Tuesday, December 16, 2014

They Are Bipartisan--And Clueless

Turnout in the late election didn't surprise me one bit.  The Democrats touted the economic recovery, which left most of the poorest 65% looking about and saying "huh?", before sitting down to figure out how to pay the rent this month.  As in most "recoveries" since 1981, the economy has done well, while the vast majority haven't.

I don't read David Brooks very often, but was taken by this construction of his world:

Today we once again have a sharp social divide between people who live in the “respectable” meritocracy and those who live beyond it. In one world almost everybody you meet has at least been to college, and people have very little contact with features that are sometimes a part of the other world: prison, meth, payday loans, a flowering of nonmarriage family forms. In one world, people assume they can control their destinies. In the other, some people embrace the now common motto: “It don’t make no difference.”

Widening class distances produce class prejudice, classism. This is a prejudice based on visceral attitudes about competence. People in the “respectable” class have meritocratic virtues: executive function, grit, a capacity for delayed gratification. The view about those in the untouchable world is that they are short on these things. They are disorganized. They are violent and scary. This belief has some grains of truth because of childhood trauma, the stress of poverty and other things. But this view metastasizes into a vicious, intellectually lazy stereotype. Before long, animalistic imagery is used to describe these human beings.

Leaving aside the disclaimer of the final sentence above, it's interesting that his construction of the world has the rest of us in daily contact with prison, meth, payday loans and single parenthood.  I know many people who aren't part of his delayed gratification crowd who have no experience of prison or meth, and little of payday loans. Single parenthood crosses class lines, and while more poor men can't be part of their families, it's not some personal defect, but the result of economic realities.  Further, I've seen plenty of the families on my side of the class divide delaying gratification for decades.

I have come to expect this kind of silliness from both sides of the political divide.  Vice-President Biden's Middle Class Task Force, for instance, defined the middle class as:

…a combination of values, expectations, and aspirations, as well as income levels. Middle class families and those aspiring to be part of the middle class want economic stability, a home and a secure retirement. They want to protect their children’s health and send them to college. They also want to own cars and take family vacations. However, aspirations alone are not enough; middle class families know that to achieve these goals they must work hard and save.

If we look at the people presumptively left out of this definition, we get those who live in a world of prison, meth, payday loans and so on.  And of course, those in the middle class have grit and a capacity for delayed gratification (read: work hard and save).  You almost want to organize a field trip for those who not only utter this smug, self-serving, sanctimonious twaddle, but write it down and publish it.  How hard can these people really be working  if what they write is such nonsense?  You want to sentence them all to a week helping a home health aide change adult diapers and then living on her wages. Then they'd really understand hard work and delayed gratification.

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