The weird machismo of exploited conservatives

In response to the “we are the 99%” slogan of Occupy Wall Street, some conservatives have launched a “we are the 53%” web presence. The 53% is an allusion to the number of people whose tax deductions and tax credits do not eliminate their income tax liability. The figure of course leaves out payroll taxes, state taxes, local taxes, and sales taxes, all of which are regressive (i.e. the rich pay less of them than the poor). Combining all of those taxes together, the US has a mildly sloping progressive tax system (I hate that this has to continually be pointed out, but it does).

The tax digression aside, a few of these pictures from the 53% are really interesting. The above pictures reads:

I am a former Marine.
I work two jobs.
I don’t have health insurance.
I worked 60-70 hours a week for 8 years to pay my way through college.
I haven’t had 4 consecutive days off in over 4 years.
But I don’t blame Wall Street.
Suck it up you whiners.
I am the 53%.
God bless the USA!

Before the last few lines, it looks as if this former Marine is going to be sympathetic with the OWS movement. After all, working 70 hours a week at multiple jobs without health insurance or vacations just to get an education is amazingly burdensome in a country of such massive wealth and productivity. It seems especially exploitative — at least given the pro-military slant of American culture — because the poster is a Marine. Although I am not inclined this way, many Americans regard present and former military enlistees as being entitled to more because of their military service.

The burning question then is why his ultimate spin on these living conditions is that those protesting should “suck it up.” This case is a weird one because the entire premise of his post is that his life is especially hard. The OWS protesters want his life to be less hard, and point out that the corruption, incompetence, and massive inequality driven by the country’s financial sector is what is contributing to this Marine’s unnecessarily burdensome and unstable existence (and the similar existence of millions of other Americans).

What I think you are seeing here is an effort to project an identity through declaring political views. This of course is not groundbreaking analysis, but it tends to slip through most of the analysis about political discourse. The Marine here desperately wants to establish a particular identity. In this case, I think that identity is one of a macho man. He has determined that this leftist stuff is mainly driven by empathy and compassion for others (that is after all how it tends to be depicted). Empathy and compassion are tagged as feminine and emotional which of course is unsuitable for a macho manly Marine. So, he wants to establish himself as especially non-compassionate and non-empathetic (“suck it up!”).

This of course is a standard conservative line, most often typified with the hatred of “bleeding heart liberals.” But, at its base it’s quite flawed. Although leftist representations have evolved over the last century such that empathy and compassion do now appear to be at the forefront, it was not always so.

Strikes, revolutions, boss kidnappings, and so on were hardly compassionate events. The IWW slogan of “fire the boss” is miles away from the hippie lovefest that plagues significant subgroups of the modern left. The left used to be an incredibly macho institution (to its detriment I must add). The left fought bosses and financiers because bosses and financiers were exploiting and stealing from them. What kind of macho man sits there and lets someone steal from them? The macho behavior is to fight back when attacked. Occupy Wall Street resembles the old school fighting left much more than it does the last few decades of the hyper-compassionate left wing.

Against that backdrop, the Marine’s post is just exceedingly strange. It makes some sense in that the goal of the website it is posted on is just to show how totally unmoved many are by hundreds of extremely moving stories of totally unnecessary deprivation and hardship. But when your own story is one of unnecessary deprivation and hardship, your lack of empathy for those in your condition just comes off as capitulation to those who have screwed you over. That of course is submission, something not generally regarded as macho and manly.