Why should I care?

Nobody else cares. So why should I?

One of the deeply painful lessons of the last election is that it really is supposed to be just fine that I can be laid off in the dot-com crash (sixteen years ago), fail to find employment, return to school, finish a B.A., an M.A., and a Ph.D., and still, in all this time, hear only crickets in reply to my job applications. That was the message the left delivered loudly and clearly when in response to Donald Trump’s victory, my concerns were dismissed as unimportant.

Albeit without the education, a lot of white men share my experience. And it’s killing us.[1] But, the left says, unless we sacrifice ourselves on the pyres of everybody else’s rights, we are misogynist, racist, xenophobic, Islamophobic, transphobic, homophobic, and I can’t even remember what all else.[2] Let me offer just one example meme (figure 1):

Robert Gonzales' rebuttal might sound clever until one realizes that Asia and Africa are continents with thousands of ethnicities, multiple religions, thousands of languages, and thousands (if not more) of heritages. Found on Facebook, fair use.

Fig. 1. Robert Gonzales’ rebuttal might sound clever until one realizes that Asia and Africa are continents with thousands of ethnicities, multiple religions, thousands of languages, and thousands (if not more) of heritages. Found on Facebook, fair use.

One might immediately notice that, at least according to one count, Asia has 2,301 languages and Africa has 2,138.[3] Language is intertwined with culture in such a way that while speakers of a given language might hail from multiple cultures, especially with colonization, cultures themselves generally each tend to coalesce around a single language. Language reflects culture, which is why the loss of even one language—any language—is a catastrophe. Each such loss is the loss of a heritage and the loss of a particular way of representing and understanding the world we share (which is the real reason why the English-only folks are profoundly wrong).

But Robert Gonzales’ rebuttal (in figure 1) states that ‘Asian pride’ celebrates ‘Asian’ culture and heritage and ‘Black pride’ celebrates ‘African’ culture and heritage. This, in contrast to ‘White pride,’ which he assumes to celebrate skin tone. Which is to say that while thousands of Asian cultures may be treated monolithically and celebrated as ‘Asian pride’ and thousands of African cultures may be treated monolithically and celebrated as ‘Black pride,’ it is not okay to treat the 286 (that’s an order of magnitude fewer) languages of Europe[4] monolithically, and celebrate that ‘culture and heritage.’ We might as well toss the entire corpus of Western literature dating back to ancient Greece on the bonfire. Because whiteness is about skin tone while Asian-ness and Blackness are about ‘culture and heritage.’

Really? How?

I’m not denying there is racism. Of course there is. My long-term readers have seen me address it again and again. And I don’t doubt that most folks who rant about ‘white pride’ are, to be precise, paleoconservatives or, at the very least, authoritarian populists. And being focused on non-fiction, I’m no great fan of any literature, let alone Western literature. But if the U.S. political left wants anybody with a brain to take it seriously, it has to stop coming up with arguments like this.

This example is only one of the many I’ve seen since the election that ignore Michael Lerner’s warning against “dismissing white working-class men as inherently racist, sexist, etc.” Lerner wrote at length about how economic changes have adversely affected the working class, but more than that, about how the psychology of these changes leaves white men with spiritually meaningless lives and leads them to blame themselves for failing[5] to climb a ladder of social mobility which is, “by the standards of affluent democracies and even by the standards of recent American history, unusually extended and narrow — and becoming more so,”[6] a ladder they in fact have little hope of climbing.

But according to the U.S. political left, economic concerns are unimportant. That’s probably at least in part because to acknowledge “growing economic inequality and deepening economic insecurity for a very large section of working people both in the U.S. and other capitalist countries around the world”[7] would be to acknowledge some of the weaknesses of Barack Obama’s presidency. It would be to acknowledge that he really didn’t give a shit about ordinary human beings as he declared in 2009 that “[w]e all know that there are limits to what government can and should do [for the unemployed], even during such difficult times,”[8] allowed what should have been a bailout for ‘underwater’ homeowners blindsided by the crash in real estate values to become a bailout for bankers instead,[9] and used the promise of health care to bail out health insurance companies and pharmaceutical firms that didn’t even need a bailout,[10] or that, as Cornel West described it, he failed (or refused) “to break with the Wall Street priorities and bail out Main Street.”[11] To challenge Saints Barack or (his wife) Michelle is, ipso facto, racist. Just as to doubt that Hillary Clinton would have been a better president is, ipso facto, misogynist.

So here I am, looking at a situation in which my employment prospects remain bleak, in which I am likely to wind up homeless when I am seventy, in which I cannot even find a mate because few women will even consider a man who lacks even a facade of financial stability, and I am supposed to celebrate state-sanctioned nookie (legalized same-sex marriage) for other folks.

I think you’ll have to settle for the sound of one hand clapping.

Because in telling me that I don’t matter, you raise a question as to why you should matter. You’ve cast me on the side of the road and treated me like so much refuse. Lerner writes about a pain that

operates on two levels. On a psychological level people are suffering because they have absorbed the capitalist message: “You live in a meritocracy, so you get what you deserve, and if you haven’t achieved the level of success you want, it’s your fault. Moreover, everyone is out for him or herself so you have to maximize your own self-interest, regardless of the impact on others.”

On the spiritual level, tens of millions of people are suffering because they desperately want meaningful and purposeful lives and instead are trapped in jobs that do not produce anything of lasting value, and feel that they are wasting their lives yet believe that there is no alternative and no way out. What’s worse is that many find their work is not really respected (in fact they have a hard time respecting it themselves because they can’t see how it connects to anything with a higher purpose than a paycheck for themselves and massive profits for the super rich).[12]

I have a Ph.D. I have merit. I have value. Value that you emphatically refuse to recognize. So fuck you all.

  1. [1]Juan Cole, “Why the White Working Class Rebelled: Neoliberalism Is Killing Them (Literally),” Truthdig, November 9, 2016, http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/why_the_white_working_class_rebelled_neoliberalism_is_killing_20161109; Gina Kolata, “Death Rates Rising for Middle-Aged White Americans, Study Finds,” New York Times, November 2, 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/03/health/death-rates-rising-for-middle-aged-white-americans-study-finds.html; Paul Krugman, “Heartland of Darkness,” New York Times, November 4, 2015, http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/11/04/heartland-of-darkness/; Paul Krugman, “Despair, American Style,” New York Times, November 9, 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/09/opinion/despair-american-style.html; Susan McWilliams, “This Political Theorist Predicted the Rise of Trumpism. His Name Was Hunter S. Thompson,” Nation, December 15, 2016, https://www.thenation.com/article/this-political-theorist-predicted-the-rise-of-trumpism-his-name-was-hunter-s-thompson/; Josh Zumbrun, “The Economic Roots of the Climbing Death Rate for Middle-Aged Whites,” Wall Street Journal, November 3, 2015, http://blogs.wsj.com/economics/2015/11/03/the-economic-roots-of-the-climbing-death-rate-for-middle-aged-whites/
  2. [2]David Benfell, “Why Donald Trump won,” Not Housebroken, November 9, 2016, https://disunitedstates.org/?p=9093; David Benfell, “Making enemies of the white working class,” Not Housebroken, November 10, 2016, https://disunitedstates.org/?p=9105; David Benfell, “Democrats must own Donald Trump,” Not Housebroken, November 13, 2016, https://disunitedstates.org/?p=9112; David Benfell, “Farewell to the left,” Not Housebroken, November 28, 2016, https://disunitedstates.org/?p=9133
  3. [3]Rick Noack and Lazaro Gamio, “The world’s languages, in 7 maps and charts,” Washington Post, April 23, 2015, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2015/04/23/the-worlds-languages-in-7-maps-and-charts/
  4. [4]Rick Noack and Lazaro Gamio, “The world’s languages, in 7 maps and charts,” Washington Post, April 23, 2015, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2015/04/23/the-worlds-languages-in-7-maps-and-charts/
  5. [5]Michael Lerner, “Psychopathology in the 2016 Election,” Tikkun, November 3, 2016, http://www.tikkun.org/nextgen/psychopathology-in-the-2016-election-3
  6. [6]Claude S. Fischer, Michael Hout, Martin Sanchez Jankowski, Samuel R. Lucas, Ann Swidler, and Kim Voss, “Why Inequality?” in Great Divides: Readings in Social Inequality in the United States, ed. Thomas M. Shapiro, 3rd ed. (New York: McGraw Hill, 2005), 13.
  7. [7]Michael Lerner, “Psychopathology in the 2016 Election,” Tikkun, November 3, 2016, http://www.tikkun.org/nextgen/psychopathology-in-the-2016-election-3
  8. [8]Barack Obama, “Remarks by the President on the Economy,” White House, November 12, 2009, https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/the-press-office/remarks-president-economy-jobs-forum
  9. [9]Neil Barofsky, Bailout: An Inside Account of How Washington Abandoned Main Street While Rescuing Wall Street (New York: Free Press, 2012).
  10. [10]Brad Jacobson, “Obama received $20 million from healthcare industry in 2008 campaign,” Raw Story, January 12, 2010, http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2010/01/12/obama-received-20-million-healthcare-industry-money-2008/; Gaius Publius [pseud.], “Obama Got $20 Million from Healthcare Industry in 2008. Was Killing Single-Payer Part of the Deal?” Naked Capitalism, February 5, 2014, http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2014/02/gaius-publius-obama-got-20-million-healthcare-industry-2008-killing-single-payer-part-deal.html
  11. [11]Cornel West, “Pity the sad legacy of Barack Obama,” Guardian, January 9, 2017, https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/jan/09/barack-obama-legacy-presidency
  12. [12]Michael Lerner, “Psychopathology in the 2016 Election,” Tikkun, November 3, 2016, http://www.tikkun.org/nextgen/psychopathology-in-the-2016-election-3

Author: benfell

David Benfell holds a Ph.D. in Human Science from Saybrook University. He earned a M.A. in Speech Communication from CSU East Bay in 2009 and has studied at California Institute of Integral Studies. He is an anarchist, a vegetarian ecofeminist, a naturist, and a Taoist.

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