Part 2: The Historical Context
The dynamic of Western Civilization between 1500 and 1950, the period we call "The Industrial Revolution", was characterized by a lower middle class becoming upwardly mobile through the exploitation of some form of technology, and the certification of that upward mobility by conspicuous overconsumption of scarce resources in a public manner, i.e., tchotchkism. (See Part 12). For example, the industrial entrepreneurs of the northern states replaced the southern planter elite when the Civil War freed the slaves; and they subsequently built mansions in Newport and married their daughters to impoverished European nobility.
Since 1500 this "conspicuous consumption" of resources has been the primary indication of the arrival of the newly elite, the certification of upward mobility. If we continue that tchotchkist tradition the approach to egalitarianism would be marked by overconsumption of resources by the entire global population, and there aren't enough resources to permit that.
As a result the contemporary elite establishment intuitively feels it has to eliminate upward mobility in order to maintain its position in the current pattern of social stratification, even if it has to do that by force or trickery. The Republican Party, which represents the interests of the corporate bureaucracy, demonstrates that policy by preferring the destruction of the economy to the upward mobility of the lower middle class. They are, in effect, happy to "cut their noses off to spite their faces" rather than face the consequences of a more egalitarian society.
As the economic crisis deepens, a change of status becomes both more common and more visible; and the effect more obvious.
"It [i.e., her downward mobility] has been the hardest thing in my life. It has been harder than my divorce from my husband. It has really been even worse than the death of my mother."
Ame Arlt, who took an hourly wage job in customer service after 20 years of working as an executive. NY Times 03/01/09
It is true that the world cannot sustain a universal level of wasted resources comparable to that which the elite of american society exhibits. On the other hand, forcing americans into lower levels in a stratified society, and the resegregation of people of color, will not result in a stable society because americans of all colors will no longer tolerate it. We can see that by the popular attitude toward Wall Street.
"I am now seeing corporate executives as being far more dangerous to us all than Osama bin Laden. I even despise them more."
Mary MacElveen, http://www.marymacelveen.com/, 03/02/09
Upward mobility in our society had essentially stopped in 1950. The next layer of the population that were scheduled to evolve to upward mobility were the people of color; and there were too many people of color (if one included those outside the United States) to be able to waste resources at the same rate as melanin-deficient Americans did.
The result was that the establishment elite of Western Civilization had to make sure that people of color did not experience upward mobility, and, to be sure that their own status was secure, they did what they could to make even the melanin-deficient lower middle class downwardly-mobile. That was accomplished, but at the cost of tension among the lower strata and desperation among the elite. The social structure was ready for a crash.
Then we elected Barack Hussein Obama under the rubric of "change". Unfortunately we didn't understand the way our civilization really worked, so we didn't know what to change and how to change it.
By 1950 the establishment of Western Civilization had been divided into two parts: government bureaucrats and corporate bureaucrats. They alternated in their control of the economy.
During the second world war the government bureaucrats had been in control, and after the war, they courted the people who had not experienced upward social mobility. They used the "G. I. Bill" to create an entrance-level corporate bureaucracy, by giving away to veterans the college education that had provided social status for the children of the elite of previous generations. That diluted the corporate bureaucracy with veterans whose family traditions favored a Farmer-Labor party like the Democrats had been. The government bureaucrats used that advantage to control the economy from 1950 to 1980.
From the 1980s until the present the Republicans played on the insecurity of these new corporate bureaucrats and the racism of the melanin-deficient lower middle class (called Reagan Democrats) to take control of the government and the economy. They did what they could to weaken the "Blue collar" Unions and deregulate the traders gambling on Wall Street. They encouraged trading of securities and the resulting "bubble" convinced the electorate that the corporate bureaucrats would make them rich, i.e., give them a position in the establishment.
This ended with the financial crisis of 2008.
By the beginning of 2009 the supposed "wealth" represented by securities had vanished like the bubble it was. The corporate bureaucrats had created financial instruments (some of which played on the expectations of the lower middle class) that used leverage to create the appearance of value. When the credit system collapsed, they used control of the government in the last days of the Bush administration to loot the treasury. By doing so they lost the sympathy of the people they had fooled and those people elected Barack Hussein Obama.
This was a severe blow to the corporate bureaucrats, who had been expecting that the racism of the melanin-deficient lower middle class would keep the elite in a position where they could continue to loot the government. However, in their attempt to maintain the status quo, they also set the precedent for having the government buy equity in the corporations. Just as in poker, where the one with the largest entering stake usually wins, this could only end up with the government owning all the means of production and distribution. This system of nationalized provision of goods and services would not be called "Communism" or "Fascism" because, like capitalism itself, any system devoted to creating status with money would be obsolete.
President Obama recognises that the views the two parts of the elite have of each other are obsolete.
What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them - that the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long no longer apply.
The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works - whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified. Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward. Where the answer is no, programmes will end. And those of us who manage the public's dollars will be held to account - to spend wisely, reform bad habits, and do our business in the light of day - because only then can we restore the vital trust between a people and their government.
Nor is the question before us whether the market is a force for good or ill. Its power to generate wealth and expand freedom is unmatched, but this crisis has reminded us that without a watchful eye, the market can spin out of control - that a nation cannot prosper long when it favours only the prosperous. The success of our economy has always depended not just on the size of our gross domestic product, but on the reach of our prosperity; on the ability to extend opportunity to every willing heart - not out of charity, but because it is the surest route to our common good.
Barack Hussein Obama, Inaugural Address
When Barack Hussein Obama was elected to be president of the United States of America it made him the person with the most de facto status in the world. This changed the status structure of global civilization.
Before 2008 the primary qualification for status was the possession of money, and the next most powerful qualification was a complexion that showed melanin deficiency. The financial crisis of 2008 made the money criterion obsolete, and Obama's election made melanin deficiency obsolete as a mark of status. In the absence of any other universal status criterion, the normal condition of society would be egalitarian.
This is not to say that small units of population might not be governed by people who were racist or had some other ideological basis for their claim of intrinsic status superiority over the people they governed. But the governed no longer have a reason to accept this ideology, even tacitly, and without that acceptance no government can be stable. Any such government will fail and be absorbed by an egalitarian society.
That set the precedents for the utopian characteristics that the contemporary establishment would consider "unnatural", such as egalitarianism and ecological responsibility.
But adopting a mindset that encompasses not only egalitarianism but ecological responsibility will require a radical conversion from the ideology of greed that has characterized the last half-millennium.
Barack Hussein Obama sees that difficulty as a challenge to be met joyfully.
What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility - a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation, and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task.
Barack Hussein Obama Inaugural Address
That recognition will not come easily at best, and it will be harder if we don't understand the mechanism and history of our behavior and our justifications for that behavior. What we need is not only a scientific explanation of the steps that got us into this situation; but a set of principles (or, if you prefer, the dogmata of a religion) that will lead us to a sustainable Utopian civilization.