Blaming the Recession

21 11 2008

There has been so much talk, so much speculation on the potential personnel of the Obama Administration in the news. It seems as though there’s a mix of hopeful anxiety in the air and everyone wants to rid this paridoxical sentiment by being sure that their country is in good hands. Probably because they know they need ‘good’ hands. The recession seems to be the situational motivator. It seems to be in full swing. It is no longer the worry of imminent recession that plagues the populous but now a concern for how to escape it. Escape? Can they escape? To escape implies that you, with your own ability and power, can evade a situation, usually negative. Some people seem to be beyond escape, some people seem to need rescuing. Thus, the hope, the anxiety.

A good friend of mine showed me a New York Times Op-Ed Column written by David Brooks, a Canadian-American political, cultural commentator and journalist. His piece titled, “The Formerly Middle Class“, briefly discusses the effect of the recession, in particular, on those who just made it into the middle class, and I quote his last paragraph to summarize:

“In this recession, maybe even more than other ones, the last ones to join the middle class will be the first ones out. And it won’t only be material deprivations that bites. It will be the loss of a social identity, the loss of social networks, the loss of the little status symbols that suggest an elevated place in the social order. These reversals are bound to produce alienation and a political response. If you want to know where the next big social movements will come from, I’d say the formerly middle class.”

Most people, without even thinking, directly connect the recession to financial losses and suffering. But in addition to the obvious, Brooks interestingly points out the loss of social identity and social status. Two things that cannot be obtained on your own but through a group of people, through a community, if you will. The loss of the ability to purchase luxury items not only eliminates the comfort or enjoyment of that item, but it eliminates the status, acknowledged by others or society, that comes with it. Brooks mentions brands such as Coach, Whole Foods, Tiffany, and Starbucks. Yes, definitely Starbucks. I personally affirm that Starbucks belongs on this list (Here’s PJ O’Rourke’s NYTimes book review on Taylor Clark’s Starbucked: “Venti Capitalists“). There have been times where I have dreamed of having a hot cup of Starbucks in one hand, briefcase in the other, Wall Street Journal wedged in my armpit, dressed in a black long coat, walking to my New York firm on a cold snowy morning. It was a silly dream. It was silly because I don’t think I was attracted to those individual things in themselves, but to what they meant, to what meaning they gave me, and that was a certain status, a significance determined by the general populous.

Like Brooks mentioned, this recession will have it’s “bite” on people, and for the formerly middle class even in their social identity and status. I can imagine people blaming the recession. I can imagine the formerly middle class, now having tasted the comfort and significance of commodities like Whole Foods and Starbucks, being less happy than when they were on the same rung of the social ladder without having experienced such luxuries. I do not want to demean the genuine struggle of people, but I think suffering most often times (especially in our relatively affluent America) is self-inflicted by the discrepancy in expectation and reality. If you expect to have something and reality can’t give it to you, then you are unhappy, you are suffering. Not to say that changing your perspective when situations change always solves your problems, but in the least, it broadens your view, broadens it to include yourself in it, to bring to light that some suffering is in part caused by yourself. Then once acknowledged (that the cause is not only outside), how do we remedy this loss of social identity and status. Do we just abstain or deny the status and meaning given to them by society? I’m not sure that is a viable solution. It seems to make more sense to find an alternative, and alternative source of identity and status. But it would have to be an alternative that cannot escape your grasp, something that doesn’t come and go depending on the size of your wallet or even that many people think it as important. Brooks implies that the next big social movement is the answer to the formerly middle class. It think it is this alternative. For which are YOU looking?


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