In some ways I feel like people on the left are so unwilling to place moral blame on the poor for some of their decisions that they completely ignore the way that poor people actually grow up and the way that they actually conduct their lives.That conversation is starting. In The Guardian, here's a lengthy reflection by Lynsey Hanley that might be discovering a Hillbilly Elegy in the Midlands. Again, I'll focus on an excerpt.
You don’t have to think that a poor kid who grew up in dirt poverty in rural Appalachia is to blame for their circumstances to recognize that a lot of the habits that that kid picked up along the way are going to be very destructive in terms of raising a family or going to college or being successful in the workplace.
There’s this sort of weird detachment from the actual lives that people live, and I just think liberals have to get a little bit more comfortable talking about what it is that’s different about that poor kid, not just his material circumstances but also the attitudes and the expectations that he developed in the first 15 to 20 years of his life growing up in poverty, and how can we counteract it.
That has to be part of the conversation on the left.
This is how privilege becomes truly concentrated – through the systematic denial of the way economic, social and cultural capital works, by the very people who are hogging it. Such blanket denial serves to convince members of the middle class that, generation after generation, they have to tighten their grip on the advantages they have, because they are always at risk of losing them.He's going to get into the coping strategies of the lads, but it's that "people who are hogging it" (whether it's forting up in Santa Monica or Central Park West or enrolling toddlers in Harvard Prep Day Care) that's going to get the traction. Meanwhile, the people who are hard done by are the recipients of Anti-Social Behavior Orders rather than affirmative action or Model Cities.
When I was growing up, in the 1980s and 90s in Solihull, no one ever used the term “working class”. Instead it was “people like us”, or “the likes of us”, by which I took to mean a discrete group bound by occupation and geography who could expect certain things out of life but not others. Casual violence – symbolic, domestic and public – was endemic. Casual racism was part of daily conversation. Casual cynicism pervaded: a consequence of casual exploitation and casual displacement, which fed into people’s souls and manifested in them treating everything like one great frigging joke, because that was how they felt they had been treated their entire lives. To be casual about horrific things was a cover for fear.
I never sat in the front row at school. I was always at the back: in the same row as the lads, but never with them. I thought they were throwing their lives away. They knew they were throwing their lives away, and yet they refused to acknowledge that that was what they were doing. The cost of one of them saying, “Come on lads, we can have a laff outside of school, we’re here to learn so we don’t have to do jobs we hate later on,” would have been too much for any one of them to stand. In any case,[sociologist Paul] Willis argued, working-class males are trusted so little within the wider social structure, that even if “the lads” had changed their minds and decided to work hard, there was no guarantee that it would have got them better jobs.Two countries, two school systems, two social structures, and yet the rough lads are being left behind. And angry.
Willis wasn’t exactly saying that resistance, in the form of mild yet persistent insubordination, was futile – more that it was the boys’ own habits of playing up, as much as the unfairness of “the system”, that led them to become trapped in low-paid and unfulfilling jobs. He concluded: “There is an element of self-damnation in the taking on of subordinate roles in western capitalism … however, this damnation is experienced, paradoxically, as true learning, affirmation, appropriation, and as a form of resistance.” Solidarity made sense to the lads because they understood that they were all headed for the same destiny and would need mates when they got there. In this way a survival strategy becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Last night, Chris Matthews signed off his Hardball with a recommendation that, Hillary Clinton winning narrowly or bigly, the Political Establishment take seriously the Donald Trump challenge. The segment is not yet available in their archives. When it is, I'll likely link to it, as he's recognizing something the Pajamas Media people have been saying for some time, that the next manifestation of political populism is likely to make Donald Trump look like a gentleman. Overly hyped, perhaps, but worth considering.