At what point does hope of success in world of rigged economic competition become indistinguishable from belief in the rewards of heaven? At what point does hope for a better life in this world become no more meaningful than hope for a better life in the next?
We’ve all heard the old historical narratives about medieval peasants living in the hope of an afterlife. The point of that narrative is usually some sort of contrast with a more open society, one in which upward social mobility is actually possible in THIS life. It’s a tidy narrative, perhaps a bit to tidy.
How many Americans, I wonder, will live their entire lives in trailer courts and small apartments, all the while counting themselves so much better off than those peasants?
Hell! Who could fault anyone for living with hope? Assuming of course that hope doesn’t interfere with their sense of reality, I sure wouldn’t. Unfortunately, the American dream is slipping further and further from our grasp. Ironically, the more distant that dream gets the harder some people fight to hold on to the illusion that it’s still a viable prospect in our current social order.
Heaven forbid a national healthcare system! Damn the welfare queens! The Hell with minimum wage, and let’s privatize Social Security!
I get why some of the economic elites would make such noises, but the every day believer in the free market is often a mystery to me? It seems that such people don’t just want success; they want it on terms which make it incredibly unlikely to ever happen. And in the meantime they reject all manner of public assistance, much of it critical to their own health and welfare. It isn’t even enough to survive; one must survive under the present terms.
In this religion, ‘socialism’ is the Devil, and one of its magic powers is an ever broadening semantic domain. It is increasingly the root evil behind social institutions that have stabilized the American economy for nearly a century. But what makes this rather a-historical devil so powerful in the minds of the average trailer-court Republican? I can’t help thinking it’s in some sense an affront to the just world hypothesis, that vague sense that the world is basically good. If that world is good, then any righteous American ought to be able to make it on his own, so the thinking appears to go. In the end it’s the promise of a certain type of success these folks cling to so desperately, one which is no less fantastic than any waiting beyond the Pearly Gates. The success they hope for is not just paid bills and a good meal on the table; it’s a success that vouches for their own moral superiority, and it is a success promised only in a world that will separate the righteous from the unworthy. It is a success held in the minds of the faithful with all the power and desperation that one could ever find among the faithful of any church. Only a dark force would suggest that this hoped for scenario wasn’t actually going to happen, and only such a dark force could be blamed for the reason it hasn’t so far. The only reason the system hasn’t worked up to this point is that someone, some dark power, has compromised the system. And so people falling further and further behind the great contest for sucess they believe in so much work ever so hard to remove one more piece of the safety net that keeps them in the game at all.
…and in some instances, keeps them alive.
What has me thinking about this was a recent reminder that ‘Democracy’ was one of the great fears plaguing some of our nation’s founding fathers. The fear that the masses would, if given the chance, vote away the privileges of the wealthy and redistribute that very wealth was quite real for the likes of John Adams or even James Madison. I wonder if these men could ever have envisioned a nation of people so content to wait for their boat to come in, so pleased to work away their lives in the hope that the labor would somehow return far more than it ever had before.
If and when the ‘job makers’ ever deem it the right time!
It’s no small wonder that so many who believe in the promise of eternal heaven would also believe in that of Free Markets. It seems that the gods of each work in mysterious ways.
But one day!