A Terrible and Silent Crisis: The Destruction of the American Working Class

living on the edge
North American society prides itself on being classless. Almost no one in North America calls him/herself lower-class or upper-class, and people who describe themselves as ‘middle-class’ (a class which really no longer exists in North America) do so hesitantly. Few even describe themselves as ‘working-class’, since that seems to imply it’s a place one resides for life (which is the case, but to acknowledge this fact would put the lie to the myth of social mobility). Despite the Great American (and Canadian) Dream (anyone can be President or Billionaire if they work long and hard at it), your chances of moving up even one quintile in the economic and social order are negligible, and dependent more on luck than intelligence, endeavour or education.

My friend Joe Bageant‘s book Deer Hunting With Jesus explains through personal stories his brutal assessment of just how strong the class system in the US really is, why the classes are and always have been at war, and why that plays perfectly into the hands of the right-wing political and economic interests there. These are stories about the people Joe grew up with and calls friends, and to write about their lives so bluntly and candidly is an act of incredible courage and honesty.

This is a society where poverty and illness are stigmatized as symptoms of laziness, ignorance and self-neglect, a society built on two-way class vs class fear of the unknown and misunderstood. The principal determinant of one’s class in America, and the hermetic worldview that comes with it, is education.

More than anything, Deer Hunting is a plea to those of progressive inclination to meet with their working-class peers, at a grass-roots level, to understand how they live, how they think, and why they think that way, and to find, as hard as it will be to do so, common cause with them against the corporatist exploiters and their right-wing political and religious handmaidens, and common cause for universal health care, quality education for all, a fair pension and a decent wage for a day’s work — the end of the “dead-end social construction that all but guarantees failure”.

I’d given away three copies of Joe’s book before I’d ready anything beyond the brilliant introduction — I just knew the people I gave them to needed to read the book more than I did. If you’ve read Lakoff, and kind of understand the huge divide between conservative and liberal worldviews, you have to read Bageant, so you really understand the chasm between the worldviews of the uneducated and educated. When you read Joe’s astonishing stories, all of a sudden what George Lakoff says makes sense. And, just as astonishingly, so does Bush’s 2004 win, and the terrifying prospect that Republican arch-conservatives could be poised to establish a dynasty in the US that will accelerate the Cheney-Bush regime’s project for endless war, bankrupting and dismantling government, and ending the separation of church and state, and which will last until that country’s final, ghastly unraveling occurs (I’m betting that will happen later this century).

I picked up my fourth copy of Deer Hunting With Jesus in Australia, which includes a little orientation for Australians not familiar with current US culture. This orientation was probably unnecessary for two reasons: Educated Australians (and Canadians and Europeans) probably know as much about current US culture as their American counterparts. And uneducated people from these countries, I strongly suspect, think much like their US counterparts (though less fanatically) — Joe’s description of uneducated Americans sent shudders up my spine, as I recognized in their stories and attitudes those of many uneducated Canadians I thought I knew, or didn’t care to know (and now understand much better).

There is so much wisdom in this book, and it is so important to read to achieve an understanding of the current predicament of the US (and hence of the world), that I would not presume to prÈcis it here. If you read only one book this year, please make it Deer Hunting With Jesus.

Some of the key lessons for me:

  • “Universal access to a decent education would lift the lives of millions over time…Never experiencing the life of the mind scars entire families for generations”. After reading Joe’s stories I have new respect for those who have taught themselves what they needed to learn to be informed, independent citizens, and an appreciation for how those without education are oppressed to an almost unimaginable degree.
  • At least 60% of Americans are “working class”, i.e. they do not have power over their work — when they work, how much they get paid or whether they’ll be “cut loose from their job [or self-employed labour dependent on big corporations] at the first shiver of Wall Street”.
  • The critical aspects of the “terrible and silent crisis” destroying working-class Americans are: (a) the working class’ own passivity, antipathy to intellect, and belligerence towards the outside world, (b) an economic, corporatist system that benefits from keeping them uneducated, fearful and debt-ridden (and hence holders of low-wage, nonunion, disposable, part-time, noninsured jobs), (c) a health-care system that is especially dysfunctional in working-class areas and whose few quality services are unaffordable to the working class, (d) their dreadful, fat-laden diet (which is all that they can afford) and the toll it takes on their health, and (e) religious and political leaders who prey on their ignorance and exploit their fears.
  • Almost as bad as the corporatists at exploiting the working class are the rich, uneducated entrepreneurial class who live in their neighbourhoods — realtors, lawyers, brokers, gas retailers, “downtown pickle vendors” and other “middlemen who stand on the necks of the working poor”. This “mob of Kiwanis and Rotarians” who dominate local politics help get tax breaks and regulation exemptions for big corporations, in return for financial favours. 
  • As I read this book I realized that my book on Natural Enterprise, which was in part designed to help the chronically underemployed to find meaningful work, will be totally inaccessible to the working class — they don’t have the literacy or basis of understanding of how an economy works to even begin to understand its processes and messages. I can appreciate how working-class people, and their friends (like Joe) perceive “entrepreneurs” to be just the low-level agents of the corporatists, not a means for their liberation from wage slavery.
  • “Getting a lousy education, then spending a lifetime pitted against your fellow workers in the gladiatorial free market economy does not make for optimism or open-mindedness, both hallmarks of liberalism. It makes for a kind of bleak coarseness and inner degradation that allows working people to accept the American empire’s wars without a blink.” Joe tells how scourges like Tyson Foods and Rubbermade belittle, abuse, threaten and browbeat their workers into obedience, and acceptance of their lot in life. As a result, “the intellectual lives of most working-class Americans consist of things that sound as if they might or should be true” (e.g. that we should all “support our troops”), and what is engendered as a result is a “tide of national meanness”. 
  • Rich Republicans still meet the working-class and small business class on their own turf, at community activities important to these people. Progressives don’t even visit, so no other voice is ever heard in the ‘red’ communities, and as a result “the left understands not a thing about how this political and economic system has hammered the humanity of ordinary working people…letting them be worked cheap and farmed like a human crop for profit”.
  • As a consequence of this numbing existence, “it is [a huge myth] that small towns are thrown into deep mourning when one of their young is killed in Iraq…There is growing dissatisfaction with the war, but it is because we are not winning, not because of the dead.”
  • The mortgage and banking industries exploit workers’ dreams of home ownership, supported by the corporatists who need continued growth and rising home prices to finance ever-increasing consumer spending, in the fragile house of cards which is now beginning to implode in the US. Gullible poor workers who buy mobile homes on rented property are essentially “buying large rapidly-depreciating vehicles and paying for space to park them”, the absolute antithesis of real home ownership, and a recipe for bankruptcy. But as long as workers are taught that “they are not worthy of a traditional house or decent treatment in the labor market or a living wage”, this is the best they can hope for and aspire to.
  • Probably the most eye-opening chapter for me was the one where he explains Americans’ zeal for gun ownership and fierce opposition to gun control (a view Joe himself shares). He provides credible data to support gun owners’ claims that (at least in a country as violent as the US) the mere possession of a gun deters more crime than gun ownership precipits. Progressives should look at the facts and realize that their passion for gun control is alienating them, and the parties they support, from 70 million gun owners for whom the issue is a pivotal one at the ballot box. 
  • At the same time, Joe is concerned about the propensity of many Americans (which he later ascribes in part to their belligerent Scots-Irish heritage) to carry their enthusiasm for guns to a degree that makes them “devotees to lethality”. He worries about its explosive potential: “What happens when this country hits Peak Oil demand and the electrical grid starts browning down and even little things become desperately difficult or unaffordable? What happens if the wrong kind of president declares the wrong kind of national emergency? What will be the first reflex of those hundreds of thousands of devotees to lethality?” Joe is concerned that this belligerence and passion for religious fundamentalism is behind the passion for wars in the Mid-East and Asia and even a passion for a nuclear war. He analyzes the low-level perpetrators of Abu Ghraib like Lynddie England and finds their behaviour completely consistent with the pent-up anger, ignorance and willingness to follow orders that those of Scots-Irish ancestry, or influenced by that culture, exhibit around the world and especially in workng-class US communities.
  • Joe describes the leaders of the fundamentalist churches in the US as poorly educated breakaways from the lower ranks of other churches. Their lack of “fancy learnin'” is unrecognized by their equally uneducated followers. Fundamentalists now make up a quarter of the electorate, a segment that has recently and cynically been politicized by corporatists, and is overwhelmingly white, with a high-school education or less, and working-class. A growing minority of evangelicals are believers in replacing secular government and laws with Christian ones, and support what can only be called Holy Wars against non-Christian nations, to accelerate the prophecy of the second coming and the Reign of Christ. A majority believe in the Rapture, which means they could care less about the future of their nation or the environment.
  • Unlike public schools, and unlike health care and other civic organizations, fundamentalist congregations are still functioning, growing and open to all. And Christian education and Christian home-schooling are filling the void of a crumbling public education system, and helping to develop the cadres of right-wing believers in the future. They have already achieved astonishing penetration of the upper echelons of the Bush administration and many political establishments and educational institutions and NGOs. The product of this brainwashing by uneducated religious leaders is an electorate “with eyes, that is to say the camera to shoot what is all around them, but no intellectual software to edit or make sense of it all.”, victims of “an extraordinarily dangerous mass psychosis” that Joe predicts will outlast any brief respite in the 2006 and 2008 elections.
  • Joe points out the astonishing popularity of the most grotesque “entertainments” — videos circulating on and off the Internet showing the grisly deaths of both Americans and Iraqis in the Bush War — the ultimate reality shows. The former are used to whip up fury, indignation and xenophobia, and the latter are a spectacle of religious eye-for-an-eye retribution, applauded by Mel Gibson-style viewers as vengeance in God’s name. Joe is not surprised at this, or at the probability that many more Abu Ghraib type atrocities are occurring worldwide in US secret prisons, directed by the CIA and perpetrated by working class, uneducated, Scots-Irish troops many with streaks of religious zealotry. And he was not surprised at the monstrous animal cruelty at the Pilgrims Pride plant (workers reveling in stomping chickens to death), where Lynddie England used to work until she quit because management didn’t care about the atrocities that went on there. You come from violent stock, and get put down violently all your life, you tend to perpetuate the pattern. Violence, in the streets, in the workplace, in entertainment, and in theatres of war, defines the working class life experience. The rest of us would just rather not see it or acknowledge it.
  • There is a complicated and ironic explanation why huge not-for-profit (but very profitable) hospitals centralized in affluent communities are starving out smaller, local hospitals in poorer areas, to the point that health-care facilities in poorer communities are mostly now just places exhausted working class Americans are “discarded when they can no longer work”. Joe explains the perverse way many of these institutions are forced to operate, often treating long-term patients for illnesses they don’t have and worsening their condition. These facilities are now the largest cause of bankruptcies in the US, even though 2/3 of these bankrupts have health insurance (thanks to high premiums and deductibles and uncovered costs), and half of uninsured Americans owe money to health-care institutions.
  • Joe presents some alarming data on the health care and social security crisis looming especially for older women in the US. Two thirds of Social Security recipients are women, and 90% of them receive no other income, putting most of them below the poverty line at a time the Bushies are trying to cut, bankrupt and/or abolish the system entirely. Half of Americans depend entirely on the government for help when they get old. “Social security is the most important ongoing domestic story in America”, Joe asserts bluntly, explaining that it is destroying the social fabric of working class families as many face the dread of regularly visiting elder family members in horrific institutions, elders who paid much into the system and now plead desperately and hopelessly for escape from these terrible places, escape that never comes.

The bottom line of this vicious cycle is that half of Americans are functionally illiterate, and poor education, poor health care, poor nutrition, corporatist oppression and exploitation are creating a time bomb that, in the short run, vents itself in anger against pontificating liberals they never see and don’t understand, and in the long run could explode into bloody and nationwide violence. These people, living right in our midst but whom we never reach out to, simply don’t have the wherewithal to improve their own lot — “they are too uneducated, too conditioned to the idea that being a consumer is the same thing as being a citizen.”

Joe laments the fact that both affluent and poor are now being brought up with neither the capacity nor the need for self-recognition — for discovering who they are as individuals. Instead, they are given a ‘menu’ of lifestyles to choose from, each with its own defining brand names and ensembles. “Adult yokels and urban sophisticates can choose from a preselected array of possible selves based solely on what they like to eat, see, wear, hear and drive.” None of us can, any longer, “make up his or her identity from scratch.” The upper-middle and affluent suburban “catering classes”, those who support the corporatist centre (orange band in my chart above), are more to blame for its excesses than the working class because the catering classes at least have the education and power to see and resist it. When I published this chart a couple of years ago, it never occurred to me, in my liberal affluent comfort, that many or most of those living on the Edge are not at all able to see the centre for what it is, or to have any inkling that they need to pull further away from it, not aspire to become part of it.

We are all, Joe argues, prisoners of this corporatist political and economic system, caught, more or less, in its web. “America’s much-ballyhood liberty is largely fictional. Three million of us are [in prisons or on parole]…The rest of us are captives of credit, our jobs, our need for health insurance, or our ceaseless quest for a decent retirement fund.”  What’s worse, “You never know you are in prison until you try the door”. And America’s working class in particular has been so systematically dumbed down that they can’t even see the door.

America, he says, cannot hope to stop messing up the rest of the world until it solves its own mess. “When social conscience extends no farther than ourselves, our friends, our families then Darfur and secret American prisons abroad are not [perceived to be] a problem”.

This book is about the horrific mess that is America in the 21st century, but there is nothing here for those of us living in other countries to be smug about. American culture is being embraced everywhere in the world (and not, for the most part, forced down anyone’s throats). And our cultures already exhibit many of the same qualities and propensities that are so magnified in the US and portrayed in such terrifying light by Joe Bageant.

So no matter where in the world you live, please buy several copies of Deer Hunting With Jesus and give them to people who do not understand why George Bush won the US election of 2004. This is important, and Joe has done all the hard work and research for us, in a courageous, personal and awesome portrait of the true nature of the most powerful country on the planet. We need everyone to hear this story, to understand what has been going on under our noses all along, that we never got quite close enough tosee.

Category: US Politics
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16 Responses to A Terrible and Silent Crisis: The Destruction of the American Working Class

  1. Jon Husband says:

    I enjoyed his most recent essay “The Audacity of Depression” more than “Deer Hunting”, though they are of course two different things, one an essay, the other a book so different intention and different structure.Don’t get me wrong, “Deer Hunting” is important … just thought the recent essay very deep and extremely well-articulated (playing off against Obama’s “The Audacity of Hope”).We’re all in big trouble.

  2. I am seeing my world in these terms too Dave. On PEI 66% of Islanders earn less than $35,000 a year per household!Many live in rural areas. They are falling over a cliff – basic food is climbing, they have to drive to work or anywhere and they have to heat their dwelling for 6 months of the year.These are the descendants of yeomen farmers who have become used to living on welfare. They are completely dependent on government.Soon government will no longer be anle to “look after them”Is this not how all Civilizations fail? When the Gods no loner listen to the kings and their priests.Peak oil I now see is not an environmental issue – it will be social. Throw in Peak Water and there will be be hell to pay – and not just in India but here at home

  3. beth says:

    These change in the U.S. appears gradual, perhaps, to those who are the frogs in the soon-to-boil water, but not so to people like me who come and go. I’m shocked when I arrive and see and feel the increasing nihilism, illiteracy, despair, listlessness and, yes, anger, balanced only by consumptiveness. I haven’t read Joe’s book but will get it. I wonder, Dave, if you’ve read Michael Adams’ Fire and Ice and its sequel, about demographic and attitudinal trends in the U.S. and Canada? His point, which I agree with, is that people simply don’t realize that 50% of America are now non-voting, non-involved, non-self-discovering, but with a simmering potential for, and acceptance of, violence. I find the change over the past decade deeply distressing, and while I agree with Joe’s prescription for forming alliances across the education divide, I have great doubts about whether it’s possible in any large and society-changing sense. I grew up in a conservative small town and left to become an Ivy League graduate, liberal, and artist/self-employed businessperson. I’m comfortable talking to the Rotarians and Republicans back home, but they are not always comfortable talking to me. Once you’ve left and become educated and/or urban, the lines of communication have been irrevocably altered in at least one direction.

  4. What is the excuse of the ‘educated’? When half of all EPA scientists claim to have had their work products altered and Hilary Clinton claims she voted for war because of its political expedience at the time (and this is different from her current opinions…how?), we are really seeing a portrait of individuals unwilling to accept the burden of individuality. Thinking.Decision making without regard for what the ‘other guy’ is doing or saying. Everyone is so busy watching the next person to find out what their own opinion or behavior ‘ought to be’ that the virtues of problem solving and independent action gets lost.We teach that in the schools as ‘socialization’ when it is merely encouragement of herd behavior.Such things are classless but the upper classes have the capacity to prevent change from occuring lower down the economic ladder to continue insulating their world.But that doesn’t last forever either.

  5. beth says:

    Barbara, good point about the deadening effect of constant self-comparison – I think this is a major characteristic of American culture, and very different from what I’ve experienced in Quebec.I wanted to add that my father was a small town realtor and Rotarian without a college degree – and a liberal Democrat – and he never “preyed” on anyone, nor did most of the other business people I knew growing up. Many things have changed, for sure, but I’m very leery of that degree of stereotyping and find it dangerous. We all want to blame someone or something for what’s happened, and lack of education and insularity from the world are certainly major factors, but the driving force, in my opinion, is greed for money and power by government and a capitalist system allowed to run rampant, coupled with spending for a military to support their goals worldwide. Empires have always been thus, and they eventually fall because of corruption, greed, and over-reach. The failure of the educated classes to act is a sign of decadence; we have benefited whether we will admit it or not, and only a few of us have spoken out or done anything in protest beyond a vote.

  6. Dear Mr. Pollard… you might be surprised by my reaction as a citizen of the usa to the narrative which you speak of here. It is a narrative which has gained acceptance over the past several years with internet activism being so central in the national dialogue of the usa. The internet brings together waves of passions… you have the rural teens from the inland parts of the country mixing with the aging hippies on the west coast… they mix with the disgruntled factory worker who just lost his job in Detroit. What Joe Bageant has written is really nothing more than a synthesis of modern folklore. It’s a summation of all the disingenuous exaggeration of five to ten years of internet activism which we have seen in the usa.OK… first of all let us get terms straight. I have to assume that by American, Dave, you mean to say citizens of the usa. I think “American” is a term better describing anyone who lives in North or South America. But I suppose you can use whatever language you’d like.The whole thrust of this entry is very detached from reality, Mr. Pollard. Joe Bageant, and you yourself, are trying to put the pieces of the puzzle together on a preconstructed board which you have made of how the world works. Unfortunately, that’s not an organic process of reasoning. Nothing will fit together for you, if you premise your analysis with this haughty idea that there is this class struggle which makes everything the way it is in the usa. You need to have an intimate experience with a culture to understand how that culture works on the inside. You can’t analyze as an outsider, and hope to make much headway.The USA has changed a lot in the past few decades. Canada and the usa used to be on very similar pathways, but there was a divergence in about the mid 1980s, it seems to me.One of the big divergences was this one: Canada decided it wanted to hold published writers to certain standards of ethics, because it realized that writers have influence on the society. The usa decided to take the flamboyant path, here, instead. What did we do? Well first, we elected Ronald Reagan – a movie actor where what he symbolized was more important to us than his actual policies. The citizens of the country make the country what it is, and the leadership is actually very peripheral to that. If we have a charismatic person – that gives people hope and makes them work harder for their own benefit – and as long as there aren’t grievous errors in judgment such as George Bush junior has made, the nation prospers greatly. Ronald Reagan represented the beginning of a new right wing ideology, one that was more built on personality,and which left behind conservativism in the dust. Under the republican watch, we had our entire mainstream media reworked with cable network news, and such things. Fox news represented a new vision, where people sought to make the daily news racy and juicy. CNN had already begun this years earlier in the summer of 1980 (and they may have been instrumental in the upset victory which Ronald Reagan was able to do). The dynamic then shifts – what groups are instrumental in leveraging consensuses in the usa? Well, it’s the moral dualists who run cable news, and the associated press… and print journalism in general. There is no reasoning presented when people write articles, or create video presentations in the mainstream media in the usa. It’s quite sad. This is a great satirical piece which really shows what our media is like in the usa – using a tongue and cheek manner of presentation (video). So the tenor of mainstream media is one gigantic difference between the usa and Canada. If you watch Michael Moore’s film Bowling for Columbine – that was one of the main conclusions you can see as to why there is a difference in the attitudes offolks in the usa versus those in Canada.Another big trend in the usa had to do with a very famous children’s television personality here in the 1970s – Fred Rogers. This man’s ideas inspired a sea change in how children are thought about and raised in the usa. In the 1950s and 1960s, children were taught to be prudent, and thoughtful in how they act. Starting in the 1980s, in the usa… the field of child psychology finally capitulated to the notions which have undergirded the way aristocrats have raised their children for centuries. The model is that children’s minds are developing, you have to stimulate their imagination – encouraging them in flights of fancy. And thus, for the past twenty years, children in the usa have been taught to blindly trust the judgment of their parents. And they carry this attitude with them, into their adult life (video). People in the usa remain very immature throughout their adult lives.Now when you put that immaturity together with this cacophony of mainstream media in the usa… you have something of a recipe for disaster. And all the harsh criticisms you have for the usa, Mr. Pollard, are rooted in these two important trends.

  7. Is there a resentment among the poor for the wealthy in the usa? Yes, there is. I attended highschool in a poor innercity mostly african american institution in a major usa city. And because of this, I have a very intimate perspective on the social dynamics when it comes to that area. I recently returned to that school and was shocked to see that social dynamics of that major city have not changed very much, even though the solutions would be so obvious to me. One important thing, is that people have to recognize that folks of different ethnicities have very different social norms. The beige skinned people in that city are set ill at ease, by the gregarious and outgoing nature of folks in the brown skinned part of town. But also one of the biggest plagues in poorer areas of that city and elsewhere in the usa is self-pity, and lack of proactive constructive action. There’s always this idea that the locus of control for your community’s future is in someone else’s hands. Certainly, one of the major media organizations in the usa – npr – in trying to be caring and euphemistic – have unwittingly contributed to this bitterness, and a feeling among poorer folks that they are disadvantaged. This is a fascinating set of photos from Britain of a hundred years ago… and what strikes me as so interesting, is that the poorest people in that city seem to have more dignity than the wealthiest of usa citizens of this decade. Poverty is not equivalent with unhappiness, nor is wealth the ticket to nirvana.Now, have wages fallen in the usa? Of course they have. But buying power has also gone way up. In fact, the usa, it seems to me, is materially much better off than canada is. The strong usa dollar has closed factories in the usa, but has also brought in cheap foreign imports. Now that the usa dollar isfalling, that imbalance is going to even out quite a bit.

  8. Touch here to view my full commentPS… what is the length limit for comments at Salon, Dave? And is there a limit on repetative posting? And is there a limit on the number of included links? Are there any other rules one should know about? The organization ought to be more transparent about that. I just got these weird 403 error messages when seeking to post that long comment. Breaking it up seemed to work partially, but the Salon software is not being responsive; it just acts broken. Transparency is one of those centrally important things when it comes to web GUI design. Otherwise, users can’t get anything done, and are frustrated at every turn.

  9. andy mill says:

    Are you really not familiar with Noam Chomsky’s arguments? Yes, the working class must be controlled but the faction of society who recieves the most effective brain washing is the intellectual or educated class. These are are the people who run the machine, who control the workers. They must be completely indoctrinated into believing that we live in a democratic society, that the justice system isn’t rigged, that technology offers solutions to all problems, that capitalism isn’t destroying the world, that there’s a significant difference between democrat and republican. Sheeit Dave, get a fucking clue.

  10. mattbg says:

    “their dreadful, fat-laden diet (which is all that they can afford)”Every time I hear this one, I struggle to make it stick. I think it’s (again) a matter of education, rather than one of availability of healthy foods. When supermarkets reguarly carry broccoli for less than a dollar, often sell 10 lb. bags of potatoes for less than $5, 3 lb. bags of carrots for under $2, heads of lettuce for under $2 — even in the winter — and bags of whole wheat flour for the same price as white flour, which is far less expensive to buy and bake with than are the finished junk food products that use the same stuff as an ingredient, I have trouble making this one stick.A 250g bag of potato chips costs $2. 454g. of potatoes under the above plan can cost as little as 50 cents. Water comes from your tap, whereas soda costs… I’m not sure, because I don’t buy it, but I’m sure it’s more than the water from your tap :)I think it’s more an issue of not having the education to know what constitutes a healthy diet and how to put it together. We don’t help matters by offering the public education saying that nutritional labels (which may make a bag of rice cakes equivalent to a raw vegetable) are good enough.One possible argument might be that the supermarkets offering such prices don’t exist in poorer neighbourhoods. But, ethnic grocery stores offer fruits and vegetables for affordable prices, too. And lower-class immigrant populations that send so much of their income overseas live with very limited incomes yet do well health-wise because they have family and cultural values intact that support things like building these grocery stores and preparing family meals. Also, grocery stores are often within reach of an affordable mass-transit trip.And, of course, if you have an apartment with a balcony then a few bags of soil and packets of seeds will let you grow your own vegetables.Again, I think it’s about education because healthy food is very affordable and is cheaper than it’s ever been.

  11. Janene says:

    Hey –First… I’m a little put off by all this “Scots/Irish” heritage stuff… what the hell is that about Dave? Is there some basis for seeing this particular group as particularly violent? Or just more of the same BS stereotypes and racism?On food… having switched to paleo diet a few years ago, it is true that healthy food can be quite affordable if you have the time, knowledge and drive to make it so. However, the last year, I have changed my lifestyle from suburban self-employed computer person to urban waitress. I eat at least five meals a week for free at work. I know how to buy and prepare fresh foods…. BUT… I spend at least as much on food now for me and my partner as I once spent on food for me, my ex and my son eating paleo… because in my new lifestyle I have neither the time, the space nor the accessibility to farm fresh produce that I once did. I can go to the store and buy pre-made meals far less expensively than I can buy food to prepare. Why? I have no space for storing bulk purchases/canning etc. If I do buy anything in bulk (IE even 5lbs of potatoes) half of it goes to waste before I can use it. I don’t have time to prepare all of my meals from scratch, and we are often not home to eat meals together (nature of mixed shifts/second shift etc). I suspect most “working class” people face these same issues, tho often to an even greater degree… combined with the lack of know how or incentive to make it happen. Face it, McBurger, frozen pizza, single serve budget gourmet (not to mention ye olde raman noodle)… these are the “cheap” ways to eat in our society. And so those with less resource eat exactly that way, most of the time…Janene

  12. Dave Pollard says:

    Jon: Thanks for the link — another masterpiece by Joe.Rob: I think Joe’s story is the story of the working class — what I would call the working poor — everywhere. We in Canada will be luckier than most when it all comes undone, I think, because our health care system is not yet totally broken. Beth: Joe makes the same point about ‘never being able to go home again’ once you’ve been educated in the real world. I find that many people I speak to find my vocabulary annoying, and think I’m deliberately talking ‘down’ to them. But I think we have to try to meet and speak with the working poor (now a majority in the US, soon to be in Canada too) on their own turf, and find common cause with them, because once the economic system comes flying apart we’re all going to be in the same boat, and we need to work together to at least mitigate the damage. This was in important lesson of The Great Depression that those who lived then learned too late. BTW once you’ve read Joe’s book I’d be interested in your take on his labeling of the real estate agents and other small businesspeople he knew and knows as the ‘catering class’ — and whether those you knew in the same types of enterprise were the exception or the rule.Barbara: I don’t think that conformist, think-alike socialization is just taught in the schools; it’s taught in the bars and the clubs and the sports teams and in the movie theatres and on TV, everywhere, it’s the process of making us ‘everybody else’, and the interdependence and loss of self-sufficiency in our society and the rise of mass media power just makes that process more potent. Are the educated better able to resist this? I’m not sure — we all live in a frightening world and we all want to belong. Self-comparison is almost instinctive when we’re driven by fear. I greatly admire your fearlessness, but I’m not optimistic that many could, even in the worst circumstances, rise to match it.

  13. Dave Pollard says:

    (note to readers of this thread — I’ve replied privately to Christopher)Andy: Yes I’ve read Chomsky and I agree that we (the educated class) the most brainwashed, and as Joe says we’re ‘bought off’ at a higher salary because we’re more ‘helpful’ to the elite of our society. We give it credibility when we buy into it ourselves. Joe’s point remains valid, though — by talking across ‘class’ lines we can start to recognize that we’re both pawns of the system, in different ways, and can start to help each other and realize that we have a common cause and a common adversary — and that to some extent, as Pogo said, ‘the enemy is us’.Matt: Yes it is a matter of education, but that education is hard to come by and we’re not helping any. Go into poorer neighbourhood supermarkets and you’ll find 1/2 the shelves are alcohol and much of the rest is ‘comfort’ foods i.e. junk foods. When every day is misery, that bag of chips, no matter the price, is more appealing than the bag of potatoes.Janene: You’d have to ask Joe. He’s Scots Irish himself and he’s done a lot of homework on the subject (it rates a whole chapter, with a lot of references). He makes a compelling case. To some extent it’s a stereotype of the immigrant throughout history — you have to be a bit crazy and a bit desperate and maybe very angry to feel you have no choice but to leave your home and make an often-deadly trip to an unknown foreign land and start all over with the discrimination of previous settlers in your face the rest of your life. What I know of my ancestors suggests that the ones that moved to different cultures (Denmark to England to the US to Canada) had to be fighters to survive, so maybe they passed along their genes. As for the working poor’s bad diets, I agree with you that in many ways we contribute to this by making unhealthy ‘convenience’ foods very inexpensive and many healthful foods relatively inconvenient. The food industry could, and morally should, make it easier and less expensive to eat healthier.

  14. mattbg says:

    I have read this book and, after reflecting for awhile, I don’t think it’s very good. I think that more detailed analyses are done by someone like Theodore Dalrymple, although of the English underclass rather than the American one. These two aren’t directly comparable and have different histories, but there are similarities.Also, Dalrymple is a far better writer.

  15. John Skookum says:

    Insulting, patronizing twaddle. I came from a rural lower-middle-class background, and I’m here to tell you you’re all full of shit. Yes, I earned an Ivy League M.D., but I stand with the “uneducated” hicks I grew up with, who are a LOT happier and a LOT better prepared to weather any hardship than you over-educated, pampered, fashionably left-wing urban lotus eaters. My people put the food in your mouths and the gas in your cars and the toilets in your tastefully decorated Greenwich Village lofts, and y’all never produced anything but hot air. You’ve got a lot of nerve telling us everything that’s wrong with how we lead our lives. Pooh! You think we want to share your over-analyzed, over-feminized, over-medicated, over-regulated misery? You remind me of clueless Peace Corps college boys playing benevolent Bwana to the ignorant savages. Piss off; we don’t want your help.PS: Sarah Palin 2012.

  16. Interesting comments up above. And here’s me deliberating ad infinitum before commenting in case I say the wrong thing and upset someone. Phew!

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