Individualism today: Feelings being exploited instead of addressed, or, how I learned to stop worrying and be Dagwood

by Yule Heibel on December 22, 2003

While I’m at it, AlterNet has a bunch of great articles just now. There’s Noam Chomsky’s Dictators R Us, originally printed in the Toronto Star, and a terrific interview with Arlie Hochschild focussing on the blue-collar guy who’s likely to vote for Bush in 2004:

I think we all have feelings and they all can get appealed to. It doesn’t mean a person is stupid if their feelings are getting appealed to. But I do think that this is going on, and that there’s a kind of a dilemma here that the blue-collar guy, since the ’70s on, has been suffering a giant economic downward slide. His paycheck is worth less. His job has become less secure. His benefits have been carved down. And all of this is bad, bad news for him. His wife’s had to go to work, and now, 30 years later, the two of them earn what he alone would have earlier earned.

With this economic hit has come a cultural hit. Now I think it’s a worldwide story, a kind of economic undermining of patriarchal customs and expectations. And so, with this economic decline may come marital instability – a lot of hard things have hit this guy. And so how he feels psychologically becomes a really important question. And I think the story is that he believes – whether it’s true or not – that a lot of people have come up from behind him. Women have come from behind. Minorities have come from behind and gotten ahead; immigrants, new arrivals, have come from behind and have gotten ahead. Even the spotted owl – a lot of them are not environmentalists because they think somebody’s now putting animal rights over their human rights. As he’s sliding down, he imagines all these groups moving up.

And a very understandable thing to do is to look at them and want them to go back where they came from. The feeling is one of frustration, fear, anger. What he’s not doing is looking at Bush, the guy at the top, who’s rigging the whole economic game, and who’s not doing a thing to support him, and who’s actually deflecting blame away from the top. So it comes down to this: those feelings that come with a kind of loss of position, income and status among blue-collar males are being exploited instead of addressed.

And read the whole interview — what Hochschild has to say about Limbaugh, his hatred of Hilary Clinton, of Wellesley College, and his simultaneous blindness to Halliburton is enlightening. Arlie notes,

That is part of the emotional climate that stirs up the understandably hurt feelings of downwardly mobile blue-collar men. And there’s a whole hemorrhage in the economic sector which has provided them jobs. That is a structural reality. We really need a Marshall Plan response to it. The blue-collar guy’s upset; he has a right to be upset. We are with him on that. I’m upset too.

It’s not his fault that industrial jobs are going to China and Indonesia. We need a structural answer to a structural problem. But instead of that, the blue-collar guy feels privately bad. And the worst side of his bad feelings is being appealed to by Bush.

I think she puts her finger on certain parallels to 1930s Germany — I say that not for sensationalism, but because it’s sad.

C’mon people, vote this guy out. Put your vote where it counts, against Bush, for whoever gets Bush out. And, absolutely, read this interview with Arlie Hochschild.


maria December 25, 2003 at 3:36 pm

Thanks to your link, I managed to generate some lively discussion the other night in the “meat world,” and I have one grateful friend who appreciated the link and will do his best to spread the word.

Of course, the trouble is that he’ll be preaching to the choir … given that blue-collar workers are as scarce around here as fuel-efficient cars….

Yule Heibel December 26, 2003 at 2:29 pm

Great Maria, you have a terrific way of capturing opposites in a single phrase: blue collar workers & missing fuel efficient cars, indeed! Well, maybe the choir can sing loud enough for a couple of disenfanchised men to hear? One can only hope…

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