Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Letters to Alton: Eat the Rich

Thomas WolfeImage by cliff1066™ via Flickr

Alton, which formal address gives tone, and one thing we still have is *tone*. I will be teaching feature writing this fall – if my handful of students (just six) don’t slip away before classes start next week. It’s a class in which half of the students will get A’s because I will push them toward playing with the moment, selecting the details that set the frame (their frame) of the event, listening for the bits of high conversation, perhaps even putting their own POV in their directly – though never ever an “I.” In short, I encourage them to be "literary" and so generously reward the attempt that if you do the work, you get a good grade. This makes the class more fun, of course, and I am no longer interested in making them suffer in the name of rigor. The world rewards a lot of things, and good work is only one of them, and punishes a lot of things, and good work is *certainly* one of them. How jealous some are of excellence.

So I look forward to feature writing. The first exercise the first day of class will be sending them out to campus to (singly) pick a campus elevator and ride up and down for half an hour and bring back “the story.” Some of them will simply be an eye. Some of them will bring back a personal tail of how they were challenged or engaged by elevator riders wondering why they just keeping going UP and going DOWN. So, yes: fun.

Now you walked me through your politics, which journey I much enjoyed. My basic approach is kind of cynical but very personal. I actually wish the Democrats really were engaged in some serious class warfare! I just love seeing prosperous folk taxed because they live so rich and then they howl so loud when you claw some of it back. This comes, I guess, from my blue collar background. When I was in therapy back in the 90s – I had locked up on my progress toward tenure so I auditioned three psychologists and picked the mean one, the bitch. After some months said, with what seemed genuine surprise, “You really are serious about this class resentment.” Now, if she had added: “But I also think that you personally have the attitude that Churchill ascribed to the Hun -- ‘He’s either at your feet or at your throat,’” I couldn’t have denied it. I’ve always been too deferential to people with power simply because they have it. Now folk who make $250,000 plus a year – which we have done a time or two but only late in life – may work hard or they may be lucky or they may have inherited it or they may have stolen it, but in any case I am comfortable taking some of it (or giving some of it up) just *on principle*, which is that even Adam Smith would have puked at the sight of some of the self indulgence we now see among the mega rich. I think a lot of middle class people work pretty hard and deserve a decent share of things. *This is, among other things, a “moral” position, which means individual and arbitrary.*

How does this approach work out empirically? Are the wise stifled and the mob engorged, tick-like, with the blood of their betters?*

It’s case by case, isn’t it? It’s a question of how much waste you can tolerate to get a little good done? Every politician has a little bit of a con going on, some little self serving thing, going on, so let the horse trading begin. What this resolves into is all kinds of problems and resentments at the Democrats, those sanctimonious, self-serving bastards, and utter loathing for the Republicans who really are Know Nothings (in the modern misunderstanding of the term). I mean, denying global warming and defending BP and trying to deny Muslims the right to build a mosque on a spot they bought with good hard Yankee dollars.

And so my rant is richly vague, not a political philosophy but certainly an attitude. The average politician is a nasty piece of sausage - bug bits, rat hair, flecks of excrement. Eydie was working for Oakland when Jerry Brown was mayor, and every time she encountered him filled her with greater disdain. But I’ll still take him over the eBay lady intent on buying the election who is too scared of the press to talk to any. Oh yes I’ll take a Democrat over a Republican seven days a week. And, of course, in the long run we are all dead, and political enthusiasm is so much middle class self inflation. Yet I still think that some political decisions do make things better.

After recess, we will discuss this elusive “better.”

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