Friday, 19 February 2016

The inherent limitations of a political élite

Today, conservative journalist Rod Dreher – a man I have followed since his 2005 Crunchy Cons – provides a revealing look at a problem of which I have long been very aware without ever saying a word or even taking the slightest notice thereof. This problem – one which I can understand very easily – is in the words of ‘Ace of Spades’ that:
“the Establishment’s (my capitalisation) failure to see the appeal of Trump represents their own limitations, not Trump supporters’”
Dreher argues in his article ‘Trump: Fishtown’s Champion Against Belmont’ that the media conservatives who support causes like those of the Politically Incorrect Guides are totally different from the people to whom Donald Trump strongly appeals:
“This alienation separates Trump’s voters from the constituency of another firebrand insurgent, Ted Cruz. Cruz draws from married voters, evangelical Christians, the elderly and those who identify as “very conservative.” These folks might be angry about the political process, but their anger is ideological and their lives – filled with family and church – are fundamentally intact.”

“Trump’s voters, instead, wear an almost existential sense of betrayal. He relies on unmarried voters, individuals who rarely attend church services and those without much higher education. Many of these Trump voters have abandoned the faith of their forefathers and myriad social benefits that come with it. Their marriages have failed, and their families have fractured. The factories that moved overseas used to provide not just high-paying jobs, but also a sense of purpose and community. Their kids (and themselves) might be more likely to die from a heroin overdose than any other group in the country.”
What I can say re-reading this is that the problem of conflict between what ‘Ace of Spaces’ calls:
  1. the “gentry” – those who care predominantly about lifestyle and aesthetic issues and
  2. “economic/populist people” – primarily concerned about tangible wants and not how a Platonic “good society” would look
is one of the most important conflicts within a society. The first and most important part of this question is that it stands completely independent from the liberal versus conservative, Christian versus atheist battles that have dominated cultural thinking. That my mother and brother – increasingly committed atheists with age – cannot understand this conflict can be seen in their inability to grasp how claimed Catholic miracles such as Marian apparitions (e.g. Fatima) or stigmata and inedia (e.g. Therese Neumann, Alexandrina da Costa) were more successful converting highly educated literati than converting the less-educated working classes.

This observation, however, becomes explicable via the contrasting desires of these two groups. Literati – like most groups in the “liberal arts” – tend to be largely concerned with matters of lifestyle and ideology, and thus are prone to not be practically motivated by the difficulties their ideologies may create for people of lesser intellectual capabilities. Their views are shaped by culture and aesthetics, which can be either liberal or conservative depending upon what they observe in the lower classes. Many intellectuals in early and mid-twentieth century Europe saw the demands of union members, lower income workers and people on welfare as pure greed and wanting wealth earned or inherited by others. These intellectuals were also frequently disparaging toward the culture created by industrialisation, even where improved fertiliser technology created hopeless comparative disadvantages in their older industries of farming and fishing. In contrast, in today’s globalised world the tendency is to see greed within extremely wealthy corporations who exploit workers in distant nations rather than within the “precariat” (freelancers, construction workers and other temporary employees) for whom a stable job, homeownership and decent retirement is an impossibility.

Workers, by comparison, are concerned with the practicalities of making a living and do not care about the aesthetics nor the morals. Thus, it tends to be difficult for them to accept the rigid moral standards of either the “gentry left” (e.g. environmental protection via higher taxes or increased regulation) or the “gentry right” (no extramarital sex, no public welfare), whilst a narrow nationalism via restricted trade and subsidies to manufacturing offers hope to them. Like with the “gentry”, however, these working class demands can either be turned to the Left or the Right – I am familiar with how Jeff Kennett used populist demands to reform inefficient government to major advantage in the outer suburbs during the 1992 and 1996 election, despite being increasingly unable to forgive the global climatic effects of his policies that spent $6,000,000,000 on freeways. I am also aware of how soon after many farmers and small businessmen affected by globalisation turned to One Nation because they felt that public money was lavished upon migrants and Aborigines, who were taking their jobs.

In contrast, workers in Europe and East Asia lack competition with indigenous peoples or recent immigrants, and being more exposed to the wealth of the very rich are more likely to channel their anger towards them or to their own corporations setting up shop in low-wage nations. This was true even with very poorly educated workers: their only interest was a more comfortable and secure lifespan, while Catholicism (and the miracles associated therewith) preaches simplicity and asceticism incompatible with these demands. Thus, the workers of Europe and East Asia are – even with the same basic needs as Australian workers – much more socially liberal.

The key part is that none of these working-class demands, whatever they lead to, are talked about by academics of any political stripe, nor by less-educated mystics who also saw something wrong with how the world was changing. It’s a mistake that academics must avoid to understand most political trends in the modern age, and one too easily forgotten by myself when I have been reading new ideologies.

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