Concurrent with whatever damage they do, crises – whether real or manufactured – sharpen the focus of the people who experience and survive them. The various disruptions in the established patterns of living caused by shortages, deprivation, and prohibitions cause people to question “luxury” aspects of their lives that have become routine. Once people discover what they can do without, the begin to question why it was necessary in the first place.
While likely far from an existential event, Americans are experiencing a mini-Malthusian moment, many for the first time in their lives.
I have written before about Thorstein Veblen, an economist and sociologist, made observations about social class in the late nineteenth century and his idea that there is a “leisure class” that holds “luxury beliefs”. In “The Theory of the Leisure Class”, he stated that the “leisure class” – affluent people – display their membership in the upper class with their material accouterments. For example, expensive designer clothing or driving an Aston Martin convey such “membership”.
But I think that Veblen’s theory applies across all economic and social classes – as always, there is a segment of each social and economic class (upper, middle, lower), who send the same signals to their cliques that they are moving up. That is why we saw looting of certain stores during the recent “protests” and the theft of flat screen TV’s and other luxury goods first before basic sustenance needs were stolen. It is why Starbucks sells drums of awful coffee at inflated prices. The term “spendthrift” comes to mind.
The effect of restaurants and other shops trading in conspicuous consumption being closed, plus people relearning that they can cook their own food and that they can make better, cheaper coffee at home that they can buy at Starbucks during the de facto quarantine will cause many to rethink the value of such signaling and whether it is really worth the cost.
I think the protests are more about status than “equality”. If you listen carefully to what the perpetually aggrieved say, it is less about true justice and more about social status. Since they believe the upper classes get more justice (or passes) than lower classes, their solution is to be awarded higher status rather than equal justice. We should remember that equally applied laws do not mean equal outcomes – but since progressives are outcome based, equality of outcome is what drives them social, economic, and legal terms. The very basis for the idea of “social justice” is unequal treatment under the law in the quest for the equality of outcomes.
I think this may presage a shift in political positions. Progressivism and its chosen disease vector, the Democrat Party, sells a fantasy world where appearances matter more than reality, where intent matters more than results and what you say matters more than who you are. Their entire reward system (power, influence, money) is based on keeping up appearances. Conservativism is more in line with the true reality of worth and value and rewards people accordingly for what they can produce that imparts real, tangible value to others. Where progressivism focuses on rewards for what you can do TO others, conservativism focuses on rewards for what one can deliver FOR others.
Andrew Breitbart used to say that politics are downstream from culture. If what I think I see is correct, this may be good news for conservatives.