So last week there was quite a brouhaha over Cathedral priestess Elizabeth Warren telling businessmen that they couldn’t have made money if the state hadn’t helped. All business minded people in the US have risen in righteous outrage. Which is amusing. I mean the kind of speech that Warren gave is common sense in Europe. It’s drilled to schoolchildren. Nobody cares to contest its truth. But in the US there is a sizable population that grew up with Wild West movies and others who grew up reading Ayn Rand, which is the teenage jewish version of Nietzsche. And they won’t tolerate this insult against the individual drive.
But she’s right, isn’t she? Roads were there, courts are there, police is around. Not sure I agree about the value of the state-educated workers, but still, what’s all the fuss about? Of course it’s not about the objective fact that the state is everywhere so there’s always a rationale for collecting taxes. Any reader of history knows that states are little more than sanctimonious stationary bandits, but the fact is they build the infrastructure. Of course all the brouhaha is not about the reasonable point she makes, it’s about the wording. “You didn’t build that”. For business owners, whose status and self-regard depends on their having built something, well it sounds demeaning. And demeaning it was meant to be. Warren’s words were precisely chosen to lower the status of business owners, and raise those of the workers of the state. This kind of status disputes are the ones who get emotional very fast, and this one did.
But there is little substance to it. The point Warren was making could be useful to argue for higher corporate taxes, but those are high enough in the US already. The speech was made to capitalise on the growing sentiment of enmity against billionaires in the US. The economy is bad, the bankstas are scamming the whole country, and various developments mean that for the bulk of the population upward mobility is all but dead. Actually tens of millions will soon drop from the middle class, all while those pesky billionaires keep on adding to their wealth. They must be put in their place. If only rhetorically.
It has been my perception since long ago that the key to happiness isn’t friendship or love or self-actualisation. The real soma in human society is upward mobility. If people think there is a way for them to rise in status they will shut up and take it. If the economy is good people just shut up and put more hours to try to make it. But when it isn’t, and the usual social ladders aren’t there, people rush to the last resort: Class Struggle.
Class Struggle tells you that if the lower status people gang together, they can take power from the elites, and then they become high status. Upward mobility! Yes it’s violent, messy, and it never works out well. But it is the last hope for many people, which explains why communism never seems to die out. It can’t, it is a parasite that flourishes in a fundamental part of the brain.
Marx famously called religion the opium of the masses. Opium is sort of soothing and relaxing. Well he came up with something even better. Class Struggle is the cocaine of the masses. It wakes you up, it makes you move. It’s catnip for the proles. And it’s here to stay.