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The excerpt below is from a 1961 book by the late John Schaar called Escape from Authority. Professor Schaar was an army buddy of mine at Ft. Bragg in the mid-1950s, before our rulers figured out that it would be easier to go to war if they didn’t draft Ph.Ds (or even college freshmen). James Carville once described the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania as “two big cities with Alabama in between.” Jack Schaar was from the Alabama part, where you went to work on the farm when you got through with high school. He had heard, though, that you could go to college in California for free, so he stuck out his thumb and headed west.
That was before our rulers figured out that ambitious poor white trash could be kept in their place with crippling loans if you just did away with that free tuition thing. Risk-free loans, of course, backed by the suckers themselves in their role as tax payers. Loans that could never be discharged in bankruptcy the way they could if the suckers had only been corporation-people instead of just people-people.
Anyway, Jack was lucky enough to be able work his way through to a doctorate and become a hugely-admired professor of political science at Berkeley and U.C. Santa Cruz. And here he is, or was in 1961. It wasn’t yet clear that limitless consumption was just the first step in the taming of the proles. Properly managed, it would turn them into obedient debt slaves, voting for massa.
Under present conditions, co-management and workers’ participation would most probably mean only an acceleration of the present powerful tendencies toward materialism and what Fromm calls alienated consumption, for the workers have no conception of any moral or aesthetic order beyond the present one. What has to be recognized is that the workers have been all “corrupted,” tamed. And they have been tamed to the harness of meaningless work not by the stick of hunger but by the carrot of limitless consumption, by the vision of utopia offered by the ad-men and sold on the installment plan.
Only if this is kept in mind can one explain the astonishing fact that organized business and organized labor have combined to make productivity, profit, and “full” employment — that is, work in its inescapable modern meaninglessness — the dominant and almost the sole aim and function of the communities’ internal political life. The principal feature of our political life is the use of truly prodigious means for paltry ends. After all, the expenditure of a very small proportion (the Goodmans estimate 1/7) of our available resources of labor, time, money, and materials would provide all Americans with a very solid “subsistence.” The remainder goes for luxury and emulative consumption goods — as though we had already thought through to a solution the profound moral and political question of the relation between standard of living and quality of life.