• Category Archives: Class and Inequality

War Against All

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Personal gratification is the root cause of the war that is plaguing our society Christopher Lasch contends in his article The Culture of Narcissism (Cummings 658)Written in 1979 I found it interesting that Lasch was already arguing that greed and corporate interests were were becoming the motivating factor of our society. As we saw in the 1980s individualism and instant gratification were taken much farther. Lasch says that competitive individualism and  personal gratification is destroying families, harming children and promising people power, wealth and status.  He contends that the new narcissist has forfeited the security of the group in exchange for insecurities that come with seeing everyone as a potential rival in a competitive world (Cummings 658).

Lasch sees society’s indifference to the past as a  cultural bankruptcy. He further explains that the attitude of cheerful and forward-looking optimism that surrounds the “narcissist” proves that there is an impoverished psyche and an inability to be satisfied with our own experiences and the narcissist thereby allows others to define their needs (Cummings 660).   Narcissist is the good term to describe the corporate executive who deliberately disregards their employees and others to pursue a profits.  The typical consumer who is enticed to buy products in our commodity and service based economy  relies on others to define their needs as Lasch pointed out.  But is this narcissistic behavior or just a by product of a capitalist society?  Is competitive individualism a survival mechanism for living in our world or is it “war against all” as Lasch says?


 

Cummings, Michael S. “The Culture of Narcissism (1979) ”.  American Political Thought. 7th ed. Los Angeles: Sage, 2015. 658-662. Print.

Image: http://behindblondiepark.com/2014/05/22/mark-cuban-apologizes-to-travyon-martins-family/

 

 

The American Dream?

Although Langston Hughes was the first African American writer to earn his living from writing and public appearances, black critics were particularly harsh on his work.  Many black intellectuals felt that Hughes was portraying their life as unattractive.  When Hughes book Fine Clothes for a Jew was published The New York Amsterdam News ran the headline LANGSTON HUGHES—THE SEWER DWELLER (“Biography: Langston Hughes”). But Hughes was not deterred by the criticism, he was writing for the people, not the intellectuals. His writing emphasized black pride and rejected what he saw as “false integration”  (Cummings 517).  Many people were uncomfortable with Hughes portraying black life in such a imperfect way.  Many African Americans wanted to elevate the status of blacks during this time and saw Hughes’ work as a betrayal to their race (“Biography:Langston Hughes”).  Hoyt W. Fuller said that Hughes “chose to identify with plain black people—not because it required less effort and sophistication, but precisely because he saw more truth and profound significance in doing so” (“Biography: Langston Hughes”).

langston-hughes-mural

In Hughes poem “Let American Be America Again” the line American never was America to me is especially powerful (Cummings 519).  Hughes has shattered the myth of American dream and shown how it has failed for millions of those who are not part of the freedom and opportunity that this country is supposed to offer. The other line that I found to be riveting was Except the dream that’s almost dead today, (Cummngs 521). Hughes wrote theses words in 1938.  He believed that America was not a place where everyone was free to follow their dreams and achieve equality. What would he think today?  Is the dream almost dead?  Is the American dream a myth or is there still hope that anyone can rise from the bottom and achieve prosperity and equality in America?

“Biography: Langston Hughes.” Poetry Foundation. Poetry Magazine, 1 Jan. 2015. Web. 20 Apr. 2015. <http://www.poetryfoundation.org/bio/langston-hughes>.

Cummings, Michael S. “Let American Be America Again (1938)”.  American Political Thought. 7th ed. Los Angeles: Sage, 2015. 519-521. Print.

Image:  Lora Jost, Artist  2001 Langston Hughes Mural (Lawrence, KS) http://lorajost.org/?page_id=66

The Dream Deferred

I always feel it is hard to accept your dream is deferred. Deferred by debt. Deferred by education. Deferred by having children. Deferred by government. Deferred by health issues. Deferred by the economy. Deferred by death.

In Langston Hughes Harlem, or Dream Deferred, Hughes writes, “What happens to a dream deferred? Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun? Or fester like a sore– And then run? Does it stink like rotten meat? Or crust and sugar over– like a syrupy sweet? (Cummings 521).” I feel his statement strikes a nerve within my soul. I’ve always enjoyed Hughes’ work, but this poem in particular reminds me of my own dream.

I have a dream for my tribe, the Menominee. I dream our vast ancient forest, which you can see from space, stays green forever. I dream our food is sourced locally and no man made pollution is emitted by our existence. I have a dream the Menominee language and culture live on for generations and not die out. My dream is not about money or power, but for the people.

For years I worked within the system. I started on the grassroots level in the education system. Pushing my ideas forward of culturally-based curriculum and gardens as teaching tools. This propelled me further into the tribal government system. I feel once you hit the established legal body all ideas go to die a slow and drawn out death. I still feel there is hope, but I need a law degree.

A law degree….a piece of paper elusive to my journey. It takes me 8 years to figure it all out, at least I want to feel I have it all figured out. But years of the deferred dream kept me away from school. I wanted to rise up in the non-profit world where a majority of my professional career started, but I need that piece of paper called “diploma” in order to reach my dream. I feel that the dream is deferred over and over again. And it will not end once I reach my law degree.

I will have to fight tooth and nail to defend the sacred homelands of the Menominee from corporate and government interests. Threats of privatized water and nuclear waste depository unhinge me. Sending me into a state of panic to rush forward to reach the dream, but responsibilities as a family man defers the dream.

I feel Hughes is right to question what happens to the dream? There are numerous paths the dream could take and could reach an untimely death due to old age. When I think of Hughes thoughts on the American Dream or dreams people have in general, sometimes its painful to wait for everything to come true.

I find comfort in the poetry of music and especially this song by Brother D and the Collective Effort. Out of New York City in the late 1970’s, Brother D and the Collective Effort hit the mainstream with a song titled “How We Gonna Make the Black Nation Rise?” The title covers an era when rap and hip hop were in the early years with a message to the masses. I take this message and apply it to my own dream in the hopes the wisdom ripples to other races. As Hughes wanted all disenfranchised members of the American society to rise up together and collectively bring the American Dream to all.

If you agitate, educate, and organize does that make us one step closer to the dream?

Those who could not obtain the dream

In America, most people claim that anyone in America can make it and obtain the American dream of a house and white picket fence (I don’t view myself with a white picket fence); however, there are those in America who would not be able to obtain the American dream because of their skin color, religion, or where you were born. In some cases it even happens today. In the early 1900’s the major cities and much of America was separated between many different ethnic and racial backgrounds. For example, the Irish had one part of the city, while the Italians, Jews, blacks, and other ethnicities had other parts of the city and all had to face prejudices from the protestants (natives) and each other, ironically. When facing discrimination, black people were the most targeted out of all the ethnic groups because they were black. During the 1920’s, the middle class was prospering at great new heights, but black people were mostly left out because of laws that barred them from voting and could not enter certain public places such as restaurants, taxes, and certain neighborhoods. Black entertainers and athletes were mostly left out of the mainstream , and so black communities throughout the United States had to have their own leagues for sports and their own venues for entertainers. One of these entertainers was a Missouri born black writer named Langston Hughes. He wrote plays, novels, poems, and essays about the struggles and celebrations of black people in America. In one of his poems called A New Song where he calls for black people to take more action in their community by the following passage:

“I speak in the name of the black millions

Awakening to action.

Let all others keep silent a moment.

I have this word to bring.

This thing to say,

The song to sing:

Bitter was the day

When I bowed my back

Beneath the slaver’s whip

That is past.”

Even though some black people succeeded in making a life for themselves, many couldn’t live a life poverty. Even if a black person does become successful, they are still stigmatized from the rest of society and were denied admittance from clubs and other social events like parties and dinners of high honor. Today things a little better for black people in society, but society is still not equal for black people.

Even though things are better, we still have discrimination today. Is there example of this discrimination today? Is the future looking better for minorities in America?20s

 

 

“America Never Was America To Me”

Langston Hughes

Black America


In reading “A New Song” and “Let America Be America Again” by Langston Hughes, he discusses the American vision of being the land of opportunity and how it applies to ethnic minorities and people with low socioeconomic statuses; additionally, although America’s history has been deeply drenched in corruption, greed, and horrible atrocities against some, he believes America can see a brighter, more clear vision of opportunity and equality. Although the poems are separate entities, they come together to create a Hughes’ ultimate dream of what America could be. Below, I picked out a few lines from each poem that speaks to this vision:

1. “Bitter/With the past/But sweet/With the dream” (518). In these few lines, Hughes discusses the bitter race relations of the past and the sweet dream of the possible unity between different peoples. He acknowledges that although there has been this tense and unfair treatment of ethnic minorities, specifically Black Americans, there is a brighter, “sweeter” future.

2. “That day is past” “The past is done!” (519). Here, Hughes continues to reference the past, but also acknowledges that the past is over with, which hints toward working on the present and hoping for a better future to come.

3.”America was never America to me/And yet I swear this oath/America will be!” (521). Within these lines, I believe Hughes sums his entire poem. America is branded as the land of the free, land of opportunity, and the home of the brave; however, those ideals are limited to a certain few. This poem is especially important because not only does it mention ethnic minorities, but it also lists immigrants and lower income peoples; he approaches the dream from an intersectional view. In the last line of the above quotation, he once again refers to the American dream being applied to all people.

Do you believe that the past is really done? Or, has the past created new issues for the future of America?

Sumner’s Codswallop

Early on Sumner outlines the distinction of government role in our society and who comprises it. He says that they pose questions regarding what ails our nation, what others lack and whose responsibility it is to fix it. (336) The rich are expected to solve the poverty that others are inflicted. He goes on to say that there is a natural order to things and that people should find happiness regardless of their class. He also believes that a person’s overall success is determined by their level of hard work. In short, Sumner is set on a meritocracy.

There is little wonder as to why he holds these beliefs. His father, after all, was an immigrant, working class laborer and yet Sumner was able to rise out of poverty by pursuing an education. Once a person holds a different place in society, it is all too easy for them to ask why others cannot do the same. Sumner was the exception. Capitalism is constructed so that only a few are able to indulge in all the privileges that come from being at the top, while the middle and working class prop them up. It is not ludicrous for the working class to desire, nor even to demand easier mobility among the classes. It is not unfair for a worker who labors for 40+ hours per week to expect to have enough money to feed their family. What is asinine, however, is to expect people to claw at limited resources while a few, under the assumption of being due to their own merit alone, hold on to an egregious amount of wealth.

Sumner does make the point that some men hold advantages that other men do not, but that is how capital is formed and. (341) He maintains that men with these advantages do not hold capital over another; privileged men simply have wealth while others must strive. This system is necessary so that others work toward securing those same privileges. While I’m inclined to understand that some people have more and it is not their fault that they were born into a family of wealth, I equally understand that this concept applies to the working class in the exact same fashion. It becomes necessary then to look at our economic system critically and ask ourselves whether it serves to be helpful toward the majority of our nation’s citizens? If not, reform from our government of this system is not only justified, it is their duty.

What Social Classes Owe to Each Other

William Graham Sumner discusses the relationship of wealthy and poor classes in America. He covers various topics including forms of government. Plutocracy, a government based on wealthy classes as the rulers of the land is explained in depth throughout What Social Classes Owe to Each Other. Sumner writes, “In the United States the opponent of plutocracy is democracy. Nowhere else in the world has the power of wealth come to be discussed in its political aspects as it is here (Cummings, 344).”

It is interesting that Sumner discusses plutocracy in the late 19th century. I always had the notion plutocracy was a new concept created recently to discuss the large gap of wealth we currently have in America. My first introduction to plutocracy was from a song The Poverty of Philosophy written by Immortal Technique. I felt what he said spoke truth to what I saw in my everyday life as an Indigenous American. After being a part of the American government system, I know we DO live in a plutocracy.

Sumner explains plutocracy and American Democracy experiment further, “Nowhere in the world is  the danger of plutocracy as formidable as it is here. To it we oppose the power of numbers as it is presented by democracy. Democracy itself, however, is new and experimental (Cummings, 344).” America is a plutocracy if we have to bailout our banking system to stop another Great Depression from occurring. We live in a plutocracy if we have to fight tooth and nail to make an impact on government policy. The super rich control our elections and develop policies to help their business not to advance general public well being. When Congress passed legislation in 2008 to bail out the banks, there was a clause in the bill which gave $300 Billion dollars without any strings attached. Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) went on the Senate Floor in 2009 to say the money has gone unaccounted for and stated, “Historians will look back and say this was the biggest screw up in American history.”

Democracy is an experiment. It is a valuable experience to allow the masses of people to participate in their Democracy. For if we were unable to participate, we might as well say the American Revolution was worth nothing. We could have continued being under Monarchy because it is no different than plutocracy. I disagree with Sumner that Democracy is new. It is not new. It has been a part of the Americas before the Europeans arrived. It works! You just have to work hard and educate for the form of government to work. Americans should learn from Indigenous Americans about Democracy.

Sumner’s Unstated Assumptions

 

Given the political discourse surrounding class today, it is easy to see the remarkable and enduring influence of ideas like William Graham Sumner’s What Social Classes Owe Each Other. His arguments seem to remain in vogue among those on the right, especially among the more “libertarian” of the GOP. Sumner’s answer to the question that his title poses is simple: nothing. The social classes owe each other essentially nothing, except for respecting property rights and supporting themselves.

 

William Graham Sumner

William Graham Sumner

“Every man and woman in society has one big duty. That is, to take care of his or her own self. This is a social duty. For, fortunately, the matter stands so that the duty of making the best of one’s self individually is not a separate thing from the duty of filling one’s place in society, but the two are one, and the latter is accomplished when the former is done.

“. . . it is the duty of All-of-us (that is, the State) to establish justice for all, from the lest to the greatest, and in all matters. . . . We each owe it to the other to guarantee rights. Rights do not pertain to results, but only to chances. They pertain to the conditions of the struggle for existence, not to any of the results of it; to the pursuit of happiness, not to the possession of happiness.”

Sumner’s argument should sound familiar. It is rooted in Lockean thought, and Sumner’s unstated assumptions are similar to Locke’s. Men have a right to “struggle for existence” against Nature, and the bounty of Nature is boundless. With enough hard work and perseverance, any scrappy underdog can overcome the obstacles prevented by concentrations of wealth and power and become himself a mighty capitalist, all the while improving society.

Romney: 53% of us owe 47% of us nothing

Romney: 53% of us owe 47% of us nothing

“If there were such a thing as natural rights, the question would arise, Against whom are they good? Who has the corresponding obligation to satisfy these rights? There can be no rights against Nature, except to get out of her what ever we can, which is only the fact of the struggle for existence stated over again.”

“The aggregation of large fortunes is not at all a thing to be regretted. On the contrary, it is a necessary condition of many forms of social advance. . . . Undoubtedly the man who possesses capital has a great advantage over the man who has no capital, in all the struggle for existence. . . . This does not mean that one man has an advantage against the other, but that, when they are rivals in the effort to get the means of subsistence from Nature, the one who has capital has immeasurable advantages over the other.”

But are these assumptions fair to make? Is nature a boundless pool of wealth that will continue to supply future generations with a fair playing field for the “struggle for existence?” And do concentrations of wealth and power only help society instead of giving one man advantage
“against” the other? I think not.

Nature isn’t boundless. This is was already a problem with Locke’s theory, but Locke at least had the advantage of seemingly endless tracts of land in the Americas to make the argument that there will always be room for new generations to carve out a decent living. By the time Sumner is making his argument Nature’s bounty was all but privatized and the mass of humanity was reduced to perpetual wage-labor.

Likewise, aggregations of capital do indeed give men advantage against each other. Powerful monopolies ruled by the industrial barons whom Sumner was aggrandizing has stifled the chances for smaller firms to succeed in the marketplace, often by use of the government as a protector. The irony is that Sumner all but acknowledges this in his argument.

What Sumner thinks social classes REALLY owe each other

What Sumner thinks social classes REALLY owe each other

“There is an insolence of wealth, as there is an insolence of rank. A plutocracy might be even far worse than an aristocracy. . . . The feudal code has, through centuries, bred a high type of men, and constituted a caste. The mercantile code has not yet done so. . . . The consequence is, that the wealth-power has been developed, while the moral and social sanctions by which that power ought to be controlled have not yet been developed.”

There you have it. Forget equal opportunity, Sumner’s rich friends are a new aristocracy who have just but to develop a code of chivalry to keep their conduct restrained and tasteful in order for society to be all good. Even assuming Sumner’s assumptions about wealth and power are legitimate, his argument loses all internal consistency. He begins by making classical-liberal argument for the rule-of-law, the supremacy of contract, and against the arbitrary power of nobles and democratic mobs. He ends by envisioning the robber barons as a new house of lords.

And regardless, if Sumner’s assertions that the social classes owe each other nothing, that advantages of class are not problematic and that the pursuit of self-interest is virtuous are all true, then his argument would essentially justify just what he’s arguing against. The lower classes don’t owe the upper classes deference or their property rights respect. They are well justified in capitalizing on the advantage of numbers which their class status gives them to seize control of the state make it the servant of their self-interest.

So Sumner’s real argument would be not that the social classes owe each other nothing, but that the lower classes owe the upper classes obedience and respect.

 

Women, Race, and Class

After the struggle of reconstruction, many wondered and worried about who had what rights and what rights people were entitled to. This conflict could be found to reside in American societies that had inequality within class, race, and gender. When the conflict between race and gender rose up between the women’s movement and the antislavery movement the alliance that was once bonded these two factions now separated them. Women were told they were the lessor of their white male counterparts as well lessor than black males with the ability of voting. Women were outraged. Well educated white women were outraged.
A division of the entire nation had not been resolved, so different people with different problems associated with inequality were all fighting to become equal in the eyes of the constitution. Now freed slaves were fighting to acquire the rights of their male counterparts and yet the American political system did not allow for the advancement of their rights. People from differing economic classes also were fighting to have their needs met, but were not recognized as swiftly as other warring factions of American political society. Women wanted equality also. But their insubordination to their white male counterparts was found to be encased within the patriarchal structure of Americanism and (now discredited) the sciences of the time. The science of the time found that women, as well as blacks and the poor, were of a certain position in life for no other reason, but that they were incapable of climbing up the structural ladder of life.
Social Darwinism was the flame that needed to be smothered during this time period. Race, gender, and class alike were lumped into a group of undesirable people that were still necessary for the extension and existence of American life, but yet unworthy of full participation based on their statuses of less than. Women rebuked this status and fought against the structure that condemned them into a classification deeming them unworthy of equal participation of American society based on their ability to create future superiors.
This classification of less than for women was not something that women were willing to succumb to. Women knew that although the rights of all Americans were imperative for the existence of society, they learned that to fully address the unequal rights of women they needed to depart from their alliances within other movements. This separation to focus primarily on women’s rights was the only way that they thought could accomplish their goals of becoming an equal with their white male counterparts. A nation divided yet again to eventuate future changes to other structures of inequality within America.
I am not advocating for the separation of groups within America as a resolution to social issues that the nations faces, but the women of this time learned that when their issues within inequality were not being resolved, they changed the way that they approached the problems so that a resolution could occur. My question, what if women’s movement remained combined with the other factions that faced inequality of this time period? Do you think that the innovative nature of the women’s movement could have been applied to make changes in inequality within the class and race movements?

Reconstruction and Industrialization

Gender became the next large-scale social movement instead of class because deep in our founding documents there is one line everyone in history recites, “All Men are Created Equal.” Now, I am not saying that men are a far superior gender than women, but rather the precedence and conflict that comes out of that famous line. Precedence because in the Declaration of Independence was the first document that started the United States. Every social or people movement talk about this equality whenever they discuss the reason of why masses of people gather. It is the fuel of this line that gives women a opportunity to create conflict.

Women feel left out from the very beginning and have every right to be angry with the establishment. This is where the suffrage movement begins. Out of anger and feelings of have no voice, the women revolt and go against the grain. They won their right to vote and in doing so changed the course of United States history forever.

When I think about the gender vs. class issue, I keep thinking about the idea of capitalism. Government at the turn of the 20th Century is already dealing with recessions, depressions, and monopolies. The same issues we face today. Money speaks to power and power answers back. I feel women’s rights was one of the more less controversial movements during its time. Classism is a whole another ball and wax that we still to this day have not settled. It is because we live in a capitalist society and there are the have’s and the have not’s. No one was to take on the classism issue because you either wind up in jail or assassinated. Or you sell out everything you believe in to the system that controls everything, capitalism.

After reading the text, I found this quote that is interesting, “The field for socialism appeared fertile if European ideas and Indigenous American experience could be fused into a broad-based movement (Cummings, 316).”

I think that if we were able to blend this notion of European ideas and Indigenous knowledge, we would have had a different outlook on our country and the world. I think we wouldn’t have had a women’s suffrage movement and classism would not have been an issue. As a Native American, I believe many of my ideals stem from Communism and Socialism if you want to take the vocabulary of an uneducated Anglo.

Do you think if we blended European and Indigenous ideas together would the United States be the same as it is today?