Friday, April 26, 2013

The Age of the Scrounger

If you are a conservative or Republican, chances are that you are a member in good standing of the People of the Responsible Self.

Nothing remarkable here.  The Responsible Self was invented during the Axial Age, according to Robert Bellah.  The idea developed that humans were not simply the helpless chattels of the gods but individuals, responsible before God for their lives.  It's the difference between the world of the Iliad in which the Greek warriors win or lose battles according to the politics on Mount Olympus and the world of the Hebrew prophets in which the Jews are urgently advised to get themselves straight with God.

But what about the rank-and-file Democratic voter?  I've been cudgeling my brain for weeks on this, just like dear old Alger Hiss back in the glory days of liberalism.  The key thing about a Democratic voter in the administrative welfare state is that she is not responsible.  She is marginalized, oppressed: a victim, so how could she be blamed for anything?

But what is the word, the one word, for someone like that.  Indignant? Malingering? Childish? Shameless? A day or so I came up with "subordinate," but that doesn't quite do it, because subordinates can be loyal and devoted, and the person I am thinking about is someone that doesn't think of themselves as part of a team but as an ill-used wife.

Wait!  That's it.  We are talking about the People of the Ill-used Self.  She is someone just sitting there, expecting to be taken care of.  Because she has been so ill-used.  Meanwhile she is scrounging off society for whatever is out there going for free.

I am not proposing this lightly, but as part of a comprehensive world view.

You see, back in the old days, humans were all happy campers living a cooperative collective life in the agricultural village.  Life was hard, but the risks and the perils were shared in the primitive communism of e.g. the Russian mir.

OK, in reality it wasn't like that at all because at all times some peasants had a fairly strong title to the land they farmed and others were practically slaves.  But the average agricultural village did pay its taxes in common and did reapportion land periodically in accordance with family size.

Enter the "enclosure" movement.  Our lefty friends like to represent this as the murrain of 1760 to 1850 but it is clear that it started hundreds of years before, as landowners started to acquire exclusive rights to land that had previously been held in common.

What was enclosure all about?  I suspect it had to do with an evolution in agricultural technique so that fewer hands were needed to farm and produce the crops.  But the downside was that people who lived on the margins of a village found themselves unable to access the land they were used to and were thrown on the scrapheap.

You'd expect that people like that would feel ill-used.  And they would be reduced to the life of a scrounger.  The fabled working class and the proletariat were, of course, the people that were thrown off the land in the late 18th and early 19th century and ended up working in textile manufactories and coal mines.  They felt ill-used.  They were right.

Right about then a great social revolution occurred in which the old landed ruling class got replaced by a new ruling class.  People like Karl Marx maintained with great fanfare that the new ruling class was the bourgeoisie, but really, he got it wrong.  The new ruling class was the rising intelligentsia of the 18th century, the coffee-house crowd like Samuel Johnson in England and the Encyclopedists in France.  The new ruling class was a class of educated publicists.  I call them the People of the Creative Self, or the Romantic Self, or the Educated Self.

This new class saw its opportunity and it took it.  It put itself at the head of the great mass of the ill-used, and declared them to be the salt of the earth.

There is no doubt that the folks getting pitched out of the agricultural world during the industrial revolution had a pretty hard time, although just how hard is difficult to determine through the fog of special pleading.  After all, it was in 1800 in Britain that all of a sudden the children of the poor started doing better than their parents in a world of rising expectations.

But the new class turned the worthy People of the Ill-Used Self into the deracinated People of the Scrounger Self, as they transformed the natural fear and rage of a people dispossessed into the institutionalized scrounging of the dependents of the administrative welfare state.

And that is the world in which we live:  the Age of the Scrounger.

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