Cloward Pivening

Once upon a time in the mad 60’s a pair of mad lefty (but I repeat myself) socialist sociologists refined a strategy for bringing about the blessed socialist utopia by overloading and bankrupting the welfare system. This, they confidently hoped, would crash the capitalist system and bring about the longed-for socialist utopia. Essentially, they drafted the poor and unprivileged into an army demanding services which the state ultimately could not provide; somehow, this would crash the system and bring about radical social reform. The whole thing sounds rather like the Underpants Gnomes theory of economics or the cartoon showing a pair of white-coated scientists examining a complicated mathematical sequence on a chalkboard with a notation in the middle of it which says, “And here a miracle happens.”

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A Promise Or a Threat?

Put me down firmly on the side of those who see You’ll own nothing and you’ll be happy” as more of a threat; I see “You will be happy” with special emphasis on “will” and the unstated addendum to that statement as “You damn peasants better be happy, or else!”
The simple fact is that owning things – especially things which can be construed as tools – allow one a degree of independence, and even a mild degree of comfort over and above the norm. This was suggested to me in a college class four decades and more since. I think it must have been the required readings for medieval history course; dedicated medievalists had gone into various probate records and wills in England or France and studied the inventories of barely-above-survival peasant households. Nothing really notable in the main – just basic tools, household and farm implements like butter churns, cheese presses, cooking pots, some simple furniture. But at least one of the readings pointed out how possession of certain tools like a cheese-press, hinted that the owner of that item –was in fact, making cheese, possibly for their own use or for the market. The very fact that they owned something with which to turn a farm product like milk, into something to sell or barter for in the marketplace implied a slightly higher level of comfort and security for that household.

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Aristos a la Lanterne!

When the rage of downtrodden French peasants, living-on-the-edge city dwellers and frustrated bourgeois towards the ruling nobles and royalty final exploded into a kind of civic wildfire, there was no appeasing their collective anger. A handful of wary and fleet-footed aristocrats, or those who had made a good living out of serving the royals and the nobility fled from France in all directions. The slow and unwary made a humiliating appointment with Madame Guillotine before a contemptuous and jeering crowd, if they had not already run afoul of a mob with pikes and knives, and ropes at the foot of civic lampposts. (The fury of the French Revolution flamed so furiously that it that eventually it burned a good few leading revolutionaries themselves. As the Royalist pamphleteer Jacques Mallet Du Pan remarked pithily, “Like Saturn, the Revolution devours its children.) For a long time, my sympathies as regards parties in the French Revolution tended to be with those who fell out with it, sympathies formed by popular literature and music: The Scarlett Pimpernel, A Tale of Two Cities, Dialogues of the Carmelites, and other tales which basically tut-tutted the madness which overcame all reason and discretion, and championed those who had the brunt of it fall on them, either justly or not. How fortunate that our own very dear revolution had been able to escape such conflagrations: Loyalists in the colonies might have suffered being tarred and feathered and ridden out of town or having to leave in an undignified rush when Yankee Doodle went to town and made their independence stick. But the jailhouse regrets of those who called up and inflamed that conflagration, even inadvertently is not my concern here.

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The Proper Frame for the Narrative

I am watching matters develop with regards to the trucker strike, with appreciative interest, seeing that is really another variant of a grass-roots spontaneous civic spontaneity, much like the Tea Party was, some years ago. The Canadian trucker protest has that in common with the Tea Party protesters – but the difference might be that the independent trucker community is a smaller, a more cohesive and even more media-savvy and self-disciplined party. The various Tea Party protests were more general, cut across class lines (at least the urban-focused one that I was involved in was, no matter what the establishment national media might insist) and focused more upon voting in various political races then upcoming, and protesting the general monetary incompetence of the Obama Administration.

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Wagging the Dog

I actually do recollect seeing the movie of that name – and a mildly amusing venture it was, into speculative political fiction; a whole war generated out of thin air by an unholy cabal of scheming bureaucrats, a conniving segment of the entertainment industry and a tame media, eager to be spoon-fed an appealing story if it would goose ratings by a point or so … and all in the cause of burying a political scandal involving a US president by setting up a war, with a hero and a theme song and cheering crowds and all. The movie was based on a book by Larry Beinart – weirdly enough, I also have a copy of it on my shelves. The book is much, much darker than the movie, but the premise is just as improbable; the national news media and the Industrial Entertainment complex going all in to generate and publicize a war with the aim of re-electing a Republican president at the bidding of and through dark money provided by a Republican eminence grise? Talk about the suspension of belief necessary to find that concept credible; not even with a bucket truck and one of those enormous construction cranes used for high-rise projects …

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