portland independent media center  
images audio video
newswire article commentary united states

political theory

Kill your inner petty bourgeois

Americans are possessed by the petty bourgeois spirit. Sociologist Max Weber referred to this as "Protestantism and the Spirit of Capitalism" in his eponymous classic. Accordingly, it follows that the first order of business of any thoroughgoing radical must be to "kill your own inner bourgeois." Who or what is this bourgeois, and what makes him tick?
The American "inner petty bourgeois" is insidious and omnipresent in American culture. And by a curious and ironic quirk of fate, people who most want to "overcome the dominant paradigm" are liable to be most susceptible to it -- unless it gets pointed out to them very early and taken to heart.

Who or what is the American "inner bourgeois"? It is a mix of qualities (none of which are wholly unique to Americans of course!) which all drive towards a common result, the most prominent of which is a certain overbearing self-righteousness, guided by an anti-intellectual insularity peculiarly characteristic of American culture. This is the product of a culture whose watchwords are such phrases as "Two things should never be discussed in polite company: religion, and politics." The thoroughly predictable result, of course, is that they don't get "discussed" at all, leaving aside mob confrontations or hothouse mutual admiration societies. This is why any actual "discussion" in which there is a significance divergence of views more often than not degenerates into at best petty egoistic acrimony, or at worst actual fist blows.

Thus, the inner bourgeois cloisters himself in a hothouse environment where everybody thinks, talks, and acts more or less like him. It matters not a whit if this hothouse happens to identify itself as "counterculture," "antiestablishment," "leftwing," "rightwing," "militia," etc etc etc. The inner bourgeois is above all a conformist, and can hoodwink his host into believing anything, even "nonconformism," provided it conforms to SOME clique or other.

So, discuss! And don't be afraid to be contradicted by a vigorously expressed opposing view! With just this step, the "inner bourgeois" is already reeling!

Ah, but the inner bourgeois is not done yet! The inner bourgeois never really seeks out new knowledge or information for its own sake, unless the purpose is to strengthen himself in his debates and "win over" the heretic opponent. This is the missionary element of Protestantism coming to the fore, of course.

So, explore! Find out what your "opponents" think for its own sake. Who knows, they might know something you don't -- heaven forbid! But don't stop there: find out what anybody else thinks, pro, con, or neutral. This is called expanding one's intellect.

Now the inner bourgeois is in critical condition. Yet, he might recover! You must deliver the coup-de-grace.

So, travel! It can be literally, which is great, probably best, but also virtually. Learn other languages, explore other cultures. Become a "cultural relativist"! The "inner bourgeois" is never happier than when none of his pat assumptions about the world ever get challenged. Travel, especially in countries very different from your own, will challenge your received assumptions at every turn. Provided, that is, that you are open to the possibility of being challenged -- which, if you're taking up this plot against your inner bourgeois in the first place, it is safe to assume.

Presently, your inner bourgeois is at death's door. Which is good. Very good. Now there is but one final step, probably the hardest of all:

Embrace your inner bourgeois!

Impossible, you say! I must be indulging in this exercise of paradoxical contradictions out of sheer perverse amusement!

But no! Why "embrace your inner bourgeois," then?? Because your inner bourgeois WAS you, not so long ago. Your inner bourgeois IS so many other people still. And you are not a whit better than they, no! (That little conceit is the inner bourgeois himself whispering in your ear!) You can and should embrace your inner bourgeois, now, because he is perfectly harmless to you, no threat whatsoever. You are even willing to let him rant on and express his views now and then, while he still has any life-force left in him, because he helps remind you of your former self, and of what is still inside so many others. You are actually quite tolerant of the little bugger by now -- if not quite nostalgic.

By now, in fact, you don't even WANT to kill your inner bourgeois, because the missionary component of the inner bourgeois has lost its virulence.

The inner bourgeois need not ever die completely, no. Because the inner bourgeois helps you understand and relate to others, though by now you've thoroughly put him in his place, where he is largely impotent of causing any harm to you or anybody else.