anarchist these days while so many on the left are becoming disillusioned with their “social-democracies.”

  5. Nick Manley

    Lol, I doubt anyone will mistake my words for anything but sarcasm above, but I just thought I’d be extra sure.

    I am totally joking!

  6. LadyVetinari

    Nick, you don’t have to be a “New Age spiritualist” to be part of this problem Utne reveals. Plenty of perfectly secular leftists have their politics begin and end with whole foods (there’s nothing wrong with whole foods, mind you). Likewise, plenty of religious/spiritual folks are far better in touch with reality than the writers of this article.

  7. Black Bloke

    The total war-command economy’s final solution to the poverty question: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Sp-VFBbjpE

  8. Nick Manley

    Lady Vetinari,

    (I’ve visited your Myspace, and I think I saw that you were a Pagan of some kind)

    My apologizes for any offense. I was drawing rather broad strokes. You’re right to point out that there are spiritual people with better ideas on this issue than non-spiritualists.

    For the record: I often find Pagan and New Age religions-spiritualities more exciting than Islamic, Christian, or Jewish ones.

  9. LadyVetinari

    No offense taken, Nick. I don’t have a Myspace so it couldn’t have been mine you visited. I’m a nonbeliever myself but I do think there’s a tendency among leftists and libertarians both to think “oh, if we just got rid of religion/mysticism, all would be well,” which I tend to have a knee-jerk reaction against. Didn’t mean to jump down your throat.

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