In the spirit of the (hopefully) coming socialist revolution, here's an expanded and updated version of my Christmas post from last year:
The Christmas season is traditionally the one time of year that we're permitted, even encouraged, to burst forth from our hovels to guilt-trip the rich while spreading joy and fellowship throughout the land.
Key word: traditionally. Because according to government studies, the charity coffers are dwindling and fewer of us are reaching out to our fellow human beings in these hard times. In sixteen out of the twenty categories measured in 2013, the levels of social engagement by Americans have plummeted. People were either too busy working multiple minimum wage jobs, or they were too depressed about their worklessness to feel able to extend themselves. Volunteerism, as well as average household wealth, has dropped precipitously since the Great Meltdown of '08. An estimated two million fewer Americans volunteered last year than they did in 2012.
Besides the actual cost of volunteering (say, reliable transportation) are the increasingly erratic work schedules foisted upon the Precariat by the owner class during this New Abnormal Era. People working insecure crazy hours at Walmart or McDonalds, for example, are less likely to commit to helping and socializing because they never know, from one week to the next, what hours they'll be assigned to work. Increasingly, people no longer feel like they own their own time.
Here's a chart from the Bureau of Labor Statistics showing that the volunteerism rate dropped precipitously during the misbegotten reign of Bush the Younger, recovered somewhat at the onset of Barack Obama's second term, and is now sliding once again:
According to the BLS, volunteerism is now at its lowest point since the agency started keeping statistics in 2002. The rate of "highly educated" volunteers is decreasing more than in any other demographic group.
A survey by Gallup reveals that while charitable giving increased worldwide last year, it fell in the United States, now the wealth disparity capital of the advanced world. The proportion of Americans who reported making a charitable donation decreased from 68% to 63% Nonetheless, the US is still far more generous than most:
Despite its 12th place rank in giving, the United States retained the index’s designation as the most generous country in the developed world, with relatively high marks in helping strangers (third place) and volunteerism (sixth place).But wait. The professional philanthropy/donor class is becoming ever more selective in its own generosity. The extremely rich are wont to "invest" in places rather than in causes and people, and insist that their charity be tax-deductible. They tend to give to the arts, to medical research (the rich get sick, too) and elite institutions of higher learning. They give to politicians via secretive "charity" slush funds. They give to each other's money-laundering family foundations. They set up charitable LLCs to protect their untaxed wealth. Living, breathing human beings who are not part of one's dynasty are not tax deductible -- they are, however, eminently disposable. Charities such as the Salvation Army and United Way, that give aid more or less directly to the poor, are really hurting this year.
Worldwide, the United States stood second overall behind Myanmar, where, the report says, the traditions of the overwhelmingly predominant Theravada branch of Buddhism lead to high rates of giving and volunteerism. More than 92 percent of Myanmar survey respondents reported donating money.
Charles Dickens had a description for the narrow-minded charity of the elites. He called it "telescopic philanthropy."
In Bleak House, his satiric masterpiece on social class and greed and the evil that men do, one of the most memorable minor characters is Mrs. Jellyby. In her ostentatious zeal to concern-troll the denizens of a far-away African backwater, she neglects her own home and children. Mrs. Jellyby is the Victorian fictional counterpart of such modern-day philanthrocapitalists as Bill Gates and the Clinton Family, who set their sights on largely foreign, arcane initiatives while the wealth disparity and poverty and misery in their own country are allowed to continue as their own rich selves only grow richer in the process.
Dickens's trenchant definition of this kind of self-serving charity is "rapacious benevolence."
"There were two classes of charitable people," he wrote, "the people who did a little and who made a great deal of noise; the other, who did a great deal and made no noise at all."
Mrs. Pardiggle, another obnoxious character in Bleak House, sounds eerily like the presidential candidate who never tires of boasting how tirelessly she works for "the struggling, the striving, and the successful."
"I do not understand what it is to be tired; you cannot tire me if you try!" said Mrs. Pardiggle. "The quantity of exertion (which is no exertion to me), the amount of business (which I regard as nothing), that I go through sometimes astonishes myself. I have seen my young family, and Mr. Pardiggle, quite worn out with witnessing it, when I may truly say I have been as fresh as a lark!"And her staged visits with ordinary folk -- "great shows of moral determination and talking with much volubility" -- are at carefully vetted, focus-grouped events, with the poor people acting as mere props.
"Well, my friends," said Mrs. Pardiggle, but her voice had not a friendly sound, I thought; it was much too business-like and systematic. "How do you do, all of you? I am here again. I told you, you couldn't tire me, you know. I am fond of hard work, and am true to my word."As Hillary Clinton also said, "It's not easy, it's not easy. And I couldn't do it if I just didn't, you know, passionately believe it was the right thing to do." And, "everyday Americans need a champion, and I want to be that champion."
According to her official (auto) biography on the White House website, Hillary Clinton has "worked tirelessly on behalf of children and families" from the time she was a child herself. Her work ethic and stamina are the stuff of legend. Even after falling and breaking her elbow while Secretary of State, she returned to working tirelessly almost immediately. Anybody who doesn't realize that she never spares herself from her grueling schedule just hasn't been paying attention for the past 30 years. She must astonish even herself as she temporarily divests herself from her family's charitable foundation and travels the country, making a Great Noise about how much she cares.
But enough about everyday Americans. What about those everyday benevolent raptors, aka the philanthrocapitalists? What are they up to this season of Yule for the wealthy, gruel for the rest of us?
Says former Labor Secretary Robert Reich, "The favored charities of the wealthy are gaining in share of the philanthropic economy. The total amount of the money given away by the very wealthy is going up, not because they're giving away a greater share of their income, but because their total wealth itself has grown."
The wealthy are great hiders and hoarders of their record wealth. As well they should be, given that the 80 richest people on earth now own more wealth than the bottom half of the world's population combined.
And that brings us to the lost tradition of wassailing: directly accosting and assailing the uber-rich, Bernie Sanders-style, for a share of the pie that they stole right from off our collective windowsill in the dead of night. The modern substitute of representative democracy, in which the politicians we elect to represent us are supposed to tax the rich in order to even the playing field is yet one more tradition now relegated to the scrap heap of the public good.
The custom of orphans and beggars going door to door and serenading the ruling class right where they live dates at least as far back as the third century. The landowners and nobility would briefly open their homes to provide a little warmth, food, and mystery liquid from the Wassail Bowl. The wassail songs themselves were but gentle, good-natured reminders to the rich that 'tis the season for noblesse-obliging.
During times of plague and famine, however, the wassailing tradition would often devolve into armed home invasions, leading to the siege mentality so common among our sensitive ruling elites today. Not that wassailing ever really caught on in Exceptional America anyway, founded as it was on a shiny, right-leaning hill. As a matter of fact, the Pilgrims actually banned the whole celebration of Christmas! Those Puritans we honor at Thanksgiving were the original Bah-Humbugs.
Let's face it: fast forward, almost 400 years, and anybody daring to go on a Wassail Jaunt through the Blackwater-guarded gated communities of the Forbes 400 is really taking his life in his hands.
In early 19th century New York City, the rich and the prominent were very upset when the rabble rabbled during Yule. Gunfire, bread riots, lots of sex and drunkenness and vice sent the privileged behind locked doors, where they've remained ever since. The evolution of Christmas in income-disparate America into insular closed-door gatherings was a direct result of elite paranoia.
|New York City Christmas Riot, 1806|
Here's what greeted Ebenezer Robber Baron back in the day:
We are not daily beggars
That beg from door to door.
But we are neighbours' children
Whom you have seen before.
|Jo the street sweeper from Bleak House (Mervyn Peake)|
As Bill Moyers wrote in his eloquent Christmas essay:
The $1.15 trillion spending bill passed by Congress last Friday and quickly signed by President Obama is just the latest triumph in the plutocratic management of politics that has accelerated since 9/11. As Michael Winship and I described here last Thursday, the bill is a bonanza for the donor class – that powerful combine of corporate executives and superrich individuals whose money drives our electoral process. Within minutes of its passage, congressional leaders of both parties and the president rushed to the television cameras to praise each other for a bipartisan bill that they claimed signaled the end of dysfunction; proof that Washington can work. Mainstream media (including public television and radio), especially the networks and cable channels owned and operated by the conglomerates, didn’t stop to ask: “Yes, but work for whom?” Instead, the anchors acted as amplifiers for official spin — repeating the mantra-of-the-hour that while this is not “a perfect bill,” it does a lot of good things. “But for whom? At what price?” went unasked.We have got a little purse
Of stretching leather skin
We want a little of your money
To line it well within.
We asked Santa for a tax on high speed trades. This relatively modest surcharge and some relatively modest affordable tax increases on the richest .01% would fund health care, highway improvements and public education. Helping those less fortunate -- now commonly known as the refugees from the middle class -- would help the rich, too. A rising tide lifts all yachts. It's time for some trickle-up. Hell, it's time for a geyser. We ordinary people have been stretched and bled dry enough.
So let's get on with the sarcasm, shall we?
Bring us out a table
And spread it with a cloth
Bring us out a mouldy cheese
And some of your Christmas loaf.
It's not prime rib we want, but it would be nice if a few banksters went to jail for that subprime mortgage fraud. Just a slab of tainted cheese and some of that rock-hard fruitcake from last year to keep a little flesh on our ribs. A living wage of at least $15 to start would be nice, too. That thin Yule Gruel of platitudes and bootstrap-boosting Randian rhetoric just doesn't do it for us any more.
And while we're waiting for the inevitable revolution, here's one last rich-shaming stanza to tide you over:
Good master and good mistress
While you're sitting by the fire
Pray think of us poor children
Who are wandering in the mire.
Needless to say, this mildly socialistic version of the Wassail Song is probably not being piped through to plutocratic office parties. The various recorded versions still around are heavily bowdlerized. The mouldy cheese is transformed into "tasty" cheese in one rendition. In other version, the money for our purses is reduced to "a few coins." Nor is it likely to be heard on the automated loops of easy listening holiday tunes coming from a corporatized FM radio station studio devoid of any actual human wage-earning DJ. The Christmas music will be cut off precisely at the stroke of midnight on December 26th. That's when the annual mad stampede for the post-holiday sales and binge of gift returns will get underway.
This is not to say that actual Christmas caroling is not still around. You just have to know where to look for it. And look no further than the great American cultural center-cum-New Abnormal town square: the shopping mall. (or Galleria, if you prefer to be elite.) The voices are singing and the bells are ringing to get shoppers in the mood to spend and consume till they drop.
You can even find a modern version of the Wassail Bowl. It's over at the food court, and it's called a self-serve soda machine. And it'll cost you.
Cheers and happy holidays to Sardonickists everywhere!
P.S. And on a lighter note... If Bernie Sanders of Brooklyn ever goes wassailing, it'll probably sound something like this: