In Today’s USA, Losers Are Sinners


Kristof in the New York Times relates the loss of a childhood friend, and Kristof accuses a MOOD: the lack of empathy. This story is highly evocative of the general mood in the USA (and its significant difference with the ‘welfare’, institutionalized empathy in Europe).

This sort of story points at importance of systems of moods. Those are off the radar of conventional sociology and philosophy.

“YAMHILL, Ore. — THE funeral for my high school buddy Kevin Green is Saturday, near this town where we both grew up. The doctors say he died at age 54 of multiple organ failure, but in a deeper sense he died of inequality and a lack of good jobs.

Lots of Americans would have seen Kevin — obese with a huge gray beard, surviving on disability and food stamps — as a moocher. They would have been harshly judgmental: Why don’t you look after your health? Why did you father two kids outside of marriage?

That acerbic condescension reflects one of this country’s fundamental problems: an empathy gap. It reflects the delusion on the part of many affluent Americans that those like Kevin are lazy or living cushy lives. A poll released this month by the Pew Research Center found that wealthy Americans mostly agree that “poor people today have it easy because they can get government benefits without doing anything in return.””

But, says Kristof, the problem with people like Kevin (of which there are tens of millions in the USA), is not that they are lazy, but that there are no decent, well-paying jobs:

“Lazy? Easy? Kevin used to set out with his bicycle and a little trailer to collect cans by the roadside. He would make about $20 a day.”

Resident Reagan had the following idiotic retort: there are no despicable jobs. All are equally honorable.

However, a country is only as rich as the sum of all the added value of the products its jobs provide with. If a country, such as Saudi Arabia, Australia, or the USA has immense mineral wealth, it can be rich, or at least not dirt poor (Venezuela, Russia) with few people working.

Right now the USA is rich for quite a few reasons that are unique, thanks to its geography, and its history (dollar as reserve currency, and the buying of complicit elites in tens of countries, worldwide).

“Kevin’s dad had only a third-grade education and couldn’t read. But he had a good union job as a cement finisher, paying far above the minimum wage, and he worked hard and made sure his kids did, too. He had no trouble with the law.

Kevin and his big sister, Cindy — one of the sweetest girls in school — both earned high school diplomas. Kevin was sunny, cheerful and astonishingly helpful: Any hint that something needed fixing, and he was there with a wrench. But then the dream began to disintegrate.

The local glove factory and feed store closed, and other blue-collar employers cut back. Good union jobs became hard to find.”

[Kevin became a] “manager making trailer homes. He fell in love and had twin boys that he doted on. But because he and his girlfriend struggled financially, they never married.

Then, about 15 years ago, Kevin hurt his back and was laid off. Soon afterward, his girlfriend moved out, took the kids and asked for child support…. [Kevin] was far behind in child support and was punished by losing his driver’s license — which made it pretty much impossible to get a job in a rural area… ”

And so on: poor nutrition, 350 pounds, diabetes, heart attack, death…

Loss of hope. Loss of faith in a society drifting towards ignobility.

The mood, in the USA, as in all countries, is organized by the ruling elite. The USA is turning away from the equal opportunity society (for the whites) post World War Two. (Or the one that existed for centuries prior, by just going west!)

Instead, democracy is slowly strangled by plutocracy. So the mood is all about the Law of the Jungle being the normal law of the land. Thus lack of empathy is part of the system. Only the “philanthropists” (another name for the plutocrats) are supposed to have empathy. Others can get lost.

Universities make millions each from “college sports”. Players are basically not paid. However, they get good grades, although they don’t need to attend classes (or then purely formally, occasionally!) Professors are supposed to be part of the plot (and better be, if they want their departments to keep on existing!)

To justify the superiority of those who have it all, and often inherited it all, one has to be able to punish those who are not playing the game. The more those who look as if they deserved to be low lives, suffer, the better. So the society is actually organized to create misery, and punish it. Losers are sinners. Thus winners are philanthropists.

By not taking care of those who deserve empathy, resources are freed to protect and expand the empire of those who have it all, and want more. The resulting might insure the success of the USA as the greatest nation on Earth.

It may be all very perverse, but it sure works very well. As a blossoming plutocracy. Watch the GDP expanding at a 5% rate. Of course, mostly because wealth is expanding at an even higher rate.

However, common people work hard in the USA. Harder than in most other places. Why? Because there is a lack of empathy. Common citizens know that, if they fail, not only will they be punished, but they will be viewed as sinners.

Google earns 50 billion dollars a month. And pays no significant tax. When crime gets big enough, it is divine: this is a mood the Bible and the Qur’an imparts.

Meanwhile, in Germany one German out of ten never heard of Auschwitz. I saw a group of full grown high school students facing a panel with names. None seemed to know what it was. When the instructor of the Jewish Museum asked if a name told them something, there was giggling. Ravensbruck, Dachau, Auschwitz… None knew a single name of extermination camps.

Let Germany not get in a mood of forgetfulness. German orderliness, and discipline are wonderful moods, in the service of goodness, but not in the service of forgetfulness.

Moods are deeper and more pervasive than systems of thought.

That is why religions cannot be separated from society, let alone civilization. Only secular humanism is compatible with today’s civilization. But humanism has always been about having sufficient empathy.

The USA is riding high on fracking at this point, and similar plots. And Germany used to ride high enough to feel optimistic about attacking the world. But only sustainable moods are wise.

In a superiorly intelligent species, intelligence can only born from empathy. So empathy, not profit, is at the center of civilization. Let Greece show the way!

Patrice Ayme’

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6 Responses to “In Today’s USA, Losers Are Sinners”

  1. gmax Says:

    You snooze, you loose, and so on. This country is not fun and games, just playing one on TV. And things are not changing for the better. Like the college sports thing. It is something that modern media brought. Now there are lawsuits


  2. ianmillerblog Says:

    Patrice, your comment about going west is right on. The US is blessed by being remarkably flat overall, and being rich in mineralization in parts. It also has a reasonably good climate. Accordingly, in the 19th century it was impossible for someone who would work to fail, because there were huge opportunities. In my opinion, the biggest single future problem is a decline in easy opportunities, and the fact that the low and medium hanging fruit have been taken up by your plutocrats. The country has a political culture very much suited to pre- 1930, but the general economy has changed somewhat. Those that don’t make it are called sinners, but in most cases, if those plutocrats had to start from scratch, most of them would not make it either.


    • gmax Says:

      Hi Ian. Things are changing so fast, The Economist talked about “New Aristocracy” in the USA on its cover this week. Even the pluto mag recognizes the plutocracy cannot be ignored!


    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      Yes, Ian, indeed! Moreover, the government was distributing huge amount of Indian land, for free! Sometimes 10,000 acres lots to start with, more than enough for hundreds of cattle (say), making instant millionaires…

      Right now the Pluto plan in the USA is clearly to do more of what works for them, that is, Plutocracy central. Thus Krugman immediately attacking the Euro at the slightest opportunity… The “Sinner” mood, allows to accuse the USA lower class (the 50 million who live at SUB-European standards) of intrinsic badness, hence the will to punish it more, thus fostering the conditions for its further extension.

      Right now, though, the collapse of oil cost will make for a good economy for all, as the USA is very oil dependent. Obama will say/ already said, he did it… And so will the Republicans. The truth being that FRACKING was a long term plot which just passed its tipping point…


  3. Kevin Berger Says:

    FWIW, nastiness/lack of empathy was a point frequently touched upon by the late Joe Bageant, from what I gathered from his articles – I never did read any of his books, of course.
    IMHO, he saw that more as a cultural trait, intrinsic to the white, Southern working class background he came from, not necessarily a top-down enforced/facilitated mood, as you’d put it, although he commented on and deplored the toxic effect of the class war so successfully waged by the US elites.

    I know I come up as both relatively uninformed and yet one-track minded, but I do believe that the “anglo” cultural soil is a rather poisonous/poisoned one, and that the US “ills” simply are overgrown but natural sprouts from it (you had an essay about race relations and racism as seen from an US prism, and how that model has become the de facto “Western” norm, but you might have made something similar with sex and relationships between the sexes, for example.)

    I’m not sure to be very coherent, but current plutocrats and plutocracy would not then be (only) a “civilizational accident” repeating earlier such accidents, caused by hardwired primate behaviors, but a logical (and inevitable?) outcome to 200 years and counting of “anglo” dominance.


    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      Dear Kevin: Sorry I did not answer earlier. I believe you are right to a great extent. The 1789 Revolution happened in France and not England, NOT because England was more democratic, but, quite the opposite. The Elite in England was much more in command.

      And that is exactly WHY the Revolution happened in France; after all, the army refused to act, and La Fayette, heading the National Guard, also refused to shoot the People… Only the Swiss Guard did, and they were massacred. In the nascent USA, the army was ordered to shoot, and did. The only reason the plutocrats did not re-establish their control in the nascent USA was the massive war from France (as France spent trillions, France won, differently from 1756-1763… Where Voltaire gave bad advice from goodness).


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