The Changing Semantics of “Tough”

I am reading Tony Judt’s book, “Ill Fares the Land“.  It is about the confusion people feel as free market economics destroy the lives of the multitudes for the enrichment of a small minority of the ultra wealthy.  It is about the destruction of society wrought by the neo-con/neo-lib politics born of Reaganism and Thatcherism.

I have in the past pointed out the ironic use of the semiotic for patriotic devotion to one’s country: “Are you willing to die for your country?” A meme that conjurers up visions of a bayonet charge into a hail of machine gun fire. Today the subtext of that should read: “Are you willing to commit murder, torture and genocide at minimal risk to your own life.”

From Tony Judt’s book pg. 36-37

The ‘false precision’ of which Maynard Keynes accused his economist critics is with us still.  Worse: we have smuggled in a misleadingly ‘ethical’ vocabulary to bolster our economic arguments, furnishing us with a self-satisfied gloss upon crassly utilitarian calculations.  When imposing welfare cuts on the poor, for example, legislators in the UK and US alike have taken a singular pride in the ‘hard choices’ they have had to make.

The poor vote in smaller numbers than anyone else. So there is little political risk in penalizing them: just how ‘hard’ are such choices? These days, we take pride in being tough enough to inflict pain upon others. If an older usage were still in force, whereby being tough consisted of enduring pain rather than imposing it upon others, we should perhaps think twice before so callously valuing efficiency over compassion.

The scapegoating of minority groups as dirty, criminal, evil and undeserving serves as a tool to prioritize the vote of white working class people one step up (socially and economically ) from the stigmatized lumpen minorities.  While the white working poor have had class war waged upon them from above, those who serve the rich and powerful in religion, government and media divert the attention from those inflicting the pain, upon the ever diminishing middle class by directing the anger toward those who have next to no power at all beyond their ability to articulate the pain inflicted upon them.

One in seven Americans is in poverty, the highest number since the mid-1960s when the last real New Deal Democratic President, LBJ viewed poverty as the crisis it truly is.  The War on Poverty lasted a mere 3-4 years before Nixon dismantled it and declared the Welfare State to be preferable.  The divide between rich and poor hearkens back  to the Gilded Age of the 1890s when unions were first being formed to gain power for workers and to help create a middle class.  The right wing killed the unions and the rich heads of corporations, the masters of the universe are protected by phalanxes of both police and laws. They are  armed with tools and spies that make it difficult to think or speak disparagingly regarding the way working people are exploited by the rich who own the corporations and make the policies that the government then enacts.

We are constantly fed the message that if we want to be among the winners, (A position few working people will ever actually get to occupy) then we must be as tough (viciously cruel)  on those designated as losers by the the overlords and their religious/governmental/media minions.  Current scapegoats (losers, terrorists, criminals, undeserving poor) include, people of color, pot smokers, LGBT/T folks, Muslims, the unemployed, the disabled, feminists.)

When people call their abusers out for the pain that the abusers are inflicting upon them rather than excepting the platitudes regarding how hard it is to inflict this pain and how tough and courageous those who inflict the pain are, then we are chastised for whining and playing the victim card. Yet we are the ones who endue the pain, we are the ones whose lives are shortened by both too much work and too little reward.

If advocating for social justice, racial equality, women’s equality, LGBT/T equality, worker’s rights, immigrant rights, equality for people of color, National Health insurance and an ecological approach towards life and the means of production makes me a Communist, then Communist is a label I will wear proudly.

For what it is worth favoring those things do not make one a communist although to their credit the Communist Party in the US has long been a supporter of all those things.

If advocating for those things make me a Socialist then Socialist is a label I will wear proudly.  And like the Communists, Socialists have also been in the forefront of the struggles for social justice and equality.

All and all the bullshit from the right and the economic pain being inflicted by those “making hard choices” have caused me to read some Marx and Engels.  All I can say is, “Humm… Maybe there is a reason we aren’t taught what Marx and Engels really said.”

Maybe if people stopped playing the game of scapegoating minority groups because of their race, ethnicity, sex, gender, sexuality etc. and looked at those who are really inflicting the pain then they might realize that a one-sided class war has been waged against the middle class ever since the elections of Reagan and Thatcher.

Class war… Not just for the rich anymore…

2 Responses to “The Changing Semantics of “Tough””

  1. Jessica Says:

    There is another meaning to “Are you willing to die for your country” than the one your explicitly point out, but one you implicitly point out a bit later in your post.

    The bayonets upon which the poor are now dying, have always died, is the political economy run by the wealth for themselves. The toughness all the rest of us now need, is the toughness to die for THEIR well-being.

    • Suzan Says:

      Are you not also working class? I am. I’m more at a point in life where I am physically able to agitate and fight with words than enter into the physical battles of say a G20 fight. But when I fight for the working class I am fighting not for people of another class but for people of my own class.

      I grew up poor. Our tentative hold to the bottom rungs of lower middle class was due to unions fighting for decent livings for working people.


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