Thursday, April 4, 2013

Ecce! The Bourgeois Boomer

The life of the mind is fraught with labor, not chiefly cogitation but rather searching, seeking after veritable examples of ideas. It's consuming work and the models are rarely perfect, but we proceed, poring over random political correspondence, obscure Renaissance treatises, and ancient marginalia. Then one day a walking archetype stumbles into our lives and. . . voila. Enter the Bourgeois Boomer via The Huffington Post.

Now to be sure I don't know whether the author himself qualifies as a true Bourgeois Boomer or he's just pandering to a stereotype. I suspect the latter, that's he's just playing to a host of sentiments which few people hold but which do form a somewhat consistent constellation of attitudes which is termed Middle Class Baby Boomer. Real or manufactured, though, the persona of the author and the audience at which he aims typifies the stereotype. Read the article when you're at home so you can wash the pandering off your trousers.

The opening is classic: our dear author is baffled by modern technology. Can't you picture the man, a good soul to be sure, pressing the buttons on his phone in escalating frustration. He's lost in an "endless maze" of technology. This never happened when Suzie Q-Tip, who lived just down the road, was the operator and well she just put you right on through. 

But there aren't any operators left. Or receptionists. Or secretaries. Or typists. Or any number of dozens of jobs that used to be available for millions of people to earn a living.
 O Tempora! O Mores! Suzie's been outsourced! And forget those overseas folks working for pennies so our dear author, a hard worker, can afford this service in the first place.

Then the long awaited reference comes, that to ordinary people. Pardon me, "ordinary people." The quotations in this context need some translation because they indicate we're talking about a particular, special, group of people. They should read,

You know these folks right? Of course you do, you're one of us aren't you? Sure you are, come on in. 
This is nothing but an appalling appeal to people like you. Then we get a twofer, a real doozie in learning about these,

average Americans who needed to make a living wage to live the decent middle-class life that defines what makes our country great.
Not smart people, or kind people, or people with any concrete virtue whatsoever, but average people. Average folks like G. Harrold Carswell, who was not in fact the Mayor of Mayberry but a judge, an average man and an average judge for an average American. And Americans should be represented by their peers. Not by their betters, surely, for that would reek of meritocracy or worse, aristocracy. Yuck. Excellence. How un-American, right?

Ooh look now, a "living wage." Well-played, author. One must adopt the new lingo. And apparently the "middle class life" is what makes America great. The Middle Classe Life, i.e. your life. Not life as in freedom from being murdered, but life as in way-of-life. America is great not because its citizens are free or virtuous but because the middle class lives a certain way. And don't let anyone tamper with that!

The author's following reference to the opening of the Declaration of Independence is pretty slick. It's been prepared by the previous reference to life we discussed. You see he's defined the term above, therefore the reference here carries the weight of his definition. Had he simply appealed to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness," he would have run the risk of even readers considering the traditional, Jeffersonian, libertarian, meaning of the phrase and not his dutiful Rooseveltian one. He's also chosen not to re-define the term too nearby the quotation of the Declaration, lest it actually look like he is commandeering or re-writing it. Clever author!

But in today's brave new world, too often driven by Wall Street values, there is no more room for most of these people. As Thomas Friedman, the prestigious bestselling New York Times columnist recently wrote: "every boss ... has cheaper, easier, faster access to more above-average software, automation, robotics, cheap labor and cheap genius than ever before. That means the old average is over. Everyone who wants a job now must demonstrate how they can add value better than the new alternatives. ... the skill required for every decent job is rising as is the necessity of lifelong learning."
On no, we're in a "Brave new world!" Of emails and smart phones, presumably. And that world is driven by "Wall Street values," i.e. not "Main Street values." Now our author quotes the Sage of the Times, Thomas Friedman, who ushers in a new age of thought with the observation that people need to add more value to their jobs than people or machines which add less value. My world is rocked.

Aren't we charmed, though, by the outrage of his response:

Well this mediocre ("old average") citizen is relieved to be retired from a job market that demands that every worker has to continually show they can "add value better" than others. And as for the "necessity of lifelong learning," I'd like to know who just is doing all that lifelong teaching?
Translation: I'm not going to prove that I'm better than someone else at my job and I'm not going to learn unless someone teaches me!

I just can't wait to hire this guy.

Now we get the obligatory reference to a New York Times fact that corporate profits are up. Oh no! He continues:

corporate profits are thriving despite -- or more likely because of -- high unemployment. Even if you consider corporations as people -- as the Supreme Court recently declared -- this isn't good news for most of the rest of us people.
This is bizarre in two ways.

First, even if corporations have legal standing tantamount to that of an individual, which one can sensibly argue they should not, it's not as if the corporation is an actual person taking the money. There's no Matrix-like mainframe somewhere hoarding the money. Real, flesh-and-bones people have the money. This observation then, ignorant as it may be, is just a thinly veiled attack at people with more money than that hard-working good-souled Main Street American citizen.

Second, the notion that high unemployment, which we ought read as high American unemployment, is profiting American companies is misleading. It could profit a company outsourcing labor which is more expensive in the US, but the author has conflated total unemployment with employment due to outsourcing, and implied that it is the unemployment itself which benefits the corporations and not the hiring of cheaper labor which results in unemployment. Yes, the unemployment is transitively beneficial, but the sentence could have easily been reworded had the author not wished to make corporations seem nefarious and opposed to average Americans.

Also, consider a few points. First, anyone who fears being displaced could settle for a lesser salary. . . although that would diminish his sacred, "decent middle-class life that defines what makes our country great." We can't have that. We can't have employers deciding how much money their business should make them. Raise the protectionist tariffs! Second, middle class Americans with their savings invested in the stock market often benefit when corporations profit because they're invested in said corporations.

Finally, never mind pesky statistics about older people not retiring and keeping the youth out of the work force, youth unemployment in general, and monetary policy which punishes savings. Pay no attention to such things. Also, ignore the actual effects of automation. Certainly don't ask why the people who make higher wages are more important than the shareholders who benefit from increased profits of businesses and the consumers who enjoy less expensive goods. These aren't the ideas you're looking for. Bourgeois-Boomer solidarity is the name of this game.

The author now concludes:

Technology -- probably even that produced by the slimmer, more efficient United Technologies -- is wonderful. Since at heart I'm an optimist, I believe that eventually many, many new jobs will be created, as they were after the early days of the Industrial Revolution, to make up for the ones that are being destroyed.
And now the caveats. The author wishes to make it known that he is neither a Luddite nor a cynic, traits he has already demonstrated. Now "Technology is wonderful" and "I'm an optimist." He says he has "faith" that new "jobs will be created,"but he links to an article which suggests the government is what made the 19th century profitable. "Jobs will be created" he says, in the passive voice, but he hides the "by whom" in the link. So the author seems to be confessing to some beautiful faith in wonderful people freely working together, economics, but is really confessing to a faith in government force and planning.

The author ends with a recapitulation of his opening shtick, the average older American is amazed by the whiz-bang technology these kids make today.

Between the author's skill at offering the progressive paradigm in broadly pleasing and pandering pabulum and the chorus of squawking praise in the comments section, Mr. Bloch should write political speeches. Perhaps that'll leave him enough money to afford a new iPhone as well as the time to read its manual.

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