Sunday, June 25, 2006

Class Struggle

Les Miserables
Gore Vidal, returning to the United States after years in Europe was asked how he liked America after all that time. Did it feel different? Did he still care? "How is it, then," the reporter asked, "to live full-time in the United States?"

If you care about America it's dreadful," he said. "If you are making money you don't care.

This is the root of it, I think, the real basis for division and divisiveness. America is two places, one is for people to live and express their uniqueness and individuality, and it is being dismantled clumsily by the Republicans whose narrower view is that America is primarily a place to make a living. If you happen by luck or wits or family connections to be doing a successful job of making a living, you tend to see America as a marketplace. If, on the other hand, you happen by luck or wit or temperament to be reasonably well adjusted, if your kids are growing up reasonably strong and healthy, if your home is a place of peace and imagination, if your inner self is reflective and, within your natural limits, wise, then you tend to think of America as a kind of dream—the American Dream. You probably find yourself somewhere in between these two, leaning one way or the other, but probably toward the Dream and not the Marketplace of Avarice.

John Edwards is headed out again into the hustings with his philosophy of two Americas. I wish him well, but I have to tell you that a couple of Republicans with whom I sat on a recent airplane trip thought his philosophy to be "divisive." Sometimes the truth is too ugly to acknowledge. These two birds thought that America was one, a place where how you make a living defines all the rest. They could not see the misery and discord created by the financially successful, for the majority whose luck, wits, temperaments and, indeed, lives were drawn into various kinds of chaos by the greed of the wealthy.

Vidal has it right. The wealthy literally do not care. They care not a bit for the harm they do; they care only for their position in the hierarchy of wealth. They deliberately insulate themselves from knowledge of life among the masses; they silently create caste and class boundaries without a thought for the damage to human psyche and consciousness.

What is to be done with these people? Shall we assume there is a glimmer of humanity locked within them, bound by the tendrils of avarice, but ready to escape to prove their better nature? Should we confine them to civilized ranges of income through taxation, hoping that they will begin to understand? Should our commonwealth take all but the necessary wherewithall from them as punishment for all the trouble they have caused and leave them to the devices of the injured and downtrodden? Or, should we simply erase all vestiges of them from our planet, these pigs, these arrogant genetic mistakes, these mutants and cancers in our midst?

The thing about class warfare is that, once begun, it affects the very soul we have chosen to honor. Avarice is like the hunger for power that our Founding Fathers understood so well at the crest of the Enlightenment. Its appearance among us is a sober truth against which we must be eternally vigilant. It is, like narcissism, one of the many possibilities of human development, which, left to its own development, can run rampant and destroy, or it can serve mankind usefully as a carefully managed organizing principle.

Progressive Democrats must come to an unspoken agreement about greed and class. We have to agree to tolerate small distinctions, but to unfailingly extirpate any excess