Friday, June 13, 2008


Evolution and Politics

Around 1950 (I just use that date as a half-century mark, but it is when I graduated from MIT so it is more or less when my life got serious) the establishment instinctively reacted to the then-present stage of the Industrial Revolution and started to keep the rest of the lower-middle-class from being upwardly mobile. Since the 1500s there had been layers of the lower middle class that had become part of the establishment by getting money through new technology: traders & Bankers, colonial planters and respource exploiters, industrialists after the Civil War and bureaucrats after the World Wars. The bureaucratic class (managers and engineers) became a population by virtue of the Post-World-War-II G.I. Bill, which changed a generation of young white men from industrial workers to bureaucrats.

These new bureaucrats demonstrated their upward mobility by copying the style of their superiors, i.e., by demonstrating their ability to waste resources by conspicuous consumption.

There aren't enough resources to allow the global population to waste resources the way American and European bureaucrats do, so the next layer sceduled for upward mobility (white women and people of color) had to be repressed by glass ceilings. The reaction to this repression was expressed politically in the feminist and civil rights movements so that in only 50 years it was possible for a woman and a person of color to compete for the Democratic Party candidacy for President of the United States.

This was not quite as revolutionary as it seemed. The Democrats in the 1930s were a Farmer-Labor party and even now are not the party of the establishment. The woman candidate symbolically wore trousers and acted as "one of the boys" and the person of color was half white and brought up as white, and his father was African and not African-American (i.e., his ancestors had not been enslaved) so that neither candidate was completely excluded from the male, white establishment. But from the standpoint of the non-establishment internal proletariat there was a crack in the glass ceiling that was wide enough to let a little air in.

Interestingly enough the situation created the best possible circumstance for the establishment in that the candidates representing women and people of color spent much of their energy battling each other: a classic example of the tactic of "divide and conquer". The battle started early enough, however, to serve to toughen the candidates rather than weaken them.

It seems likely that the remaining candidates, Barak Obama representing the internal proletariat and John McCain representing the establishment, are such as to allow the next president to be a person of color. This opening of the establishment to include persons of color may actually take some support away from the insurgent Islamic and Bolivarian groups representing the external proletariat. There is just the faint possibility that this will delay the Decline and Fall of Western Civilization that would normally have been expected to mark the division between the Post-Neolithic and Post-Industrial phases of our evolution, and allow that transition to be less traumatic. That seems to be too much even to hope for, but hope does not require much of a fingerhold.

Sunday, June 08, 2008


Pete Seeger

I had a nostalgic afternoon today--PBS did a begging stint around the "American Masters" program about Pete Seeger. You can read about it at:

I first got to hear him on Senior's Day in my high school. My economics teacher figured out that the best way to keep us under control was to bring in a record player and some records. They included "Talking Union" by the Almanac Singers, started by Seeger and Woodie Guthrie. He lifted the pickup on one record, so I had to buy a copy to hear what it was. You can download the songs, and some others, at"

That collection includes some of the anti-war songs from before Hitler attacked the Soviet Union, and the pro-war songs from after, before Seeger left the CPUSA.

When I was in graduate school Seeger gave a series of "Evening Classes" in the continuing studies program at Columbia; where I got a chance to sit in the front row.
Years later, when I was working at Stony Brook, they stopped by for a concert while bringing their Hudson River Sloop from Maine to the Hudson. Since several of the crew were friends of ours many of them stopped by our house; but not Pete.

But the program allowed me to reminisce about more people than Pete and it was interesting to see those old folkies who are still alive. And to hear songs that we haven't heard for a while.

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