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    Saturday, September 30, 2006

    What I'm Thinking Today

    Awhile ago, and I wish I could remember where, people were batting around some statistics about how many Americans thought it was possible to come from poverty and become a multimillionaire in this country. These stats were meant to show how ignorant Americans are about class operations in their own country. But, if you answered that it wasn't possible, you were even stupider. Is it possible to come from poverty and become a millionaire? Well, duh, yes. I could give you a bunch of examples. It's just extremely unlikely and will take a fine combination of luck, ambition, and VERY hard work.

    There's something on the left that's blasphemous about saying that hard work can take people from poverty to millionaire because it smacks of the whole "up-by-your-bootstraps" thing we despise. But sometimes it's true.

    Some of us don't want to, or can't, work as hard as others. I might be able to compete with the bred-for-success-rich-kids I envy if I were willing to work night and day, but I'm not. So, middling success with middling income will have to do. And it will do.

    If I'd gone to Harvard and prep school before it, if my parents were so-and-so and so-and-so of the Easthampton So-and-Sos, blah, blah, blah, I could probably work a little less hard and be a little more successful. And that's what I'm whining about today.

    I worked hard for awhile to get where I am and I'm over it. I can't sustain a lifetime of striving for upward mobility. I think I only have the energy for middle-class-ness.

    At the very bottom, we talk about the people who have to work two jobs and are still on welfare, but we don't talk enough about how, for many folks, hard work pays off, (though it doesn't often make multimillionaires). And the next step: maybe not everyone wants to work hard and one should be allowed to expect a family, lovers, friends, must-see-TV.


    Blogger Omnipotent Poobah said...

    It's true, hard work will take you far. However, not everyone begins at the same starting line. I can't think of too many people who succeeded only because of hard work. It takes lots of other things too.

    As for class distinctions, I'm not against people making money. I'm only against it when they make it by crushing someone else.

    Crushing people is hard work too, but I'm not sure it deserves to be called a good thing.

    9:45 PM  
    Blogger EL said...

    It's true, hard work will take you far. However, not everyone begins at the same starting line. I can't think of too many people who succeeded only because of hard work. It takes lots of other things too.

    I couldn't agree more. My major point was just that I think we liberals are afraid to admit that, in a very few cases, it is possible to succeed from very little with a ton of hard work, but it shouldn't have to be such fucking hard work for some and not for others. Whether it's possible is beside the point, really.

    11:08 PM  
    Blogger Sly Civilian said...

    it's the trick of exceptionalism. exceptions might disprove the rule, but they don't disprove trends.

    but because the difference isn't understood, some folks get misled into thinking that the system is in fact fair....and others devote themselves to trying to tear down or erase the exception.

    10:39 AM  
    Anonymous petitpoussin said...

    Over at The Valve they're having a 'book event' about the Walter Benn Michaels book The Trouble With Diversity, in which Michaels argues that we 'celebrate diversity' in order to ignore class. [There's an article version of the book here. I think the argument is problematic because it ignores continuing racism and sexism, but I am with him as far as this goes:

    The rich are different from you and me, and one of the ways they’re different is that they’re getting richer and we’re not. And while it’s not surprising that most of the rich and their apologists on the intellectual right are unperturbed by this development, it is at least a little surprising that the intellectual left has managed to remain almost equally unperturbed.

    I think plenty of American progressives are still seduced by that bootstraps dream. Sure, it's possible. When you say 'for many folks, hard work pays off, (though it doesn't often make multimillionaires)', I think of (for example) Nickel and Dimed, and how easily hard work isn't enough. And really, I think that's the story that still isn't told (or maybe it isn't heard) often enough. I think 'hard work pays off' and 'people want families and TV' get a lot more airtime.

    8:59 PM  

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