THE BEATEN GENERATION
“In a liquid modern life there are no permanent bonds, and any that we take up for a time must be tied loosely so that they can be untied again, as quickly and as effortlessly as possible, when circumstances change – as they surely will in our liquid modern society, over and over again.” (Zygmunt Bauman)
Perhaps it was a golden age. It was a time when Capital was brought to its knees by two world wars and a great depression, all of which, some say were self-inflicted. It was a time when Capital needed Labor more than Labor needed Capital, and Capital for the first—and maybe last—time had to beg. It was also a time when governments relatively democratic. That epoch may be over forever, as well.
But I could just be an old man looking back, selectively nostalgic, forgetting the racism and other forms of virulent xenophobia, that back then, were worse than now, just better hidden. Back then the various “thems” lived in across town or across an ocean from “us.” We were told it was better that way by the government and the media and we had no reason to doubt them, none that we were allowed to see, that is.
Economically, it was better back then for “us.” The country, establishment, was like a parent to my parent’s generation. The New Deal, the military and other war efforts were all very paternalistic. Yes, freedoms were given up for security, but the bargain was thought fair, as well as necessary, by all sides.
And so it seemed. In the decade or two after World War II, you could work your way through college with a part time job and get out in four years with a degree and no debt. Then that degree would get you a job that could support a family of four in the same middle class lifestyle you watched on TV. And, if you played by the rules, you could stay at that job as long as you wanted; getting regular raises and a pension that would allow a pleasant retirement.
That is if the “You” was a white American male. But that’s another topic, for another post.
“We cannot be human without both security and freedom; but we cannot have both at the same time and both in quantities which we find fully satisfactory” (Bauman)
Then we, the children of that world wars /depression generation, began to doubt the fairness or necessity of that bargain. We began to see how much we were really giving up for what little we were actually getting. So we stopped ignoring the men behind the curtain, we asked them questions they didn’t want to answer. We stopped doing what we were told. We were revolting, yes we were.
But it was too late, the “military–industrial–congressional complex,” that monster, exiting president Eisenhower warned us all about, the very “Father knows best”organization that sold us the above described “American dream” turned on us, made us into just another “them”. And all the expertise that they had for controlling the other “thems” was applied to us.
And that was a problem. But we still had choices, perhaps more than our parents and the other “thems” ever did. We could drop out or move out. But most of us chose to sell out, sell out for a promise of living the above-mentioned “American dream.” We started to not, “don’t trust anyone over thirty” (Jack Weinberg) when we began to turn thirty.
Problem solved or not? these days, 20-30 years on, is that very same paternalistic complex is backing out on its promise and worse, it’s becoming a more dangerous “them “ than any of its imaginary “thems” ever were.
We should have known, but creature comforts numbed us more than any hippie drugs did. And before our half shut eyes, election by election, ruling by ruling, merger by merger our humanity was devalued until our legal /political standing became no better than that of office furniture. We became, for the latest model of the military–industrial–congressional complex, things, not persons, that are cheaper to replace than to repair/retrain.
Is there any hope for job security, regular raises or comfortable retirement? I don’t think so. Maybe retiring comfortably is something the most senior of us can do when the inevitable corporate axe falls, but only if we didn’t live the indebted & mortgaged “good” life “The Hidden Persuaders”(Vance Packard) sold us on. Only if we lived frugally/saved a nest egg—or married well the second time around—can we avoid being doomed to part-time minimum-wage jobs unto the grave.
As for job security and regular raises, those concepts are as dead as 8-track tapes and dial phones. Job security and regular raises have not been in the economic model for more than a decade and those of who denied this or thought they would ride it out are going to as doomed as their unfortunate elders, the would-be retirees mentioned above.
Do kids these days, a new generation of “us,” who came of age after Reaganomics, know this? I hope, for them, the true Aquarians, unlike us so long ago, the words “Sympathy and trust abounding, No more falsehoods or derisions” from the 1967 musical “Hair” are read as deeply ironic.
Or will they, in youthful naiveté, buy the current version of the “American dream,” which is the illusion that they, rather than being the permanently downtrodden underclass they appear to be, are actually all “temporarily embarrassed” 1%er wanabes just waiting for that inevitable first million?