The truth of our society can be understood as well from the bottom as from the top,1 but the dominant discourse of our [New Gilded Age,]2 widely disseminated in late capitalism by those who own the instruments of communication, rests upon an assertion of moral supremacy among the rich. Theorems of these individual achievements, widely believed and endlessly repeated by the rich themselves,3 are also widely agreed to in the broader community. This self-serving language, extolling the virtues of hard work and sacrifice, provides the ideological framework for the globalization process. It is the language of empire and its moral economy. It is not the language of working people, or of community, of social services, of respect for diversity, or of communal support. Instead the cult of individualism dominates. Not content with controlling most of the world's resources, the rich also appear to want to control the moral high ground.
This book charts the lives of a group of poor urban migrants in Mexico over a period of thirty years as the nation became more closely tied into the structures of global capital, and my informants struggled to survive in Colonia Hermosa. Like the rich, the people I got to know shaped their discussions within a larger narrative focusing on their successful movement from migrant to urban citizen. Their talk is also the language of the heroic individual, so necessary to the ideology and functioning of capital. But, as among the rich, this logic only tenuously connects to the actual material circumstances of their lives.
There is irony at the heart of this story. It is the tale of a people struggling from rural poverty for the chance to be part of the global economy in Oaxaca. For them, the chance to enter the urban proletariat is success indeed, and yet this move places them foursquare on the lowest rung of the global infrastructure, open to exploitation and subjugation. Given the overwhelming conditions in which the poor live, the testaments of colonia residents are impressive as well as instructive.
In social science, the term [disenchantment] generally is associated with the work of Max Weber, specifically his book The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (1958). Weber set out to investigate the role