4.12.2005

barbara ehrenreich: not a douchebag

last night i went to see a lecture by noted author, barbara ehrenreich. for those of you who don't know who she is, she is a really good writer, someone who i actually consider a sociologist (although i doubt she would own up to that title). she writes mainly about class and gender in the states and her latest book, nickel and dimed sounds like a fantastic look inside the world of low wage labor. i haven't read it yet, but it is surely now on my short list of books to read.

anyways, she was a great speaker - funny, sarcastic, and passionate all at once. she spoke about her experiences for the book. what she did was get really low paying jobs in several cities around the US and based on her salary from those jobs (wal-mart associate and housecleaner), she wanted to find out if she could make ends meet. her conclusion, as you might guess is that you can't. even in states where the minimum wage is above the federally mandated $5.15 an hour, she figured that you would have to work 128 hours a week, just to get a decent place to live and feed yourself. furthermore, she found out that this kind of labor, despite being stigmatized by us, are far from low-skill.

anyways, i won't neccesarily get into all of the specifics of her talk, but one thing that did stick our for me was her discussion of the moral polarization of the the US. we all know about the economic (rich get richer, poor get poorer) and political (right gets more extreme, the left smokes more pot) polarization of the states, but i think that it was instructive to think of it in moral terms. the basic gist of this concept is that we enforce more morals in the form of legislation and restrictions on the poor. we make them take drug tests to get jobs, we prosecute them more extremely for first offenses, and we blame any kind of economic poverty on the lack of moral quality of people. meanwhile at the other end of the spectrum, an "anything goes" mentality is accepted for their actions in the name of capitalism. in other words, corporations knowlingly make decisions that will hurt people that can't protect themselves, we let CEO's try to defend themselves by feigning ignorance, and we let them pay people less than they need to live for things that the rich people need to stay rich.

not that this is news or anything, but i definitely appreciated the way she presented it. you see, here at the ragin asian, one thing that we are especially fond of doing is calling people douchebags when they are trying to claim that they are not. and that's something that i don't think that normal people do enough when it comes to class in america. it's not that economic forces drive walmart to rip of their employees. rather, it's someone who makes a conscious decision to make money off the hardship of others. in other words, people aren't poor because of structural factors necessarily, they're poor because those in power are a bunch of big douchebags. and she wasn't afraid to name names when she called these people douchebags. of course, she didn't use the phrase, "douchebag", but i still think that basically, she and i are kindred spirits in this respect.

she's the kind of researcher that i aspire to be. someone who uses rigorously sound research methodology, writes in a completely accessible way, and really teaches something to her reader that they might not have known before or at the very least gets them to think about something in a different way. i really feel like i learned something last night. and i've been in higher ed for over 10 years now. believe me, i know stuff, and she still was able to present things that i've never thought about or knew.

the thing is it's so hard to believe any writer these days. we're so jaded by political partisanship or general distrust of media. but i believe her. i think that she is speaking after careful reasoned thought and she is speaking from the heart. i know full well that she's as a proclaimed liberal as they come, but i still think that she still has come to the right conclusions, which i think is something that is rare here in the 21st century. so in some sense, to me, she's a lot like bono (except that bono probably had better hair in 1986).

anyways, she's completely right about how we as a nation and government approach the problem of poverty. seriously people, just think, not more than 40 or so years ago, there was a real movement that all sorts of people got behind, a war on poverty. people really seemed to want to try and do something about this. i can't know for sure, since i wasn't there, but from what i can tell, the movement was real, and some real progress was made. however, it just doesn't seem like that's the case anymore. obviously, part of the problem are apathetic douchebags like me who sit in the ivory tower without doing anything accept make dick and fart jokes about celebrities. but barb's talk was almost enough to get me off my lazy ass and do soemthing....almost, of course, apathy will always probably rule here at the ragin asian.

anyways, i still need to blog aobut the SFJazz collective concert and i have some things to say about jermaine o'neil's recent comments, but i really wanted to get this post up. if you have the time, i really recommend that you read an article that she wrote for harper's magazine, called welcome to cancerland. it's one of those pieces that should completely change the way you think about health care and gender here in these states.

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