It’s all quite surreal at times. Orwellian. It may be best to avoid the papers.
From the two most prominent runners for US President, we could perceive that “anyone can be President – even one of these two”. You may understand where this kind of argument comes from. The fact that Trump and Clinton are the forerunners for the Oval Office is surely a perversion of the concept of American freedom? Hasn’t this concept become stretched and twisted and distorted? It is surely positive that anyone can campaign to be President, but these two, making it all the way through that great American democratic system? Surely this is a sick joke taken too far? Is this an absurd level of democracy? Too much democracy? Are we to blame, or is it the stupid half of the country? America, the land where anyone can be President – it’s the American Dream, right? And it is reality for Clinton and Trump, in front of us now, in its fantastical magnitude.
Conversely, this so-called race between Clinton and Trump is an example of how unlikely it is for anyone to become President, let alone be able to campaign for election.
Poor people, ordinary working people, and even moderates who fight for the needs of ordinary people may find it nigh impossible to campaign effectively for Presidency. Even the mildly left-wing Bernie Sanders was swimming against the much stronger establishment current; With all that has happened to the US and its economy in the past few years, the establishment still had no appetite for Sanders. Of course, millions of people actively supported Sanders in a movement not seen in the US in recent history, but the lives of those activists and supporters, their needs, ideas and voices are of little concern, and the media did not air them.
The central point here is that although anyone can run for President, the main discriminating factors are not intelligence, truth, ethics; They are wealth, power, and ruthlessness, with a dedication and loyalty only to people and institutions who share these traits and the system which encourages it. Anyone who does even slightly differently, like Sanders, is instinctively expelled by the system itself.
Alas, Sanders was betrayed by his own party whose interests are always corporate, and thus, were choking politically and financially on the very moderate policies Sanders espoused. He should have known – others did. Sanders was as bad for the Democratic Party as Trump was for the Republican Party, even if it was for opposite beliefs. Better, then, for the media to portray him as a crazed radical (or,at least, misguided, during kinder moments) who may have had good intentions, but was not the sensible choice. Ordinary Sanders voters were not coaxed though. Unlike Sanders in his defeat, his movement of followers remain convinced that Clinton is not a genuine alternative. Her being the lesser-evil to Trump is not a point the many newly politically mobilised people find endearing . They can think for themselves – now more politically sophisticated and experienced than ever. And they’re talking to each other and convincing each other. Many thousands of them actually transferred their allegiance from the Democratic Party to Jil Stein and her Green Party.
The resultant argument and movement against voting for the “lesser evil” is the most pervasive I have yet witnessed from the US, and it may not merely be because of visibility on social media (though social media likely helps); In 2008 social media was awash with support for Obama, including from my naive self – there was very little talk then of a third alternative to combat capitalistic trends; Now, social media is awash with confusion and enlightenment in equal quantities firing off in every direction. This (like everything) is of course potentially very good and bad, and contains the ingredients for social effusion; Disillusion; Revolution; Reaction. Let’s wait and… no. Let’s discuss, and read, and write, and protest, and see.
If we were to generalise the American middle class, we could say that it behaves in a way such as a spoilt teenager might, who causes their parents grief because they do not get their own way all of the time. The fact that global warming is a major concern for the whole planet, or that poverty and inequality increase as a result of current and past American economic policy, shouldn’t get in the way of a middle-class American’s pursuit of wealth, or, indeed, of their delusion of being able to become wealthy. And utlimately, that’s what it all is, delusion. Any scientific findings that contradict their illogical perceptions and dreams, are to be ruthlessly fought and suppressed.
“Socialism never took root in America because the poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat, but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires”.
That quote may have been erroneously attributed to Steinbeck, but there is nonetheless an element of truth to it. Its truth increases if you replace “poor” with “middle-class”. Some of the American petit-bourgeoisie sure do “love that smell of the emissions”, as Sarah Palin once so bluntly put it. “Adolescent America” is now personified through awful Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton – their vacuous bickering, throughout what is supposed to be the highest forum for debate in the US, the Presidential Elections – is starting to look like the last great tantrum of the bourgeois baby boomers. The politics of American capitalism has certainly reached its crisis.
Credit must be paid, though, to the American working class, who have fought as tirelessly and as determinedly as any working class around the world. They backed Bernie Sanders, and fought for him against all the odds, and although Sanders capitulated to Clinton in the end, that hasn’t caused the core of the American working-class (educated and energised as it is) to capitulate to the promises of Clinton nor the rhetoric of Trump.
A thought terrifies me. There is a person standing in front of me, and I’m desperate to make him understand. I’m vulnerable, and I am dependent on his mercy. He doesn’t know me, and his attitude and actions towards me are compelled by a system, by society, by his own preconceptions, or a mixture of the above. I don’t want to cause harm, I just want to live quietly and get along like everybody else. Whether I can or not, is up to him.
It is awful to think that people can become so anonymous to each other. Ordinary individuals, with all of their aspirations, can care so little for other individuals in our everyday environment. Through various forces, otherwise decent, ordinary people have been led to believe that vulnerable people are the problem, and not the powerful few who egg us on.
It can happen to any of us, that we suddenly find ourselves at the mercy of others due to circumstances beyond our control.
Many of us experience relatively minor forms of bureaucracy which frustrate our everyday lives; the clerks at the banks, post office, welfare office, the hospitals, insurance company workers, solicitors, politicians, HR managers, and, perhaps most often, our bosses and colleagues at work.
But what about more extreme forms? Refugees fleeing war, innocent children whose homes are bombed, homeless people searching for shelter to sleep and money for food – what happens when these innocent people come up against the “rules” of an apathetic all-powerful system perpetrated and perpetuated by us on behalf of the powerful and privileged? For the victims, these “rules” take the human form of a customs official, an airforce pilot, a police officer. Pervading bigotry among other ordinary people, encouraged by the media and the economic-political system at large, exacerbates the whole mindless situation and intensifies the horrible downward spiral.
Leo Tolstoy wrote on this subject regarding a character who was faced with the prospect of execution before firing squad:
…obsessed with a single thought, a simple question: who had condemned him to death? Who was it?
It wasn’t the men who had interrogated him at the first session; clearly none of them had wanted to, or had the authority… who was it, then, who was punishing him, killing him, taking his life… with all his memories, yearnings, hopes and ideas? Who was doing this? And [he] felt he knew the answer: no one was.
…It was some kind of system that was killing him… taking his life, taking everything away, destroying him.
‘But who is doing it? [The soldiers of the firing squad are] all suffering like me! Who is it? Who?’
I Worked Hard For It All, Without Help From Anyone.
She was working from home alone and had become slightly hungry. She thought about her options from what was available and resolved to make a ham and cheese sandwich. All the necessary ingredients were there in her cupboards and fridge – her favourite bread, cheese, style of ham, butter, sauces etc. – and so she began preparing them. Finally, when the sandwich was as she prefers a sandwich to be, she ate. She made her lunch and ate it. Following her satisfying lunch she was fuelled to do all of the other activities that she did during the day (with the aid of quite a bit of coffee). It had fuelled her to continue to work hard and get on with her life for a little longer; fuelled her towards hitting more of those targets and the rewards promised to her for her hard and important work. A step closer to that bonus, securing that commission and getting that new high-powered German luxury executive saloon. But there is a background to her sandwich which has been neglected.
A few days earlier she ordered groceries online from her local grocery store (because being a busy person, she had no time to go to the shop). Some of those groceries would become her sandwich ingredients. A woman whom she would never meet received her order and processed it. That person gave the order, in turn, to her colleague who collected the groceries as they were listed; she spent about 40 minutes gathering them in a trolley. Once they were all collected and verified, the order was arranged in bags and crates for delivery to the home of the sandwich loving lady. At the appointed time, a delivery driver – one of three on duty in the shop at that moment – would lift the crates into his van and deliver them to her home. When the customer signed for the delivery, the delivery man was the only person whom she had contact with throughout the process.
A day before the delivery, the bread, cheese, ham, butter, sauces and everything else was packaged in the facilities of the respective food companies and delivered to grocery stores all around the area. Packaging people packaged, delivery drivers delivered to shops and supermarkets. Prior to the packaging process, bakers baked the bread (with everything that that involves), cheesemakers made the cheese (with everything that that involves), butchers – and people working for meat companies – oversaw the production of the pre-packed sliced ham, and creameries and sauce factories were filled with employees doing various things to mass-produce butter and sauce.
Prior to that, the bakery company needed to order the ingredients to bake bread, the creameries needed ingredients to create cheese and butter. All the different producers needed the tools to make products from their ingredients, and they needed engineers, technicians, IT experts and mechanics to ensure the tools and machines continued to work efficiently. Prior to that, countless people did countless things to make all of this happen.
How many people does it take to make a ham and cheese sandwich?
When she considered what to eat for lunch that afternoon, the process would have been more or less the same had she decided to have a salad or a chocolate bar or anything else.
We are all connected. We are all part of something called society, doing something which contributes to one another’s lives. All of what we have is only made possible due to the work of others and this simple fact is generally ignored. The working-class, producing all of this essential stuff, receives no media coverage for their achievements and thankless drudgery, and will never experience owning that luxury executive vehicle. None of us – however hard working – has achieved anything on our own. It has been made possible by the efforts and struggles of countless humble people. They carry this out daily, invisible. The very expression of our individualism – and we are all different and unique and wonderful – is dependent on each other.
Food for thought the next time you make yourself a sandwich.
After reading three of Mr. Arthur Blair’s books in 2015 (including a selection of essays and short stories), I thought I had finished with old George for the year in order to get on with reading other works. Last week, however, I was given a loan of another collection of Orwell essays from a neighbour (after getting locked out of the house, they invited me in for a chat). I feel an obligation to now finish this book so that I can return it to its enthusiastic lender.
Included in it is an enjoyable piece about Charles Dickens and proletarian themed writing. The essay is literally called Charles Dickens. A point is made about the portrayal of working-class people in literature, which I agree with, and I thought it was worth sharing here:
[Dickens] was not… a ‘proletarian’ writer. To begin with, he does not write about the proletariat, in which he merely resembles the overwhelming majority of novelists, past and present. If you look for the working classes in fiction, and especially English fiction, all you find is a hole… a great deal has been written about criminals, derelicts… But the ordinary town proletariat, the people who make the wheels go round, have always been ignored by novelists. When they do find their way between the covers of a book, it is nearly always as objects of pity or as comic relief.
We found ourselves in the stranger’s kitchen, playing an unfamiliar game. We sat surrounding the table in the dim, the stranger sat at its head. Silver cigarette smoke, monotonous music, remnants of late-night drinks and the darkness outside contributed to the bewildering atmosphere. Innumerable pistachio shells in a bowl, no nuts left. The beer in my half-empty glass had long-since turned warm and stale, I had had my fill earlier in the evening.
“The night is just beginning!” our host declared. When would it end? The rules were vague and convoluted, we lacked a clear understanding of them – our grogginess didn’t help. However, our host knew the game well, playing it was a proud family tradition he inherited from a young age. We followed his instructions as best we could as we went along. He understood the rules so well he seemed to bend them to his will – such was his skill I suppose. In him we trusted.
Enthusiastically and energetically he led by example. Inevitably, we made novice mistakes and we were penalized as the rules dictated. I felt I had been playing forever, and yet faring no better. Rewards for the most cunning players were promised though they were rarely received, and rarely worth the effort. However, if we played our cards right, we were told, success would be forthcoming. There was plenty of opportunity for that.
The hours passed and the kitchen walls closed in. The black world beyond is mad. The table is the centre and extent of our universe. Some pistachio shells now float in my beer, flicked in through moments of bored distraction. It is very late though I am unsure of the time. My fellow participants look tired too, although they probably did not wish to admit it. I’m weary of this game.
I dare not open my mouth now lest I miss my turn – a missed opportunity – and I seem so near to gaining something at last. I could give something away – some inadvertent sign. Giving something away would be a terrible mistake at this stage. Share nothing. Guard jealously. Poker faces around the table, trusting no one. Every person playing for themselves. Just follow the stranger’s instructions.
What are the others doing? They make such devious decisions. A hateful bunch, differentiated only by how worse than each other they are. I arrived here at one time with them, though I’m not sure how. Flukey bastards.
Those two made a deal. Favouritism! They’re plotting against me. Sabotage. Those two were always the best friends. There should be rules against that kind of behaviour.
All is quiet, but for the continuing explanations of our kind host, on which we depend.
Around and around we go taking turns. There was never a chance of finishing – no one else would ever win – the enthusiastic stranger is perpetually dominant. It could have ended. A new game could be played tomorrow. Oh to sleep and wake with the light of a new morning. If only someone admitted they were tired, we would all concur and retire and dream of the prospect of a new day. But we’re so close! We’ve come so far. It’s too late to change.
Interminably we continue, single-mindedly, sobering, without relief, further into the night.
It would have been rude not to.