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.


  • well said. and Im in if there are other revolutionaries out there.

  • but i saw a video that said we were Happy!

  • I like your point on the cranes. Cant tell you how many emails/blogs I have received from people who actually believe we have turned the corner because we have built a few new hospitals to replace ones that should have been closed and the harbor centers new McJobs….

    • Alan should do an article on the psychological benefits of decorative cranes being erected around Buffalo. They’d be all the rage.

  • “that the wealthy and corporate interests can spend unlimited sums to
    influence elections and government under the pretext of money being
    “speech”” – The real problem is the size, scope and reach of government, which creates the influence for sale. Governmental power is the carrot attracting the donkey, eliminate the carrot.

  • Most of us are ready to take up the revolution. The problem is we need a direction we can trust. As the Tea Partyers found out, in about 2 seconds their cause was usurped by big money and they were played for fools. The only person I know who will stay pure to the cause is me. And what the hell do I know about it, I’m a carpenter not a crusader.

  • Finally Alan says something that is valid and makes sense.

  • You are always so negative. Did it ever occur to you that a lot of people in Buffalo *like* living in a relatively depressed area, with little congestion and a low cost of living? NYC and San Francisco aren’t pleasant places to live if you’re not rich and hate congestion.

    • I’m sure they do. Indeed, the symptoms of our low civic achievement and expectations have been a selling point. Query why it generally doesn’t actually work, instead merely reassuring people already here that they’re not wasting their lives by staying.

    • As a 28 year old, I could use a little more congestion if It meant my wife could find a job in her field or that paid more than 30k

      • If you’re both making 30k and don’t have big student loan payments, then that’s not bad for your twenties.

        • How does someone of very modest upbringing get a masters degree without having debt? Although, here it’s totally reasonable for two people with STEM masters degrees to make less than a union laborer. Take that smart kids, I fucked around in school but we’re the same!

          That is why Buffalo will never progress. Why in 5 years call centers will be it’s major industry. Congratulations, you beat India to the bottom. Meanwhile we will be leaving for Austin in 3 months.

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