Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The Lumpenliesure Class

I'm just a regular Joe, with a regular job
I'm your average white, suburbanized slob
I like football and porno and books about war
I got an average house, with a nice hardwood floor;
My wife and my job, my kids and my car,
My feet on my table, and a Cuban cigar.
-Denis Leary

Do you understand what's going on in American culture today? James Howard Kunstler puts together a lot of the pieces in his essay, "The Twilight of Mechanized Lumpenliesure". What is the Lumpenliesure class? Lumpenliesures are the affluent working class of Americans that arose due to the industrial boom that took place after World War II.

Kunstler writes:

"By mid-century, after two World Wars, the industrial nations of Europe had exhausted and bankrupted themselves, and lay physical shattered [sic], and the same was true of Asia’s only industrial power, Japan. The situation in the United States, on the other hand, was favorable to the extreme. The US continental homeland went unscathed in both world wars, and at the end of the second one, our factories, mines, oil fields, harbors, and railroads stood completely intact while everyone else’s was devastated. We set out immediately to supply the rest of the shattered world with the necessary manufactured goods to resume civilized life, and lent them money liberally to buy our stuff. Once this program got underway in earnest, one of the side effects was a fabulous enrichment of America’s laboring classes...

"Now, politically, the situation I describe would seem to be very desirable, perhaps ideal, considering all the unjust rotten systems that had existed before and elsewhere. The American system in those years was fairly equitable and appeared to be stable. But like all good things deriving from industrial civilization, this social leveling process had some strange diminishing returns. One was that the lower ranks of American society became so affluent by historical terms that they were able to impose their tastes on everybody else, if only because there were so many of them, with so much money to spend. They begin to occupy and modify the terrain of America in a way that lower classes never had been able to before – using the prime artifact of industrial civilization to accomplish that takeover, namely the car. They bought homes in the new subdivisions that were obliterating the rural hinterlands of the cities, and before long all the commercial accessories followed: the strip malls, the department stores, the fried food huts, the cinemaplexes, the office parks, the Big Box stores – in effect, an entire alternate infrastructure to the tired, old, bleak, nauseating downtowns of the industrial cities, which had begun to sicken in the Great Depression and with a very few special exceptions would never return to health again. The new stuff built all over America in the late 20th century was analogous to the content of the television programming to which the lower classes insidiously became addicted – a cartoon simulacrum of a real world that was systematically being obliterated. Instead of a real countryside outside the hated cities, we now had suburbia, a cartoon of country living. Instead of towns, shopping malls. Eventually the theme park, as represented by developments of the Walt Disney corporation and their clones, became both the embodiment of the destruction wreaked across the land and paradoxically the last refuge from it. Americans would flock to Walt Disney World in Orlando to put themselves in a saccharine replica of the authentic Main Street environments that they had thoroughly trashed in their own home places."

Lumpenliesures are the "Red State Americans" of which Barack Obama recently said, "they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations."

Caleb Stegall argues that Obama is essentially correct in noting the resentfullness of Red State Americans, but that Obama has a superficial grasp of the reasons why:

"[T]he spiritual core of the resentment and bitterness of the lumpenleisure classes is that deep down, we know we serve many masters—there are the tax masters, the monied masters, the loan officer and the payroll clerk; the town inspector, the county inspector, the state inspector, the code enforcer and the permit doler; there is the dogcatcher and the license examiner and even the busy-body do-gooder from the heart and lung association who prissily snubs out our cigarettes with one hand while paying her registered lobbyist with the other; there are the ad men and experts of all colors and stripes telling us what to buy, what to eat, what to read, and what to believe; there are the snooty professors and the imported school superintendents; the shipping barons, the oil barons, the corn barons, the food scientists, the Wal-Mart feeding trough, and the health care gods. "

Read the rest of Mr. Stegall's excellent article here.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Base decisions on moral principles, Pope tells U.S

By Philip Pullella and Tom Heneghan
1 hour, 52 minutes ago

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Saying he had come as a friend of the United States, Pope Benedict urged Americans and their leaders on Wednesday to base their political and social decisions on moral principles and create a more just society.

The pope also called for "patient efforts of international diplomacy to resolve conflicts" and promote progress around the world in an address to President George W. Bush at the White House on the first full day of his U.S. visit.

"I come as a friend, a preacher of the Gospel and one with great respect for this vast pluralistic society," Benedict said in a speech after Bush welcomed him at a ceremony that included a fife and drum band in colonial-era garb and a 21-gun salute.

At the outdoor ceremony attended by more than 9,000 people, Bush cited the role of faith in U.S. life, saying "Here in America, you'll find a nation of prayer."

Bush also referred to the September 11 attacks, which the pope will commemorate when he visits New York with a prayer at the World Trade Center site.

"In a world where some invoke the name of God to justify acts of terror and murder and hate, we need your message that God is love. And embracing this love is the surest way to save man from falling prey to the teaching of fanaticism and terrorism," Bush said.

The pope, who turned 81 on Wednesday, smiled as the crowd sang "Happy Birthday."

He praised American society, sprinkling his speech with references to the founding fathers -- citing the Declaration of Independence and the first president, George Washington.

But he made no specific references to issues such as abortion and the Iraq war, avoiding anything that could be seen as taking sides in the presidential campaign apart from saying that freedom demanded "reasoned public debate."

Benedict and Bush, who spoke privately after the ceremony, oppose abortion and embryonic stem cell research but differ on the Iraq war and capital punishment. As the pope spoke, the U.S. Supreme Court, led by Bush appointee Chief Justice John Roberts, issued a ruling that cleared the way for executions to resume for the first time since September.

Benedict concentrated on America's religious roots, which he said were a driving force in a process that "forged the soul of the nation" and won world admiration.

It was Bush who referred to abortion, a hot-button issue particularly with the presidential election in November.

"In a world where some treat life as something to be debased and discarded, we need your message that all human life is sacred ... ," Bush said.

A joint statement said their private talk addressed "the promotion of life, matrimony and the family," human rights and religious freedom, sustainable development, the struggle against poverty and the Middle East, particularly Iraq and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

"The two reaffirmed their total rejection of terrorism as well as the manipulation of religion to justify immoral and violent acts against innocents. They further touched on the need to confront terrorism with appropriate means that respect the human person and his or her rights," the statement said.

GLOBAL SOLIDARITY, PATIENT DIPLOMACY

The pope said freedom "is not only a gift but also a summons to personal responsibility" toward the less fortunate.

"Democracy can only flourish, as your founding fathers realized, when political leaders and those whom they represent are guided by truth and bring the wisdom born of firm moral principle to decisions affecting the life and future of the nation," the pope said.

Benedict, who address the United Nations as part of his first trip to the United States as pope, was only the second pontiff to visit the White House.

Looking forward to his U.N. speech, the pope said the need for global solidarity is "as urgent as ever if all people are to live in a way worthy of their dignity" and secure a place at "that table which God's bounty has set for all his children."

The pope ended his speech with a loud "God bless America."

Later on Wednesday, the pope was addressing U.S. bishops, when he was to discuss the scandal of sexual abuse of children by priests, which he said had left him "deeply ashamed."

Outside the White House, some 200 people protested, with one banner reading "Catholic priests are pedophiles."

(Additional reporting by Patricia Zengerle, Matt Spetalnick, Andy Sullivan and Jeremy Pelofsky)

(Writing by Philip Pullella, editing by Patricia Zengerle)

(For more on religion, see the Reuters religion blog FaithWorld at http://blogs.reuters.com/faithworld)