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Reparations for Millennials

Photograph Source: Matt Johnson and Elizabeth Warren – CC BY 2.0

Let’s begin by wishing everyone a wry, not sardonic, 4th of July!

I’ve been waiting for Elizabeth Warren to collapse. When will people see she is an opportunist? Seriously. A Republican through the first Clinton term and a Clinton supporter just two years prior. Warren is running on Bernie Sanders’ coattails from two years prior. Let’s face it: there’s a large portion of the country hungry for left-wing politics. I am not normally one to get offended by identity politics but her claim to be Native American while sitting on her hands during Standing Rock fit with the larger picture: Warren is an opportunist. On her politics. On her race. On her life story.

This was the strength of Sanders in 2016 and one of the many reasons he is losing his luster now. Sanders never brought a personal narrative with him in 2016. He was all about the country. And it was very appealing. Warren brands herself as a working class warrior with sob stories and race-baiting but really one has to ask: where has she been? She is picking up on a few progressive issues but only widely popular ones.

She cherry picks plans on specific issues and everyone is blown away. But no one is a threat with this approach. Sanders at least says he is a socialist. He at least has the claim that he wants to turn this entire thing on its head, via a revolution, or whatever. Sanders, while measly when it counts, is out of Warren’s league, way out. The left feels betrayed by Sanders kissing Hillary’s ring but that is no reason to spite him and go to Warren—who is just another Hillary who Sanders will be chivalrous to when she hasn’t earned it.

Elizabeth Warren—a woman of below-average intelligence, above-average enthusiasm and charisma below the Sanders line. Frankly I find the amazement with her to be a little bit offensive to any serious person’s sensibilities. A woman can walk, chew gum and say Wall St. has made mistakes at the same time. It shouldn’t be that impressive.

Warren wouldn’t go near single payer, now like others, she’s in with a cheeky grin. Warren switched from being a Republican because Republicans were restricting the market in her opinion. Hence her anti-trust stuff which seems to be her only real platform. Warren’s tax plan is middle of the road. It remains incomprehensible how she is gaining momentum and even more so how the left is falling into line with someone who will not address the climate crisis and does not have a word to say about the military-industrial complex. What does that free market mentality mean for environmental regulations? What does it mean for austerity politics in Africa and elsewhere? Silence.

Rather than anoint Warren the new progressive choice over the few things she has said, why not look at what she hasn’t said? Or just believe Warren when she says she is a capitalist to her bones. Her anxiety about the future remains chiefly about the competitiveness of markets. For Warren, one can tweak a few big companies and things are fair for the little guy again. Warren dazzles with her depth but has no breadth.

The hard-core Bernie people, who may have their limits, but are at least convicted, see why Warren has been planted. It’s fairly obvious. Reading this field was fascinating. At first I thought Bernie would win because the many centrists would split the vote. Of course Bernie would have been sabotaged later on, but he at least would have clearly been the victor and fraud would have been apparent. As the field settled down to heavy hitters I then speculated more cynically it would be Kamala Harris who would split the difference between right of center Biden and left of center Sanders.

Now both predictions are looking too optimistic. Warren has been the perfect foil. What was once a three horse race between left, center and right (Sanders, Harris, Biden) now is a four horse race between left, (pandering) left, center, and right. It goes without saying that everyone in the Democratic Party, Sanders included, is on the right, but we are talking relativism here.

Planting Warren has effectively neutered the Sanders coalition and takes a few nibbles at Harris, leaving it to your favorite Uncle, Joe. Ralph Nader and Jill Stein get blamed for vote splitting but at least that wasn’t the only purpose of those respective campaigns. Both educated the American public on radicalism. Warren on the other hand is simply riding the wave of pseudo-leftism.

The mainstream media, who is normally quite hostile to politicians with vaginas let alone ones who hate billionaires, adore the hell out of Warren. Why? Yes, she says she loves capitalism. Yes she is basically a Republican in that she only talks about the rights of the consumer, never the rights of the human being. And yes she doesn’t seem to care a lick about war and peace, the environment or the poor. And yes, she does not have even the soul of a nominally inspiring candidate like Sanders. And yes, she is very trendy in the causes she picks up and their popular appeal. But the real reason why Warren gets so much love? She is eating away at the Sanders base.

One of the policies in the air right now is free college, or even the cancellation of college debt. When Barack Obama bailed out Wall St. we were supposed to believe in trickle-down economics. There needs to be no such selling point for the college relief plan. Simply because no one wants these economics to trickle down from the middle class bailout plan. The middle class is far down enough for the bases of Sanders and most hideously, Warren.

Elizabeth Warren very well could be the most dangerous figure in American politics. And that’s saying something. But this statement, while perhaps true in terms of her function, greatly overestimates the college slave generation. Why call this generation college slaves? Because while reparations for the descendants of real slaves once had some momentum we now seem more interested in providing reparations for well-to-do cultural Marxists who believe in the class and race hierarchy built into the education system.

Now this hostility to my own generation is not overblown. This generation is just as bad as the ones before it, and will be just as bad as the ones after it. I find it to be bigoted to hate any generation, at any time. Therefore I say every generation is awful, there is no reason to compete. I just think millennials are overrated. From knowing many of them I could certainly say there are just as many loathsome people now as there ever has been.

Millennials get heaped with praise such as “the most diverse” generation. Which seems odd. What is this based on? Does anyone know? Is it things like the fascist idea that one day America will be one race because the races are breeding now so we just wait until everyone is a golden shade of brown and then there will be no more fighting? Seriously, the eugenics behind diversity narratives are frightening. Everyone is beautiful. Now this diverse generation could be a gender reference too. Which there always has been people on the gender spectrum. And I would argue that in some ways the modern gender movement is actually a conservative reaction against feminism, but that remains a controversial opinion.

Also millennials. Everyone seems very impressed that millennials are for socialism. Again, overhyped. Politics are a natural consequence of class and class warfare. A rich person is for capitalism, whether they know it or not. A poor person is for socialism, whether they know it or not. If you want your material condition bettered, you choose the ideology that helps you. Hence, millennial socialism is college debt relief and rent control (good things, but you get the point).

The allegiance to Marx here is cultural, not material. And that can be applied generally, and specifically to ideology too. And Marx is not at his best culturally, he is at his best in terms of the material. Dr. Cornel West, one of the last preachers of love as a material condition, has called Marx a romantic thinker, which is true, but seems to be forgotten in many of the elitist interpretations of Marx that has been used for right-wing momentum by the likes of Jordan Peterson, among others.

Marx is read by every class, whether to explain their own world or someone else’s. The issue here is the shift from Marx’s pure definition of class relations which was very crude in the original text. Now there is an academic reading that seems to gain its momentum much in the same way modern art does. When discussing Marx, or art these days, we do not ask about the fundamental human condition that originally the artist may have been speaking to, but rather to the intellectual weight of such an argument, which is always culturally biased, and quite ironically, culturally discriminatory precisely because of its emphasis on cultural displacement of things that are fundamentally human, even when fundamentally conflicting within the human race. Now that conflict was the central thesis of Marx: class warfare.

Which is actually the opposite of what is going on in academia now, which is why I would rather give the reparations to child care, or black families, or some other group that is not bankrupt in its thinking. Warren’s childcare policy is her strongest card and just for that, I’d support her over someone like Beto. Without it, she’s not much.

What is happening in academia? Actually, it’s all about qualifying. Which is the bankruptcy of the post-modernity movement. Intentionally planted, mind you. To sabotage Marxism. And it actually has nothing in common with Marxism except for its intended descendants who would likely qualify Marx before even modifying him. Now this may in some ways have some intellectual value, it certainly is not close to Trump’s reductive fascism argument. But it doesn’t have much utility. It is toothless because it always has to apologize for itself. This is the point of such an argument. To remain aloof and irrelevant at the same time. Which actually makes some sense as joint goals but doesn’t have much to do with Marx.

Academia is collapsing on itself. It is becoming increasingly expensive and utopian while society is becoming the opposite. It is more and more distant from what is real and one has to wonder if we really need to save it before we save society. The curriculum is turning to pseudoscience and abandoning hard material realities. In times of serious consequence, academia becomes increasingly trivial.

Take this reality of highly expensive utopian theorizing with the war on public schools. Public schools are going the opposite way. The poor and brown are not allowed to have an imagination. And that is from a young age. Teach to the standard test. Or you lose funding. And these tests are more a test for the parents: 1. are you rich enough for a tutor. 2. are you under the propaganda spell of academia enough to be feeding your kid this bullshit before they can decide for themselves. I mean a good parent who does all they can and have not corrupted their lives with capital can’t afford any of this nor do they have the time to think of it. Nor are they such a weirdo about their kids. Just let them live. That’s before we get into the criminalization and militarization of schools that have made these places highly combative environments for both teachers and students.

I am thinking of the contrast between safe spaces in college and the public schools with police for 5-year-olds. So you have two different things going on here. On the one hand, you make education more and more expensive to keep some people out. On the other hand, you make education more and more expensive to keep rich people believing in it. And now that it has clearly ballooned past its worth, we’re going to bail it out?

A good school is great. Teachers are wonderful people. Especially daycare and pre-k. On a technical level, they do so much more for our society than any other profession. But how do these things function, with teachers are underpaid as they are? Mostly as societal and class control. For rich kids, school is supposed to be interesting and soul-enriching, exactly so we believe in it and never question our class condition precisely because it is beneficial to us. And not just financially beneficial. School really does provide an opportunity for soul enrichment, when done right. But that’s the point. Learn enough so you can think about anything other than class.

And public school is nothing to take for granted. Look at the world. Look at world history. Public school, in any form, is a blessing. However, it does hold a purpose for the poor too. And as the rich gain power, the purpose is actualized. The point really is to break up the family, community and culture of the underclass through making school a place where one goes to get tested for society, only to be humiliated, told you don’t belong, which makes the path away from the expensive and alienating cultural apparatus known as college seem natural, rather than pre-determined.

Gender is a factor here, worth considering. As women have gained more rights in the United States it is now we see affirmative action for men going to college. And this is predictable (well the affirmative action for men is, but I more mean that women have overtaken men the minute they were given a chance). And this works into the theory that men, despite many other claims of superiority, have always relied solely on the difference in physical strength to control women, with all over “civilized” forms holding no weight. And in this system, where men use violence instead of brains to succeed in society. Well, it can’t be overcome overnight. So absolutely men are going to be more stupid than women until women get equal rights.

So to dismiss college is a little bit silly in this way. It is a better test of human worth than war, which seems to be the alternative. Yet one has to wonder if the nature of education where the educators are underpaid and the students are overcharged while the administrators rip off the top is actually just an extension of the home structure with child as student, woman as teacher, and man as administrator. So does this mean we should value our schools more, both for the sake of civilization and primarily female labor?

Yes, of course. But this may be a very different thing from valuing college more. By all means, more money for inner city schools. But college feels like it exasperates, and even worse, obscures class difference. The wage difference before and after college is a slight gaslighting technique used to shame the uneducated. Still, it is a factor. The grander success of academia may be that it fills up one’s head with theories about life that are not about class. Which is fine, good actually. What we all should have. Yet that is sort of the point. That if there is any worth in the college degree then it should be abolished immediately precisely because it is so inaccessible.

This is a point I have thinking a lot about lately with all the population talks. If something is only valuable to one person, how valuable is it? Something for the masses, even if not to the highest heights, is far more worthwhile. The liberal arts experience, while certainly enriching for the individual learner, is really a cleansing experience, like the suburbs, or the private fitness class, or what have you.

One still may give one up for this infamous generation because hey, it’s poorer than the one before. Though here one has to wonder if anyone who went to college and now is broke is necessarily advocating for socialism or more if it is what is called cultural Marxism, a movement that has intellectual and emotional weight but lacks spiritual and material weight.

The term cultural Marxist may be met with some contempt but please take no offense. It’s a celebration of Marx to criticize cultural Marxism. It’s like hating Televangelists, as a religious person. Keeping the substance and history alive in the face of mass appropriation.

The point is that if one has to choose between reparations for black Americans or reparations for millennials the choice is obvious Black people deserve reparations more. It’s not even a conversation. Now Wall St. has enough money to do both but perhaps neither is as radical as it appears. Rather we should shift the control over the means of production in order to change not only the material conditions of class but the role of class relations in production of capital. It is here though that we find even Marx to not even be radical enough. For isn’t it true that anyone who owns the means of production will turn corrupt and begin to value material possessions over people?

Marx—the greatest critic of materialism has seen so-called Marxist governments fall into this trap simply because their societies were still organized around capital and who controls it. We now have such a surplus in work that programs like a universal basic income and a 20 hour work week would be realistic in a different political system.

In this way the idealized utopias of college and educational spaces in general shine as a stark contrast to the capital centered spaces that millennials now find ourselves in. Regardless, when one looks at the cost of colleges how could one say that they aren’t spaces centered in capital? The contradictions of cultural Marxism, explained. So, one would think, making these spaces free would switch this dynamic.

Actually, it’s exactly the opposite. It would be another example of the American political system siding with its cultural elite and leaving the underclass in segregated disarray. Primed to be incarcerated for many generations to come.

So in short. Sanders and his group of millennial cast-offs may be leading an avocado toast revolution but I am sad to see it crumble to a biophobiac like Elizabeth Warren. On the bright side, something more robust may rise in its place. Hopefully, lessons about playing nice with the “progressive” establishment have been learned. The most we can ask from older generations is that they teach us something that we can use in order to make our lives more worthwhile. In that regard, Bernie has taught us enough, not just for a day, but a lifetime.

Bernie’s lessons in good, bad and ugly form. The good: socialism is a beautiful word and when we place it at the center we unite a broad range of people in community and action. The bad: trusting one’s capitalist and imperialist colleagues will only undermine your more idealistic goals. The ugly: perhaps the demise of such ideals is predictable unless the center of one’s compass is, in fact, the very underclass whose interests will not be ideological or intellectual socialism, but necessary and material socialism.

This last point is why Trump still has a very good chance to win. The intellectual movement for socialism right now remains very much on the Scandinavian model of winning over the cookie cutter middle class. Chomsky calls this class the educated 20% who need to believe propaganda in order for society to function as it does. It not only lacks the vibrancy of America’s working class, its aims are in fact to silence the legitimate rumblings of an abused populace by taking care of its intellectual class.

On its own merits, this movement has a limited moral high ground. But it also remains deeply flawed in defeating Trump who has channeled much of the resentment aimed at the culturally Marxist but materially capitalist upper class. One has to wonder with the rapid expansion of technology and the hollowing out of education by the ruling class if there can be a populist intellectual movement that fails to cut to the gut. Just kidding, I have come to see the terror around technology as more paranoia about the raw honesty and desperation of the abused and downtrodden. There never has been a mass movement that does not come to the gut. And that is not because people are stupid. And no, people aren’t stupid now because of Facebook or whatever, either. People are always smart, generations are always flawed, and there is no need to generalize so much about everybody in search of some grand master narrative about this downfall of civilization.

Note that for both the left and the right that this supposed 21st century stupidity revolution comes from the poor. The left has some specific causal damages to explain this (mostly technology, some economics). But it’s all the same bullshit. One can look at any point in time and claim that everyone was stupid. No, the truth is that everyone is struggling and life is hard and there is no time and people are smart enough to figure out that if a political movement isn’t real then it’s not worth the time because frankly for people living close to the edge love will always be first, in the myriad, sometimes cruel, ways it is expressed.

When one’s life is immediate and defined by immediate material needs the reactions to certain stimuli will naturally be more extreme. Trump works so well because he does stimulate a response that matches the urgency of the time. If Bernie somehow beats the establishment triad of Biden-Harris-Warren then we should do all we can to help him defeat Trump. Bernie is a fundamentally honest figure, and worthy of some admiration. He does lack the proper desperation of a revolutionary struggle precisely because of his identification with middle class ideals and values.

This, however, will not get it done. Like Trump, we must cut to the gut. Rather than access our darkest and most fearful tendencies, we must turn to our light and loving tendencies. I don’t see light as natural or inevitable, nor do I see dark that way. Both are responses to material conditions of the time, and humans are certainly capable of both. It does seem clear though that both are base and if someone can deliver one, they will likely seize the hour.

Trump then is like Martin Luther King Jr. (don’t quote me). MLK captured the spirit of the country with his message of love. It cut to the gut and is still remembered. It infected the American psyche, or perhaps the other way around. Seriously, has any figure been more prominent culturally since MLK besides Trump? Ronald Reagan (Warren’s guru) still may be the worst President ever but Trump is MLK-like in his cultural capital. MLK did not prove that humans love. Nor does Trump prove that humans hate. As King said: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

Similarly, appeals to middle class nostalgia and norms only gets one so far in the fight against hate. Rather we must engage in the soulful tradition of love in its most material and absolute form. Being like the phantom Ms.Warren and finding single issues to drive home can only capture a moment, and maybe push forward a career. Bernie was closer in his principled stands against the billionaire class precisely because he centered his response on moral and, at his best emotive grounds. Now everyone seems to be distracted by Trump the signifier (orange man) rather than Trump the sign (hate, anxiety and humiliation).

None have been quite close enough to that truly spiritual game Mr. Trump is playing. It is no coincidence he has captured the souls of the religious right in his convictions of doom and destiny in times of strife and chaos. Let us truly get to the heart of Mr. Trump’s message and offer an alternative response. The 1% have only given us two options as they squeeze the world to its last drop: respond with love that is desperately radical or hate that is desperately regressive. The Democrats’ lack of desperation, in the face of Trump’s caravan of terror stories, is a tad bit of relief. It remains, quite sadly, deeply out of touch with the horrors their donors inflict on this country.

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Nick Pemberton writes and works from Saint Paul, Minnesota. He loves to receive feedback at pemberton.nick@gmail.com 

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