The concert was held at a small venue (Sophia Gardens in Cardiff, which held 2,000 people) and it was a memorable occasion. Paul Weller, bassist, lyricist, song-writer and front man for The Jam, is a genius, but his craft has never been appreciated in the US. I have often wondered why, when so many of his contemporaries – and I think in particular of Sting, with whom I believe he had much in common – achieved superstar status over here. But as I have been traveled the interfaith path in recent years, my confusion has faded until now I find it pretty obvious why his songs don’t work in the US.
His songs don’t resonate here because they are written from a working-class standpoint for a working class audience and are full of anger about the unfairness of class and privilege. Fundamentally this is a world view that is antithetical to the American self-identification as a nation without class – or at least a nation in which class can easily be transcended.
I came to this realization about The Jam’s music as a result of the work of my interfaith journey, which is about cultivating the experience of seeing the other person as having equal worth and value; about recognizing my own privilege; about recognizing the limitations of my own views and perspectives. In tearing down the walls between self and other I get softer and more compassionate and begin to see things previously hidden. One of these is that I no longer believe the US self-image of superior class mobility stands up to scrutiny. Subjectively I see this every day in my human interactions, and objectively I know that there is much research by credible US and foreign research institutions (I recently heard a presentation on new research by a Harvard professor) indicating (1) economic inequality in the US is vast relative to Western Europe; and (2) even the most class-mobile US cities (and disparity among US cities is considerable) do not merit gold stars on the world stage. The affluent and the privileged get one opportunity after the other, but the poor may get one chance.
The sad thing about modern research is that it is impoverished by its volume and by its sponsors. There is so much about and so much of it is (frequently invisibly) written with a specific agenda – often using bad or distorted facts – that we can all find “credible” research to support our own cherished opinions; more, we can find support for trashing the research we don’t like. The seeds of permanent polarization and permanent disagreement are sown, and I don’t know that there is an easy way out! I am reminded of Keyzer Soze’s oft-quoted line in “The Usual Suspects,” a rephrasing from Beaudelaire: “The finest trick of the devil is to persuade you that he does not exist.” In this sense I believe the greatest trick perpetrated on the modern American nation is to believe the growing and increasingly impassable chasm between the rich and everyone else does not exist. But perhaps the devil’s finest trick is a nuance: it is not that he has convinced the working class of this, but rather that he has convinced the beneficiaries, the rich and upper-middle-class; and to cap it all, he has created a sea of information and disinformation in which we can all drown.
Not everyone has been taken in by this trick, of course, but self-delusion is certain convenient – and a natural consequence of privilege – for the wealthy, and sufficient of the working class and poor have been convinced that they are pitched against each other over issues such as abortion, gun control, immigration, race and welfare. Where is Haymitch to remind us all to remember who the real enemy is?
I am a believer in the fundamental good of the vast majority of humanity, and I fully believe that if the conversation could be engaged, all but a tiny minority would accept that the world and their own lives would be better if we all worked together to address and redress this inequality. I believe that this is contained in the fundamental teachings of all the world’s great religions. If we could all truly embody the Golden Rule in our lives, we would see the suffering of others; our eyes would be opened to the extent of privilege and prejudice; we would be appalled by the poverty of opportunity for those not in the privileged class. But the convenient and easy practice of our religions allows us to sustain a materialistic and ego-centric worldview. Ignorance, polarization, and greed are so deeply entrenched in the cultural story that sometimes I wonder if it really will take a revolution or a complete system collapse before things change.
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