Gratitude

William S.L. Jewett "The First Thanksgiving Dinner" wood engraving for Harper's Weekly, 1868, via The Clark Museum. The first federal Thanksgiving, that is, proclaimed by President Lincoln in fall 1863 to express the Union's gratitude for the victory at Gettysburg, which is perhaps what Father is focused on while the children tuck in.

Happy 400th Thanksgiving! Though I guess it's understood that the first one wasn't, technically, a thanksgiving. That is, they must have held one after that 1621 harvest, but in church, praying all day, not feasting, and not inviting the heathen savages in, and that's not what we're historically informed about. The feast, actually three days of feasting, undoubtedly took place too, as Edward Winslow wrote in a letter to a London connection, George Morton (sent with the ship that brought their first harvest of "Indian corn" and barley for sale on the English market, because they'd done much better, with Squanto's help, than just being able to feed themselves), 

Our harvest being collected our governor sent four men fowling together so we might rejoice together in a more special way after we had gathered the fruit of our labors. In just one day the hunters killed as much fowl as if their hunting party had been larger. The fowl fed the company almost a week at which time, among other recreations, we drilled with our fire arms. Many of the Indians joined us including Massasoit, the greatest king, and some ninety of his men. We all entertained and feasted together for three days. The Indians went out and killed five deer which they brought to the plantation and bestowed on our governor, the captain, and others. And although it is not always as plentiful as it was at that time, yet by the goodness of God we are so far from want that we often wish you could partake of our plenty.

There's a connection between thankfulness ceremonies, I think, and Puritan predestinationism, the religion of those Plymouth brethren who arrived in Massachusetts on the Mayflower in 1620, the idea that our lives and afterlives are chosen for us before we're even born, through the randomly apportioned Grace of God, so that if some of us are rewarded with eternal life in Heaven in the choir invisible and others doomed to eternal punishment below, it's not because of a choice we've made but a choice that has been made for us. And it's the the same for any prosperity we may enjoy in this life, prosperity being the "outward sign of inward Grace"; you can't really say you "earned" it, though you can say you deserve it—after all, the decision was God's, you're one of the Elect.

So when we go through a Christian thanksgiving ceremony, as so many of us did at the table yesterday, making the ritual statement of what we're particularly thankful for in our current lives, family and health and so on, I feel we're sneakily saying that we really are better than the less fortunate, not because we've worked so hard actually, but because God picked us (we are better than others, in fact, but that's because God decided we would be in advance). Which effectively says we do deserve our good fortune after all, which makes me a little bit mad. Which makes it disturbing for me to say I'm thankful—I'm so grateful my kids aren't in jail or single parents and I'm so grateful I'm going to get to retire some day, as these things are going to be denied to other people, because God decided they shouldn't have them. Really?

At the same time I have no interest in not having a good time with those privileges I can't really do anything about (that's to suggest I can do something about white privilege, though it's little enough, if only by agitating and pontificating and voting). I can't feel it's right to insist on suffering because some people suffer, the way poor Simone Weil did, eventually starving to death to protest the existence of hunger. But it's not so much gratitude I feel (to whom?) as a horror of waste. The world is so full of a number of things! How would it be wrong to enjoy such family and friends and health as we happen to have, and pie, you know, and crispy fall weather, and happy football to all those who observe it? How would skipping it help anybody?

It occurs to me, speaking of 1621, that conservatives who protest against the "1619" thesis, that the nation was founded the year the first enslaved Africans reached our shores, are pulling a head fake pointing at 1776—the year the Continental Congress declared independence from King and Parliament with the observation that all men are created equal, with an inherent right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness of all things (Jefferson, as I've said before, amending John Locke's "life, liberty, and property" with an idea taken from the anti-church Rousseau). That revolutionary Enlightenment moment isn't really at all what they like. What they'd really like to claim as the founding is 1620, the foundation of a biblical City on a Hill by a crew of religious bigots


And to distract from the greedy investors of the 1607 Virginia plantation (where the 1619 ship landed and sold some human cargo from present-day Angola, the first Africans ever bought and sold by English-speakers in North America). American "exceptionalism" is conceived not in those grubby, ugly dealings but in Massachusetts in the hard winter of 1620-21, and born and baptized at the harvest that November, in the first Thanksgiving.

Except, as I'm suggesting here, the thing we're most celebrating, without knowing it, isn't the grim all-white daylong prayer service that probably took place but isn't recorded. but rather the three-day interethnic meat orgy and attendant games we know about that wasn't in fact a thanksgiving but a party, that moment when the hairy, smelly little Englishmen and the tall and clean-limbed Wampanoags really relaxed with each other. Winslow wrote of that period,

We have found the Indians very faithful in their covenant of peace with us and very loving and ready to please us. We often visit them, and they come to us. Some of us have explored fifty miles into the land with them. The occasions and relations of them you shall understand by our general and more full declaration of such things as are worth noting [in A Relation]. Yea, it has pleased God to instill in the Indians a fear of us and love unto us so that not only their greatest king, Massasoit, but also all the princes and peoples round about us have visited us.…There is now great peace among the Indians themselves which was not the case formerly, neither would have been but for us, and we for our part walk as peaceably and safely in the wood as on the highways in England. We entertain the Indians familiarly in our houses and they are friendly to us bestowing their venison as gifts. They are a people without any religion or knowledge of any God, yet they are very trustworthy, quick of apprehension, and ripe witted.

(Not unproblematic, by any means, but take particular note of that cheerful acceptance of what looked to Winslow like atheism.)

That's when America ought to have been founded, not in formal expressions of gratitude in church, and that's what we keep making an effort to think about in our November holiday, whether we realize it or not. Not so much what was as what might have been if they'd kept on that happy path. Or, you know, an ideal of reparation and fellowship that we can keep aspiring toward, if we want this place to remain livable.

Cross-posted at The Rectification of Names.

Class Interests

 

The Branko Milanovic–Christoph Lakner "Elephant Chart" showing global growth rates from 1988 to 2008 arranged by income percentiles, with its four major highlights: mediocre growth in red for the poorest people, or most people in the poorest countries, extraordinary growth in green for most people in the emerging economies of Asia, especially China, serious stagnation in blue for the pretty rich people of western Europe and North America in particular, and fabulous growth in purple for the global super-rich (not as fabulous as China, but keep in mind that the 1% are starting with a lot more money, ending up by 2020 with 43% of all the wealth in the world).


This post from Nathan Newman ("Education Polarization in Elections: People Are Voting Their Class Interests"), giving me at long last a way of thinking about that "White Working Class" that makes some sense, has been sitting in an open tab on my computer for almost a month. He's looking at the same voting pattern as everybody else, but he's seeing it in the historical context of how it effectively happened that the outsourcing economy of the last 40-odd years primarily affected white workers in relatively rural areas; because that's how the distinction between workers in the growing service industries and and those in the shrinking manufacturing industries had sorted itself out in the US, where the former remained as traditional multiracial and urban, the latter came to be concentrated in

towns built around a single company factory [now] in steep decline. These communities were often created in an earlier generation of outsourcing, when companies fled unionized cities, deindustrializing heavily black urban areas as scholars like William Julius Wilson detailed.

Some of the firms that left succeeded in escaping their unions while in others, workers managed to maintain them - but the racist politics of suburbanization meant most of those factories ended up in far more homogeneously white communities in smaller towns and exurbs than the racially diverse urban centers they left behind. So when the globally-induced deindustrialization of more recent decades came, the communities experiencing those losses and the culture of those trade-induced grievances were more homogeneously white as well.

Capitalism sucked them out of their natural habitat and planted them there in the middle of nowhere, where they were sitting ducks. I say this with some personal knowledge of what happened to all the women in the Chinese garment factories in Brooklyn and Manhattan in the 1990s: nothing, actually. As their work was taken away by companies in China and Bangladesh and Vietnam, they fairly quickly found new work that paid better. Pretty sure that's even truer in L.A., and Newman speaks for factory workers in Europe:

A destructive aspect of the fragmentation of American manufacturing into exurbs and small towns is that it was unable to respond effectively when emerging economies added new competition. Vibrant industrial districts in places like Germany and Italy, where industry clustered together in historic urban regions, were able to retool their approaches and kept roughly 20% of their working population in manufacturing jobs.

Out in the sticks in Missouri and Ohio and Indiana, on the other hand, those white guys were just entirely abandoned, other than by the opiate pharmacists and gun sellers marketing the means of relatively easy death, and eventually the Republican Party.

Meanwhile, workers in services were getting the squeeze too, in that first joint of the elephant's trunk, but in different ways—they weren't losing work, but they were getting more and more corporatized and wages held down, even in the knowledge industries—as I was arguing in early 2016, practically everybody is a proletarian now, if not a member of the gig economy precariat. though some of us have much more comfortable lives than others, house yobs vs. field yobs if you know what I mean. Newman agrees:

The increasing disappearance of small firms and the centralization of bigger firms means there are far fewer opportunities for such professionals to have an ownership stake in their workplaces, meaning they are far less likely to identify with the ownership class than in decades past.

Even doctors are increasingly just employees of medical services chains. 2018 was the first year more doctors were employees than in the management of their own firms and this is just accelerating with 70% of physicians under age 40 now being employees.

The difference shows up politically in attitudes toward global trade, with manufacturing workers seeing the cause of their suffering in competition with foreign countries with lower wages, rightly or wrongly—that's the point, that it might be wrong, but it's not stupid or irrational. Service workers, in contrast, see their problems as caused by the owners determined to keep wages down, stop unionization, and so forth. The exurban "white working class", which really is white, is drawn to political nationalism, as the Republicans eventually discovered (Pat Buchanan had been telling them for decades) and the multiracial urban working class, which includes many immigrants, is not:

Given their economic flexibility, Democratic-leaning urban areas can far more confidently expect that investments by a well-funded public sector can produce new jobs to replace any potential losses threatened by corporate elites if their taxes are raised. On the other hand, the desperation of workers in Trump regions to hold onto their remaining industries at all costs, given the unlikelihood of their replacement with comparable jobs, makes their politics of collaboration with those corporate elite more understandable, even if futile in the longer-term. Throwing their lot in with their corporate employers in a nationalist showdown against emerging economies - and against their local political standins, immigrant workers, seems their only option.

Not realizing that it's the corporate employers, not the Malaysian and Mexican factory peons, who harmed them in the first place. This is where the success of the Trumpery as political scientists report it really does come from, ; by the same token, the comparative radicalism of the new urban proletariat, expressed in intersectional terms around the rights of immigrants, women, and African Americans, and demand for more progressive taxes and government spending, alongside support for labor organizing—

This is also why so much of new union organizing that has occurred in the last few decades has been among service workers, including janitors, home health aides, hotel workers, as well as increasing efforts to organize large-scale retail like Amazon

—has legitimate sources as well.

Labor organizing, in the end, is what Newman thinks can make inroads on the "white working class" electorate, and that leads him to get more excited about Biden in areas some of us don't feel great about: the slowness with which the president is withdrawing from Trump's attacks on immigration and international trade, while focusing on Biden's insistent attention to unions and union jobs, especially within the push against climate change, the "green jobs" it's supposed to generate. I too think this is a hopeful approach to those voters now seemingly bent on harming their own economic interests, remote as it seems right now.

Cross-posted at The Rectification of Names

Brandon

Hi all, relief crew here! Happy Thanksgiving!

Makeup by Kevin Kirkpatrick, via Vulture, January 2012.

Posted this in comments at Roy's SubStack, on the "Let's Go Brandon" phenomenon, in response to a comment by SundayStyle wondering "are we supposed to believe that the Fuck Your Feelings crowd have suddenly decided to revert to dainty euphemisms?" and thought it was something I'd want to remember:

It's middle school boys pretending to clear their throats--"A-whore! A-whore!" The immaturity is kind of the point. It's pretending Biden is your mom or your teacher, baffled and unable to respond, whereas if you just said "fuck" they could just yell at you and not let you go to the dance.

This is what Trump is particularly a master of, not just saying the quiet part out loud but claiming deniability as he does it. "You know, they have a word. It sort of became old-fashioned. It’s called a nationalist. And I say, really, we’re not supposed to use that word. You know what I am? I’m a nationalist, OK? I’m a nationalist." Why is he not supposed to use the word? Because he's telling you he's a Nazi.

But whether you embarrass yourself by calling him out for it, or by not calling him out, you're the one who gets embarrassed, and all the cool boys in the class can't get over how funny it is.

 Cross-posted at The Rectification of Names.