Op Ed: Bourgeois Morality7 July 2016
Darth Vader often gets a bad rap. Okay, there was all of that choking people with the force, and the death star stuff, but understood in context he’s not such a bad guy. He just wanted someone to validate his feelings. He was scared. But his Jedi mentors just kept telling him to suck it up and shut his stinking trap. He didn’t want to join the dark side, but that was the only other choice available to a confused young man who just wanted to feel human. What a release it must have been to hear the words: “trust your feelings”. To be delivered at last from the shame and powerlessness that Jedi ideology had ever offered him – it is easy to see how he might have been led astray. Darth Vader is the lens through which we can understand the current rise of right-wing populism, as seen with Trump and the recent Brexit referendum, and the mindset of its supporters. Vader also shows the way forward, having found redemption through love. But as Neil Young said, it’s gonna take a lotta love to change the way things are.
The phrase, “chickens coming home to roost”, has been uttered by many observers attempting to understand this phenomenon, but let’s begin with the natural precursor; let’s begin with eggs. Here’s a test: free-range or caged – which do you eat? In most bourgeois circles it is an article of faith that only a monster would buy caged eggs. After all, who in good conscience could look to save a couple of measly dollars on a dozen eggs at the expense of suffering chickens? Certainly not anyone worthy of membership within the moral community. But here are a couple of considerations: firstly, “free-range” just means “the barn has a window, see?”; and secondly, if all chickens were raised to roam freely around the yard, pecking at grubs and living it up, then given global egg demand it would be cheaper to make an omelette out of faberge eggs than the ones which come out of chicken asses. So we’re all complicit in chicken misery. And I can tell you from experience that saving $2 on a grocery item is huge when you’ve only got $17.29 in your bank account.
But this was never about chickens – it was about status. For an extra $2 per dozen, you can buy yourself a licence to spit contempt at your social nethers, those deformed monsters, those brainless cretins, those unwashed, uncouth, unforgivable losers whose mere and wretched presence in polite society makes greedy hands clutch at pearls. This neo-liberal status quo has been good to more people than would care to admit it, and they all thought they had the market cornered on hatred. But the docile bodies whose function it was to be kicked and scorned have heard the whisper on the wind, “trust your feelings”, and now we see them begin to rise up, much to the horror of those who thought them fully subdued.
I have an uncle back in Jamaica; a very well-to-do man with a doctorate in economics and a chair on many boards. I love the guy, and a few years ago I spent a summer in Jamaica helping him set up a small travel business. After having several of my proposals rejected as too costly, I asked him what exactly his budget was. He explained to me that he wanted to keep the cost of setting up the project below the amount of a development grant he had secured from his friends at the E.U. That is – he intended to use his connections to make sure his investment was risk-free.
Setting up risk-free businesses was something he did in his spare time between consulting work. He told me about a real money-maker he had set up the previous year. Again through his high-powered connections, he was somehow given access to the infrastructure housing the national telephone exchange, and, with the help of some borrowed equipment and a short TV advertisement, for a brief time set himself up as the country’s cheapest long-distance carrier. He didn’t reveal how much money he made before the government shut him down after a few weeks, but hinted that it was fairly astronomical.
Anyway, the night of the Brexit vote we were chatting online with the rest of my extended family, who are all based in England, and at that time he was still fairly equanimous about the situation. He had faith in the polling data, and the public esteem for economic experts such as himself. But my God was he ropeable the day after the vote: “…the people who voted to leave are ignorant idiots… the vote of ignorant people should only be worth half as much…the leave voters are all xenophobic racists, and they have a responsibility to take immigrants because of slavery…” etc. The only thing that brightened his mood was realizing that he might be able to save a substantial amount on my cousin’s university fees by snapping up some Sterling on the cheap. Despite knowing that his assessment of the economic consequences of the Brexit was probably correct, I still couldn’t help but think: come on, bro.
Unlike her enterprising younger brother, my mother did not enter the world of high finance, but chose instead to be a nurse, and a single mother to boot. And so, as a consequence of her selfish decision to go into such an unproductive line of work, now I don’t get to inherit a house. All for the glamour of nursing! It’s not her fault though. I’m sure if she had known that it requires substantial transfers of wealth to underwrite membership into the moral community, she would have put in the extra hours for my sister and I. Nevertheless, it has left me in a precarious position, living on the razor’s edge. Either I make it out of this elite institution and get handed the keys to the goody room, or I have a run of bad luck and end up moving furniture and washing dishes to get out of debt. Someday I hope to quaff pinot and talk about interest rates, and private-school fees. But right now, all I have are some feelings. And right now, I’m a little tired of this Kantian shit I hear from people who do have connections to money and prestige, moralizing as if destitution offers a glorious opportunity to demonstrate virtue to the extent that one has greater occasion to ignore one’s feelings, and instead to dutifully do ‘the right thing’. Because the right thing always seems to involve money I don’t have being taken from me by people who need it less, and then hearing that it is from beneficence that my betters fleece me so! And then they talk about me like I’m a dog! They just want me to shut up and take it! I will not take it! We will not take it! Can I get a witness? Can I get a Trump?
Yes, that’s right, I confess – I too have been seduced by the dark side. I didn’t want it to happen. I’ve always hated Liberals, Republicans and Tories. I’ve always voted Green, thinking that was the best way to be a prick. But now I’m just not getting any satisfaction over there. Those whom I once felt were champions of justice I now see as callous hypocrites. But it’s not too late for me, my bourgeois compatriots. I have a few grievances, as do many of us, and all I want is for you to hear them, empathize with them, and engage them charitably. Ok? Let me begin:
Get the state off my fucking back about so-called vice. I smoke, I drink, and I take drugs. I’m not an idiot, I know they are bad for me, and I hope I will have somewhere to go if they become a problem and I need help. But don’t support policy that casts me as a burden, a liability, and a criminal! What are these fucking vice taxes other than plain mean-spiritedness and moral policing? You don’t need to be Einstein to see how they just serve to fuck over poor people. Oh, it’s for my own good is it? Where exactly is that money going? If you put the taxes paid each year for a pack-a-day smoking habit and a carton-a-week drinking habit into an index fund yielding 6%, in 40 years it would be worth over $1 million! And that is for a beer drinker, mind you – don’t even get me started on ready-to-drink spirit mixers! Give me my fucking money back, stop telling me how to live, and stop siccing the fucking cops on people for taking pills and smoking weed. Everyone takes pills and smokes weed! Fuck!
In fact, just get the state off my back in general – they’re fucking killing me with all of these goddamn fines. The value of one ‘penalty unit’ in Victoria is over $150 – and boy do they love to hand out penalty units. And if you don’t pay the fine on time – which I never can – then up and up it goes, until the Sherriff drags you into court! I was in a car once with a wealthy family friend, and she was pulled over and fined for not wearing a seatbelt. You know what she said? “I don’t mind – the money goes to fixing roads”. I don’t mind? What the fuck? I fucking mind! How about this: let’s index fines to earnings. Each year you do your tax return on mygov, they download and tally your outstanding infringements, apply an appropriate rate of penalty for your level of income, and hey presto – equal pain! It costs me nearly half of my weekly income to be fined for riding a bike without a helmet, which is fucking bullshit, and the average weekly income in this shitty country is over $1500; bring on the $750+ fines!
Furthermore, don’t tell me how to eat. My mother didn’t have time or money to be Nigella Lawson. She cooked at most twice a week, we all ate at different times, we had leftovers when we were hungry or San Remo instant pasta – which is fucking delicious. I see there is some new quack religion around food, and people have naturally taken to casting each other as saints or sinners depending on whether their home-cooked meals are sufficiently frequent and ‘sustainable’ (read: expensive). Food is food. Fuck off.
And don’t tell me how to talk. By some spiteful artifice you’ve convinced yourselves that it is perfectly legitimate to sneer and deride anyone who smacks of boganism, and then squeal bloody murder if you see them holding an Australian flag. Fuck off.
And I cannot stress that last point enough – fuck off. Just fuck off, you miserable busy-bodies. I am sickened by your need to control other people. It is a disgrace to see how you glad-hand one another in the halls of power of all our major institutions, and then feign concern about matters of inequality. All of the wonderful fads and fuckery that keep you occupied do not make me so giddy. You know damn well the pathological extent of your own need to live in a protective bubble of sameness and validation, and I call bullshit on your razzle-dazzle image of perfection. And getting paid real money to sit in a beanbag listening to Bon Iver and updating the company Instagram is not a real job! Not a real fucking job at all! Fuck. You.
Whew! Now that I’ve got that off my chest, let’s be friends again, k?
Image credit: shellac via Flickr.