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Cultures versus Vultures

jack_solomon
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I confess that I am getting weary of seeing the Ayn Rand–inspired political meme, "makers vs. takers," still saturating the mass media. Attempting, apparently, to win by way of insult what they could not accomplish at the ballot box, Republican candidates and pundits alike seem to be consoling themselves for the stunning outcome of the 2012 elections by insisting that a bunch of nonproducing "takers" are taking over America. I'll leave to others the point-by-point critique of this inane meme, however, because what I want to do, in my feeble way, is introduce a substitute meme: Let's call it "cultures vs. vultures." So, who are "cultures"? Cultures are people who believe in the common weal. They believe that a society is not simply an aggregation of autonomous units aggressively competing with each other in a zero-sum game in which every success must be won at the expense of a cloud of "losers." They are doctors and nurses and nurse's aides who save lives; teachers who educate; fire and police personnel who serve and protect;  government employees who get us our driver's licenses, fix road potholes, erase graffiti, and so on. They are businesspeople who establish companies that employ people at a decent wage with benefits, and they are the people who work for them. They are writers and artists.  They are women and men who take care of their families, join the PTO, coach soccer and baseball.  They are …well, many of us. And who are vultures? They are people who buy companies in order to eviscerate them by selling off their assets and firing their workforces. They are corporations who ship employment overseas to maximize the hundred-million-dollar compensation packages of their top executives while squeezing their diminished workforces. They are financial services companies that invent complex investment instruments and sell them to uncomprehending investors who thought that they were buying safe collaterialized bonds. They are the bond-rating agencies that gave these bonds triple-A ratings. They are speculators in oil futures and short-selling stock investors for whom the stock exchange is a vast, global gambling house. They are the accounting firms who cook the books when they should be auditing publicly held companies. They are billionaires who think that they can purchase the entire American electoral system, and make the attempt to do so election after election. They are digital-technology entrepreneurs who want to eliminate America's universities on behalf of a tiny elite who will make the 1% look like a supermajority. In short, they are the kind of people that Ayn Rand–quoting-types admire, and they are the people who have so damaged the world economy that perpetual crisis is the new normal. Given the power of tidy soundbites in our meme-driven mediatized society, the substitution of a "cultures vs. vultures" formulation for a "makers vs. takers" one would not be trivial. It could change the nature of our political discourse. But I have no illusions. Though I am not a corporation, I am a person, and, in spite of the many claims for the democratic potential of the interactive Internet, ordinary people are not heard through our mass media. But perhaps I should change my blog moniker to Linseed Lohan?
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About the Author
Jack Solomon is Professor Emeritus of English at California State University, Northridge, where he taught literature, critical theory and history, and popular cultural semiotics, and directed the Office of Academic Assessment and Program Review. He is often interviewed by the California media for analysis of current events and trends. He is co-author, with the late Sonia Maasik, of Signs of Life in the U.S.A.: Readings on Popular Culture for Writers, and California Dreams and Realities: Readings for Critical Thinkers and Writers, and is also the author of The Signs of Our Time, an introductory text to popular cultural semiotics, and Discourse and Reference in the Nuclear Age, a critique of poststructural semiotics that proposes an alternative semiotic paradigm.