Explaining Inequality: self-hatred of the poor, stagnation and what became of Occupy? Whence from here?

Posted on September 3, 2015


I started my day today by encountering Marc Stier’s Facebook post asking why there has not been a populist rebellion (well, Marc, the Occupy movement was something of an uprising and was summarily squashed) while real income has been stagnant for decades. (The point of Mr. Stier’s post was that technological advancement may mask the the decline in real access to resources). (Dr. Diamantino Machado of Drexel University has documented stagnation with excruciating precision; I had a painfully pessimistic conversation with him about it with him at the time of the Occupy movement in autumn 2011. Dr. James Spickard has also explained stagnation very powerfully to his classes at Redlands University).

The other point of which I would like to remind the world is that the dismantling of the social safety net and antidotes to poverty instituted under Franklin Roosevelt were quite intentionally dismantled, as beautifully articulated by George Packer in a piece in Foreign Affairs in December 2011, entitled “The Broken Contract.” (The link takes you to a Google folder – just click on / search on PDF).

The purpose of this post is to open electronic dialogue about:

  1. The nature of American poverty (and the growing gap between rich and poor) as examined in cultural terms without consideration of lingering American racial inequality. One place to understand the uniquely American self-blame and lack of revolt is in Kurt Vonnegut’s passage from a fictional monograph in Slaughter-House Five (1969). Another is Joe Bageant’s plea for empathy and understand of the perspective of the white rural underclass in Deer Hunting with Jesus (2000), written (in part) to explain how in hell George W. Bush could have been elected president and why in the world poor people would vote against their own self-interests.
  2. The nature of American poverty with consideration of racial inequality – in terms of cultural capital and material resources. Howard Zinn taught me the most about this in his primary source analysis in The People’s History of the United States (1980), entitled “Persons of Mean and Vile Condition.” The egregiously oversimplified point of Zinn’s chapter is that a slave rebellion in 1676 so terrified landed whites that they encouraged poor and oppressed white indentured servants to emphasize their own whiteness, not their exploitation nor poverty, and therefore not to ally themselves with other oppressed classes, i.e. black (free or slaves) and Native Americans. Thus the social construction of white superiority began in the New World. (Here’s the comprehension exercise, in case you want to read the chapter and test your understanding.)
  3. What is going on with the Occupy Movement now and if there are some seeds sown in 2011 that are coming to fruition? Dr. Lauren Barrow, this question is especially for you.
  4. And what other efforts can we put together as social thinkers to empower people and reverse the trends of stagnation, disempowerment and self-hatred by the most oppressed. Subsequent to the World Future Society Conference of 2015 and our conversations there, Lea Artis and Claire Nelson, this question is for you. Let’s organize that conference we talked about to catalyze the transformation of cities.

I’ll link some additional documents and site to this post and maybe we can get a good conversation started.

Good morning!

Adrienne (Redd)