Wisconsin, atomization and the politics of envy

Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, 1987:

And, you know, there is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women, and there are families. And no government can do anything except through people, and people must look to themselves first.

Roger Gathman, commenting at Economist’s View yesterday:

I don’t think liberalism and compassion are the same thing – indeed, on an individual basis, I’d guess conservatives are as compassionate as liberals.

What has been cut up is solidarity, extra-party bonds that create a collective awareness of interest. What has been substituted is a prison dilemma discourse, which is disguised as individualism.

A good example is the mythical beginning of the tea party revolt, which began as a revolt of prudent, saving homeowners against slacker, forecloed upon homeowners. Forgetting for a second whether the first are really prudent, or whether saving is a virtue or not, the fact is, the prudent homeowner was going to loose property value big time if he or she didn’t do something to staunch the great gulp of houses down the banker’s maw. But the plutocratic tools, the press, made it an issue of person vs. person. Like the cops in the prisoner’s dilemma problem, they worked to isolate the partners – and you are a partner if you are in a neighborhood of houses – and make them believe their interests could be split off from the main. Imposing the dilemma on the prisoner is half the battle.

Ian Welsh, today:

Ordinary people hate other ordinary people who are doing better than them.  The politics of envy isn’t about the rich, whom ordinary people almost never see, but about their neighbours.  And Americans want a mean economy, one where everyone has to suffer like they do.  As long  as the union movement is about a few people keeping higher wages, it will continue to fail…

Charles Pierce, blogging from Wisconsin last night:

Out in the parking lot, I fell into conversation with Phil Waseleski, who was wearing a T-shirt celebrating the U.S. Postal Service that was festooned with Scott Walker buttons. Phil was a letter carrier in the neighborhoods around the Serb Hall for nearly 40 years, but he retired last year when his days were cut back to three a week as part of the fiscal crisis forced upon the USPS by Republican legislators who would like to see it go away entirely.

“A friend once told me, ‘Well, we only need mail three or four days a week,'” Phil told me. “I politely told him, ‘Dave, we’re gonna have to agree to disagree.’ I could have told him, ‘Dave, you know, maybe at that engineering place where you work, they only need you three days a week, and then you could come help us.’

“The politicians, I think, it’s a tough call, because if you don’t keep the postal service in business — you and I will both agree that there’s nothing more personal than taking pen in hand to write to your mother, sister, or brother. Until June of last year, I gave my heart and soul to my job. I worked right through lunch most days.”

Eventually, I asked him why he was here, at the Serb Hall, supporting Scott Walker, whose politics were far more in tune with the people who are trying to strangle the postal service than they are with the people who still work there. Phil told me that it was about his sister-in-law. “The problem is that, when you start handing out free health care out to teachers, that annoys me to no end,” he said. “I never got free health care. My brother’s wife is a teacher and I once asked her, when I was getting my teeth worked on, what it cost her and she said, ‘Nothing.’ It should never get to that point where somebody’s getting free health care. Something’s way out of whack there.”

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