Tag Archives: politics

Laurie Penny on hair: Why patriarchy fears the scissors – for women, short hair is a political statement

Natalie Portman with a shaved head. Photo: Getty

“The “manosphere” really hates short-haired girls. On “game” forums and in personal dating manifestos, the wickedness of short-haired women pops up time and time again as theme and warning – stay away from girls who’ve had their hair chopped off. They’re crazy, they’re deliberately destroying their femininity to “punish” men, but the last laugh will be on them, because the bitches will die alone. Yes, there are people who really believe this. In 2014.

This week, a writer going by the handle Tuthmosis put out a short article explaining why “Girls With Short Hair are Damaged”. The piece has now received over 200,000 interactions on Facebook, so I’m not going to link to it again here. If you scrape through the layers of trolling, though, Tuthmosis’ logical basis for declaring short-haired women “damaged” is pretty interesting.

He writes that long hair is “almost universally attractive to men, when they’re actually speaking honestly. . . Women instinctively know this, which is why every American girl who cuts, and keeps, her hair short often does it for ulterior reasons . . . Short hair is a political statement. And, invariably, a girl who has gone through with a short cut – and is pleased with the changes in her reception – is damaged in some significant way. Short hair is a near-guarantee that a girl will be more abrasive, more masculine, and more deranged.”

The essential argument is: men like long hair, and what sane woman would ever want to do anything that decreases her capacity to please men?

The advantage of articles like this, pantomimic though they be, is that they make misogyny legible. There was a time when feminists had to do that all by ourselves, but now we don’t have to point out the underlying assumptions of a lot of the bullshit we deal with every day, because there are people on the internet doing it for us.

So I’m almost grateful to Tuthmosis for writing this particular piece of recreational sexist linkbait. I thought I’d never have an even passably good reason to write about how little things like short hair change the way patriarchy responds to you.

I’ve had short hair for most of my adult life. I keep it short partly because it suits me, partly because long hair is a whole lot of bother, but mostly because I don’t have a choice – my natural hair is limp and rubbish and doesn’t grow far past my shoulders without turning into witchy rat-tails. I’ve had a lot of fun with my boy-short crop. I’ve had it shaved, buzzed, dyed, undyed, a long pixie with a fringe, a half-head “Skrillesque’”, and I’m currently rocking what the blog Autostraddle calls ALH (“alternative lifestyle hair”), with a style somewhere between “Human League” and “Androgynous Emo Frontman from 2005”.  Of course, there are problems. To be frank, my hair is a great deal gayer than I am, and sometimes accidentally cashes cheques that my heart and loins don’t deliver, to the extent that I’ve considered letting my hair go out out to Candy Bar to play all by itself. It’s fabulous enough to pull it off. Anyway.

The author, with short hair.

I’ve experimented with growing the crop out twice, encouraged both times by men I was dating. It seemed like the thing to do to make myself more pleasing to potential boyfriends, potential bosses, and other people with potential power over my personal happiness. Both times, it looked awful. It took a lot of effort and a surprising amount of money to maintain, and it still looked awful, and I didn’t feel like myself. Growing it past my chin took determination, because every day I’d look in the mirror and want to take the razor to it right then and there.

And yet, the amount of male attention I got – from friendly flirting to unwanted hassle – increased enormously. Not because I looked better, but because I looked like I was trying to look more like a girl. Because I was performing femme. Every time I cut it off, I noticed immediately that the amount of street harassment I received, from cat-calls to whispered sexual slurs to gropes and grabs on public transport, dropped to a fraction of what it had been – apart from total strangers coming up to tell me how much prettier I’d be if I only grew it out.  People have done this when I’ve been quietly working on my laptop in cafes,  because I really need to be interrupted in the middle of a deadline to be told I need to work harder on my girl game.

Among the plus points for short hair is that makes it easier to read my book on the bus in peace. I mention this because there are clearly some men who rarely or never consider what it’s like for a person to negotiate femininity in the real world. There are plenty of reasons why a ‘sane’ woman might choose not to play up her ‘fertility signifiers’ every chance she gets, and not just because she’s got better things to do with her time.

My little sister has had the opposite experience. She has naturally long, thick, glossy chestnut waves, but recently she experienced a severe shock, and it started to fall out in clumps, which wasn’t something I thought actually happened in real life. It was a hugely distressing experience for her, and I went with her to get it cut into something more manageable while she waits for it to grow back.

When I talked to her about this piece, she told me she really wasn’t expecting the loss of her hair to affect her as much as it did – nor was she expecting the number of unsolicited comments from male friends telling her she never should never have cut it off, not knowing she had a medical condition.

For all that the “manosphere” bangs on about evolutionary psychology and the effect of such attributes as long, luscious locks as natural signs of “fertility”, what’s really noticeable is that that to get hair of any length to look like it does in catalogues and on catwalks takes work. It takes energy and money and attention. Especially if yours is naturally wild, or frizzy, or afro. It takes creams and serums and tongs and irons and spray and mousse and a deft, time-consuming blow-dry technique to get your hair to look like Kate Middleton’s, and that’s the point. The point is to look like the performance of femininity matters enough to you that you’re prepared to work at it. I know a good few women who do all this every day and nonetheless manage to hold down jobs, raise families and write books, and I remain impressed, but I’ve never had that sort of patience.

Still, none of the women I know with long, pretty hair is anything like the “ideal woman” who’s spoken of in breathless terms on Men’s Rights Activism sites, Pickup Artist forums and in great canonical works of literature written and revered by men, because none of them are fictional. The “ideal woman”,  who wakes up looking like an underwear model, who is satisfied with her role as housewife and helpmeet but remains passionate enough to hold a man’s interest, who looks “bangable” but never actually bangs, because that would make her a slut, is almost entirely fictional. She exists mainly as a standard against which every real women can be held and found wanting. She exists to justify some men’s incoherent rage at being denied the ideal woman they were promised as a reward for being the hero of their own story. Tuthmosis’ stories about how short-haired women have frightened and disappointed him are oddly amusing: he describes how one “once came over to my house, texted with one hand, while she jerked me off with the other”.

If the story is true, you have to admire that sort of manual dexterity. Nonetheless, it seems to get at the crux of the problem that non-fictional women seem to present for a certain kind of man: we just aren’t paying enough attention to their boners.

Tuthmosis is right, for all the wrong reasons. Wearing your hair short, or making any other personal life choice that works against the imperative to be as conventionally attractive and appealing to patriarchy as possible, is a political statement. And the threat that if we don’t behave, if we don’t play the game, we will end up alone and unloved is still a strategy of control. When I talk to young women about their fears and ambitions, it’s one of the main things they ask me about.

Short cuts: Jennifer Lawrence and Lupita Nyong’o.

The idea that women might not place pleasing men at the centre of our politics, consciously or unconsciously, makes a lot of people uncomfortable. Sometimes it makes them angry. I am regularly asked whether I think that feminism ought to be “rebranded” in order to threaten men less, because anything a woman does, even attempt to chip away at a massive, slow-gringing superstructure of sexism, must appeal to men first, or it is meaningless.

If making your life mean more than pleasing men is “deranged”, it’s not just short-haired girls who are crazy.

An infinite number of trolls with an infinite number of typewriters will occasionally produce truths, and on this point, yes, Tuthmosis is right. Chopping your hair off is “a political statement”. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve made bigger ones in my life. But choosing to behave consciously as if the sexual attention and comfort of men is not my top priority has made more of a difference to how my life has turned out than I ever imagined. And that sort of choice still worries a great many women and girls, who learn from an early age to fear what Roosh V, well-known pick-up-artist and Tuthmosis’ editor, warns all “sick women” seeking to “punish” men by cutting their hair: “being lonely and having to settle for a brood of cats is not a good life for a woman, but that’s what will happen if you keep your hair short.”

If I were really to stoop to the level of the original piece, I’d have to reassure readers that from personal experience, this sort of warning is there to be ignored. My own “game” hasn’t suffered at all from having short hair, and it’s a really good way of filtering out the douchecanoes. Neo-misogynists tend not to want to sleep with me, date me or wife me up however I wear my hair, because after five minutes of conversation it tends to transpire that I’m precisely the sort of mouthy, ambitious, slutty feminist banshee who haunts their nightmares, but if I keep my hair short we tend to waste less of each other’s time. If you’ve a ladyboner for sexist schmuckweasels, short hair isn’t going to help, although they might let you administer a disappointing hand-job.

But if you want to meet men as equals, if you want to fill your life with amazing men and boys as lovers, as life-partners, as friends and colleagues who treat women and girls as human beings rather than a walking assemblage of “signs of fertility” – believe me, they are out there – then I wouldn’t start by changing your hair. I’d start by changing your politics, and surrounding yourself with people who want to change theirs, too.”

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“I think a lot of people don’t understand that when we talk about these issues—blackface, rape jokes, the appropriation of marginalized cultures, and so on—we are having an ethical conversation, not a legal one. There is no thought police. No one’s coming to your house and carting you off to Insensitivity Prison. But you, as a person living on this planet, get to make a choice whether you want to hurt people or help people. Whether you want to listen or shut people out. I can’t imagine why you’d choose “defensive shithead” over “nice lady capable of empathy,” but okey dokey.”

Oklahoma Governor’s Daughter Enrages Native American Protestors 

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Ex-governor tries to live on a minimum wage budget — and fails

Ex-governor tries to live on a minimum wage budget — and fails

“I had $77 to spend on food, transportation, activities and other personal expenses for the week,” the Ohio Democrat and current president of the Center for American Progress Action Fund wrote in Politico magazine. “I didn’t make it.”

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How liberalism became an intolerant dogma

How liberalism became an intolerant dogma

 

My reaction to this article is multifaceted: on the one hand, I am glad that Damon Linker made these points, and on the other hand, I would like to argue against some of the implications and assumptions he makes.

To start with, I would like to clarify the difference between liberalism and libertarianism. Linker conflates the two concepts, and, while they are similarly related, they are not altogether identical.

According to wikipedia:

Liberalism (from the Latin liberalis) is a political philosophy or worldview founded on the idea of liberty and equality. Liberals espouse a wide array of views depending on their understanding of these principles, but generally they support ideas such as free and fair elections, civil rights, freedom of the press, freedom of religion, free trade, and a right to life, liberty, and property.

while

Libertarianism is the group of political philosophies which advocate minimizing coercion and emphasize freedom, liberty, and voluntary association. Libertarians generally advocate a society with significantly less government compared to most present day societies.

These definitions suggest that liberalism has a stronger focus on equality, while libertarianism is more strongly focused on small government. My take is that liberalism is more willing to explore the options for achieving equality, whereas libertarianism is staunchly wedded to the idea that small government will produce equality. It’s arguably impossible to know which camp is “right.”

The problem that I have is Linker (who is directly influenced by Mark Lilla’s essay) conflates the two concepts without fully examining the differences.

He is correct, however, in identifying that the libertarian concept can be aptly applied to both sides of our bipartisan political systems:

“…Libertarianism in this sense fuels the American right’s anti-government furies, but it also animates the left’s push for same-sex marriage — and has prepared the way for its stunningly rapid acceptance — in countries throughout the West…”

Linker then goes on to say:

“…What makes libertarianism a dogma is the inability or unwillingness of those who espouse it to accept that some people might choose, for morally legitimate reasons, to dissent from it. On a range of issues, liberals seem not only increasingly incapable of comprehending how or why someone would affirm a more traditional vision of the human good, but inclined to relegate dissenters to the category of moral monsters who deserve to be excommunicated from civilized life — and sometimes coerced into compliance by the government…”

Now, I don’t know much about those who espouse libertarianism. I’ve only had the chance to talk in depth politics with one self-assigned libertarian and so my knowledge of the matter is limited. However, I have a much deeper understanding of liberalism as I was raised in a liberal household, have liberal friends, and generally support “liberal causes.”

And, yes, I would say that I have witnessed a trend of liberals who “seem not only increasingly incapable of comprehending how or why someone would affirm a more traditional vision of the human good, but inclined to relegate dissenters to the category of moral monsters who deserve to be excommunicated from civilized life.” I experienced this type of liberal primarily when I was attending college and they, more often than not, came in the form of well-meaning feminists who wanted so badly for women to be “liberated from the oppressive regime of Western society” that they would criticize any and all who remotely participated in seemingly “oppressive” actions, thoughts, and social roles. For example, I was “looked down on” for wearing makeup and shaving my legs.

And, yes, I can see that that kind of liberal is in the public eye right now thanks to the media and high-profile liberal groups who, although fundamentally well-meaning, insist on casting blame instead of focusing on shared hardships (see my previous blog post “The Day I Became a Men’s Rights Activist” for further examples).

However, that loud-voiced minority does not accurately represent all liberals as a whole. And it is always unfair to utilize synecdoche when describing any group of human individuals.

Linker acknowledges this point without actually realizing it when he says:

“…The latter tendency shows how, paradoxically, the rise of libertarian dogma can have the practical effect of increasing government power and expanding its scope…”

This is where Linker’s previous mistaken conflation of libertarianism and liberalism comes into play. Again, I don’t know as much about libertarians as I do liberals, but if they were interchangeable they would not have different guiding principles.

He then brings in some examples of “liberalism’s dogmatism… in recent months”:

  • “Brendan Eich resigned as the chief executive of Mozilla, a company he helped found, after gay rights activists launched a boycott against the company for placing him in a senior position. Eich’s sin? More than five years earlier, he donated $1,000 to the campaign for California’s Proposition 8, which sought to ban same-sex marriage in the state. It didn’t matter that he’d explicitly assured employees that he would treat them fairly, regardless of their sexual orientation. What mattered was that Eich (like the 7 million people who voted in favor of Prop 8) had made himself a heretic by coming down on the wrong side of an issue on which error had now become impermissible.
  • Liberals indulged in a wildly overwrought reaction to the Supreme Court’s decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, with seasoned journalists likening the plaintiffs to the Pakistani Taliban, and countless others taking to social media to denounce a government-sanctioned theocratic assault on women’s health — all because some women working for corporations that are “closely held” by religiously conservative owners might have to pay out of pocket for certain forms of freely available contraception (as, one presumes, they currently do for toothpaste). Apparently many liberals, including the Senate Democrats who seem poised to gut the decision, consider it self-evident that these women face a far greater burden than the conservative owners, who would be forced by the government to violate their religious beliefs. One highly intelligent commentator, inadvertently confessing his incapacity to think beyond the confines of liberal dogma, described the religious objection as “trivial” and “so abstract and attenuated it’s hard to even explain what it is.”
  • Beyond the Beltway, related expressions of liberal dogmatism have led a Harvard undergraduate to suggest that academic freedom shouldn’t apply to the handful of conservatives on campus — because their views foster and justify “oppression.” In a like-minded column in The Chronicle of Higher Education, a professor of English at the University of Pennsylvania argued that religious colleges should be denied accreditation — because accrediting them “confers legitimacy on institutions that systematically undermine the most fundamental purposes of higher education,” one of which is to pursue “skeptical and unfettered” (read: dogmatically liberal and secular) inquiry…”

His portrayal of these events is arguably myopic and one-sided. Linker presents each event in an overly-simplistic way that distorts the reasons behind them.

First, Brendan Eich was only CEO of Mozilla for two weeks. Yes, he was one of the co-founders of Mozilla, but the original revelation of his donation was back in 2012. It only became an issue recently because he was promoted to CEO. According to the New Yorker:

“…While Eich attempted to defuse the problem with conciliatory blog posts and interviews about diversity and inclusiveness, he didn’t actually say that his views on gay marriage had changed. That, inevitably, provoked a uprising within the Mozilla community: a public petition was circulated demanding that he step down, the dating site OkCupid recommended that its customers stop using Firefox, and some Mozilla employees (though far from all of them) called for his resignation…

 

The problem was that Eich’s stance was unacceptable in Silicon Valley, a region of the business world where social liberalism is close to a universal ideology. At this point, a tech company having a C.E.O. who opposes gay marriage is not all that different from a company in 1973 having a C.E.O. who donated money to fight interracial marriage: even if there were plenty of Americans who felt the same way at the time, the C.E.O. would still have been on the wrong side of history. And since the role of a C.E.O. as a public face of an organization is more important than ever these days, Eich’s personal views were inevitably going to shape his ability to run the company.

 

That’s especially true because of the unusual nature of Mozilla. Mozilla is not like most companies. It’s a wholly-owned subsidiary of the nonprofit Mozilla Foundation, and is just one part of the broader Mozilla community, which includes thousands of open-source software developers and other volunteers around the world. These people still do much of the work behind Mozilla’s products—contributing code, technical support, design improvements, and so on. This means that Mozilla depends on the goodwill of its supporters more than most corporations do; it relies on their willingness to donate their services in pursuit of the broader Mozilla project, which is all about keeping the Web transparent and accessible. If it alienates them, Mozilla’s entire mission will be at risk…”

Furthermore, board members at Mozilla didn’t even want to have Eich as CEO in the first place. They had wanted “an outside CEO, presumably to shake up the organization”:

“…Three of the company’s six board members actually resigned before Eich was appointed… Eich himself told VentureBeat that the board had interviewed twenty-five candidates before settling on him; he even wondered aloud why they didn’t pick Jay Sullivan, who was the other internal candidate for the position…”

In other words, Eich’s resignation was much more multi-faceted than Linker implies.

Linker’s second bullet point is even more blatantly sensationalized, as obvious in just the first seven words:

“Liberals indulged in a wildly overwrought reaction…”

“Indulged”? “Wildly”? “Overwrought”? Really, Linker? That’s how you present a balanced report on recent events?

“…all because some women working for corporations that are “closely held” by religiously conservative owners might have to pay out of pocket for certain forms of freely available contraception (as, one presumes, they currently do for toothpaste)…”

Now that’s a new low, your biases are showing Linker.

Hobby Lobby stated from the beginning that it isn’t against all forms of birth control, just certain ones such as Plan B, Ella, and intrauterine devices. Hobby Lobby does provide insurance coverage for 16 other forms of birth control, including pills that prevent ovulation. They object to these certain forms of birth control because they are supposedly “abortion-causing,” which is “against their religious principles.”

These contraceptive options in fact do not cause abortion, they merely prevent the attachment of a potentially fertilized egg to the uterine wall. Some intrauterine devices don’t even regulate or administer hormones. Their science behind the decision is blatantly wrong, regardless of what their actual argument is.

Yes, those forms of contraception are “freely available” but they are also highly expensive if you don’t have insurance to help cover the cost. I personally have an IUD and it cost me $300 out of pocket, it would have cost me $800 if I hadn’t had health insurance to help. That is significantly more than “toothpaste.”

For Linker’s third bullet point, I would agree that it is unfair to deny accreditation to religious colleges. But, again, that is one individual liberal that Linker is using to characterize the entirety of liberals. Synecdoche, much?

However I should give him some credit since he does acknowledge this:

“…But wait, some will object: You can’t reduce contemporary American liberalism to the illiberal outbursts of loudmouthed activists, intemperate journalists, foolish undergraduates, and reckless Ivy League professors!

 

To which the proper response is: True!..”

He goes on to say:

“…Still, I wonder: Where have been all the outraged liberals taking a stand against these and many other examples of dogmatism — and doing so in the name of liberalism? I’ve been doing that in my own writing. And I’ve appreciated the occasional expressions of modest support from a handful of liberal readers. But what about the rest of you?..”

I have to admit I agree with the sentiment, but the way Linker phrases it stinks a bit like egotistic intellectual masturbation: “I see it, why don’t you see it?”

Linker then goes on to offer an explanation for why, in the first place, we find ourselves “in a world dominated by libertarian dogma.” He says that,

“…From the dawn of the modern age, religious thinkers have warned that, strictly speaking, secular politics is impossible — that without the transcendent foundation of Judeo-Christian monotheism to limit the political sphere, ostensibly secular citizens would begin to invest political ideas and ideologies with transcendent, theological meaning.

 

Put somewhat differently: Human beings will be religious one way or another. Either they will be religious about religious things, or they will be religious about political things.

 

With traditional faith in rapid retreat over the past decade, liberals have begun to grow increasingly religious about their own liberalism, which they are treating as a comprehensive view of reality and the human good…”

I would first like to point out that Linker uses the phrase “religious thinkers” to mean “Western society’s religious thinkers.” Not all religious thinkers follow “Judeo-Christian monotheism.” That aside, his use of the word “religious” is a bit ambiguous. Religious can mean a variety of things, according to dictionary.com:

re·li·gious

adjective

1. of, pertaining to, or concerned with religiona religious holiday.
2. imbued with or exhibiting religionpious; devout; godly: areligious man.
3. scrupulously faithful; conscientious: religious care.
4. pertaining to or connected with a monastic or religious order.
5. appropriate to religion or to sacred rites or observances.
 

More often than not, most arguments, opinions, and statements boil down to semantics and it’s very difficult to fully and accurately understand or convey meaning in today’s rapidly evolving language environments.

The phrase “religious thinkers” is obviously referring to thinkers associated with specific, established, recognized religions. And, if we are to extend that meaning to his later statement that “human beings will be religious one way or another,” then we are to understand that he really means that “human beings will be associated with a specific religion one way or another.” However, I don’t think that’s what he wants to say.

Thus, the phrase “either they will be religious about religious things, or they will be religious about political things” is inherently contradictory: he is changing the meaning of “religious” from one sentence to another. He then extends this new meaning to the next paragraph to make his point.

Thus, I have to admit that I have little understanding of what he means by, “liberals have begun to grow increasingly religious about their own liberalism, which they are treating as a comprehensive view of reality and the human good.” And, consequently, I don’t understand what he means by,

“…But liberalism’s leading theoreticians (Locke, Montesquieu, Jefferson, Madison, Tocqueville, Mill) never intended it to serve as a comprehensive view of reality and the human good. On the contrary, liberalism was supposed to act as a narrowly political strategy for living peacefully in a world of inexorably clashing comprehensive views of reality and the human good…”

Wouldn’t a “narrowly political strategy” be one aspect of “a comprehensive view of reality and the human good”? I don’t know. 

Linker concludes by saying that “the proper response to the distinctive dogmatism of our time is to urge liberals to return to their tolerant roots.” However, I would instead urge them to logically and thoroughly follow their liberal ideals which would then result in a “return to their tolerant roots”. I’m disputing Linker’s method, not end goal.

More often than not, people don’t follow the logic structures of their arguments and opinions to their logical conclusions. This plagues liberals, libertarians, and conservatives alike. They get so caught up in advocating for “what they believe in” that they often don’t examine why they believe what they believe and what further implications come along with that. 

Take the minimum wage debate as an example: If you are against the minimum wage raise, you are hurting your own prospects as well as the prospects of others. If wages were raised, money would be pumped into the economy making life better for EVERYONE. Just look at the states that have raised the minimum wage this year, they’re seeing higher employment growth than the states that didn’t. A recent article on Salon.com is a perfect example of this: “I was poor, but a GOP die-hard: How I finally left the politics of shame“.

Overall, I think Linker has a great message to send to the masses. However, I think he could have thought a little bit more about his delivery and wording to make his meaning clearer and could have made an effort to not sound biased. But that doesn’t mean his article should not be read and shared and discussed.

Even if you agree with someone’s overall point does not mean you should not critically examine what they say.

 

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“I viewed my bad investment as yet another moral failure.”

That’s the problem with the GOP and conservatives and anyone who views “bad circumstances” as “moral failures.” This article perfectly outlines the poor logical reasoning behind many right-leaning and/or conservative outlooks. It just doesn’t make sense.

More often than not, by pushing for the viewpoints that the GOP advocates for, you are hurting yourself as well as others. He says it himself: “Yet I blamed all of my considerable problems on the government, the only institution that was actively working to alleviate my suffering. I railed against government spending (i.e., raising my own salary). At the same time, the earned income tax credit was the only way I could balance my budget at the end of the year… I felt my own poverty was a moral failure. To support my feelings of inadequacy, every move I made only pushed me deeper into poverty.”

By pushing against the minimum wage raise, for example, you are hurting your own prospects as well as the prospects of others. If wages were raised, money would be pumped into the economy making life better for EVERYONE. Just look at the states that have raised the minimum wage this year, they’re seeing higher employment growth than the states that didn’t.

 

 

I was poor, but a GOP die-hard: How I finally left the politics of shame

BY 

“I was a 20-year-old college dropout with no more than $100 in the bank the day my son was born in 1994.  I’d been in the Coast Guard just over six months. Joining the service was my solution to a lot of problems, not the least of which was being married to a pregnant, 19-year-old fellow dropout.  We were poor, and my overwhelming response to poverty was a profound shame that drove me into the arms of the people least willing to help — conservatives.

Just before our first baby arrived, my wife and I walked into the social services office near the base where I was stationed in rural North Carolina. “You qualify for WIC and food stamps,” the middle-aged woman said.  I don’t know whether she disapproved of us or if all social services workers in the South oozed an understated unpleasantness.  We took the Women, Infants, Children vouchers for free peanut butter, cheese and baby formula and got into the food stamp line.

Looking around, I saw no other young servicemen.  Coming from the white working class, I’d always been taught that food stamps were for the “others” — failures, drug addicts or immigrants, maybe — not for real Americans like me.  I could not bear the stigma, so we walked out before our number was called.

Even though we didn’t take the food stamps, we lived in the warm embrace of the federal government with subsidized housing and utilities, courtesy of Uncle Sam.  Yet I blamed all of my considerable problems on the government, the only institution that was actively working to alleviate my suffering. I railed against government spending (i.e., raising my own salary).  At the same time, the earned income tax credit was the only way I could balance my budget at the end of the year.

I felt my own poverty was a moral failure.  To support my feelings of inadequacy, every move I made only pushed me deeper into poverty.  I bought a car and got screwed on the financing.  The credit I could get, I overused and was overpriced to start with.  My wife couldn’t get or keep a job, and we could not afford reliable day care in any case.  I was naive, broke and uneducated but still felt entitled to a middle-class existence.

If you had taken WIC and the EITC away from me, my son would still have eaten, but my life would have been much more miserable.  Without government help, I would have had to borrow money from my family more often.  I borrowed money from my parents less than a handful of times, but I remember every single instance with a burning shame.  To ask for money was to admit defeat, to be a de facto loser.

To make up for my own failures, I voted to give rich people tax cuts, because somewhere deep inside, I knew they were better than me.  They earned it.  My support for conservative politics was atonement for the original sin of being white trash.

In my second tour of duty, I grew in rank and my circumstances improved.  I voted for George W. Bush.  I sent his campaign money, even though I had little to spare. During the Bush v. Gore recount, I grabbed a sign and walked the streets of San Francisco to protest, carrying my toddler on my shoulders.  I got emotional, thinking of “freedom.”

Sometime after he took office, I watched Bush speak at an event.  He talked of tax cuts.  “It’s the people’s money,” he said.  By then I was making even better money, but I didn’t care about tax cuts for myself.  I was still paying little if any income tax, but I believed in “fairness.” The “death tax” (aka the estate tax) was unfair and rich people paid more taxes so they should get more of a tax break.  I ignored my own personal struggles when I made political decisions.

By the financial meltdown of 2008, I was out of the military and living in Reno, Nevada —  a state hard hit by the downturn.  I voted libertarian that election year, even though the utter failure of the free market was obvious.  The financial crisis proved that rich people are no better than me, and in fact, are often inferior to average people.  They crash companies, loot pensions and destroy banks, and when they hit a snag, they scream to be rescued by government largess.  By contrast, I continued to pay my oversize mortgage for years, even as my home lost more than half its value.  I viewed my bad investment as yet another moral failure.  When it comes to voting and investing, rich people make calculated decisions, while regular people make “emotional” and “moral” ones.  Despite growing self-awareness, I pushed away reality for another election cycle.

In 2010, I couldn’t support my own Tea Party candidate for Senate because Sharron Angle was an obvious lunatic.  I instead sent money to the Rand Paul campaign.  Immediately the Tea Party-led Congress pushed drastic cuts in government spending that prolonged the economic pain.  The jobs crisis in my own city was exacerbated by the needless gutting of government employment.  The people who crashed the economy — bankers and business people — screamed about government spending and exploited Tea Party outrage to get their own taxes lowered.  Just months after the Tea Party victory, I realized my mistake, but I could only watch as the people I supported inflicted massive, unnecessary pain on the economy through government shutdowns, spending cuts and gleeful cruelty.

I finally “got it.”  In 2012, I shunned my self-destructive voting habits and supported Obama. I only wished there were a major party more liberal than the Democrats for whom I could vote.  Even as I saw the folly of my own lifelong voting record, many of my friends and family moved further into the Tea Party embrace, even as conservative policies made their lives worse.

I have a close friend on permanent disability.  He votes reliably for the most extreme conservative in every election.  Although he’s a Nevadan, he lives just across the border in California, because that progressive state provides better social safety nets for its disabled. He always votes for the person most likely to slash the program he depends on daily for his own survival.  It’s like clinging to the end of a thin rope and voting for the rope-cutting razor party.

The people who most support the Republicans and the Tea Party carry a secret burden.  Many know that they are one medical emergency or broken down car away from ruin, and they blame the government.  They vote against their own interests, often hurting themselves in concrete ways, in a vain attempt to deal with their own, misguided shame about being poor.  They believe “freedom” is the answer, even though they live a form of wage indenture in a rigged system.

I didn’t become a liberal until I was nearly 40. By the time I came around, I was an educated professional, married to another professional.  We’re “making it,” whatever that means these days.  I gladly pay taxes now, but this attitude is also rooted in self-interest.  I have relatives who are poor, and without government services, I might have to support them.  We can all go back to living in clans, like cavemen, or we can build institutions and programs that help people who need it.  It seems like a great bargain to me.

I’m angry at my younger self, not for being poor, but for supporting politicians who would have kept me poor if they were able.  Despite my personal attempts to destroy the safety net, those benefits helped me.  I earned a bachelor’s degree for free courtesy of a federal program, and after my military service I used the GI Bill to get two graduate degrees, all while making ends meet with the earned income tax credit.  The GI Bill not only helped me, it also created much of the American middle class after World War II.  Conservatives often crow about “supporting the military,” but imagine how much better America would be if the government used just 10 percent of the military budget to pay for universal higher education, rather than saddling 20-year-olds with mortgage-like debt.

Government often fails because the moneyed interests don’t want it to succeed.  They hate government and most especially activist government (aka government that does something useful).  Their hatred for government is really disdain for Americans, except as consumers or underpaid labor.

Sadly, it took me years — decades — to see the illogic of supporting people who disdain me.  But I’m a super-slow learner.  I wish I could take the poorest, struggling conservatives and shake them.  I would scream that their circumstances or failures or joblessness are not all their fault.  They should wise up and vote themselves a break.  Rich people vote their self-interest in every single election.  Why don’t poor people?”

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New App Lets You Boycott Koch Brothers, Monsanto And More By Scanning Your Shopping Cart

New App Lets You Boycott Koch Brothers, Monsanto And More By Scanning Your Shopping Cart

Pure genius!

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MOANING MOGULS

“The past few years have been very good to Stephen Schwarzman, the chairman and C.E.O. of the Blackstone Group, the giant private-equity firm. His industry, which relies on borrowed money, has benefitted from low interest rates, and the stock-market boom has given his firm great opportunities to cash out investments. Schwarzman is now worth more than ten billion dollars. You wouldn’t think he’d have much to complain about. But, to hear him tell it, he’s beset by a meddlesome, tax-happy government and a whiny, envious populace. He recently grumbled that the U.S. middle class has taken to “blaming wealthy people” for its problems. Previously, he has said that it might be good to raise income taxes on the poor so they had “skin in the game,” and that proposals to repeal the carried-interest tax loophole—from which he personally benefits—were akin to the German invasion of Poland.

Schwarzman isn’t alone. In the past year, the venture capitalist Tom Perkins and Kenneth Langone, the co-founder of Home Depot, both compared populist attacks on the wealthy to the Nazis’ attacks on the Jews. All three eventually apologized, but the basic sentiment is surprisingly common. Although the Obama years have been boom times for America’s super-rich—recent work by the economists Emmanuel Saez and Thomas Piketty showed that ninety-five per cent of income gains in the first three years of the recovery went to the top one per cent—a lot of them believe that they’re a persecuted minority. As Mark Mizruchi, a sociologist at the University of Michigan and the author of a book called “The Fracturing of the American Corporate Elite,” told me, “These guys think, We’re the job creators, we keep the markets running, and yet the public doesn’t like us. How can that be?” Business leaders were upset at the criticism that followed the financial crisis and, for many of them, it’s an article of faith that people succeed or fail because that’s what they deserve. Schwarzman recently said that Americans “always like to blame somebody other than themselves for a failure.” If you believe that net worth is a reflection of merit, then any attempt to curb inequality looks unfair.

That’s not how it’s always been. A century ago, industrial magnates played a central role in the Progressive movement, working with unions, supporting workmen’s compensation laws and laws against child labor, and often pushing for more government regulation. This wasn’t altruism; as a classic analysis by the historian James Weinstein showed, the reforms were intended to co-opt public pressure and avert more radical measures. Still, they materially improved the lives of ordinary workers. And they sprang from a pragmatic belief that the robustness of capitalism as a whole depended on wide distribution of the fruits of the system.

Similar attitudes prevailed in the postwar era, as Mizruchi has documented. Corporate leaders formed an organization called the Committee for Economic Development, which played a central role in the forging of postwar consensus politics, accepting strong unions, bigger government, and the rise of the welfare state. “At the very top, corporate leaders were much more moderate and pragmatic, and, because that’s where national politics were, they were very influential,” Mizruchi said. Corporations supported policies that might have been costly in the short term in order to strengthen the system as a whole. The C.E.D. called for tax increases to pay for the Korean War and it supported some of L.B.J.’s Great Society. As Mizruchi put it, “They believed that in order to maintain their privileges, they had to insure that ordinary Americans were having their needs met.”

That all changed beginning in the seventies, when the business community, wrestling with shrinking profits and tougher foreign competition, lurched to the right. Today, there are no centrist business organizations with any real political clout, and the only business lobbies that matter in Washington are those pushing an agenda of lower taxes and less regulation. Corporate profits and C.E.O. salaries have in recent years reached record levels, but there’s no sign of a return to the corporate statesmanship of the past (the occasional outlier like Warren Buffett notwithstanding). And that’s one big reason that it’s become impossible for Washington to get things done, even on issues of bipartisan interest.

If today’s corporate kvetchers are more concerned with the state of their egos than with the state of the nation, it’s in part because their own fortunes aren’t tied to those of the nation the way they once were. In the postwar years, American companies depended largely on American consumers. Globalization has changed that—foreign sales account for almost half the revenue of the S&P 500—as has the rise of financial services (where the most important clients are the wealthy and other corporations). The well-being of the American middle class just doesn’t matter as much to companies’ bottom lines. And there’s another change. Early in the past century, there was a true socialist movement in the United States, and in the postwar years the Soviet Union seemed to offer the possibility of a meaningful alternative to capitalism. Small wonder that the tycoons of those days were so eager to channel populist agitation into reform. Today, by contrast, corporate chieftains have little to fear, other than mildly higher taxes and the complaints of people who have read Thomas Piketty. Moguls complain about their feelings because that’s all anyone can really threaten. 

ILLUSTRATION: CHRISTOPH NIEMANN”

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