The other day, Eschaton pointed to an article by aimai (of No More Mr. Nice Guy blog) which uses the example of tipping in restaurants to explain the Republican mind, The Punishers Want To Run The Country or We Are All Tipped Waitstaff Now.
Just in case you missed it, the article was (well, 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's (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 furloughed 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.
After giving the extended excerpt that Varney excreted, aimai notes that
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).aiami's idea here is inspired by restauranteur Jay Porter's series of essays about what happened when he moved an entire restaurant from tipped wait staff to non tipped. To give you the brief synopsis (though I urge you to go read the entire article) Porter was surprised and amazed to find that there were certain
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 aimai's explanation is better suited for today:
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....UPDATE: Massive thanks to psnyder in the first few comments, who posted the little video of Mitt "Rmoney" saying "I like to fire people."
Again, if you have read Veblen, you immediately recognize that what aimai is describing here are the barbaric traits of the Leisure class (I prefer using the term predator class, as discussed by Jon Larson at Real Economics) as that predator class imposes its preferred norm of social hierarchy on a society in which fraud, deceit, and force are the means to "success." And, of course, the predator class rises to the top of the economic and social hierarchies exactly because the predator class is most adept at fraud, deceit, and force.
But, to return to aimai:
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 disappointment 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.aimai includes some long excerpts from restauranteur Jay Porter's series. Which had an interesting ending, which we can all hope portends how our present travails caused by the Republicans will end. Though I seriously doubt we will be so lucky or so fortunate.
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.
These people who were fighting to keep their punishment rights, were keeping us from getting better.We came to the conclusion, though, that the fixed service charge — and our removing it when a problem was noticed — would drive these negative customers away. They would go to other restaurants where they could resume their role as arbiter of consequences. One of our managers emailed me around this time: “It would seem we’re on the right track. We’ll eventually weed out all the punishers… and then we can do our jobs.”I think this is pretty much happened, within a few months of that review. People who come to restaurants to punish other people came to our place, discovered we didn’t offer that service, and moved on. It’s an open question whether we would have made more revenue if we had not lost these customers. I tend to think not, because their absence really did let us focus on doing our jobs better. But maybe there are just so many people like this, that they make up a huge market for restaurants, that we lost out on. I can’t say I know. I know we didn’t miss them.