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America Without Family, God, or Patriotism - The Atlantic
“The nuclear family, God, and national pride are a holy trinity of the American identity. What would happen if a generation gave up on all three?”



“One interpretation of this poll is that it’s mostly about the erosion of traditional Western faith. People under 30 in the U.S. account for more than one-third of this nation’s worshippers in only three major religions: Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism. This reflects both the increase in non-European immigration since the 1970s and the decline of larger Christian denominations in the latter half of the 20th century. It also reflects the sheer increase in atheism: Millennials are nearly three times more likely than Boomers to say they don’t believe in God—6 percent versus 16 percent. If you think that Judeo-Christian values are an irreplaceable keystone in the moral arc of Western society, these facts will disturb you; if you don’t, they won’t.

A second interpretation of this poll is that it’s mostly about politics. Youthful disinterest in patriotism, babies, and God might be a mere proxy for young people’s distaste for traditional conservatism. For decades, the Republican Party sat high on the three-legged stool of Reaganism, which called for “traditional” family values (combining religiosity with the primacy of the nuclear family), military might (with all its conspicuous patriotism), and limited government.

Millennials and Gen Zers have turned hard against all these values; arguably, their intermittently monogamous, free-spending Republican president has, too. Young voters are far to the left of not only today’s older Americans, but also past generations of younger Americans. Based on their votes since 2012, they have the lowest support for the GOP of any group in at least half a century. So it’s possible that Millennials are simply throwing babies out with the Republican bathwater.

But it looks like something bigger is going on. Millennials and Gen Z are not only unlikely to call themselves Protestants and patriots, but also less likely to call themselves Democrats or Republicans. They seem most comfortable with unaffiliation, even anti-affiliation. They are less likely than preceding generations to identify as “environmentalists,” less likely to be loyal to specific brands, and less likely to trust authorities, or companies, or institutions. Less than one-third of them say they have “a lot of confidence” in unions, or Silicon Valley, or the federal government, or the news, or the justice system. And don’t even get them started on the banks.

This blanket distrust of institutions of authority—especially those dominated by the upper class—is reasonable, even rational, considering the economic fortunes of these groups were pinched in the Great Recession and further squeezed in the Not-So-Great Recovery. Pundits may dismiss their anxiety and rage as the by-products of college-campus coddling, but it flows from a realistic appraisal of their economic impotency. Young people today commit crimes at historically low rates and have attended college at historically high rates. They have done everything right, sprinting at full speed while staying between the white lines, and their reward for historic conscientiousness is this: less ownership, more debt, and an age of existential catastrophe. The typical Millennial awakens many mornings to discover that some new pillar of the world order, or the literal world, has crumbled overnight. And while she is afforded little power to do anything about it, society has outfitted her with a digital megaphone to amplify her mordant frustrations. Why in the name of family, God, or country would such a person lust for ancient affiliations? As the kids say, #BurnItAllDown.

But this new American skepticism doesn’t only affect the relatively young, and it isn’t confined to the overeducated yet underemployed, either.”



“he older working-class men in the paper desperately want meaning in their lives, but they lack the social structures that have historically been the surest vehicles for meaning-making. They want to be fathers without nuclear families. They want spirituality without organized religion. They want psychic empowerment from work in an economy that has reduced their economic power. They want freedom from pain and misery at a time when the pharmaceutical solutions to those maladies are addictive and deadly. They want the same pride and esteem and belonging that people have always wanted.

The ends of Millennials and Gen Z are similarly traditional. The WSJ/NBC poll found that, for all their institutional skepticism, this group was more likely than Gen Xers to value “community involvement” and more likely than all older groups to prize “tolerance for others.” This is not the picture of a generation that has fallen into hopelessness, but rather a group that is focused on building solidarity with other victims of economic and social injustice. Younger generations have been the force behind equality movements such as Black Lives Matter, #MeToo, #AbolishICE, and Medicare for All, not only because they’re liberal, and not only because they have the technological savvy to organize online, but also because their experience in this economy makes them exquisitely sensitive to institutional abuses of power, and doubly eager to correct it. What Americans young and old are abandoning is not so much the promise of family, faith, and national pride as the trust that America’s existing institutions can be relied on to provide for them.

The authors of the paper on working-class men note that, even as their subjects have suffered a shock, and even as they’re nostalgic for the lives of their fathers and grandfathers—the stable wages, the dependable pensions—there is a thin silver lining in the freedom to move beyond failed traditions. Those old manufacturing jobs were routine drudgery, those old churches failed their congregants, and traditional marriages subjugated the female half of the arrangement. “These men are showing signs of moving beyond such strictures,” the authors write. “Many will likely falter. Yet they are laying claim to a measure of autonomy and generativity in these spheres that were less often available in prior generations. We must consider both the unmaking and remaking aspects of their stories.”

And there is the brutal truth: Many will likely falter. They already are. Rising anxiety, suicide, and deaths of despair speak to a profound national disorder. But eventually, this stage of history may be recalled as a purgatory, a holding station between two eras: one of ostensibly strong, and quietly vulnerable, traditions that ultimately failed us, and something else, between the unmaking and the remaking.”
derekthompson  us  culture  society  economics  generations  change  religion  patriotism  families  2019  suicide  middleage  purpose  meaning  community  anxiety  malaise  collapse  vulnerability  traditions  marriage  parenting  millennials  geny  genx  generationy  generationx  generationz  gender  work  labor  unemployment  hope  hopelessness  activism  skepticism  power  elitism  democrats  republicans  politics  education  highered  highereducation  ronaldreagan  reaganism  belief  diversity  voting  unions  siliconvalley  socialjustice  justice  impotency  underemployment  spirituality  capitalism  neoliberalism 
14 days ago by robertogreco
Spadework | Issue 34 | n+1
"By the time I started organizing so much that it felt like a full-time job, it was the spring of 2016, and I had plenty of company. Around the country there were high-profile efforts to organize magazines, fast-food places, and nursing homes. Erstwhile Occupiers became involved in the Bernie Sanders campaign and joined the exploding Democratic Socialists of America, whose members receive shabby business cards proclaiming them an “official socialist organizer.” Today’s organizers — not activists, thank you — make clear that they are not black bloc participants brawling with police or hippies plotting a love-in. They are inspired by a tradition of professional revolutionaries, by Lenin’s exhortation that “unless the masses are organized, the proletariat is nothing. Organized — it is everything.” Organizing, in other words, is unembarrassed about power. It recognizes that to wield it you need to persuade untold numbers of people to join a cause, and to begin organizing themselves. Organizing means being in it to win.

But how do you win? Historical materialism holds that crises of capitalism spark revolts, perhaps even revolutions, as witnessed in the eruption of Occupy and Black Lives Matter; uprisings in Spain, Greece, and Egypt; and the British student movement against tuition fees. But there’s no guide for what happens in the long aftermath, as the left has often learned the hard way.

In previous moments of upheaval and promise the left has often turned to Antonio Gramsci, who sought to understand why working-class revolts in Europe following the Russian Revolution had led to fascism. Gramsci concluded that on some level people consent to subservience, even take it for granted, when the order in which they live comes to seem like common sense. Hegemony was subtler than outright coercion, more pervasive, permeating the tempos of daily life.

It was hegemony, Stuart Hall argued in 1983, that was key to understanding the disappointment of his own generation — why Thatcher and the new right had triumphed in remaking common sense after a decade of labor union revolt. Hegemony shaped how people acted when they weren’t thinking about it, what they thought was right and wrong, what they imagined the good life to be. A hegemonic project had to “occupy each and every front” of life, “to insert itself into the pores of the practical consciousness of human beings.” Thatcherism had understood this better than the left. It had “entered the struggle on every single front on which it calculated it could advance itself,” put forth a “theory for every single arena of human life,” from economics to language, morality to culture. The domains the left dismissed as bourgeois were simply the ones where the ruling class was winning. Yet creating hegemony was “difficult work,” Hall reminded us. Never fully settled, “it always has to be won.”"



"The Thatcherite project was since then much advanced, and we had internalized its dictates. For our whole lives we had learned to do school very well; in graduate school we learned to exploit ourselves on weekends and vacations before putting ourselves “on the market.” Many of us still believed in meritocracy, despite learning every day how it was failing us. The worse the conditions of academic life became, the harder everyone worked, and the harder it became to contest them. Plus, we were so lucky to be there — at Yale! Compared to so many grad students, we had it good, and surely jobs were waiting on the other side for us, if for anyone. Who were we to complain? Organizing a union of graduate students at Yale seemed to many like an act of unbearable privilege — a bunch of Ivy League self-styled radicals doing worker cosplay."



"Realizing that it was not enough for people to like me was revelatory. I had to learn to be more comfortable with antagonism and disagreement, with putting a choice in front of people and letting them make it instead of smiling away tension and doing the work myself. I had to expect more from other people. With other organizers, I role-played the conversations I feared most before having them; afterward, I replayed them over and over in my head. I struggled to be different: the version of myself I wanted to be, someone who could move people and bend at least some tiny corner of the universe.

It’s not easy to be the site of a battle for hegemony. It’s not a beatific Whitmanesque “I contain multitudes”; it’s an often painful struggle among your competing selves for dominance. You have one body and twenty-four hours in a day. An organizer asks what you’ll do with them, concretely, now. You may not like your own answer. Your inner Thatcherite will raise its voice. You can’t kill it off entirely; you will almost certainly find that it’s a bigger part of you than you thought. But organizing burrows into the pores of your practical consciousness and asks you to choose the part of yourself that wants something other than common sense. It’s unsettling. It can be alienating. And yet I also often felt I was finally reconciling parts of myself I’d tried to keep separate — what I thought, what I said, what I did. To organize, and to be organized, you have to keep in mind Hall’s lesson: there is no true or false consciousness, no true self that organizing discovers or undoes. You too, Hall reminds us, were made by this world you hope to change. The more distant the world you want to live in is from the world that exists, the more deeply you yourself will feel this disjuncture. “I’m not cut out for this,” people often say when they struggle with organizing. No one is: one isn’t born an organizer, but becomes one."



"The relationality of organizing is maybe the hardest thing to understand before you’ve done it. But it is the most important. This is not because people are governed by emotions instead of reason, though they sometimes are. It’s because the entire problem of collective action is that it’s rational to act collectively where it’s not to act alone. And you build the collective piece by piece.

Organizing relationships can be utopian: at their best, they offer the feminist dream of intimacy outside of romance or family. In the union, I loved people I did not know very well. In meetings I was often overcome with awe and affection at the courage and wisdom of the people there with me. I came to count many of the people I organized with as my dearest friends. When I needed help, there were always people I could call, people who would always pick up the phone, people I could and did talk to about anything. These relationships often served as a source of care and support in a world with too little of those things. But they were not only friendships, and not only emotional ballast. The people I looked to for support would also push me when it was called for, as I would them; that, I knew, was the deal.

Our relationships forged the practical commitments to one another that held the union together. They made us accountable to each other. They were difficult and multifaceted, often frustrating, intensely vulnerable, and potentially transformative but no less prone than any other relationship to carelessness, hurt, and betrayal, and always a lot of work. We were constantly building them and testing their limits, pushing each other harder the closer we got. They had to bear a lot of weight. In more abject moments, I wondered whether they were anything more than instrumental. More often, though, I wondered what was so menacing about usefulness that it threatened to contaminate all else.

The word comrade, Jodi Dean argues, names a political relationship, not a personal one: you are someone’s comrade not because you like them but because you are on the same side of a struggle. Comrades are not neighbors, citizens, or friends; nor are they any kind of family, though you might call them brother or sister. The comrade has no race, gender, or nation. (As one meme goes: “My favorite gender-neutral pronoun is comrade.”) Comrades are not even unique individuals; they are “multiple, replaceable, fungible.” You can be comrades with millions of people you have never met and never will. Your relationship is ultimately with the political project you have in common. To many noncommunists, Dean readily admits, this instrumentalism is “horrifying”: a confirmation that communism means submitting to the Borg. But the sameness of the comrade is a kind of genuine equality.

Being an organizer is like being a comrade in some ways but different in others. The people you organize alongside may be comrades, but the people you are organizing often aren’t; the point of organizing, after all, is to reach beyond the people who are already on your side and win over as many others as you can. So you can’t assume the people you organize share your values; in fact, you should usually assume they don’t. This means that unlike comrades, organizers aren’t interchangeable. It matters who you are. McAlevey’s theory of the organic leader is that people have to be organized by people they know and trust, not by strangers who claim to have the right ideas. The SNCC looked for “strong people” — not necessarily traditional leaders, but people who were respected and trusted among their peers, on the logic that people would only take risky political action alongside people they trusted. When organizers reflect the people they organize, they win: when women of color organize other women of color, a 2007 paper by Kate Bronfenbrenner and Dorian Warren shows, they win almost 90 percent of elections. This cuts both ways: when women and people of color led the organizing in my department, we often struggled to get white men to take us seriously.

Yet the comradely element of organizing can also open up space for building relationships with people beyond those boundaries. It’s not that class and race and gender disappear, transcended by the cause — … [more]
alyssabattistoni  organizing  academia  academics  highereducation  highered  2019  labor  work  unions  thatcherism  reaganism  margartthatcher  communism  ronaldreagan  capitalism  meritocracy  hegemony  stuarthall  busyness  antoniogramsci  comrades  relationships  relationality  utopia  hierarchy  instrumentalism  equality  leadership  politics  class  race  gender  school  schooliness  schooling  transcontextualism 
may 2019 by robertogreco
[Essay] | The Neoliberal Arts, by William Deresiewicz | Harper's Magazine
"I recently spent a semester teaching writing at an elite liberal-arts college. At strategic points around the campus, in shades of yellow and green, banners displayed the following pair of texts. The first was attributed to the college’s founder, which dates it to the 1920s. The second was extracted from the latest version of the institution’s mission statement:
The paramount obligation of a college is to develop in its students the ability to think clearly and independently, and the ability to live confidently, courageously, and hopefully.

leadership
service
integrity
creativity

Let us take a moment to compare these texts. The first thing to observe about the older one is that it is a sentence. It expresses an idea by placing concepts in relation to one another within the kind of structure that we call a syntax. It is, moreover, highly wrought: a parallel structure underscored by repetition, five adverbs balanced two against three.

A spatial structure, the sentence also suggests a temporal sequence. Thinking clearly, it wants us to recognize, leads to thinking independently. Thinking independently leads to living confidently. Living confidently leads to living courageously. Living courageously leads to living hopefully. And the entire chain begins with a college that recognizes it has an obligation to its students, an obligation to develop their abilities to think and live.

Finally, the sentence is attributed to an individual. It expresses her convictions and ideals. It announces that she is prepared to hold herself accountable for certain responsibilities.

The second text is not a sentence. It is four words floating in space, unconnected to one another or to any other concept. Four words — four slogans, really — whose meaning and function are left undefined, open to whatever interpretation the reader cares to project on them.

Four words, three of which — “leadership,” “service,” and “creativity” — are the loudest buzzwords in contemporary higher education. (“Integrity” is presumably intended as a synonym for the more familiar “character,” which for colleges at this point means nothing more than not cheating.) The text is not the statement of an individual; it is the emanation of a bureaucracy. In this case, a literally anonymous bureaucracy: no one could tell me when this version of the institution’s mission statement was formulated, or by whom. No one could even tell me who had decided to hang those banners all over campus. The sentence from the founder has also long been mounted on the college walls. The other words had just appeared, as if enunciated by the zeitgeist.

But the most important thing to note about the second text is what it doesn’t talk about: thinking or learning. In what it both does and doesn’t say, it therefore constitutes an apt reflection of the current state of higher education. College is seldom about thinking or learning anymore. Everyone is running around trying to figure out what it is about. So far, they have come up with buzzwords, mainly those three.

This is education in the age of neoliberalism. Call it Reaganism or Thatcherism, economism or market fundamentalism, neoliberalism is an ideology that reduces all values to money values. The worth of a thing is the price of the thing. The worth of a person is the wealth of the person. Neoliberalism tells you that you are valuable exclusively in terms of your activity in the marketplace — in Wordsworth’s phrase, your getting and spending.

The purpose of education in a neoliberal age is to produce producers. I published a book last year that said that, by and large, elite American universities no longer provide their students with a real education, one that addresses them as complete human beings rather than as future specialists — that enables them, as I put it, to build a self or (following Keats) to become a soul. Of all the responses the book aroused, the most dismaying was this: that so many individuals associated with those institutions said not, “Of course we provide our students with a real education,” but rather, “What is this ‘real education’ nonsense, anyway?”"



"So what’s so bad about leadership, service, and creativity? What’s bad about them is that, as they’re understood on campus and beyond, they are all encased in neoliberal assumptions. Neoliberalism, which dovetails perfectly with meritocracy, has generated a caste system: “winners and losers,” “makers and takers,” “the best and the brightest,” the whole gospel of Ayn Rand and her Übermenschen. That’s what “leadership” is finally about. There are leaders, and then there is everyone else: the led, presumably — the followers, the little people. Leaders get things done; leaders take command. When colleges promise to make their students leaders, they’re telling them they’re going to be in charge.

“Service” is what the winners engage in when they find themselves in a benevolent mood. Call it Clintonism, by analogy with Reaganism. Bill Clinton not only ratified the neoliberal consensus as president, he has extended its logic as a former president. Reaganism means the affluent have all the money, as well as all the power. Clintonism means they use their money and power, or a bit of it, to help the less fortunate — because the less fortunate (i.e., the losers) can’t help themselves. Hence the Clinton Foundation, hence every philanthropic or altruistic endeavor on the part of highly privileged, highly credentialed, highly resourced elites, including all those nonprofits or socially conscious for-profits that college students start or dream of starting.

“Creativity,” meanwhile, is basically a business concept, aligned with the other clichés that have come to us from the management schools by way of Silicon Valley: “disruption,” “innovation,” “transformation.” “Creativity” is not about becoming an artist. No one wants you to become an artist. It’s about devising “innovative” products, services, and techniques — “solutions,” which imply that you already know the problem. “Creativity” means design thinking, in the terms articulated by the writer Amy Whitaker, not art thinking: getting from A to a predetermined B, not engaging in an open-ended exploratory process in the course of which you discover the B.

Leadership, service, and creativity do not seek fundamental change (remember, fundamental change is out in neoliberalism); they seek technological or technocratic change within a static social framework, within a market framework. Which is really too bad, because the biggest challenges we face — climate change, resource depletion, the disappearance of work in the face of automation — will require nothing less than fundamental change, a new organization of society. If there was ever a time that we needed young people to imagine a different world, that time is now.

We have always been, in the United States, what Lionel Trilling called a business civilization. But we have also always had a range of counterbalancing institutions, countercultural institutions, to advance a different set of values: the churches, the arts, the democratic tradition itself. When the pendulum has swung too far in one direction (and it’s always the same direction), new institutions or movements have emerged, or old ones have renewed their mission. Education in general, and higher education in particular, has always been one of those institutions. But now the market has become so powerful that it’s swallowing the very things that are supposed to keep it in check. Artists are becoming “creatives.” Journalism has become “the media.” Government is bought and paid for. The prosperity gospel has arisen as one of the most prominent movements in American Christianity. And colleges and universities are acting like businesses, and in the service of businesses.

What is to be done? Those very same WASP aristocrats — enough of them, at least, including several presidents of Harvard and Yale — when facing the failure of their own class in the form of the Great Depression, succeeded in superseding themselves and creating a new system, the meritocracy we live with now. But I’m not sure we possess the moral resources to do the same. The WASPs had been taught that leadership meant putting the collective good ahead of your own. But meritocracy means looking out for number one, and neoliberalism doesn’t believe in the collective. As Margaret Thatcher famously said about society, “There’s no such thing. There are individual men and women, and there are families.” As for elite university presidents, they are little more these days than lackeys of the plutocracy, with all the moral stature of the butler in a country house.

Neoliberalism disarms us in another sense as well. For all its rhetoric of freedom and individual initiative, the culture of the market is exceptionally good at inculcating a sense of helplessness. So much of the language around college today, and so much of the negative response to my suggestion that students ought to worry less about pursuing wealth and more about constructing a sense of purpose for themselves, presumes that young people are the passive objects of economic forces. That they have no agency, no options. That they have to do what the market tells them. A Princeton student literally made this argument to me: If the market is incentivizing me to go to Wall Street, he said, then who am I to argue?

I have also had the pleasure, over the past year, of hearing from a lot of people who are pushing back against the dictates of neoliberal education: starting high schools, starting colleges, creating alternatives to high school and college, making documentaries, launching nonprofits, parenting in different ways, conducting their lives in different ways. I welcome these efforts, but none of them address the fundamental problem, which is that we no longer believe in public solutions. We only … [more]
williamderesiewicz  education  highereducation  neoliberalism  capitalism  learning  purpose  stevenpinker  2015  individualism  economics  leadership  missionstatements  courage  confidence  hope  criticalthinking  independence  autonomy  liberalarts  wealth  inequality  citizenship  civics  society  highered  publicpurpose  business  ronaldreagan  billclinton  margaretthatcher  government  media  lioneltrilling  socialgood  creativity  innovation  amywhitaker  service  servicelearning  change  fundamentalchange  systemsthinking  us  civilization  transformation  money  power  aynrand  meritocracy  plutocracy  college  colleges  universities  schools  markets  wallstreet  helplessness  elitism  berniesanders  communitycolleges  aristocracy  reaganism  clintonism  politics  entrepreneurship  volunteerism  rickscott  corporatization  modernity  joshuarothman  greatbooks  1960s  stem  steam  commercialization  davidbrooks 
october 2015 by robertogreco

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