Degrees of Difference.

Imagine you’re sitting in a well where you’re crapped on every day buy two men named Uncle Sam and Ben Bernanke, and there’s another guy there. He says the whole system is  fucked up because this well was there and people keep falling in and there’s no safety net for them. You say he’s wrong and that your being crapped on is the temporary price you pay for tripping into the well to begin with. Would you really look at your compatriot, all things being equal, and say “you’re poisoning the well”?

From time to time, the well-represented heavily conservative element of my Twitter feed directs me to things being said on Redstate. I don’t read Redstate on my own and I don’t usually find anything Redstate has to say edifying. But this post by Leon Wolf evoked a reaction.

Mr. Wolf is currently an unemployed legal professional. We hear enough from unemployed progressive people, but here’s a presumably sophisticated, presumably intelligent man who went to school for what is considered by society to be a “practical” skill and is now heavily leveraged sans an income stream.

When I don’t, I sit around for interminable days and fire off more resumes that I am nearly sure will never result in anything. I am hopelessly behind on innumerable bills, including my house and over $160,000 in student loans – so far behind that even if I found permanent work tomorrow, I would never be able to sort out my arrearage.  Without the completely undeserved generosity of family and friends, I’m not sure how I’d be eating. When I came out of law school, they were handing out more six figure jobs than they had people available to fill them – now there isn’t anything in sight that could even be qualified as full-time. I recently went to Outback steakhouse and applied for a job – which I didn’t get because the manager was sure I’d just bail and go back to lawyering any day.

In his free time, Mr. Wolf came across some ideas espoused by the Occupy Wall Street movement. The reaction took me back a little.

So, you know, for people who are frustrated about the current state of the economy, I get it. I don’t really like to talk about any of the stuff I just mentioned above, but I felt compelled when someone pointed out a couple of websites to me today. The first is a list of proposed list of demands for the Occupy Wall Street crowd. The second is called we are the 99 per cent and it is basically the same concept. And after reading these websites, I don’t know whether these people are trying to destroy America, or whether they have already succeded.

I am going to try to suppress the overwhelming urge to mock people who think every United States citizen deserves to be paid $20 an hour for not working, or that Wall Street ought to pay a trillion dollars (which I am told is a figure that is more than twice the total equity of every firm on Wall Street combined) to replant rain forests. Nor will I comment on people who are surprised that they don’t have marketable skills after spending $60,000 on a degree in jazz flute in any economy. While the people who have contributed to these websites are clearly not very good at life skills (or math), there are lots of people who have been legitimately knocked on their keister and now find themselves unable to pay bills they know they owe but simply don’t have the money for. [Emphasis mine]

Here’s a guy who went to school and is now unemployed, the victim of an economic system that ran off the rails and a government that has been ineffectual and frankly unwilling to improve the situation, mocking those — many fellow leveraged unemployed ex-students — who have been most vocal. There’s not even a hint of solidarity. And I imagine it would work similarly the other way around. These people simply can’t contract.

I think there’s two potential reasons for this.

1) Legitimate ideological differences trump common circumstance. Maybe individuals can feel the same symptoms but the differences in their prescriptive world views are so substantively germane (i.e. justified on rational grounds) to them that it justifies complete disgust and repudiation of one another.

Not buying it.

2) Tribalism. Until tonight I discounted this a lot. I thought it was a novelty. I’m starting to reconsider.

If you’re a member of the Austrian-conservative tribe, you really do think you have to bend over and take it as your duty to a healing economy, and there’s not much else to be done. What’s worse, people who demand radical change, or maybe even another round of quantitative easing, are not just wrong — they’re destroying your country. Or at least your vision of it, which almost certainly is not it. That’s another story.

This isn’t to say that legitimate prescriptive differences are not important. I believe in an activist Fed but a limited government overall. I probably disagree with both Mr. Wolf and Occupy. But as someone increasingly disaffected with party identification I find it telling that I can’t understand the utter lack of recognition in common ground other than the backhanded and patronizing “I get it, you’re frustrated, but you’re destroying the country because you’re lazy.”

Mr. Wolf takes time to degrade individuals in debt and unemployed with a higher degree in fine arts — as if there’s a significant difference between two people who both have skills other people don’t need. Both pursued human capital based on flawed assumptions about future earnings. Mr. Wolf might be said to be the bigger fool for considering himself more strategic in that regard by choosing law school. Both are unfortunate.

It’s an unsettling prospect to think that many or most political participants would rationalize their own pain and suffering in order to maintain fidelity to one political tribe, and to completely degrade the opposing tribe. Is preserving the Enlightenment still a Western project?


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