Friday, April 28, 2006

Now Hoist The Scarlet Banner High!

Amanda over at Pandagon has a post on what happens here in America if you work hard and make the right choices:

Simple and straightforward. In America, the class you’re born to is the class you’re likely to stay at, no matter how hard you work. After getting over the need to cling to the myth and looking at some cold, hard realities, the truth of that is obvious. The demonized illegal immigrants that gather at the street corner nearby before dawn to look for a day job probably work harder in a week than the President has in his life. If you were only looking at the hard work to wealth ratio in that example, you’d have to conclude that laziness is the path to success in America. Of course that’s completely silly. The path to success in America is having the right parents.

mr. delagar and I were arguing about this about this last night -- the kid and I were listening to Billy Bragg, one of his many pro-union hymns, and mr. delagar made an anti-union crack, and the kid wailed in dismay.

"Don't listen to Daddy," I told her. "He's a frakking capitalist."

Her eyes went round with horror. "What?" she said. "What?"

"I'm afraid it's true," I told her, with deep sorrow. "Your daddy's family owned the means of production. They fought the working class and the unions all their lives."

"Daddy!" she cried in dismay.

"Oh, like your mama was working class," he snapped.

"Fuck I wasn't," I said. "I was born in a trailer, son."

"You father worked for NASA!"

"Drafting. Building models. You ain't think that's working class?"

"He was Vice President of LOOP!"

"Later, yeah. Your daddy can't take it," I told the kid. "He married a working class bint."

"You wish," mr. delagar said, and returned sulkily to his reading.

Anyway: mr. delagar considers us not working class now -- which technically we're not: university professors are hardly hauling coal out of the mines, are they? -- yet we clearly don't own the means of production, as I like to point out to him when he starts spouting elitist rhetoric about the poor. So we can't be capitalists, and we certainly aren't management. We make more money than most people in Pork Smith -- we're above average -- but this is only true because most people in Pork Smith are abysmally poor (many of my students and their families live on something like twelve to fifteen thousand a year).

And we are not in the same class as our parents: we've sunk a bit. mr. delagar has sunk quite a bit.

Partly this is bad choices -- I should have bought health insurance when I was a grad student, even if it was amazingly expensive and I was amazingly poor, mr. delagar's parents shouldn't have smoked and thus died of lung cancer so young -- partly it is the hideous economy; partly it is nasty luck -- but mostly it is, as Amanda points out, that our system is set up to be that way.


But getting my students to see this, to recognize it, to admit it -- it's impossible. Even talking about it is nearly impossible.

"That's socialism!" they cry, and refuse to hear anything else I say.

"Yes, it is," I have started saying back, the minute they cry the word.

This shocks them so much -- that I agree cheerily, as if "socialism" isn't evil -- that sometimes they will listen.

Not usually, though.

Because it's a central tenet of their true faith (the Church of the Hummer, the Church of Capitalism) that everyone can work hard and get rich. Therefore anyone who isn't rich didn't work hard and is evil.

Therefore they will all be rich one day soon. Because they aren't evil. And plan to work hard.

All of them believe this just as strongly and as blindly as they believe in Jesus.

They believe it even though they can look around them and see that their mamas aren't rich and their daddies aren't rich and nearly no one they know is rich and even though all those people are the same people who have been preaching this doctrine of capitalism to them all their lives -- you'll be rich if you just work hard and don't be evil -- and they write me these essays about how right now they're making nine thousand dollars a year but soon they'll be making hundreds of thousands of dollars a year and it won't be fair then for the govmit to take all their money and give it to the lazy poor folk who are evil and won't work hard, will it? Like they worked hard? And got rich?

As Amanda says, it's irrefutable.


zelda1 said...

I remember when I learned the truth. No, working hard doesn't make me rich, and I will never be able to save for that dream vacation because I have to live pay check to pay check. It knocked me for a loop, that realization. I was young and had two kids and wanted to work my way right out of almost poverty but then we got this republican president, REagan, and he and his fancy pants wife, well while they were redecorating the white house and getting china that each place setting cost more than I made in a month, well I was drowning because, well, he, let the insurance company control things, and the hospital where I worked, in order to save jobs, cut all of us back to four days a week, we were all getting behind in everything. Then the gas prices went up and up and up and I had to start riding my bike everywhere, and then groceries, well they went up and I had to stop eating, well eating in the sense that I took a hotdog, no, not me. I let the kids eat and then I ate what they left on their plate. It was a hard time, but get ahead, no never. Not going to happen. IN the words of one of those republican assholes, "It's not prudent." That being said, we are destined to be where we came from. I will always be that little girl wearing hand me down clothes, going barefoot to school, and living in a house that was too cold in the winter and too hot in the summer, and never having enough to eat. That's me.

delagar said...

Never having enough. That was my childhood. And now it's going to be my kid's childhood. This is so not how I want to live.

CB said...

We never had enough either, sometimes, we were so poor that we had no food in the house and would have to go eat at my grandma's.