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October 13, 2008

Stranger Things

One consequence of the current economic implosion is the U.S. upper middle class is finally beginning to understand that everyone in positions of authority has been lying to them. This is from a New York Times article about Tyler Pappas, a married 43 year-old father of two and "creative services consultant":

Mr. Pappas is intelligent, well informed, in good standing with society and, like so many of us, not quite sure what to do...

Mr. Pappas is angry. Angry that A.I.G., the insurance giant, spent more than $400,000 on an event at a California resort, including $23,000 on spa services, just days after receiving a government loan of $85 billion. That the federal government’s $700 billion bailout includes billions in pork barrel spending. That average people minding their own business, people like Tyler and Holly Pappas, pay the consequences for the audacious blunders of others.

“We’re in a controlled chaos in my house,” he says. “We’re watching our money evaporate, and we’re debating whether to take it out and take a hit, or just leave it and gamble. And I don’t have any confidence in what I’m being told. I have zero confidence.”

And this is from a recent episode of This American Life:

We got an email on Wednesday from a listener named Will Chen...

"Dear Ira, Alex, Adam and gang...You are our only hope. Please do a show that clearly explains the question 'Should we support the bailout?' If the answer is no, what other options do we have? I'm not dumb or lazy. In addition to listening to NPR and the BBC religiously, I also read—and then he lists all the publications that he reads—there is so much confusion out there I really don't know who to trust. After a lot of soul searching in the last few days I realized there's only one source of information I trust without question. And that is This American Life...Please help us understand this bailout.

There are several interesting things about this:

1. You might have hoped the upper middle class would have noticed before now that the people in power were untrustworthy. One clue was when the government started a giant war to protect us from terrifying weapons of mass destruction that SURPRISE! turned out not to exist. But I'll take what I can get.

2. A loss of faith in existing institutions is only the first step. If there's no one around to tell people the truth, a lot of them are going to fall under the sway of dangerous crackpots. Given that our side isn't organized and ready to go with a honest explanation of what's happened, this is a big danger.

3. It's not surprising this guy felt he could trust This American Life. People trust others when they've been exposed to them, as humans, over a period of time. This American Life has discarded the traditional rules of "news" and put the humanity of the people involved front and center. Meanwhile, the corporate media can't display the humanity of the people within the organization for very good reasons: it needs to obliterate the human side of its employees so they can serve as interchangeable cogs in the machine. This fundamental dishonesty—pretending that "7 On Your Side" has some meaning, when in fact 7 is only on the side of its multinational owner's profits—is what makes people angry at the "liberal media." They know they're being lied to even if they're not exactly sure how. Any new and better form of media will have to display its human side to get its audience to trust it.

This moment could go in a positive direction, or a very very negative one. Given the current balance of power, I'm not getting my hopes up. But we might do okay. Stranger things have happened.

"Let me think about it," Persky said. "Maybe I could work it. Stranger things have happened." Of course, neither of them could think of one.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at October 13, 2008 06:31 AM

Well, there's always blogs... I trust you, Jonathan. You wouldn't lie to us just to sell your book, right?

(More accurately: you'd tell us the truth, just to sell your book, right?)

Posted by: weasel_word at October 13, 2008 07:39 AM

you'd tell us the truth, just to sell your book, right?

By this do you mean, the only reason I'd tell you the truth is to sell my book?

If so, then yes.

Posted by: Jonathan Schwarz at October 13, 2008 08:13 AM

There's a weirder "angry upper middle class white folk" article in the Times today. It's titled "Fear and Loathing in La Jolla" and begins with a Bob Dylan quote about revolution. I got to the end before realizing it had been written by Ben Stein.

Posted by: Chris E. at October 13, 2008 10:22 AM

"Mr. Pappas is ... well informed..."

Doesn't really sound like it.

Posted by: Rojo at October 13, 2008 02:26 PM

Those two segments on This American Life were like a breath of fresh air in the confined-animal-feeding-operation that is the U.S. media. Imagine: a reporter assuming that we're all (or at least some of us are) intelligent enough to understand complicated economic issues if a serious effort is made to explain them to us!

After listening to them I thought, "This is what media would be like every day if we really lived in a democracy." That is, if the American people really were participants in decision-making, rather than mere spectators.

And even this rare example of competent journalism only comes after the bailout is pushed through our rubber-stamp Congress. Oh, so most economists actually think the Paulson plan is a bad idea, and would prefer a less costly alternative that we're not hearing about because the banks that got is into this mess don't like it? Gee, thanks for sharing, NPR!

Posted by: SteveB at October 13, 2008 04:04 PM
They know they're being lied to even if they're not exactly sure how.

We have some dismissive words for those people with the trust ambiguity.

Crazy paranoid tinfoil hat wearers.

Posted by: Labiche at October 14, 2008 08:42 AM