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A Malaise Speech for the Current Time
(05-23-2019, 10:39 AM)beechnut79 Wrote: There was a post recently on one of the other threads which would also serve very well as a 21st century malaise speech. One of the biggest reasons for said malaise which, IMO, is much worse than the perceived one of the Carter years (at least folks went out partying in discos at that time which they don't seem to be now), is increasing income inequality and the apparent hollowing out of the middle class, which was already beginning, albeit slowly then, at the time of the original "malaise" speech. (Even though that word wasn't actually used in it. Do you feel that, at least in part, the current accelerated crisis of confidence can be laid at the feet of an increasingly individualistic culture, one in which we are nearly brainwashed into feeling that you can easily express your unique style, your own brand of individuality without worrying what others think. We are encouraged to feel that we're each comfortable in our own skin and to let it show. This is good in some ways; perhaps not so good in others.

We are in a 4T, and mass hedonism seems not to be the way for any but economic elites. The poor lack the means except perhaps for rotgut drink and (among the criminal element) drugs. Marijuana may be approaching legality, but it is weak. Sex has become practically a commodity for some people whether through reckless dating, pornography, or outright prostitution (which is misery for the women in the sex trade, but human suffering is fully compatible with commerce in a social order in which the elites can seemingly get away with anything. See Donald Trump.

What remains for the middle class, whatever its origin, is its one distinction from both the elites and the proletariat: intellectualism. Still believing that formal learning gives one some chance of success in an increasingly-unjust society (the Democrats could not stop that trend fast enough in 2009 and 2010, and Republicans have enhanced the trend, at least through 2018). The Hard Right hates intellectualism because it can give people the means of critique of an immoral, inequitable, hierarchical, and potentially-repressive society. The Hard Right has won the white proletariat over in shared contempt of people who think when they could inste4ad do mindless toil and perform abject servility. For the white proletariat, much of which believes in Christian Protestant fundamentalism, This World is to be suffered in heroic toil as preparation for rewards in Heaven. The rapacious plutocrats and executive nomenklatura used to have at least a regional split between the industrial interests of the North and the agrarian interests of the South -- but they have melded since the 1960s. The economic elites can do very well in wars for profit that kill millions of people in return for trillions in profit, and those elites, along with some religious hucksters, can transform Heaven into a sort of Valhalla. Dying in battle means that one will never have to face the prospect of a New Serfdom that seems to be forming as even the college-educated with bourgeois careers are deep in debt to lenders much like sharecroppers in "Kukluxistan".

Quote:The seemingly relentless trend toward greater and greater individualism has also manifested itself in what at the time may have been unexpected ways. Two of the more obvious pertain to the retail and restaurant industries. Much has been made of the rapid decline of the Sears retail brand. Many feel that their primary issue was that they, along with the likes of J C Penney and the late Montgomery Ward is that they were set up to be mass retailers, and during the postwar period they were the Big Three in that arena. Many big and even some small cities had their own classic retailers as well, a prime example being Marshall Field's in Chicago, which was gobbled up by Macy's. With the hollowing of the middle class the upscale folks are heading to the likes of Nordstrom's and Nieman Marcus, which the increasingly paycheck to paycheck folks head to the likes of WalMart and Target, therefore leaving Sears et al out in the cold. Same can be said of the restaurant industry with its abundance of upscale specialty restaurants including many with near celebrity chefs. A more moderate example might be Cheesecake Factory. And then there are the inexpensive fast food chains led by McDonald's and Subway along with a scattering of indies as well. The odd man out here is the classic middle-of-the-road family diner, which are now fewer in number than they once were. Many of those remaining, at least here in the Chicago market, are now only open during breakfast and lunch.

Pardon me for what may be some excessive simplification, but the real heroes of capitalism are small business, whether the small-scale trader, the cottage manufacturer, the small shopkeeper, the mom-and-pop restaurant owner, and even the local banker. Yes, there were regional leaders in retail (such as Macy's (New York), Filene's (Boston), Marshall Field's (Chicago), Wanamaker (Philadelphia),  Dayton (Twin Cities), Hudson's (Detroit). Bullock's (Los Angeles), Goldwater's (yes -- that Goldwater -- in Phoenix), Sanger-Harris (Dallas), Foley's (Houston), and I Magnin (San Francisco). All are gone except for Macy's, the last survivor of this lot. In an amazing coincidence, Dillard's (originally Little Rock) is from the same state as Wal*Mart, and it seems to thrive in the current climate as one of the worst employers possible. As it was in the 1970s, it pays its employees badly but demands both complete subordination in a dog-eat-dog world in return for vague promises of rapid advancement within the company. The monopolists are able to squeeze out competition and gouge customers -- and usually reduce opportunities for non-elite people so that the non-elite must compete for every little scrap. But even Macy's may find itself with an inadequate customer base with a not-so-great position of being the last survivor in a dying industry.

The diners have largely become breakfast-and-lunch eateries because the fast-food giants are finding ways in which to get people of declining means to eat there. Sports bars seem to be thriving because many women don't want their husbands drinking at home and making fools of themselves in front of the kids. (So Hubbie gets picked up for DUI once every three years or so...) Yes, the experience at Applebee's, Chili's, Pizza Hut, etc. gets predictable.  Could the "Chinese" buffet be going the same way? Practically anything can be turned into fast food. Add to this, the food processors and grocery stores are able to transform food that used to take great toil to produce (let us say lasagna) into packaged boxes of food that one can cook quickly in the microwave oven and be somewhat palatable. Some of the venerable chains of the past, such as Big Boy (now pointless, as all that distinguished it from "Chez Mac" is table-side service), Howard Johnson's, and Bill Knapp's are kaputt.

But what the heck? Short-order cooks were never really-good ones, and they made diners possible. The local diner is there as a sort of forum where the insurance salesman and the preacher might meet over ham and eggs.

Quote:A former coworker of mind was of the opinion that the main factor in there being far fewer mom and pop operations today lies in the fact that we have become a more mobile society and many expect the same things everywhere they go.

But Big Boy and Howard Johnson's were themselves standardized experiences. One of the attractions of some small towns in resort areas is that they might still have independent bookstores in which one spends a little more time than one expects, and probably gets a nice cup of Darjeeling. Border's, a bookstore, went belly-up. I don't think it is travel. People are taking fewer long-distance travels except among skilled workers, what remains of the middle class, and of course the Master Class of a plutocratic America. The skilled workers and what remains of the middle class seem to be going to over-priced amusement parks. The Master Classes have the means for sybaritic excess that old aristocracies used to have as their preserve (as if our Master Classes are any better than old aristocracies).

It is entirely possible that America will have to go through the searing purge of another Great Depression to wring out the depravity in our economic order, with millions having to establish small-scale businesses as their sole hope for family survival as the behemoths that fail even as mass employers go the way of the dinosaurs. The birds, small mammals, and lizards (snakes did not appear until the Age of Mammals and to a lesser extent birds) took over as the creatures of Jurassic Park vanished. Maybe without the huge supply of money from Corporate America, lobbying and the scummy forms of politicking in which some reactionary poses as a nice guy while a front group hammers a moderate-to-liberal pol who 'fails' to believe the orthodoxy of the Master Classes -- that no human suffering can ever be in excess so long as there is a profit to be extracted and enforced in the name of elite indulgence.

Until recently, American capitalism saved itself from the danger of a proletarian revolution by ensuring that the common man had a stake in the system. Today the Master Classes are little better than the planters of the Old South, the Junkers of Prussia, and the Soviet-style nomenklatura. They go down in revolution, they incinerate the world in apocalyptic war, they create a political monstrosity that makes Nazi Germany seem full of relative safe havens, or they facilitate the ecological disaster of global warming... and that ecological disaster will create the legal anarchy in which the worst wars begin only to culminate in hundreds of millions of pointless deaths.

Or we Americans vote the b@stards out.
The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or the dedicated Communist  but instead the people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction, true and false, no longer exists -- Hannah Arendt.


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RE: A Malaise Speech for the Current Time - by pbrower2a - 05-24-2019, 01:57 AM

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