(Middle and educated class) politics of resentment

October 3, 2008

I noticed the same thing too while going to school at Chapel Hill, how many of these drunk, drugged and sexed up kids were now millionaires on Wall Street?

A couple of years ago, at the height of the boom, a friend in New York publishing described to me the indignities of being a five-figure employee commuting daily from suburban New Jersey on trains packed with traders, stock brokers and hedge-fund types.

“These were the guys who, in college, I used to step over on Sunday mornings when they were lying in a pool of their own vomit,” he said. “And now they’re earning millions and millions – in bonuses alone.”

I was graduate school, and gosh people in graduate school either have life lines available from rich parents, or they eke out a living with student loans, low paying second shift jobs, or the occasional crumb that fell off the table from research grants. Hard work, long hours you may know the drill from your chosen profession. All to become a highly educated person with a pseudo-sheepskin to prove it. I didn’t hang around school long enough to get my academic green card (doctorate for the uninitiated) so I eventually wound up as a corporate cubicle drone. But I probably make more than many of my fellow students who went to stay in academia. But I am well aware of the frat boys who wound up as executives and such, driving BMWs while joining their fellow nouveau riche at the golf course.

Resentment isn’t just for the citizens of Wasilla or the furniture maker in North Carolina. The educated, that other elite that are themselves resented by the Joe Six Packs for having the answers in class when teacher called on them in 5th grade, in turn resent the slackers who used their particular talents to get rich. Meanwhile, the educated who turned to ‘noble’ professions are increasingly unable to make ends meet, even with traditionally decent salaries. Some sell out. Some of the educated managed their way into Wall Street as gurus or quants, and helped create the mess. Funny thing is, those folks are still needed, since they are the only ones can figure out what went wrong with what they created. It’s called job security. Something that writers, artists, social workers, and do-gooders don’t have.

And resentment follows in part from self-loathing. Like most everyone else who grew up here, there is a strong belief (at the risk of oversimplifying) in the American / Calvinist culture that you are what you make of yourself, and those who are successful deserve it, and maybe that’s God’s plan. So, if you ain’t cuttin’ in, it’s really your own fault. Many in do-gooder professions wonder why in their lowest moments why didn’t they sell out when they had a chance. The ones who did wonder often why they sold out, why they chose to do something relatively meaningless, but Maslow’s hierarchy tends to win out.

So the right and left oppose the bailout.


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