Sunday, October 6, 2013

The Punishers Want To Run The Country or We Are All Tipped Waitstaff Now

The other day, Eschaton pointed to an article by which uses the example of tipping in restaurants to explain the Republican / conservative mind, The Punishers Want To Run The Country or We Are All Tipped Waitstaff Now. Just in case you missed it, the article was -- is inspired by the correct phrase here? Perhaps reaction to is better, but that phrase fails to catch the brilliance of its creation -- the screed of Fox Business Network -- asshole is definitely the correct word here, though his proper title is economic journalist, an abuse of the English language if ever there was one -- Stuart Varney, who was asked about federal government employees, and just let his inner ghoul speak: "I want to punish these people." (Honest to God, Varney said that, live, on TV; you really should watch it to see for yourself the truly reptilian psychopath lurking in Varney's bleak soul. No wonder Fox news viewers are exhibiting pathologies of cumulative brain damage.) 

To give you the brief synopsis, though I urge you to go read the entire article, there is an owner of a very nice, upscale restaurant who he felt that" tipping overvalued the work the waiter was doing and undervalued the work the back of the house staff did," so he eliminated tipping. To his surprise and amazement, he found that there were certain personality types customers who became infuriated that they could no longer tip, because "they actively enjoyed imagining using the threat of the withheld tip to punish bad service."

Now, if you have read Thorstein Veblen's The Theory of the Leisure Class, you will immediately recognize that what this unsuspecting restauranteur had run up against was a classic example of "the predatory temperament... which have to do with ownership... and the subsidiary functions concerned with acquisition and accumulation" (which Veblen discusses in Chapter Nine - The Conservation of Archaic Traits. But since most people have not read Veblen, perhaps
The Republican Party at this point in time is entirely made up of Punishers who think they are entitled to treat the government--and especially the government of Barack Obama--as waiters who need to be shown their place.  This should surprise no one.  At heart the entire Republican Party is made up of winners and losers and they are united in just one thing: they think that money is the only way to tell who is who. If you have money, you use that to distinguish yourself from the losers and to demonstrate your superiority by punishing them further.  If you are a loser--a worker, for example, or have no health insurance (say) your job as a Republican is to take your status as a given, accept it, and turn around and get your jollies kicking someone else farther down the line.
The Punishers Want To Run The Country or We Are All Tipped Waitstaff Now.
We've seen a lot of weird reactions on the right wing to the Government Shut down. These range from "it doesn't matter" to "its terrible" but one thing that really strikes me is the rage and antipathy that has been displayed towards Federal Workers themselves.  It doesn't strike me as unusual, but it does strike me as significant.  Yesterday's on air rant by Stuart Varney makes it pretty explicit: Federal Workers and, indeed, the entire Government are failing Stuart Varney. They cost too much and they do too little.  In fact: they are so awful they don't even deserve to be paid for the work they have already done. Contracts, agreements, and labor be damned. If Stuart Varney isn't happy then they deserve to be fired. Here's the quote if you haven't seen it:
HOWELL: Do you think that federal workers, when this ends, are deserving of their back pay or not?
VARNEY: That is a loaded question isn't it? You want my opinion? This is President Obama's shutdown. He is responsible for shutting this thing down; he's taken an entirely political decision here. No, I don't think they should get their back pay, frankly, I really don't. I'm sick and tired of a massive, bloated federal bureaucracy living on our backs, and taking money out of us, a lot more money than most of us earn in the private sector, then getting a furlough, and then getting their money back at the end of it. Sorry, I'm not for that. I want to punish these people. Sorry to say that, but that's what I want to do.
JACOBSON: But it's not their fault. It's not the federal employees' fault. I mean, that's what I'm sick of, I hate and it makes me anxious, to see people who are victimized because of a political fight.
VARNEY: I take your point Amy, it is not directly their fault, but I'm looking at the big picture here. I'm getting screwed. Here I am, a private citizen, paying an inordinate amount of money in tax. I've got a slow economy because it's all government, all the time. And these people are living on our backs, regulating us, telling us what to do, taxing us, taking our money, and living large. This is my chance to say "hey, I'm fed up with this and I don't miss you when you're on furlough." Sorry if that's a harsh tone, but that's the way I feel.
So, Nu? I hear you saying? Well, I think there is something new here or at least worth discussing. Varney's attitude towards the Federal Work force is the same attitude as (some) diners take when they are eating out in a fine restaurant and they fear that they don't have enough money or status to get good service--and they suspect that someone else is getting better service. They want to tip, and they want to use the tip to punish the worker for failing to give exceptional service to the important people (the diner himself).

The diner comparison isn't because I think this is trivial, but because people take the issues surrounding service in restaurants very, very, seriously and become nearly as unhinged as Varney when they don't feel they can control the experience they are having.  And I think (and others are arguing this right now) that a huge part of the Republican experience of governance in the US right now is about disapointment and lack of control. They are emotionally in the position of people who used to be offered the best seat in the house and could order a la carte without worrying about the bill, and now they think they are being relegated to the back of the restaurant and they imagine that they are paying the bills for other people for meals they won't enjoy.  But the comparison isn't based only on this metaphor--I also think that Varney's attitude, which is the Republican attitude encapsulated, is based on another and deeper cultural reality: that for Republicans the government itself is understood as an employee and the individual Republican fancies himself an employer--and he wants the power of that relationship to be vindicated in every instance. Where it is not expressed and understood as oppressive then its not working for Varney.

Let me unpack this for you as an anthropologist, because I think it says something about the enormous gap that lies between these people (Republicans and Punishers) and the rest of us.   There are several things at issue here: the status of workers, the status of employers, and the status anxiety Republicans feel when they don't believe that they are treated as an employer should be treated by their employees. In this case everyone in the Federal Government, from the President down to the lowliest Federal Street Sweeper, is not giving Varney the satisfaction that he thinks is his due. And he is damned if they will be paid when they don't do their job to his satisfaction.  In this way his attitude is like that of the angry customers, the "Punishers" described in Jay Porter's series of essays about what happened when he moved an entire restaurant from tipped wait staff to non tipped. Read more.

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