« Rationalizing The Status Quo | Main | America's Governing Elite — The "Deep State" »



Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.


Thanks for your previous post, btw. It was excellent. I agree with the other commenters that eventually a breaking point does occur.

But, I really think America might be a special case here. Besides status quo bias and belief in a just world (both definitely observable), we have two factors which will make revolt here more difficult than in some other parts of the world, like the Middle East and Ukraine.

One, we're really the most heavily propagandized society in history. People can point to the Soviet Union of the 1950s or Nazi Germany, but they didn't have messages beamed into their heads from all sources every waking hour. They didn't have their citizens glued in front of a box for an average of 4-6 hours every day that is the most effective means of propaganda yet devised.

I avoid programmed TV, but I did watch a bit of the Olympics. I caught this ad:

If you break that down, there is a basic message (besides the obvious that technology helps the little people and that Microsoft delivers it): that if you want these magic shiny things, then you'd best support the systems that create it. Comply, and be amazed.

The other is the myth of the American Dream. It's a very peculiar belief that has been drilled into us for generations. In it, anyone poor can rise to comfort and security - they just have to understand that it's all on them. Work hard, and be rewarded. Horatio Alger Jr. specialized in stories about it, and it's a key part of Poor Richard's Almanac.

In general, it's been roughly true for most of our history, although the vast, vast majority of those who work hard very rarely achieve true security, and that's increasingly unlikely with the trends of today. But tied with the myth is the belief that those who remain poor must not work hard, and therefore they deserve it. Also tied with the myth is that the rich must deserve their wealth.

We get fed stories of Bill Gates and T. Boone Pickens constantly, too. The poor man who works hard doesn't just get a secure and comfortable life, they get obscenely wealthy. As such, we should all aspire to be like them, and after all, it's possible! (Although less likely than winning a jackpot lottery, and both Pickens and Gates already had middle-class and white American backgrounds, an immense bit of luck in itself).

Kurt Vonnegut worded the effects of the myth this way (via a fascist character, but still I think it's apt):

"America is the wealthiest nation on Earth, but its people are mainly poor, and poor Americans are urged to hate themselves. To quote the American humorist Kin Hubbard, 'It ain't no disgrace to be poor, but might as well be.' It is in fact a crime for an American to be poor, even though America is a nation of poor. Every other nation has folk traditions of men who were poor but extremely wise and virtuous, and therefore more estimable than anyone with power and gold. No such tales are told by the American poor. They mock themselves and glorify their betters. The meanest eating or drinking establishment, owned by a man who is himself poor, is very likely to have a sign on its wall asking this cruel question: 'If you're so smart, why ain't You rich? ' There will also be an American flag no larger than a child's hand-glued to a lollipop stick and, flying from the cash register."

"Americans, like human beings everywhere, believe many things that are obviously untrue, the monograph went on. Their most destructive untruth is that it is very easy for any American to make money. They will not acknowledge how in fact hard money is to come by, and, therefore, those who have no money blame and blame and blame themselves. This inward blame has been a treasure for the rich and powerful, who have had to do less for their poor, publicly and privately, than any other ruling class since, say, Napoleonic times. Many novelties have come from America. The most startling of these, a thing without precedent, is a mass of undignified poor. They do not love one another because they do not love themselves."

In other words, Americans will have to be pushed harder, and maybe a lot harder, before they even consider revolt.

The comments to this entry are closed.