Finally, technology is bifurcating us as well. Smartphones, the Internet, video games, iPads — the whole technological inventory indispensable even to the welfare recipient — have discouraged the age-old idea of self-improvement. Advancement was always predicated on greater education and experience. Reading literature, mastering grammar and syntax, improved diction, training the mind for such mental gymnastics — all that is antithetical to communicating at the speed of light on Facebook and Twitter, to announce each minute while walking, driving or talking, “Whatsup?” “I’m OK, you?” and other critical exchanges of knowledge. Sending a picture of yourself driving has turned the inane into the essential, and something great and noble was lost in that bargain. Sometimes danger follows — like yesterday when a 16-wheeler on the 99 swerved in and out of the left lane, while the driver was texting vital commentary on Dante’s Inferno or a new insight on the Federalist Papers.
The underclass is hooked on electronic dope. They are not fracking or building houses. And they are not on idle evenings scanning the Internet to discover what Venice looks like or to learn the etymology of democracy or even to learn how to tile or do wiring, at least not normally. Instead it is a sort of addiction to images, graphics, and the sheer speed of communicating. How can you advise a youth that improving his computing skills, his language, his demeanor, and his work ethic is essential to social mobility and the general collective tranquility and stability of society, when you are competing against Grand Theft Auto and Tweets, or, for that matter, the therapeutic industry reassuring the unemployed that someone somewhere did this to him?
In sum, our Al Gore elite climbed into the tastefully empty observation cupola, pulled up the trap door, and now gazes at the view. It does not always like what it sees interrupting its majestic vistas, and so shouts to those below on the too crowded ladder that the way is barred, to climb down and stay down.
Government has become a paramecium, an amoeba whose prime directive is to grow and consume and multiply without knowledge of what it is supposed to be doing other than expanding. Or maybe the better metaphor is the zombie. The groping state smells those still alive and then plods and claws itself toward the few remaining living, in a mindless effort to incorporate or devour them. The zombie likes best the scent of the pizza franchiser or masonry contractor, not the welfare recipient or the Facebook executive.
Finally, poverty and the underclass are now disguised with an electronic veneer. Watching Oprah during the day with access to free food while tweeting, Facebooking and video-gaming is not quite Dickensian London, and therefore the elemental struggle to climb out is far harder. It was always more difficult for wily Odysseus to escape the Lotus-eaters than the Cyclopes.
Physical deprivation and hunger are one thing; the poverty of the mind and psyche is quite another. Crashing Costco to find bulk beans and rice is not the same as flash-mobbing for Air Jordans and iPhones.
How odd that our cultural elite and our dependent poor are somewhat alike, in a symbiotic relationship in which the latter guilt-trip the former for entitlements, with the assurance that the top of the pyramid is safe and free to fritter about far from those they worry about. No wonder those in between who lack the romance of the poor and the privileges and power of the elite are shrinking.
We are entering the age of the bread-and-circuses Coliseum: luxury box seats for the fleshy senatorial class, free food and tickets for the rest — and the shrinking middle out in the sand of the arena providing the entertainment.