The Oligarchy of Complacency
We pat ourselves on our collective civic backs for our social, economic, and political “one step forward, two steps back” way of life. We – all of us – swallow and regurgitate a party line about the virtues of this region’s supposedly exceptional good neighborliness and unique qualities. That’s great.
What we have is a dearth of busy people doing busy things. I don’t mean work to exhaustion and ignore your family and friends type busy things, as depicted in that horrible Cadillac commercial that aired during the Super Bowl. I mean that old-fashioned notion that if you work hard, you’ll earn decent money, and that your kids will be better off than you.
It’s tough here in Buffalo. This article from a recent ex-pat explains it pretty well, albeit anecdotally.
A Princeton scholar declared that the US is no longer a representative democracy, but a straight-up oligarchy. When the Supreme Court declares that there’s no more racial discrimination, that the wealthy and corporate interests can spend unlimited sums to influence elections and government under the pretext of money being “speech”, and when our broadcast “news” sources either broadcast inane shouting matches that resolve nothing, or else devolve into PLANEWATCH ’14, we keep ourselves complacent and ignorant.
I’ve spent the last couple of days attending the funeral of a great man who changed the country more times than the average American bothers to vote. He did it quietly, without seeking the spotlight, but he maintained a basic integrity – are you doing something because you want to, or because it’s convenient?
Buffalo isn’t really much of an oligarchy. It’s just a mess. Sure, it matters if you’re well-connected and you belong to the right club and you flit around in the right circles – it’s how Larry Quinn can raise $34k overnight to run for a thankless position with a feckless Board of Education so he can align himself with his friend – a malevolent right-wing lunatic. We need more worker-drones to make collection calls, do sales at Geico, and otherwise to support a cyclical low-rent service economy. Add in a dash of parochialism and tablespoons of resentment politics, and now you’re cooking up a Rust Belt stew of mediocrity and low expectations.
You do have your bread and circuses going for you, which is nice.
The area sort of needs a revolution, but both Occupy and the Tea Party have it wrong. We don’t need everyone to carry a gun, nor do we need someone to nationalize the means of production. The startup movement in Buffalo has it right – we need people to create things and ideas. Most will fail, but the few that succeed can lay the groundwork for a brighter civic, socio-economic future that isn’t mired in back-handed nostalgia or stasis. We need a revolution of higher expectations and achievement; a revolution where Donald Trump and Carl Paladino are seen for the malignant thugs they are, and not as deep-pocketed, straight-talking heroes who are going to put those poor in their place. We need a revolution where three or four tower cranes aren’t a point of discussion, and where we create a new batch of good old days for which future generations can someday feel nostalgic.