Sunday, October 27, 2013

Chapter 110: In Which I Discuss Linguistic Warfare

I like this video. It addresses the list of criticisms aimed at the Millennial generation, who have, in no time at all, become vilified in every corner of media. The most salient point is that the problems Millennials face were bequeathed to them by baby boomers. This is true. The kids who just got out of college did not cause the mortgage crisis, or global warming, or anything else that is going to make living on this planet over the next 50 years a dismal proposition. My favorite dig in there was how Millenials get disrespected, despite being on the front line of two decade-long wars. It's true, and it's a sad fact.

It is telling (and, I'm sure, intentional) that all of the actors in the video are white, and performing stereotypes of the white middle class. Because that's who all this talk about the "trophy generation" is aimed at. The critics aren't addressing youth of color, because they already have a system in place to demean black and brown youth. We are at an interesting moment in which, for the first time in recent memory, a large group of people born into privilege are now facing crushing poverty. And the language used to put them in their place is the exact same used on communities of color.

On this boomer vs. Millennial thing: my father is a baby boomer. He doesn't run banks. He doesn't start wars. He doesn't foreclose houses. He would often say the selfishness of baby boomers ended up ruining this country, but I had a hard time associating his faults with the sadism of a corporate heir like George W. Bush. It just doesn't add up. And I don't hear my dad talking about how entitled I am, because he does not profit from doing so.

And that's the crux of this hate thrown at white, middle-class Millenials. Lazy. Entitled. Whiny. This is the same language that has been used to put down communities of color for centuries. Blacks were characterized as "shiftless," although America's fortunes were built on our labor. The same stereotype is applied to the siesta-loving Latinos, a propaganda campaign made murderously physical by the criminalizing of black and brown bodies. The Millenials are being insulted with the exact same word choice. And it serves the same purpose: to make the victimized feel that they are at fault.

Just make that guy white, replace his watermelon with an iPad, and you have the textbook insult lobbed at Generation Y.

This has nothing to do with iPads, or the internet, or how many trophies somebody got when they were a kid. It has everything to do with attacking the working-class.

You know who else is "entitled"? Welfare queens. This myth of black women using their government handouts to buy cable TV and nice clothes. A CEO who costs his workers their jobs by outsourcing feels he needs another yacht, but I guess that's not entitlement. I guess it's not entitlement when Halliburton decides they need more oil wells, as if they don't already have plenty. According to the corporate media, you have poor black women who keep popping out babies in order to buy themselves a new car.

This is, of course, bullshit. The CIA shipped drugs into the country, then created a decades-long War on Drugs to get black men in jail. This started after Vietnam to make sure all those well-trained army veterans, who could have joined organizations like the Panthers, ended up as addicts and convicts. As a result, we have four or five black generations raised solely by women. Instead of being applauded for their single motherhood, they get demeaned for having to take government money. It helps to kill their self-esteem, but also helps in controlling the white working-class, who now view their problems as a result of niggers using up taxes. The stereotype of the "welfare queen" is as much a weapon against the working-class as the drugs are.

I don't want to write another blog piece telling people how they need to check their privilege, because white kids are hearing enough of that from the corporate media. But they do need to know their history. What they're hearing now is old news to people of color. This linguistic warfare is being used on the latest group to get screwed by the system. The hope is that young adults will decide, "Hey, I am at fault," and fall in line with a world of low pay, no healthcare, no pension, no social security, and record corporate profits. I know plenty of young people, myself included, working their butts off in unfulfilling, low-paying jobs. That's the point. To get them working without question, and certainly without demanding benefits, for fear they will lose their job to the next down-and-out person.

Here's an anecdote: hardly anybody I consider a close friend graduated college. They rode trains, dumpster dived, lived in punk houses, rejected the birth-school-work-death road. You could not tell them they weren't happy. You couldn't tell them their lives didn't matter. They don't measure self-worth by money. Young people nowadays need to be taught the same values.

Everything about anti-Millenial rhetoric is couched in capitalist terms. The Millenials are criticized as failed economic units. They work low-paying, part-time jobs, which means they don't pay as much in tax. They have kids later in life, which means they're not making new consumers. They rent, which means houses aren't being sold. Plenty of people who are born poor find themselves in these same situations. What has changed is there is now a large group of white people who have found their privilege shrinking, and the system cannot afford to see them radicalized. Hence, they are told it's their fault for getting worthless degrees. "You knew that degree in the Humanities wouldn't get you anywhere. You should have gone into computer software and engineering." Never mind that not everybody can get a job in our nation's few growth industries. Or that the banks were happy to help with those "useless" degrees when they were dishing out loans.

Education is a wonderful thing. It is also an entirely different thing from college, so I'll leave the "should you go to college" argument for some other time. A degree in the Arts, or any other low-paying field, is only worthless if you look at everything through a capitalist lens. If college is meant solely to churn out workers, then, yes, these degrees are useless and shouldn't be offered. If you look at it through the lens of personal betterment, there is much to be gained from such a degree.

For instance, I work at the University of Louisiana. A lot of people come here to learn engineering and get jobs with the oil companies. Petroleum offers guaranteed profit even in a low-level position. I know a guy who is making $100,000 a year doing nothing but data analysis. The people who work the rigs make mad money, and they are considered as low on the totem pole as you can get. Solution to this generational crisis? We should all work for Big Oil!

No. First of all, there's not enough jobs even in well-paying industries. Second, working for energy companies is to be complicit in murder and ecological destruction. There is a lot of blood on that money. Some people can set that aside, and others can't. There are all sorts of industries--the drug trade, law, politics--where you can make cash by compromising your ethics. Having ethics, I feel, is a more valuable judge of character. Ethics existed before capitalism. And living an ethical life should be celebrated.

My fear for anybody growing up in this recession is that the hardship will make them think money is the end-all, be-all. There is worth in being an artist. There is worth in being a writer. There is worth in being a journalist. I don't know if anyone reads this blog, but if you are, and you've been hearing criticism about your entitlement: you are more than an economic unit. You are more than a dollar sign. And everything being said about you is nothing more than a traditional tactic of the state.

Seriously, think about a situation where every adult around you encourages you to go to college as the way to a better life, then calls you stupid for taking out loans. It couldn't be that they have some way to profit from your debt and poverty. Nobody has to go to college, of course. But I don't hear of high schools having a lot of "trade school fairs." And even if you learn a trade like plumbing or computer software, good luck joining any industry, with organized labor gutted like it is.

Again, every term used on Millenials has been applied to communities of color: inferiority, laziness, idiocy ("Well, you have two college degrees, but not getting it in a growth field makes you dumb!"). And speaking of college: the US college system has been privatized and corporatized, and we're seeing budget cuts in all disciplines that aren't big money. Soon, college will be nothing more than job training. One of the best things to come from Millenials is the rise of online courses, which a) give degrees without the debt, and b) are causing the death of the traditional academy, which needs to die. Academics are learning the lesson that black schoolchildren learned long ago: those who run this country do not want an educated populace. The academy has been permanently poisoned, but online education is very exciting.

Anybody who argues that class warfare isn't in full swing is, quite frankly, an enemy of the poor. The Republicans just shut down the federal government, giving government workers a furlough, all so they can deny poor people health care. Think about that. Comic book villain levels of evil from these bland, pasty bureaucrats. All this coupled with the call to cut food stamps, and its evident they're trying to put the poor in their place.

I feel the pain of my generation because of the lack of jobs. Life was always going to be a struggle in a system built on concentrating wealth. And nobody is exempt. In Oakland/Emeryville, I see the tech yuppies buying condos, and I hope they're saving up, because every last one of their jobs can be sent to India.

It's a scam, and the corporate media is hoping that young people will be so busy crying in remorse over how many trophies they got that they won't realize where their problems actually came from. For the love of Odin, do not internalize that. A black woman is not automatically a slut. A black man is not automatically a thug. A white Millenial is not a failed unit.

Here's where the video fails. The correct response is not sarcasm. It's anger. They should be angry that they were good enough to fight George Bush's wars, but not good enough to have economic security or respect. "Millenials don't try to change anything. All they do is whine on the internet." Bullshit propaganda. Occupy Wall Street was a prime example of the revolutionary force in this country's youth. One that made an effort to avoid the white supremacy of previous social movements. Another example: the young overwhelmingly turned out for Obama in 2008. He--surprise surprise--turned out to be an awful technocrat whose invasions of privacy would make Dick Cheney smile in his bunker. But Obama ran as a progressive. He got into office on lies about ending war and closing Guantanamo. The potentiality for social upheaval is there in every kid who cast a ballot for him.

In fact, there's something exciting about so many Americans contributing so little to capitalism. The system has unwittingly created a generation of oogles.

Here's how this story is going to go. The Millenials will toughen up. They'll struggle, and scrape, and provide an example for all those in a tough spot. They will take practical jobs in nursing, retail, and the service industry. Here and there, somebody will invent something that makes a lot of money, and that money will stay in his family for generations. Otherwise, Millenials will overcome the privilege they were born into, learn to live with less, and embody that can-do American spirit. History books will applaud them. Meanwhile, the gap between rich and poor will grow more severe. This is not a failure of capitalism. This is the point. What we are looking at is the apex of the system, where you have the extremely wealthy, and everybody else is a serf. What nobody addresses is a) how disgusting it is to have a system predicated on 99% of society starving, and b) that white people are now employing against their own children the language they've used to demean communities of color for 400 years.

The state already knows how it is going to frame this narrative, and the kids today can follow along. Or: take a page from Athens. When the young anarchist was murdered, his friends did not post snarky videos on the internet. They set Athens on fire. Take a page from Cairo. They overthrew a dictator.

The most devastating result of America's downfall would be if the current generation embraces the propaganda used against them, wrapping their sense of worth around money. Or they can realize they are being targeted, and act accordingly.

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