Friday links! Amazing America edition


That right there is the theme song to Sarah Palin’s new show Amazing America, which presumably celebrates everything great about the United States—including, at :59, “the dogs and the horses and the trucks and the guns.” Finally, basic cable is giving dogs and horses the credit they deserve. As one commenter put it:

Speaks straight from the GUT!  The way it is presented it gives us ALL a DEEP SENSE OF PRIDE!  Isn’t it a gift from our God when each can take PRIDE not necessarily only from what we have done but love the PRIDE we have in sharing ALL INCLUSIVE OF EACH THAT HAS THEIR PRIDE AND SATISFACTION OF GIVING TO OUR GIFT TO AN “AMAZING AMERICA!”

Today is Friday, and it’s high time we all took pride not necessarily in doing things, but in proudly including ourselves in the satisfaction of giving our gift to America, which is us. Won’t you speak from the gut with me?

I think we can agree from the quote above that A) that guy’s vote cancels out mine, and B) education is important to a civil society of independent actors. According to Noam Chomsky, that’s exactly what corporations do not want. Here we encounter a problem in Professor Chomsky’s rhetoric: his tendency to use “corporations” as a shibboleth for vague, control-oriented forces that are somehow opposed to individual freedom and happiness. If they’re so good at colluding to oppress the worker, how come they can’t make the phone function work on my iPhone? If we put aside his 1960s-style habit of personifying socioeconomic forces, though—to mistake history for conspiracy, if you will—he’s totally right. Multiplying layers of administration and massively increased reliance on adjuncts have made university education crappier, even as it cuts costs for universities themselves.

Last I inquired, adjunct professors at the University of Montana got $2800 a semester for teaching a three credit-hour class. People ask me if I ever think about teaching, and I tell them I can’t take the pay cut. Like Chomsky, Alan Greenspan calls it “worker insecurity,” and he thinks it’s a good thing. Seriously: check out paragraph four of his 1997 testimony before the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs, in which he credits worker insecurity for low inflation in recent years. Quote:

Atypical restraint on compensation increases has been evident for a few years now and appears to be mainly the consequence of greater worker insecurity. In 1991, at the bottom of the recession, a survey of workers at large firms by International Survey Research Corporation indicated that 25 percent feared being laid off. In 1996, despite the sharply lower unemployment rate and the tighter labor market, the same survey organization found that 46 percent were fearful of a job layoff.

By “atypical restraint on compensation increases,” he means that nobody got raises even though business was booming. Workers who are afraid of losing their jobs don’t ask for more money; they don’t go on strike, and they don’t vote to tax the rich minority they perceive as job creators. That’s the dirty secret of personnel management: if you want someone to work hard, don’t offer him a million dollars. Wait until he’s starving and offer him a sandwich.

Don’t worry, though—the wealthy and governing aren’t holding all the cards. Ordinary people still control culture, and culture is the most powerful weapon of all. For example, Stephen Colbert recently criticized Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder for starting the cynically-titled Washington Redskins Original Americans Foundation, an organization dedicated to helping American Indians and taking pressure off the Redskins to change their name. Now Colbert is the target of a Twitter campaign calling for his cancellation, thanks to this joke:

Folks, this move by Dan Snyder inspires me, because my show has frequently come under attack for having a so-called offensive mascot, my beloved character Ching Chong Ding Dong…Offensive or not…Ching Chong is part of the unique heritage of the Colbert Nation that cannot change. But I’m willing to show the Asian community that I care by introducing the Ching Chong Ding Dong Foundation for Sensitivity to Orientals or Whatever…I owe all this sensitivity to Redskins owner Dan Snyder. So Asians, send your thank-you letters to him, not me.

You could try to protect yourself from speech by outlawing it, or you could make everyone so dumb that discourse becomes powerless. A nation that can’t follow satire can’t use it against you. But it’s possible we’re not talking about a nation so much as one lady on Twitter.

So there’s your amazing America: undereducated, precarious, indignant and proud. Oh, yeah—also depressed. According to several studies reported in The Atlantic, aerobic exercise treats depression as effectively as prescription drugs. You can’t charge someone’s insurance every month for jogging, though, and it’s harder than taking medicine. But it’s okay. We don’t have to take pride in what we do. Our pride comes from who we are, and if just being us isn’t enough we can always take a pill that numbs our capacity to feel bad. Isn’t America amazing?


Combat! blog is free. Why not share it?
Tweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on Reddit


  1. A comment on adjuncts: It’s not clear from your piece why you think relying on lots of adjuncts makes for crappier education, but just to be clear it is not because they are second rate teachers (or researchers for that matter). The problem with adjunct reliance is more that they are exploited by universities despite the fact that they perform critical jobs and do so very well, often better than tenured faculty.

Leave a Comment.