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Friday, July 15, 2011

The American Ruling Class

This evening I watched The American Ruling Class (2007) a dramatic documentary film written by Lewis H. Lapham.  The tone of the movie is perfect for a subject that is debatable.  I guess it is a tautology that we are ruled by rulers.  But, of course, the basic issue is access to power.  I think most Americans prefer to think that whatever wealth and power exits, it can be accessed by others—a meritocracy is graciously extant.  We see this often on less than a national stage.  In our local work assignments we witness high achievers being rewarded.  We tend to assume if that’s the case where we work, then that can also be the case on a broader stage.  And on the broader stage of politics nothing is more certain than that relative unknowns in one election cycle will emerge and triumph in another.  Personally, I refuse to identify wealth and power as exclusionary concepts.  Virtually everyone has possession in some measure of wealth and power.  To deny that is to deny the responsibility that is inherent in daily situations.  Of course, wealth and power take many forms.  And that is why most Americans are fairly disinterested in class divisiveness and brinkmanship.  Money while very useful has limited clout in meaningfulness.  Happiness is only tangentially related to it.  The ability to have some sense of control is essential to happiness.  In a democracy with guaranteed rights, there is always a foundational measure of it.  Also the self-disciplines of school, work, or play give a meaningful sense of control.  The “American Ruling Class” as a concept is not that interesting.  Far more important to the American mind is issues closer to home—self-mastery, self-rule.  In fact, that’s what the movie made clear.  In the end, the principal actors had a choice and they made it.  I might argue that I would not have made their choices—but that is me.  We all in fact participate in our destinies—however bleak or privileged our upbringing.  We can choose our attitude and our objectives, even to a vow not to cultivate greed or envy.  The wise choice is not class consciousness but self-consciousness, not parsimoniousness but generosity especially in reciprocal goodwill.  We are all poor mortals in the end searching for a little happiness and meaning.

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