fragments of an attempted writing.

on the magical working-class-guy... we have another case of mystification in which some sort of primordial atavism is used to cover up the socially destructive movements of capital. We romanticize the working man while at the same time undermining his very existence, almost as if he is the Girardian scapegoat.

Arturo, from On the myth of an honest day's work.


  1. I don't think the working man is anything approaching the Girardian scapegoat. The Girardian scapegoat must act as a community's pharmakon--both its poison and cure. Nowhere do we see the working man being depicted or described as the poison of our community. The working man is rhetorically held up as untouchable. Jesus Christ, didn't Joe the Plumber (Joe the fucking plumber) get thrown in our faces as some sort of working man sage. What utter bullshit. The nefarious bait-and-switch we actually see going on is the melding of the working man and the small business owner. But I digress.

    Now if we want to talk about the scapegoating of unions, then yeah, I'm on board--except that for our contemporary rhetoric unions have always been a poison. But the working class man as a person, no way. He is pure cipher. All political parties must bow down to him and yet give him absolutely no political power. It's really something else.

    As a side note, Girard identifies the scapegoat for Marx as being the bourgeois.

    Maybe I'll get back to this later. I've got to go.

  2. A,

    Very good point.

    I forgot about G's point that the bourgeoisie are the scapegoat in Marx. That does work well within G's schema - for Marx the bourgeoisie must exist in order to free humanity from more primitive forms of serfdom, and bring about class consciousness, and create the conditions which lead up to the rise of proletariat power -- in this sense the bourgeoisie is a cure. But then Marx writes thousands of pages about the poison side of the bourgeoisie as well. I don't recall if Girard addresses that in Marx, with the bourgeoisie, your first get the cure, and then get the poison, which would seem to be the opposite order of G's scapegoat schema, come to think of it.

  3. No analogy is perfect, but I think there is an unspoken baiting of the American worker as lazy (see trade unions, as alluded). Maybe that is more the black worker, the union bureaucrat, etc. If one does not succeed, it is because I didn't work hard enough, and so on. It just seems interesting, and perhaps an inverted Girardian scapegoat: in order to defend the working man (or small business owner, etc.), we must destroy him.

  4. Owen (I shall cease calling you Och here--thank god),

    You're spot-on with Girard's treatment of the scapegoating of the bourgeoisie. From a Girardian perspective, one must always be leery of the Marxist position precisely BECAUSE of the position the bourgeoisie has played in his historical narrative. First they are the cure, then they are the poison: then once we get rid of them or declassify them, they will once again be the cure. This isn't really a reversal of the scapegoat mechanism; one sees the identical pattern with Oedipus Rex--first comes to Thebes as the cure, then becomes the poison (then is the cure once again in Oedipus at Colonus).

    Arturo (I don't want to use the initial BM),
    The American worker is not going to be depicted as lazy. Unions, yes, of course, but these are often painted as the enemy of the working class. I'm not sure even the black worker will be painted in a negative light. But the immigrant worker ("illegal" or otherwise)--now, we can talk some Girard. If one doesn't succeed as a hard working American it's precisely because these immigrant workers drive down wages and drive up all of our medical premiums, car insurance, city taxes (because of the necessity of additional police force, school programs, etc.). It's actually the right's way of getting the white working class man and woman on his side by finding a scapegoat. A common scapegoat brings us all together. So now it's a matter of whose mob is the biggest.

    "in order to defend the working man (or small business owner, etc.), we must destroy him."
    ***No, I think it's a matter that to defend the working man (envisioned in this country as primarily white, but also black), we must destroy his enemy, who is anyone OTHER than big business and politicians (who are always on the working man's side). Right now, it's the illegal brown people who are the working man's worst enemy. And labor unions. And Marxist intellectuals like Owen, except they don't take his kind seriously (unless they are in higher ed.) because that red scapegoat has long since sailed.

  5. I should clarify the following: "The American worker is not going to be depicted as lazy."
    Any person who is depicted as lazy is categorically NOT a true American worker. Again, both parties worship the worker (and yet ignore, mistreat, and abuse him)--mythical to them though he may be.

  6. I think working man in abstract is considered the hardworking Hollywood trope, but in particular is considered too stupid and lazy to go to college and become successful, thereby deserving depressed wages and shitty healthcare. An aging Kevin Costner can represent our idealized version of the old working class, but the guy bagging groceries is lazy and probably a meth addict or suffering from some form of mental disability or both.


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