By Steven Fake
The conservative polling firm Rasmussen recently conducted a poll of American judgments of economic fairness. Promisingly, a slim majority (49%) believe the nation’s economy is unfair. Though it goes little acknowledged, this is a damning indictment of our national economic system. The popular verdict is failure.
It is interesting to note that this figure climbs to 56% when referring specifically to whether the economy is fair to “middle class Americans” – yet this figure drops to a minority (46%) view when referencing “lower income Americans.” This is an indication of where elite propaganda has succeeded. Namely, in driving a wedge between the amorphously defined “middle class” us, and whatever portrait is conjured up of the “lower income” poor.
Most everyone is invited to identify with the ‘middle class’ label, while scorning Reagan’s welfare queens. The ruse often works, not only because the mass media are exclusively owned and operated by the business elite (public broadcasting is a variation though it too generally remains ideologically safe), but also because the U.S. is today sharply segregated along numerous demographic lines, and more generally is simply atomized.
The social isolation chronicled in Robert Putnam’s Bowling Alone that has emerged in the last four decades leaves individuals disconnected and unorganized. Corporate media are not only the primary source of news and analysis but are also able to transmit their preferred messaging unfiltered and unchallenged by social organizations that once characterized American life. If one is not meeting people in social contexts, only the stereotypes in media will inform understanding of the world.
The simple fact of being a member of a labor union, for instance, correlates with political views that deviate more from orthodoxy. However, union memberships are of course at a nadir.
Social atomization is a logical consequence of Eisenhower’s suburbanization of the country and is perhaps not entirely unrelated to the provincialism sometimes lamented by 19th century observers like Marx of those living outside urban areas. In some respects the picture may be worse today. Modern life permits (and perhaps encourages) far less interpersonal interaction than could have been contemplated previously. Even social media, which facilitate a form of social connection, can also enhance feelings of isolation. The primary identities celebrated for people to inhabit in wider society are that of consumer and occasional voter.
Polls such as this one suggest that there is fertile ground for organizing resistance – witness Occupy after all – if greater social connectivity in communities can be established.