Sunday, December 24, 2017

The Only Prospect for Civilizing Society and Detoxifying Politics is ____________?


project-syndicate |  The Anglosphere’s political atmosphere is thick with bourgeois outrage. In the United States, the so-called liberal establishment is convinced it was robbed by an insurgency of “deplorables” weaponized by Vladimir Putin’s hackers and Facebook’s sinister inner workings. In Britain, too, an incensed bourgeoisie are pinching themselves that support for leaving the European Union in favor of an inglorious isolation remains undented, despite a process that can only be described as a dog’s Brexit.

The range of analysis is staggering. The rise of militant parochialism on both sides of the Atlantic is being investigated from every angle imaginable: psychoanalytically, culturally, anthropologically, aesthetically, and of course in terms of identity politics. The only angle that is left largely unexplored is the one that holds the key to understanding what is going on: the unceasing class war unleashed upon the poor since the late 1970s.

In 2016, the year of both Brexit and Trump, two pieces of data, dutifully neglected by the shrewdest of establishment analysts, told the story. In the United States, more than half of American families did not qualify, according to Federal Reserve data, to take out a loan that would allow them to buy the cheapest car for sale (the Nissan Versa sedan, priced at $12,825). Meanwhile, in the United Kingdom, over 40% of families relied on either credit or food banks to feed themselves and cover basic needs. 

William of Ockham, the fourteenth-century British philosopher, famously postulated that, when bamboozled in the face of competing explanations, we ought to opt for the one with the fewest assumptions and the greatest simplicity. For all the deftness of establishment commentators in the US and Britain, they seem to have neglected this principle. 

Loath to recognize the intensified class war, they bang on interminably with conspiracy theories about Russian influence, spontaneous bursts of misogyny, the tide of migrants, the rise of the machines, and so on. While all of these fears are highly correlated with the militant parochialism fueling Trump and Brexit, they are only tangential to the deeper cause – class war against the poor – alluded to by the car affordability data in the US and the credit-dependence of much of Britain’s population.

True, some relatively affluent middle-class voters also supported Trump and Brexit. But much of that support rode on the coattails of the fear caused by observing the classes just below theirs plunge into despair and loathing, while their own children’s prospects dimmed.