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Fatwah / Class War For Idiots / April 23, 2012

There’s a new Boomer vs. Millennial piece over at Esquire making its way across the intertubes. If you hadn’t noticed, wringing one’s hands about Baby Boomers gorging themselves on the syrupy sweet hopes and dreams of the young’ns is the newest game in town. And though I’ve had my say on the topic, you just know shit’s getting real when the cologne-scented glossies chime in.

But Stephen Marche’s Esquire essay, “The War Against Youth,” left me feeling queasy, and by the end of it, I was ready to commit seppuku over a dog-eared copy of Das Kapital. So please excuse me while I indulge in a little Maoist self-criticism.

Marche’s essay hit all the same notes I hit. He even used the same David Frum quote. (Hi, Stephen!) And yes, he wants you to know that he stands firmly with the young and righteous Millennials. So how is it that his conclusions are straight out of a Wall Street Journal editorial? It was like being forced to watch my doppelgänger hack up an innocent: I didn’t do it, but jesus—except for the whole fiendish-grin and no-pupils thing, that looks a hell of a lot like me swinging that axe.

I hate to say it because after all Boomer-hatin’ really is fun and slightly cheerier than regular down-in-the-mouth anti-capitalism, but Marche’s “The War Against Youth” validates every single hostility the no-bullshit Left holds towards anything that smacks of generational politics. And it shows you just why you gotta be careful before you take aim at the gray-hairs.

Not because of any squeamishness about youthful Red terrors or blood trails across the suburban sunbelt. Actually, the wealthy are more than happy to root for us. They’re eager to sick the Millennials on the Boomers. But not because they want us to have any of the Boomers’ goodies: welfare state, living wages, pensions, health insurance, etc. Instead, they wanna engender the same kind of puritanical, reactionary mindset in Millennials that the ruling class used to quash the young radicals nearly a half century ago.

Just as the Nixonites resented the radicals for their free love and refusal to maim and be maimed on the Mekong, the capitalist class in 2012 wants us to hate the Boomers for their Social Security checks. That’s right: the ruling class wants to mold Millennials into their very own Silent Majority.

Let’s get back to Marche’s “The War Against Youth.” It starts off fine. If you weren’t paying attention, you might even miss it. He hits all the basics. Big mean Boomers sucking up all the cash, leaving the kiddies with scraps. We’ve seen it all before: college debt, slave-labor internships, foregoing a mortgage in the ‘burbs, etc.

Stephen Marche: Millennial hackburglar

But you won’t find a word about mass incarceration, food insecurity, or military enlistment. That’s your first clue. Because none of those miseries apply to the progeny of the ruling classes. Hey, the wealthy worry about their pups too. Isn’t that the whole point of Lena Dunham and Judd Apatow’s new show: the indignities of a 21st century economy under which even the rich kids suffer?

But here’s where Marche really tears off the mask:

“[I]t’s clear that the American system is a bipartisan fusion of economic models broken down along generational lines: unaffordable Greek-style socialism for the old, virulently purified capitalism for the young.”

“Greek-style?” He really tipped his hand there. Here’s some advice: if you hear someone utter the phrase “Greek-style socialism,” take a swing. Preferably with some aluminum in your grip. You’ll be doing us all a favor. And “socialism for the old”? You mean living wages and meagre retirement pensions? Those lazy, back-haired bastards! I guess the post-austerity sport of dumpster-diving for rats or Athens moms giving handjobs for sandwiches really is just the New Frugality–lessons in good ol’ Protestant thriftiness that’ll knock some sense back into those swarthy Mediterraneans.

It’s the kind of bloodthirsty terminology that’s been burbling up out of the Wall Street Journal editorial pages for decades. And it’s the same exact strategy employed by The Economist over a century and a half ago during the Irish Potato famine, when limeys marched all the food right off the island, spitting on all the skeletal bodies in the way for being undisciplined in the ways of the free market.

The message from the Anglo-American Lords of Finance then and now is clear: Greeks and Irishmen are just a tad too “other” to be spared. Wealth trickles through their slack and careless hands. Might as well send the P.I.G.S. off to the slaughterhouse. They’re western, maybe, but not quite white enough. I mean, they’re some kind of Papists, right?

Iceland, though—man, those elves got a raw deal!

And of course, no piece of austerity propaganda is complete without a bald-faced lie about the pittance known as Social Security. Marche calls the program “the biggest boondoggle of all” and says “the fund will run out in 2036.” A lie. A lie best taken apart by economist Dean Baker, who was all over Marche’s bullshit numbers just a couple of days after “The War Against Youth” went live. Needless to say Marche also fails to mention that the Social Security tax is capped after the first $110,100 of income, which means that a billionaire shitstain like Peter Thiel pays the same amount of cash into the system as a Nurse Practitioner.

Marche shows his true colors again a little later when he starts wringing his hands about “crony capitalism.” Crony capitalism! A term endlessly test-marketed and trotted out by Sarah Palin and the rest of the GOP all in order to spare the good name of our virginal free market. It’s the “union thug” of the 21st century. But I don’t think it’s gonna work. “Crony capitalism” sounds too appealing. Who needs “cold, impersonal” capitalism, when you can split a six-pack with your crony? How about “wingman capitalism”? Cronies for life, bro.

***

I’m not saying Marche is some kind of a deep-cover right-winger. Last summer, Esquire published his bootlicking study of the president entitled–I shit you not–”How Can We Not Love Obama?” Here’s a sampling:

“Reagan was able to call upon the classic American mythology of frontiersmen and astronauts and movie stars; Obama has accessed a much wider narrative matrix: He’s mixed and matched Jay-Z with geek with Hawaiian with Kansan with product of Middle America with product of a broken home with local Chicago churchgoer with internationally renowned memoirist with assassin…We can finally see who he is, we can finally understand the reality: In 2011, it is possible to be a levelheaded, warmhearted, cold-blooded killer who can crack a joke and write a book for his daughters…Barack Obama is developing into what Hegel called a ‘world-historical soul,’ an embodiment of the spirit of the times. He is what we hope we can be.  We love Obama — even those who claim to despise him — because deep in our hearts and all over our lives, we’re the same way.”

Marche is merely the perfect example of how eager American liberals are to accommodate the ideology of the ruling class, “austerity” being all the rage these days. It’s nothing new. Liberals have always been useful servants. And they’ve been following their spiritual masters in the Democratic Party over the free market cliff for decades, even now as they squeeze out a few about inequality. Hey, they’ll always have a pet project.

But liberals aren’t just surrendering to all this debt-mongering bullshit, they’re chipping in like the good little poodles they are. They’re more than happy to cheer on the Millennials. Not for anything like socialism but for more austerity.

Let’s not forget that it was two card-carrying liberals—investment banker and temporary dictator of New York City Felix G. Rohatyn and class-warrior emeritus Paul Volcker—who helped launch the neoliberal revolution that gutted wages and sent corporate profits soaring. But Occupy Wall Street and generational politics gives these balanced-budget liberals the perfect narrative to try and squeeze in their austerity-love while ostensibly remaining on the side of the cosmopolitan, the young and the attractive.

If you were to ask them straight up, they’d tell you they were on your side. And in a fucked-up way, they’re telling you the truth. They’ll say they’re in this thing for the future–the youth of America. To them, it’s the old folks that are suckin’ the socialist teat and bankrupting the country.

Generational politics allows the ruling class to dress up our economic catastrophe as simply an ‘imbalance’ between two generations of wage-earners. And once they’ve spun that tale, then they can go in and clean everyone out in the name of fiscal and intergenerational harmony.

And it’s not just the liberals. Even the GOP indulges in Millennial concern-trolling, though you won’t see them shed a crocodile tear for Occupy—unlike their Democratic peers they never made it with a hippie. But most every week, turn on C-SPAN and you can hear some House Republican screeching about how “entitlements” shackle our grandchildren with debt. So they, too, are “on our side.”

***

This is where our era’s brand of puritanical liberalism–with all its moralism about consumer culture and finger-waving about greed and excess–clears a path for this con. Just another variation on the same Protestant theme. So you can understand why overlords like Pete Peterson want you to see the Boomers as living the life on your dime. Not so that you’ll demand the same and more, but to convince you that healthcare on-demand and a decent retirement are luxuries no one should have–except for the wealthy, of course.

That’s why we need to take a stand against the hairshirt left, the Chris Hedges of the country that try to veer us off course with all their self-flagellation about consumerism. Fuck asceticism. iPads and flat-screens for all! Hell, Marx would agree.

As readers of The eXile know, there’s nothing more American than hating others for enjoying themselves. It’s just more of that Protestant backwash that’s soaked this country into a marsh of petit-bourgeois wannabes. Along the coasts or in between, you’ll hear all that guff about freeloaders, decadence and indulgence on both the Right (“Welfare queens”) and the Left (the anti-consumerism crusades).

Hey, I’m glad these folks were around back in the 1850s. We gotta hand it to the Protestant penny pinchers: they knew how to carve up Confederates like no one else. And of course that whole industrial revolution thing. Let’s give credit where credit’s due. Public schools, R&D, libraries, trains, electrification: all good things. But that crew wore out their welcome a hundred years ago.

Just open up any page in Eric Foner’s classic on the origins of GOP ideology and cringe: back then, the good guys sounded just like Paul Ryan, preaching the glories of private property and fretting about “class warfare” brewing in the cities. It’s no wonder it’s Karl Rove’s favorite book. Drop him in an 1850s Massachusetts mill town and the little piggy’s a progressive. The only difference between now and then is, well, everything. Everything except the rhetoric.

As James Livingston’s work has revealed, saving and private investment hasn’t done shit for this economy since 1919. Its consumption and government spending that’s been doing the trick for nearly a hundred years. And yet we’re still shoveling pig iron for Andrew Carnegie and begging for scraps.

This is the 21st century. With just a few keystrokes, millions of us could finally go see a doctor, buy groceries, or enroll at the local university. But no, we’re told, it’s not that simple. Thing is, it is that simple. If it weren’t for the “honest day’s pay for an honest day’s work” crowd, we could’ve long ago whittled down the workweek to twenty-hours. The only thing left standing in the way is a religion that’s long since fled the chapel and settled into the cubicle.

Even the Swedes–equal parts social democratic and Lutheran–based their welfare state on everyone working. Anything to avoid the dreaded welfare queen. This called for the creation of a vast bureaucracy–”active labor market programs”– that ended up costing them more than if they’d just mailed out unemployment checks.

***

Look, I know it’s hard. South Park and the Daily Show have convinced a good number of Millennials that doing something as declarative as talking about Big Bushy Bearded shit like, say, “labor and capital” is to invite ridicule. After all, zealotry is for losers, right? Sorry. There’s no getting around it. Buy a Cliffs Notes or something.

As much fun as it is to kick around the Boomers, we gotta move past it. Generational politics is a dead-end. Fuck it, someone slap the shit out of me if I ever say the word “Millennial’ after this. Because once we’ve set up this economic collapse as nothing more than generational warfare, we’re already lost–we’ve created a narrative which the wealthy can easily co-opt and spin for their own fiendish ends.

So keep your eyes on the prize, Millennials: it’s capitalism that’s the problem. Not the grey-hairs.

Would you like to know more? Read “Thirty More Years Of Hell” and “Conscience of a Radical: Corey Robin’s ‘The Reactionary Mind'” by Connor Kilpatrick.

 

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82 Comments

Add your own

  • 1. Alexei Belyaev-Gintovt  |  April 26th, 2012 at 12:47 pm

    will also spill a sugary beverage

  • 2. rimmer directive  |  April 26th, 2012 at 5:59 pm

    I really would like to believe a 20 hour work week were sustainable but I’m not an economist so I really can’t say

  • 3. Jesse  |  April 26th, 2012 at 6:38 pm

    @32 Anton

    Zero sum fallacy. Poor workers don’t get enough because rich people get more. As if we can’t PRODUCE more. This system is not efficiently bringing together the means of production: labor, tools, natural resources. Labor is willing and idle, natural resources are held idle, tools are monopolized, but most importantly, DEBT is fucking up production before it even gets started and then sucking up production at every stage, choking the shit out of everything; taking the tools out of worker’s hands; taking the land under worker’s feet; and demanding the first fruit of even that pathetic pittance of production that manages to eke by. And the motherfucker DEBT KINGS have never given workers anything that either didn’t already exist, like land, or wasn’t produced by labor, like tools. So why are we so stupid and cowed to keep paying DEBT even while it grinds us down to mass poverty when we could all be living like kings?

  • 4. LIExpressway  |  April 26th, 2012 at 9:56 pm

    “The only like-minded people I’ve met was a well traveled older guy who was born before 45 and a Vietnam war veteran who practically lived his life in a local public library.”

    Internet gold star comment. I painfully relate…

  • 5. tom  |  April 27th, 2012 at 12:02 am

    I’m 26. I volunteered for Barack Obama’s campaign in 2008 (although in reality I’m a Rush fan–see solyndra ref below) , and I’m not voting for him this time. I was his strongest supporter, so I think there will be a lot of other young people voting the other way or just not voting this time around.

    Hope and change? Solyndra, no prosecution of banks and Corexit.

  • 6. Mr. Bad  |  April 27th, 2012 at 12:13 am

    @53. Jesse

    Produce more air, more water, more moon bases you fucking nitwit? When you scream about socialism and “idle” workers you’re just basically explaining what an entitled cunt you are, do you know that? What “system” would you use to compel higher productionz? I’m not eager to work at some shitty fucking job for the betterment of my fellow man unless I have to, nor is any sane person, wtf are you talking about “living like kings”. Naw, I don’t think so, you haven’t been out of the states much huh? Yeah there’s more than enough to go around for the whole fucking planet – but not to live out your FDR era “chicken in every wok” utopian worldwide suburb.

    So what are you going to motivate me with, floggings, trips to Disneyland, or both? Your stupid idea of revolution is just putting different maniacs in charge.

  • 7. Jesse  |  April 27th, 2012 at 1:22 pm

    Sorry I don’t have a cite but somewhere I read where F. Buckminster Fuller did a study in the sixties to calculate out how much labor it would take to live a comfortable western lifestyle. He assumed everybody in this model works productively, making goods and services and exchanging with each other. Bucky figured 2 hours of work a day should do it.

  • 8. super390  |  April 27th, 2012 at 4:35 pm

    “back then, the good guys sounded just like Paul Ryan, preaching the glories of private property and fretting about “class warfare” brewing in the cities…”

    It was the threat of worker revolution that brought bourgeoise liberals to the cause of reform a century ago. You take that threat away, and you get the kind of liberals we have now.

    Time to bring that threat back…

  • 9. Whatever  |  April 27th, 2012 at 11:17 pm

    And yet the problem of screaming “I GOT MINE!” boomers and Greatest remain.

    The old Stay-At-Home-Mother who says “My husband worked hard for that check” who then turns and says:
    “They should take a job, any job.”

    And that is a very common attitude among the old and comfortable.

    So, while gutting them may not be productive, letting them sit on their money pile and rave at young people for being “lazy scum” isn’t all that useful either.

  • 10. jimmythehyena  |  April 28th, 2012 at 10:02 am

    The thing is the millennials CAN do something to fuck up the machine. If they’re enough of them and they care enough. There’s lots of paper that has to circulate on Wall Street and between Wall Street and midtown (I know because I used to be a bike messenger in New York) so why not gum up the works? Unless signatures have been re-ajudicated to have the same weight as paper and ink ones then a hundred thousand or so people standing sitting marching and lying passed out in the street (has anybody thought of this method of passive resistance? you keep a supply of prescription drugs and alcohol in reserve and then when the riot cops show up you down them and slip into a coma,then, normally the police have to call EMS to take care of you, well maybe they’ll stop doing this but then think of the trouble of processing and holding comatose people). I’d say this summer you turn TRIBECA into a GG Allin concert three hundred thousand performers strong, all of you getting naked high and bleeding fucking pissing and shitting in te streets or you spend the rest of your life as Barneby the Scrivner.

  • 11. Jesse  |  April 28th, 2012 at 12:27 pm

    @56 Mr. Bad

    Thinking at first you meant to reply to someone else’s post, I reread your comment for anything that could remotely bear relevance to my own. And there they were: five words apparently plucked out at random as a launching point for your alcohol-fueled diatribe: “idle…system….living like kings.”

    Glad I could help.

  • 12. Mr. Bad  |  April 28th, 2012 at 3:07 pm

    Thanks for the “relevance” check. While your at it could you flesh out the design of this new society based on Buckminster’s calculations and forward us all a copy, preferably in .pdf format? The more derivative marxist jargon you include the better, that’s always very effective. Sorry gotta go, the workers have seized the means of production again (that means your mom is pulling on my balls and I have to take a dump on her chest before she’ll let go).

  • 13. Davrus  |  April 28th, 2012 at 6:14 pm

    @57 While I’m willing to take your word for it that everyone on the planet could potentially live like kings, with everyone working 20 hour weeks (or less)… if we could get enough natural resources to feed the factories. Do you have any sources too show that their are enough natural resources that every person in India can consume the same amount as a person in the US? How far off is asteroid mining anyway.

  • 14. Punjabi From Karachi  |  April 29th, 2012 at 3:33 am

    Needless to say Marche also fails to mention that the Social Security tax is capped after the first $110,100 of income, which means that a billionaire shitstain like Peter Thiel pays the same amount of cash into the system as a Nurse Practitioner

    This fact, about no tax being paid into social security beyond the first $110,000 bracket, is a fact that needs to be repeated over and over again to shut down any of these hatchet arguments made against social security.

    No rich person pays for it, beyond their initial tax bracket.

  • 15. Punjabi From Karachi  |  April 29th, 2012 at 3:49 am

    Good essay. An excellent summation by the way, of some of the eXile’s most salient points, as seen through the eyes of an under 25 or a millenial. But I’ll read Against Thrift first, before I give a shit about Das Kapital. I do have those reactionary 80’s roots Ames & Dolan are going on about and I know in those two, they still go strong. I agree with that aesthetic.

    In the meantime though, Chris Hedges is annoying, healthcare and education for all can be simpler to administer and I just would like to see capitalism whither and die on the wine.

    Now tell us what’s the plan for a summer of Occupy.

  • 16. Punjabi From Karachi  |  April 29th, 2012 at 5:12 am

    Actually, for a while, the Millenial label is useful. You can use age categorisation as a way to separate the Occupy movement from the Tea Party phenomenon, demonstrating to a younger generation how the Tea Party right doesn’t have their interests at heart. You don’t see many millenials at a Tea Party rally. The age categorisation is a more useful way to explain politics to a politcal novice.

    Occupy can gel with the interests of a generation.

    And kudos for bringing the prison industrial complex up; it’s one of those things that certainly does affect the millenial generation disproportionately. And anybody who brings up class and generational warfare without mentioning the United States Gulag Archipelego, is a dilletante that should be avoided.

  • 17. Punjabi From Karachi  |  April 29th, 2012 at 5:27 am

    What else, what else….Generation X’s slacky, ironic detachment, as you mentioned in the title to your piece on the Rally to Restore Sanity, is a contrast to the greater earnestness of the Millenials. I guess we Millenials are so much more sincerer 😉 I think there`s a polemic on hating on Gen X there somewhere. Although Connor Kirkpatrick, is implicitly moving against hate, the eXile`s Raison dè tre. I wonder what the eXile will do, now that it’s being asked not to hate, lol.

    And I think history has vindicated the eXile in a minor way. The light is darkest before the dawn (unless you were in one of Stalin’s Gulags, or those Concentration Camps liberated by the Soviets) and when the eXile wrote this in angry depression: http://exiledonline.com/the-rally-to-restore-vanity-generation-x-celebrates-its-homeric-struggle-against-lameness/ We had the Arab Spring :-)

    And when you wrote that piece about America`s radicals being anti-capitalist but historically having that fact covered up, we had Occupy ;D

    The eXile`s depression serves a useful purpose.

  • 18. Punjabi From Karachi  |  April 29th, 2012 at 5:30 am

    “Testing, 1, 2, 3, Testing 😀 ;D 😉 ”

  • 19. rehmat1  |  April 29th, 2012 at 8:59 pm

    It’s tempting to think that this is uncle Doland’s new pen name. Turn the kiddies away from the gore porn and get them to think about economic issues. In the end, I doubt this is Doland, but Kilpatrick is a very good writer who is probably glad to have himself mistaken for uncle D.

    More, please.

  • 20. x  |  April 30th, 2012 at 7:40 am

    everyone see #39. That’s the answer, or at least one of them.

  • 21. Punjabi From Karachi  |  April 30th, 2012 at 11:27 pm

    I liked Sparky (#33), but seriously, #39 is like x (#70) said, the future.

    Ctrl + F for radii

  • 22. trouble  |  May 1st, 2012 at 7:06 am

    @12 Mr. Bad Liar

    When, where and from what agency did a single adult male easily get food stamps?

  • 23. Mr.Bad  |  May 1st, 2012 at 2:01 pm

    72. trouble

    Maybe the Exiled should so a FAQ? But yeah, you walk in a say “I don’t have a job or a place to live” and they say “take this card” and you say “OK”. Stop being a fucktwit, you cunt ass fucktwit.

  • 24. darthfader  |  May 1st, 2012 at 2:59 pm

    When are y’all going to send Foust to the camps for good

  • 25. darthfader  |  May 1st, 2012 at 3:05 pm

    And the answer for the future is actually #42

  • 26. trouble  |  May 1st, 2012 at 8:18 pm

    @73 Mr. Bad Liar

    You’re a liar, you fucking little bitch liar. You were never homeless. You’re not bad. You’re just a little nasty twat.

  • 27. Mr. Bad  |  May 3rd, 2012 at 4:40 pm

    @ 74. darthfader

    Taking a day off from gay anime pron to post here, thanks for your insight!

    @ 76. trouble

    The fact that you don’t know how easy it is to get food stamps shows to go you you’re still hanging with mom on Friday night. Make sure to ask for extra servings to build up your strength, you’ll need them soon.

  • 28. R`  |  May 7th, 2012 at 4:08 am

    No. Disagree. It’s the Boomers, who both invented and have succumbed to a distinctly generational form of moral capitalism. Partly, this latter-day blind submission to the twaddling metaphysics of work and income derives from the Boomers’ wide-ranging stupidity about basic hedonic calculus. It may be something imprinted in them by their oppressive Depression-era parents; certainly, it’s no less crazy than bribing the local cat not to tell some donkey about a recent sexy occult experiment you underwent with the Parson’s daughter. The Wall St plutocracy are titanic crooks, d’accord, but the sea of pre-GFC credit and debt liens swept into the bank accounts of millions of neo-Heian filchers, Bill-Manhire or Gordon-Brown wannabes, all across the globe. It wasn’t just CBD bankers, but also the psychotherapists, academics, doctors, school principals. They are all the architects of the current soft totalitarianism.

  • 29. VikingLS  |  May 7th, 2012 at 11:19 pm

    I don’t know, from what I can see the boomers have been doing a lot of preemptive defamation of the millenials, particularly OWS. One or two articles making thier case in a few big name magazines doesn’t offset the fact that the millenials and gen X get the pleasure of spend most of their adult lives cleaning up the Boomer’s messes while the boomers sneer about the young people with their cell phone addiction.

  • 30. pescho  |  May 8th, 2012 at 7:46 am

    Don’t worry, Millennials, you get to choose the nursing home!

    – your GenX mentor

  • 31. notabooj  |  May 10th, 2012 at 9:20 am

    @77

    I never take time off from gay anime porn

    vote Not A. Booj in ’12

  • 32. Benjamin David Steele  |  March 22nd, 2014 at 2:18 pm

    “Liberals have always been useful servants. And they’ve been following their spiritual masters in the Democratic Party over the free market cliff for decades, even now as they squeeze out a few about inequality. Hey, they’ll always have a pet project.”

    According to Pew data (Beyond Red vs Blue), around half of liberals are independents. And, within the Democratic Party, only about 1/3 are liberals with the other 2/3 about evenly split between moderates and conservatives.

    Many liberals, along with being independents, are varying degrees of radical. There are quite a few leftist-leaning and leftist-embracing liberals. The American traditions of liberalism and radicalism both have roots in the political philosophy of Thomas Paine.


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