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Classic America

America: the land of endlessness. Endless landscapes. Endless opportunities. Endless diversions from the uncomfortable but mercifully occasional glimpses of our social and economic reality.

 

I submit to you, dear reader, a few of these discomfiting glimmers, particularly concerning the continued maintenance of America’s stratified class structure. I make no claim to originality of content, only format. May they stir something of mercy in your soul, and may you be given the strength to re-cognize your own abilities in effecting alternatives, in ways big and small.

 

This post was in part written to this album – perhaps you’ll enjoy it while digesting: Waking Season, Caspian

And this track was also somewhat instrumental (ha!) to the production of this piece: Asa, Caspian

 

 

In a well-functioning neo-liberal economic system such as what we have in the US, there must exist a measure of unemployment. Those who are, even temporarily, unemployed and hence have no income are generally known to be pretty crappy consumers, all things considered. Bad for business, right? At the micro level, yes, but in the absence of a surplus of those workers who are willing/wishing to work but have no jobs, bossman loses a very valuable whip to crack when it comes to maximizing the efficiency in squeezing every last drop from existing workers – much, much worse for business than having a small percentage of poor folks classed out of consuming yet waiting ever-ready in the wings to scab over a union sore (or better yet, prevent one from ever occurring by their mere existence). Case in point: any time the IMF or the WTO wish to set up shop in some indebted banana republic with loans, part of the structural adjustment is always to remove any existing government polices aimed toward full employment. And in order to be effective, it need not even be that a significant fraction of people are without any jobs – they could be under-employed and the whip still functions. Perhaps in an even more seamlessly beautiful way, because part-timers are still contributing and consuming, but nobody has to pick up the tab for benefits; witness almost anyone working at WalMart. And they feel lucky just to have some work, so are that much less likely to squawk when squeezed further. Better still if you can get them to work two (hell, three! This is the land of opportunity, after all) part-time positions. Less time to feel sorry for themselves that way, and more need to spend on products with cost-added time convenience. Besides, for those without any jobs, and no real opportunities for pursuing one, the government and churches and the legion of social workers they each employ were always gonna pick up the tab anyway, because otherwise, Bastille Day would become a thing again.

Noam Chomsky, forever prescient:

As for the rest, we set them adrift. We don’t really care about them. We don’t really need them. They have to be around to provide a powerful state, which will protect us and bail us out when we get into trouble, but other than that they essentially have no function. These days they’re sometimes called the “precariat” — people who live a precarious existence at the periphery of society. Only it’s not the periphery anymore. It’s becoming a very substantial part of society in the United States and indeed elsewhere. And this is considered a good thing.

It’s been said that religion is what keeps poor folks from killing rich folks. Hold on there, Lao Tzu. What keeps the poor people from killing the rich is mostly the police and security guards of the strong state that Chomsky mentions. And fences. And in really close calls, the national guard. Interesting to note the class backgrounds of these folks themselves: is the guy installing the security system or building the fence ever the one who’d truly have need of one himself?

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America: in here it’s a smooth sailing capitalist utopia. Out there are legions of brown people just waiting for their chance at violent anarchy and minimum-wage job theft. Ron Paul!

Chomsky goes on:

So, for example, Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan, at the time when he was still “Saint Alan” — hailed by the economics profession as one of the greatest economists of all time (this was before the crash for which he was substantially responsible) — was testifying to Congress in the Clinton years, and he explained the wonders of the great economy that he was supervising. He said a lot of its success was based substantially on what he called “growing worker insecurity.” If working people are insecure, if they’re part of the precariat, living precarious existences, they’re not going to make demands, they’re not going to try to get better wages, they won’t get improved benefits. We can kick ’em out, if we don’t need ’em. And that’s what’s called a “healthy” economy, technically speaking. And he was highly praised for this, greatly admired.

What’s it cost a business to ignore poor people? The loss of their business? Or for that matter, what’re the costs to screenwriters? Admen? Politicians? The working (and non-working, for that matter) poor will only be paid enough political mind, either through the barest necessities of real improvement in or maintenance of their living standards, or through lavish media attention (which is usually cheaper but sometimes just won’t do to scrub out that really stubborn proletariat rage stuck to the bottom of the melting pot), to stave off violent insurrection. Hence Obamacare. And if not the carrot, there’s always the option of stickin’ them in the state pen for the various crimes of Being Poor and/or Being Black. You know, that whole three strikes and you’re out business, because if there’re two things America loves, they are baseball and putting people in prison. Hell, sometimes even prisoners get to play baseball. Everybody wins!

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Pictured: Winning. Or, the most successful outcome the criminal justice system has ever seen.

Here’s a bit from chapter 32 of Kurt Vonnegut’s darkly incisive satire Hocus Pocus (1991):

[Context: the well-to-do board of trustees of a private college in upstate New York have just been taken hostage by escaped convicts from a state prison across the lake]

“What [he] had said about people like [the trustees] was accurate. They had managed to convert their wealth, which had originally been in the form of factories or stores or other demanding enterprises, into a form so liquid and abstract, negotiable representations of money on paper, that there were few reminders coming from anywhere that they might be responsible for anyone outside their own circle of friends and relatives.

Here’s a textbook exemplar of that tone-deafness to which Vonnegut alludes: Citigroup released what was intended to be an industry-internal memo in 2005 concerning the best strategies for investment in plutocratic states (US, UK, Canada, etc – all the ones you’d expect). Through the wonders of the internet, it can now be accessed and groaned over by all here. It was somewhat of a scandal when it went public (though quickly hushed through aggressive threats of legal action by Citi’s hounds), but it seems as if we might’ve somehow missed the mark when the only scandal of the whole thing was that the financial sector was just telling it like it is. Unfortunately, this blindness to the actual, societal costs of wealth accumulation is nothing new; social prophets have been calling us out since the way back of beyond our time. As St. Basil the Great had it in the 4th century AD, in a lament to the political and economic power holders in his day and age, of whom we are the inheritors:

“How can I make you realize the misery of the poor? How can I make you understand that your wealth comes from their weeping?”

A worthy question, indeed. One we ought to ask of ourselves and those we love.

The scene from Hocus Pocus continues:

They didn’t rage against the convicts. They were mad at the Government for not making sure that escapes from prison were impossible. The more they ran on like that, the clearer it became that it was their Government, not mine or the convicts’ or the townies’. Its first duty, moreover, was to protect them from the lower classes, not only in this country, but everywhere.

Were people on Easy Street ever any different? Think again about the crucifixions of Jesus and the 2 thieves…

Interesting to note that the Citigroup memo mentions the rule of law, particularly that of capitalist-friendly governments like ours, (Citizens United, anyone?) as a condition of functioning plutonomies. The bottom end of the working class function as the arm of enacted repression, be it through the military, the police, or the prisons – at times now indistinguishable from one another. These forces are almost always predominantly staffed by those without much economic opportunity otherwise, so in expanding their ranks, more positions are created for those who might’ve been the ones being otherwise policed. Shrinking welfare programs putting folks in the poorhouse? Oh, SNAP! Let’s quell the desperation by offering those would-be welfare folks the fine opportunity to fight for good old American Values, here and abroad. It’s like we planned it that way all along: the perverse upshot of militarization is the opening of more jobs to the working poor. That said, I’m not sure your average 3-tour vet or brown person in the land between Asia, Africa and Europe would count that a blessing, and the 22 veterans who  take their own lives daily speak volumes otherwise.

Here’s something worth a mournful chuckle: Mitt Romney on the 2012 campaign trail, touring a steel plant in some economically burned-over district in the soon-to-be postindustrial heartland. I imagine that he says, “Yes, I’ve heard they build things from this. Good work, gentlemen.” While he thinks, “I should be going now, before I make of myself an even bigger tool in front of you, the electorate for whom I just can’t quite hide my resentment.” The paradox of modern American electoral politics: can’t afford to ignore the everyman in the election; can’t afford to get elected if you are the everyman. Joe Six-pack didn’t stand a chance at anything besides a La-Z-Boy and an aging ranch house in the inner ‘burbs, you think he’s got a seat waiting for him in the Senate? I don’t recall the specific figure on the proportion of millionaires in the Congress, but it’s disgusting when you think that they’re asked to represent a populace with a median annual income somewhere near $30k. Here’s a wonderful way to obscure this truth: average income is now rising. Joy! People must be doing better economically, the recession has lifted!

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“Double dip? Only if you’re talking about strawberries in chocolate.”

Oh, wait, median income is actually falling. Now which story makes it onto the Wall Street Journal’s front page? … and the fifth estate struggles on to be heard above the droning of the Hope and Change we all so desperately wanted to be anything other than what was.

More from Vonnegut:

I think any form of government, not just Capitalism, is whatever the people who have all our money, drunk or sober, sane or insane, decide to do today.

Unfortunately, that calculus of what to do today cannot help but to exclude consideration for the realities of those who are disenfranchised in every sense of the word. And for those who really can’t be convinced that the Good Things in Life are trickling down all over them in a golden shower, there exists a handy demographic to convince them otherwise, or at least help them scrounge some crumbs. Ah, social workers. There is a notable predilection among the mostly white, mostly well-off middle class young to go into social work and related social service fields. Why, you say? Surely it could be something so simple and innocent as a noble vestige of our moral roots and solid two-parent family upbringings? Or maybe even just a function of individual compassion spread across a demographic that has the means and encouragement to pursue education in such fields?

Or, perhaps more perversely, could it be a product of the guilt felt when the scions of suburbia come into contact with the truly disenfranchised now that they’ve made the move to the city for that killer graphic-design job? It may well be these things alone or in combination, especially in the case of any given individual. I certainly don’t mean to discredit the deeply heartfelt and merciful work performed by social workers of then and now (trust me on this, I am one), but it is necessary to acknowledge the systemic class-maintenance function their work serves. At the macro scale, these peacekeepers of the middle class function as a necessary and rather compliant buffer shield between the haves-most and the will-never-haves. And the good white folk formerly of middle-America and now of the East End are happy to continue serving the poor, just so long as they can leave them at work when shift ends. Thus the upper crust remains unsullied by the consequences of their own enrichment as the devoted middlemen (actually mostly women) daily redirect the bullets of poverty’s discontent. A useful mechanism if ever there were one.

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Human shields in the making.

And much like the macro function of social workers set against the level of the individual’s motivations, financial mechanisms that read counter intuitively at one scale but function brilliantly at a larger one are what will find their way into existence eventually. As I’ve already argued here, scaling-up is the logical thing to do in our system, economically speaking. The Citigroup memo mentions ever-expanding foreign conquests and a handy supply of vulnerably willing immigrants as some of the driving conditions of neo-lib plutonomies. In this case, I’m not sure the golden bull has an end game figured out quite yet; where do we go when the global economic amoeba is so large there’re no more bits left to engulf? We’re still working on making America and increasingly the world a classless middle-class society with an invisible upper crust and an equally invisible but highly productive soggy bottom crust.

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Boy, those Guatemalan gardeners sure do a nice job with the privacy hedges, don’t they?

Believe you me, if someone ever gets around to inventing invisible-paint, public housing towers will be among the first things painted. And probably prisons, too, if they weren’t so far out in the countryside as to be all but invisible already. Because hey, Jesus said it: the poor will always be with us, so let’s forget about them for awhile and spread the oil around for now. In the meantime, the rest of us feel stuck watching, waiting, wanting for the dream to be made manifest. Contemporary American media can’t help but issue forth high praise for this wonderful dream available to a shrinking few while simultaneously telling the great mass of dreamers to shut up already and settle for 29 hours a week. The not so subtly concealed subtext of the ‘personal responsibility’ narrative so in vogue in many class-based politico-economic theories: “Chop, chop! Our houses need built and cleaned, our limos need driven and fixed, and our food needs picked, shipped, and cooked. Alright, fine; when you’re done, you can watch Monday Night Football, just so long as you promise not to Occupy anything but your couch.”

A natural tendency in folks who’ve some disposable income serves as a wonderful tool for those who would politically subjugate them through the magic of the marketplace. People seem to prefer consuming to producing, but they love to feel like they’ve produced while consuming. For example: I buy some sod. And a lawn mower. And some weed ‘n’ feed. And some garden hoses. All straight-up consumption. But I have thus produced a well-manicured lawn with the sweat of my brow, and am that much closer to living The Dream. And then perhaps I take a moment to enjoy my lawn, while thinking that I really ought to hire the brown folks the neighbors use because this sure is a lot of real work and wouldn’t you know it, nothing in my career has prepared me for real work. On balance, I have done almost nothing but consume products which I had no hand in producing and a most peripheral role in procuring (the drive to Home Depot counts for something, right?). The end result, an outcome that was all but inevitable given the inputs, somehow magically makes me feel as if I made it to happen. To make a short story shorter, the real money is probably in figuring out ways to market the products of the consumption process itself rather than those products lower down the food chain of utility (which, as I’ve argued here, is already being done with most work that goes on in modern cities). Chomsky notes this change also, locating it sometime in the 1970s: [There] came a significant shift of the economy from productive enterprise – producing things people need or could use – to financial manipulation.  And while we’re at it, there’s surely some macro-level money to be made in finding ways to keep hidden the ungodly awful jobs done by the working poor and the unholy extravagance of the really wealthy, because the unveiled reality of how our market economy functions in practice is indeed an ugly one.

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Pork: the other white meat we don’t wanna see produced, either.

Philosophically, America is and always has been very comfortable with the idea of the self-made man (and now, -woman. Thanks, Sheryl Sandberg!) The inverse is just as deeply ingrained: the un-made state of dependency is the lot of the diseased, the disabled, the deficient. To not possess the ability to provide for oneself is to be somehow less than a fully franchised adult in America. And yet, we also aren’t comfortable with the idea of great wealth (Citigroup deigns to base their financial advising on a factual assessment of reality? Horror! That unseats the entire narrative of this Great American Egalitarian Project in Democracy). Well, at least not great wealth employed in the enrichment of self, or great wealth through an unworthy inheritance. Bill Gates? No, it’s cool man, he can have his mansions because he did that thing with malaria. Warren Buffett? Sure, he’s alright, he’s used his gilded podium to say some heady stuff (including comments about the injustice of entrenched class divisions in the US… yet I’m sure he’s able to set aside his fretting about the economic victimization of those in poverty and sleep soundly each night under his collection of sparrow-feather duvets). But Trump? That guy’s an ass. Why? Not because of anything he’s said. It’s probably because he’s spent his money and behaved like we are ashamed to admit we might if we had it like he does. That said, he does serve the useful scapegoat-y function of being someone of whom we can always say, “At least I’m not a rich asshole like that dude.” For those who’ve ‘made it’ enough to be bothered by the poverty they see but not enough to really do something about it, it sure is nice to have a psychic-tension outlet like Trump and his ilk. “Ah, yes, what I’ve done to get where I am may make me party to injustice, but at least I’m no rich douche like they are.” They’re basically moral yardsticks, and every time we hear something of them we can sigh with the relief that at least our small bit of wealth isn’t so shameful as theirs. The ludicrously rich and recursively famous face the unique dichotomy of being elevated to sainthood or sunken into sin, perhaps as a result of their uni-dimensional portrayals in media, but they do serve a systemic function, whether they may’ve chosen to or not. Moral of any media story about someone fabulously wealthy: they are worthy of their great riches by virtue of their philanthropic benevolence (though I’d wager that your average circuit board assembling Bangladeshi would have other thoughts concerning Mr. Gates’ intrinsic goodness), or they are so egregiously abusive of their unearned wealth that we just can’t get enough of their unholy antics (the sad irony being their often further enrichment through this perverse fascination we just can’t let go).

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These folks come to mind…

The takeaway is never about challenging the dubious rightness of lording great wealth in itself, but rather an assignation of personal worthiness for said wealth. As long as this remains the thrust of our interest, we will remain forever diverted from the conversation about money that actually matters.

I’ll end with another bit from Hocus Pocus, where his protagonist tells the reader of a history professor he once knew:

He predicted… that human slavery would come back, that it had in fact never gone away. He said that so many people wanted to come here because it was so easy to rob the poor people, who got absolutely no protection from the government. He talked about bridges falling down and water mains breaking because of no maintenance. He talked about oil spills and radioactive waste and poisoned aquifers and looted banks and liquidated corporations. “And nobody ever gets punished for anything,” he said. “Being an American means never having to say you’re sorry.”

If we live in a world where being an American means never having to apologize for our sins, economic and otherwise, then I am truly sorry.

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11 Responses

  1. personpersonOctober 15, 2013 @ 1:23 pm

    I really enjoyed this. I worked in and also lived among poor/homeless/addicts and I found that I really had a hard time with “social worker ethics” and the impersonal willingness to place “responsibility” on extremely traumatized and struggling people who need so much more than is available. Doing something is better than nothing, I guess, but if you hand out food and also spit in someone’s face that it’s their own fault they need it you can be doing damage at the same time. I was just reading a paper out the health effects of substandard housing itself (not to mention no housing) and I find it appalling that we have been doing extensive research on the subject for years and yet none of it makes it to actual policy. People say nice sounding things like “Oh, well if you regulate it makes the poor homeless and that’s worse!” Who says it has to be unfunded mandates? PROVIDE RESOURCES. I know, it costs tons of money and labor to keep housing standards high— completely off topic, I hear there’s a job shortage. The other issue is supportive housing and home care for people who are dealing with trauma, developmental problems, abandonment and neglect issues, various disabilities and the bazillion things that makes it hard to function. If a wealthy person has a disabled/different child, you can bet they will be getting nurturing, hands on care, including occupational therapy, self paced learning support, emotional and therapeutic support, extremely healthy food, clean safe living accommodations, supervision and behavioral management—– the kinds of services go on and on and they are often helpful and enough to help some of the kids make it into “sort of normal” functioning categories. But when it’s a poor person– maybe one of these same kids who grew up with nothing but neglect and poor living conditions and crappy working conditions, it’s all about writing out your personal self improvement plan and YOU HELP YOURSELF! And self reliance and essentially a really fancy way to shame people into performing better that might work well enough to get them into a still low wage job but maybe that has benefits or a few dollars up from minimum wage. Maybe they’ll learn to pay bills and not just escape into drugs and sex work all the time. But the services are crap. I don’t even want to work in them because I’ve seen them fail to many people and lay the blame at the feet of that person who was failed. I’m not saying poor people haven’t done wrong, but so has everyone else. Poor people are the ones who are expected to suffer for it, essentially because no one is available to bail them out. Rich/middle class people have mostly done drugs too, in fact in my opinion it’s morally MORE fucked up to use drugs recreationaly given the potential for addiction and that you will have just signed over your life and everyone around you to dealing with a lot of misery– but those who aren’t miserable are less likely to get addicted and more likely to have family support and resources to get over a dependence if they start falling into unhealthy patterns. Social workers make me feel like shit. I don’t particularly like being a “case” for someone to “manage”. The pressumption there being that the problem of poor people is that they have bad poor people behavior social workers need to change, to stop them from their low axis of control self perception (which is false!) and their bad self comfort techniques and lack of forward thing or ability to manage anything- rather that HOLY FUCK BEING IN HELL FUCKS PEOPLE UP OH MY GOD WE NEED TO HELP THEM OUT– because fellow human beings who are just like us, wind up all fucked up when tortured. And they aren’t torturting themselves– it’s the very society and ideology social workers are plugged into that is letting people suffer this way. It’s so messed up. End ramble.

  2. Hazel, this is an awesome and timely rant. Well done. A few points:

    1. WRT expanding the security state by sopping up excess poor labour in the form of police, prison guards and military, don’t forget the aspect of aspiration. At least police and prison guards tend to get great pensions and benefits in the States, right? This makes them an aspirational elite for the other poor from which they come and whom they mostly police. The system still requires stratification, little match girls starving on the outside looking in at the banquet. It’s not just about co-opting labour, but desires too.

    2. An interesting historical comparison for the ‘scions of suburbia’ might be the monks of the Middle Ages, often sons of nobles for whom no wife or real title was left over, so get them into abbeys & bishopric(k)s. Interestingly, they also had the ostensible function of soothing the pangs of the even more disenfranchised masses while actually living pretty well. But be careful: the ones who took that mission seriously and preached more revolutionary ideas were massacred.

    3. Prisons have to be invisible in fact to maintain the personal responsibility narrative, but they have to be very present as threats to discipline. The threat that you never see has interesting psychological consequences. For example :

    Here’s what PTSD is like, and why people kill themselves over it. Think of life like a cave. If I send you into a cave with a lantern and tell you there are no bears in the cave, you feel safe. You will walk around the cave and enjoy yourself. Now what if I give you a lantern and a gun and tell you that there is a bear in there? You can still go down, but you’ll be careful to look for the bear and ready to run or shoot if you see it. Now, what if I send you down there with a gun but no lantern and simply say “bear” to you? Pretty soon, you’re in there, you can’t see the way out, and every rock you bump into feels like a bear. After a long enough time being down in the cave, you realize you don’t have enough ammo to shoot everything that might be a bear. It has nothing to do with running out of food or water or feeling like you’re fighting some unwinnable battle with the bear. You just get sick and tired of the uncertainty. Are you going to live through the night? Are you going to wake up to a bear gnawing your intestines? You get to the point where you just wish the bear would come along and end it. And when he doesn’t come, you decide to do it yourself.

  3. This reads like a college freshman manifesto who just got his first Adbusters subscription.

  4. @personperson – Yes to pretty much all of what you wrote.
    Relevant bit from Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed re: the impersonal expectations of personal responsibility from those who’ve been so grievously shafted at a level well beyond their control:
    “… true solidarity with the oppressed means fighting at their side to transform the objective reality which has made them these “beings for another”. The oppressor is in solidarity with the oppressed only when he stops regarding the oppressed as an abstract category and sees them as persons who have been unjustly dealt with, deprived of their voice, cheated in the sale of their labor [and you and I would both add here: traumatized] – when he stops making pious, sentimental and individualistic gestures and risks an act of love. True solidarity is found only in… this act of love, in its existentiality, in its praxis. To affirm that men and women are persons and as persons should be free, and yet do nothing tangible to make this affirmation a reality, is a farce.”
    As one of my coworkers is fond of saying when one of our guests fails to take responsibility for their own well-being, as inevitably many do: “Welp, guess we’ll just love ‘em anyway.” Indeed. What other options are there, really? I guess ignoring them, but we see where that’s gotten us.

    @GuyFox
    1) If they live long enough to enjoy their pension… or the State lives long enough to pay it out.

    2) Thought-provoking comparison, thanks. One way to ease the social tension of no wife and no land is to join a commune, religious or otherwise. Right now China and India both have quite lopsided sex ratios on the order of 110-120:100, males:females, depending on the province. Maybe we’ll see a rise in monasticism or mendicancy? Don’t suppose the world would be any worse off with a few more sadhus floating around…

    3) And again, the power of trauma.

    @cmoney
    Never read Adbusters. Perhaps I should, eh? I’ll let you know how the other chapters of the manifesto are coming along as soon as I receive my subscription and finish all my Calc 1 homework. In the meantime, perhaps you’ll create something beyond a snarky comment?

  5. personpersonOctober 17, 2013 @ 10:57 am

    cmoney- Do you respond to the concept of helping the poor with such derision no matter how it’s presented as a concept? “Helping the poor, ending inequality, pfff, juvenile”.

    If you’re not doing actual work to change this, as it appears hazel is actively doing, you’re part of the problem.Not even just part of the problem, you are the problem. If you think you can’t stop exploiting already exploited people for craptastic wages and that trying to create meaningful change is child’s play, the suffering of those you choose willfully to leave in suffering, in addition to anyone who does less because they adopt your sneering mentality over the concept of creating a truly functional society that serves human beings rather than corporations.

    With regard to self care- When we ignore the excruciating suffering many people experience in the now and expect them to be able to see long term welfare as priority over that, we are doing an injustice to the person’s experience of being in the present. It takes a lot of training to develop good habits, training that should happen in families and training that can easily be undone by trauma, abuse, poverty, food and housing insecurity. The body and brain just don’t even function the same under such circumstances and we should not expect people to perform the same.

    When someone is lying in the bed with a physical illness we don’t shame them for not getting up and doing self care. We acknowledge they may need to be cared for while sick. People need to be cared for when coping with the aftermath of trauma and terrible living conditions. Behavioral change comes slowly and you need to have a certain amount of health to even really begin. Caring for people while they build their health and slowly take on responsibilities they can manage is how to help people develop self sufficiency. That includes services for people who are too sick to do self care such as meal services, assistance with cleaning and chores, and other services that make it possible for them to focus on getting well and taking on those responsibilities in small doses with guidance and support. I imagine you’re familiar with harm reduction ideologies, which applied to all “harmful” coping mechanisms beyond just drug use, would mean respecting how the behavior came to be, what good it is doing for the person, and slowly open doors to new behaviors as the person gains more health without judging them for where they started or where they are at present.

  6. hazel,

    I will write a more in depth response while I have the time, probably not until this weekend. It will take some time, given you touched on many ideas, much of which I disagreed with. But as for my snarky comment, it was in response to a very snarky 4,000 word post.

    person,

    “If you’re not doing actual work to change this, as it appears hazel is actively doing, you’re part of the problem.Not even just part of the problem, you are the problem.”

    This is plainly false. It sounds cool. It sounds pretty deep and meaningful. It’s probably an effective line when trying to recruit more help for the cause. But upon just a few moments of consideration, it is nonsense.

  7. I very much look forward to that, and hope that you’ll avoid blanket criticisms based on style and rather address what you see in the substance. I’m honestly quite open to having these thoughts challenged and even changed – indeed, they ought to be, and that’s more or less why they ended up on PoMo. I thank you in advance for your willingness to do so sans unnecessary personal barbs.

  8. personpersonOctober 17, 2013 @ 6:39 pm

    Yes, I too would look forward to hearing you do it right. It’s actually pretty important to talk about what TO do, I know on a deconstruction blog that’s not as popular, but I’d be interested to hear you lay out something constructive about how to actually make meaningful action. I don’t think my comment is meaningless, depending on who you are and what you’re doing. If you’re already engaged in making the world better than yes, my comment would not be applicable to you. If you aren’t, it’s perfectly relevant because human tendency is to offer criticism towards positive change to avoid having to actually do it. If that’s what you’re doing, it sucks. If you’re actually smarter and have better ideas, share them. If you actually DO care about the suffering of others, more and better than hazel; why wouldn’t you want to enlighten us as to how we could be alleviating the suffering of others better than we are?

  9. person,

    perhaps I missed it. Where in this article is there any advice offered or ideas for betterment put forth? Besides maybe “hey if you’re a social worker, don’t be a dick to those you help”? Will listening to atmospheric prog rock help end world suffering?

  10. personpersonOctober 18, 2013 @ 1:42 am

    Alright, well he at least put forth the intent and I provided some ideas, specifically a shift in resources allocation to include care services rather than shaming those who have a hard time with self care. If you can’t provide the help a person needs, the least you can do is acknowledge they’re having a hard time, you don’t have any resources to help them, and leave it at that. It actually IS a huge difference, it’s so common to go in for support with huge life issues and get told all about how you should be fixing them, often through methods you already know exist and can’t manage to achieve at anyway so the extra lecturing is just salt in a wound. I feel like that shift in attitude is actually pretty huge and begs the issue of actually creating better services and educating the public on why those services are needed. If social workers put their energy into increasing resource allocation and generating awareness of why the money/spending is needed it would go further than just sitting there with broken people and telling them to try harder.

    I want to see more harm reduction services, more housing first initiatives, and a LOT more affordable housing (or some sort of raise in minimum wage or other solution to make sure people can live in housing). Sometimes the problem is really public attitude to these programs and blocked funding, which is something that swaying voter attitudes on might could change, or I guess working on generating funds through charity.
    What are your ideas?

  11. @cmoney
    I didn’t set out to end suffering. My hope was that in describing some of the ways in which an arguably oppressive class structure is maintained, one might be able to read and recognize their own role in such processes and reflect upon their ability to effect alternatives, or, conscientiously choose to continue their participation but with a perhaps increased awareness of what exactly they were doing. I stated this pretty clearly, but I guess not quite clearly enough. Maybe the prog rock was distracting, just as your snide remarks are now distracting meaningful discussion in this thread. A serious question: why bother commenting if you don’t have something worthwhile to share?

    @personperson
    There may well be a shift in this direction – I think I remember hearing the BLS was predicting that occupational therapy is to be one of the fastest-growing fields through 2020 or something like that. Could look up a source if you want it. I wonder though if this reflects more our aging populace (at least in US) rather than any scattered efforts to assist those in poverty with learning how to live well. As people age they tend to need help adjusting to new and often uncomfortable/unfamiliar realities, many of which are tied to reduced agency. From my experience, most folks being asked to work their way out of poverty circumstances are faced with the opposite problem – when you come from a world where very little agency was ever available, and now you’re being asked to manage your own affairs, it can quickly become overwhelming (as it seems you’re well aware). Mike Tyson said something to the effect that of course he was gonna buy a tiger when he won XYZ boxing title and the money that came with it at age 20 or 21 – he didn’t know better, he grew up in the ‘hood where money wasn’t ever something you had to manage. He specifically called out the people who gave him the money for doing so without also fostering some responsibility/accountability in him, and then expecting him to behave like one of them. I feel that though it might not get us very far down the road in material terms, you’re right to peg a lot of importance to the cognitive flip from hopefully projected expectations to those more grounded in statistical reality. If nothing else, it’s gentler on the person going through their own failures when others didn’t expect them to succeed right away.

Got insight?