Evil Forces in the World

Reflections on ''Evil Forces in the World,'' as well as occasional remarks concerning ''Good Forces in the World.''

Saturday, October 12, 2002

The Lower-Middle Class

I just read a very good essay in the January 2000 issue of PMLA (Publication of the Modern Language Association) by Rita Felski on the lower-middle class in America. Her main argument is that while for a long time the impoverished "lower class" has been fetishizied and heroized by the liberal media and liberal academy, America's "lower-middle class" has remained universally despised by every class and sector of US society (including themselves). She defines this group as what Marx called the petite bourgesois: shop owners, traders, merchants, and today, secretaries and so forth. The upper and upper middle class hate the lower middle class for "vulgarizing" the arts, turning all entertainment into "kitsch" and lowbrow fun. The lower class hates them because they occupy a slightly higher, and thus, more culturally capitaled rung in society, thus open to attacks of pretension and smugness. And in general, the lower middle class has long been viewed as a "transition class," that is, a spot that no one would identify as an identification, but rather, a temporary fix before an ascension into the straight-ahead bourgesois class.

I found this argument especially convincing given my own particular socio-economic class, that of the middle-upper class (I think this a legit turn in the discussion, given Felski's own personal identification as growing up "lower-middle class"). We in the academy have long favored the abject working class, both as a source of sentimentalization (which of course helps to relieve the guilt we feel in occupying our own middle-upper class position), and a site for facile Marxist analyses. Marx too saw the lower-middle class as useless for both analysis and a means to a revolutionary end - they just didn't fit into the analytical and teleological scheme of things. My former school peers at Brown University, a bastion of upper-middle class liberal thought, loved to espouse the noble virtues of the stepped upon and ignored, the "wretched of the earth," while in the same breathe loathing the lower middle class for watching NASCAR all day and watching Jerry Bruckheimer films (non-ironically!!!).

I think Felski's point, that both the liberal media and academy should engage the lower-middle class as a worthwhile place for cultural analysis, is an important one, given recent trends in Post-Marxian thought and American society in general. First, any serious student of Marx knows that, at base, his model of class divisions, a tripartite structure of lower/middle/ruling, is a useless one for current American society, given the fine gradations that the US class system has evolved into, and likewise, the significance of cultural and symbolic forces in class determination (cultural capital). One could even argue that since Marx's time, modes of economic production in class determination has nearly almost been completely supplanted by a modes of cultural production. Anyway, taking a hard look at the lower-middle class, and why everyone hates them, especially the upper-middle class intelligentsia, might yield some interesting results. Because, as Felski rightly notes, the lower middle class is not fading out, is not inevitably "vanishing" as a result of late-capitalism, but rather, is growing and expanding. And culture continues to respond.

And second, from a less academic standpoint, as Felski also notes, the lower middle class exhibits one of the most interesting psychological traits of modern American society: shame. For instance, someone from a lower-middle class background is always ashamed by her parent's economic status, her inability to partake of a certain society due to financial limitations. She is ashamed of her social constrictions and lack of availabilities (including education), just as the child of immigrant parents is ashamed of his parents' inability to speak perfect English, to access the various cultural codes of his society. The dominant, much thought about and regarded psychological trait - that of guilt (guilt over receiving incomes and benefits from a capitalist system they simultaneously find exploitative and unjust) - has long belonged to the middle class, those individuals who, somewhat ironically, try to expunge this guilt by heroizing the working class and attacking the ruling class (while subtly and implicitly blasting the lower-middle class - who cares about them?). I say it is high time to replace the current psychological paradigm to regard the material conditions and emotions of a class long ignored and indeed, "stepped upon," however gently by the liberal middle class with their suede hush puppies.

Anyway, in unrelated news, I'm listening to the most recent Hefner LP, which is very good. It's title, Dead Media, is no doubt very ironic, but the very cool superhero cartoons in the liner notes make up for the silliness. My favorite song thus far is "King of Summer," which is the boot-stamping, chorus-shouting anthem you'd think it would be. But there is something depressing about listening to a riotous pop song in the dead of autumn, with rain falling for the third consecutive day on my solitary, staid Morning Side Heights abode. This gives me pause, and perhaps, more fodder for a blog that I will call "Sad Blog." Stay tuned.

Friday, October 11, 2002

A friend writes, a propos of the war resolution:

"...Drafted in 1968, he was there for the deepest hour of the war: the Tet Offensive. Haunted by nightmares 35 years later, he is a man scarred for life. Reading the papers, his first thought is whether all the people advocating war actually have a son in the forces. [He] sees only these boys, and the boy he was, and fears the worst of war. And who am I to argue with him?"

This speaks to something that's been bothering me since this latest round of drum beating. I don't think any of the administration hawks have served during war time (Bush himself found the Texas Air National Guard too taxing), and although firsthand experience doesn't make one a better military planner, it does seem to make one more parsimonious with human life. Part of what makes the defense intellectuals so hateful to so many, including me, is their sunny lack of scruple when it comes to spilling blood. I get the sense that war really is as simple as a monument (to coin a phrase) for these assholes, that it really is grand plans and strategic ambition and rather light on the missing limbs, aflatoxin-induced liver cancer, and painful, choking death.

All of this is true. The heart-rending reservations of veterans (my grandfather was another one wary of intervention) in the end prove too much; if all we thought of was the horror, we wouldn't have been able to fight World War II. So just because the civilian leaders of the Defense Department are callous pricks who will happily send men unknown to them halfway around the world to die for a grand strategic transformation of the Middle East, the fact remains that they could still be right to do so, and they're certainly right to make the threat and mean it.

"Still..."

As a draft-age male, I think it would be nice to hear the occasional, pro-forma declaration from Rummy or Big Time that war is generally bad and ought to be avoided if at all possible. Just a thought.
More news from Graeme: serious reflections on evil to come once I've addressed a number of pressing work-related issue, perhaps the most important of which is that I am at present still unemployed, despite the fact that I strike light lightning.


Serial dentist detained in Chelyabinsk

A 45-year-old man detained in the city of Chelyabinsk, in the Urals, is suspected of molesting children in a particularly unusual and sinister way. The police had been searching for the criminal, nicknamed the ‘Dentist’, since 1996.

The maniac would enter elevators together with young children aged around 6 to 12, stop the elevator between floors, and after injecting anesthetic into the victims’ gums, would pull their teeth out with a pair of pliers.

The last attack took place recently in an apartment block on the city’s Oktyabrskaya Street. A local schoolboy told police that a man aged 35 to 40 entered an elevator behind him and said: ''Your teeth don’t look so good. Let me give you a painkiller and I’ll cure them.'' Then the ‘dentist’ stopped the elevator and produced a syringe and injected an anesthetic into the boy’s gums.

The subsequent attempt to remove one of the boy’s front teeth with the pliers ended in the tooth simply breaking. The man then took off the boy’s boots saying that one ''must enter the doctor’s room without footwear'', and fled.

A similar case took place in the city late last year when a boy managed to escape from an attacker who tried to inject something into his gums. The man’s description in both cases matched.

The police created an identikit picture of the criminal and managed to detain the suspect. As operatives searched his apartment, they also found a pack of pornographic photos of children. The detainee, however, strongly denied his guilt and said that he was a law-abiding citizen and a father of two children, though he lives apart from his family.

The investigation is continuing.

Thursday, October 10, 2002

A POLITICAL UPDATE FROM THE 'HEARTLAND'

Having been convinced of the need to threaten Saddam Hussein very seriously and unmistakably with invasion should he fail to disarm, I have taken up the argument with the zeal of the convert. So I was pleased to see that my U.S. Rep, Rod Blagojevich, voted for the House resolution today. It's hard to say whether this represents his true feelings; considering that he holds a safe seat on Chicago's north side, he might have voted differently if he weren't running for governor.

Being a fussy voter in Illinois is not unlike being a picky eater in the Florida panhandle. The options are limited, greasy, and bad for you in ways that you aren't likely to know about for a long time to come. We get to choose between a Chicago ward-heeler who'll toe the line for labor and for his very, very powerful father-in-law's buddies (Blagojevich, the Democrat) and a former DuPage county prosecutor who led an office with a rare penchant for wrongly convicting Mexicans of heinous crimes (Jim Ryan, the Republican). In the end, I hate the self-righteous, mean-spirited corruption of the white suburban Republican machine more than I do the squalid and parochial rainbow coalition of city Democrats, so I'll vote Donkey yet again. But I admit that in the end it's a matter of taste.

As for the House resolution, I was surprised that so many Dems voted 'nay' with their Bay Area nutjob colleagues. Then I thought that, this being the House, the Republicans might have loaded it up with language condemning the UN as a Communist front group and demanding the conversion of the heathen Chinee. But there's nothing like that. I guess Barbara Lee (D-Berkeley) proposed an alternative that would have put the emphasis on inspections, which, given the experience of the last eleven years, is as strong a signal as sending the Butcher of Baghdad a fruit basket and wishing him luck with the centrifuges.

It's not that I don't sympathize with people who despise George Bush, a mediocre gentlemen who, I think history will note, has squandered the most remarkable opportunity ever afforded an American president. I don't hate him, but I see why he pisses people off to the point of distraction and (what's worse) tactical idiocy. But threatening war--and meaning it--is clearly the only way Saddam will ever adhere to the resolutions he has consistently violated. And he's one scary son of a bitch.

So it seems to me that anti-Bush animus is what's driving the Donkey left, which is unfortunate because Bush tortures language, while Saddam tortures people. The Bushies have no ethics, but I haven't known them to bury their political enemies alive in asphalt. The moral myopia of the far left needs no restatement here, but I fear that mainstream liberals could fall prey to a less virulent strain of the same brain fungus. Invading Iraq might be the right thing to do even though George Bush says it is.

Wednesday, October 09, 2002

GREAT FALLS, Montana (AP) -- Montana's Libertarian candidate for Senate has turned blue from drinking a silver solution that he believed would protect him from disease.

Stan Jones,a 63-year-old business consultant and part-time college instructor, said he started taking colloidal silver in 1999 for fear that Y2K disruptions might lead to a shortage of antibiotics.

He made his own concoction by electrically charging a couple of silver wires in a glass of water.

His skin began turning blue-gray a year ago.

"People ask me if it's permanent and if I'm dead," he said. "I tell them I'm practicing for Halloween."

He does not take the supplement any longer, but the skin condition, called argyria, is permanent. The condition is generally not serious.

Colloidal silver dietary supplements are marketed widely as an anti-bacterial agent or immune-system booster, but some consider it quackery.

Jones is one of three candidates seeking to unseat Democratic Sen. Max Baucus in November. The others are Republican state Sen. Mike Taylor and Green Party candidate Bob Kelleher.

Tuesday, October 08, 2002

Only Because Reihan Asked Me To:
Reihan: "Hey dude, how's the new Tahiti 80 album?"
Rich: [silence]
Reihan: "Shit dude, you okay?"
Rich: [silence]
Reihan: "Oh wait, is the new Tahiti 80 album so dope that it's beyond language, outside of rhetoric to even merely espouse its supreme "bomb-ness?" That to even attempt to describe its sublimity would be reductive sophistry, that the compact disc itself emanates beauty and warmth?"
Rich: [faint nod]
Reihan: "And you're only up to track 6?!"
Rich: [faint nod]
Reihan: "Damn."

However, the new Saint Etienne is fortunately within the domain of language, and it is indeed the shit. All in all, however, a slight disappointment I must confess. But there is this winning lyric, to wit: "I still believe in Donovan over Dylan." Say that in the US though, and you're likely to get a horse-wipping.

Monday, October 07, 2002

ON FIRST LOOKING INTO ALDAILY

Much have I surfed in the realms of gold...but I could never justify the existence of the internet until I visited Arts and Letters Daily. I'm serious. After finally succumbing to a friend's repeated insistence that I check the site out, I have never looked back. Without fail it has been my first stop every day I've gone online. Its assemblage of essays, reviews, and arguments--its sheer breadth and impartiality--made it ten times more valuable than any weblog or online journal I know of, and vastly more interesting and entertaining than most human companionship to be found if one is an undergraduate at the University of Chicago.

Without Arts and Letters Daily, I could not hold forth on the failings of contemporary grrl guides, the legendary hot poker incident between Popper and Wittgenstein, Hardt and Negri's Empire, the music of Chet Baker, the advantages Hart Crane has over T.S. Eliot, or any number of other topics on which I've feigned expertise. But beyond improving my cigarette-break banter to previously unimagined levels of refinement and taste, reading A & L Daily was an education in itself, on subjects that I will never consider trotting out to impress college girls.

Happily, it's not all sackcloth and ashes over here at 28 E. Jackson. Dennis Dutton, one of the editors, maintains a recognizable and predictably good site called Philosophy and Literature. For those of you sharing this loss, however, I recommend a teary-eyed tour through the complete aldaily archives, which are available at the site.