by Dr. Ellen Brandt
When singer-songwriter Don McLean wrote that cryptic lyric in 1971, part of his mega-hit American Pie, some interpreted it as a reference to the moon landing in 1969, others to the popular sci-fi television show Lost in Space (1965-1968).
But neither McLean - born in October, 1945, and therefore three months older than the oldest Boomer - nor anyone else could have understood back then how prophetically the phrase applies to the Baby Boomer generation at our current historical juncture.
Boomers now seem to be a Generation "lost" - at least temporarily - in a period of such cultural, political, economic, and philosophical chaos, that their basic moral and psychic moorings, everything they've believed in and stood for, are suddenly being questioned or, in many cases, under virulent attack.
This phenomenon - an entire generation's Ethos under the microscope - is extremely rare, particularly in the United States. The last time it happened was probably in the Depression years of the 1930s, when the morals, ethics, and excesses of the Great Gatsby-Flapper generation were widely castigated as "to blame" for the years of hunger, despair, and desperation that followed Wall Street's Great Crash of 1929.
Don't Hate Us Because There Are So Many of Us
The vast majority of today's Boomers - and others who haven't been brainwashed by narrowly partisan bias or prejudice - would say that making an analogy between the Flappers and the Boomers is decidedly off the mark - although there are some striking similarities between the 1920s and the Boomers' youthful heydays of the 1960s and 1970s.
The 1920s saw a "loosening of morals," in some people's minds, due partly to the staggering loss of life in the World War and consequent manic Nihilism that set in among the surviving young - "Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we may die" - and partly from the success of the women's suffrage movement in both Europe and the U.S., with women embracing such shocking concepts as higher education, careers outside the home, and - oh, No! - birth control and premarital sex.
Prohibition (1920-1933) encouraged many otherwise law-abiding citizens to break the law in a careless and casual sense. And both a lack of effective regulation and the example of a scandal-ridden Washington (Teapot Dome, 1921-1924) contributed to a Wild West climate of rampant speculation, both on Wall Street and in the nation at large.
Come to think of it, that does sound a lot like the 1960s and 1970s. For World War I, substitute Vietnam. For the 16th Amendment, substitute the revived Women's Movement. For Prohibition, substitute the controversies surrounding marijuana and other drugs. And for Teapot Dome, substitute Watergate.
But although the largely contrived and artificial "Always Blame the Boomers" Propaganda we've experienced the past decade might not seem to acknowledge it (see my story, Anti-Boomer Rhetoric: Time to Can (If Not Ban) It, Once and For All) we are now a half century or so past "Flower Power," Haight-Ashbury, Woodstock, and the Fall of Saigon.
And there are some very big differences between the post-World War I Gatsbyites and the Baby Boomers, either in our heydey or today.
"Big," in fact, is the operative term. The "Lost Generation" of the 1920's, further ravaged by untimely deaths during the World War, was a "normal-sized" generation - i.e. one-quarter or less of the U.S. population during most of their lifetimes.
In fact, that generation - most Baby Boomers' grandparents - were more of a normal-sized generation than their own parents, Boomers' great-grandparents, were, because that age cohort had been boosted considerably by waves of immigrants from southern, central, and eastern Europe - and to a lesser extent, Asia - during the 1880-1910 period.
Most Boomers' parents - the fortunately-named "Greatest Generation" of people born in the 1920s and early 1930s, was also a generation of a "normal" size, constrained by the numerous deaths of young men (potential fathers) in World War I; a fall-off in immigration in the post-World War years; and a sharply lower birthrate in the 1930s, as economic Depression took hold.
Similarly, the generation born in the later years of the Depression or during World War II itself - a largely unnamed cohort one may think of as "Boomers' Older Siblings" - had its growth curtailed by lower birthrates in the hard times of the 1930s and the absence of many potential fathers during the subsequent War years.
It is against this background - three straight generations which were not particularly large - that the massive population explosion which marked the advent of the Baby Boomers must be viewed.
The birthrate in the United States - and much of the rest of the Developed World - began to perk up almost immediately after the despair and dislocations of first, the Great Depression, and then, World War II, were behind us.
At one previous point, in the late 1960s and early 1970s - which, curiously or not, corresponds with the oldest Boomers' first big impact on both U.S. culture and politics - Baby Boomers alone made up 2 in 5 Americans and a sharply rising percentage of European and Japanese citizens, as those war-torn parts of the world began to recover.
(The Chinese Boomer population is exceptionally large for a different reason, the immense success of the "one child per family" agenda, which took hold immediately after most Chinese Boomers were born.)
Numbers like these could not be denied - especially not by the U.S. media, then far less concentrated and therefore less politically constrained than that of today.
Boomers were big news, so much so that their every move seemed to be commented upon and viewed as influential. America looked on with genuine interest as Boomer children became "polio pioneers" in elementary school, guinea pigs for the (fortunately successful) Salk vaccine. And they empathized as we practiced disaster drills, herded into school basements as the Cold War heated up.
Later, they looked on with pride, disapproval, or puzzlement as we screamed for Elvis and the Beatles; danced up a storm on American Bandstand; matriculated in vast numbers at colleges and professional schools; staged various sit-ins for various causes; experimented with sex and drugs; and either eagerly participated in or actively scorned our generational crucible, Vietnam.
As generations go, we were surely a Meritorious one, keen on becoming educated, keen on developing our talents and creativity, and keen on making the world around us a better place.
In terms of every metric dealing with education, Boomers in the United States, Europe, Japan, the rest of the Developed World, and China, became by far the best-educated generation in human history - a record that still holds.
A far larger percentage of Boomers than previous - or subsequent - generations graduated from high school, from college, from law school, from nursing school, from medical school, and from all sorts of professional schools. They earned large numbers of Masters degrees, Doctoral degrees, business degrees, and engineering degrees.
Boomers have eagerly embraced continuing education of all sorts throughout their subsequent lives and careers. And despite the unfortunate - and frankly ridiculous - Propaganda claiming otherwise, pretty much every Boomer has embraced new technology avidly since their childhoods and teen years.
Boomers were not only early foot soldiers, but also lieutenants, colonels, and generals, in the great Computer Revolution, with household names like Microsoft and Apple founded by Boomers, and virtually every other prominent technology company utilizing Boomers in key management and scientific roles.
On the social and political front, Boomers quite simply changed America - and the World - by their activism in the anti-war movement, in civil rights, in the fight for equality for women, in conservation, and in various other efforts seeking opportunity and justice for marginalized constituencies.
That's why the Propaganda campaign waged against Boomers the past several years - a persistent and at times extremely malicious campaign of anti-Boomer rhetoric or out-and-out hate speech - rankles most Boomers to their very cores.
Boomers' parents were arguably far more insular and jingoistic and far less broadly-educated and socially activist than Boomers have been - and yet they get the "Greatest Generation" tag.
The fortunate Gen-Xers - fortunate because there were relatively few of them - are lauded for their creativity and entrepreneurial prowess - although Boomers deserve as much or more praise on both those counts.
And the Millennials - granted, another extraordinarily large generation, who are mostly Boomers' own children - have been lionized by today's media for "re-making our culture" or, in other words, for doing just what the Boomers did before them - arguably, in much more lasting and important ways.
Boomers - From Anger to Action
If more influential representatives of our current "mainstream media," more cultural arbiters, and more politicians of all stripes started talking with and listening to a broad range of today's Baby Boomers, they might understand just how angry and frustrated this generation is, fed up with over a decade's worth of negative Propaganda, which has been not only spiteful, but which most believe has had an extremely harmful effect on Americans' National Psyche.
The rhetoric has somehow influenced this country to condone widespread actions on the political, cultural, and economic fronts which have been harmful and downright dangerous, not only to Boomers themselves, but to all generations of American citizens.
I believe that many - probably the strong majority - of Boomers now wish to move beyond mere Anger towards a new spate of social and political Activism, which could, in fact, rival or surpass our accomplishments in earlier decades.
(I've started a new blog series centered on this theme, Baby Boomers - From Anger to Action, which readers might want to look at. Here is a link to the first blog in that new series: From Anger to Action )
But in order to help Boomers move from Anger to Action, we need to begin by recognizing why the malicious Propaganda campaign of anti-Boomer rhetoric began; why certain political groups continue to condone it; what it means for Boomers, the United States, and the rest of the Developed World - and how it all ties in with parallel Propaganda attacks on Higher Education, on Political Centrism, and on the core Democratic concept of Meritocracy.
We have already discussed these topics in previous articles, and I would urge new readers to take a look at Alma Merit - Meritocracy and Universities and at Why the Center Must Hold - Meritocracy and Political Centrism .
Blame It On the Club of Rome
Coincidentally or not, the roots of current rhetoric aimed against the Boomers and the entire "Gray Population" of those aged 50 and over were planted in the midst of the first flowering of Baby Boomer activism, in the late 1960s, when "vanguard" Boomers were in high-school, college, or graduate school.
That's when the Club of Rome, a global think tank based in Europe, was founded, in 1968. Both the Club and various similar groups started formulating and agitating for a "One-World" agenda, based - at least initially - on Malthusian fears that the world had too many humans and too few resources, and that it was imperative that Those-Who-Understood made plans to step in and impose guidelines and restrictions on any country, people, or group which they decided was not working for "the good of the Planet."
The Club made headlines and won hearts and minds among both government officials and the intelligentsia with its 1972 report, The Limits to Growth, which is reported to have sold over 30 million copies in more than 30 translations, crowning it as the best-selling environmental book in history.
The "too many humans, not enough resources" worldview was embraced almost from the start by two seemingly-opposed kinds of political cadres - and they're both with us still, dominating our national and international dialogues to what many of us feel is a disturbing extent.
Those two cadres, of course, are the Limousine Liberals, who have clung fiercely to a "One-World" - As Long As We Control It - agenda and the scornfully Nihilistic modern-day Libertarians.
In terms of our discussion of Boomers and Meritocracy, the Limousine Liberals' "One-World" stance is perhaps the most threatening, since it seeks to impose an agenda which may or may not be right for the Developing World - and its youth-oriented population profile - on the Developed World (plus China), where it has already had horrendous consequences.
In today's Developed World, as we've pointed out, Demographics is now our Destiny, because over 2 in 5 Americans - and Europeans and Canadians and Japanese and Australians and Chinese - are already age 50 or over, with that percentage likely to soar to nearly 1 in 2 citizens within the next few years.
The "One-World" agenda's glaring focus on the Millennials, to the detriment of every other population cohort, may, indeed, make sense in the Developing World, where a preponderance of Millennials - and those younger than Millennials - are the driving forces in those countries' economies, cultures, and electorates.
But such an agenda makes no sense at all - and is, in fact, extremely dangerous - in today's Developed World (plus China), where the fate of the "Gray Population," aged 50 or older, will be the major determining factor in Developed countries' ability to thrive in the decades immediately ahead.
In the U.S., the "One-World" agenda of the Limousine Liberals has also become dangerous in a purely political sense. It has somehow gotten mixed up with old-fashioned political Thuggery of the very worst kind, with "One-World" proponents blatantly "anointing" certain political constituencies and "dissing" and dismissing others - like the Boomers - because they think it will help them at the polls and help perpetuate the worldview they hold so dearly.
Equally dangerous, we believe, is the often jokey, sometimes positively anarchic Nihilism of those who now call themselves Libertarians.
It is very unfortunate that our current over-concentrated "mainstream media," especially on the Internet, persists in branding Libertarians as "Conservative," since in fact, they are anything But.
Not only do many who identify with this philosophy not want to "conserve" anything whatsoever, they seem to enjoy tearing things down for the pure joy of doing so - including the "safety net" of essential economic support for every American citizen, built up over decades of hard and thoughtful work since the devastating upheaval of our Great Depression of the 1930s.
Libertarians claim to be doing so, because of their concern for the continued "viability" of the U.S. economy. But, in fact, their worldview is now so extraordinarily pessimistic, it sometimes resembles nothing so much as a Doomsday cult.
How Do We "Value" People, and How Do We Wish Them to Value Themselves?
That both the "One-World" Limousine Liberals, who are Faux Progressives, and the Libertarians, who are neither Progressive nor Conservative, should have focused so much rancor - at times, outright hatred - on the Baby Boomer generation is significant economically, politically, and culturally. And their disdain for - and extreme fear of - Meritocracy is at the core of this rancor.
In previous articles (see, for example, Meritocracy Has Eleven Letters, Not Four ), we demonstrated that Meritocracy is anti-Elitist and, indeed, a potent defense against whatever Elite, whatever "Thug-ocracy," is trying to pervert our modern Democratic governments.
At times, that's an hereditary Aristocracy. At other times, it's a political or military Oligarchy. But over the past few decades, the main threat has come from a "Thug-ocracy" of "Wealth For Wealth's Sake," attempting to insinuate a dangerous Ethos, asserting that the accumulation of great wealth is the highest possible human goal and that those who have done so, by means fair or foul, are worthy of our blind respect, verging on religious worship.
Meritocracy, as a concept and as a core Democratic value, is a primary antidote to "Thug-ocracies" assuming power.
All "Thug-ocracies" want us to judge, reward, or punish people based on various anti-Meritocratic standards: which sex they are; what age they've attained; what their ethnicity is; what religion they follow; what tribe - or order or military cadre or political party - they belong to; what profession they ply; who their Mommy and Daddy were; or how much wealth they've amassed and held onto.
A few of the above qualities, the average citizen is capable of changing. Most, one cannot change.
In stark contrast, everyone can aspire to attain the clearly Meritocratic qualities and values: education, experience, hard work, and the application of one's inherent talents and intelligence.
So the essential political - and economic - and cultural - question becomes: Do we wish to judge and reward or punish people based on the non-Meritocratic criteria of whichever "Thug-ocracy" currently threatens us? Or do we wish to judge and reward citizens based on lasting Meritocratic criteria, to which all can aspire?
In modern Democracies, clearly we want the latter.
And because of where they are in their current life spans, as well as many of the characteristics that have marked their generation from the get-go, Boomers now rank exceptionally high on the scale of Meritocratic qualities:
***** Boomers were and remain the best-educated generation in U.S. history, using any metric one cares to use.
***** Boomers have decades of valuable experience behind - and hopefully, in front of - them.
***** Boomers have worked hard, do work hard, and will work hard to get what they want to achieve.
***** Boomers have been passionate about developing their innate intelligence, talents, and creativity and applying them to make this country and this World a better place.
Health and Longevity Complicate the Mix
If the United States, the rest of the Developed World, and the the World per se do not take steps very quickly, beginning once again to appreciate and make use of the immense intelligence, experience, talent, and skills of the Baby Boomer generation and our burgeoning "Gray Population," we will - not may, but will - face an economic crisis of catastrophic proportions
Note once more that the "Gray Population" - already 2 in 5 Americans and Europeans and Japanese and Canadians and Australians and Chinese - includes not only Boomers - in their 50s and 60s - but also the considerable population of World citizens older than Boomers, i.e. age 70 and above, and now, hot on their heels, the influential Gen-X generation, which has started passing the Economic Maginot Line of age 50, and is "front-loaded" to pass that boundary quickly within the next very few years.
The general situation of a fast-growing "Gray Population" throughout the Developed World, plus China, will be impacted even further - one hopes in a positive sense - by the fact that advances in healthcare and knowledge about the aging process mean that most people in the Developed World - and in the World in general - are living longer and staying healthier, more fit, and more productive decades longer than was previously the case.
Average Baby Boomers - now in their 50s and 60s - may have another 30 to 40 years of healthy, happy, and productive lives ahead of them - or maybe even more, theoretically, if advances in combating the effects of aging continue apace.
This potentially very positive development - humans living longer and staying healthier and more productive longer - is turned on its head and becomes a crisis only if the World - particularly the Developed World - refuses to see it as positive and continues to react in a negative and obstructive fashion.
We are now at an important historical Crossroads.
Do we welcome our "Gray Citizenry" as a wonderful Meritocratic resource for our country and our World, people who can and will continue to contribute strongly and effectively to our political, economic, and cultural life?
Or do we simply throw away our "Grays," isolating them and thwarting their continued contributions to society - in the process, almost certainly precipitating a political, economic, and cultural crisis so frightening, it could dwarf every other catastrophe the United States - and the World - has yet experienced?
Helping to "save" highly-educated Baby Boomers - which, in truth, means allowing well-educated Boomers to save themselves through continued active, useful, and productive work - is one of the central goals of our Bring Back the Meritocracy! Project.
Boomers, now in their 50s and 60s, as well as those older than Boomers - people aged 70 and above - and the "vanguard" of Gen-Xers, beginning to turn 50 in rapid fashion, constitute a large proportion of the estimated 400 million individuals worldwide in the "Highly-Educated But Under-Employed" cohort.
Let's continue to focus on the "Highly-Educated" part of that equation - and strive to eliminate the "Under-Employed" designation once and for all.
Read about and consider joining with us in the Bring Back the Meritocracy! project, a non-profit, non-monetized, non-partisan, and non-controversial long-term project helping the "Highly-Educated But Under-Employed" in the U.S. and abroad.
Saturday, May 23, 2015
Monday, May 4, 2015
(an Addendum to Why the Center Must Hold - Meritocracy and Political Centrism)
by Dr. Ellen Brandt
There have been several books, articles, and academic papers recently on the subject of The American Dream.
Most, we believe, have filtered the topic through one of two lenses of perspective which have prevailed in the politically chaotic landscape of the past couple of decades, sanctioned by an extraordinarily concentrated and narrow "Mainstream Media."
The first is the "One-World" Agenda - anything but Utopian - of the Limousine Liberals, which depends on an unelected Elite of Financial Engineers, economically "anointing" some groups of Americans, while carelessly harming many other groups - for philosophical reasons of their own choosing.
The second lens is the worldview of today's Libertarians, another largely unelected Elite with strongly anarchic and even Nihilistic tendencies, advocating a different sort of Financial Engineering, which economically "anoints" practically no one, but might harm many groups of Americans - for philosophical reasons of their own choosing.
In our Meritocratic view of this country and of modern Democracy per se, both of these lenses of perspective are damaged and damaging. No self-anointed Elite, whether it's an hereditary Aristocracy, an Oligarchy forged by military or political force, or a cadre of Financiers who've somehow gained power via a pervasive - and hopefully, temporary - "Wealth For Wealth's Sake" ethic, should ever be able to obscure the core principles and values on which this Nation was founded.
Those core principles and values are what make up The American Dream.
Here, then, is a primer on what we believe The American Dream Is - and what it Isn't:
1. The American Dream Is Not the dream of a mythic realm where All the Streets Are Paved With Gold.
The American Dream Is the universal goal of freedom from hunger and plague and desperate want. It's the promise and the assurance that our Democratic system will serve as a shelter against the ravages of extreme poverty for any of our citizens - and for all of them.
2. The American Dream Is Not your favored group of citizens - or mine or his or hers or theirs - gaining supremacy over all other groups of citizens.
The American Dream Is all groups and all constituencies - based on age or sex or ethnicity or religion or any other possible basis of division - finding collective ways to coexist happily, with respect and tolerance and kindness towards one another.
3. The American Dream Has Never Been garnering wealth or power or fame, so that you and yours can lord it over your fellow Americans.
The American Dream Is putting everybody's Meritocratic assets - their intelligence and talent and education and experience - to universal use, benefiting both you and yours and everybody else in the Nation.
4. The American Dream Is Not greedily amassing assets to provide for 20 generations of your blood descendants.
The American Dream Is striving for a productive and secure life for you and your immediate family, while working to extend the same opportunities and security for your fellow Americans, your de facto sisters and brothers and sons and daughters in our extended National family.
5. The American Dream Is Not hoarding media power, so that those who shout the loudest - or control the most outlets of propaganda - will be heard clearly and nearly incessantly, while the vast majority of American citizens become voiceless and, by extension, hopeless.
Open, free, and easy-access media, in all their permutations, Are a requisite of The American Dream, part and parcel of a government by and for the People.
6. The American Dream Does Not revolve around promoting your pet causes - whatever they are and however worthy you believe them to be - as the only ones that matter.
Concentrating on a narrow or too-partisan agenda tends to create rancor, while splintering the citizenry into groups working apart, instead of attempting to come together and reach consensus for the good of all, which Is the crux of The American Dream.
7. The American Dream Is Not looking at Life - or our Nation - as a game, computerized or otherwise, in which one "plays" to win the most points - or power - or dollars - one can, while everyone else is viewed as a competitor or an outright enemy, who needs to be vanquished, punished, and eventually obliterated.
America Is a venture - and an adventure - in which we are all on the same Dream Team. That which benefits Any of us should also benefit All of us. And the same rules which are allowed to apply to Any of us should likewise apply to All.
8. Similarly, The American Dream Is Not and Has Never Been a struggle for "survival of the fittest."
As Humans - and specifically, as Humans in America - we should strive to overcome the "law of the jungle" and our "animal nature." Democracy - and Democracies - evolved to minimize the civic ill-effects of Rule by an Elite, on the one hand, and Rule by an (anarchic) Crowd, on the other.
9. By extension, no one who believes in The American Dream, should strive to please and cajole and finagle their way into a powerful Elite, which we hope and pray will somehow "take care of us." The American Dream Is Not a dream of cringing servitude.
In contrast, The American Dream Is the dream of individualism and self-worth and self-reliance, which no powerful and pervasive Elite should ever be permitted to take away from you or me or any other American citizen.
10. Perhaps most important of all, The American Dream Forbids looking at any of one's fellow Americans as "The Other" - the strange, the unwanted, the discarded, the Them who are not Us.
We should be vigilant to stress that All Americans are US, as we are All U.S.
Read about and consider joining with us in the Bring Back the Meritocracy! project, a non-profit, non-monetized, non-partisan, and non-controversial long-term project helping the "Highly-Educated But Under-Employed" in the U.S. and abroad:
Friday, January 23, 2015
by Dr. Ellen Brandt
In previous articles, we've talked about how recent attacks on Meritocracy are also attacks on our top-tier universities and on the concept of higher education per se.
They are also, we believe, thinly-veiled attacks on the at-risk and beleaguered Baby Boomer generation, individuals now in their 50s and 60s, as well as being aimed at the general concept and practice of Political Centrism, throughout the modern developed democracies, but particularly within the United States.
The former hypothesis is clear and fairly easy to understand: At this stage of their collective lives, the "prime years" of the 50s and 60s, today's Boomers represent every one of the key Meritocratic qualities - education, experience, and hard work, plus the long-term application of their inherent talent and intelligence.
We will take up the important topic of Meritocracy and the Baby Boomers in the next blog in this series.
The relationship of Meritocracy to Political Centrism, its practice, and its tenets, particularly in the U.S. and other modern democracies, may be a bit harder to grasp. But we think it is equally important.
As we discussed in an earlier piece (see Meritocracy Has Eleven Letters, Not Four http://destituteivyleaguer.blogspot.com/2014/05/meritocracy-has-eleven-letters-not-four.html ), "Thug-ocracies" of any kind - ruling groups which wish to preserve and increase the greatest economic inequality possible - generally seek to do so by pitting various constituent populations against one another: sex against sex, race against race, ethnic group against ethnic group, religion against religion, or sometimes region against region or profession against profession.
This basic tactic has been widely practiced by all historical "Thug-ocracies," whether they are based within monarchies, feudal states, tribal states, or even within modern democracies like our own.
Thug-ocracies incite constituent populations to dislike, distrust, and want to "get the better of" one another. They're persuaded to fight to the finish like gladiators in an arena - or pit bulls in a dogfight - for whatever meager crumbs of the economic pie the ruling Thugs decide to grant them.
In the process, all these "little people" are meant to lose sight of the Big Picture: who is really taking the lion's share of our collective economic resources. And somewhat amazingly - in our own country, in our highly-developed world, in our modern era and our wonderful, advanced Utopian democracies - it's becoming a larger and larger lion's share by the minute.
Does my prose appear a tad too purple? Perhaps. But it paints a fairly accurate picture of what has been going on for the past 25 or 30 years in the United States and the rest of the developed economies.
In an era in which, because of modern inventions and advancements in everything from transportation to energy to agriculture, one might expect that income inequality would be going the way of the dodo, it has, instead, been increasing at the quickest pace since the Great Depression of the 1930s . . . in fact, the statisticians tell us, at an even more rapid pace than in that last great worldwide economic cataclysm.
If some, particularly within the United States, still don't quite understand what's been happening, I believe that's due to two major stabilizing factors which have masked the reality - although both these sources of stability are now becoming unglued, as it were - and rapidly.
The first stabilizing factor has been the safety net of entitlements for the poor, needy, and aged, put into place in the wake of the Great Depression and subsequent decades and meant to provide a means of basic survival for the "least among us." It was sincerely hoped, however, that this group would become smaller and smaller, as virtually every American moved up into the vast, bourgeois "middle class," which was supposed to include pretty much all of us.
Well, I think we all know what's been happening on this front. Entitlements - which most Americans don't want to depend upon in the first place, since we stubbornly retain our "rugged individualism" in the face of every assault - are being stretched to the limit, as more and more people - educated, hard-working, experienced, and deserving people - have been knocked out of the "middle class," generally through no fault of their own.
Which brings us to the second "masking" factor, a mask that's been brutally ripped off during the various economic dislocations of the past few decades: The individuals and groups who have been most badly hurt by the tumultuous economic events of the past 30 years are those who used to be called "the Silent Majority," groups and individuals who are prone to cope with economic distress, not by turning outwards and ranting, raging, rioting, or forming political splinter groups - but rather by turning inwards, becoming mute and despondent, or attempting to cope in small and personal ways, by struggling to remake themselves, change careers, form new businesses, or otherwise act in as self-reliant a fashion as possible.
On the one hand, this is a positive development, because we haven't - yet - been prone to major socially disruptive events, unlike previous periods of "Bad Times," including the 1930s Great Depression.
In these previous periods, those hurt the most tended to be those who felt left out of the American Social Contract - blue-collar factory workers, people with less formal education, youth, minority groups, and recent immigrants.
Because these population groups already felt "left out," they were not afraid nor ashamed to speak out loudly and agitate publically about their plight. Their problems and concerns were not "masked" - a good thing, from their points of view - because their airing of them was very visible.
In contrast, those hurt the most in the various economic dislocations of the past few decades - outsourcing, downsizing, middle management shrinkage, housing crises, market crashes, and the evisceration of both manufacturing and Main Street small business - have strongly tended to be older and better-educated than the average American. They've been managers, professionals, and small business people. They've been homeowners and investors. They've been people who have had the most to lose - and, indeed, have lost it.
Such people, those who were born into or later came to be comfortably ensconced within the "middle class" - which, again, in a truly successful democratic and bourgeois society, should be pretty much everyone - have been, up to now at least, anything but vociferous about their current plight and strangely inactive as political agitators, even in the most minor sense.
Perhaps it's because this They who are We - what I like to call "the Rest of U.S." - are still too cowed, too ashamed, too shell-shocked that this could have happened to us, our families, our neighbors, our communities. Perhaps we're afraid that if we come out into the open and say how much we're hurting, the Thugs will be encouraged to do even worse to us.
Or maybe it's the opposite - our stubborn and tenacious American optimism, that "rugged individualism" and self-reliance telling us that however bad things are, we have the inner strength to overcome our difficulties quietly and on our own. Somehow, some way, we will receive that part of the our birthright the "Rest of U.S." most cherish: the Great American Second Chance.
For whatever reason, the recent big asset grab of our current Thug-ocracy - straight from the American bourgeoisie into the invisible coffers of the Dark Pools of Capital - has been met with far less vociferous opposition and protest than most - maybe all - previous attempts to subvert our modern, secure "middle class" democracy.
I believe the influence of the Internet culture and its preeminent role in consolidating Media into fewer and fewer - and more and more brutish - hands has been one important and largely unrecognized factor in stifling the Vox Populi. We have talked about this issue in the past, and we'll talk much more about it in the future.
But right now, we want readers to begin to recognize the correspondence between attacks on Meritocracy, a core value of American life and democracy, and attacks on the Political Center, to which the vast majority of Americans still gravitate.
Vocal fringe groups - many of them, however disguised, actually representing the interests and the will of whatever Thug-ocracy is in charge - tend to disparage the Political Center and Political Centrism as being insufficiently "pure," the political province of mongrels, the hoi polloi, the "ordinary" people who don't know what's good for them, as We - whatever fringe group is talking - do know.
But the "Rest of U.S.," who neither kowtow to nor are enchanted with a "protecting" and know-it-all Anointed Elite, understand that most Americans are naturally attracted to the Center because it is the Center - the middle-of-the-road economically, socially, and culturally, as well as politically.
Americans think of the Political Center as the democratic agora, where issues are debated and discussed as long as they have to be debated and discussed; where divergent views can somehow be reconciled; and where we can do our political and philosophical "horse-trading," up to the point when we miraculously reach consensus.
The Political Center, in a modern, bourgeois democracy, also represents the proverbial "melting pot," the Big Tent, Main Street, and the essential Social Contract, which binds all Americans as Americans (or Frenchmen as Frenchmen, Brazilians as Brazilians, Indians as Indians), no matter who each of us is as an individual.
The Political Center will - because it is supposed to - strongly tend towards cooperation and opportunity and fairness, which in turn will naturally promote greater income equality, not inequality, within whatever the populace decides is an appropriate range of incomes and national asset sharing.
This is, in fact, what the American Dream is all about - what used to make this country a beacon of hope to newer and rawer democracies, just breaking free from the shackles of whatever Thug-ocracy used to hold them:
No one will be very poor. No one will be very rich. Everyone will be proudly - indeed, triumphantly - "middle class," because it represents the golden political mean. We are "all in this together." And our national Social Contract will protect us and keep us safe, happy, and free from want.
I hasten to add that this historical vision of the American Dream - which so many other modern democracies have eagerly preempted as their own National Dreams - is both Conservative and Progressive in absolutely equal measure.
It's Conservative in the sense that it wishes to conserve and preserve our national characteristics and collective national values, which are the values of the melting pot, of the Big Tent, of equality of opportunity in every sense of the word, and above all, of that national Social Contract, which presumes that we are united in this worthy venture which is American life, and that our primary allegiance must be our allegiance to America itself, not to any of its constituent groups.
Equally, the American Dream is Progressive, in the sense that we are all committed to seeking the Greater Good, a Greater Good that has sought to encompass more and more citizens and more opportunities for every citizen, as our understanding of a good society evolves. Again, there is a central quality of sharing, of decency, of humanity in this overriding meaning of what it is to be an American - what it means to live in a modern democratic society.
In a very real sense, the essence of the American Dream is Meritocracy.
Americans cannot - will not - be divided and judged upon artificial criteria imposed by a powerful Thug-ocracy composed of The Few. They cannot - will not - be judged more worthy or less worthy on the basis of gender or race or religion or ethnicity or region or profession - and certainly not on the basis of how much money they have, which is the overriding anti-"value" our current Thug-ocracy is trying to impose.
What is left, apart from these artificial criteria, which the vast majority of Americans do not wish to see imposed as a basis for judgment or preference of any kind, are the core Meritocratic values of education, experience, hard work, applied intelligence, and applied creativity and talent.
Applying this core Meritocratic value system has served us well throughout our history, as more and more people have been allowed to strive for the American Dream and the good life that all of us seek.
It is no coincidence, therefore, that recent attacks on the concept of Meritocracy have coincided with unfortunate - indeed, repugnant - attempts to increase, rather than decrease, inequality - in our economy, in our markets, in our media, in our very culture and national identity.
Nor is it any accident that those who propagandize against Meritocracy tend to be the same people who rant against the Political Center.
They tend to say things like "our way is the only right way." Or "our view is pure, and yours is not pure." Or "we know what is best for you."
Some of these people proclaim that they are Progressive - but they are not. Some claim that they are Conservative - but they are not. Because to be truly Progressive or truly Conservative, one has to have a faith in the collective ability of the American people to discuss and debate and dicker and "horse trade," until some sort of workable consensus is reached.
And that also implies having an essential human and humane respect for one's fellow citizens, seeing them as part of Us - of U.S. - not part of "The Other."
Dividing the citizenry artificially - by sex or religion or race or ethnicity or economic status - doesn't allow us to see our fellow Americans as part of Us - of U.S.
But the Meritocratic criteria, the Meritocratic values, are ones we can all attain, all strive for, all respect within one another.
Meritocracy is an essential component of the American Dream, as is the constant search for a Political Center. And recreating the great Political Center and the worthwhile American Dream both depend on preserving and re-enshrining Meritocracy and Meritocratic values.
The next blog in this series will explore the role of the immense and now badly beleaguered Baby Boomer generation in the battle to preserve Meritocratic values in the U.S. and other modern democracies.
We will also explain how "saving" the Boomers - preventing the world's current over one billion Boomers from falling off an economic cliff - needs to become every generation's priority task right now, if a potential catastrophic economic disaster is to be averted.
Read about and consider joining with us in the Bring Back the Meritocracy! project, a non-profit, non-monetized, non-partisan, and non-controversial long-term project helping the "Highly-Educated But Under-Employed" in the U.S. and abroad: