Chomsky’s brief article for In These Times recently caught my attention. He writes about the outrage of dumped and/or pension-gutted workers, and their sense of moral indignation at their betrayal by government and business, who have used them only as “instruments of profit and power.”
Dismissal from a job leaves workers with “a profound sense of insecurity” and full of “rage and desperation”- I would argue this same profound insecurity, rage, and desperation permeates those who try to squeak by with stagnant pay and no government safety net, those who are left to piece together temp work at crummy jobs with crummy hours, and/or those who find that their pensions disappear the minute they go to collect them.
Government is supposed to temper the worst excesses of capitalism, to regulate corporate greed for the safety of the public and the land, to provide some basic structure of opportunity and support for new or promising lives, and some measure of dignity and care for more desperate or troubled lives. They extract roughly a third of our income as part of this pact. To funnel our money into corporate bailouts, military occupations, and a vast array of corporate subsidies, while always and ever hollowing out social care and shrugging their shoulders at job loss, is a truly despicable and heart-wrenching betrayal of working men and women.
Of course, this is all old hat. We know, for example, that health ‘reform’ was written by and for the insurance industry, never mind the real and desperate needs of the people- among whom 62% of bankruptcies are driven by medical debt (75% of whom actually had medical insurance at the time). We know that environmental regulatory departments have no muscle, leading to economically, ecologically, and culturally devastating tragedies like the latest gulf oil spill. And we know that corporations and their lobbyists will simply pony up more cash to buy further deregulation and unfettered permission to sow economic and other forms of destruction. Power is not principled, and these betrayals will continue.
But what struck me most about Chomsky’s piece was his discussion of “the furious, often self-destructive bitterness about government and business power” among us common people. This bitterness may lead to suicide, as in the case of Joe Stack, or the foolish anti-tax extremism of movements such as the Tea Party. Chomsky notes that while “it is easy to ridicule how Joe Stack and others like him articulate their concerns…it’s far more appropriate to understand what lies behind their perceptions and actions at a time when people with real grievances are being mobilized in ways that pose no slight danger to themselves and to others.” That is to say, there is a real spirit of disenchantment and grief underlying these behaviours, which has the potential to manifest itself in terrible ways, both for individuals and their larger communities, and we should be paying attention to that.
As usual, Chomsky isn’t big on solutions, and nor am I. I can rail about the ugly side of capitalism and the desperation of people, and I can marvel at the tendency of my fellow citizens to transfer rage that should be aimed at corporations and their political handmaidens onto the backs of the even more desperate (often racial/ethnic minorities and immigrants), and I can shake my head as a new law or a new Supreme Court decision further entrenches this path for us all. But I do not have solutions. None of us do. It is the way of the world, and it will not change.
And so I too have a “furious, often self-destructive bitterness about government and business power” in my heart. It doesn’t manifest itself in suicide or joining silly, hateful movements, but it spews out nonetheless. It creates tension in my relationship. It contributes to a very, very dark inherent worldview from which I often find it difficult to escape. It makes work difficult for me, as I strive to find some way to be challenged and fulfilled without also being the tool of a sector that is completely sold (but at least I’m lucky enough to have a job). It’s something I’m working on- replacing my fury with greater attention to little pleasures, tempering my bitterness by giving myself permission to enjoy the better life I’ve worked so hard to attain. But I wonder uneasily what direction the justified rage of so many others will take?