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Sunday, December 13, 2009

A Mood is Rising in America's Underclasses

Sixth grade gave me one of the loves of my life, history. I had a superb teacher in a small rural school. He traded his history book for a coach's cap during part of each day. But he certainly didn't mind mingling the two. He'd round us up, all eighteen students, and send us out on a sunny day to the green playground field for a game of "History Baseball". It could just as easily been known as the "Geek's Revenge". The kids normally chosen last during recess to be on a team we often clamored over and fought over when it came down to the fact that the only way to score a home run would be if one could name all of Britain's King Henry's eight wives and their religious and genetic heritage. I found simply amazing how fast political alliances could change in the twelve year-old's world.

I am reminded of this sensation of change by the political climate emerging in America these days.

Years after my sixth grade love affair began I found myself sitting in college absorbing every history course I could cram into my loaded schedule. I found a good history course to be a wonderful stress reliever for the pressure of college. But I was forever trying to fathom how the America I was growing up in had been the same America which bred McCarthyism, school segregation, and the likes of the Big Five oilmen and the banking crisis in the early part of the century.

It didn't seem like that much time had passed yet the society I lived in had passed through all these troubled times. I didn't see any scars. Where were the scars? Did people just forget? Did time heal all? Was it real or did the victors in history just have their way with the retelling? How could it be possible that my parents, grandparents, and people I passed every day on the street had carried such hatred in their hearts to have allowed these things to occur? What happened to those democratic ideals? Didn't the government work for the people? After all I had been raised to the standard that all human beings in America had this gift of equality bestowed upon them at birth. I was told that over and over and over again in school. I not only took that literally I took it to heart.

Yet, here, was evidence of time in which the world seemingly turned upside down and it wasn't so long ago.

Thirty years later I am finally resolving how societal norms and expectations can shift so rapidly. How a period of time can be defined by a beginning crisis and the ending result of the remedy of the crisis. This is how you title a chapter in a history book.

Suddenly I find myself looking backwards over my shoulder and realizing why, in each society, there is a certain period of time known as the "Golden Age". I thought it was just my art history professor's conjuring up his favorite artworks and tagging them as superior. So what if Rome declined thereafter--it still made great art for many years.

For the greater part of my life, by random chance of birth it would seem, I have lived through a time of great stability in America and, comparatively, one of peace. That time has ended. The "Golden Age" has peaked and what comes next appears to be in the hands of fate and in the simmering consciousness of the American underclasses.

Now that this particular era has ended, I see some signs that America appears to be going down that not-so-gilded path towards the giant salad bowl looking to toss it up into the air. The salad, so it would appear, has taken those years of relative stability, and decided to settle itself into fixed strata. The lettuce leaves are all stacked at the bottom with the tomatoes and cucumbers being squished in the middle whilst the chevre crumbles, bacon bits, and salad dressing are heaped on the top. A distinctively medieval European recipe. Not exactly what many people in this country expected to find on its table of feast.

I read an interesting article describing the mood in universities around the country. The basic suggestion was that students were full of jubilee about the idea of change coming to this country when Obama had been elected. They were one with many of us who felt that the system had expunged the clog in the lines and eliminated the need to detour around the corruption and the ruination of the concept of the rule of law. Sure a lot of work had to be done but surely the tools were at hand. The voters had spoken.

However the special interests, the elite, the corporate were not interested in the commentary the common man and woman had laid at their feet.

Fantastic I thought to myself after hearing of the student interest! After my second stint in college for an advanced degree a few years ago I had become dismayed at the passive, commercialized, attitudes of my fellow students in class. All much younger than I, whizzes with the electronic gadgets calculating in their hands, they tended to ask less questions, never raise an eyebrow, whined and complained when too much complexity and history was brought into a subject being discussed, and just mechanically went about having professor's zip open their heads and stuff data inside and zip it closed. They smiled. They picked up their paper at the end of their incarceration and went on to claim their birthright--a job. Not just any job but one that paid money and required minimal physical labor.

Comparatively to my earlier stint in college fifteen years ago this was rather like watching a a Twilight episode called the Stepford Students. One I wouldn't care to see again.

It was business school. The Stepford approach to capitalistic indoctrination. Maximum efficiency. ROI the school mascot.

When I first made the decision to go after my MBA I had called up my Alma Mater and spoke with the Commandant in charge of the Business School. "Could I write my own program with a dual major? Business and Ethics." A stern "No" came the reply. I sucked up the wounds of naivete and entered the program regardless. But I digress into the reality of the dark spaces behind the stage curtain.

The article I read went on about how the financial crisis we are facing invokes the need for reworking and remaking content for the university classroom. Ultimately a professor disclosed his opinion about how his students had grown cynical over the past year upon realizing that the institutions in America are not interested in changing.

Corporations have studied and prepared for this battle.

I read a great book in the 1990's recommended to me by an early-entry triple-scoop kind of technology whiz geek. Who, come to think of it, worked for a Texas based insurance company. One of the big five. The book "The Sun, the Genome, and the Internet" frequently gets panned still in reviews by reviewers with less geek on their lapels than my friend's. But these reviews miss the big picture of the book.

The book outlines how the infrastructure of western civilization, long reliant on coal, oil, and the auto industry to sustain their economy was about to undergo a radical transformation from these outdated sources of infrastructure and technology to, you guessed it, using the sun, the genome, and the Internet.

The student of history will easily point out that these cycles replay themselves over and over again throughout all civilizations and human population centers.

The importance of this shift, grossly understated in this book when taken into political terms, can only be described, less than adequately, as enormous. Our grandchildren and their children for years will be reading about this period of time where America attempted to shift power gears and ended up blowing out the clutch. The powers in charge of these aging technologies were not quite ready to be put to bed yet and wanted to take out one last hurrah of final profiteering before the economy shifted. Hence, I'll argue, one of the reasons for backing the Bush Cheney Iraq war. Also the fight over health care.

The shift, for the American economy, got delayed for ten years--thank you to all the greedy profiteering self-interested executives and investors living in their castles on the hill and watching the peasants toil in the fields everyday looking up longingly for their opportunity to climb the ivory steps to their own gilded apartments in the high towers above those with "less".

Now here we are, the lower classes in America, left with the proverbial mess after the big party and taped to our besotted foreheads is the taxpayers' bill for cleaning it up. The gum crushed into the pavement, the litter strewn about here and there, people maimed and laying on the curb, the panties wrapped around streetlights, and all those little annoying party favors. Obama crushed and weighted down with the responsibility for coming up with a plan to clean it all up. The nobility of course demanding, and receiving, payment for showing the lower-classes how to party.

"Thanks for the good time. Don't call home when the baby arrives."

Isn't it funny how sometimes that one crucial, beautifully snapped, public tableau, like the party scene, can implant itself into the brains of an entirely unsuspecting generation... and fester. College is a special place for the incubating "Festers". Hence underfunding college for the less-than-elite-legacy players is a great idea for those specially interested in staying in power.

Fester like a wound improperly cleaned. Fester like a canker sore on a tongue so it hurts every time flicked. Fester to irritation like the pimple rubbed into a boil. Until suddenly the thought of the wound takes over everything and explodes into the consciousness so ripe and ugly that nothing else matters until it is cured.

Now I am beginning to understand, you see, how those periods of strife appeared within my naive ideal of America. Now I am beginning to see how an idea can exist in the unspoken consciousness of people but never emerge until the moment is ripe. Now I understand how political dynamics can change just as rapidly as they did in the minor experiment of sixth grade politics. Seemingly overnight when placed against the scale of human history.

The working class is restless in its slumber. The real question is whether or not it will awake. The students are becoming disquieted. The wind blowing across America's underclasses is not as temperate as it was yesterday. Now there is an air blowing that we have all been used. Duped. Taken advantage of. Our country seized by the powerful and wealthy and used to advance the big national corporate plunder. We, the common and average citizen, have been the mules to curry large amounts of wealth into the hands of the "handlers". The shadow thought of equality and democracy just a hand puppet figurine drawn on the wall to elicit cooperation.

How long will this brew take to boil? Or will it just allow a lid to be put on the wicked pot of thievery and placed back on the stove to simmer? It has happened before. The robber barons have been clocked. The peasants have taken back their country and reignited the idea of democratic equality. History has repeated itself more than once.

The only question is how to right the wrongs in a way which also upholds the integrity of the American ideal. This to me is what the real underlying fight for the public option in health care reform is all about. It isn't about the budget. It isn't about the Democrats versus the Republicans. It is about who owns this country.

The people or the corporate elite.

Time will tell. History will be written. Someday some teacher will ask his students the home run question. "What is the defining moment of American Democracy?"

The entire American public is about to learn if the investment being made into the public education system pays off and how that question will be answered now and in the future. The power of the vote is mightier than the sword. I learned that in sixth grade. Hopefully other students did too.

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