Thursday, June 5, 2008

Intro To Identity Politics For The Wealthy And Smug

There is a debate raging over at Red Hog Diary about the poor and working poor. The battle lines are pretty predictable but for some reason The Red Hog attracts a slightly more intelligent crew of belligerents than, say, Jerry Springer. The main questions are

1) How much responsibility do people have for their own socioeconomic status?
2) How and when should the poor be helped?

Of course there is a lot of finger pointing, blaming and shameful anecdotes. I think there is one truth that explains everybody's attitude, if not everybody's situation.

All politics are identity politics.

People who scapegoat the poor or dismiss how tough their lives can be have reasons for not wanting to identify with them. Reasons for that can range from fear (what if we really aren't different?) to jealousy.

In the case of jealously I think it works like this.
1) I am working my ass off
2) I feel trapped by my job and mortgage
3) They are not working/not working as hard as me
4) They are getting away with it
5) They are freer than me

In reality, of course, they aren't freer. Anyone who has ever been poor knows that not being able to go someplace (your job, for example) because you can't afford to fix your car is not freedom.

Because US society is not as rigid as some there are a lot of ways to get to any one socioeconomic status. Advantages perpetuate themselves and disadvantages perpetuate themselves. Give a head of household any three of the following
1) Chronic physical health problems
2) Addiction
3) Shitty education
4) Mental health issues
5) Unexpected debt
6) Felony conviction
7) Hiring discrimination
and their kids are going to have a harder time getting ahead. If their kids don't overcome those disadvantages their kids will have a harder time getting ahead.

Anyone who doesn't see this is blinded by their unwillingness to identify with people of a lower social status than their own.

2 comments:

Hahn at Home said...

I agree. Poverty does not equal freedom. Very few people I know would choose to live in poverty and I would suppose it would be easy to give up hope along the way as well.

DJ Dual Core said...

I think you are right about hope. I think it certainly does fade for a lot of people but I think the wanting and sense of deprivation never goes away. That is pretty much a recipe for misery.

I know that was the way it was for me for a long time.