I was watching the Bill Maher show the other day. During the call-in segment; one caller asked Bill (and Arianna Huffington, apparently his usual guest) how they felt about the “new bailout” for the airlines. Arianna, who somehow became pro-worker between now and when she played would-be kingmaker to her conservative husband back in ’94, was essentially for stabilizing the industry by reducing the new post 9/11 security taxes. Bill was adamantly opposed to a bailout of any kind, preferring instead that market forces work their unfettered magic on the industry by weeding out the sick and the injured, in order to leave the industry stronger in the long run.
My point is: what unmitigated bullshit. The reason we have a government at all is to prevent the rail barons of the world from squashing their workers underfoot, whether they be programmers, pilots, or garbagemen. Maher (whose opinion I normally respect, or at least pay attention to) prefers to play the dispassionate Darwinian, which seems to be all the rage the last few years, and plays nicely into the hands of the powerful few. The powerful cultivate that philosophy. It allows each industry to be looked at, not as a group of people with families and needs, but as some kind of dumb mechanized vector to be straightened regardless of the human toll.
Every consumer (so by extension, every person) is a member of some big dumb vector, whether he knows it or not. And Consumerism teaches each of us to pride himself on his ability to analyze other people’s industries, and to make personal, dispassionate judgments based on those analyses. Like Bill was doing. I’ve certainly done it, and do it every time I walk into Wal-Mart to buy something for a dime less than I could’ve gotten it elsewhere. I feel bad about it, when I think of it, and I try to spread my dollars around a little. But most people don’t feel that way; most people are smug about saving a few bucks like that, and even though they know, somewhere in the back of their minds, that the reason they’re saving that money is because someone who was paid 10 dollars an hour was replaced by someone making minimum wage, they don’t care.
Those smug consumers are oblivious to the certainty that the mean eye of consumerism will be trained on their own industries eventually. Totally oblivious.
That’s where we are today, where each industry can be scrutinized and straightened in turn, to the ruin of its workers, and everyone else sagely nods while the most vituperous Darwinisms fall out of their heads.
Well, I want Bill Maher’s big, dumb vector straightened next.