Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Conservatism is a Constant

I was recently rereading The Road to Wigan Pier, George Orwell's book about poverty. It suggested to me that conservatism really has not changed much since he wrote it in 1937. (Of course, I suppose that is appropriate for conservatism.) He was writing about England in the depths of the Great Depression and their class system is still more rigid than ours is today, but the attitudes are still comparable:
Every middle-class person has a dormant class-prejudice which needs only a small thing to arouse it; and if he is over forty he probably has a firm conviction that his own class has been sacrificed to the class below. Suggest to the average unthinking person of gentle birth who is struggling to keep up appearances on four or five hundred [pounds] a year that he is a member of an exploiting parasite class, and he will think you are mad. In perfect sincerity he will point out to you a dozen ways in which he is worse-off than a working man. In his eyes the workers are not a submerged race of slaves, they are a sinister flood creeping upwards to engulf himself and his friends and his family and to sweep all culture and all decency out of existence. 
The notion that the poor have got it good is not gone. The idea is routinely lampooned in Ruben Bowling's "Tom the Dancing Bug" comic. He has a reoccurring character that he renders in a 1930s funny animal strip style called Lucky Ducky, "The Poor Little Duck Who's Rich In Luck." Despite his poverty, Lucky seems to turn every calamity to his advantage - or so thinks the infuriated millionaire Hollingsworth Hound who sees the system as rigged against the rich. Bowling created the strip in response to a 2002 Wall Street Journal editorial about those "lucky duckies" who are too poor to pay taxes.

But this reactionary fantasy is not just limited to the topic of economic inequality. This attitude can be seen in many absurd arguments conservatives make. Think of every straight, Christian, white man who imagines he is persecuted because he can no longer persecute. There are whites who think that affirmative action is "reverse discrimination." Men's Rights Activists (MRAs) claim we live in a matriarchy today. Kim Davis' supporters think that legalizing gay marriage will result in death camps for Christians. The list goes on.

On the same page, George Orwell added:
The notion that the working class have been absurdly pampered, hopelessly demoralized by doles, old age pensions, free education, etc., is still widely held; it has merely been a little shaken, perhaps, by the recent recognition that unemployment does exist. For quantities of middle-class people, probably for a large majority of those over fifty, the typical working man still rides to the Labour Exchange on a motor-bike and keeps coal in his bath-tub: 'And, if you'll believe it, my dear, they actually get married on the dole!'(emphasis original)
The only difference is, today in America, they say that welfare is breaking up families. But both then and now, conservatives claim that welfare encourages the poor to make more babies. Of course, if the poor use birth control or have abortions, conservatives complain about that too.

But, either way, they think it is easy living.

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