Friday, April 29, 2016

Across the Chasms of Segmentation

Image by Peshkova/Getty Images (stolen by corporate bloggers too numerous to mention, at least I'm crediting).
Poor David Brooks ("If Not Trump, What?") back for seconds on the artisanal humble pie with pâte brisée and seasonal fruits, which he'll take à la mode, with a great big scoop of the butter-brickle self-congratulation:
I was surprised by Trump’s success because I’ve slipped into a bad pattern, spending large chunks of my life in the bourgeois strata — in professional circles with people with similar status and demographics to my own. It takes an act of will to rip yourself out of that and go where you feel least comfortable. But this column is going to try to do that over the next months and years. We all have some responsibility to do one activity that leaps across the chasms of segmentation that afflict this country.
Chasms of segmentation! Can't help imagining him somewhere out in the Heartland anxiously searching an Applebee's for the salad bar. "What did they do with it? Is this some of that downsizing?" For now, though, he needs to get ready for his excursion, and he's doing some online shopping:
We’ll probably need a new national story. Up until now, America’s story has been some version of the rags-to-riches story, the lone individual who rises from the bottom through pluck and work. But that story isn’t working for people anymore, especially for people who think the system is rigged. 
Where do you get a good national story? Is Amazon OK for stuff like that or do you have to hang out in the old independent stores, with their dust and cats spiking your allergies?

Our old national story is evidently Ragged Dick, or, Street Life in New York with the Boot Blacks (1867), a Bildungsroman (says Wikipedia, primly) by Reverend Horatio Alger, Jr., who himself performed a fairly spectacular act of self-reinvention after he was driven from his pastorship at First Unitarian in Brewster, Mass., on account of "gross familiarity with boys" in the performance of his ministerial duties, and fled to New York, where he became an extraordinarily successful novelist telling that story over and over again (though it isn't just "pluck and work" but some signal act of virtue—bravery or honesty—that lifts Alger's heroes from poverty, along with the support of some kind and well-educated older gentleman).
Maybe it will be a story about communities that heal those who suffer from addiction, broken homes, trauma, prison and loss, a story of those who triumph over the isolation, social instability and dislocation so common today.
Sounds like Thomas Pynchon's Vineland (a wonderful, sadly underrated novel with a genuinely uplifting ending, with a hugely extended multigenerational family playing an endless game of Crazy Eights in the marijuana haze of the northern California woods). I hope we don't get The Scarlet Letter, or Moby Dick ("I alone am escaped to tell thee!").
We’ll probably need a new definition of masculinity, too. There are many groups in society who have lost an empire but not yet found a role. Men are the largest of those groups. The traditional masculine ideal isn’t working anymore. It leads to high dropout rates, high incarceration rates, low labor force participation rates. This is an economy that rewards emotional connection and verbal expressiveness. Everywhere you see men imprisoned by the old reticent, stoical ideal.
Maybe you could try Lowe's for the new definition of masculinity. Obviously the dictionary only has used definitions, that won't help.

But building that patio deck you've always longed for, or a mancave in the basement with a giant flatscreen and a real plugged-in pinball machine. It would be a kind of mini-empire with a role for you, and it would totally not lead to your dropping out or getting incarcerated. Or church. We'll get a new definition of masculinity where dudes go to church, or amateur theatricals, or book clubs. Keep in mind that it's not just about being a good person, but cashing in in the new economy. The more emotional connection and verbal expression you do, the better your chance of retiring early with a serious bundle. It's just practical.
We’ll also need to rebuild the sense that we’re all in this together. The author R. R. Reno has argued that what we’re really facing these days is a “crisis of solidarity.” Many people, as the writers David and Amber Lapp note, feel pervasively betrayed: by for-profit job-training outfits that left them awash in debt, by spouses and stepparents, by people who collect federal benefits but don’t work. They’ve stopped even expecting loyalty from their employers. The big flashing lights say: NO TRUST. 
When you talk about rebuilding, it's Lowe's for sure. We'll redo society's kitchen, opening it up to the rest of the apartment. Spouse at the stove or cutting up onions on one side of the central island with its zinc countertop, stepparent on the other side drinking vodka and watching the football. Track lighting.

And nobody getting federal benefits unless they have a job, because what's wrong with those people? Why on earth would we be giving them money if they won't even volunteer some time to help shore up corporate profits? Where's their fucking sense of community? To say nothing of employers, who can be even worse than employees.

Of course in the old national story with its lone individual, we weren't all in this together, unless there was an older one (older than 1867? How can that be?) where we were. Where there was a wise old hack writer, mocker of religion, and amateur scientist who suggested we'd need to hang together if we didn't want to hang separately and everybody agreed we'd have to govern ourselves if we didn't want to be governed by a hereditary aristocracy. But that's such a partisan story, it would never work.

Bourgeois strata, with large chunks of David Brooks's life on the side, also available with sausage. Via FeastsFromThePantry.
This column has been setting the best people on fire. At press time Driftglass hasn't shown up (he's always slow on Friday because of the podcast) (Update: it was worth waiting for), but Steve M is as funny as he's ever been and Edroso is so funny I'm literally pissed off. Like it's unfair to those of us who labor at this week in and week out, when he makes it look so easy.

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